Constructed Criticism – A Guide to Grinding on the Cheap

Thursday, November 18th – Are you sick of spending so much money on Magic road trips? Does the cost of travel limit your ability to play in the tournaments you want to attend? I’m going to teach you how to road trip on a budget.

Are you sick of spending so much money on Magic road trips? Does the cost of travel limit your ability to play in the tournaments you want to attend? Everyone loves money, and spending too much of it can be a burden on anyone’s budget. Trips to Magic tournaments tend to be a black hole of expenses, but there are a lot of ways you can save money or even recoup costs accrued throughout the entirety of the trip. With so many great tournaments coming up, I’m going to teach you how to road trip on a budget.

With so many different things begging you to open your wallet, you need to exercise some self-control. If you’re on a limited budget, then stick to it. Don’t go buying snacks every time someone needs to use the bathroom. These small costs can add up significantly over the course of a trip, and something that can be easily avoided.

There are a lot of minor ways where you can save money, but mostly I’m concerned with the more important issues. People blow through their money like nobody’s business but end up wondering what happened to all of it by the time you’re heading home. Make sure you get all of your most important expenses out of the way before you spend money you don’t have. Shorting your friend’s money on gas or hotel is a big no-no and will likely involve you getting left out on the next trip.

The things I wanted to talk about most are the things people short on cash really need to hear. While I know some of us are ballin’ rich, most of us are working with a very limited budget and scrape by these tournaments on the bare minimum. Here are some great ways I’ve used to save money, and so can you.

1. Bring Your Own Food

First of all, eating during Magic tournaments is very difficult to do. Eating during these long drives and longer tournaments is very important for keeping your mental and physical energy up, since the day is going to be long should you expect to win. However, most tournaments won’t give you ample time to get something to eat during the day, or at least give you very small windows to chow down on some Subway or McDonald’s. These situations aren’t good for the mind or the body. Once you ingest food, your body starts to become sluggish, and so does your mind. I know that every time I gorge myself on food, all I want to do is take a nap, and I’m sure it’s no different to the average Magic player being forced to wolf down their meal in under five minutes.

So, in order to help eliminate both of these problems, I suggest packing food for yourself and possibly your entire crew. This can be done with something as simple as a cooler full of ice, bread, sandwich meat, and anything you want to put on the sandwiches (cheese, mayo, etc). By splitting this cost between people in your car, you should save an average of more than $5 in food costs alone, not to mention you’ll be eating something much healthier for you. Sandwiches also tend to keep you from getting overly stuffed, affecting your basic mental and physical processes much less.

You can also bring an assortment of smaller snacks to eat during the trip, bottles of water, and generally anything you could consider healthy or nutritious. While you may not think this is important for doing well in a tournament, I can safely say that the healthier food keeps you much more coherent than the greasy, fattening foods. Water is also much better for you than sodas, keeping you hydrated and focused instead of jittery on caffeine. If you don’t drink energy drinks on a regular basis, I wouldn’t suggest starting right before a tournament, as they can have strange effects on you, and you need to be aware of them so they don’t affect your game.

Certain items that are small but can act as a meal are ideal for long tournaments. Energy, protein, Nutri-Grain, or even cereal bars can provide you with necessary nutrients to help your mental game when battling through a long tournament, keeping you fresh. You can also eat them quickly and without much of a mess, making them ideal when you’re in a hurry between rounds.

Next up is a way to help cultivate your Magic community, as well as reintroduce older players back into the game.

2. Invite Lots of Friends

Magic tournaments are always much more fun, as well as cost efficient, with more people. I’m constantly asking friends of mine to come to Magic tournaments and play, hang out, and party afterwards. Even people who haven’t played in a while love a good Magic Road Trip, so don’t be afraid to call your friend who stopped playing two years ago, and invite them to a Scars PTQ. It can be a blast, and you could even influence them to start playing again.

While inviting friends really only cuts down on the cost of gas, it can occasionally save you a ton of money on hotel rooms. Hotel rooms are usually only acquired when a trip is going to last more than a day and can be the biggest beating on the average Magic player’s budget. If you can get a good room and a good rate split four ways, then you should be fine. The average hotel room costs under $80, so the $20 hit shouldn’t be too bad. Just make sure you try hard enough to get people to come with you, as saving on gas and hotel is very important.

Road trips, Magic tournaments, and even after-tournament dinner is all made much more fun by having people surrounding you that you care about. Friends are what make Magic as much fun as it is, so don’t skip out on people just so you have an itch to battle. Think of every tournament you travel to not as a chance to win but as a chance to grow.

3. Find Ways to Make Your Money Back

If you find yourself always hurting in the pockets after a Magic tournament, consider this: sell cards. While you’ll constantly shrink your collection, you can recoup money lost during the tournaments. If you open a bomb in your Sealed pool worth $30, sell it afterwards. Free-rolling your entry fee can be a big step in allowing you to make the next trip. The same is true if you’re forced to buy cards for your Constructed deck that you can’t really afford to buy. Afterwards, you can resell them to the people you bought them from to get back some of what you spent, even if you’re losing in the process. At least you had the cards you needed for your deck and gave yourself the best chance to win.

