I didn't win. I made a mistake in a grinder that cost me a spot in the finals. I did not swap into a better deck when appropriate in the Grand Prix and promptly dropped at 2-3. I rushed home Sunday to beat home Hurricane Sandy.
That is the "too long; didn't read" version of my weekend for the Twitter generation. But here's the story:
Until this past weekend, I had never been to a Grand Prix. I had been moderately serious about Magic for a long time, but it is only in the past year that I have acquired a job and a life situation that allows me to travel with friends for a weekend. Philadelphia is also a prime location, being just about two hours from where I live and is a city I have visited before (once for a PTQ, twice for work). The fact that the format was Return to Ravnica limited cemented the fact in my head: I had to go to Philadelphia. Luckily, I am keyed into a fantastic gamer network centered around the Twenty Sided Store- I would not be alone.
Even at 28, the prospect of going to such a large event alone seemed daunting. Sure, I would know people, but knowing there would be at least a dozen familiar faces eased any nerves I would have had.
Although my original hotel plans fell through, the NYC Magic Google group came through and I was set up to stay in a room with two other competitors and a judge for the event. I opted to take the floor since I have a bed roll and don't mind using it. Friday morning rolls around and I finish packing and get the call: two of my passengers, Li and Zach are here. We go to load up the car and stroll back to 7th and 9th. We spot our final party member, Connor -the judge I am staying with- and wave him over. We load up on provisions (coffee) and promptly get on our way.
The ride down was uneventful, and full of discussions about (what else) Magic. The only disturbance (if you can call it that) was the obvious odor when we entered New Jersey. We reach Philadelphia in under two hours, and see other 20 Siders walking towards the hotel. I roll down my window and holler, happy to see familiar faces. It takes me a while to figure out exactly how to get to the valet area, which leads to a sequence of rights and lefts around what can only be described as a traffic spiral. Finally, our bags are dropped off and we proceed to the convention center to try an earn byes.
Grand Prix are large tournaments that qualify the top four finishers for the Magic Pro Tour. Players can earn up to three byes (free wins) by holding a certain professional level or competing enough in the previous season. The day before the main event, there are feeder tournaments known as grinders that allow people to win the right to start with three free wins.
Once our party reaches the tournament site, we all go to register for Saturday. At the registration table, I run into the incredibly tall Nathan Holt, who makes the Walk the Planes videos. I make a joke about our disparate height and he chuckles. I wander the dealer booths and eventually run into Eric Klug from Klug Alters, and talk to him (at him?) briefly about Cube. I regroup with my friends and head back out to the Reading Terminal Market. This is one of the reasons to play major tournaments in Philadelphia- a huge food court of awesome options located across the street. Our mixed group scouts the location, and I opt for the Cajun stand. On the way to get my food, I run into Chris Pikula and introduce myself. I had been communicating with Chris on Twitter leading up to this event, as I live in his former neighborhood. We share a laugh, and head on our way. Once we have all acquired food, it was time to grind.
Out of the 32 people in the tournament, 7 of us came from the same store. I win my first three rounds with ease (my pool of cards was quite strong) and it was my overly aggressive play in the last game of the semi-finals that cost me a chance to play for the byes. However, I am not upset. I know I cost myself the byes, and I tell myself I will not make the same mistake in the Grand Prix.
I guess I lied to myself just a little.
Rather than sign up for another event, I opt to get dinner and wander around the convention center for a while before opting for sleep. I make my way back to the hotel and eventually pass out in my corner, excited for what Saturday would bring.
Saturday morning rolls around and I make my way to the shower in the darkness of the room, attempting to not wake anyone else up. It does not matter, as by the time Connor and I leave to get breakfast, everyone is starting to get ready. I wear my Twenty Sided Store shirt, donated by the store, and proceed to the site.
Lauren and Luis run the store, and sent down the shirts with a few regulars. They did not ask me for money, instead giving us the shirts as a way to promote their store. However, for the first time in I do not know how long, those shirts made me feel like a part of a team. It was made even cooler by the fact that one of the people I was staying with, the one who booked the room, helped to get the store started before moving to California.
I mill about the site, seeing familiar faces. Some of them I know personally, some I recognize from Magic coverage. There is tension in the air; the tournament is about to begin, but the specter of Hurricane Sandy lingers at the back of our collective consciousness. However, they seat us and we get to start looking at the pools of cards we will be registering. Finally, we have the opportunity to get the cards we will be playing for the day. I'm seated next to Owen Turtenwald, former Player of the Year. Part of me wants to ask him to take a look, to give me advice. I know it is against the rules, but my desire to get better is kept in check by my desire to compete.
The tournament itself does not go well. I win my first two rounds, but make a mistake that costs me a game in round three. I never get a chance as my opponent easily takes game two. In rounds four and five, I play against decks that are much better than mine and proceed to resign from the tournament. But my weekend was just getting started.
After refueling on food, I start making my way around the hall. I end up grabbing friends who had been eliminated for a Cube Draft. We sit ourselves a table away from Adam Styborski. Adam is someone I count as a friend. We started chatting about Pauper Cubes almost two years ago, and have kept up communication. He tried to lure me out of semi-retirement for writing when he took over Gathering Magic, but I declined. A few weeks later, I was writing for Star City. Oh well. I show him my draft deck and he gets a devious gleam in his eye. During this time, I run into Chris Pikula again and he introduces me to other gamers from Park Slope. Small world.
As the day draws to a close, we stop playing and start watching our friends, looking out for those who will get to come back on day two. One by one our friends are eliminated. But one makes it through. Lirek, the youngest of our group finishes his round and comes running over to us, arms in the air. He made day two.
If I take one thing away from the Grand Prix, it will be the look of happiness on Lirek's face as he got lifted into the air.
I close the night by speaking to Steve Sadin of the coverage team after he finishes his shift. Steve is a good man, and we had run into each other the weekend before the Grand Prix at a food fair. We chat about limited and New York Sports. Eventually I meander back to my friends, make plans for the next day (as Sandy is definitely going to be an issue) and eventually pass out.
Sunday comes and I once again grab breakfast with Connor. He judges, I pass time at the tournament site. I play a few games of one-on-one Commander, watch friends draft, and try to help Lirek keep his cool. Eventually I run into Nathan and Adam again, and watch them crack packs of Mirage for some free-for-all multiplayer sealed. I'm introduced to Jon, one of the writers for Gathering Magic who just finished an ambitious and epic writing project in 52 FNMs.
I wanted to stay, but the sky was getting darker. Last year, Hurricane Irene altered my plans for moving. This year, it altered my plans for fun.
We loaded up my car, swapped Connor (who had to stay and judge) for Tim, and headed home. Again, no problems (aside from the smell in New Jersey, and my GPS falling off the windshield) and made it home with enough time to stock up in advance of the storm.
I scrubbed out, I made mistakes, and I had an amazing time. I regret my play mistakes, but what I regret more is not making an effort to talk to some of the luminaries of the game. I guess this just means I will have to do it again at the next Grand Prix I attend.
Because I am going to go again. How could I not?