When the recent Grand Prix Boston was announced, I knew I wanted to go. I live in a Boston suburb and the event itself was less than an hour from my house. Assuming I would be in Boston when the GP was on (I missed the last one as I was scheduled to be in the land of Cleve), I would attend.
I had a great time and wanted to use this week's article to encourage you all to go if you find an event in your area. The experience of being at an event with so many other Magic players doesn't come along all that often, so I encourage you to take the opportunity to go.
The Grand Prix offers a potpourri of experiences and I encourage you to take full advantage of them all. I want to lay out the options, since you'll have a much more fulfilling experience if you can prepare ahead of time.
Getting the chance to be part of a massive tournament can be amazing. These tournaments are the reason for the Grand Prix existing in the first place. The format changes from one GP to the next.
Preparation ahead of time is key when you decide you are going to play in the tournament. There is no way to register on the day of the GP, so you'll need to do that ahead of time. For most Grand Prix, you'll need to have a deck ready long before you walk in the door.
Many players view the Grand Prix as little more than the main event, and it just isn't true. Tom Shea, the organizer for GP Boston, set up a wide variety of side events, most of them starting right away. Drafts were started every time there were eight players who signed up. Over the course of the weekend, there were 101 drafts! With the main event being a Modern tournament, there were side events for Standard players. There were Sealed events, with Two-Headed Giant and Mini-Masters tournaments running regularly. Conspiracy drafts were available, and even small Commander tournaments were firing off with regularity.
If the main event is not something you're interested in, check out the side events. Every tournament organizer has a website that lays out what side events are being offered and at what times they start. Some events are not as popular, so they start at specific times, rather than throughout day. Some events have specific prizes (an uncut sheet of Magic cards was one prize), and they start at specific times. Bringing that knowledge beforehand is key.
Every Grand Prix has several Magic artists in attendance, and GP Boston was no exception. Artists generally bring along prints of many of their pieces, as well as artist proofs. I personally love the proofs. Proofs are a copy of the card with their art on it, but with a blank white back. Wizards of the Coast provides the artists with many copies of these proofs for each image they create. Assuming the line isn't too long, many artists will do up a quick sketch on the back, giving each proof a more personal touch. Some artists will have playmats or even the original art of some of the cards!
Eric Deschamps was one of many artists at GP Boston-Worcester
Most players who are interested in the artists bring a few cards to be signed. I like getting my cards signed by the artists since it adds a personal touch and reminds you of the event every time you see that card in a deck.
The best way to take full advantage of artist attendance is to find out who is attending. Most Grand Prix have web pages that tell you months ahead of time who is attending. Be sure to check often, as people occasionally have to cancel at the last minute, or the Tournament Organizer was able to scoop up another artist on short notice. Knowing who the artists are before you get to the site means you can bring some of your cards to be signed, rather than wish you had while trying to scramble around the venue to find the cards you are looking to have signed.
If you're anything like me, think of something to say beforehand, rather than stammering once it is your turn. Most of these folks have been sitting there for hours, signing cards for people who say nothing more than, "San you sign these?" A short conversation is polite and engaging.
Dealers from all over the country were at GP Boston, offering most any card you could want. I don't remember exactly, but there were between ten and twenty different dealers there. Rows of shiny foils and stacks of Moxes sat alongside Commander staples, all lined up under the glass, waiting for you. And it wasn't just cards! Duel Decks, From the Vault sets, and other sealed Magic products were there. Deck boxes and sleeves of all sizes and shapes were available with several vendors. Blank playmats and playmats with all sorts of art on them were also available.
I had made an order from one of the dealers online before the Grand Prix and dealer was able to bring it along for me to pick up while there. It was an easy way to avoid the usual shipping charge, and it proved to be very convenient.
My primary interaction with the dealers over the weekend related to Krond. I decided to build a Krond the Dawn-Clad Commander deck, and Judson Gruber, creator of the infamous Dinosaur deck, was kind enough to send me a list. I filled out most of it with my collection but was missing a handful of cards. I moved from one dealer to the next, slowly turning my want list of cards into my have list. In the end, there was only one card that I could not find, and it was an obscure uncommon that the dealers hadn't brought with them. I'll be sharing this list in the near future, as I had a chance to play an epic game of Commander that needs to be shared.
When it comes to the dealers, I recommend bringing a list of cards you are looking to pick up. I am a terrible impulse buyer who will see something I want in every booth. A list of wants keeps me on track, mostly. It is also nice when you can simply pass your list of cards to the great sales people working behind the counters. I found the knowledge of inventory for most of these people to be astounding, and the list proved invaluable. Also, be sure to look at all the dealers' offerings before buying anywhere. With so many booths so close to each other, prices can be competitive, and there is no sense in you paying more than you would if you just walked fifty steps to another booth.
With so many Magic players in a room, trading is everywhere. I trade very little (my hoarding tendencies come out strongly when we're talking about Magic), so I don't have a lot to say about the topic, but if you had cards you were willing to trade, you could likely find someone who had something you'd want to trade.
Trading demands some significant preparation beforehand. Understanding the demand for the cards you have and the ones you want to trade for is essential, and that knowledge is far beyond the scope of this article (and this writer). A binder with the cards you are willing to give up is a start. If trading is something you really want to do at the Grand Prix, I recommend talking to the fellows at Brainstorm Brewery. They will be far more help than I.
Relying on the site hosting the Grand Prix to have food is dicey and expensive. Keep in mind that you may be at the site through lunch and dinner, depending on your plans. At the very least, bring drinks and snacks. As the day wears on, you'll be glad you did.
Grand Prix are great places to just get in a few casual games with friends. I got the chance to play plenty of Commander games with old friends, new friends, and a few people I'd never met before. In fact, I spent most of my GP experience playing Commander with several people I'd only known before through Twitter. A Grand Prix has a very party-like atmosphere, so willingness to just walk up to people playing and asking to get in on the next game will take you a long way.
If you plan to play some casual games, be prepared. Bring your fun Commander decks and have a great time. I had brought a box of Conspiracy cards in hopes of getting in a Conspiracy draft. It never happened, but I was ready if it had.
Speaking of friends, bring your friends! You've been playing Magic with these people for a while, so it just makes sense to share the Grand Prix experience with them. It will only make the entire experience better for you and them.
Several members of my playgroup were able to make it out to the GP. Tyler and Johannes both entered the main event, so I got to share their progress through the day. John and Kevin came and entered several side events, so I had the chance to hear how things were going and check out their draft decks. John and I even managed to get in some games of Commander through the afternoon. I was thrilled the guys could be there and wish the ones who weren't could have made it.
Over the course of the day, you are going to meet plenty of new people, whether you are playing or trading, or checking out the artists. You may not run into them again outside of the GP, or they may end up at your kitchen table every week for your casual games. A smile and a friendly attitude go a long way.
This was the best part of the Grand Prix for me. I met so many people who I'd only known online, and some I'd never spoken with at all. I got a chance to talk with them and play so many games. I was lucky enough to be part of a dinner on Saturday night with 25 others, most of whom I'd never met in person.
Meeting Adam "the Stybs" Styborski!
The highlight was having Command Tower's Adam Styborski stay at my place for the weekend. We'd planned this more than a month in advance, and it was a blast. He is every bit as much fun as you might imagine, and his decks bring all kinds of crazy to your games. It was good to have someone to hang with for most of the weekend, and great to make a new friend like Stybs. If your Grand Prix experience nets you a friend like that, you'd be crazy to miss it.