Looking After Player Number One: Self Care at Conventions and Events

With MagicFest Birmingham upon us, here's our advice to make sure your convention experience is the best it can be.

MTG Grand Prix

There’s nothing quite as exciting as the festival vibe of a big convention or tournament.

Like festivals, it’s easy to get carried away and forget to look after that one important factor of the weekend: you.

Here’s a few basics it’s good to remember:

Plan your meals

I know I’m not the only one who’s powered their way through a long tournament on crisps, chocolate and coke (Birmingham and Stafford locals may recall fondly Steve’s not-quite-a-meal-deals from back in the day), but let’s be honest – by round five your head’s buzzing and body’s slumping from all that caffeine and sugar.

Making the most of big events means long and busy days, so work out in advance where and what you’re going to eat. Chances are you’ve budgeted for purchases (if you haven’t, do!), but if you haven’t thought about your food, do so before you get there. I find a soft limit (‘I should be ok on £40’) and a hard limit (‘if it goes over £100 then the bank will be calling!’) work best – sticking to your target feels great, but once you’re over, you have a point to stop before thing get silly.

If you’ve factored for an MTG holiday and are planning to eat at the venue, then it’s worth scoping the outlets in advance, especially if you have specific dietary needs. The NEC has some great food outlets, catering to a range of dietary needs – but watch out for closing times if you’re planning to stay late! They can get expensive, too (the prices are primed for the captive audience they know they have!). If you’re able to buy or make a sandwich or salad for one meal, then that can save time (there’s almost always a queue!) as well as money.

For a change of scene, there’s often vendors outside the arena, and Resorts World is just next door. Nearby Solihull city centre is great for restaurants and pubs and is accessible by car or bus. A little further out is also Birmingham’s Balti triangle around Spark Hill/ Spark Brook, and of course there’s Birmingham City Centre with the Chinese Quarter, the Arcadian, Bull Ring and Grand Central, and a load of great independent cafes and bars. If you’re looking for vegan food, Café Soya is always a popular option, or step outside New Street for Cherry Reds’ amazing cashew burgers. Whilst you’re there, pop over to Brew Dog just opposite for some great beers. It’s all just around the corner from us here at Manaleak, and we’re open Friday afternoon & evening and Saturday daytime, so come and say hi if you’re passing through!

But before that…

Make time breakfast

Whether it’s a hotel buffet or a variety box on the train, a decent breakfast can keep you going through the day, so remember to factor it in to your schedule. A full fry up might be tempting, but you don’t want to enter the GP with your best post-Sunday roast snore, so put sausage number five back in the warming tray and grab some mushrooms – your gut will thank you later!

Snack sensibly

Red apple with leaf on white background
If you get a run of long rounds (ahem, UW players!), then even grabbing a quick snack can be hard, but it’s still good to be prepared. Here are some of my top tournament-endurance snacks:

1. Water. A big bottle will keep your brain and body hydrated throughout the day. If you don’t like the taste, try flavoured water, squash or juice (although these can get quite sugary too, so check the labels). Despite the hype, energy drinks will not help your performance; remember they’re designed for sports, so unless you’re planning a particularly vigorous game of Magic they’re more likely to give you jitters followed by a sugar-slump than power you into the final.

2. Fruit. Apples are my top chuck in a bag snack – they’re less sticky than oranges and don’t squish like bananas. Dried fruit is easily potable too, and easy to nibble. If you have a sweeter tooth they can make a good chocolate substitute. Dates are used as a toffee substitute for a reason! Pressed bars like Nakd are delicious, although pricier than the less processed options. Pre-prepared fruit is easy to pick up in supermarkets, although watch how you store it – popped packets can equal sticky deckboxes! Carrot and cucumber sticks are good for nibbling as well.

3. Crackers. They’re more filling per calory, and a slower burn than crisps, so some Cheddars will keep you going longer than a packet of Quavers if you’re expecting to play through lunch. Breadsticks, rice cakes and corn cakes work too – and you can buy sweet versions if you must get that late afternoon chocolate hit! Remember to store at the top of your bag so they don’t get crushed!

4. Flapjacks & wholemeal muffins. Wholemeal is your friend, as are oats – slower release energy than a packet of Haribo. Whilst I wouldn’t recommend these as a lunch substitute every day, for a tournament they are easy to carry and quick to eat between rounds.

5. Nuts. Great for long lasting energy, although watch out for greasy fingers. It’s also worth checking with friends and opponents for allergies, as these can be triggered by particles in the air.


Gaming conventions can be a strange mix of active and sedentary – walking to and from hotels, around the con, meeting up with friends… then sitting for five hours straight at the gaming table.

Here’s how I deal with them:

Long-Haul Magic

Sitting still for long periods can make us sluggish – not what you want for a high-end tournament. Keeping your muscles moving, even on a low level, will help your blood flow faster and improve oxygen delivery to the brain for those tricky mulligan decisions. It takes a confident player to pull off a full lunge/ burpee/ sit up routine mid-match, but there are less obtrusive ways to keep yourself moving throughout matches.

Stand up in between games

It’s less common at large tournaments, but I’ve played entire side events sat at the same table. Even if someone’s already there to call over details, walk over to the table numbers and rankings when they’re posted, or at least stand up and stretch your arms, back and legs between rounds. If you finish early, wander around to different matches, pop to the loo (if time) or stand to chat and de-sideboard rather than automatically sitting back down.

If you get caught in a long match, simply flexing your ankles, stretching your legs and rolling your shoulders can stop your body stiffening up.

