Policy Wonks: Your Guide to Convention Magic

Hello and welcome to today’s edition of Policy Wonks! As in-person Magic events ramp up, it is quickly becoming clear that a lot of The Gathering will be taking place at convention-style events. I’ve been fortunate enough to experience Magic at many different kinds of conventions, from Anime Expo and San Diego Comic Con to PAX and SCG Con. In this new landscape, it will be useful to have a primer on what convention Magic looks like and how it can differ wildly from one event to the next. Let’s dive in!

Point 1: There Are SO MANY New Players

This is particularly true at the non-Magic-centric events such as Anime Expo and Geek Girl Con for example. Any convention that isn’t specifically Magic-focused is going to attract beginner-level players. Often, this will be recognized and accommodated by the existence of Learn-to-Play events and/or stations. However, as anyone that’s ever attended a convention can tell you, the sheer volume of activities can make it very easy for attendees to miss the Learn-to-Play event that would be perfect for them. For this reason, you can end up with a brand-new player in your Sealed event that needs a lot of support. Fortunately, players at conventions also tend to be a lot more helpful to their opponents than players at a Competitive tournament would be.

When working such a convention, keep in mind that your average player is much newer and less experienced than at most other events. Be proactive in offering assistance, as they will be less familiar and comfortable with calling a judge if they’re uncertain about a rule. Above all, do your best to support your players in having a good time!

Point 2: Expect Unusual Formats

Conventions are a great place for organizers to get creative with their events. A perfect example of this is the “Planechase” variant put on by Pastimes. They provide several laminated printouts of global rules, much like the Plane cards in the official Magic Planechase variant that will affect all games for a particular round. The effects are themed to the planes themselves. So, for example, if the plane is New Phyrexia, all creatures would have Infect; if it’s Zendikar, playing lands will add mana; and so on. Since players haven’t built their decks with these effects in mind (as the planes are chosen at random each round), you don’t usually run into any exploitation of these mechanics. The players adapt as best they can and enjoy the new twists they get to navigate.

As the judge, you get the opportunity to play into this and make it even more fun for the players by getting into the spirit! Ham it up! Also, it’s not always going to be entirely clear how these planar effects will function within the rules, so you get to do your best to answer any rules complications that come up. If the answer isn’t at all obvious, try to rule on the side that makes the most fun for the players. We want players having a positive experience as much as possible so they want to keep playing Magic! These variant formats are a unique opportunity for players and judges alike. I encourage you to embrace the chaos and have fun with it!

Point 3: There Are SO MANY Events

Even without considering variant formats, there are an absolute ton of ways to play Magic. Convention organizers will often schedule events for the entire spread of possible formats, to make sure that anyone attending can find something for them. Since there are only so many hours in a day, this frequently means launching events as often as every half-hour (or every quarter-hour!) That’s a lot of events to launch and not a lot of time to get your bearings before the next one needs your attention.

As a floor judge, know that this will mean that you will very likely be put in charge of more than one event. Fortunately, many of these events aren’t of a significant size. You’d be expected to be able to manage a 12-player Crimson Vow Sealed tournament as well as a 10-player Standard tournament. You may get conscripted to help with product distribution at the 50-player Mystery Booster Sealed tournament as well. Keep in mind that all sorts of Magic are being played all around you, so you don’t quite have the luxury of always knowing exactly which format a particular game belongs to when you approach a table. Take a moment to get your bearings and make sure you really understand what’s going on around you.

Point 4: Conventions Are Fun And Long

One of the big draws of working a general gaming convention like PAX or Gen Con is the prospect of having a badge. Some organizers will also build in time to make sure their judges have a chance to explore the con outside of their shifts. Even if you’re in a lead role and your shift overlaps most of the convention hall hours, you’ll still likely want to explore on your breaks. I highly encourage this because there are a lot of amazing things to see at cons that you won’t really get to experience anywhere else.

Anyone that has worked a large tournament like a Grand Prix probably already sees the trouble with this desire: it’s *even more* walking. 3- and 4-day events are already long and grueling, so adding additional walking on your breaks or after your shift only compounds this issue. As always, focus on taking care of yourself first and foremost. Drink water. Invest in good shoes and/or insoles. Drink water. Take opportunities to sit whenever you can. Drink water. Don’t skip meals and bring snacks if you can (I’m a particular fan of RxBars). And DRINK WATER! Taking care of yourself will improve your performance and your enjoyment of the con.

Thank you for joining me for this edition of Policy Wonks! I know today wasn’t super wonky when it comes to Policy details, but conventions provide a ton of Regular REL experience with a lot of different formats, so it felt pertinent to address as events are ramping up in big ways. If you’d like to contact me, you can find me on the Judge Academy Discord server or by email to daniel@judgeacademy.com