Magic: First Steps into Competitive Play

Today, I’m writing something special, outside of the purview of my usual work in the Eye of the Beholder. Today, I’m talking about how to pick up Magic: The Gathering, and begin to play it more actively. As a bit of background, I’m a competitive MTG (Short for Magic: The Gathering) player. I’ve played at quite a few very large events, including GP Vegas, which I wrote a tournament report for. Now, I decided to talk a little about how to get “into” Magic.

I’m going to assume that most of the people interested in this already have a little knowledge of the game, but if not, I would start by going to a local store and picking up a pair of decks. (They even sell them in packs of two, just for learning the game. Some stores might even offer free decks, just to get you started.) Once you have played around with the game for a while, you are what we in the MTG community call a “kitchen-table player”. Regardless of whether or not you play on kitchen tables, people who play most frequently at home or outside sanctioned tournaments are typically called this by more competitive magic players. That being said, every magic player starts here. Once you have a few cards and a good idea of the basic rules, you should call you local shop again. Most card or comic shops have Magic tournaments, usually held on Friday nights (called Friday Night Magic). Find out when and where they are, then follow the simple steps below as you play in your first magic tournament:

  1. Know what the format is before you go.

    Again, make sure you call the shop ahead of time. Know when the tournament is and know what cards are legal. Time and time again I have seen people show up with their favorite kitchen table decks, only to find out the event is standard and they can’t play their modern-legal elves deck from Lorwyn.

    1. There are basically two types of MTG tournament. There is constructed, the typical Kitchen Table format, where you bring your own deck and use it to defeat your opponents. The other format is limited, where you make a deck on the spot out of packs you open. Frankly, either format is going to be difficult for a beginner to win, but i’m going to give some tips for a new limited player below, so keep your eyes peeled if that interests you.
  2. Be prepared.

    It is Friday night, usually near dinner time, so either eat dinner before, bring food, or be prepared to go grab some in between rounds. (There is usually time for this.) At large tournaments, some stores sell or give away food, so when you call ask what facilities will be available. Bring something to drink, because stores usually charge outrageous prices for water. Beyond that, make sure you bring your deck if the tournament is constructed and bring a way to keep track of life. Most magic players use dice for this purpose, but I would highly recommend that you use paper. You can take notes on the play (if you are feeling really fancy) and I’ve never seen a paper tip over and lose track of my life. Dice are usually less lucky.

  3. Be courteous.

    You never know who you are going to meet at a magic tournament. Some of my best friends played with me at my local shop when I was just starting to learn. If you are seen as friendly, people will help you, teach you new rules, even let you borrow cards. Typical Magic courtesy includes shaking your opponent’s hand after the round, letting people borrow dice and not complaining too much when you play. Very little is as annoying as an opponent constantly bemoaning his bad luck, especially when that opponent is new to the game. Often, there is a mistake in your play, so be prepared to admit it and look for friendly help, rather than alienating others by complaining about luck.

  4. Have fun.

    Okay, that probably sounded cliché, but I truly mean it. Often, Friday Night Magic, or FNM for short, is a weekly tournament the same regulars (and some newcomers) enjoy every single week. They are often relaxed, having fun. It is a great atmosphere to play in, and should not be seen as highly competitive. You are one step up from the kitchen table, but only one step. People are usually generous when it comes to forgiving mistakes, and even the competitive players might be trying some fun and wacky new deck. Relax, remember you are there to have fun, and play some games of Magic.

Limited vs. Constructed

As I mentioned earlier, Magic tournaments have 2 types, each of which is split into a number of formats. So, Constructed magic, where you bring a 60 card deck made at home (with a 15 card sideboard), has a number of formats associated with it. Ask which format your store is playing, and make sure you cards are legal in it. Google is your friend for this. Expect more experienced players to have all the cards they need for their deck, and for their decks to be very, very good. Often, newer players are defeated in the first round, because of the probability of playing against more experienced players. Fortunately, few magic tournaments are single elimination, and you can battle on. In limited, the playing field is more even. Someone with no cards could defeat someone with years of experience. But, like in all things, skill matters. Limited magic gives you an even playing field as far as card pools are concerned (and you even get to keep the cards you open!) but, your opponents probably still have a skill plateau over you. I would highly recommend reading up on the basics of drafting or playing sealed online before you enter into an event, just to get yourself up to speed. And remember, there is no shame in asking for help. Open-minded, intelligent people will be able to pick up magic with frightening speed.

What’s Next?

Once you have gotten some in-store tournaments under your belt, and you are looking around for the next challenge, there are two more kinds of tournaments in the next tier of competitive magic. PPTQs, or preliminary pro tour qualifiers, are small tournaments with larger entry fees that give you a chance to earn an invite to a PTQ, which will give you an invite to the highly esteemed and possibly quite profitable Pro Tour. The other tournaments, Grand Prix, are large, two day magic tournaments that occur around the world, with thousands of people attending each one. They are more like Magic conventions really, and I would highly recommend going to at least on of these if you are a Magic player, just for the experience.I hope you enjoyed this rather unusual article. If you are a Magic player, and want me to write more about Magic, please send me an email or post a comment below. Thanks for Reading!


More Tribality Articles You Might Enjoy

Ben Latham

Ben J. Latham has been playing D&D since he had only one digit in his age, and has been dungeon mastering for the better part of a decade. When not playing D&D (In his spare time) he is a math major at Sacramento State.