Of course, I didn't think for one second any of you thought the journey through U.S. Nationals was over.
Super Friday Night Magic was just the most relaxed-yet-structured fun encountered on my Super Fun Magic Trip. I have more to say but I'll let the chips fall where they may—prepare yourself for six lessons-du-jour through my experiences at Nationals.
Wednesday, August 18: Getting to Minneapolis
The first rule of traveling? Carry only what you need. As for any event, I took some time to ensure that I would not just grab what I needed but check against what should be needed. I'll skip my more mundane packing and cut right to the heart: my bag of Magic tricks.
- Three different decks and 20 Archenemy Scheme cards (see Power Trip)
- Every Plane card
- My pauper cube and box of lands
- Three EDH decks:
- Two trade binders, organized
- A small, black, leather notebook
- Block of 45 six-sided dice (now lost to Tom LaPille, more later)
- Pen and paper pad for tracking life totals
- Digital camera
- Play set of Day of Judgment to be signed by Vincent Proce
If you're thinking, "That's a lot!" well, it was. Wednesday I was optimistic that I'd churn through everything before the weekend was done. However, it turned out to be excessive. While I was planning to go for everything, the reality is that I would only have time for specifics—"everything" was a luxury time could never afford.
When you plan to head off to an event, and certainly the next time I'm heading to one, I plan to follow this: cut back on extras by making hard decisions. Dice, camera, and a notebook make sense for me—they are basic tools for the writer-planeswalker—but three EDH decks was at least one, perhaps two, too many. Similarly, two trade binders made things a bit heavier than they needed to be.
While it's impossible to have the foresight to predict everything you will have time for in advance, taking a moment to seriously consider what you really want to do and bringing the tools to do just that will make your bag a bit easier to load up. As a byproduct, you'll also have less to keep track of—a handy feature for avoiding unfortunate things.
Thursday, August 19: Meet the Neighbors
Thursday the event site kicked off with Last Chance Qualifiers—"Grinders" in competitive lingo—and I went on a brief tour of the surrounding few blocks from the convention center. More importantly I was able to capitalize on breaking out my cube, something that I had been looking forward to doing for quite awhile.
I love getting to play with my creation, similar to how many of you enjoy your fun decks and specialty themes, but a four-player draft is a bit paltry for a room full of Magic players. While bonding over cards with fellow members of the coverage team—the group of new friends circumstance brought me into—was a great thing, I didn't make an effort to bring in a few more players.
You know, other new friends I could have met?
Big events can be intimidating and Nationals was quite imposing to me when I first dropped into it. What I failed to understand is that regardless of the player, each one of them around me was there for Magic. Think about that: a room full of people who share a common interest and had come all the way to the bottom of a building in Minneapolis to engage in it. Why wouldn't there be a few new faces and names I could learn?
Playing with friends is great, but how will you know if the next person doesn't have a card you're looking for, or a deck you'll use as inspiration for your own take on it? What about a partner or two to catch dinner if your appetite is on a different schedule? Putting your hand out with a firm and bright "Hello!" is a surprisingly effective way to find new people for Two-Headed Giant, EDH, or ... Drafts.
All you have to do is ask.
Friday, August 20: An Empty Crowded House
Super Friday Night Magic was something I covered, graphically, last week. However there was one not-so-subtle point I raised: Magic is not just a "boys club" of guys slinging cardboard.Nicole
The irony of pointing out Nicole specifically outside of the four rounds of the event, while maintaining that we should never treat other players differently, is not lost on me. I thought long and hard before putting it in there right up until I saved my final copy. But there's an interesting trend I've noticed: the bigger the event, the higher the percentage of female attendees.
Perhaps it's coincidence or luck, but compared to the various small store events, the number of "girl gamers" ramps up when big shows get put on. I don't have hard facts or solid numbers, but it's no stretch to say that women are underrepresented in Magic, at least in terms of gender percentages between the world at large and Magic events.
Nicole shared some specifics on how she's been treated differently:
- Assumed to only like Magic "for the pretty cards"
- Played down to as though she didn't know how the game worked
- Losers who take great pain at "losing to a girl"
This isn't an easy topic to address but it's one that needs to be brought up. Magic players of all types, regardless of gender or superficial features, are still Magic players: every one deserves and should be able to expect the same respect you yourself would want.
