Commandfests are back, and preparation for a big day at a huge MTG event is essential. Tom lists must-have items to make the most of the day!
How excellent is it, as Magic players, to once again find ourselves in the middle of Commandfest season?! Even if it might have been called something else last time you were here, the multi-day festivals being held across the next few months (and all around the world) represent a pinnacle of this hobby. This IS the “Gathering” which we were all missing for a while there, and I am very ready to get back.
If you’re like me, this round of Commandfests might mark a triumphant return to big paper Magic events. Others will have never even experienced a Magic event of this scale – even before the dry stretch of the pandemic years. There’s certainly a number of new factors to consider when planning your attendance at any massive indoor gathering nowadays – but I’ll leave the health advice to more qualified sources.
No, this is a Commandfest Survival Guide in the old-fashioned sense; a back-to-basics checklist to get you prepared for a stress-free, maximum-efficiency weekend of gaming!
WHAT TO BRING FOR THE GAME
First of all, these are the kinds of things which will improve your actual Magic experience. Borrowing various accoutrements of play is fine when you’re at home with friends, but in this fast-moving public venue it’s best to have your own kit ready for all the different scenarios you might encounter.
Not much to say on this front: they protect your cards from gross tables, they clearly mark out your real estate at the table, they make cards easier to pick up and move around – and 99% of you already packed yours. Great start!
If you ARE the other 1%, no worries – there are always great playmats available at Commandfest, often featuring exclusive designs for that event! I’d strongly recommend getting hands on one before you sit down to play.
“Bring your decks” perhaps goes without saying, but consider carefully how you’re storing and transporting them at a busy, fast-moving venue FULL of similar-looking decks. Label your deck boxes (with a throwaway email address if you’re not comfortable putting other details on them) and consider using distinctive sleeves where possible. Intentional theft is one thing, but it is not uncommon for people to accidentally shuffle a stray card back into their own deck box and get lost in the crowd before they realize it!
At a table of strangers in a bustling convention space, accurate and readable tokens are a huge buff to communication. It doesn’t matter whether they’re official WotC tokens, artist’s merch, or your own custom printings – it’s just important to clearly represent each token’s type, color, stats and abilities.
Some of my friends prefer to use something a little abstract, like RPG coins for treasure tokens or Charizard cards for 5/5 dragons; if your deck doesn’t make a ton of different tokens, that’s probably fine too.
Tokens with variable characteristics (such as copies) can be tricky, but there’s usually a clever solution if you make the effort – consider it one more way to really bling out your deck! When I started putting God-Pharaoh’s Gift in decks, I printed a bunch of “4/4 black Zombie token” card frames with gaps for the card name, cost, art and textbox, and stuck them to the front of some cheap sleeves.
Any creature card I pop in that sleeve is now very obviously Eternalized! Another approach can be seen in my friend’s Inalla deck – he just mirrored the card image for every Wizard in his deck and printed them out to use for Inalla’s eminence trigger!
You don’t need to bring your entire plunder chest of bespoke RPG dice from home, but it’s good to have a few different dice shapes (for randomizing) and a fistful of different spin-down d20s for tracking +1/+1 counters, loyalty, charge counters, poison, and Commander damage where needed.
Of course, if your deck features counters heavily then you prepare in kind – my housemate’s Hapatra deckbox holds as many evil purple d6s as it does Snake tokens, while I expect a deck like Kathril with many mechanically different counters would have distinct, labeled game pieces for each kind they use. Nothing lets the air out of a game faster than someone confusing a Kindred Boon divinity counter for a humble +1/+1 because they’re all just marked with random dice.
This can be a little tricky if your manufacturer of choice doesn’t include extra sleeves above the listed count for their packs, though most do. Even then, it’s worth buying a second pack and having spares for life. A randomly damaged sleeve in your deck will add literal and social friction to your games for the entire CommandFest, not to mention endanger your cards. Having a couple of spares ready is a gamechanger.
Mostly a tip for those who know there might be some Limited events on their itinerary – Commander Legends, anybody? – but I would advise bringing 10-20 basics of each type in a spare deck box so you’re not reliant on a theoretical land station to be able to play. Plus, it’s a chance to flex whatever your personal favorite basics are – Arabian Nights Mountain, Unhinged full-art Island, Japanese foil Odyssey Plains #333, etc.
