Casual Magic

Posted in Event Coverage on June 12, 2002

By Alex Shvartsman

The New England Championship is in full swing, having drawn 52 competitors, yet another Magic tournament is taking place alongside it, with an attendance of 41 people. An impressive draw, considering it is not a PTQ, not a Grand Prix trial, and not even DCI sanctioned.

TJ Collectibles owner Tom Shea has discovered a formula for success when it comes to supporting his casual player base, and he is proud to show it off. "Many of our customers who play Magic casually were put off, constantly losing to, or even being made fun of by serious tournament players," Shea explained. "They were not excited about attending our tournaments and did not have as much fun as they should have, when they did. I got together with a number of store regulars to brainstorm ways to cater to these guys. Eventually we ended up adapting a format originated at Your Last Chance, another MA store, now called Savage Games."

Here is how this thing works; the format is Type 1.5. That means every card that is banned or restricted in Type 1 is banned – but everything else goes. Well, almost everything else. Since this is not a sanctioned format, Tom Shea adds the really abusive cards onto the banned list. Currently they include Fact or Fiction and Force of Will. The entry fee is $5, and no matter how few or how many people show up, there are only four thirty-minute rounds.

Not only does Shea ban cards, he bans players too. No one who ever made Top 8 of a PTQ is allowed to compete. If anyone wins two or three times, they get "kicked up" to sanctioned tournaments as well. This keeps the player base very casual, with cards like Maze of Ith, Benevolent Unicorn, and Subterranean Spirit showing up in the tournament, but also fun for all the participants.

Here is the kicker – every single player, no matter his or her record, walks away with a prize. There is a procedure for that. When the tournament is over, Tom prints out the standings, and has the player who finished in the last place deal out twelve cards from a special deck. Each of those cards is either a rare – including anything from the casual favorites like Leviathan and Darigaaz to tournament staples like Shadowmage Inflitrator, Mutilate, and Nantuko Shade. In addition to the rares, some cards indicate a choice of a booster pack, a World Championships deck, a starter, a pack of sleeves, a copy of InQuest or Scrye, and more. Any time a player take a pick of the twelve available choices, Tom replaces it out of the deck. Top five finishers also share in fifteen booster packs in additional prizes. The whole process takes up to half an hour (as it did today), and has a distinctive Christmas feel to it.

So is Casual Magic a successful program? Obviously plenty of people come to play. In addition to that, many use it as a launching pad into tournament play. "Five or six of the players who started out at casual level are competing in the NEC today," proudly proclaims Tom "Santa Claus" Shea.

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