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Commander Nomads at MagicFests

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You have heard the hype. Your favorite content creators have been telling you to do it for ages and you’ve been interested but not quite ready. Now, finally, you decided it is time to pull the trigger. You have decided to go to a Grand Prix. Ok, they changed the name to MagicFest but it is the same thing. Ok, maybe they aren’t doing coverage of the events like they used to, but that doesn’t matter to you. You weren’t going to play in the main event. You are a casual Magic player and you’ve been told by virtually everyone that you should go to a MagicFest even if you aren’t taking part in the main event.

You check the website and figure out when a MagicFest is coming to your area. You clear your calendar for that weekend and start prepping. You have your tried and true Commander decks. You have some cards to sell, and a list of cards you want to buy. You found out which artists were going to be there and you have some cards you want them to sign. You have your water bottle and some snacks, and you even brought a charger, just in case your phone dies. You have even built a couple of new decks to try out!

Saturday comes and you are on the way. The main event starts and the crowds around the dealers aren’t so bad, so you jump in and find someone to take your cards. You can’t find that obscure card in foil you want for your deck, but you do get a few others that make you smile. You get in line with your favorite artist at the event and decide that getting a sketch on the back of a proof would be cool, so you chat quickly and decide on a close-up of a card.

After all of this, it is now time to play some Magic! You cruise up and down the tables toward the back of the hall and find some people playing Commander. You offer to jump in on the next game and you start to set up. Twenty minutes later their game is over and you are shuffling up for your game. Everyone spends their first few turns ramping up, and it is looking like this is going to be a good game!

Then someone wearing all black, holding a box and a sheet of paper is leading eight people in your direction. The other three players in your game all take big sighs and stop and watch as this guy comes up to your table and asks if this is a tournament game. His black shirt has “Judge” stitched on to it. You aren’t sure how someone who is a judge could possibly mistake your Commander game for a competitive game, but someone else has already answered no. The judge asks you to move since this space is being used for a draft.

You and your new friends take pictures of your playmats to remember your board state, and pack up. You shift a few tables over and set up again. The game progresses into the mid-game. Huge attacks happen. The board gets wiped. One player has three cards of his combo set and is just looking for the final card. This game is looking like it will end soon, but any one of the three of you could still win. That’s when a woman wearing the all black judge uniform seems to appear from nowhere, explaining they need the space.

Over the course of the Saturday, you move at least three more times. One judge was kind enough to let you know they were going to need the space in ten minutes, but you still had to move. This was just obnoxious.

You are back on Sunday and hope it will be better. With fewer players in the main event, there should be more tables available, so hopefully you won’t have to move.

No chance of that. In fact, the players who aren’t in the main event are now all doing side events, so you have to move even more often. You have the brilliant idea of asking at the desk where the side events will be going, in the hopes of choosing tables that won’t get picked. They can’t seem to tell you where the best place to play is, so you find the highest numbered tables and sit there. It doesn’t matter. You could be surrounded by empty tables and it feels like the judges are going to ask you to move. Why are you there? It seems pretty clear that the people running the event don’t want you there.

This story is familiar to every Commander player who has ever been to any GP or convention. Yes, this happens at GenCon or PAX or any event. Table space is always at a premium. Renting these large halls cost money, so tournament organizers try to estimate how much space they will need to save as much money as they can. This leads to busy tournaments and Commander players become the nomads.

We have all talked about this at a Grand Prix. The standard solution I hear from Commander players is a dedicated Commander space. If the TO would just set aside a few tables for Commander players, we wouldn’t have to constantly move. The players would even know where to find other players more easily. The problem could be solved and there would be even more Commander games since everyone would be grouped together! It is an easy solution!

The problem is that we are asking the TO to set aside a few tables for players who aren’t going to pay for the space. When players sign up for a side event, they are paying the TO to find other players, put them together, provide product and prize support, and a space to play the games. These players are paying for the space.

It is hard to argue against moving. Sure, you bought cards, and spent money on the artist. You paid to be there through buying food, cards, hotel room, and in plenty of other ways. This was not free for you! Unfortunately, so did everyone else who is there, and they also paid for the main event or side draft that is forcing you to move.

The next solution then becomes paying for the space. How much are you willing to pay to not get moved? Consider a side event draft. Those people paid $15 for cards, possible prizes, and table space for four hours (draft, build, and three rounds). If Commander players don’t want the cards or prizes, what is the value of the table space for four hours? Would $5 be enough for four hours?

Consider the logistics for the TO. You and three others each pay $5 for four hours. A judge marches you to a spot and it is yours for four hours. You play a couple of games and pretty soon you have a crowd of people there who didn’t pay. Are the judges expected to shoo others away? You don’t really want to play Magic with the same four people, but you want that group there.

This brings us to the dedicated Commander area. The TO guesses how much space would be needed. They set that space aside and set up cloth walls so people don’t just wander into the space dedicated to Commander. They have someone there who takes your money and stamps your hand, giving you free reign in the Commander space for the day. Now your space isn’t just the tables, it needs someone there to stamp your hand, collect money, and make sure people don’t just wander in without paying. They also had to pay to set up the space at the start of the tournament. Assuming the day is eight hours, and there is all this extra work, would you pay $20 each day for that space?

And what happens if the turnout for the main event isn’t as big as expected? Will you still pay $20 when there are plenty of empty tables around? What happens if the turnout for the main event is bigger than expected and they need the Commander space? Will you pay ahead of time for a space that may not exist?

My guess is that some of us would, and some wouldn’t. In the meantime, it falls to each of us to decide if this experience is worth it. When I go to these events, I often try to leave around 3:00 with friends to find another place to play. Whether it is a hotel lobby or conference room, or other space that is happy to have us sit in an out of the way spot to get our Commander games in. It is just this hassle that encouraged me to invite friends to my home for a weekend of casual Magic gaming. None of these solutions is perfect, but they work for me.

In the end, there are three resolutions. The first solution is that the TO’s can try to figure out the actual dollars needed to make a closed space feasible, and actually try it out. They are the only ones who know what the actual costs are. Perhaps my $20 for a day is far too low or far too high. They lease the buildings and know the costs, not us. Unfortunately, it means they would have to guess how much most Commander players would be willing to pay. This means they would have to take a risk; that would have to involve profit over the current system.

The second solution involves Commander players deciding it isn’t worth it and simply not attending. This would mean that the artists would make less money and the dealers would have fewer cards to buy and sell. When money walks, things happen. This would give TO’s a better sense of what Commander players are worth and whether providing them a place to play, free or not, makes sense. This is not likely to happen either. MagicFests are a way to get Magic players together. You get to play against new people and just be around other Magic players. Giving this up to prove a point to TO’s, who still may not hear it, is not likely.

The third and most likely involves nothing changing. The TO’s know the costs involved in this resolution since that is currently what is happening. Commander players know the costs involved as well. You come to a MagicFest and pay for cards from the dealers and art from the artists, and know that you’ll find Commander players and games, but you are going to have to move around.

I would love to hear your solutions! Comment below or post on Twitter!

Bruce

@manaburned