You can also try to sell the packs you win as prize from the tournaments you play in. Packs have a rough value of $2.50 when trying to sell them to vendors or other players for drafts (when you get back home), so keep that in mind when setting your prices. I’d recommend selling draft sets to your friends at around $8, as that’s fair for both parties. But please, whatever you do, don’t sell cards or packs to people at tournaments without the consent of the organizer. You can get in a lot of trouble doing so and will likely get kicked out of the event hall.

While you can occasionally open enough rares to make your money back from a Sealed Deck tournament, often you won’t. This is where you start to lose money from playing the tournaments when you don’t do well. At this point, if you end up busting out of the tournament, find some pickup games or play EDH. The side drafts, while tempting, are usually not worth it. However, the Constructed 8-mans “for a box” are decent value, and you can help regain some of your lost money by winning one of those and selling the packs. It’ll also give you something to do while the rest of your group finishes out the tournament.

4. Borrowing Cards

For Constructed tournaments, I’d recommend trying to borrow as much as possible from the people around you. This can save incredible amounts of money with the rising prices of certain mythic rares. While borrowing cards can be great for saving money, you need to help other people out in their time of need as well. I suggest keeping a logbook of everything you borrow from people, as well as what they borrow from you. The worst thing you can do is break someone’s trust by losing their cards, as you’ll never be able to borrow from them again.

Keep in mind that when you’re borrowing cards, you should try not to borrow from too many different people, as you’ll rarely be able to remember who gets which cards back. This is where having a list comes in handy, but you should still try to keep the number of people you’re borrowing cards from to a minimum. It’s also good form to offer to buy lunch for someone who loans you an entire deck, or just finding a way to show them your gratitude.

While I do advocate owning cards so that you aren’t always scrambling to build your deck at the last minute, it’s not always possible. Certain cards (*cough* Jace *cough*) are going to be virtually impossible for the average player to afford, so finding a few good friends with a few decks is optimal. Accordingly, you should actively try trading for the cards you want in order to build your decks, but that won’t always be possible in the given time before the next tournament.

5. Pick Your Battles

It’s true that you won’t be able to attend every event that your heart desires. There are probably a ton of PTQs that are within driving distance, but there comes a point where you have to make a conscious financial decision. If you’re ever in a spot where people around you aren’t able to make the trip, and that would end up putting a financial burden on you, then you should really think about whether or not going is good value for you. If you can only afford a couple of trips every few months, then pick the ones you’ll have the most fun at. Pick the ones where your friends are coming with you. Pick the ones that will cost you the least money. The farther away your destination, the less likely it is to fill your car full of people. Additionally, gas costs become unbearably high when you’re traveling across multiple states.

There are some tournaments, like GPTs, that are probably not worth going to. These kinds of tournaments I consider to be “traps,” because they entice you to make the trip, but the reward for winning is just not good enough. Release events, for me, are similar in this regard, because they’re savagely overpriced, and the prizes aren’t even close to where I’d want them to be for me to consider them a good value.

6. Only Fly When It Is Absolutely Necessary

For larger Magic events such as a Pro Tour or Grand Prix, flying should be your last option. If driving is under ten hours, then you should definitely stay away from airplanes. The cost of flying is very rough on the pockets and will end up costing you even more through public transportation or rental cars. However, there are many occasions when it’s alright to fly, because that’s pretty much the only way you’re going to get there. It’s even cheaper to fly on rare occasions when you would be driving by yourself or with only one other person. Flying to Magic tournaments, while faster, isn’t economical for the average person.

There comes a point in some Magic careers where it’s okay to fly. These times come when you’re attempting to “jump on the train” by following the Grand Prix circuit. This will also apply to the new StarCityGames.com Open Series, where you can accumulate enough points to be rewarded with appearance fees just for showing up! This will help greatly in reducing costs, but you need to invest a lot of time and effort before this can become a reality. Making the transition from “Grinder” to “Open Series Star” is going to be very difficult, but absolutely possible. Expect StarCityGames.com to up the ante each year as the Series becomes more and more popular. My ultimate expectation is that StarCityGames.com is going to begin their own “Pro Circuit,” where their payouts might eventually match or even overtake that of the Pro Tour.

7. Build Lasting Connections

In each city you attend a tournament, there are always going to be people that live there. If you’re friends with enough people, you can begin to get “free rides” on their couches, extra beds, or whatever instead of having to cough up money for a hotel room. You should do the same thing in offering a room to anyone in need, since returning the favor helps to strengthen the bonds of friendship built by the Magic community.

Friends are the most valuable thing in the grind, and you should do everything in your power to keep good company, as well as build new and better relationships with the community. You should do everything in your power to help nurture the community that you’re a part of, unless you want to become the leech, and nobody likes a leech. Give what you take, and help those around you as much as they help you. It could lead to a lifetime of friendship and fun.

I really appreciate the positive feedback I’ve been getting over the last few months. It makes me happy to know that people enjoy my efforts, and that my words aren’t falling on deaf ears. This weekend is Grand Prix Nashville, and I’ll be attending with a few friends from Birmingham, along with my wife Kali. Feel free to introduce yourself, as I do enjoy meeting my readers and hearing their feedback. I know I’m not perfect, and I love to hear about my imperfections, so that I can become a better player and writer.

I hope this article will help save you some money on your upcoming Magic adventures. See you in Nashville! Thanks for reading.

strong sad on MOL