This weekend I attended Grand Prix Richmond, the largest constructed Magic tournament ever! Today I would like to share my experience.

[Author's note: This article is intended for Magic players and non-Magic players. Feel free to share it with anyone interested in why people attend large Magic events or with anyone who may have a wrong impression of what goes on at Magic tournaments.]


How I got into Tournament Magic

I've been playing Magic since I was thirteen years old. It began as just a fun game to play with my older brother but quickly became the centerpiece of my life. After school I would go to the local game shop and play Magic with other gamers. Afterwards we would go out to eat together, play non-Magic games together, and do all sorts of social activities non-Magic players typically do with each other. Magic just happened to be the one thing we were all passionate about; the starting point to our friendships.

On weekends we would play in Magic tournaments. Tournaments were the highlight of my week because while only a few people would show up during the week, everyone would show up for the weekend tournaments. Tournaments would regularly be fifty or so players all playing Magic together.

After playing in local tournaments for several months, I learned of larger tournaments called PTQs (Pro Tour Qualifiers) and GPs (Grand Prix) where hundreds of players from the region would all gather together and play Magic. I wanted to go! I was fortunate to have a mom who volunteered to drive my friends and me to PTQs, even ones that were over an hour away. Thanks Mom!

As I began attending more and more PTQs and Grand Prix in my region, I gradually became friends with players from all over the southeast who were likewise traveling to these regional tournaments. I made friends with people living in Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, Arkansas, the Carolinas, Virginia – all over! We would keep in touch over the phone or in Internet chat rooms, mostly talking about Magic strategy, but often just goofing off and joking around as typical teenagers do. Laughing at ourselves and each other had sort of become a Rite of Passage, but it was always in good fun.

We drove to Atlanta one time (in 2001) for a Grand Prix and I ended up doing really well, making the Top 8 cut and coming very close to winning the whole tournament! Here is a photo of the Top 8 taken by the coverage team:

To this day I am still friends with half the people in this photo and nearly all of us still play Magic in some capacity.

Flash forward to this weekend.


Grand Prix Richmond

When I heard about Grand Prix Richmond and that it would be the Modern format, I made plans to fly to the event from Chicago. In the days leading up to the tournament, pre-registration numbers began growing fast and it was looking like it would be one of the largest Magic tournaments ever. By the time I left for the airport, there were over three thousand people already signed up to play! I knew this was going to be unlike any tournament I'd ever been to and I was grinning in anticipation just thinking about it.

I had a layover in Detroit and when I got to the gate for my connecter flight to Richmond I met up with a handful of Magic players who were also en route to the Grand Prix and who likewise had a connecter in Detroit. It was just like going to the local game shop after school, not knowing who else would show up, but knowing there would always be someone there to play Magic with. This is crazy to think about considering we are still 500 miles away from the event site! I ended up sitting next to my buddy Jasper from Wisconsin during the flight and we talked about what decks we were each playing in the tournament, among other non-Magic things.

When I got to my hotel, I met up with my teammates that I was sharing a hotel room with. We also ran into some other Magic friends from New York in the Lobby. I joked with one of them about a memorable match we played a few years ago involving Creeping Tar Pit. We all had a good laugh. Several groups of Magic players were staying at our hotel, which is the norm for events of this size.

The following morning I made my way to the Convention Center where there were over 4,300 players competing in the event, not including the dozen vendors and hundreds of other people who came to play in side events. As I panoramically surveyed the tournament hall, I'd never seen so many people seated and ready to play in a single tournament. It was quite the sight to behold! I was then informed that the tournament was divided into two rooms and that I was only looking at 2,500 players. There were another 1,800 players in the tournament hall upstairs!!!

For anyone interested, this is the deck I played:

DECKID=1190492

I started off doing well in the tournament but ended up losing my last two rounds on Saturday to barely miss the cut to Day 2. So just like 3,800 of the other participants, I was out of the main event and playing in side events on Sunday. Fortunately this meant I got to sleep in and then go out to eat at a delicious restaurant while many of my friends competed in the second day of the tournament. Jasper from the plane ride texted me asking to bring him back food while he was playing, so I was at least able to make myself useful. This is the sort of thing that is common among friends at tournaments.

After the Grand Prix finished on Sunday, several groups of people went out to dinner at local restaurants. As should be expected, half the patrons in the restaurants were Magic players. So even if someone from the tournament showed up alone to eat, they had no trouble finding a table of Magic players to join and eat with. Even if you're not a direct friend of someone at the table, you're probably a friend of a friend. And if not, you're at least a Magic player just like everyone else. It's always awesome to see Magic players come together not just at the tournament itself but at the airports, restaurants, hotels, and other venues surrounding the tournament site. There is even a running joke that you can tell you're getting close to the event site when you start seeing Magic cards in the streets and people with backpacks.

