At the Gathering – Conventional Tactics

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Wednesday, August 12th – My very first major Convention was GenCon 2006. Before that, I’d been to small, local conventions, the kind that draws a few hundred, maybe a thousand attendees. The kind of Convention small enough that I was a Guest of Honor… for two years in a row. But GenCon ’06 was my first time on the big stage.

My very first major Convention was GenCon 2006. Before that, I’d been to small, local conventions, the kind that draws a few hundred, maybe a thousand attendees. The kind of Convention small enough that I was a Guest of Honor… for two years in a row. But GenCon ’06 was my first time on the big stage. I remember walking around on Friday night with nothing to do. I hadn’t made any plans, I didn’t know what was going on, and I ended up spending over an hour watching the auction. Then, on Sunday night, I ate dinner alone in my room, because I hadn’t thought to get the room numbers of other attendees I knew, and couldn’t find anyone.

The next convention I went to, I planned my time so rigidly I was always in a game. I didn’t want to waste any time like I did at GenCon. But at 7:00, when some guys were headed out to dinner, and conceivably debauchery afterwards, I couldn’t, because I had a High-Stakes Risk 2210 tournament to play in. I won that tournament, but I wished I hadn’t, because the stories I heard the next morning far eclipsed the moderate amount of fun I had in that tournament. Sure, the Risk 2210 game was positive EV, but it wasn’t the best EV I could get in terms of fun and memories.

This week, we’re going to resume our discussion on Conventions. Last time, we covered a lot of pre-Convention planning, like which conventions to go to, how many, and how to get there. This week, we’ll cover the actual convention itself, and how to maximize the amount of fun you’ll have while there.

First, I want to reference you to three articles by our very own Rich Hagon on planning for your experience.

Underpants, Teddies, and Toblerone: Advice for Magic Travel

Uncle Rich’s Magic Travel Guide

Enjoying you Pro Tour Experience

While I won’t go into the depth he has on these topics, I will cover them briefly. (No pun intended)

Travel with friends is an important Rich brings up, pointing out not only the financial benefits of taxi sharing, but also the safety benefits as well. Someone lifting a bag from you alone is a lot easier than from a group of 7 guys, and the accompanying 14 eyes they come with (Unless you’re traveling with a pirate, then it could be less) besides, fantastic stories rarely start out with “I was all alone in the airport” but more often begin “So, 6 of us are drinking at the airport bar/hotel bar/local bar/bathtub filled with ice and beer…” And those great stories also make for great friends.

Next, use carry-ons as much as possible, and for as much of your stuff as possible. It never leaves you, and thus can’t be lost. This is where you should keep your valuables, like your deck. Assume the airline will lose your checked luggage, and you should be fine.

Be very cautious with drugs and/or hookers.

Have cash on hand, just in case.

The preceding two items are not intentionally related.

Okay, let’s look at how to spend your free time while you are attending your Convention of choice. First of all, if you get there early, scope out the surrounding area. Find out if there’s a cheap drug store where you can get much cheaper water, Tylenol, Red Bull, or whatever your pain reliever/stimulant of choice is. I have stretched many a budget at a Convention by finding cheap alternatives. For instance, in Manhattan, the Hot Dogs inside the Javits Center (Home to New York Comic Con and Worlds ’07) are a great deal more expensive than the Two-Dogs-and-a-Drink stand two blocks away. Similarly, buying a two-gallon jug of Orange Juice and keeping it in the hotel fridge was far cheaper than trying to buy a bottle each morning. Looking around can also help you find interesting other attractions that may be nearby. U.S. Nationals ’08 in Chicago was actually very close to Soldier Field, the home of the Chicago Bears Football team, and the morning after it ended, I was able to walk over and stroll around, and take a few pictures for my fanatical-Bears-fan supervisor.

On to the events, look ahead of time at what you want to participate in. I have yet to see a Pro Tour or Grand Prix without some sort of advance schedule posted somewhere. Even if it’s just going to the event site beforehand to see that, my oh my, if I don’t make Day 2, there’s a nice Legacy event I could try and take down with Dreadtill. You can even plan these events with friends, coordinating to either be in the same events, or in different events (so you don’t have to compete in the finals as you mow down the field, obviously.)

