Grand Prix are among the greatest experiences any Magic player can have. While playing at your usual local game store is great, wouldn't you like to Traverse the Ulvenwald and embark upon bigger horizons?
This weekend, we've got eight players from the little island of Guam, all participating in their very first Grand Prix. The close-knitted group were clearly very excited to be here, and had no qualms sharing some stories either.
Where is Guam anyway? And who was the one who suggested the trip across the Pacific?
Perez: "Oh, that would be Anthony. He's not here right now because he's playing in a side event. But he was the one who took the leap of faith and booked the flight. Then, the rest of us decided to eventually tag along and the group kind of snowballed from there. We're pretty close to both the Philippines and Japan, and we figured that it's probably our best shot at attending a Premier Event."
As you can see, in close-knitted communities, all you need is a tiny nudge and a little initiative from a single person to get the ball rolling. It also helps that all 8 players are dedicated players to the game.
They did choose a good one to attend though. Aside from Grand Prix Tokyo being the largest Standard tournament ever, it's also a great city with excellent heritage, cuisine and sights.
Avilla: "Our population isn't huge and we've only got about 150,000 residents on the island. To have a comparatively smaller pool of players is natural. However, we've been trying very hard to grow our group and one of the ways we can show our support is to show up at every tournament there is."
The squad shared with me that they've only got a handful of stores throughout the island, and only a single judge. Thankfully, the only one that they have is a Level 2, which means that they're able to get access to Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifiers and Grand Prix Trials. Their Prereleases have seen around 50 – 70 players on average, while their PPTQs and GPTs draw around 20 – 30, which not too bad considering the player pool.
Cole-Burch: "Because the population of Guam is so small, it is difficult to focus a lot of attention on this market, and we understand that. However, what we're trying to do is to assimilate tourists, travelers and expatriates and make them feel like a part of the community. Once people feel comfortable around a group, it makes them more likely to want to play more Magic."
From left: Michael Perez, Danielson Quintanilla, Salvador Avilla, Damien Cole-Burch, Michael Quenga
Cole-Burch was speaking from experience first-hand, because he was previously the outsider of the group. Originally from the United States, he has relocated temporarily to Guam as a military personnel and has been living there for around three years.
Cole-Burch: "I knew next to nobody when I got here, but those guys 'took me in' and made me feel like a part of them. I'd like to do the same for someone else, so if any tourists or expatriates visit, I would be happy to show them around and introduce them to the local community. That's one good way to get another player on board and forge new friendships."
So what was their first Grand Prix experience like?
Quenga: "I'm learning a lot and I've got a newfound appreciation for Magic. The fact that I can play with someone else who doesn't speak the same language as me is fascinating. It's like Magic is a universal language, and we as Magic players can be understood wherever we go. I went 3-6 in the main event, but this doesn't discourage me because I've had a lot of fun all weekend."
Hey, don't worry buddy. Even the best of us can have a bad day, but the most important thing is to continue honing your skills and keep coming back. Danielson Quintanilla also shared with me a story about how a series of miscommunications with his opponent and the judges led to a little misunderstanding.
Quintanilla: "Coming to a foreign land and participating in my first Grand Prix, I was not fully educated on the penalty guidelines and tournament processes. There was a match where I felt that my opponent was doing something wrong, but I was too afraid to ask for the Head Judge. I only found out after the incident that judges were around to enforce the game, rather than to punish us. This is something that comes with experience, and this incident has only motivated me to play at more high-level events."
Perez: "I play every Friday Night Magic, as well as every tournament that is held. I even won a PPTQ which allows me to attend the RPTQ to attempt to qualify for Sydney. However, that's still not enough Planeswalker Points to get me a single bye. If we can get a few more judges within the community, we would be able to get more tournaments going to help us get an advanced standing at Grand Prix."
Of the eight, two of them managed to make it through to Day 2 despite not having any byes at all.
Cole-Burch: "It was a wild ride. Both myself and Salvador had the same 2-3 record, and we both thought we were dead for sure. However, I pressed on and ended up obtaining the required 6-3 record. After winning my match, I ran over to Salvador's table and witnessed him win his match too! That was a pretty magical moment!"
Avilla: "When we used to play at our local game store, everything was much more casual. Over here, I've found out that I need to take things more seriously. Everyone is well-mannered, playing prim and proper, and so serious about wanting to do well. This is one huge Grand Prix, but it doesn't intimidate me at all. All I want is to keep my spirits up, and try to do the best that I can. It also helps that everyone in Japan is so polite!"
Both players also shared that there is a huge difference playing in Day 1 versus playing in Day 2. Everyone seems to know their deck inside out and the quality of play is much higher. It does come across to them that making Day 2 is an achievement in itself, because they're among the better players of the crowd, at least for that day.
Aside from star-sanded beaches, crystal clear blue skies and world-famous sunsets, you'll be happy to know that Magic players are also in Guam, and I'm pretty sure everywhere else as well.