The distinct sound of thousands of Magic decks being shuffled at once is unforgettable, as is the sight of rows and rows of excited players battling it out in a diverse set of formats. Grand Prix Vegas 2017 boasted 3 massive main events: Modern, Legacy and Limited, but they were the tip of the iceberg.
Magic Grand Prix events have evolved, with each passing season feeling more and more like a Magic convention—Grand Prix Vegas was the epitome of this evolution. With nearly 10,000 players attending the main events, not to mention thousands of attendees playing other events, the convention center was constantly bustling and busy. What struck me, however, was not the sheer size of this sea of Magic players spread out across multiple rooms and halls, but the variety of experiences they were having. It was the notion that several different people could come to this event with wildly different expectations—and they could all leave satisfied.
GP grinders signed up for the Masters package, earning entry to all 3 events in an intense struggle for prizes and Pro Points. These were the players taking measured breaks between matches, staying focused, and bringing their A game to the table round and after round. The thrill of competition and of high stakes Magic play was everywhere, and these people were clearly in their element. With viewing areas for the feature matches and the main events overlapping, there was never a time when the presence of competitive Magic wasn’t felt.
Limited enthusiasts signed up for History of Draft events, indulging their inner drafting itch as they played some of Magic’s most prolific formats across the weekend. Hearing them chat about how happy they were to draft original Ravnica as things “haven’t been the same since then” was a stark contrast to those who came for chaos events to play with interactions and combos that were never meant to co-exist. Both groups came to find something they couldn’t find elsewhere, be it a walk down memory lane or a descent into maddening game states, and both found it in spades.
The art and flavor junkies flocked to Mike Linneman’s art show, a first for a Grand Prix and a first for Magic altogether. Their exhibition was always full, with people admiring works of Magic art on a scale most had never seen before—far larger than they appear on a card. Made possible only by their fervent support on Kickstarter, the excitement of art fans was matched only by Mike himself, flitting around the gallery, and pouring information and background knowledge on eager listeners.
The art show was also brought to life by Josh Krause and Rico Evangelho, of Classic Art Tokens and Cardamajigs fame, respectively. They were part of a gamut of over forty vendors at the event, catering to any Magic player’s possible needs, and many to needs players didn’t even know they had. I myself walked away with a set of solid metal Zombie tokens that I went from finding out about to desperately needing to get my hands on in a matter of seconds. Singles as far as the eye could see and hosts of unique Magic products and accessories meant I could spend hours browsing stalls and still find something new.
Artist’s alley was more of an artist’s market, with rows of stalls of Magic’s most admired creative minds signing cards, selling prints, and doing sketches. I never saw an artist without a line of eager fans waiting to meet them, which is especially moving considering how removed they can feel from their fans the rest of the time. These connections can only be made at a large-scale Magic event like a Grand Prix, and seeing the smiles on fan’s faces and artists getting the credit and recognition they deserve made it clear that some people had come for this and this alone.
Content creators put out a steady stream of panels for their fans at the coverage arena, and while these panels drew crowds and engagement, seeing them line up to just chat with people they’ve been watching for years was truly something. Each anecdote, each selfie, and each signature on a playmat was a memorable moment and a unique experience made only possible by this colossal gathering of people with a shared passion.
Everyone in attendance was obviously united by a love of Magic, but Magic is unique in the diversity of its play experiences. Any number of people can come to the game with different desires and have an experience they are satisfied with, but to see this mirrored in an event is truly unique. There is a perception that Grand Prix events all are all about pro players battling it out for huge prizes, and while that can feel like the centerpiece, the true heart of an event is the experience that each individual takes home. For some, that was getting to play Commander against Jimmy Wong from the Command Zone. For others it might have been a full box Two-Headed-Giant Sealed event with their best friend or a mad push to finally get enough prize tickets to get a box of Khans of Tarkir.
While Grand Prix Vegas was unique in its scope and size, this philosophy is present at every Grand Prix event and the number of attendees who don’t even enter the main event is growing all the time. Side events offer ways to play Magic that aren’t always available at your local game store, especially smaller ones and those outside of the United States. My opportunities to chaos draft in Ireland are effectively non-existent, but they fire all day on-demand at a Grand Prix. Meeting Magic’s artists and getting a card or playmat signed will put a face to the name you see at the bottom of your cards and will leave you with a unique piece of Magic memorabilia to remind you of the event.
Aside from all of that, there is something magical, pardon the pun, about sitting in a room surrounded by thousands of people who share a passion for the same thing you do. They may all share a different shade of the passion, sure, but staring out at hundreds of tables of what are ostensibly strangers and still feeling connected to them is something not all games can offer. Magic can. Players from all walks of life can come to a Grand Prix hoping for radically different experiences and find exactly what they are looking for.
If these events were once only for hardcore players, that time is long gone. Modern Grand Prix events really do offer something for everyone, and that something is a unique and unforgettable Magic experience.