In addition, planning your events means you can plan your packing. No interesting Eternal events on the docket? Leave your duals at home. It’s a lot harder for a thief to nick your Foil Sol Ring if it’s at home, in your box, behind locked doors, compared to in your backpack, moving around behind your eyes, amongst thousands of strangers. You may want to bring trade stock, but I recommend bringing a small trade binder, one that you can keep an easy eye on, and that is full of actual cards you want to trade. This is not the occasion to bring your brag binder, with your signed Yawgmoth’s will and full set of Duals that you’ll never trade. Unless you need to play with them, or intend to actually trade them, don’t bring them.

Unless you’re getting them signed. Most every Convention will have an artist or two (or nine, if it’s Seattle) that will be signing cards and slinging art for reasonable price. As a big art nerd, I make it a point to track down which artists are appearing at a show and then do a gatherer search for all the cards they’ve done, and make a list of which one’s I want to get signed.

But don’t trust gatherer for everything. They won’t show you Player Rewards cards, FNM Foils, or any other promotional artwork cards that weren’t specifically released in a set. Duel Decks? Yes. Token Cards? No. From the Vault cards? Yes. FNM Foils? No. MPR? No. Prerelease and Launch Party cards? No. See the pattern? So flip through your pile of FNM Winnings and check the artist real quick. I was able to get a pretty gnarly Goblin Token alteration done by Dave Kendall because I took the time to flip through the tokens in 10th edition.

Moving back to time management, be open to random possibilities. Group of guys heading out on the town for drinks and debauchery? Have at least the ability to say yes. Now, if it’s round 9 of the Grand Prix, and you’re playing for Day 2, feel free to pass on the shenanigans. But be willing to walk away from a mediocre choice for the chance at a great one. During one show, I decided to 0-1 drop from a tournament because a) my sealed pool wasn’t great, b) the group was about to leave for dinner, and c) I wasn’t in the mood to get frustrated at losing. Turned out to be one of the better nights of my life, drinking with some unnamed Wizards staff and two unnamed artists. The following night, a pretty raucous patio party ensued, featuring the same cast, plus a few unnamed pro players and a few more unnamed Wizards staff, and a few random fans. All because I decided that Tempest Sealed in partial German wasn’t as fun as dinner with the guys.

Speaking of food, you should eat some. Staying well-nourished is obviously a good bet, and you never know when having a sandwich nearby will help. Bill Stark is rumored to have won at least once by playing with his sandwich in plain sight of his starving opponent, throwing him on tilt enough to take down the match. Food is good, and liquids even better. Keep hydrated as often as possible, and try to put something solid and semi-nutritious into your body at least once a day, but preferably more often.

As far as Sleep goes, you should probably take it if you’re already in Blue. Wait, wrong sleep, my apologies. I can try to tell you that a solid 8 hours of sleep is a good idea, but you are there to have fun, and I can’t in good conscience say that it’s the wrong choice to stay out until 4am trying to pick up ladies with the line “we’re from Wizards of the Coast. We make Magic.” (For the record, that line hasn’t worked yet, but there’s probably money and mad props for someone who can get a similar line to actually fly. Use of Pro Player cards allowed.) I’ve had many a morning of three hours of sleep, two Red Bulls, and one shower get me by. While sleep is definitely beneficial to your Magic playing, there’s more to life than Magic.


Okay, so with that covered, let’s take a look at my planning for the upcoming GenCon, which should be starting about 24 hours after you read this, depending on when you untap from Sleep.

Travel: Fortunately, as a minion of Wizards of the Coast, my travel and hotel arrangements are already covered. I will have to get from the airport to the site. While Taxi is fastest, and shuttle would seem cheapest, in fact in Indianapolis, the Limo service has been the best option. Sounds expensive, for sure, but check it out. It’s how I plan to make my way to the hotel.

Accommodations: See above.

