Off Topic: Grand Prix Musings



The Grand Prix in Minneapolis has come and gone. I went, got squashed like a bug, and dropped at 1-3. Played one more round for fun. Part of my downfall was a poor sealed, build and play. It wasn’t the best facing a semi-professional round one. Recognized the name. Crud went through my mind, but I guess I came to play with the big honchos so I can’t complain. My mind wasn’t in the moment. Part of it was quietly observing and taking notes for an article. Who the heck goes to a Grand Prix for an article? Well, I do. My observations saw some good and bad. As always, I have some ideas. Can’t help it. The gray matter in my head is constantly thinking about how to make things better. My brain is like a BASF commercial. At BASF, we don't make a lot of the products you buy. We make a lot of the products you buy better..

The Big Show

A one-hour trip to the convention center had a partner in crime and myself in the hall a little before nine. Registering for the event was awesome. A couple of punches into a keyboard and forty dollars had me set within a couple of minutes. Incredible. Seriously. Registration at any other event always seemed like a chore and with a boring wait in line. With the bar raised, I hope every other event will be this efficient and organized. Time to nit-pick. After I dropped, I was disappointed with the side events. I hemmed and hawed awhile about entering a draft or whatever. When I finally did decide to enter an event, the line took forever. At least it felt that way. Every time I gave up due to impatience. I can certainly foresee a better system. The first thing springing to mind is signage. Is it really that difficult to put some signs up? Heck, for all I knew, I could have been in the wrong line. At the top of my head it would read something like this, Side Events. One step further, at one registration center Side Drafts and another EDH. Just think: it only took me 20 seconds. One word, Kinkos. Staging areas for drafts and other side events could work wonders. Once the full set of players are herded, the group can be brought up to register. Staging would eliminate players frolicking at the main stage. The method worked splendidly for inoculating thousands of healthcare workers. I’m a betting man that it will work for thousands of Magic players.

I understand large events are at best organized chaos and many people give up their free time to put on a spectacular event. Kudos. With that said, I never believe any system is perfect. It can always be made better and I mean no offence. With that, finding pairings is ridiculous. Squishing through hundreds of people to get to the sheets of paper in light print is horrible. Not to mention it can be a feat just getting there as hundreds walking past to their seats makes for a great game of Frogger. It is a horrible waste of time. It slows down the event. More importantly as a player, it makes the event not fun. The pairings need to be spread out more within the hall with fewer names at each banner. Bigger print would be wonderful. My heart goes out to the old-timers who might forget their bifocals. It doesn’t seem fair for them to get a penalty for being late to a match because of sight degeneration. It is incredibly unfair to have to scramble, fight, and push to the pairings with hopes I get to my table on time. Once I waited patiently as others shoved up to those sheets of paper. It was an experiment. As such, I got to my seat as the judge said, “go.” Hurrah.

At the beginning of the tournament I got the great opportunity to look like a Donk. Not thinking, I filled both entries at the top of the sheet. Why? I don’t know. Part of me wasn’t thinking and it is the first time tallying actual cards at a tournament. Every non-constructed I have been to never required a tally sheet. I cracked packs and off we went. People naturally want to fill the top part of any sheet. My suggestion would be to separate the two spots. The decklist spot at the top and the player spot at the bottom. Barriers. The barely readable printing on the cheap, copied sheets was lovely. Again, Kinkos. As such, I also made the mistake of putting a couple of numbers in the played section. Again, why? New Grand Prix player here. Howdy. It didn’t help I could barely read the columns with the poor copying. The other problem with the tally sheets is there is no room for one to make a correction. The sheet could easily accommodate a little more space to allow a person to correct a tally. I felt sorry for the person who got my sheet. I publicly apologize for my discretion.

Thumbs up to the head judge. Some of my mistakes were from me rushing and not waiting for prompts. A tiny polish could be done with the instructions, but hardly anything could be added. I suppose the head judge could be polished to say the most perfect instructions ever, but it won’t fix the problem. What is it? It is new players to the Grand Prix scene. My thoughts, a station set up for new players. Some poor, Level 1 judge would get the great opportunity to take new players through the motions before, again, before the tournament starts. New players in groups of eight or so could be taken through a mock trial. Such an event would reduce the number of questions, not during the tournament, but before the actual big stage. Let’s face it, during the tournament is not a great time to be trying to flag a judge for questioning. Two words, information center. With a sign. From Kinkos.

Not winning any brownie points today am I?

