Your First Time

From FNM to the Pro Tour, Mark Nestico is taking a break from his PT testing to tell you how to approach each level of competitive Magic! Good luck in Belgium this week, Mark!

You always remember your first time. The moment is about as magical as it gets, right? Everything goes according to plan; and things turn out exactly how
you want them to. It’s never difficult or weird. You never feel strange afterwards, but in fact, come out of it having gained a deeper understanding about


That’s how your first time is supposed to be.

It never is, though. It’s always awkward and not quite what you expected. You feel inadequate and like you’re some kind of blundering mess. It’s never like
it is when you watch it, either.

Of course I’m talking about Magic: the Gathering.

One of the biggest misconceptions folks have about Magic is how they should perform at Magic tournaments. We watch our favorite players every week on
streams and see them at bigger events and, to some, it feels like it’s obtainable…sometimes without the hard work. There have been many times I’ve seen
players who put in a fraction of the effort expecting to get to the top of the mountain by not climbing it. This is a problem rooted in how they approached
Magic from the very beginning.

This week I’m coming to you from beautiful Brussels, Belgium. My first Pro Tour is coming up, and I’m freaking the hell out while I chill in a room full of
the baddest-ass teammates a newbie could ever ask for. To the left of me is BBD and Brad Nelson. Ari Lax is testing upstairs, and Chris Fennell has
magpie-syndrome while he talks about League of Legends. To say that this has been daunting would be a gross understatement.

So it made me think to myself: What do some of the best minds in Magic have to say when it comes to Opens, FNMs, Grand Prixs, and even Pro Tours? From
Limited to Modern to Standard, I want to entwine some of their best advice with my own experiences to give you all the chance to live your dream out: just
like I’m doing right now.

Your First FNM

Taking the dip into FNM is the first step a player usually takes when they want to play more competitive Magic. It can be a great experience, because a
local game store is hopefully an inviting and fun place to do battle. The best way to get the “bug” for Magic is playing at a place that’s close to home,
filled with friends, and houses a hobby that you’ve found yourself very interested in.

How Should You Prepare?

The best part about FNM is that preparation can come second to a good time. These events aren’t incredibly competitive, and the rules are a little bit more
relaxed. This will give you a fantastic chance to learn.

One of my teammates, Ray Tautic, had the following to advise: “Don’t be afraid of your opponent or to tell them that it’s your first FNM. Ask questions.
It’s just a game. Have fun. Losing isn’t a big deal, and FNM can be your first learning experience. ”

Ray also owns a store and hosts FNM every week, so this is a subject close to his heart. I used to be a part of a very unhealthy subculture of overly
competitive FNM warriors, and it all stems from the group that I learned from. They were all too hard on new players, uninviting, and very harsh rules
lawyers. Recently, Magic has undergone a renaissance of creating levels for such events to protect newer people that are just learning. This is a blessing,
and the overall feeling at an FNM is more of a party-like atmosphere than a bunch of angry people huddled around tables.

If you’re new to Magic and you’re thinking of going to FNM, heed the following:

· Ask questions! Your store owner should be more than happy to field them for you.

· If you’re feeling brave enough, talk to the players who clearly have experience. Making friends is the beating heart of Magic, and you might have a
seasoned vet take you under their wing as well as foster a friendship that could make you love this game even more.

· Don’t let yourself be bullied! Some new players act too timid and nervous because they’re out of their element, but the best thing you can do is set a
precedent for yourself that you won’t let others get over on you.

· Do a little homework first. Google is your best friend, and clearly you’re here reading this (I hope,) so searching for “Magic The Gathering Strategy”
can open up a wealth of excellent information.

· Don’t get discouraged! I’ve seen people playing for the first or second time lose a few games and then start to give up entirely. You’re going to lose a lot, and that’s a good thing! Losing gives you things to learn from, and talking to your opponent afterwards might give great insights.

Your First SCG Open Series

Eventually you’re going to swim out of the pond and into a lake. SCG Opens are some of the most exciting, challenging events in the world. Right now, they
offer an almost weekly resource for players to enjoy through streaming on Twitch.tv/scglive, but they also canvas the country and give events for hundreds
of players to flock to.

These can be far more intimidating than the friendly environment of an LGS, so mentally steeling yourself is going to be paramount to success.


So many players measure their success by how many wins they got over the weekend, but that’s entirely the wrong mentality for a huge population of Magic
players. Sure, winning is awesome! Don’t think that I’m telling you to lose, but what did you learn? What meaningful information were you able to take home
with you?

I asked Brian Braun-Duin, a multiple-time Series Top 8’er, what he would pass on to you: “Just try to have fun. Enjoy yourself. Treat it as a fun chance to
play Magic and not make it into too big of a deal.”

His words ring so true. Someone like him goes to these events to win, but he also goes because they are a blast. Because of the grander nature of the
tournament, people think they have to perform or the entire weekend is a bust. They place a huge emphasis on winning, and it detracts from the potential
this kind of thing offers.

