Hello everyone, and welcome to Stalking Mists, a Magic: the Gathering column about slinging spells and finding new ways to enjoy one of the best games of all time. I have a few topics in mind to talk about, but since this is my first article, I figure a quick introduction won’t hurt.
My name is David Gentry, and I am a Level 1 judge from Wisconsin. I am on the brink of graduating with a bachelor’s degree from Knox College, and I have been playing Magic for about 10 years. Since then, I have dabbled in almost every format imaginable, and I’m preparing for my debut on the Vintage scene at GenCon this August. I love the rush of being in a big tournament, but unfortunately my skill doesn’t always match up with my attitude, so I primarily play at the local or casual level.
All this in mind, I decided to dedicate my first article to Pros (professionals) and Cons (conventions), and the ways in which they shape the Magic community.
For most players at the local level, the Pro Tour is something that remains a pipe dream, myself included. While being able to one day play at a professional level would be an amazing experience, I know that the time and effort required is much more than many players can handle. Keeping up with the metagame across several formats, observing opponents, traveling across states and countries, spending weeks testing and perfecting decks and draft strategies… All of this can be exhausting both mentally and physically, not to mention the financial side of the equation.
With all that in mind, what can a player do to find the thrill of a big competition without having to qualify for the Pro Tour? That is where conventions come in. There are a ton of conventions across the United States alone, including C2E2, Comic-Con, and GenCon Indy, and all of them cater to gamers of all kinds. (Yes, even Magic players!) Large conventions offer a large venue for any type of competition you could want, ranging from casual games and booster drafts to bigger events such as Nationals or the Legacy Championships. If it has to do with Magic, odds are you will find it at GenCon.
If you plan to go to a convention though, you need to come prepared. I have attended GenCon for several years, and I want to pass on some of my advice to you so that you can have a safe and fun experience at any convention you might attend.
1.) Start your preparations early. GenCon is held in mid-August each year, but preparations often begin roughly 8 months in advance. Hotel blocks are opened for reservations between January and February, so you will need to make your reservations early in order to guarantee a room. Hotels close to the convention are scarce as well, so be prepared to take taxis, buses, or walk if you don’t strike quickly.
2.) Attend with a group of friends. Conventions are an experience best shared with people you like. Spending 4 days in a crowding event center can be stressful and tiring, so it helps to have friends there to make the experience a little more comfortable. Also, travel and hotels are expensive, so having a few friends to split the costs with can ease the pain your wallet is feeling.
3.) Plans can change. Events sell out, prices change, flights get delayed. These things happen, but you need to be prepared in case they do. Be aware of other events going on, and discuss travel plans ahead of time.
4.) Be aware of your surroundings. This one is more of a warning for people who are inexperienced with large venues. There are always a small number of people at the convention who don’t have the best intentions. With thousands of gamers each carrying valuable cards, some con-goers will try to take a 5-finger discount on that Underground Sea you just got from your buddy. Don’t leave your belongings unattended; be wary of “packs” of traders who try to look at all your binders at once; double-check your binders for valuables before completing a trade; loop your backpack straps around your legs or arms to prevent a quick snatch. In short, watch your stuff and be careful, but don’t let a few bad apples ruin your convention.
5.) Try new things. This is my biggest piece of advice. For my first GenCon, I spent a majority of my time in the Trading Card hall and missed out on a ton of new opportunities. TrueDungeon, playing new board games, watching performances, and even just exploring the city can be excellent ways to bond with your group or to meet new people with common interests.
Overall, conventions are a fun (if slightly expensive) way to take a vacation with some friends and dive head-first into the games we all love.
Ok, that was a big wall of text. Sorry if I bored you with all that, but I’ll be bringing you plenty of deck ideas and casual nonsense in upcoming articles.
David “StalkingMists” Gentry