Notepad & Pen
You may or may not be comfortable using your phone (and battery life) to track life totals at CommandFest, but even in that case a humble notepad and pen get a lot of mileage. It’s amazing how many things it can become convenient to write down in the moment!
Publicly known cards (so people don’t need to leave their hands on the table), storm and mana counts on combo turns, names and pronouns of 3 strangers you just met, genius deck ideas for when you get home, impromptu tokens when it turns out you didn’t bring enough for this wacky board state…
WHAT TO BRING FOR YOURSELF??
In a rare moment for my tenure as a Card Kingdom writer, I’m gonna take a step back and admit that Magic is not the biggest consideration at play here!
Yes, you are getting ready for a weekend of Commander games. But first you need to be ready to spend a weekend in a crowded indoor space, with variable access to food, hydration, telecommunication and comfortable furniture! Even if you’re not trying to align all health factors to reach peak physical and mental performance at the tables, taking a bit of time to look after yourself is vital to really enjoying the Commandfest experience.
Most of us are looking at CommandFest as a day-trip kind of experience, so bring some sort of compact, quick-to-put-away meal for when you get a break between games; I wrap up some burritos at home and tinfoil them. Snacks can be good to keep your energy up or even share with the table, just keep it small and mess-proof; gum, apple slices, dried fruit, etc.
Yeah I didn’t just say “drinks”, I said “water”. Figure out the largest water bottle you can carry in or attached to your bag, fill ‘er up at home – or if there’s rules against bringing liquids through venue security, at whatever taps you can find there. Maybe you have some other drinks you want to treat yourself with – I’m a caffeine-guzzling gamer through-and-through; just bring those AND your big dumb water bottle!
You can probably buy water at the venue if desperate, BUT consider how much it will suck to have to interrupt your pod and then weave in and out of crowds, just to overpay for room-temperature water on the other side of the building. The correct play is obvious.
Battery Pack/Backup Phone
Again, I don’t know your specific habits and backup plans for having reliable access to a phone at the end of a long day in the field. But after a long day of life-counter apps, Gatherer/Scryfall searches, checking event maps & schedules, ordering food, and checking social media between turns – you may have need of them. Alternatively, bring a small tablet or the like to use during the day and keep your phone somewhere safe on power saver mode.
Processing the hubbub of crowd noise inside a hall full of Magic players all day will be effortless for some people, tiresome for others, and unbearable for a few – sort of like in-ear headphones themselves. But even if you don’t normally use earbuds, consider grabbing some disposable soft earplugs at a convenience store or chemist – the kind worn at loud concerts or construction sites.
This is definitely the least-essential item in this section, but I swear by the quality of life I experience just by blotting out the venue for half an hour while I cram down those homemade burritos and chug the rest of my water bottle.
STACKING THE DECK IN YOUR FAVOR
Okay, that’s pretty much everything I’d consider essential to a good weekend of Commandfest Magic! If any (or all) of this advice feels a little rudimentary… well, it kinda is. But you have to admit, it’s better to be thorough and roll your eyes a little than to feel your stomach rumbling with five hours left in the day and realize you didn’t bring lunch, or get caught without enough Rhinos for your sweet Ghired deck.
It’s all in the name of keeping spirits and energy high through the whole weekend so you can really appreciate what these large-scale Magic events can offer. And as I think we all appreciate by now, the opportunity to attend such an exciting gathering of like-minded players isn’t always going to be available like this. So pack early, sleep well, love your decks, and have a blast at Commandfest!
Tom’s fate was sealed in 7th grade when his friend lent him a pile of commons to play Magic. He quickly picked up Boros and Orzhov decks in Ravnica block and has remained a staunch white magician ever since. A fan of all Constructed formats, he enjoys studying the history of the tournament meta. He specializes in midrange decks, especially Death & Taxes and Martyr Proc. One day, he swears he will win an MCQ with Evershrike. Ask him how at @AWanderingBard, or watch him stream Magic at twitch.tv/TheWanderingBard.