With money in my pocket and lots of stories to tell, as well as a quick three-hour nap before I had to go to work, I’m back from Grand Prix Charlotte. As far as tournaments go, this was one of the most odd experiences of my Magic career.
Between the tournament software, the hotel, and the eight-hour road trip, there will be no shortage of interesting tales to tell. I felt like Han Solo in The Force Awakens standing between Kanjiklub and the Guavian Death Gang. Granted my Camry isn’t as iconic as the Millennium Falcon, but still.
By now, in spite of the lack of video coverage, you’ve no doubt heard a variety of things about Grand Prix Charlotte. Many writers have given you their opinion about the event but I’m going to break it down from a financial viewpoint.
Just in case you didn’t hear it somewhere else, there were enormous problems with the tournament software. Rounds 1-4 were relatively smooth with only a little extra time in between rounds, something I’ve become accustomed to at big events like this. After round four though, the tournament shut down for three hours due to all the problems.
Normally at 2-2, I wouldn’t consider dropping from the event. I would grind out some more rounds and try to salvage my underwhelming start. This time though, with potential randomly-paired opponents coming my way and a tournament running late into the night, I dropped along with the majority of the other Grand Prix competitors. Star City Games (SCG) offered every player who dropped a free Unlimited Challenge Badge, worth free entry into all of the "challenge" side events for the rest of the weekend.
The main question I discussed with other players was what record it would take for you to stay in the event. Clearly 0-4’s and 1-3’s would drop because they should be dropping anyway. Most of us would concede at 2-2 for a bunch of free stuff.
4-0 is a definite no-drop because you are more likely to be paired against someone with a worse record than yourself. But what about 3-1? If I was 3-1 I would have continued to play in the event. Some players dropped with that record though.
What is your expected value for any given tournament? At any given event, most of us won't make money. Certainly we will try, but even professional Magic players don’t cash every event. Even if you make Day 2, you have to win most of your remaining rounds to cash.
With these things in mind, most players at the tournament dropped in order to accept their Infinite Challenge sympathy gift. All things considered, I think this was an acceptable compromise to help us all feel better about the crazy experience. Granted, I would have preferred to make Day 2 and try to make a run at a top finish, but getting to play some free Magic was pretty cool too.
Value of the "Infinite Challenge Badge"
This Infinite Challenge Badge was an interesting compensation for the players. Basically this badge allowed you to play in any event labeled as a "challenge." These tournaments were four-round swiss events with prizes based on record. Think of them similar to Daily Events on MTGO. The more rounds you win the more prize you win. A variety of formats were on offer.
Basically everyone signed up for one of the additional Sealed events that were added to the Saturday evening schedule to compensate for the number of players jumping into the Challenge queue. So, at the very least, for dropping from the main event you were rewarded with six free packs.
Nearly half of the entrants in the Sealed event dropped before round one. I don’t know if this is typical but it definitely made sense in this situation. Players got their packs and left to join a Constructed event or get dinner. The same thing happened on Sunday with the Sealed event as well. Some people just got their free packs and left to drive home.
If you were up for grinding the most potential value out of your Challenge badge, your reward would have been twelve packs and three or four tournaments to try to cash in. I think that’s reasonable compensation for a failed main event. When you look at it from a monetary perspective, these two very different types of tournament experiences cost the same amount to purchase.
Before this road trip, I never would have considered the Challenge badge an option but it was so much fun! I love Sealed and had a blast playing as much of it as possible, but tons of formats were available. Some players got these badges to play Legacy all weekend; others mixed and matched events.
If you don’t want to compete in the main event, I think the Infinite Challenge or equivalent is a good idea. There are plenty of options and it’s good value for your money. You can win a lot of product for the entry price.
The Prize Wall
In each Challenge, going 4-0 meant the equivalent of a box. If you split in the final round, you each got 24 packs worth of tickets, but if you played it out and lost you only got 12 packs. You could also save your tickets to use on other items, or convert them into SCG store credit at the ratio of 100 tickets to $25.
