So, you’re the king of the kitchen table. You’ve bested the fiercest foes that your household can muster: your brother, your aunt Matilda, and your cat “Sniffles”. You are now ready to take on a real tournament, but you don’t know what to expect, where to go, and you don’t want to make a fool of yourself. My friend, this is the article for you!
First off you’ll need to know where to go. If you don’t already know where people go to play MTG, you can use the Store & Event Locator. At these locations you can participate in many different kinds of events, like Sealed Pre-Releases, Grand Prix Trials (GPTs), and even Pro-Tour Qualifiers (PTQs). A good place to start is a weekly tournament called “Friday Night Magic” or FNM for short.
FNM is usually held as a “draft” which is a limited format, meaning that you do not need to bring any cards of your own. This format is a great way to start learning the basics of deck building, strategy, and can help you start a decent Magic collection. You can find out more about drafting and other formats here, and more about FNM in general here.
Arrive to your first tournament a little early so the tournament organizer (TO) can help you register for a DCI number. In a DCI sanctioned event you are awarded Planeswalker Points for every match win. These points unlock achievements, but more importantly they can give you free match wins or “byes” at larger events. You can view your Planeswalker Points here once you have a DCI number.
At the start of the tournament the TO will tell you where to sit to draft. You will get some time to make your 40 card deck after the draft is complete, then the TO will announce the “pairings”. You will play a match against your opponent, with the winner being the first to win two games out of three.
Playing against an opponent in a sanctioned tournament is different than playing against a friend at the kitchen table. Here are some helpful tips to help you fit into tournament culture.
- Be sure to greet your opponent, make sure they are the correct person, offer good luck, and let them know that this is your first real tournament. This will put them in the correct mindset to help you learn how to play, and be more lenient with your (hopefully few) play errors. At FNM you have some leeway to make errors in play and take them back, talk to your TO and they will let you know who to talk to when you need a little help with this or if you have any rules questions.
- You will shuffle your deck as well as shuffle/cut your opponents deck before each game. Shuffling your opponents deck shows respect for the game and your opponent because it ensures that both decks are appropriately randomized for tournament play. Your opponent should shuffle your deck as well.
- Once the order of play is decided the person who is playing first must tell the other player if he/she is going to mulligan. Afterwards the person “on the draw” will inform the other player if they are taking a mulligan. It is polite and advantageous to wait to see if the person on the play is going to take a mulligan, as it gives you more information about what may be in their hand.
- During your game be sure to let your opponent know when you are passing phases, especially from your pre-combat main phase to your combat phase. This will give them priority to cast instants and activate abilities, and is the polite thing to do. This is actually required in higher levels of play.
- In between games during your match you are allowed to sideboard. You may use any of the cards in your draft picks to do so. This cannot reduce your deck to below 40 cards including lands.
- After the match is finished be sure to fill out and sign the match slip / report the match result to the TO before straying too far from the tournament. This is usually done by the winner of the match.
- Win or Lose be courteous and polite to your opponent. Offer a handshake for a good match, and remember: if they weren’t there, you would have had nobody to enjoy playing a game of Magic against.
Most tournament locations will offer special prizes or promotional cards for people who attend. If you do well in the tournament you may even win booster packs. Don’t feel bad about not winning anything at your first tournament. I myself got last place at my first booster draft, but I came back a few weeks later and battled my way to first place! The most important part is having fun, so relax, enjoy yourself, and play a few games of magic with your new friends!
Side note: almost every store I’ve been to has “that guy”. The guy that is rude or tries to explain the rules to you in a way that is patronizing or even offensive. Try not to be discouraged by this, as deep down they are only trying to help (usually). If he really hurts your feelings, you can always come back next week and defeat him at the tables!
Good luck! May the variance be with you.
Let me know what you think of this article below. Did I miss a question you might have about your first tournament? I will be writing more articles directed towards newer and learning magic players in the future, and I plan to do a video version of this article that shows the basics of how to play in a tournament environment.
Email article requests to Cory@limitedmagic.com