Gunslinging

Sweet. I didn’t even realize someone from Wizards of the Coast was going to be there, slinging cards, and giving away free product. After dropping and playing a few EDH game with people I knew, I stumbled over to see if I could get a game in with the one and only Ken Nagle. Unfortunately, I never got a chance with what seemed like every other Magic player fighting for a chance to hump Ken’s leg. Besides the somewhat disturbing and slightly true image, I took the chance to take some notes. I was very pleased seeing Ken playing Summoning Trap in one of his decks. After watching for a time to observe the futility of trying to get in a game, I came back from time to time to see if the line ever disappeared. It never did. There was always a line. I found it humorous watching the next player sit down to sling cards with Ken. Sometimes I wondered if the anxious new player was going to sit right down on the former players lap as he/she tried to exit.

Later on in the tourney, I was walking around then I saw an acquaintance was sitting down with Ken. I quickly swung over to watch. As I respectfully, quietly watched the game, I kept having countless players shove in front of me. Really? Seriously people. I began to wonder if any of these people were ever taught any manners. As I jockeyed for position, I watched Ken go down. Barely. Yippee, somebody I knew got to play and win against somebody from Wizards of the Coast. Returning to watch, I got see the same event unfold. Not Ken losing, but players shoving and pushing for a game amongst the chaos. To add to the pleasantries, I got to watch for an extensive time as each new player took out their cards. Pull out the playmat. Pull out the dice. Paper. Pen. Shuffle. Shuffle. Shuffle. The scene made me think another seat was needed. In it, the next player could sit down and prepare all the nick-knacks, cards, and voodoo dolls. Once the other player was done, he/she could just slide over. Another aspect of this, I wouldn’t have to watch players dive in as the former player leaves. It would at least give some semblance of order.

Other highlights included observing observers constantly pester Ken with questions. Others were more like demands. I found humor in the numerous players pleading for better answers to Baneslayer Angel. The whole scene I found incredibly rude. Seriously, the opportunity to play somebody from Wizards of the Coast just might be the only opportunity the seated player will ever get. Instead of that person getting to enjoy a game, an humorous conversation, and one time chance to put forth his/her input about the game directly to an employee who makes Magic, the conversation is interrupted by some inconsiderate butthead. On top of this, numerous players hovered behind Ken. Poor guy. Not that I don’t want players to be able to observe the game, but there seems to be a need for a bigger separation. Ideally, all I think it would take is a couple of tables on the end of the playing table to ensure a larger separation. Lastly, there needs be a forsaken line. Any kind of line would do. Not once did I have any idea who was next. The whole thing made me wonder if an intern should have brought along to help coordinate things. Not to talk, but to ensure everything went smoothly for Ken and the players.

Card Dealers

At such a major event, I surmised the card prices at the dealer booths would be through the roof. Sure, the prices on some hot tickets like Walletslayer were still disgusting, but most cards could be purchased at reasonable rates. I picked up two Nissa Revanes for ten dollars a piece and two Summoning Traps for two dollars. I won’t bore you with my whole list, but I felt the prices were at decent prices. Not all booths were the same. Variance between the prices on cards surprised me a little. Garruk Wildspeaker could be found to be selling for ten dollars at one spot and fifteen at another. It wasn’t like one dealer was constantly more expensive than another. It really varied. I shopped around. I picked up some cards here and there. The process took more energy, but I figured I saved myself at least ten dollars by bargain shopping. I spend a little more at one dealer simply because of their customer service. You heard me correctly. I spent more money at one place for the simply reason on how accommodating they were to me.

My observation could be biased. I was surprised on how little action was occurring at the dealer booths. Most of the players appeared to be simply window-shopping. Very little cash was exchanging hands. The observation made me wonder if the economy was having an effect on the dealers. Over and over again, I kept getting asked if I had cards to sell. Maybe the reason isn’t because of the economy. The Standard environment is wide open at the moment. Nothing is completely dominating. I wonder if players are just unsure on what to purchase. Some may be skeptical on selling cards to only regret the decision when the card turns out to be a complete bomb later as the format develops. Nowadays, a lot of players simply netdeck the best out there and buy the cards. The trouble is players don’t what to netdeck. I don’t know. All I know is the dealer table seemed devoid of players making it rain. I wish I had the dollar bills ya’ll. It doesn’t often occur to have such a smorgasbord of cards to choose from to fill my collection.

Grand Prix Wrap-up

For clarification, I think the staff at Grand Prix Minneapolis did a splendid job. My comments are not to cause strife or give the impression it was an unsuccessful tournament. It is simply my observations and opinions. I do think improvements can be made. Most of my concerns have to do with the growing numbers at large events. As more and more players show up at these events, some of the problems I addressed will become increasingly problematic. There are methods that can be used to make the process much more fluid. Can you imagine the chaos and carnage at an event with 5,000 players? I don’t think having 500 people crowd around a single banner for pairings will cut it. How about 1,000 people dropping after the first round to play in the side-events? Holy Cow. It isn’t the present that necessarily bothers me. It is the future that concerns me.

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