Can you feel it? For better or worse it’s tugging, beckoning you to play the game as it was meant to be played.

Ever since Pro Tour LA 1996 when the finals featured Michael Loconto and Betrand Lestrade (ironically UW Control vs G/W Aggro) I had the itch to play competitive Magic: the Gathering. To be the very best as a familiar saying goes. Eighteen years later, I’m not the very best, not even second, not even in the top 1000… 10000? Maybe but who knows. That fact doesn’t hold down the dream though: To enter proving ground and emerge unscathed.

So, I grind. PTQs, SCG Opens, and Grand Prixs all fine places to test my mettle. Most friends know me in the game as a relaxed player, if not quick to pick up one of the format’s more challenging decks once I have a grasp of the format. I prefer answers to questions, so I play control more often than not. If I’m feeling saucy (and I often am) I like my questions to be hard to answer and I’ll play dedicated combo. That said, After I’m making a deck choice most of the battle is over for me. I say my prayers to the God of Variance and off I go.

A lot of newer players ask me about playing on this level. Competitive events aren’t for everyone. BUT THEY ARE FOR MOST.

Where to start?

Grand Prix events are one of the best places to start playing competitive M:tG. I do 4-5 GPs a year. Even if you aren’t totally versed in the format of the event playing in a GP is a ton of fun, you get to meet folks from all over the place, you get a taste of real deal competitive play, and it’s about as as much M:tG as you can squeeze into 3 days.

Fridays are spent playing Grinders and fun side events in a myriad of different formats. What’s a Grinder? It’s a 5 round event that’s single elimination the winner gets 2 byes into the main event and a sleep in special. That means if you win a Grinder you get to rest up for the first two rounds, your tie breakers are the best they can be and you get some amount of product as well (normally a box of the current set).

Saturdays are the main event. Nine rounds of no holds barred, bare knuckle M:tG. If you go 7-2 or better (I never have) you get to play in day two. If you scrub out there’s plenty of side events, tons of trading to do and you can always enjoy the city of the event with some buds.

Sundays are for winners. Sorta. Day 2 is for those fortunate souls who spike out on Saturday and go 7-2. But if you don’t do well on Satuday there’s plenty on Sunday to keep you occupied. Normally there’s a Super Series Event that mirrors the Main Event’s format. Winners get something awesome like at set of Black Foil Planeswalkers or Limited Edition goodies. There’s still plenty of side events and a ton of dealers and trading to do.

In short, save up bring a couple hundred bucks and overdose on a weekend of pure uncut Magic. There are a ton of deals to be had and if you just like to draft they normally run cheap (sometimes as low as $10) or they do things like older set drafts. It’s a place to blow a good chunk of change but you’ll get a ton of value as the dealers are in competition with each other. Selling cards to dealers at a GP is also a great idea. Trade in your bulk for Power or Legacy staples. The Bottom line is that a Grand Prix is also the most prestigious event you can go to without an invite. It’s a wonderful place to sharpen your teeth if you want to step up your game.

Are PTQs really just full of spikes that rules lawyer everything?

The next logical step after a GP is to go to a Pro Tour Qualifier. I go to 5-10 of these a year. They run by season, so for 3 months the format will remain the same. If you are just starting to play a format you might want to hold off on these events until you understand the common card interactions. PTQs are a bit more competitive than GPs for a couple of reasons. The first being that they are one day events, so they don’t really cater to casual players at all. Everyone at the event is on the hunt for one thing: a blue envelope and a plane ticket.

PTQs cut to a Top 8 single elimination tourney after the 7-9 rounds of swiss (depending on the number of players). The winner gets to go to the Pro Tour. PTQ’s are basically 7-9 Rounds of double elimination. once you lose twice your are likely out of contention for the top 8. Plenty of players stay in to play the rest of their rounds but the venue clear out pretty quick once the everyone in a group of friends/ travel buddies is knocked out.

These events normally have a few dealers, and some side events as well. You’re likely to do some trading here too, but keep in mind that mostly what your gonna find at the dealer tables is gonna be in the format of the event.

In summation, PTQs are highly competitive events with one player coming out on top with a spot to the Pro Tour, but don’t let that stop you from knuckling down.

SCG Opens

Right up, there with PTQs are the SCG circuit. Held on Saturdays (Standard) and Sundays (Legacy), SCG drives the value or Legacy as they are the only tournament series that regularly supports it. If you want to play Magic for a weekend and you have a group of friends that play Standard/Legacy, then SCG is right where you want to be. They sport one dealer, Star CIty Games, and offer a ton of great deals in player value.

They run their Main Events, then they normally have a ton of side events including $10 drafts of the current format, Standard Modern and Legacy Win-A-Box events. If you go to enough of these locally you’ll run into a lot of local grinders. I have a ton of guys that I know from sight but not necessarily name. It’s good form to hit people up and ask them how they’re doing so far orif they are still on whatever deck they beat you with last time.

If you play or have an interest in Legacy these are where you want to be. Trading is second here only to Grand Prixs.

Winners get a pretty sweet cash prize and they pay down to top 64 and sometimes lower. Top 8 get invites to the Invitational and then winners of those events go on to play in the Player’s Championship.

Don’t quit your day job

That’s pretty much it. Unless you are invited to a Pro Tour these are your options. I wouldn’t try to survive off your winnings by any stretch, but you can certainly have a nice kickback from the game if you do well at this level. So what’s your next step? See when these events are coming to your area and plan a trip with some friends. If you want to play on this level it’s worth your time whether or not you think you’ll win.

Zac Clark, @DurdleMagus

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