The Road to Your First Grand Prix, A How To Article

Hey there, rulers!
 
In my last article, I talked about trying to work hard at a local level in order to build a community. In my community, one of the things that has motivated a lot of players to play more is the dream of competing at a high level of play and making a name for themselves/winning events. In Force of Will, there is no greater accomplishment than winning a Grand Prix and earning your invite to the world championship held in Japan every year.
 
While lots of different TCG’s have high level tournaments, the mission of Force of Will has always been to bring players together and connect them through the game, and their events reflect this! Preparing for your first grand prix can be a big deal and kind of overwhelming. Not to mention the fact that being at the event is like stepping into an entirely different world! My hope with this article is to help you feel more prepared and equipped to make your way to an Area Grand Prix, and to be able to get the most out of the experience!
 
This article is going to be broken up into 3 parts; the first being making plans for the GP, then what kind of practice to be doing in order to be at your best for the event, and finally what to expect/be mindful of when competing at an AGP.

Part 1: Making the plans
 
Before you set your sights on the World Championship, you first need to get to an Area Grand Prix, and to do that, you need to know where they are located and how to get there. The best place to get that information is on the FOW website itself (here is a link for this season’s info). Once you have your info and have picked which event you can go to, it’s time to start preparing to hit the road.
 
I believe the most important part of any trip is committing to the plans early and getting them out of the way, so that you can spend more of your time practicing for the event itself rather than worrying about accommodations. For that reason, I recommend pre-registering for the event and trying to lock in a hotel as fast as possible. When it comes to picking dates, arriving the night before an event is usually the best bet so that you can be well rested and prepared for the long day of card games, and then set your check out date to the second day of the event. This way, even if you don’t make the top cut of the event you can still stick around and rest, and maybe even play in a side event or two before getting back on the road.
 
Once the hotel itself is locked in, try to reach out to your local group of friends to see who wants to go to the event with you. Most of the time if you can get 3 or 4 other people to commit to the event as well, your hotel costs for an entire weekend will only be around 40-50 dollars, which is very reasonable considering what you are going to be potentially walking away with (not to mention all the fun stories you will be able to share and bond with your friends over). Of course, the amount you are going to spend varies depending on how nice of a hotel you want to stay at, but in my experience, paying around 40 dollars per person can usually get you a high quality room pretty close to the tournament venue.
 
Okay, your hotel is locked in, your group of friends is locked in, what other preparation pieces do you need? Well, it is probably a good idea to make sure you have a solid set of directions and departure time (while this seems silly, making sure you have enough time to get to the venue even with delays and that you know how to get there effectively can have a massive impact on
your enjoyment of the car ride). In addition, make sure that everyone is aware of exactly what kinds of materials they need to be bringing and to budget for food and entry cost of the event appropriately, as no one likes to play card games for 8+ hours in a day on an empty stomach.

Part 2: Getting ready for the grind
 
Moving on from the logistics of things, it’s time to talk about how to prepare yourself on the game side of things in order to give yourself the best chance to succeed. This step is probably the most crucial in the entire process, because it can mean the difference between being prepared with a deck that’s ready to win, or having a very hard and long day filled with up hill battles.
 
The first step is really understanding what kind of decks are going to be showing up to the event. Looking at recent tournament results to see what has been doing well is probably the easiest way to do this. While it is important to remember not to overthink the competitive scene, you can usually get a general picture of what is going to be showing up at the top tables by looking at what decks have continued to show good results.
 
Once you have a good idea of what the competitive spread might look like, it is time to decide whether to play along with it or play a deck designed specifically to beat the popular decks, while possibly sacrificing the strength of other match-ups. Either option is acceptable, but it will determine where you put a majority of your focus in testing, which is important.
 
Speaking of testing, there are a few things to keep in mind in order to make the most out of testing. When gathering with a group of friends, it is important to remember that you aren’t trying to always win in testing. Talking with your opponent and people watching, taking notes, discussing plays, taking back plays, and walking through every step of every game is the easiest way to make sure you learn all there is to know. After all, it doesn’t matter if you win or lose in testing, as long as you gain information and grow as a player/grow more comfortable with your deck. This is a point that often messes a lot of players up and prevents them from really being able to get the most out of testing sessions, so make sure to not let it get the best of you!
 
Another key thing to remember about playing in larger tournaments (and thus should be considered during your testing) is that there will be players who just come playing things that they enjoy, that aren’t necessarily very competitive or expected by most others. These are known as “rogue” decks and can still steal games from players who are not expecting them. For this reason, I always recommend that you test against any and every deck possible. Some people call this playing in a “gauntlet,” which is a list of known competitive decks, decks from previous competitive environments, and fun/thematic decks that might see some rogue play. By running a deck through the gauntlet, you can find where your biggest weaknesses are. Enabling you to make the proper choices for your sideboard in order to make sure you are prepared, should any of them show up while you are competing.
 
