To paraphrase Bright Lights, Big City: you are not the kind of person who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning.

Sure, you’ve played Magic before. Drafted a bit, watched some streams, maybe dabbled in Standard and Commander. But you never really considered yourself a Magic player—not one of the guys who cooly shed a couple hundred bucks on a deck, and definitely not someone that attended big tournaments. But here you are in the Philadelphia Convention Center, with nothing but a large coffee, a lot of card sleeves, and a dream.

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Dream big.

This past weekend, I attended GP Philly with Hunter, Brendan, David, Matt, and some of other Hipsters. It was my first Magic event outside of MTGO and drafts at my local store. And this article is more about a beginner’s impressions than a detailed tournament write-up (for those, check out Hunter’s, Brendan’s, or Tim’s posts!). Like a lot of new Magic players, I was pretty apprehensive toward attending a GP, and would have never gone on my own.

That’s a big mistake. If you are even remotely interested* in Magic, attending GP’s and other big events is a fantastic experience.

*You have a mild inclination toward turning cards sideways, and would like to learn more.

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GP Philly side events: One room, two days, 60+ drafts, and lots of basic land cards.

New to the GP scene? Some practical advice, and things I wish I knew earlier: bring cash and extra sleeves. This particular event coordinator, Professional Event Services, was cash-only on side event entry fees, and having to constantly run to an ATM is a bit of a pain. Watch feature matches, especially if you know the people playing in them. Stay hydrated and nourished, because playing an hour-long mirror match with dueling Scholar of Athreos is hell when you’re tired and starving. And keep exploring.

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Brendan’s feature match! I was ten minutes late to my draft because I was trying to take this photo. Sorry, guys.

Magic is an awesome social game for people who, like me, aren’t really social. If anything, it’s a nice way to leave your comfort zone, forget the real world, and sling cards for a few hours. I’ve met some of the nicest people during my time at GP Philly, including an awesome judge that walked me through a bunch of rules that new players misinterpret the most (apparently you can tap your creature for Retraction Helix after declaring it as a blocker, but a Sudden Storm on a tapped attacker doesn’t prevent anything).

Most of my opponents, especially the seasoned GP vets, were more than happy to help a beginner. They answered questions and verbally stepped through the phases of their turn. And even after a tough loss to mana problems, some took their time to deconstruct my deck and sideboard for the next round. After spending time in the competitive Dota and League of Legends scene, the MTG community is something of an anomaly.

Day 1: 

After meeting up with Hunter and Brendan, I wished them luck in their round 2 matches and went for the side drafts. Cash-only, single elimination, 6 packs of Born of the Gods and a free draft entry to the winner. I happened to wander in and catch the tail end of $10 happy hour, and I’m all for affordable drafting.

I rode my uninteresting UBg deck (RetractionHelix.dek) to 2-0 and split the finals because I was starving. Servant of Tyramet and a Reaper of the Wilds were my main win conditions, and neither of them are known for speedily dispatching opponents. So usually I sat around for 15 turns and bounced their threats while slowly chipping away at their life total—interactive Magic at its finest. I filled out the form, gave my opponent the free draft in exchange for extra packs, and picked up my winnings. It was the first time I had won anything from Magic, and something of a religious experience.

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I have a lot of friends.

After lunch, I picked up a Courser of Kruphix in another draft and slapped together a GB graveyard recursion deck. That card does everything. Versus UR, the constant life gain kept me out of burn range. Against another durdley UB deck, the pseudo-card advantage and deck thinning was invaluable. And facing down BR aggro in the finals, the courser’s huge butt (the four toughness sweet spot) helped me stabilize against fast starts.

Pharika’s Mender, 13th pick Odunos River Trawler, and some graveyard fillers rounded out the rest of my deck. Combined, they helped me stage some serious comebacks from really, really bad situations. For the longest time, I was afraid to mill myself. I’ve since learned to embrace my inner Golgari, and allow Satyr Wayfinder pave the way to victory.

I lost the finals after a close 2-1 to Jonathan, a cool writer and college student from PA, and his BR aggro deck, but in the process met another awesome player and MTGO drafting partner. (And if you’re interested in slamming some Swiss events and learning the game together, add me (cloth5)!)

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Pictured: the best horse-dude in the format, and quite possibly the world.

Day two:

Arriving a bit after breakfast, I watched Brendan make a cool Retraction Helix play, targeting a Bestowed enchantment mid-combat and leading to a complete blowout. Afterwards, I had a completely unspectacular draft where an ill-advised splash ended my run. I might have luck, but consistency is still king. Getting a passed a Thoughtseize was a pretty nice consolation, though.

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A pretty nice haul. By the way, I’m selling 1/15th of a Jund monsters deck if anyone’s interested.

I did some of my best drafting on record. After getting my first 3-0 at a rare redraft event at my LGS the day before, my total record became: 3-0, 2-0 split, 2-1, and 0-1. A huge improvement from my usual 1-2 drops. And I was pretty ecstatic to see my practice (I use the term loosely) lead to results. I like to think I played okay last weekend. And that’s not really the result of reading articles and watching streams, but making a lot of really, really dumb mistakes. I try to file away every bad draft pick and boneheaded double block in my head. When I’m not cringing inwardly as I relive those memories, I try to learn, at least, a little bit.

Some GP Philly draft principles I tried to stick by:

* Draft black and cut hard. My decks archetypes were BG graveyard, BU bounce, BW durdle, and BR aggro. Aside from Asphyxiate at common rarity, black is thin in Born of the Gods. So slamming every single black playable in pack one leads to dividends in the form of late Gary’s and Returned Phalanx. I know forcing a certain color is a mistake, and if black is completely dry I’ll play it by ear. But it has yet to happen.

* Traveller’s Amulet. On land distribution, a lot of people talk about an 8-8-1 split with the amulet included, and I’m starting to like it. Born of the God imposes a lot of double mana costs on staple cards (AsphyxiateSwordwise Centaur /casthaven], the Archetype cycle, [casthaven]Bolt of Keranos and Setessan Oathsworn immediately come to mind). The artifact slows you down. But a turn 4 Swordwise is better than never playing him at all.

* Play slow. Coming from a chess and competitive FPS background, I was all about aggression. But in MTG, I didn’t really see results until I shifted into a more reactive play style. Sure, occasionally you’ll get blown out by a turn two Ordeal. But I think digging the trenches and preparing for long games helped me develop a stronger game sense. Keepsake Gorgon and Akroan Horse aren’t as sexy as Phalanx Leader shenanigans. But winning is just as satisfying.

GP Philly was a blast. And despite my general dislike of Sealed, I regret not being to attend the main event. Stumbling in after a night out to cheer on your friends is probably the next best thing. If you’re a new player, I encourage you to attend your local tournaments. There’s only so much you learn by reading blog posts, and there’s a pretty awesome world of Magic out there.

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And awesome food, too.

Tony is the Hipsters’ resident scrub, although he’s in the process of applying for a promotion to “Mediocre Report.” When he’s not making bad plays, he enjoys writing about them. Find him occasionally tweeting @holophr.

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