Events: I’ll be working while the Exhibit hall is open, which is 10-6 Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and only 10-4 on Sunday. So, my gaming options are a little limited. Wednesday night, I’ll be attending a store owner/Tournament Organizer mixer sponsored by the Wizards Play Network (free food!) Thursday night, I’ve left pretty open, but I’ll probably try to do some drafts if I can track down some players. Friday night, I want to play FNM out of habit, but I’m pretty flexible there too. Saturday night is the Community draft for D&D Minis, and is pretty locked in. I know most of these guys online, but not in person. Imagine that MTGSalvation organized a random chaos draft for forum members. That’s what this is. Players bring their own prizes to donate (from custom painted minis to 6-packs of beer, and just about everything in between), and everyone leaves with something. Getting to draft with your friends online, except you’re in meat space, is quite the event. I could be cajoled out of it, but it’d have to be pretty sweet to do so. Somewhere in there, I’m sure we’ll have a staff dinner, and random times with friends.

Packing: Clothes seem like a good idea, unless that petition for naked GenCon was passed, in which case I’m definitely not going. Remember, gamers are overwhelmingly male, which is not my preferred brewed beverage. Comfortable shoes are essential, as any judge will tell you, complete with stress absorbing soles. I’ll bring a second set of shirts, as I’ll have to remove my Wizards shirt before the after-hours frivolity begins. Bring extra socks and pants as well, just in case something gets spilled. I’ll definitely bring my EDH deck, as I can see myself jumping in on a game or two over the weekend, and I want to try to trade for some more pimped versions of cards that I’m rocking as basic versions. I’ll more than likely bring a Standard deck, just in case, and I’ll bring about 100 of each basic land. Why would I do that? Because there tends to be a need for them when drafting, and the man with the lands can as often as not get in on a game because of basic land ownership. If I don’t use them, there’s plenty of people who could put them to good use, and I have about 1000 of each, so I’m not exactly in need.

As for other cards, I found a list of almost every Artist attending GenCon in Artist’s Alley, and then combed that list for Magic Artists, then combed that list for Magic Cards worthy of packing. I’ll post the respective lists of each artist at the end, so as not to make a honking huge list here in the article.

I also made a short list of booths to stop by in the exhibit hall during my lunch breaks. In no specific order:

1927- Blind Ferret Entertainment- These guys do Least I Could Do and Looking for Group, and are my favorite webcomic guys in the whole world. That we both share an undying love of Red Bull helps.

1321- SJGames and Cthulhiana Corner- I’m a well-rounded nerd who loves Munchkin, Chez Geek, and Cthulhu.

1309- Elmore Studios- Larry Elmore is one of the greatest Fantasy artists of all time. Gotta stop by and meet the man, and get a deckbox signed. Yes, I said Deckbox.

1221- KenzerCo- I do my RPG writing over there for their flagship magazine, “Knights of the Dinner Table.” In my opinion, the best comic on the market. Plus, I gotta harass them about some money.

501- Star City Games- The site you’re reading? Yeah, they’ll be there with a booth, buying up your cards and selling some as well. I’ll definitely have to barn Ben Bleiweiss. (Woohoo, bonus for alliteration!)

1721- Wizards of the Coast- Okay, so I won’t be spending my lunch breaks there, but I will be spending the other 7 hours gleefully teaching attendees how to play Magic, MDOD, and Duels of the Planeswalkers, among other things. Feel free to say hi (or learn to play, if you don’t know how). But please keep in mind I am working, and won’t be able to chat as freely as you might hope. Catch me after hours for anything other than a head nod and a “hi” from me.

Before I go, I want to throw out some awesome options for regular attendees of GenCon.

First of all, the Wizards of the Coast booth will be selling From the Vault: Exiled to the first 100 lucky S.O.B customers in line each day, with some restrictions. Given how quickly the Dragon boxes sold, and how much they sold, you may want to try an easy EV upgrade on your money by making a play for one of these.

