If you have never played on the Pro Tour before, it’s a tournament experience like none other. This week, I wanted to shed some insight into that experience for those wanting to know what they can do to prepare for an upcoming Pro Tour. When you finally win that first PTQ, top four an RPTQ or attain 39 points at a Grand Prix you will automatically receive an invite to that season’s Pro Tour. Each Pro Tour is held at a supposedly “exotic” location and there are four of them a year. Pro Tour Kaladesh in Hawaii is next weekend and it will be my 10th Pro Tour appearance. I have been looking forward to finally attending a Pro Tour in Hawaii and I’m sure it will not disappoint.
Step 1: Logistics
You will want to make sure that you book the appropriate accommodations and flight ahead of time. Luckily for all non-Silver invites, Wizards of the Coast will foot the bill and have their Travel Agency work with you to book your flight. If you have a testing team, you will want to get there early or to prevent jet lag issues if you are travelling west. However, I would highly recommend that you book your return flight to leave on Sunday at noon. Most people don’t realize how much time they are wasting by staying until Monday, and book their travel to accommodate for them making top 8. However, if you happen to top 8, you can just pay the extra few hundred dollars to reschedule your returning flight.
Booking hotels early is also a pre-requisite. As with many bookings, the price continues to rise until the day of the event / rental. In addition, the best places tend to sell out faster, especially in some of the exotic locations that the Pro Tours can take place in. Hotels.com has a great feature that allows you to place reservations on hotel rooms and cancel them within 24 hours of the check-in date without paying a cancellation fee. Whenever I am planning to attend a Grand Prix or a Pro Tour and I need a room, I use this method to ensure that I pay the cheapest possible for a great room. Pro Tours are supposed to be a great experience, so don’t wait until the last minute and limit yourself to few and poor accommodation options.
Step 2: Build a Team
This step is an optional one. I have played in Pro Tours with an expansive team and also Pro Tours where I have just tested with some good friends locally. This really comes down to the amount of time you are willing to spend and if you are able to take a weeklong vacation from work in order to head to the Pro Tour early to test. With 4 Pro Tours a year, it is unrealistic at most jobs for you to have the vacation days to take off to do this. However, if it is your first Pro Tour I would highly recommend that you do this.
The best teammates are the ones who have a common goal with you. Some players just do not have the time to commit, or are unable to keep secrets and you want to make sure you know what you are getting into. As your years of playing professional magic continue to pass, you will get to know people better and thus expand your Magic playing network. A bigger network will get you have better options for your team. This is why it’s very important to always be social and friendly at competitive magic events.
Step 3: Master the Limited Format
Each new Pro Tour comes with the unveiling of the new limited format. Thanks to a change by the Organized Play team, each Pro Tour is preceded with Limited Grand Prix’s on the new set as well as a Standard Pro Tour the weekend after. If you are unable to play in the Limited Grand Prix, make sure that you tune in or watch the video coverage for the entire Grand Prix to understand the format as best you can. Also since we are in the Twitch era, you are able to watch many streamed drafts and sealed events to really help your card evaluations. This will give you an idea of where everyone else is, and is a great crash course. Of course, you will want to ensure that you have done at least 20 drafts prior to the Pro Tour. You want to make sure that you don’t just focus on winning your drafts, but rather uncover as many sleepers as possible.
Step 4: Figure out what deck to play in Standard
Standard is constantly in flux throughout the year, but the Pro Tours are the communities’ first view into what will be generally accepted as the holistic Standard metagame. Once Pro Tour decks are reviewed after the tournament, gaps in deckbuilding will quickly come to light. The collective magic community will fix these gaps naturally over the hundred thousand matches that are played for the few months after a Pro Tour. It’s important to understand that Pro Tour decks will always look weak compared to what is played and finely tuned a few months later.
If you haven’t been living under a rock, you will be familiar with the Starcitygames Opens that occur on an almost weekly basis. Starcitygames has been great with their tournament series as the first Standard Open will fall on the Release weekend of the set, which is 2 weekends before the Pro Tour. Whenever I am preparing for an upcoming Pro Tour, I always wait until the metagame is defined by the Starcitygames Open and then start brewing or changing the various decks that are played there. This saves you a lot of time, since you can focus on your limited game.
Step 5: Go in with a SMART goal either for the tournament or the season
SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-based. Are you trying to gain silver status for the year? Are you trying to make your first day two of a Pro Tour? You should have a solid understanding of what your goal is before you play in the tournament. With that being said, you should not focus on your goal during the tournament, but rather focus on playing your best. Once the sixteen rounds of the Pro Tour are over, you can see how you did against those goals. This gives you something that you can feel proud of once achieved, since most players will not reach the top 8 on their first attempt.
Step 6: Get a playset of 4x Standard
If you are playing on the Pro Tour on a consistent basis or even if you are going one time, you will want to have the entire card pool available to you. With the change away from Modern Pro Tours, you will only need to have 4x standard on you. This is pretty easy to build and upkeep as you can identify all of the playable cards and store them in long count boxes. I have all of my commons and uncommons in one long count box and another for all the rares and mythics. This is something that I have started doing recently, because when you go to the Pro Tour there will only be 2 dealers and most of the time they are either sold out of the card or they will want 3-4x its value, and you don’t want the extra hassle. At Pro Tour Dublin in 2013, I had to buy 4 Domri Rades at 60 Euros each, when the card was only worth $20 CDN. Never again!
Step 7: Get the appropriate sleep and snacks
In a word, Pro Tours are marathons. You will be playing 3 rounds of draft followed by 5 rounds of standard on each day. It would be foolish to show up and hope that you will be mentally alert so that you can play your best, if you are sleep deprived or nutrition deprived. Make sure that you get at least 7 hours of sleep on each night and if you can pick up snacks at a local convenience or grocery store, it will be worth its weight in gold.
Step 8: Always buy the Pro Tour Playmat
One of the biggest spews at a Pro Tour, is when I see people not purchasing the limited edition playmat. You can only buy one of these playmats a day and they are usually sold for $30-40 USD but are very highly sought after. At Pro Tour Madrid a few months ago, I was able to buy 4 of the Avacyn flip playmat (I had paid others to buy it for me) and flipped them for $200 CDN each once I got home.
Step 9: Have fun
There you have it. As I write this, I am packing for GP Atlanta and then will be flying over to Pro Tour Kaladesh in Hawaii. If you have any feedback, please leave them in the comments section or tweet at me at @SammyTMTG, I’d love to hear from you.