When I was still a fledgling Magic player, the thought of going to a Grand Prix (GP) seemed incredibly daunting. Those are for pro players! People who know what they’re doing, who put in extensive amounts of testing and practice! I told myself. Since I was neither of those things, I didn’t think GP’s were for me.
I attended my first GP (Richmond 2014) as a spectator, watching over my husband’s shoulder as they played their Infect deck. I got up the courage to try my first main event almost two years later at GP Oakland 2016. With each GP I attended and each main event I played in, I have realized that GP’s really are for me – in fact, they are for everyone!
Before I get into the different options GP’s have available, I want to talk a little bit about the cost. I understand that, logistically, attending a GP may not be feasible for many players. Some may only be able to travel to local ones within reasonable driving distance. My goal is to help players who may be feeling unsure if investing in a GP is right for them. I would argue that there are plenty of options that can make it well worth your time. If there aren’t any GP’s close to you, consider turning a GP into your vacation for the year, if possible. Our family vacations have become GP vacations – at least for now, while our son is still little.
With that said, let’s take a look at what GP weekends have to offer.
The Main Event
The marquee event of the weekend is the main event. This will come with a fee (currently averaging around $75 for North American GP’s) and, depending on whether you have byes, sign you up for 6-9 rounds of Magic for Day 1. Players with X-3 records are invited back for Day 2.
I’ll probably just end up 0-4 drop, what’s the point? I would still encourage someone having these thoughts to try a main event – if the main event is a format they feel comfortable playing. If you never play Standard, consider keeping an eye out for Modern, Legacy, or Limited main events instead. Limited main events don’t require you to have a deck ready to go, which can be easier for some players.
I’ve found that the experience of playing in a main event can be quite rewarding. I won’t deny that the “0-4 drop,” if it happens, is disappointing. But there’s still quite a thrill in sitting in that room with a couple thousand other players, all excited to play Magic. How often do you get to spend time with that many people who are hyped up to do the same thing as you? Especially when you get to play a format you really love.
You don’t want to play in the main event, but are still considering a GP? No problem! GP’s offer myriad side events in many different formats. TO’s will often offer “Infinite” or “All-Weekend” passes just for players who want to jam side events. These packages often include the GP promo card or the GP playmat!
You’ll find side events for all the most common tournament formats, plus formats that you may not come across every day, like Mini-Masters, Chaos Drafts, and Full Box Sealed. Some of these will be “bounty” events, where you’ll have the chance to play against a pro player and win foil promos if you defeat them. You’ll find “throwback” drafts and sealed events, like Khans of Tarkir draft or Return to Ravnica block sealed. Are you a Commander player? There are side events for you, too! There will also usually be side events for players that dropped out of the main event, offered at a reduced price.
GP weekends feature Pro Tour Qualifiers (PTQ’s) on Sunday, and the PTQ format is typically different from the GP format. If you have your sights set on the Pro Tour, or want more experience at competitive events, a PTQ could be right for you on Day 2.
Side events offer prizes in “prize wall tickets,” which you can exchange for prizes like booster packs and boxes, select single cards, Magic apparel, playmats, sleeves, or even giant Magic cards!
Artists, Cosplay, and Other Vendors
GP weekends will feature Magic artists, who are available to sign your cards, do alters, and sell their prints and other products. This is an aspect of GPs that I have grown to really appreciate. You can take home a beautiful print to add to your home or get a unique alter. Two of my favorite artist experiences were being able to get my full set of Tron lands signed by each artist at GP Oakland, and having rk post do amazing alters for my playset of Karn Liberated at GP San Jose. Getting the opportunity to interact with Magic artists can be worth the travel to a GP on its own. It’s a unique opportunity to have so many in the same room.
GP’s also feature a different kind of art – cosplay! You’ll find cosplayers like Christine Sprankle, Vanessa Martin, Ashlen Rose, and so many others bringing your favorite Magic characters to life. You can talk to them about their creative process and take photos with them.
Got some cards you’re looking to trade? GP’s will have multiple vendors available for buying, selling, and trading. Having all of these options in one room makes it easy for you to shop around and get the best deal on cards you’re looking for. These vendors will also have supplies available – deck boxes, sleeves, life pads – in case you left something at home.
The “Non-Structured” Experience
I’ve known several players who come to GP’s and don’t sign up for the main event or any side events. They don’t buy things from artists or interact with vendors. They come just to have the opportunity to interact with other Magic players. As you walk around the convention center, you’re bound to see an informal game of Commander or a Cube Draft in progress. You’ll find players comparing binders and negotiating trades. Having so many Magic vendors in one place can also provide the opportunity to buy booster packs from many different sets, so you can set up your own drafts! At GP Oakland, we bought some Innistrad packs from vendors and organized a draft with people we had met at the venue, many of whom are still great friends today!
You also never know who you’ll see at a GP. Your favorite content creators and pro players might be in attendance, and they’re almost always willing to chat, take a photo, or sign something for you. Are you active in online Magic communities like Twitter or Reddit? Post about attending the GP and you’re sure to find an internet friend or two who will be there with you. This is an opportunity I’ve really come to appreciate – many of my online acquaintances became good friends of mine after I met them at a GP.
You may also decide to spend a day or two exploring the GP’s host city. Grand Prix are held around the world, giving you the opportunity to visit cities (and countries!) that you may not have thought to visit before. If your schedule permits, you can add in a little extra time to explore. When my husband and I went to GP Oakland, we stayed a couple extra days to do a little sightseeing around San Francisco and the Bay Area, since we had never been there before.
Grand Prix can even give you a new appreciation for cities close to you. Richmond, VA is only two hours from me, and I consider events there to be my “local” GP’s, but I didn’t discover some fantastic local restaurants until I’d attended GP Richmond.
That’s a lot to pack into one GP weekend! It’s easy to get overwhelmed with so much going on, so choose the events and activities that you’ll enjoy the most. (Packing plenty of water and snacks for the trip will help, too.)
As for me, I’ll be packing up for GP Vegas this week, where I’ll be playing in the Limited main event. I hope to see you there!
Header design: Justin Treadway
Header art: “Renewed Faith” by Wesley Burt