I have one other thing that I recommend keeping in mind when going through the grind of practice, and that is setting a goal for yourself in terms of how well you want to do. Force of Will AGP’s are known for being well worth the entry fee just for showing up, but some people put all of their focus on just winning or placing in the top 8. While this is an admirable goal, it can also be something that gets in the way of having the best experience possible if you don’t succeed. For this reason, I encourage players attending their first AGP to consider a goal that gives them a little wiggle room, and is maybe not as difficult to achieve. Namely, doing well enough to earn the top place promo (this can vary from placing top 16 to placing in top 64 based on overall attendance at the event). While not placing top 8 may be disappointing, being able to walk away from your first AGP with one of the top cut promos can be just as satisfying if that was your goal from the start. It is even possible that you might blow your own goal out of the water by winning the whole thing, but at least this way you’ll be less stressed, and able to enjoy the experience more completely.

Part 3: What to expect at an AGP in order to get the most out of the trip
 
So the day has come, the gang all gathered together and traveled to the event, you checked into your hotel, and now its time for the competition to start. Its going to be a very long day, but here are some tips and things to keep in mind in order to make sure that you have the best day possible.
First off, be sure to get a good breakfast. The day is going to be very long, and you might not have a ton of time to get a full lunch or dinner, and so starting the day with a satisfying and healthy breakfast is definitely key. If you are a big soda or energy drink consumer, then maybe purchase a couple to bring into the event with you to last throughout the day, but I generally try and stick to water in order to stay hydrated without risking energy burnouts or crashes.
 
Be sure to try and have your deck list printed or written out before you even walk in to sign up/check in. This way, you can just spend the time before the player meeting relaxing, meeting new players, and thinking about how you are going to play through the day without worrying about someone taking a peak at your deck list or cards in order to get the upper hand on the off chance they run into you.
 
Take a few minutes after checking in to acquaint yourself with the venue: learn where the time clock for the rounds are so you can make sure to know where to look while you are playing, ask the organizers if they know where they will post up pairings for each round so you know where to wait, find the bathrooms as well as where any concessions might be sold, maybe even pick a spot with your group to meet up after each round to discuss how things went.
 
Once you’re all settled in comes the fun part, putting yourself out there to meet and get to know other players at the event. As I have said before, Force of Will’s mission is to connect you to players from around the world, even in your own country, and there is no better place to do that than at AGP’s. Strike up a conversation with a stranger, or look to see if you can find any of the big name players you may follow or content producers you watch and introduce yourself. I know I love meeting anyone and everyone at events, and from my experience, most other players do as well so it shouldn’t be too difficult to make some new friends pretty quick.
 
Before you know it, the pairings for the player meeting will be up, the total number of attendees will be locked in, the prizing will be announced, and you’re on your way. During your rounds, be sure to always get to your seat as quickly as possible to ensure you have all the time you need to get settled in for your game, and introduce yourself to your opponent. You are going to be spending the next hour or so across from this person, so taking the time to introduce yourself properly and showing them respect can have a big difference in the experience for both you and them.
 
During your games, be sure to speak clearly and communicate directly with your opponent, giving them time to consider things and respond adequately (but not too much time as then you might get caught up in some slow play scenarios that can have an impact on the game). If you or your opponent have a question about something or disagree, be sure to call a judge right away! You won’t have to worry about the time taken for a judge call as you can get an extension, and judges are there to help you and they’ll make sure that everything goes smoothly and you don’t accidentally lose a match just because of an assumption about how something should work.
 
After the match is over, be sure to thank your opponent for the game, even if you lose. After all, if they weren’t there then you would’ve just been sitting around doing nothing rather than playing a card game, and so they deserve some thanks for playing with you. I have had some experiences where my opponent simply stopped acknowledging my existence as soon as they won, or got incredibly angry and stormed off when they lost, and neither one of those results left me feeling very good about myself or what I was doing. While we are competing against one another, we are also playing a game and should keep that in mind regardless of how things go. It’s fine to still be upset about a loss, but that is something that can be talked out with your group of friends and processed through, rather than directing your frustrations at your opponent.
 
At the end of the day, you will have either succeeded in placing in the top cut, or fallen short. Both of these results are totally fine, and can serve as a motivator/lesson that you can take with you to your next event. I will be discussing the different environment of playing in a top 8 scenario and the things to keep in mind there in a future article, but for now I hope that you feel a little more aware of what you can expect at your first AGP and how to better prepare for it. When the day is done, it’s all about how much fun you had, and the beautiful thing is the fun doesn’t have to stop once you finish your last round. Go out to eat with your group of friends, or hang out with all the new people you met! Talk about your successes and struggles, connect with each other on social media, or maybe even play MORE games back at your hotel! No matter what you do, remember to focus on what Force of Will is all about, and if you can do that, then no matter what happened during the event, you will walk away with a positive experience and a great story to share.
 
Until next time Rulers,
 
Jeremy Franklin, AKA DM073

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