Regionals are perhaps the most highly anticipated constructed tournaments of the year. With only a few historical exceptions it is the only significant Standard format tournament that has any relation to professional magic. State and Provincial Championships are also Standard but they do not feed up into higher levels of competition like Regionals. That is not to say that you will face Jon Finkel, Brian Kibler, and Osyp Lebedowicz every round. These events are to qualify players for National Championships and most of the name Pros are already qualified for those events. Every year there are new decks played by virtually unknown players that show up at Regionals and do well. These decks end up influencing what is played in Standard for the next couple of years. Let's look at the things you need to know so you can play in the Regional Championship near you.
The first thing you need to know is that all of the US, Canadian and US Military Regional tournaments will take place on Saturday, May 1st. The next thing you need to know is where the closest event to you is being held—hopefully you can find one within reasonable distance of where you live. Once you have found an event in your area you should contact the organization running the event and look into preregistering for the tournament. Many tournament organizers offer a small discount—usually $5—when you register for the event in advance. Not only will this save you money but it will guarantee that you can compete in the tournament should the event reach capacity. This will vary from region to region based on the space that the event organizer has booked but most events can accommodate upward of 500 players so you shouldn't be too concerned about being shut out. The organizer's webpage should contain information about driving directions, local accommodations, and any pertinent information you need to know for the event. If you don't find the information you need on the web you can either contact the organizer by phone or you can simply use www.mapquest.com to obtain driving directions.
Once you have penciled the event in on your calendar you should make you checklist of items to bring with you to the tournament. The most important item is obviously a 60-card minimum, Standard deck with either a 15-card or 0-card sideboard. The cards that are currently legal in the Standard format are any cards included in the following sets: 8th Edition, Onslaught, Legions, Scourge, Mirrodin, and Darksteel. As long as the card appears in any of those sets you may play with any version of that card you own regardless of printing or language. If you were going to play with Flashfires, for example, a Chinese Portal Flashfires is virtually the same as an 8th Edition version. I will use this opportunity to urge you keep your deck as close to 60 cards as possible with at least 24 lands. If you must play more cards—make sure you are playing enough land as well. I am also strongly against the 0-card sideboard. You will play up to 2/3 of you games after sideboarding, why give your opponent the advantage 2/3's of the time?
You are going to be expected to register the contents of the deck you play on a master List with your name and DCI number. This serves two purposes. It provides the judge staff with something they can consult to make sure you are not switching decks during the tournament. (In addition to not switching decks during the tournament, you must also start each round with your deck in its original state as listed when you began the tournament—no presideboarding, accidental or otherwise.) Judges will do periodic checks throughout the day so make sure you return your deck to its original order each round. The second purpose is so that if you make the Top 8 your decklist can be posted on magicthegathering.com for the entire world to see.
In order to save time when you arrive on the site I recommend having your deck registered before you get there. Many of the organizer's websites have a decklist you can download to register in advance. There is also one on the DCI downloads page that can be found here. By having your deck reregistered before you arrive you will cut down the likelihood of making errors on the sheet and allow you to spend more time before the tournament making trades and getting in some practice games. Trust me on this count—I have been on the wrong end of more than one deck check after hastily scribbling everything down moments before the tournament began.
Dice and beads are all well and good when keeping track of your life at Friday Night Magic. Regionals is played at a higher level of rules enforcement than you might be used to and I urge you to use pen and paper to keep track of your life total—and your opponent's. Should there be a discrepancy between two players as to the life totals the judge is much more likely to listen to someone taking the care to track it with pen and paper. Using pen and paper has a couple of additional benefits. You can make notations about the game—cards in your opponent's hand, significant cards from the first game to keep an eye out for in subsequent games, and—should you decide to brag about you victories—you can write down the names of your opponents to write a tournament report for your favorite Magic website.
