I know many people are going to Grand Prix Las Vegas in a few weeks. Sadly, I am not, but I do have a lot of experience in how to make the most of your Grand Prix trip. My goal right now is to prepare you as best I can to stay focused at the table and have fun on what many consider to be a vacation.
Start by scouting your trip, but don’t go overboard. You don’t want to plan every meal and stop beforehand. Many friends will more than likely be at your Grand Prix, meaning that plans can change as you coordinate where to eat and what to do before and after so every person involved has a good experience. The most important thing to do is memorize how to correctly navigate from your hotel to the convention center and back with ease. Looking up parking procedures is a common occurrence for me a few days before the event . Also, seeing what surrounds the convention center is very helpful if you have byes or time between rounds to get a quick bite to eat without sacrificing time looking for it.
Some of the biggest benefits to attending a Grand Prix are the pros, artists and vendors that are at the event. Remember to bring all your cards, shirts, posters, etc. that you want to get altered, signed, or sold to the vendors. Many places will give you more cash than what your local card shop. They come to buy anything and everything off you so they can later unload it on eBay and their store for a higher price. So your unwanted cards can easily pay for some, if not most, of the trip. These dealers will also try to get you to not take cash by giving you store credit at anywhere from a 15% to 35% boost on top of cash buy list prices. This is a helpful thing for both the player and dealer if you need to finish a deck on the fly.
Before you head to the tournament site, there are a few things you need to get done or prepare for.
Get breakfast. You may not have much time for anything more than a snack. Breakfast is important. (Editor’s Note: I prefer a high calorie breakfast like a fruit smoothie,fiber bar, or Cliff bar. It really is better than a Red Bull!)
Stock up on drinks. It’s important to stay hydrated during the event. Who cares if you have to go to the bathroom between every round? Judges will even hold the start of the match if you go to time the match before, and having a 5 minute time extension is much better then feeling tired and drained the whole day.
Leave everything in excess at the hotel. For a player looking to make day two, Saturday is not the place for trade binders, playmats, or extra decks. These are all things you would have to carry around with you. Bring two deck boxes, one for your tournament deck and another for any extra cards you might come across from buying, cards you are looking to sell, or cards to get signed. I even go as far to put dice in this extra deck box. Also, I understand playmats are cool at FNM, but the less you carry the better. Playmats mean you have to bring a bag around with you to carry around and worry about the whole day.
Have fun. Grand Prix are about the experience, so enjoy it. Joke with your friends, ask pros questions, and look for awesome alters to buy for cheap. This is where thousands of people gather to have fun, so go ahead and enjoy it.
For constructed Grand Prix be aware of format shifts in the days leading up to the event on Magic Online. Many pros use Magic Online results as a last minute test to see if a card or two is good or what is going to be popular at the Grand Prix. Chances are if you see a lot of something on Magic Online you will see pros running it or gunning for it. So you should too. Do not go overboard, but keep this in mind. There are a few ideas for constructed Grand Prix that are important to remember.
Be aware of metagame trends. If there are popular decks, they are going to show up in force, so you must be prepared. Try to stray away from the decks that consistently get beat by the popular decks. You are much better off to join their ranks than to fall victim to them.
Don’t tunnel-vision on the best deck. In a similar vein, don’t forget about everything else. Even in very focused metagames, there are generally a good amount of decks in fields these days so be prepared for most of them.
Have a sideboard plan. Have a good sideboard plan written out and ready to look at to help you. Remember these plans are not set in stone, but can go a long way to help you out. Also, if a matchup is unwinnable, and adding sideboard cards doesn’t make it favorable, it’s probably just best to accept that matchup as a match loss. Don’t waste sideboard slots on a lost cause. Use them to help make close matchups better.
Avoid the small mistakes. In Limited, you might not even notice a mistake you made, but in constructed you are on a much more level playing field. Making mistakes adds up much more quickly in constructed and a lot of times will kill your chances for that game.
Team up with a few friends. Agreeing to play the same deck as a few friends can help you do better in a number of ways. Confidence is key, and by running the same 73-75 card lists will help your teams’ confidence with the deck. If you know others felt that the deck you chose was strong enough, then you will feel better going into every match. The help you can give each other throughout the Grand Prix on unexpected matchups and game situations is also invaluable.
For limited Grand Prix, there are different things to keep in mind.
Know what the best strategy is. Learn the format before the event. In most cases, there is usually one particular strategy or color combination that is more effective or easier to assemble than the other options. If your card pool allows you to play the best strategy, do it. In most formats, a color combination is best for a reason. Just make sure you have an edge in the mirror.
