Your First Big Tournament: As Told By Aesop

Mark uses a few fables in the vein of Aesop to convey advice about how to prepare for your first big Magic event.

This is it.


After all the weeks of testing, the planning with your friends, and the antici……pation,* it has arrived!

You’re on your way to playing in your first major event, and you couldn’t be more excited, right? Rightly so, my friend. Big tournaments are the best part about playing Magic, and when you finally get to attend one, the convention-like atmosphere can be intoxicating.

It’s not all roses and chocolates, however.

One of the questions that I am asked the most is "how should I prepare for my first big event?" It’s a complicated question—one that I only feel partially qualified to answer—but I’ll still try to anyway.

There is a bevy of lessons that a person has to learn before they step foot inside a convention center if they want to maximize their good time, so I’ve prepared a few fables for you in order to give you the best and most important advice that I can in the vein of our good friend Aesop.

How better to convey multiple messages, right?

Without further ado…

Lesson #1: Always Come Prepared With Everything You Need!

Once upon a time, there was an ant, and he was very, very good at picking up the cards he needed to play for all the decks he could ever want. Whenever a new set came out, he’d scurry all over the forest and trade with the other woodland creatures to make sure he filled out each and every one of his playsets.

Every single time he walked by the grasshopper, he’d remind him "SCG Open Series: Redwood Tree is coming up. You better pick up those Tarmogoyfs or you won’t be able to play RUG Delver!"

"Sure, whatever you say," the grasshopper always replied before going back to watching reruns of Homeboys in Outer Space.

Sure enough, several weeks later when SCG Open Series: Redwood Tree arrived, the ant was relaxing by a giant leaf with his friends when the grasshopper approached him.

"Hey Ant," the grasshopper asked, "do you have some extra Tarmogoyfs I could borrow? I’m flat broke. I need them to play–"

"RUG Delver, right?" The ant interrupted. "No, Grasshopper. I don’t have extras; I only have the ones I’m playing with. I warned you to pick them up ahead of time, but you were too busy watching Homeboys in Outer Space. Let that be a lesson to you!"

The grasshopper began to pout, sulked off, and was immediately being eaten by a spider.

The moral of the story? Don’t be like the grasshopper! Don’t just go to an event and expect to pick up everything you need because the venders may be sold out of it, your friends might not be able to let you borrow it, or you could be…

Lesson #2: Always Protect Your Belongings

Once upon a time, there lived a monkey, and he was known throughout the entire Magic community as one of the nicest and happiest players in all of the jungle. One day he was relaxing in his jamun tree, sorting his commons and uncommons, when a crocodile swam by.

"Hello there, Monkey. What are you doing up there?" the crocodile inquired.

"I’m sorting through my commons and uncommons, Crocodile. Would you like to keep me company?" the monkey replied back.

Happy to oblige, the crocodile and the monkey bantered, and a friendship quickly followed. Since the monkey had an abundance of cards, the crocodile started stopping by on a regular basis to chat with the monkey. Over time, they became the best of friends. One day, the monkey surprised the crocodile with a token of his appreciation.

"Crocodile, I’d like you to have this!"

The monkey threw down a card encased in a Liz Nugent Penguin sleeve. The crocodile caught it, revealing it to be a judge foil Vampiric Tutor.

"Monkey," the crocodile gasped, "I can’t accept such an extravagant gift!"

The monkey merely laughed it off. "Oh, Crocodile! I have plenty more cards. You’ve been such a good friend that I would love to give that to you. After all, it’s just an extra. You should see my Beta Power Nine someday!"

Overjoyed, the crocodile swam back to his part of the river, showed his wife his new acquisition for his EDH deck, and told her all about the monkey’s vast collection.

"That’s very expensive," the crocodile’s wife said. "You said the monkey even has Beta Power Nine? Well, I think you should steal it! Think about how amazing our collection would be if we had all of those cards!"

Torn, the crocodile didn’t know what to do. He certainly didn’t want to steal from the monkey, but he didn’t want to disappoint his wife. She told him that if he didn’t steal them that he’d be looking for a new mud bed to sleep on. He decided to make his move and swam to the monkey’s tree under the guise of inviting the monkey over to play a game of three-way Commander.

"My wife insists that we have a huge Commander battle, Monkey! Bring all of your binders so we can build the most powerful decks! This will be ever so much fun!"

The monkey was elated, quickly stuffed his most expensive cards in his backpack, and leapt off of the tree on to the crocodile’s back so he could ride him back to his home.

"Dear Monkey," the crocodile lamented, "I’ve tricked you. It was my plan to lure you out of your tree with your Beta Power Nine so that my wife and I could steal if from you."

Thinking quickly, the monkey responded. "I understand, Crocodile, but I always leave my Power Nine at home. If you’d like, just turn around and I can get it for you. It seems to be more important to you than me anyway."

Gullible as ever, the crocodile turned back to the tree, and the monkey scurried back up the branches.

"Be gone, Crocodile. I can’t ever trust you again. You’ll never get to play Magic with me or any of the other creatures in the jungle, and I’ll be sure to tell them that you and your wife are greedy, greedy thieves."

Humiliated, the crocodile left the tree and made his way back home. Thievery had cost him a great friendship and presumably the respect of his wife, and now everyone in the jungle would hate him.

The moral of the story? Always protect what you own by thinking things through. The monkey was able to outwit the crocodile, but you may not be so lucky. Never let your guard down, and always keep an eye on your belongings. How sour of a taste would it leave in your mouth if on your first real Magic trip your cards were stolen? You’d be heartbroken.

Remember, sometimes monkeys (honest and good people) and crocodiles (fair-weather friends and thieves) don’t mix—mostly because crocodiles want to eat monkeys.  

