Insider: Gen Con 101

Mike-Lanigan QS Magic the Gathering MTG

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It all started with ice cream sandwiches. But you see, who needs 12 ice cream sandwiches for just themselves? So, I started handing them out. The nice fellow ringing me out at the grocery store got one. Another two went to a father and son walking out of the movie theater. The boys face filled with joy as I handed him his cool treat on not only a ridiculously hot night but also his birthday!

My night would have been complete at that but I went inside to see what movies were playing. After offering some more ice cream to some customers leaving the theater, I proceeded to pass them out to the employees.

While we were eating our ice cream I started chatting about the movies they had playing. In short, all the good ones were already playing or completed. Since there were hardly any people in the theater, I joked about them playing a movie for me. Sometimes all you have to do is ask. This is the story of Gen Con.

There was an error retrieving a chart for Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
There was an error retrieving a chart for Nissa, Vastwood Seer

1. Be Open to Spontaneous Fun

There are tons of memories like this floating around in my head from various Magic road trips throughout the years. None of them would be there though if I didn’t have a go-with-the-flow attitude. This can be difficult for someone like me because I’m the planner. I’m the one who takes care of the arrangements and gets everyone together for the trip.

Plans can be flexible though. If friends ask you to go out or you have a good idea, go with it. Don’t let it disrupt your tournament but outside of that, have fun. Magic isn’t all business. If you make it only that, you’ll burn out and you’ll lose your fire. Make time to have fun. That’s what makes it all worth it. You can 0-2 drop an event and still have a blast. Sure it would have been better to crush the event, but no one can crush every event.

Gen Con was great and I definitely had lots of stories to tell. When was the last time you convinced the movie theater to play the movie you wanted to see when you wanted to see it? It’ll probably never happen again, but stuff like this happens all the time.

There was an error retrieving a chart for Liliana, Heretical Healer

2. Hotel Arrangements

Normally, players tend to make plans for events at the last minute. Even when you have planned an event months ahead of time, the hotel stays unbooked until the week of the event. For GP's, Star City Opens, and Regional PTQ’s this is no big deal but if you follow this procedure for Gen Con, it will only end in disappointment.

What we may fail to remember is just how many people attend Gen Con. This is the largest gaming convention in the world. There will be more people there than all the events you attend in a year put together. That’s not an exaggeration, it simply is true. If you try to go at the last minute, you will be paying an astronomical amount for your hotel, or staying over an hour away from the convention center.

The best bet is to finalize your plans at least a month ahead of time. This is not your average road trip and things need to be taken care of ahead of time. Luckily, even though this was my first time, I have a lot of friends that attend every year so I had a heads-up on this aspect.

Even when you take care of these arrangements ahead of time, unexpected things can still happen. For example, even if your hotel has good ratings and says they have everything you need, sometimes you get there and it’s all a lie. When you get to the place you booked sometimes the air conditioning is broken, the room is dirty, and the fridge you were excited about looks like someone’s beverage exploded all over the place. In this position, despite the difficulty, you likely want to look for another place to stay.

When you are booking hotels regularly, you want a system that is quick and easy. In addition, it’s great if they are cheap as well. To this end, I’ve been using online booking sites like Expedia and Hotwire as tools to help with this endeavor. Beware that if there are ever problems with your room, these sites are difficult to deal with. Between the hotel and the web site customer service, no one seems to be in charge. They will both tell you that the other one won’t let them refund you.

Be calm and steadfast and tell them exactly what you want. This approach has worked and in case you’re missing the behind the scenes on this one, yes this did happen to me this past weekend. Be prepared to be on the phone for an extended amount of time in order to get your problems fixed. Remember, no matter what anyone says, the web site can always at minimum give you a credit towards your next booking. From this weekend, I have not one, but two credits to use over the next year. It was definitely not a boring weekend.

To sum it up, make your plans for Gen Con way in advance, but don’t feel bad for standing up for yourself if the hotel doesn’t meet your needs.

There was an error retrieving a chart for Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh

3. Magic Tournaments at Conventions

You may not know this but the tournaments that they have at conventions have been planned for over six months. Not only do you need to plan ahead of time, but so do the organizers. They have decided what events they will run, what time they will fire, and what the prize structure will be even before you decide you are going to the convention.

This means that there will be tons of events to choose from. Inevitably there will be events you want to compete in that overlap, so you will have to decide exactly what events you want to play in. You can usually do this on site, but some events fill their capacity and then there won’t be a spot left for you. With the Magic events, I have not found this to be the case regularly because we are used to registering on site.

