One thing that all Magic players have in common, from the kitchen table players to the Pro Tour finalists, is that we all play at some sort of event, whether DCI Sanctioned events, or just “Dude, we should totally play some Magic at Jake’s house on Thursday.”
But how do we make these events successful? I’m not talking about just a winning record (although for many, that is one measure of a successful event.) I’m talking about ways in which we as players, judges, or tournament organizers can make events successful, again, whether they are Pro Tour stops or just casual kitchen table games.
Food and Drink
One of the easiest ways to make a successful tournament is by having, or being near, some sort of nourishment. In a lot of cases, you may not be able to move the event (such as FNM, as it has to be at the store/location.) However, there are a few things you can do to alleviate this.
Take some time before the event to scout out your local area and locate proper food options.
If you are the T.O. or judge, as part of your announcements, you could highlight some close options. If you are a player, share the information with others, especially if you are local and can give any recommendations and/or warnings of where to eat.
One option many stores have is to sell refreshments on their own. A fridge full of soda and some Chips and Candy are often better than nothing. Another option is to have, on hand, a few delivery menus for local eateries that will bring the food to you. Many restaurants will offer discounts if the delivery traffic is high enough.
Food breaks, if there are any, should be announced. Some events include lunch breaks, but many do not. If you know there will not be a break, bring some food with you. Many players have in their bag a deck box, pen, paper, dice, and 2-3 granola bars or other similarly nourishing foodstuffs. I often bring a Red Bull or two with me to events, in case for some reason I need to overcome fatigue of some sort, or just need the energy boost.
Speaking of fatigue, that is our very next topic!
Having a proper energy level is important for anyone involved in the event. You may not need to be super-hyped-over-the-top-excited, but some level of energy is a good idea.
Fatigue causes mental sloppiness, which can cause problems for everyone. It’s how T.O.s accidentally input the match results incorrectly, or a judge muffs a call, or players make mistakes during the course of a game.
Fatigue will cause your mind to wander, away from focusing on what needs to be done and instead on to other things, or sometimes, to nothing at all. As a judge or Tournament organizer, you can sometimes find relief by having someone else stand in for you for a short time. Another employee can enter results or run the register, or you can alert another judge, if one is available, that you are not performing acceptably, and need a moment to gather yourself. As a player, you cannot. Last time I checked, there are no tag team formats in Magic, and thus you must play on. Energy Drinks, whichever you prefer, are going to be of help here, to try and get you through your current difficulties. Making sure that you have eaten will also help, as it will give your body the nutrients it needs to function. Also, drinking non-energy drinks can also help your body battle fatigue. I often will drink Powerade or Gatorade throughout a long tournament (Like Regionals or PTQs) to make sure that my body isn’t running on just the kick of a Red Bull and adrenaline.
However, the best plan is to avoid the ill effects of fatigue is likely prevention. In the medical field, there is a common saying; “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” It is far easier to handle a problem before it gets out of hand than to try to solve it later. Similarly, the best way to combat fatigue is to ensure that it is not an option, by being well-rested and well-hydrated. Getting a good night’s sleep is invaluable, and will help immeasurably in your attempts to battle fatigue preemptively. Proper hydration is another key component to warding off fatigue before it can become a factor. Your body needs liquids to function, preferably the healthy, non-alcoholic kind, but if you feel you can Drunk- draft the Top 8, more power to you.
One key piece to any successful event is information. Some of this seems obvious, but you’d be amazed how many events run on such minimal information. Let’s take a look at some of that information, and the best ways to present it.
First of all is basic information about the event. What format you are playing is pretty key, so people bring the correct cards to game with. When and where the event is happening also help, so they can, you know, show up. These may seem simple, but you’d be surprised how many small stores don’t even have a paper up detailing their gaming schedule, or how many players don’t actually know when events should/are starting.
Another thing to consider is how far in advance this information becomes available. Some events are self-promoting, like a large PTQ, but on the other hand, I often wonder how little advertising is done for PTQs at local stores. As a PTO, I would want to have an e-mail list of local stores, and send them a flyer about the upcoming PTQs. Yes, some players are definitely going to know about the PTQ, but how many local players wouldn’t mind going just for fun, but have no idea? I imagine that number is greater than 0. Or, on a smaller level, how often do you think “We should get together Tuesday night and play Magic,” but don’t text anybody until Tuesday afternoon? Hit them up on the weekend, because with a little more advance knowledge, they might be more apt to come.
In my time as a Consultant for Wizards of the Coast, one of the major points I advocated was a calendar of events inside the store that was easy to find and read. The stores that did this found increased attendance across the board. I believe this is based on customers having easy access to knowledge of events, which otherwise, they may not have had. Many customers would enter the stores, shop/browse/make purchases, and upon seeing the calendar, mention “Oh, I didn’t know you guys did [Function/Event]. Maybe I’ll stop by.”
Other information that’s always good to impart is the length of the tournament (rounds) and anything unusual. For instance, Regionals typically only plays one round of the Top 8, as Top 4 all go anyway, and the top remaining seed gets the plaque. Similarly, if you have a policy of redrafting the rares after booster drafts, that’s probably an important tidbit of knowledge to announce before people buy in. Similarly the existence or non- existence of a lunch break, what time the location closes, and side events are all good things to announce or seek out the answer to.
Side events are one thing I want to mention, because I often see them done poorly from an organizational standpoint. Side Events at major events should be posted clearly, and hopefully early. Even just listing the 8-man signups you’re accepting in a clearly visible area would go miles towards increasing attendance. Similarly, putting them up on your website would help a lot as well. Players travel to events with the expectation that if they scrub out, there will be something else to do. Drafting, Legacy, whatever. By clearly delineating what events are available, you can make for a much more enjoyable event for everyone.
The last bit of information I want to cover is rules. As a judge, having a primer on popular interaction within a format is always helpful. For Grand Prix: Madrid, the judging staff had a primer available beforehand of major interactions within legacy that may crop up, which I am sure went a long way towards ensuring that the judges at that event performed as excellently as the always seem to. As a Tournament Organizer, know the tournament rules, recommended number of rounds, when to post standings (hint, right before the last round) and how the table numbers are going to break down, especially at new or awkward venues. As a player, for the love of all that’s holy, know the tournament infractions. From Pro Tour: New York (’99) to even the side events of Pro Tour: San Diego, still we hear tell of players unfamiliar with what constitutes a bribe. We see DQs and Game Losses for deck registration errors, marked cards, shuffle shenanigans, and more. While the DCI penalty guide is a tautology in and of itself, please learn the rules of tournaments. Further, knowledge of such a thing can drastically help you when either presenting your information to a judge, or appealing a ruling/ penalty.
Finally, the last thing I would recommend to have a pleasant event is to enter the event with the proper attitude. State of mind is a very easy way to control the amount of fun you’re going to have at an event. Whether you see the glass as half- full or half- empty, you’re right either way. It’s all about the attitude you bring to the event, to the table, that can affect your enjoyment of the event.
Until next time, this is Jeff Phillips, reminding you: don’t make the Loser Choice
Teflon_Jeff on twitter