Four months ago, almost to the day, in the wake of the Grand Prix in Charlotte, NC, I wrote about the challenges that increased attendance poses to Wizards of the Coast, and some things they could do to better sustain the growth of the game. At the time it was the largest tournament in the game’s history with 2,693 players showing up for Gatecrash sealed. Boy does that seem like a silly number nowadays. With registration getting cut off at 4,500 players, GP Vegas is the new reigning champion of the title of largest Magic tournament. The event easily could have shattered the 5,000 mark and may have even reached 6,000 if the organizer did not make the 100% correct decision to put a hard cap on registration.

Cascade Games had the daunting task of organizing what was bound to be an incredibly large event. No one really expected it to become the event it did. Lucky for us, the organizer’s blog has tracked the history of this massive undertaking. The first post, in October of 2012, proudly announces the Grand Prix. The next post, in November, announces the hotel blocks and things are running pretty smoothly. Another room block is added early in December but the blog is silent about GP Vegas until March, just after GP Charlotte. March was an exciting month with airfares being announced and some neat sleeves for the event. Then in April the preregistration page went live. Things remained quiet, relatively, for the rest of April. One of the hotel blocks needed to get moved for logistic reasons, and more airfare deals kept popping up, but nothing terribly exciting. May came and went with nothing special but an announcement of the VIP pins (very slick) being revealed. The playmat was revealed on May 30th and Mark Tedin and Anson Maddocks were added to the list of artists on June 2nd.

On June 3rd, less than 20 days from the event, things began to heat up. The order for tables needed to be finalized by the 4th, and the organizer was wondering how many tables he needed to support for the main event. At this point there were 1,207 player’s preregistered. That is not an error. 19 days before the start of the GP, less than 27% of the players had registered. But at the time, that makes sense. No one really knew just how big the event would be, not even the organizer. The pace of preregistration though was around 50-75 per day, meaning they would likely break 2,000. Could it be bigger? Tim, the organizer, perhaps naively, asked if the event could reach 3,000 or even 4,000. Little did he know…

Two days later Tim provided another update. There were now 1,477 players registered, meaning 270 of them registered in the previous two days, doubling the previous pace. Over 400 of them were registered for the VIP program (hey, it’s Vegas, right?) which was 27% of the preregistered planeswalkers. At this point Tim acknowledged he would need to cap the number of VIP entries allowed. The next few days were devoted to the logistics of side events. Rather than be the “slimy TO” who charged $100 to play in Modern Masters side events, the decision was made that the players in an event like the 256 person draft would be chosen at random from everyone who signed up. This was in case 2,000 people wanted to play. Not a great solution, but better than the alternatives for sure, such as charging an obscene amount to play.

June 12th, 2013, ten days until GP Vegas, and there are now 2,173 players registered. That’s still a pace of 100 players per day since the last update, which means they’ll very likely reach 3,000. What a lot of people don’t realize is that we’re all incredibly fortunate that Tim had the foresight to plan for this possibility. When he needed to book a space for the event, the set had not even been spoiled. However, he rightly guessed that if the cards were good, and the limited format was enjoyable, they could possibly approach 4,000 players. So they booked 100,000 square feet, nearly three times as large as your normal GP venue. A couple days later, another logistics point was brought up, and online pairings were announced. In order to do this, the majority of players needed to sign a waiver to have their names posted on the internet. More on this later.

June 16th, 2013, six days until GP Vegas, and there are now over 2,500 players registered. Breaking the record set by GP Charlotte is no longer a possibility but a matter of hours. The next part I can’t really speak too much about, because I wasn’t there to witness it, but apparently the layout of the event was meant to be ‘revolutionary.’ Someone who went will need to confirm this for me. At this point Steve Argyle, well-known artist and possibly a sock inventor, refers to GP Vegas as “basically our Woodstock.”

June 18th, 2013, four days until GP Vegas, and there are now over 3,000 players registered. What the hell happened? The pace of registration nearly tripled overnight after questions about a possible cap on registration began to run rampant on the internet. At this point Tim reveals two interesting logistic facts. He has enough chairs for 4,500 players (sound familiar?) and enough packs for 6,000 (remember this number). He then recommends that people stop panicking and start preregistering so he knows how many chairs to setup and if he needs to order more. He does not intend to cap the event’s attendance.

June 19th, 2013, three days until GP Vegas, and there are now over 3,200 players registered. More importantly, 10% of them provided an incorrect DCI number. Normally this is not a big problem, but organizers have had to look up more than 300 people’s DCI information. That’s manageable for preregistered players, but what about Saturday morning? What if 1,000 people show up to register on Saturday morning and 10% of them give the wrong DCI information? The event likely would’t begin until well in the afternoon. Cascade Games discusses this with Wizards and the agreement is made. Registration will not be allowed in-person on Saturday morning, only Friday beginning at 9AM local time. Feces has met the fan.

June 20th, 2013, two days until GP Vegas, and there are now over 3,500 players registered. Tim projects this growth rate over over the next few days and realizes he could be left with well over 6,000 players. He makes the hardest, but perhaps most important decision a TO has ever made in Grand Prix history, and caps the attendance at 4,500, with 100 of those spots available on a first-come-first-serve basis on Friday evening at the event site. Tim makes an apology for not doing this sooner, but the event soon caps and we’re on to the biggest event in the game’s history. By all accounts, it is a massive success for Cascade Games and everyone involved. Players who couldn’t get into the main event were given priority in the Modern Masters draft side events. All was right with the world.

A lot of things had to fall in place for this to work smoothly. A lot of credit has to be given to Cascade Games for setting important precedents. I highly doubt that 4,500 will be a record held onto for very long. The Core Set likely won’t attract that many players, but Theros certainly could in the fall. There are Theros limited GP events later this year in Oklahoma City, Hong Kong, Kyoto and Toronto. Could one of those possibly break the record? Hong Kong is not so much unlike Vegas if you think about it.

The Quick Hits

  •  I don’t wanna say Matt Sperling’s figured out the greatest thing ever for MTGO, because he isn’t bringing back League play, but he’s on the right path. [Rule of Law]
  • Darwin Kastle talks about how Magic and the community helped him become more sociable. [Gathering Magic]
  • While it’s adorable that the card Arena was made into a book, that book was trope-tastic. Like Defiance. [Magic Arcana]
  • Road trips are the best. Why did we bother inventing airplanes. Huge mistake honestly. Jason Alt knows what’s up. [Jason’s Archives]
  • The lines of fan-fiction get blurrier every day and that’s a very good thing. Where’s the Teysa/Ral Zarek crowd at? [Gathering Magic]
  • This week’s infographic has all the facts on Modern Masters plus more! [That Guy James]
  • Paulo is excited for M14 spoilers. Did he know there was a Grand Prix going on in Las Vegas? [PV’s Playhouse]
  • Seriously, fan-fiction is all over the place this week. Next week I’m writing an Urza/Ashnod short story. [StarCity Games]

Wallpaper of the Week

I don’t think vomit is the right color palette for a desktop wallpaper. Nothing against the most valuable creature ever printed, but it just isn’t doing it for me. You can do better Wizards.

Grade: C+

The Week Ahead

How much do you think people will be buying GP Vegas playmats for? More or less than Tarmogoyf? Let me know in the comments if you care.

What We Learned is a weekly feature here at Hipsters of the Coast written by former amateur Magic Player Rich Stein, who came really close to making day two of a Grand Prix on several occasions. The goal is to take some of the events and articles polluting the Magic world, strip out the chaff (tournament reports, game theory, economics) and give you our superior opinion. Complaints are encouraged.

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