In order to register for these events, you will need to use the convention's money system of ‘generics.’ These are just tickets that you have bought that represent $2 each. Your other option is registering for the event ahead of time, and then you could pick up your ticket for the event and use that. Either way, you still need to register for the event in the hall where it’s taking place. Every other event for other games you just show up with your ticket and they admit you. For these Magic events, it’s almost like you have to register twice.

You can play in normal events like a seven round Standard/Modern/Sealed tournament, but there are also lots of other fun events that aren’t available anywhere else. Take Sealed Draft for example. When I read this I thought the company running the event didn’t check their events for typos, but as it turns out, that’s an actual event. So what happens is you get three packs and open them. After taking a look at what you opened, you get another three packs and draft with them. When you have all your cards, you use those six packs worth of cards to build your decks with. What an intriguing event!

There are lots of other cool events to play in like Chaos Drafts, 64-player drafts where first place in each pod moves on to the Top 8 draft, and Minimaster events, among others. With so many interesting events, decide carefully which you want to play in. Some of them may qualify you for the Gen Con Championship, while others can win you unique prizes.

Another way to go about your decision-making process is to keep track of how many players are participating in each event. As I mentioned, these events are planned far ahead of time and they don’t stop them from firing if they have low attendance. You can try to join under-participated events for a higher chance to win, but sometimes you get lucky.

My 64-player draft, for instance, had 9 players. So, instead of it being two drafts, we moved straight on to the Top 8 draft to see which one person wasn’t getting a sweet prize. Even though my draft was a train wreck, I ended up with $40 in singles from the draft and my 2-2 record was enough to secure 5th place. I’ve been telling everyone it’s the best worst draft I’ve ever done. What other time could you be rewarded with a box of Magic Origins for going 2-2 in a draft?

4. What Else Is at Gen Con

At Gen Con, you might be able to play Magic 24 hours a day, but there are also tons of other things going on. The list is quite long of all the games that will be played at the convention. Everything from role playing games to board games to other card games will be available at this one-of-a-kind event. Whatever you’re into outside of Magic, they will likely have it available for you over the course of the five days.

In addition to the long list of games to play, there are also seminars that you can attend on a variety of topics, celebrities available for autographs, cosplay, and a gigantic dealer hall filled to the brim with everything we love.

You’ve seen dealer halls before, but you’ve never experienced anything like this. Picture an NFL Football field, or bigger, as the room you’re in and from wall to wall, it’s filled with everything nerdy you could imagine. There are game companies there to demo their games for you, dealers available to sell you anything you could imagine and tons of stuff to look at. I spent a lot of time in the dealer room and I don’t think I saw everything there. At conventions like this, the dealer hall is typically open from 10am-6pm so you need to schedule your time such that you can explore everything at the convention.

5. Magic Dealers at Gen Con

Just like every other vendor at the convention, the Magic dealers are spread out across the hall. There isn’t a specific section where they are all grouped together; they’re all over the place. This means a lot of opportunity for us financially. I wish I had taken more advantage of this over the weekend, but now I know for next year.

Because everything is scattered, that means that some booths get a steady stream of players selling cards and some don’t. If you can locate the ones with less traffic, you are more likely to get better buy prices. In addition, another boon of this layout is that the dealers cannot observe how the others are pricing their cards. Is someone undercutting everyone? There’s no way for them to know and this presents opportunity for you as a financier to profit. You may not have time because there are so many things to do at the convention, but if you make the time, it can be well worth your while.

Another aspect that can present amazing opportunities is the coinciding Pro Tour. Maybe this was a fluke, but this year, Gen Con was on the same weekend as Pro Tour Magic Origins. We know that prices fluctuate the most during and after these events because the professionals have a higher chance to break the format or at least redefine it.

So, all the cards you’ve been seeing in this article that spiked could have been purchased for much less during the convention. It’s like having a dozen local game stores within walking distance while a spike is occurring. That type of thing doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it presents tremendous opportunity.

Finally, look over the article again and take in the major price changes from this weekend. Use the info to help you out moving forward.

The Llanowar Wastes may seem out of place, but I included it for a specific purpose. This land has retained more of its value than any of the other pain lands, mostly due to the prevalence of Abzan decks in the format. The thing about that particular one though is that due to the demand, the retail price may be low, but the buy price should remain strong. I know I have to buy this land at a higher percentage than the other four so keep that in mind when you’re at the trade tables.

Well, I hope you enjoyed this Gen Con write up. There were plenty of interesting things that happened at the event and I learned so much from my first experience. It was a great time and I highly recommend it.

Until next time,
Unleash the Force!

Mike Lanigan
MtgJedi on Twitter

4 thoughts on “Insider: Gen Con 101

      1. Haha. What choice would you have made? I was demoralized from the day and figured ant man would cheer me up. I was right. It was pretty funny and exactly what I needed.

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