Nicole and the other women I've run into playing Magic have shared eerily familiar experiences. While I won't suggest that we're all at fault somehow, I do believe we can all endeavor to move forward both more conscious of how we're treating other players as well as encourage more potential players, of all types, to give Magic a whirl.
Pro Tip: Scars of Mirrodin Prerelease events are a great way to introduce someone to the primal excitement of fresh, new Magic. There's something for everyone there!
Saturday, August 21: Plan Accordingly
The festive atmosphere of a singularity of Magic can make anyone lose track of time. However, when dealing with queuing up for side events and getting from point A to point B, time is vitally important.
You could end up missing out on exactly what you wanted to do.
Big events can quickly become a maze of people, especially when pairings—the seating chart that shows you who your opponent is and which table slot you're playing at—go up from the judges every round. Complicating matters are the overlapping nature of events; the biggest event going on generally has the largest amount of players getting up and down around the same times, and when there are several events of size happening the areas near the tables where judges are set up gets full.
Ever try to get through a checkout line in a hurry during holiday season?
Budgeting your time to handle what you set out to do seems simple but without effort gets overlooked:
- Scope out the table arrangements in advance of registering
- Register toward the beginning of an event, so that:
- You ensure your slot for it
- You don't have to queue up or get caught in too much traffic immediately before it starts
- Take personal breaks (food, restroom, phone calls) before or after the event, if possible
- Ask judges the questions and concerns you think of in advance
I saw an unfortunate number of players receive game penalties—namely, a loss—because they were late to their seat. While there are certainly legitimate reasons this can happen, working with the clock instead of against it will help immensely.
Sunday, August 22: Jump On It
I thought I had budgeted my time well and, if I had adhered to a stricter schedule I would have enjoyed quite a few games with the decks we teamed up to put together. However, capitalizing on opportunities as they present themselves is another avenue of considerations you'll encounter.
Did you know that there are at least two different karaoke establishments in Minneapolis? I know this because I visited one—along with quite a few other familiar faces. Karaoke doesn't have much to do with Magic, and I don't have any clever comparisons for you, but singing together has everything to do with great memories and exciting adventures.
Heading out of town for a Magic event isn't just playing Magic: you're in a strange, new town to explore. Trying unique or landmark culinary locales, entreating yourself to the local social scenes, and even just taking a tour of the city are all things that smart travelers do.
Magic isn't the end; it's the means to so much more.
While I truly wanted to break out my new decks (After spending quite a bit of time Thursday tracking down the last few cards I really needed for them!) experiencing the bonding power of social forces not involving clever cardboard was something I know I won't be forgetting anytime soon. Keeping your eyes open, and your feet ready, for the best distractions life has to offer is always a great idea.
Monday, August 23—$#&% Happens, Keep Rolling
You may be wondering why I haven't inserted any pictures of these things I've touched on. Monday, shortly before leaving, my hard drive took a nosedive into no-longer-working land. While I'm thankful that I was lucky enough to send out some very important things, losing days of images and work was not exciting in the least.
Things can go wrong on trips. Hard drives fail, you can get sick and fly home to land a horrific earache, and run out of money a few times over. All of those things happened to me. But building in backup plans and redundant means of making things work, means progress can be made—even in the face of everything ending.
While my greatest lesson here is quite narrow (back up your data constantly, not in large, infrequent chunks) I'm really getting at something a bit larger: disappointments will happen. If you came to Minneapolis just for one big thing like, say, "win U.S. Nationals" you may have discovered a slight problem: there were over two hundred others who came to do the same thing. Strictly speaking, the odds were set severely against you.
Setting goals, budgeting time, and even jumping out into diversions and side jaunts are great—but handling things that go awry and against your grain are just as important. If you let the frustration of missing individual goals set the tone, your entire weekend will turn into one long grind.
I was pretty steamed about my hard drive—my laptop being not even a year old and all—but I quickly pushed it out of the way. Is dropping some money on tech repairs something I wanted? No, but getting wrapped up in that now would have been disastrous. I had a group breakfast to catch before the airport, after all!
Keeping a cool head and relaxing about the rough imperfections of life will make your next trip glow ever brighter with the memories of great things. I know mine does!
And that is six different lessons I have to share from a little trip to Minneapolis, MN. If you've ever been to a big event let us know what you learned—how you kept the fun rolling, the bad blues away, and what you decided was worth bringing out to the site with you.
We all have slightly different, and more, wisdom to impart!
Join me next week when I reach into the past, talking about the future. Catch you then!