Believe it or not, at least seventy-five percent of Magic players have never been to a Magic tournament. Yes, the large majority of you have never busted decks at FNM or probably don’t even know what Swiss means. That’s who this guide is aimed for. If you’re a regular PPTQ grinder or if planning your holiday time around GP schedules is your jam, then this article is definitely not for you. But if you have a friend who wants to get into Magic but doesn’t know where to begin (or, more importantly, if you actually are that person), then let me try and prepare you for your first tournament experience.
The first thing we need to do to go to a tournament is to actually find a tournament. This is where the Wizards Event Locator comes in handy. It will show you all the gaming stores, comic shops and other venues that run Friday Night Magic (which is probably where you want to begin) near your location.
No luck finding anything nearby? Don’t sweat, there are plenty of clubs and gatherings that don’t offer sanction play but have regular meetings. Your best way of finding those is through websites like Meetup or trawling through Facebook groups.
Finding a local tournament scene is the easy part. Once you’ve got that down, you should really contact the store to fill you in on all the details. What formats do they offer? How much does entry cost? What’s the best thing to do at their store for someone who is new? Dates? Times? Getting there? Parking? This might sound mundane, but I can promise you one thing: you will be excited/anxious/stressed and we want to mitigate all these feelings. Make sure you’ve got all the fiddly details down.
So you decided that you want to play Standard or you want to play Draft. Make sure you familiarize yourself with the rules for these formats and how they are played. There are plenty of resources online whether you’re looking on wizards.com or Google or even YouTube (seriously, there’s some good stuff on YouTube that will teach you more about Magic).
You don’t have to become an expert, but have a general idea of what’s going on. Once you’re actually at your first FNM, you’ll find plenty of friendly players that will point you at what you need to do to learn more.
Make sure you have everything you need. These are likely to be: your deck (this might sound silly, but the amount of people that forget their decks when they come to a tournament staggers me), some dice to use as counters, whatever tokens your deck might need, a notepad to keep track of life totals, a pen, sleeves and possibly a playmat.
Most importantly, you’ll need a DCI number. Every sanctioned Magic tournament requires you to have one of these. You can register for one online and if you come to the shop for the first time with your DCI number ready, your TO (tournament organizer) will love you.
Are you feeling giddy? Excited? Ready for a night full of cardboard wonder and possibilities? Curb your enthusiasm. Here’s the real harsh truth. Unless you are a prodigal card gaming genius (and statistics say you are not), then you will lose. Hard. And you will lose a lot. I say this as a tournament organizer who ran Magic events for over five years and saw hundreds of new players.
In those five years, I saw exactly two new players who actually won their first tournament. If it somehow happens that you happen to fall into this category – congratulations. You are very good at card games. If you don’t – it doesn’t at all mean you’re bad at card games. You’ve just got a lot to learn.
And that’s what your first tournament is. An opportunity to learn about what it is you’re actually doing. I am not saying abandon all hopes of winning. Just make sure you know that you’ve got a lot to catch up on, and if you come in with that attitude, you’ll win way more friends.
But most importantly, if you’ve come to terms with the fact that you might not do so well on your first night – you’ll have a lot less to stress about. And stress can be a major factor. Actually, stress rarely abandons a lot of tournament players and directly affects their performance and is linked to how inexperienced or prepared they are. Stress is your worst enemy. Do everything you can to avoid it (which is easier said than done).
Most casual (and professional) tournaments these days follow a procedure called Swiss, which is a tournament pairing system. From the most basic perspective, Swiss is basically a system that allows for players who have won or lost to continue playing and pairs them each round with other players who have the same (or similar) standing. So for example, if you have won your first round and lost your second round, in the third round you will likely be paired up with someone who also won their first round and lost the second one.
Know the difference between a round and a game. During a round you will play multiple games with your opponent. Normally, it is best two out of three. Each round will normally take fifty minutes. In case time is called and you haven’t finished your game, you will get to finish the current turn and then get five turns between you and your opponent. These are not timed. If the game hasn’t been resolved by then, that game will be called a draw. If you are on your third game (meaning, you and your opponent each won a game already), then the entire round will be determined as a draw.
Make sure you’re present for when pairings are called and listen carefully. TOs love attentive players who know exactly what to do. Most venues will assign table numbers, so when you’re paired up for the next round, you should know exactly where to go and sit down. Introduce yourself to your opponent if you don’t know them. That way you’re being polite and you know if you’re in the right place. Talking of being polite…
This is arguably the most important part of attending your first tournament. Knowing how to be polite at a tournament is key as you’ll make a good impression on all the players and organizers. They’ll enjoy playing games with you and it’s a sure way of making friends and integrating yourself into this hobby. Magic players are a community, and if you’re going to a tournament it’s likely that you’ll want to be a part of that community.
First of all, take care of personal hygiene. Again, this might be a no-brainer to you, but, like I mentioned, I’ve been a TO for five years and I feel the need to mention this. Meaning it’s probably relevant to some of you.
Be a gracious loser and a gracious winner. Just be gracious in general. If you’ve lost, there are only three instances where it is appropriate to say that luck was not on your side. Instance number one: all you drew is lands. Number two: you never mulliganed, kept a three lander and never drew a fourth one. Number three: You had to mulligan down to five (or less cards). If you lost under any other circumstances – you got outplayed. Or your deck got outmatched. You lost, kid. And you lost fair and square and luck had nothing to do with it. Take yer lumps and use it as a learning opportunity.
Ask your opponent where they think you went wrong. How would they have behaved in your stead? Did they notice you make any misplays? If yes, what were they? All this is incredibly valuable information. Swallow your pride, because right now pride is in your way of becoming a better Magic player.
It’s customary to say “good game” after you finish your match. But it’s not always a good idea to do so. If your opponent had to mulligan to four and you extend your hand and say, “good game, fella”, that might seem rather insulting. Just use common sense here. And most importantly, if you’ve won, never ever show your hand and say something along the lines of, “oh I still had all those cards and there’s nothing you could have done.” Just really bad form.
I’ll leave you with this for now. Armed with all this knowledge, your first tournament should be a good time. And that’s the goal here. If you have any more questions, give me a shout out in the comments. And if this inspired you to go to your first tournament – let me know how it went.