My return flight was not until Monday whereas my teammates that I was rooming with were leaving Sunday night, so I ended up finding two other friends (Mani and Justin) to split a hotel room with for Sunday night. We stayed up laughing at funny twitter posts and telling stories of past tournament shenanigans we'd each been a part of. I didn't know Mani or Justin all that well until this weekend, but there is something about the Magic community that makes it so easy to instantly make friends with other Magic players. We're all gamers traveling to tournaments to have fun and hang out with people who are likewise passionate about this game we all play. Age, race, gender, and even language seem to be irrelevant when it comes to Magic.


After the Tournament

Upon arriving home from a long weekend of traveling and hanging out with friends, I was pretty exhausted, so I fell asleep and didn't wake for about ten hours. When I finally woke up, I checked my Facebook and twitter, expecting to see all kinds of stories surrounding one of the largest Magic tournaments ever held.

I was thinking about Grand Prix Vegas, the other 4,000+ person Magic tournament held earlier in the year, which garnered attention from Magic and non-Magic news sources and the news reflected very positively on the game. The buzz was about Magic's twenty-year growth and the heightened interest in tournament Magic in recent years. I was hoping to find something similar when I woke up on Tuesday morning.

Instead all the talk seemed to be focused around an incident where someone took unflattering photographs of other Magic players at the tournament and posted them online as a joke. My initial reaction was that it was just Magic players goofing off and joking around with each other. As I've said before, laughing at ourselves and each other seems to be a Rite of Passage in the Magic world. I can't tell you how many times people make jokes about me always playing white in my deck. Even this weekend I played a traditional Green/Black deck (The Rock) and had to add a few white cards to it just because. That's just the type of player I am and when people make jokes about it, I laugh along with them. I know that it's all in good fun.

So like many members of the Magic community, I joined in and started cracking jokes, making light of the issue and not really thinking much of it. But after having some time to reflect and to see the effects of the incident, I realized that the incident was a joke that went too far and that it reflected poorly on the Magic community as whole.

Instead of hearing about the record-breaking growth of Magic and tournament interest that we heard following Grand Prix Vegas, we saw non-Magic news feeds capturing Magic tournaments in a very different light. They highlighted us making fun of each other in bad taste and it seems to have caused two negative reactions both from within and from outside the Magic world. First, it has invited non-Magic players to join in and mock the Magic players portrayed unflatteringly in the photos, resulting in many pointing the finger at and mocking the entire Magic community, not just the players in the photos. Secondly, it leaves the impression that Magic tournaments are places where people get mocked and made fun of from people they don't even know.

While it is true that Magic players have a tendency to joke around with each other, it is unfortunate that the impression this news leaves with people is that the joking is mocking and unfriendly in nature, given that this one particular incident seems to be of such a nature. The vast majority of Magic players I see at tournaments are respectful toward each other and are there to have fun. I've forged so many friendships and met so many awesome people at tournaments. Like anywhere else, there are corner cases where someone shows up to mock or be uninviting, but such people are exceptions rather than the norm. It's unfortunate that this one corner case overshadowed all the good.

As a community, I feel much of our identity lies in the ease with which we are able to form an instant bond with other Magic players. The fact that this one incident has painted the Magic community in such a different light is the most disheartening part to me. I say this not from a soapbox. In fact, as I have already pointed out, my initial reaction was to join in on the humor. After some reflecting though, I feel it is better not to encourage such behavior and instead to set a different example.


Conclusion

Despite not doing particularly well in the tournament, I had a great time! I got to spend time with lots of friends from all over the country. I got to play Magic all weekend. I got to eat at great restaurants, meet new friends, deepen existing friendships, and also to meet people who read my articles, watch my videos, or talk to me online that I had never met in person before. All this is possible because Magic is such a great game and because the Magic community is such an awesome group of people. For me, as with most other players, tournaments have always been less about the "Magic" and more about "The Gathering." I hope that we can all keep that in mind and to make sure we don't give people the wrong impression of who we are by making jokes that reflect poorly on us. Grow the community by inviting others to be your friend, not the opposite. We're all just here to have fun and to play Magic.

...and in my case, to play with white cards. :)

Craig Wescoe
@Nacatls4Life on twitter