Playing Magic at an LGS is a big step for any Magic player. While today we’re going to focus on going from MTGA to a Local Game Store (LGS) and finding a LGS, a lot of the stuff in this article will also be applicable to someone who plays casual paper Magic with their friends (often referred to as “kitchen table” Magic, although it’s very rarely actually played in a kitchen, right?).
Today we’re going to talk about how to find an LGS and how to tell if it’s going to be a good place to spend your time and your money. We’ll talk about common tournament and prize structures that are usually offered, how to actually sit down and play games, what to look for in facilities, staff and players, and, of course, what you’ll need to bring with you.
Here’s some good news – finding your nearest LGS is a very easy thing to do indeed, as you just type in the location you want to search here and let the locator do the hard work. Major cities tend to have a couple of options, while smaller towns might have only one, or even none – you might have a bit of a trek to the nearest LGS.
The next part of the guide is predicated on you having a choice between multiple LGSs. Some people, unfortunately, just don’t have any choice, as their LGS is the only one where the “L” can be reasonably applied. If that’s your situation, not much of the following section will be of use to you. However, I will say this: in my experience, it is well worth a longer trip to a better LGS. Maybe don’t drive an extra hour each way, but if I’ve got a choice between a bad LGS that’s 20 minutes away and a good one that’s 40, I’m taking the good one and the extra travel time every time. You’ll understand why soon enough.
In any case, let’s assume you’ve put your location in the Store Locator, and you’ve got a couple of options to check out – what’s next?
Before you choose which LGS you’d like to visit, do a bit of research. Do they have a website or a Facebook page that offers details about the events they run? Some places manage to get listed on that site while being little more than bookshops that sell booster packs – there’s nothing wrong with that, but they’re not what you want if you’re looking to play in tournaments. Check the shop’s website or Facebook page for a tournament schedule or events page to confirm you’ll be able to play there.
I would also advise, if possible, dropping in ahead of time. Go in, have a browse, get a feel of the place, chat with the staff about events. If you turn up on the night of a tournament, the shop will probably be busy and the staff will be occupied – drop in during the afternoon, when it’s quieter, and you might have the chance to chat with the staff about how everything works, and subtly check for some red flags.
What red flags? I’m glad you’ve asked. Is the place clean? How does it smell? Is it well lit and properly maintained? Are the facilities in good shape? Unfortunately, many LGSs get very bad reputations in all of these areas, although things are definitely better now than they used to be.
Are their tournament structures clear? Are the prize structures unambiguous and transparent? A good LGS always let you know what you’re getting into, and what kind of return you can expect for your tournament entry fee. Some less-than-scrupulous LGSs will attempt to fleece unsuspecting players with terrible or opaque prize payouts – more on that later.
Additionally, how do the staff treat you? Are they eager to help, keen to welcome you into the community? Or are they disinterested and standoffish, and behave as though it’s a hassle to have you come to have a browse and ask questions? If they’re unpleasant to deal with on a quiet afternoon, I guarantee you they’re not going to be any better on a busy night while managing multiple tournaments.
Once you’ve made a selection as to which LGS you’re going to try out, decide which tournaments you want to play in. Don’t be put off by the word “tournament” – they’re still very friendly and moderately casual affairs. Making mistakes won’t get you disqualified or in trouble – weekly LGS tournaments are specifically designed with players like you in mind.
Typically, LGSs host tournaments every Friday. Friday Night Magic – FNM – is the backbone of LGS Magic, and is a great place to start. Some LGSs run other events during the week – some are so big they have events every night – but if you’re unsure, FNM events are a safe bet as a starting point, as they’re casual, friendly, and purpose-built as an on-ramp for new players (although you’ll still play against experienced players).
Before we move onto the mechanics and logistics of a typical FNM, keep in mind that you’re still not committed to this LGS and should keep an eye out for more red flags as the night goes on. What are the regulars like? Are they approachable and friendly, or are they cliquey and disdainful of new players? How are the tournaments run? Delays are sometimes unavoidable, but if the regulars seem resigned to huge delays every round, that’s less than ideal.
Finally – and most importantly – what kind of conduct is tolerated at the shop? It is of critical importance that LGSs, as the entry point for the Magic community, are welcoming to and accepting of everyone. Casual racism, sexism, homphobia and other bigotry is, unfortunately, all-too-common amongst gaming communities. Is any going on here, and how is it responded to?
Particularly, if the staff say things like “ah, well, that’s just Joe” or make other excuses like that, this LGS isn’t worth your time or your money. No business should be so desperate for customers that they pander to bigots; if you see inappropriate conduct that seems to be accepted by the people in that LGS, find another place to play. It’s as simple as that. If the staff are going to remain inactive about some of the most pernicious and toxic issues in the Magic community (and in gaming more generally), don’t support them with your business.
Tournaments are a great way to test your skills against other players in a way that provides meaningful stakes to keep things interesting. In a coming article, I’ll have a step-by-step guide to playing in a tournament, and how things like pairings, round timers and tournament rules.
For now, however, I encourage you to play in a tournament. If this sounds like too much and you want to keep it casual, remember that these events still are, fundamentally, pretty chilled out – but if it’s too much at this early stage, no worries. There are plenty of opportunities to play casual games against other people at an LGS, but keep in mind that most people will be there to play in tournaments, so once pairings are posted, you might not have many people wanting to play casually.
Additionally, the LGS is paying to keep the lights on, and while there’s no strict obligation for you to spend your money in order to be inside an LGS, it’s generally good form to support the LGS as a cornerstone of the community. If you’re not going to play in a tournament and support them via your entry fee, consider buying some singles you need or a snack or a drink while you look for casual games.
