12 Tips for your First GP

Frank ChafeStrategy

With GP Vegas on the horizon, I’d like to talk a bit about GP’s and how you can prepare for them. Oftentimes, going to a Grand Prix is an experience – you’ll carpool out to a tournament with some of your closest friends and spend every night playing Magic in your hotel room until the wee hours. And as fun as that can be, there’s a lot more to playing in a Grand Prix. Here are some tips that I think will serve you well at your first Grand Prix.

1. Prepare yourself for ten hours or more of competitive Magic. This is longer than a normal workday, and you need to be focused, full of energy, and ready to play your best to be successful. Get a good night’s sleep and a full breakfast in the morning, and bring snacks with you to help keep your energy up throughout the day. Speaking of which…

2. Plan your meals and snacks. Most Grand Prix are held at large, isolated convention centers, and you may have few food options the day of the tournament. At Grand Prix Omaha, for example, the convention center had one kiosk selling hot dogs and soda, and the next closest eatery was half a mile away. If you finish your round early or drop from the event, consider offering to get food for the rest of your companions.

3. Memorize your DCI number – and if you have trouble memorizing it, use your smartphone. DCI numbers have ten digits, just like telephone numbers, so you can easily create a contact in your phone called “DCI Number” and enter the number there. You will need your DCI number to enter any Grand Prix or side event. Taking the time to look it up at the event might prove problematic and time consuming, and you won’t want the TO to issue you a new one.

4. Prepare your deck ahead of time. Keep a small deck box with only your deck, sideboard, dice and tokens. Anything else could get you in trouble during a deck check. Use a fresh set of sleeves for the tournament, too.

5. Prepare your deck list ahead of time. Make sure your name and DCI number are on the list, and that the entire list is legible. Verify your deck against the list, and then verify it again. Have a friend verify it, too. Having a mismarked deck list is the easiest way to get a game loss at an event. Keep a second copy of your list in your deck box or a picture of your list on your phone, so you can de-sideboard correctly at the end of matches.

6. Make sure your cards are in identical sleeves. If you are playing with a really expensive foil like a Masterpiece and you want to protect it by double-sleeving it, you’ll need to double-sleeve your entire deck.

7. Do not use altered cards. While they look cool, and you probably spent some decent money on them, save them for the casual games around the house or at your local game store. While altered cards can be used at Grand Prix and need to be approved, most fail to meet the guidelines set forth by Magic: the Gathering policy. Furthermore, you can’t ask just any judge to approve your alter; only the Head Judge can do that. If the alter isn’t approved, you may have to replace it the morning of the event, and you don’t want to be scrambling and stressing out before you sit down to play ten or more hours of Magic.

8. Bring a life pad and pen. Do not use dice to keep track of life totals. As I mentioned in my last article, a judge will always side with a player with a life pad if there’s any discrepancy in life totals, since your life pad tells the story of the match. Dice can turn, roll, or change if you accidentally hit the table or if you miscalculate a life total change.

9. Bring the correct tokens, if your deck produces them. I recommend two of each type of token at minimum, so you can represent tapped creatures and untapped ones. Dice can be used on top of the tokens to show quantity or upgrades such as +1/+1 counters.

10. Play with cards in the primary language of the country the event is being held in, or your native language – whichever is easiest for you to acquire.  While I know that a Japanese or Chinese version of a card might be more expensive and you feel the need to show how cool you are by having those…please use these guidelines for tournaments. They will make rulings easier, reduce confusion for your opponents, and make for a more enjoyable game experience for everyone, including the judges.

11. Know the rules. As I mentioned in my last article, the Rules Enforcement Level of Grand Prix are Competitive for Day 1, and Professional for Day 2. You should be familiar enough with the rules of the game to be able to know the rules at a competitive level. It also means penalties will be a little more severe than at Friday Night Magic. If something goes wrong during your match, call a judge to help fix it. You can make the situation worse by trying to fix it yourself.

12. Focus on playing a game of Magic. You can intentionally draw your match, but do not offer anything in exchange for a draw or win, and do not roll dice, flip a coin, or do something else random to determine a winner. This will get you disqualified from the event, and end your Grand Prix experience.

Of course, there’s so much to do during a Grand Prix that goes above and beyond just the Main Event. There are dozens of side events, an Artist Alley, and a vendor area for you to buy, sell, and trade for singles and other items. I want to briefly touch on these last two, since there are ways you can expedite and improve your interactions with artists and vendors.

Grand Prix give players an amazing opportunity to meet the people who create the incredible art we see on our cards and products. If you want to get signatures in the Artist Alley, make sure you research who’s going to be at the event you are going to and choose the cards you’d like to have signed. Preparing your cards and playmats ahead of time will make the artists happy and will allow you to get through the lines as quickly as possible. Grand Prix Vegas (2017) has 37 artists with a combined portfolio of over a thousand different cards! Most Grand Prix have at least a handful of artists in the Artist Alley, so you should definitely check it out and come prepared.

You may also want to visit the Grand Prix vendors and pick up some cards you need for your deck or collection. Small game stores can have limited inventory, but vendors at Grand Prix tend to pull out all of the stops. Some vendors will have Power 9 cards, Guru lands, SDCC promos, judge foils, and other rare cards on display. If you’ll need some cards for your deck, make a list and stick to it – and remember that most vendors don’t bring very many copies of commons and uncommons! Plan accordingly, and get any cards you need on Friday so you aren’t scrambling on Saturday morning.

The key to success any event of this magnitude is have a plan. Block time to go see artists, buy cards, play in events, and most important, take care of yourself. Good luck!

Header design: Justin Treadway
Header art: “Arcane Melee” by Jaime Jones