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How to Survive a Magic Tournament

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My husband and I at the Minneapolis Convention Center

Going to a Magic: The Gathering tournament for the first time, especially if you are a woman, can feel a lot like going to see the inevitable sequel of a movie you love: you’re not sure if you should be excited or dubious. For a tournament, you need to be a little bit of both, and have a lot of focus.

My first tournament was at the Minneapolis Convention Center. I was amazed at the sheer amount of people attending; never before in my life had I been in a room with over 500 men and only 3 other women. I wasn’t prepared for that, and it threw me off my game. I suddenly felt like I had to be a certain way and had to defend myself somehow. Should I try to be super pretty to show the guys that this is what it looks like when a woman plays? Or should I be frumpy casual to show that I’m one of them and serious about the game? Do women who play magic look like the guys who play magic, or is that just because they’re guys and I’m expected to dress up just because I’m a girl? What do women who play magic look like?

The first lesson I had to learn was that the best way to show the guys I was serious about the game was to just be serious about the game. Don’t think too much about how I look and think more about how I’m going to sideboard against my worst matchup. I discovered at my second tournament that dressing in between pretty and casual is the most comfortable way for me to stay focused and not distract myself or others. Whether you always wear a dress or always sport your favorite geeky t-shirt, choose something you would wear when spending an evening with your family, then forget about your outfit and get lost in the play.

Magic takes a lot of intelligence to play. So not only are you among better-than-average minds while you’re at a tournament, you are also among people who know what it’s like to be humbled. In order to get good at the game, you have to go through your fair share of getting beat. I often find that the more experienced a player is the more pleasant their demeanor, because they know how likely it is to draw a bad hand and how easily the proud can stumble.

During my second tournament I was standing around with my husband, and our group of friends between rounds, when  a member of our group came up and unrolled his newest acquisition: a play mat he was very proud to own, but one that, to put it mildly, objectified women. Normally, the best response is to not say anything and walk away, or just focus more on the game if you have to sit through a round with such an opponent. But this was more than just some guy with a “boobies mat” who I happened to get paired with, and he couldn’t do anything about it. This guy had purposefully rolled it out in front of me, right under my nose.

So after a few of the guys shyly acknowledged that it was kinda cool just to get him to be quiet about it, I said “Now imagine if I unrolled a mat in front of you that depicted a ripped guy wearing a speedo that was too small for him.” Two amazing things happened after that: the purchaser of the mat quietly rolled it up and put it back in his bag without any comment (which is strange for him because he is usually quite, um, verbal), and the other guys in our group jumped in to support me.

“Oh, yeah, you should totally get a mat made like that! It would distract everyone and then you’d just win!” Said one of them with a grin. Then another said “Yeah, that’d be something. But I think the point is to not objectify anyone, guys or gals.” I probably looked like I was trying to smile and drop my jaw at the same time.

When you are at a Magic tournament, you do need to be a little cautious because there are people there who are immature and insensitive.  And you will face opponents with objectifying graphics on sleeves or mats. But for every immature, insensitive, bothersome guy, there always seems to be at least one if not two or three others nearby who get it and will readily back you up. Even if you don’t know them. Caution: yes. Fear: no.

Next time, I’ll talk more about strategy. Not game strategy, but what to bring and how to keep from being frazzled. Sitting for 10+ hours of Magic is not for the unprepared, but with a little knowledge, it can make for an awesome, geeky day that you’ll never forget.

Next: Read How to Survive a Magic Tournament Part II

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My First Tournament Match Win

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7 Comments »

  1. When I was in high school, I dated a guy that played Magic. He did tournaments at a local card store, and I made the mistake of going with him once. I didn’t play, so it wasn’t that interesting to me, and when I tried to sit down next to my boyfriend to watch him play, I got yelled at! They told me that the seats were for tournament players only, and the store was so small that there wasn’t any extra space for other chairs, so I had to stand. The other guys there were so rude to me, and kept pushing their chairs into me and making comments saying I was distracting, so got tired of it, and went to sit outside. There was a recruiting office next to the card store, and one of them saw me sitting outside. He let me sit in the recruiting office while my boyfriend played in his tournament. I never went back to that card store or a gaming tournament because of that experience.

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    • Sad to hear you had that kind of experience…it’s those sort of players and card shops that give the Magic community a bad name (especially for being inclusive to females). While I’m the only regular female at my local shop, everyone is generally friendly (although we all get salty sometimes when playing, lol)

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    • I’m so sorry to hear that others made it a rough time! There are a few dark and uncomfortable places where Magic is played, especially if it’s in a gaming store that’s too small for the crowd. However, things are much better at the big tournaments. Also, if you want a setting other than a large tournament, or some cramped space for weekly playing, I highly recommend looking to see if any Games by James stores host Magic in your area. They usually have enough space and since the company’s reputation is on the line, they make sure everyone is polite and plays fair. There are actually a large number of moms and young children who play Magic at the Games by James store I frequent, and it makes for some fun interaction.

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  2. Do you still attend tournaments in the cities? I’m from Duluth, so on occasion I make it to the Twin Cities for larger tournaments! My first major one was the Star City Open 2 summers ago. The biggest question I kept getting asked was who I was there with -they all assumed I had started playing Magic because *insert boy I knew, specifically a boyfriend* was a player. While I was there with my boyfriend (and 5 others guys from our local gaming store), I had actually started playing before meeting my boyfriend (it was in fact, how we met!).
    You’re right, for every crude, rude, and/or immature player, you can find a number of decent other players to interact with instead.

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    • Yes, that is one question I slightly resent. Even though we arrive together, I have made the game my own and feel like it’s rude for them to assume I couldn’t play the game on my own. I usually answer that question by saying I’m with the group that I play with weekly, then add that my husband is also here.
      I would like to attend every tournament in the cities. Unfortunately, there isn’t one this year for Modern, and I’m kind of bored with Standard. But if you’re ever at a tournament and you see me, feel free to come say hi!

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      • Yeah, I’m to the iffy point of standard again. Was all excited at rotation when Khans came out, but now hitting a slump again. Haven’t been abel to get into Modern; guess I just don’t care for the way it plays -not quite sure. Been itching for some EDH though -my local get-together group has been on hiatus since before the holidays. Honestly, that’s been the most fun lately -I love building themed EDH decks.

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        • Fate Reforged hasn’t really enhanced Standard either. Things have been pretty lackluster ever since “snore” of the gods. That’s why I switched to Modern, because it doesn’t change much and is still exciting. I’ve never played EDH, but it sounds similar to what I like about Modern. To be honest, though, I’ll probably play Legacy before I play EDH. I just hope that they release something soon that makes it exciting to open packs again. I miss hoping that I’ll get that one really cool, elusive card that seems to be in every set except the last three. Treasure Cruise was a bit like that for me, but I didn’t pull one until after it was banned. 😦

          By the way, I checked out your etsy site and it is NOT GOOD FOR MY WALLET! I just have to have that Damask pillow. 🙂

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