Lesson #3: Do Not Cheat or Let Yourself Get Cheated

Once upon a time, there was a donkey who thought all other creatures were inherently good.

So trusting was this donkey that when he sat down across from an opponent he always thought that they were following the rules and that they’d never ever stoop to dishonesty.

During a Grand Prix Trial, he was paired against the fox who was a cunning and slick thinker. The fox was piloting G/R Aggro, but had seen earlier in the tournament that the donkey was playing his worst matchup, U/W/R Control.

He knew that he could use his knowledge of the rules to get a leg up on the trusting donkey, so he plotted during their match to rules lawyer the donkey until he could get him disqualified or just outright cheat, thereby taking a terrible matchup and flipping it on its head.

Down a game to the donkey, the fox started his attempts at shaking the donkey with multiple questions, accusations, and quick play designed to frazzle the donkey. Since he was so trusting, the donkey did his best to answer everything truthfully and allowed certain plays others would deem questionable to slide. Despite his cheats, the fox was still struggling to put the game away and even resorted to changing his life total.

"I have you at eight life," the donkey commented very calmly and in a pleasant way.

"Well, you’re clearly misrepresenting life totals," the fox snipped. "If you keep trying to cheat, I’ll call a judge over."

Luckily, Judge Lion had been standing close by and stepped in.

"I heard one of you say ‘judge,’" the lion roared. "How may I be of assistance to you?"

The fox tried to respond in order to cut off the donkey, but the donkey beat him to it, albeit unintentionally.

"Well," the donkey sighed, "the fox has his life total way higher than what I had it at. I think he might be wrong, but I don’t know. I might be wrong."

The fox shifted around in his seat uncomfortably as the donkey recalled the damage he’d dealt to the fox and talked it all out, all the while looking to the fox for reaffirmation.

"He doesn’t know what he’s talking about and is wrong," the fox shot back. "It’s pretty clear that Donkey is trying to cheat."

With such a serious accusation, the judge pulled both players aside in order to get both of their stories straight. The donkey answered honestly and truthfully, while the fox in his infinite "cunning" had his story very easily dissected by Judge Lion. Several onlookers verified that the fox was cheating, and he was disqualified from the tournament, banishing him from the tournament hall, but not before the lion chased him into a small hole.

The moral of the story? The donkey learned a valuable lesson that day, which is that not everyone can be trusted. Don’t ever be afraid to call a judge if you suspect shady play from your opponent because not everyone has your best interests in mind. It doesn’t make you weak or a bad player to call them over to you, either, and a judge can be instrumental in helping you not get cheated.

In the same regard, do not be the person who tries to cheat. Yes, it is a tournament, but being a rules lawyer, trying to mask your plays, or misrepresenting game state can lead to some serious trouble. Cheaters never prosper.

Now for our last lesson.

Lesson #4: Always Keep Your Chin Up

Once upon a time, there was a peacock, and she felt like she wasn’t good enough at Magic to do well at her first big event, Grand Prix Chicken Coop.

As the day progressed, the peacock was able to assemble a 6-2 record, which meant that with one more win she’d be able to qualify for day 2, and her confidence swelled. As the peacock looked at the fateful pairings for round 9, she lamented that her opponent was the nightingale.

The nightingale was renowned as one of the best players in all of the land, so if the peacock was to find herself playing the next day, she was going to have to play Magic as well as she ever had before. There was no room for error.

As the match progressed, they found themselves heading into game 3 with the nightingale on the play. Try as she might, the peacock was defeated soundly at the end of the game. With her hopes dashed, she signed the slip and watched as the nightingale flew away to put the results in the judge’s box.

Seeing her best friend, the crow, the peacock sought comfort.

"Crow," the peacock said with a heavy heart, "Nightingale beat me."

"No day 2 for you then, huh, Peacock?" the crow said with a hint of comfort in her voice.

"It just hurts," the peacock went on, "that I was so, so close to making day 2 of my first ever Grand Prix and got paired against Nightingale. It’s just not fair!"

Crow understood her friend but offered the following advice:

"You shouldn’t be upset, Peacock. You were beaten by one of the strongest players in the room. Remember, you may have lost to Nightingale, but there was a time long ago when Nightingale was in the same spot you are. You have to lose rounds before you can become good enough to win them. You did so well today. You should be proud."

Thinking of it like that, the peacock immediately felt better. The two decided that they had done fairly well for their first big event and figured they’d go catch a late bite to eat if that nice man was still throwing breadcrumbs from the bench he was sitting on.

The moral of the story? Going in to your first event is going to be pretty scary, and you might not do well your first time around. Don’t get discouraged, and don’t feel badly about it. You may go 0-3 and drop, or you might rattle off a 9-0 performance and segue right into day 2 with an undefeated record. Regardless of how well or badly you do, it’s still your first time, and results, whether they are good or bad, should be something you’re proud of. Always remain positive and good things will follow.

Even though these fables are considered tales that children learn in order to instill some measure of wisdom or morality in them, I find that they remain highly applicable.

Each story gives you a little bit of insight into what you should expect at your first big tournament. Protecting your belongings, never being afraid to call a judge, coming prepared, and always keeping positive are just a few of the things you can do to make sure that going to Magic tournaments remains an amazing experience for you.

I hope that if you are attending something big for the first time, it’s a memorable moment and you are able to replicate that same feeling over and over again in the future.

After all, much like these stories, you have to take the blinders off and view things through the eyes of children with wonder, excitement, and unlimited expectations.

Catch ya on the flip-

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*Anyone know where that comes from? Comment below with the right answer!