In addition, they will also be hosting The Planeswalker’s Challenge. Here’s the official info:

Wizards of the Coast is proud to bring the Planeswalkers’ Challenge to Gen Con Indy 2009! In this large as life Magic game, audience members compete against Ken Nagle & Mark Gottlieb of Magic R&D and special guests. Appearing from 12 – 1pm Thursday 8/13/2009 are two Special Guest Opponents – Magic icons Peter Adkison and Richard Garfield. Stop by the challenge arena in the exhibit hall and see if you have what it takes to compete against them. Hours of operation: 11:00 AM — 1:00 PM and 3:00 — 5:00 PM Thursday 8/13 — Saturday 8/15, 11:00 AM — 1:00 PM Sunday 8/16

There’s quite a few Magic tournaments. Both the Vintage and Legacy Championships are back at GenCon this year, with the Vintage Championship on Friday, and the Legacy Championship on Saturday. These are sanctioned, so no Proxies allowed. Both events have prelim tournaments giving out byes, so try those as well. The Block Constructed Championships are here as well, Thursday evening from 5-7. Whose Cascade will drive them to victory? Key note: according to the event description, M10 is legal. You may want to double check, but that’s what the site says here. Additionally, the Grand Melee is always a blast, so you may want to try that out as well.

Finally, Wizards will be doing some sneak previews of Planechase at special times for VIG’s, which I can only assume means Very Important Gamers. I don’t know how to score that gig, but if you can swing it, Planechase looks like a blast!

I’m out, I have to go pack for the big GC!

Until next time, this is Jeff Phillips, reminding you: Don’t make the Loser Choice.

P.S. Artist List and relevant cards (at least to me)

Steve Argyle: Child of Alara, Lavalanche, Hive Mind, Mayael’s Aria

Steven Belledin: Cho-Manno, Revolutionary, Deathmark (M10), Dichotomancy, Duress, Exotic Orchard, Greatbow Doyen, Knacksaw Clique, Maelstrom Nexus, Scepter of Insight, Temporal Extortion, Unmake

William O’Connor: Forced Fruition, Sunrise Sovereign, Vengeful Firebrand

Jim Pavelec: Colfenor’s Urn, Denizen of the Deep, Dragon Roost, Frost Marsh, Jade Statue, Knucklebone Witch, Mirrorweave, Panglacial Wurm, Swamp (M10), Waves of Aggression, Elemental Token

Randy Gallegos: Accumulated Knowledge, Bant Charm, Darkblast, Karplusan Forest (VI), Martyr of Sands, Soul Warden, Balance (FtV: Exiled)

Omar Rayyan: Cemetery Puca, Hostility (Mine’s Mexican, from a team draft at Worlds ’07. Sentimentality, for sure), Windbrisk Heights, Windbrisk Raptor

Ben Thompson: Dust Bowl, Flame Rift, March of the Machines, Mistbind Clique, Patriarch’s Bidding, Shining Shoal, Thirst for Knowledge (Just for you, shinjutsei)

Mark Poole: ANCESTRAL RECALL, Balance, Counterspell (Alpha through 4th), Crusade, Fastbond, Howling Mine (Alpha through 4th), Incinerate (Ice Age), Tropical Island

Wayne Reynolds: Ajani Vengeant, Auntie’s Hovel, Cover of Winter, Doubling Season, Goldmeadow Stalwart (for Cedric), Ink-eyes, Servant of Oni, Terminate, Wall of Reverence, Wild Nacatl, Woolly Thoctar

Dan Scott: Akroma’s Memorial, Ethersworn Adjudicator, Harm’s Way, Wild Ricochet

Susan Van Camp: Hymn to Tourach, Jackal Pup

Franz Vohwinkel: Blood Moon, Broken Ambitions, Glacial Fortress, Jötun Grunt, Magus of the Moon, Scepter of Fugue, Shard Volley, Snow-covered Island (Coldsnap), Time Sieve

Chippy: Akroma, Angel of Wrath (Duel Decks: DvD), Bloom Tender, Doom Blade, Master Transmuter, Overbeing of Myth, Sphinx Sovereign, Summoner’s Pact, Thought Haemorrhage

Chris Rahn: Enigma Sphinx, Giltspire Avenger, Jenara, Asura of War, Knight of New Alara, Knight-Captain of Eos, Mirror-Sigil Sergeant, Qasali Pridemage, Sleep, Thunder Dragon (FtV: Dragons)