Personally I am not a fan of this Prize Wall structure, but it does offer players more of a choice than a traditional pack payout. Options aren’t normally a bad thing and being able to choose packs or something else is still nice.
One interesting aspect of Prize Wall tickets is that a market develops for the new "currency." So, you not only have options from the Prize Wall itself, you now can trade those tickets to other players for something. It’s even possible to find a dealer willing to give you something in return for them as well.
One trend I’ve been noticing at Grand Prix level events is less competition between the vendors. Previously, dealers would fight for patrons by pricing their cards at competitive prices. Sure there was an odd card from time to time that would be a lot more expensive at an event due to availability in the room, but for the most part, going to a big event meant finding great deals.
In the past couple of years, those deals have become harder and harder to find. These days dealers are holding their inventory around TCG Mid or higher and betting on players not having other options. Not every dealer is like this but I’ve seen more and more following this model. In addition to impulse buys, players need cards for their deck, so they spend whatever price is quoted instead of shopping around.
Don’t worry though, there are still good deals to be had. You just have to work a little harder. At this Grand Prix, there were many deals on foils and played cards. At the next event, it may be some other genre, but if you are keeping up to date on price trends, then you have a leg up on the competition.
My plan for future Grand Prix is to make time to inspect each dealer booth for the aggressively-priced gems. Any card is worth buying if the price is right, and I think there are opportunities to make some money with this approach.
One of the best ways to achieve this goal is to utilize your access to Trader Tools as a QS Insider. Sure, you can always look up the price of a card that seems like a good deal, but all the additional info that TT offers will benefit you greatly.
One aspect about the new, post-Eldrazi Modern I learned from this event is that you need to be prepared for everything again. I love decks like Kiki Chord for this exact reason. Being able to tutor for answers to any deck is exactly the type of thing that helps you find success in Modern.
Speaking of Chord of Calling, the price on this highly-played card makes it seem like a great investment. I doubt it will stay under $15 for long seeing play in two different Modern decks.
Knowing your deck inside and out definitely has its advantages as well, but the topic I want to discuss here is your sideboard.
With the resurgence of Affinity, it’s clear that we all need to keep that artifact hate in our boards. Personally, I never head to an event without it.
You can play cards that apply to multiple matchups like Qasali Pridemage or Kolaghan's Command, but make sure you have four or five spots dedicated to dealing with Affinity. It’s the most powerful linear strategy in Modern and you will certainly have to face it at some point in your tournament.
Graveyard strategies are starting to pick up, but nothing has been solidified yet. Still, cards like Rest in Peace and Scavenging Ooze see lots of play because they double as disruption against Snapcaster Mage decks.
There will always be ramp decks like Scapeshift and Tron so make sure you have a plan to deal with them. I’m going to be including Crumble to Dust in my sideboards for a while because I hate losing to these decks.
Don’t forget about Burn either. No matter what deck you are playing, there is always some way to help against this strategy. Whether that be Leyline of Sanctity or Kitchen Finks, don’t leave home without a way to not get burned out.
Widely-applicable sideboard cards are a great investment as well. When Rest in Peace rotated out of Standard, I couldn’t even get dealers to buy them from me for $0.25. I’m glad I didn’t settle for a low price like that because now they are $3-$4 each.
This happens frequently with sideboard cards like Stony Silence too. So, the next time some hot sideboard tech is uncovered, that might be the time to buy in and make some cash.
No matter what you invest in, make sure you invest in your tournament success as well by including a variety of sideboard options for the plethora of viable decks in the format.
That’s all for me today. These topics may seem disconnected but they were brought to light from the same event. Traveling to tournaments will help practice your finance skills as well as your competitive skills and you’ll have a blast all at the same time.
Even when crazy things happen like the tournament software destroying the event, you will still have memories with your friends that no one can take away from you.
Next week we'll start looking at Eternal Masters and considering the impact.
Until next time,
Unleash the Force!
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