There was once a time when 2,000 players at a Grand Prix was record shattering. The massive scale of modern Magic events makes those days seem small. Nearly 4,000 players turned out for the main event at Grand Prix New Jersey, and it was Legacy that players were ready to play.
"I'm 0-and-2 already."
Brian Coval, sometimes judge but this time player, had come to Edison, New Jersey for a simple reason: "When a Legacy Grand Prix is announced in my region, I go," Coval said. "I was only vaguely aware it was expected to be this large. I'm here because it's Legacy."
So what hooks a player on a format filled with old cards and older tricks? "Eight or nine years ago I decided I'd rather be playing old cards. Legacy is a format I just like a lot; I haven't built a Standard deck since."
"I played Elves today," Coval continued, "because I always play Elves and I believe it's a strong choice almost all the time. It's really good at playing the game in a variety of ways: It was a potential turn two combo, generally turn three, and if that doesn't work it's a deck full of creatures. It can feel like having Young Pyromancer on turn one, and the cards are really tricky. There's a lot of on board synergy that opponents can miss. I think it's one of the most complicated decks in the format."
Unlike formats like Standard that revolve around the addition of new cards and set rotation, Legacy relies on deeper history. Each big event can have a ripple effect across the format for years. Coval didn't miss a shift in Elves two years ago. "Channel Fireball, at Grand Prix Denver, just redefined Elves," Coval said. "They figured out that Natural Order is better than splashing white and using Mirror Entity since you could just get Craterhoof Behemoth and win the game."
Passion for Legacy, and excitement about Magic's past, pulled in the thick crowd but it was far from the only draw.
A quintet of players were found in the few open tables available, and they had wasted no time getting down to the business of playing. Alex (Vorel of the Hull Clade), Leslie (Phelddagrif), Carlos (Grimgrin, Corpse-Born), and Andrew (Ruhan of the Fomori) were locked in a four-way tussle. Rest in Peace by Andrew and Relic of Progenitus under Leslie made things tough for Carlos and his graveyard-based shenanigans, which Alex took advantage of pressing his attacks thanks to Hardened Scales, Seedborn Muse, and an active Vorel of the Hull Clade.
It was a glorious mess of things, as most Commander games are want to do. (Carlos went on make the full recovery on the back of Steel Hellkite clearing the way for his gregarious graveyard.) Becca had just returned from visiting rk post where she picked up an owl token, her favorite creature, and had a new sketch added to playmat – a coming holiday gift for a friend.
Even without games, there's always something to do. Playing Magic at all isn't even required for a few.
How does a talented fellow come to an event without playing? Matt Stewart explained: "I'm a freelance illustrator, and I've done a lot of work for Magic: The Gathering. I was invited to the Grand Prix here – I'm drawing on and signing cards."
Like many of the players, Stewart was a "local" based out Philadelphia, on the New Jersey side in Runnemede. It wasn't his first show on the road. "I see a lot of Narcomoebas and Dualcaster Mage – and a lot of promo Force of Wills. More than I expected," Stewart shared. His take on the iconic Legacy card, Force of Will, was featured as the prize for the Legacy Championship in 2011 and released as a promotional premium foil card earlier this year.
So what does a Grand Prix feel like for an artist? "They're like marathons with drawing and signing," Stewart said, "but I like how supportive and interested the players are in the art itself You don't get that feedback a lot from other games." Was New Jersey any different? "It's been a pretty normal Grand Prix: Lots of requests for strange stuff and sketches."
While discussions around Treasure Cruise and what the top players had brought for the weekend would hum loudly through the event, it's the everything else that brought this many people to bear in Edison.