Are you tired of having to venture to your local game store for some competitive Magic: The Gathering action? If so, try switching things up and host your own at-home Magic tournament.
Here’s how to get started:
Begin with the basics
For starters, you want an even number of players. Eight is ideal. Six is fine in a pinch. Make sure everyone knows to clear some four hours or so of their schedule for this.
Decide the format. Constructed formats such as Legacy, Modern, and Pioneer are great because everyone can either bring their favorite deck from home or borrow one of their friend’s decks. For this tutorial, however, we’re going to lean towards drafting because it can be the most fun and avoids that one friend who always brings the über powerful deck that just wrecks everyone else’s. After all, that isn't exactly what we'd call a good time.
Get your cards. We recommend picking up three “bundles.” Bundles typically cost between $30-35 each and consist of ten packs, a bunch of basic lands, and life counter “spindown” dice. Three bundles equals 30 packs and ensures that everyone gets three of them (more on this in a moment). In an eight player tournament, that’s 24 packs and leaves the remaining six left over for prize support for the winner(s).
If you already have a plethora of extra basic lands at your disposal, we recommend instead going with a 36-pack booster box. In lieu of a booster box (which can run upwards of $100 or more), you could also simply ask everybody to bring three 15-card booster packs of their own with them. They can be of the same set or of a variety of sets with the latter option being known as “chaos drafting.”
Now, why three packs? These randomized booster packs will become the basis for each player’s Magic deck. In this format, a deck consists of no less than 40 cards and three packs is the happy minimum (plus basic lands) for players to achieve that 40 card threshold.
Once each player has their three booster packs, it’s time to begin drafting. This is the process in which players select the cards with which they’ll ultimately build their decks.
Here’s how it happens: players sit around the table and open their first pack. They choose one card and place it face-down on the table in front of them, then pass the remaining cards (also face down) to the player on their left. This continues until there are no more cards to “draft” from that pack. Then, the players all open their second pack and repeat the process, this time passing the remaining cards to the right. Finally, players open the last pack and repeat the process one more time, passing to the left just as they did with the first pack.
Once all of the packs have been opened and everybody’s made their selections, it’s time for everyone to review their choices and begin deckbuilding. Players will typically want to stay at the 40 card minimum deck size, which should include 16 or so lands. It’s also not uncommon in draft for players to create a two-color deck. Some players may even include a card or two of yet another color, “splashing” that third color into the deck for one reason or another. In fact, for those who want a primer on how to effectively build a booster draft deck, Wizards of the Coast has a handy tutorial on their website that can be reviewed when needed.
All of the unused cards (and we do mean all) becomes that player’s sideboard.
Matchmaker matchmaker, make me a match
Once the drafting and deckbuilding is complete, it’s time to begin setting up the matches so that people can start playing some darn Magic. In order to do this, we recommend your choice of the two following methods: either pair players up randomly via a die roll or something, or match everyone up with the person who sat farthest from them at the table.
After that, pair people up based upon their win/loss record. Winners play winners, losers play losers. This way it’s the most fair and the most fun. After all, nobody wants to get stomped in consecutive rounds if they can help it. This also helps prevent folk from being matched up against somebody they’ve previously played over the course of the three or four rounds of the tournament.
Each round consists of a best-of-three match with the first player to win two games. After your three or four rounds are completed, it’s time to divvy up the prize support. If you did used the bundle option, this will probably be the six packs you had left over. Of course, there’s nothing that says that you can’t provide additional prize support or simply play for bragging rights.
Be prepared for the oft-overlooked
While the above three steps will get your at-home booster draft tournament up and running, there are a few other things you may want to consider to ensure that it runs as smoothly as possible:
Set a timer. To ensure that rounds and matches don’t go on forever, set a timer that will send games into a “sudden death” should they exceed the established time limit (typically 50-60 minutes). If folks haven’t completed their matches by the time the timer expires, allow them five more turns (plus the turn they’re currently on). If after that there’s no winner, you can either allow the match to end in a draw or simply award the player with the most remaining life at that point the game (and likely match) win.
Rule them all. Okay, maybe not quite like that. This isn’t The Lord of the Rings, after all. What we mean here is designate somebody to be the rules adviser. The tournament’s judge, if you will. This person will ideally be the one with the greatest knowledge of the game and how it works. Also designate a backup rules person in case there is a dispute in the primary rules adviser’s game at some point so there can be no favoritism. And don’t be afraid to whip out your smartphone or fire up your PC to look a ruling or card interaction up if there are questions. The Internet is for more than looking at funny cat videos, you know!
Make it a refreshing experience. Refreshing as in refreshments. You and your friends will be playing for four or so hours. Make sure there’s snacks and beverages on hand. Put out carrots, order pizza, have water, soda, beer, whatever. You can even ask your players to bring snacks or contribute a few bucks towards your efforts. Oh, and make sure your bathroom is clean. Nobody likes a dirty restroom.
Whether at a local gaming store or at home, Magic: The Gathering provides you and your friends a great way to have fun, bond, and be social with one another. At-home tournaments are just another great way to enjoy the game and provide a comfortable, low-stress way for those who may be recently introduced to the game to get to know the tournament structure without the intimidations that a larger venue packed with strangers can bring.
So give it a go at home, have some fun, and make some memories.