If you’re going to your first SCG Open Series Tournament, heed these words:

· Don’t get caught up in the hype! This may be one of the coolest tournaments out there, but a huge emphasis should be on getting better.

· Treat it as a learning experience: Make sure to gain a deeper understanding after each match, no matter how well or poorly you’re doing.

· Don’t get intimidated! Some of the best players in the world flock to Open Series events, and there’s a great chance you’ll play some of them. Don’t let
it go to your head if you win, and don’t be so freaked out that you lose. Everyone draws a card. Everyone starts with seven cards. They may be more
skilled, but you could always be luckier. Don’t count on it- but it happens.

· Don’t copy and paste. Flexing your muscles refining the deck you plan on playing is as important as playing the deck itself. Remember, if you’re
copy/pasting everyone already knows what you’ll be doing and what to play around.

Your First Grand Prix

“Don’t think about what stage you’re on: Play it like it’s any other game of Magic. Don’t underestimate your opponent. Have fun and don’t be discouraged if
you don’t do well in your first Grand Prix…there will always be another one.”

Seth Manfield, the three-time Grand Prix Champion sitting across from me, knows better than anyone out there what it takes to be successful when you’re
playing in a Grand Prix.

One of the things I love seeing most is how players in a certain region react to their first GP. They travel from hours and hours away, plan for months to
nail down their time off from work, hotels, driving arrangements, and often approach it like this will be the best tournament of the year. A lot of the
time they are right!

My first Grand Prix was exciting and scary. Everywhere around me I saw players that I had been reading for years and vendors as far as the eye could see.
The daunting test of fifteen rounds was taxing and nerve-racking, and my stomach was in full-on butterfly mode.

If you’re going to your first Grand Prix, heed these words:

· Plan ahead! Don’t be one who is scrambling to make reservations, driving arrangements, and deciding what to play. Make life easy on yourself! Hotels tend
to fill up quick, so see if the company hosting it has hotel blocks. You can get a place close by for cheap!

· Play as tight as you can. The FNMs you have played in only partially prepare you, and that means judges can get called and you’re at the mercy and risk
of game losses. There aren’t any “take-backs” or house rules, so you need to make sure you’re up to date on the rules.

· Make sure you’re prepared for a very long day of Magic. Bring snacks and water. Stay hydrated and well-fed.

· Don’t be afraid to ask a judge if you have a question. It’s not always about getting in trouble, and judges can be fantastic resources to help you learn
about an issue you’re completely stumped on. They can’t tell you the play to make, but they also don’t want to see you violate rules.

Your First Pro Tour

This goes double for me since as I’m writing you this, I’m also preparing for a seven-hour gauntlet of running decks.

No one tells you how intense the testing process is, but let me tell you it’s freaking ridiculous.

“Listen to people that are better than you and that have been there before. Play a deck that you understand inside and out. It’s better to play a deck
that’s good in your hands than trying to break the format the first time. In regards to Limited, don’t overthink it. Don’t be intimidated. Treat it like a
normal store draft.”

I was able to tap Pro Tour Born of the Gods Top 8’er, friend, and teammate Chris Fennell what he would tell someone for their first PT. For those who know
Chris, he’s never short for words. These are some of the things he told me when I first qualified, and it has made the process so much more palatable.

My fears of letting people down, being judged, and not delivering are very real. I mean…look at who I’m testing with. I was thrown right in to the deep
end. Brad Nelson said something pretty neat to me when I articulated this: “You’re not an impostor. You’re here for a reason.”

Everyone who qualifies is here for a reason. Even me.

If you’re attending your first Pro Tour, heed these words:

· Soak in the moment. I’m writing this from a suite in Brussels, Belgium. I am playing the game and seeing the world. Every moment should be cherished. For
some people this might be their only time here, so enjoy every single second of it.

· Take it seriously. You don’t get a do-over when it comes to one of the biggest tournaments of the year. Messing around, getting hammered, partying…those
things can come after you do well. Until then, bury your nose and focus.

· Believe in yourself. If you get on a team, it’s because you earned a spot. You made it to the Pro Tour! You’re a good player, and you deserve to be

· Don’t try to break it your first time. Like Fennell said, you need to be comfortable with what you’re playing. You see the coolest, most innovative decks
at a Pro Tour, but getting super cute and trying to catch people off guard might blow up in your face.

It still blows my mind that I’m here, but I’m going to do my best to just…be me. The wins and losses may come, but for a moment, I can at least say I was

From humble beginnings to the grandest stages in all of Magic, pave your own road and walk it. You get to decide how much you put into this hobby. You get
to decide what you get out of it, too.

Each person I talked to said the same thing: Have fun. Without fun, there is no Magic.

Root for me, cheer for me, and do the same for my team.

For once I can finally say I made it.

You can, too.