Once you arrive and register for the tournament you will have to wait a short while before the first round begins. Two quick notes about that: One - Even if you preregistered you should make a point of letting the organizer know you are there—just because you preregistered does not mean you showed up. Two - The starting times listed for tournaments don't always reflect reality. If there are more people than expected the tournament can take longer to start than anticipated. Everyone who runs these events has been doing it for a long time and wants you to have a good time so you will come back. Try to be patient with them—the job is much harder than it looks.
While you are waiting you can take advantage by looking at some of the other decks people are playing or even getting in some practice games yourself. There will probably be a large dealer's area where local stores will have set up to sell single cards (you can probably find that elusive last card you need for a deck or collection), gaming supplies such as dice and card sleeves, and even boxes and booster packs. Other organizers will go out of there way to have a local Magic card artist make an appearance, check their website to see if you are in one of the lucky regions. You will also find that this is going to be one of the mother lode of all trading opportunities. There will be hundreds upon hundreds of players in attendance wielding their trade binders. If you are an avid trader, Regionals is worth attending for this aspect alone.
Once the tournament begins you will have 50 minutes each round to win the best two out of three games. The match is concluded once one player has won two games. If that has not happened by the time the time has elapsed the player whose turn it is when time elapses (the active player) will be allowed to conclude that turn and there will be five additional turns beyond that. Including the active player's turn when time elapses, each player has three turns. At that point if the game is not concluded it is considered a draw. The match will go to the player that has won the most games or it will be a draw if both players have won the same amount.
All Regionals tournaments are going to be run Swiss style. This means that all of the players can play for as many rounds that are announced at the beginning of the event regardless of their record. After a number of rounds—the number is based on the attendance—the top 8 players will advance to compete in Nationals. There will be additional prizes given out to these players as well. Players that do not finish in the top 8 will also win prizes although how deep the prizes go down will vary from region to region. Gray Matter Conventions is giving away thirty-two boxes of Darksteel with prizes starting at two boxes each for the Top 8 down to one half box each for the seventeenth through thirty-second places. Professional Event Services is doing the same and going one better giving away three packs each to thirty-third through sixty-fourth places.
During the tournament, you may find that you come up against a game situation that you do not understand or a rule you are unfamiliar with. It is very, very important that you call a judge over and ask for clarification in these instances. In fact, before the tournament begins, you should pay attention to who the Head Judge and become visually familiar with the other judges at the event. Make sure you have your rules questions answered by a tournament judge and not another player in the event—and certainly not by your opponent. When in doubt, call a judge.
There should be a full schedule of side events to play in if you decide to drop from the tournament. These will range from booster drafts to Type 1 tournaments and are usually run continually throughout the day. You cannot play in two tournaments at the same time. if you decide to play in another event make sure that you let the staff know you are dropping out of the tournament you were in previously. Most side events are run single elimination that means that once you lose you are out of the tournament. Make sure you know this before you sign up.
There has been quite a bit written about Regionals and the decks that you should play in the event. There was an excellent overview of the metagame written for magicthegathering.com by Mike Flores that can be found here. It should give you an idea of what decks to expect and how to play them or prepare for them. In addition to the official Magic site there are a number of other resources. Starcitygames.com has an amazing Regionals deck center that you can access. There have already been dozens and dozens of similar tournaments held throughout the world and Star City has an excellent database of the winning decks from most of those countries that can be found here. I also just received the following links from our man in Japan Ron Foster and contain all the winning lists from four Japanese Regional events that have taken place:
The decklists are in both Japanese and English and should provide some insight into what decks you might want to consider playing. I know that many players are loath to play something that they would consider a “netdeck”. If so then at least use these lists to know what the field is going to look like and what decks you deck will need to be able to cope with—while you might not like to “netdeck” most Magic players do not share your reservations.
Whether you use a stock copy of Ravager Affinity or choose to build a new deck that you think will excel in the current Standard environment I urge you to give your local Regionals tournament a chance. It is a great time, you will meet tons of players from your geographic area, there are great prizes to win even if you don't make the Top 8, and you might even see your decklist on the magicthegathering.com website.