Interact with those around you. Don’t do it during deckbuilding of course, but it doesn’t hurt to chat it up with the players sitting around you. You may learn something useful about a pool they registered, and at worst it will help you stay loose at a stressful time.
Don’t take registering a pool for granted. Everyone, at some point, has gotten a game loss for misregistering a pool. Very few things can make a player feel sillier than this. Triple check your work!
Have a method for building your deck. When you get your pool, check the rares and uncommon for cards to build around. Remove chaff spells so they don’t distract you. Sort the cards, typically by color at first, and start examining builds, usually starting with either deep colors with lots of playable or using your best cards. Don’t get stuck on a single idea, and keep in mind transformational sideboards and the ability to have two or more entire decks to adjust to opposing strategies. In most formats, midrange is the dominant archetype because true aggro or control decks simply don’t materialize in pools. If you’re unsure if you should play a great midrange deck or a strange-looking but seemingly high-upside control deck, unless you are a format expert, stick with the ‘normal’ looking deck. After you decide on a list and submit a list to the judging staff, ask your friends what they think of your choices, and play a few games to get a feel for the deck. Remember, your friends’ suggestions can be put to use while sideboarding.
Crafting a mana base deserves it’s own section. The number one rule is don’t be greedy! Consistency is key once again, so don’t build a straight three-color deck unless it’s worth the risk. Splashing a card or two is fine though. Generally, two sources of mana for a single card splash is perfectly fine. In sealed you can have a temporarily dead card in your hand if, when you do play it, you will win the game. Splashing two or three cards requires three or four sources, but that is where you want to stop. Any more and you are risking too many dead cards, and should probably look into a different option for your sealed deck unless you have a fair amount of fixing. Above all, remember that the goal of deckbuilding is balancing power and consistency. If a splash is risky, but powerful, it may be worth it. If you can make a consistent two color deck with your bombs in the same color, congratulations, you just hit the sealed lottery that everyone hopes for. You should have a good time.
Know the common tricks. Not all your opponents will have it when they represent it, but memorizing the common tricks will make your decision trees easier to manage during games.
Know your role and when to switch gears. Take mulligans as needed with your role as aggressor or controller in mind. Your role in a game can change multiple times, especially if you end up as a midrange deck. One of the best pieces of advice I can give anyone in limited play is don’t lose. It sounds silly, but do not put yourself in a risky position you don’t have to. If you try to not lose the game, and you succeed, you will end up winning the game often. Don’t be afraid to switch gears though when the time comes to strike!
As you are playing throughout the day, remember to talk to your buddies. One of your friends getting blown out by a spell or interaction means you will not if you know about it. Do the same for your friends as well. Discuss what has been happening. The more information you have, the better your chances to win. Cheer each other on, and keep in good spirits. Don’t get mad over a bad loss; there’s plenty of time for that when the day is over. I can’t tell you how many times the second the last slip is signed I moan and groan about something that happened several rounds ago. Until you’re out, forget about the bad beats. It happened and move on.
So either you made day two or you didn’t. Either way, make sure you had a fun time. Cheer on those that did well, and if you didn’t make the cut, get ready for the Super Series (a day two tournament at every Grand Prix with decent prizes for those who didn’t make the cut), or a day full of trading for those who are inclined. If you didn’t make Day 2 now is the time to bring out those playmats for side events or the Super Series and have some fun showing off. Bring your trade binder, as there are players of all types looking for cards. Make the most of it.
If you did make day two, get ready to have your skills put to the test. You will face better players, generally armed with better decks or better limited skills. The advice that got you through day one still applies. Keep the luggage to a bare minimum. The big prize will be within reach, so there’s no need to burden yourself. Also, consistency won’t quite cut it now. Every draft you must draft a deck to 3-0 or bust. Even with one loss in day one, two 2-1 draft pods won’t get you to the top 8. In constructed formats you must play tight and mistake free. Even bad matchups can become good with tight play. Some of you might play the best players in the world, but don’t be intimidated. They are just like you, and can make mistakes, draft bad decks, or have simple lapses of judgment. No one has Top 8’d a Grand Prix by getting star struck.
That pretty much sums up the Grand Prix Experience. Follow my advice for preparation, and remember to just have fun and keep in good spirits, and you will do just fine. For all the people going to Houston, Las Vegas, or Kansas City have fun and remember the keys to success.