A good LGS will never turf you out for just wanting to hang out in the shop, but remember that they’re still running a business and, kind of like a cafe, you can’t really just sit there endlessly taking up table space. Do the right thing and throw a dollar or two at the shop for hosting you. Their margins are thin enough as it is, and buying a card for your collection or a drink out of the fridge does make a difference.
Typically, FNM tournaments are either Standard or Draft (although there are exceptions to this – that’s why you should check with the shop ahead of time, in case their FNM is Modern or something like that). If you want to play Standard, you’ll need to bring a deck with you, whereas if you want to play Draft, they’ll usually provide the boosters (hence the higher cost of draft tournaments). Some shops – truly excellent ones, in my view – let you bring your own boosters to use and offer a discounted entry fee to compensate, but this is less common than it used to be. Ask ahead.
We’ll talk about the logistics of drafting in a future article, as in-person drafts differ significantly from drafting on MTGA in terms of basic physical mechanics and etiquette. I will say, however, that if you don’t have a Standard deck or a paper collection, drafting is one of the best ways to experience paper Magic while building out a Standard deck. It’ll give you cards you need, as well as cards you don’t need, which you can trade away.
The most common constructed formats at LGSs tend to be Standard and Modern. I honestly don’t know how much Pioneer has caught on everywhere, while some shops have a dedicated Legacy scene. One thing I can tell you for sure, however, is this: Historic is not a paper format, and you shouldn’t invest in a Historic deck. Unless things change a lot in the coming time, Historic isn’t a format most LGSs will offer.
When it comes to prizes, your mileage will vary considerably depending on where you are and how big your LGS is. I’m not going to give hard-and-fast numbers here, as this guide is designed to be of use for people all around the world – instead, the best advice I can give is to show other players you may already know and trust the prize structures and see what they think. If you don’t have anyone you can ask, join the ChannelFireball Discord server and ask around in there. Don’t forget to include your location so people can give you a reasonable assessment.
Some LGSs have flat payouts, where everyone gets a prize no matter your record, and the top performers get a little else. Some have spiky payouts that reward the top performers while others lose out. Payouts tend to be a good indication of how fierce the competition is – the spikier the payout, the better caliber of player you can expect!
Finally, let’s talk about what you’ll need to play at an LGS. Bear in mind that you don’t necessarily need to have all these things before you arrive – LGSs sell most of them, and will be happy enough for you to buy them there. If you want to come prepared, however, ChannelFireball itself sells most of this stuff (coupon code KNIGHT at checkout). However, if you want to play Standard, I would suggest ensuring you have a fully-built deck with you before you arrive, as there’s no guarantee an LGS will have the cards you need to complete your deck.
As I said, you’ll need a tournament-ready deck if you want to play constructed. Don’t forget your sideboard – it’ll almost certainly be Best-of-Three! Of all the things on this list, having the cards you need is the most important thing to organize ahead of time. Purchase them online, or take a deck list in with you on your drop-in afternoon visit to the LGS and see if they have all the cards you need.
It’s very unusual to play paper Magic without sleeved cards. Some people will rawdog it when drafting, but it’s a good idea even then to have sleeves to use. Cards get scuffed up very quickly which affects their value. It’s a good idea to buy a pack of 80, so you’ll have 75 for your deck with five left over to replace any that break (and they will).
It’s just as unusual not to have a deck box to keep your cards in. There are heaps to choose from, but they all serve the same purpose – just pick one you like. You can use cheap cardboard ones if you like, but they don’t last. Deck boxes tend to go through a lot of wear, so don’t go for the absolute cheapest option.
Entirely optional. A lot of people don’t play with playmats, and there’s no correct choice one way or the other – it’s just personal preference. Playmats look cool and it feels nicer to play with them (you’ll get sick of trying to pick up cards off a table soon enough), so pick one up if you see one you like.
Lifepad and Pen/Pencil
Make sure you have something to record life totals on. Some people just use dice – do not do this. It’s a very bad habit to get into. Bring a little notepad, or some scrap paper, and a pen or pencil to go with it. You’re allowed to take notes during games, so it’s a good idea to have pen and paper handy for that anyway in case you need to.
Dice are used to determine who goes first, and for keeping track of counters on various cards – +1/+1 counters, loyalty counters, etc. They often come in cool colors and styles, but you can always just nick them from your Monopoly set. Bring at least two. Some people bring literal hundreds.
If your deck generates tokens, make sure you have something to represent them! They don’t have to be the official ones that come out of boosters (they can even be scrap bits of paper with 1/1 SOLDIER scrawled on them). Some people just use dice – again, do not do this. It’s hard to keep track of them, and impossible to tell when they’re tapped.
Have you already got a bit of a collection, with cards you don’t really need or want? Buy a binder to keep them in to facilitate easy trading while at an LGS. There will be a full article on trading, but suffice to say, a binder is pretty crucial for trades. Handing someone a box full of cards to sift through is both a pain in the bum and a great way to get your cards scuffed up. Grab a binder and organize your spare cards in it, it’ll make trading way easier.
Food and Water
You don’t necessarily need to bring these, but at least have a plan to obtain them while you’re out at an LGS. Tournaments tend to go for awhile – around four hours – so it’s important to stay fed and hydrated. You can, of course, buy snacks and drinks from most LGSs, and some even do proper meals. If you bring food and water from home, check if it’s okay to eat inside the LGS, and ensure your water bottle has a secure lid that doesn’t drip!
Armed with this information, you should be ready to make your first trip into an LGS. It’s a big step, but an exciting and very enjoyable one. Do your homework, find the right LGS for you and before you know it, you’ll be making new friends in a place that will feel like a second home. I know that sounds sappy and overblown, but it’s honestly the truth – the LGS is the lifeblood of the community, a common meeting point for like-minded nerds, and somewhere that, with a bit of luck, you’ll build a lifetime’s worth of positive memories amongst great people.