It’s no secret that I am no longer the hardcore Magic player I once was. Life intercedes, and it doesn’t take all that long to drop out of the mindset. I still have most of the skills (although not all of them), but the competitive mindset is a key element of succeeding in a major tournament. Like Grand Prix Richmond, where I spent my last weekend.


Before going, I tried to get one of my more casual-oriented friends to come join us on the car trip down. He asked me what there was at an event like this for him, and I realized at that point that I wasn’t entirely sure. I hadn’t been to a non-team GP as a casual player, and I didn’t know where his enjoyment would fall. On the one side, it’s a major tournament with fairly high stakes and competitive players. On the other side, it’s basically a Magic convention, and that’s pretty cool. So after he decided against coming, I resolved to make a Pros and Cons list about the GP experience, filtered through my pseudo-casual mindset. Here’s what I came up with.



  • Generally nice opponents
  • Hang time with Magic friends
  • Structured social interactions
  • Usually high level play
  • Great place to talk about formats
  • You can sit on carpeted floors
  • There are traders for everything
  • Vendors buy and sell cards
  • Vendors often have binders of weird, cheap stuff
  • Communal dining experiences
  • StreetPass, for 3DS players
  • Drafts are cheap and fire constantly
  • Sometimes there are chaos drafts



  • You can get separated from your friends by the tournament structure
  • A lot of waiting, even at the best run events
  • Thousands of people
  • There’s a smell, often
  • Some people are casually racist
  • Not a diverse crowd
  • Thieves stalk the halls
  • The traders are hella sharky
  • Convention food
  • Long days
  • Side events close earlier than they should
  • Commander pods at these things are terrible
  • Drafts are single elimination
  • Sometimes there aren’t chaos drafts


As you can see, a lot of these pros and cons are just the direct result of throwing 5,000 people together into a room for 72 hours. The numbers alone mean that even if most of the people you end up interacting with are good eggs, there is still going to be some ambient fuckery towards people who aren’t your straight/white/male norm. And that’s not even getting into the class issues that Magic often implicates, since we’re talking about a game where people have dropped hundreds of dollars on cardboard. If you have a problem with Libertarians, this will probably not be your favorite place.


But it’s important to not undersell the benefits. I reconnected with a bunch of people I hadn’t seen in a while, and it’s a wonderful thing to see people evolve and grow. It’s a wonderful place to spend time with your friends, when the spatial constraints of the tournament don’t separate you from them, although that happens. And after a long day playing Magic or cheering on your friends from the sidelines, grabbing food with your friends has a significance that breaking bread rarely seems to have in this modern world.


My concern, however, is that even at the best-run Grand Prix I’ve attended in years (thanks, Star City Games), there are still a lot of complications that undercut the ancillary amusements. For example, 8-person draft pods fire all the time, particularly at the larger events. There were at least 120 drafts that fired on Saturday and Sunday, but they’re all single-elimination events. This can be really frustrating, particularly if you find yourself falling victim to variance in an early round. I bombed out of two or three drafts with 2-1 decks, combinations of cards that could have gotten there had it not been for mana issues or unfortunate mulligans. Here’s one of those 2-1 decklists that couldn’t make it past round one:


1x Nyxborn Shieldmate
1x Tormented Hero

1x Cavalry Pegasus
1x Setessan Battle Priest
1x Phalanx Leader
1x Ordeal of Erebos
1x Scourgemark

2x Scholar of Athreos
1x Ashiok’s Adept
1x Eidolon of Countless Battles
1x Archetype of Courage
1x Grisly Transformation

1x Triad of Fates
2x Disciple of Phenax
1x Excoriate

2x Gray Merchant of Asphodel
1x Shrike Harpy

1x Archetype of Finality
1x Ashen Rider
1x Sip of Hemlock

Game one I brutalized my opponent, using Triad of Fates to blink Disciple of Phenax during my opponent’s draw step and then flickering Gray Merchant a few times for the win. Games two and three my eight-to-nine split of Swamp and Plains somehow left me with insufficient white or black to drop my relevant cards in hand, and by the time I could recover I was basically dead. But it was a lot of fun that first game, and I would have liked to play a few more rounds with the deck just to see if my initial success was a fluke.


I recognize there are logistical restrictions that make Swiss drafts hard for Side Event Organizers to put together. It’s a lot easier for a judge to set a bracket in motion and then walk away, knowing that the pairings will sort themselves out, than it is to have to track round times and keep the pod going if the winners end up doing a quick split. But there should be a low-payout option for people who don’t like drafting the in-person equivalent of 8-4 events.


Which is to say nothing about the problem that Commander pods have at these events. Do not play Commander at these events if you’re a casual player. The people you get paired against are not going to be casual. Here’s how a nameless, non-EDH-playing friend described a Commander pod he watched get set up: “The judge made a point to talk about how it’s a casual format and people were there to have fun. Then, he walked away, and everyone immediately whipped their dicks out on the table.” Commander side events payout on the bounty system, which means that the player with the slow start is going to get sniped out, and that someone will likely just be drawing to their quick combo-win. I get that there are competitive Commander players, but they’re the ones who win these events. Unless you queue up with three other people you know, you’re just going to end up matched against a stranger whose unfamiliarity with you is going to make it that much easier for them to ruin your day.

But it’s still a lot of fun! There’s a sense of community there that is often inaccessible in smaller events, and it’s great to meet people from all over the country (and often world). If you do end up going, though, I would advise a person to check the side events ahead of time (usually they’re up on the event website), and make sure to keep your possessions on you or in a hotel room at all times. Also, consider sticking to interesting GP formats, like Sealed, Team Sealed, or Modern. Standard skews younger and Legacy skews older in ways that can make the vibe less welcoming to casual players just looking for a good time.


Anyway, I hope that’s helpful! You’re going to have to make your own decisions about these things, based on your own personal preferences, but I hope going forward that decision will be informed.


Jess Stirba is tired, so very, very, tired.

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