If you’re able to pop out for fresh air, great, but if you’re a smoker try to limit your cigarettes to a minimum – carboxyhaemoglobin won’t help you combo off. It’s likely too bit short notice to give up completely, but invest in nicotine replacements and gum if you haven’t – even aggro players get caught in long games sometimes!

Good shoes and a sturdy back pack

Time to pull out your comfiest trainers and thick socks. If you’re prone to blisters take plasters.

Take more if you’re cosplaying in heels! Even if you’ve broken them in, walking around the house is a very different to three days standing for photos at conventions. Gel pads/ inserts can help relieve pressure points and remember to take a break or sit down when you need to – other people’s photographs are a privilege, not a right! Bring a pair of flats in case you’re hobbling by day three!

backpackYou wouldn’t think a Magic deck weighed that much, but when you’ve got three or four, plus playmats, plus snacks, plus that cheeky boardgame you’ve been meaning to crack out with your friends… somehow those bags get HEAVY! Bring a backpack that goes over both shoulders to avoid cricks and pulls, and check how it feels before leaving the room. If you can’t make it out of the hotel comfortably, you’ll be miserable by 4pm!

Remember to take any medication with you. If it’s time sensitive, set an alarm – routines go to the discard pile during big events, and chances are the day will whizz by you!


Whilst as a whole the MTG community is lovely and caring, theft is always a potential issue at large events.

Only bring the minimum you need to the event itself: cash, decks, technology. Do you need to take that £50 playmat, or can you make do with a more basic one? Balance up the pleasure of using with the disappointment of losing it! Label your deckboxes and items and don’t leave them unattended – there are ALWAYS messages on the forums about misplaced decks! Zipped pockets and keychains are your friend, and make sure any keys and passes are kept safe.

Watch out for your friends. Organise a meeting point, and make sure your phones are charged before you go – free charging points are hard to come by, and do you really want to sit by a wall when you could be out a-gaming? Reception can dip, and people might not notice in the noise so share your schedules. If you’re coming alone and have a significant amount of travel, organise a check-in or a safety password with someone at home.

Use taxis and public transport – be careful accepting lifts from people you’ve only just met. If you are meeting new people or online acquaintances, meet in public spaces and take the same precautions you might for dating. Most people will be lovely, and hopefully you’ll make a load of new friends, but trust your instincts and don’t be afraid to walk away from people or situations.

If something makes you or someone around you uncomfortable or threatened, speak up. Whether they’re attendees or organisers, we’re all human – speak to an official, and if your personal safety is being threatened, the police! If you don’t feel comfortable doing it there and then, raise the issue afterwards – if someone’s behaviour or language is inappropriate, then others will be finding it upsetting as well.

For more ideas on how to make the tournament scene a great place for everyone, check out Kirsty McIntyre’s guide to being a good ally.

Take time to breathe

On a literal note, breathing exercises can help with for pre-tourney nerves, high-table focus, social anxiety and decompressing before sleep – take a few minutes before the event to practice so you’re familiar with the technique if you need it in a more pressured situation. Meditation apps like Headspace offer more variety and techniques and can be worth investing in longer term.

With so many new people, old friends, and games to see and play, it’s easy to get sucked in to the atmosphere of a big event. But remember to come up for air now and then! Some people are buoyed by the raft of social interactions, whilst others can find it slowly drains their energy bank – know which type you are.


If you’re shy it can be hard going into big events and meeting so many new people. Don’t be afraid to let new acquaintances know you’re nervous – it’s very normal.

If you’re playing in events, you can’t know who you’ll be up against – some may be chatty, some might be more terrified of you than you are of them. Just be polite, smile, and follow basic etiquette – you’re there to play, not make BFFLs! Don’t be afraid to question decisions and call a judge – you have as much right to a good game as your opponent. It’s best to raise issues as they come up, but if you’re feeling intimidated, you can ask a friend or nearby player for their opinion – more confident players may well call a judge over for you – or raise it afterwards.

Even the most outgoing introverts hit a saturation point. Be aware of yours and try to take yourself out of the scene before you hit it. Pop to the loo or hide in the corridor for five or ten minutes; cons are intense – no one will judge you for saying you need a few minutes’ headspace. If you’re able, schedule points in the day where you can grab some down time – before or after tournaments is usually easiest. Take a book or something else that relaxes you other than Magic so you can switch off completely.


It can be easy to get caught up socialising, sometimes at the expense of your health. Ihat might not be a problem if you’re energised by the interactions and you’re just there for the banter. However if you have events to be lucid and on time for the next day, and you know you’ll be catching up with old friends until late in the night, you need to find a balance. Decide on a sensible time (set an alarm, even) to stop and head to bed – then set a second ‘ok, it’s quite late now, but I’ll be up in time for a quick game of Arena’ time, then a third ‘whoops, this is way past my bedtime, but I’ll be able to grab a quick shower in the morning’ time. Like with money, I find soft and hard limits can make it easier to break out of fun social situations and off to bed! Even if you can physically power through the weekend, get some rest – you’ll feel (and play!) better in the morning!

So that’s it – eat, sleep, hydrate and stay merry. And safe – whatever you’re here for this weekend, enjoy and take care of yourself! 😊

Looking After Player Number One: Self Care at Conventions and Events
Looking After Player Number One: Self Care at Conventions and Events
With MagicFest Birmingham upon us, we've got some basic advice to make sure your convention experience is the best it can be.

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