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MagicCon Las Vegas 2023 ⏤ Why Magic: The Gathering has lasted 30 years

I recently attended MagicCon Las Vegas 2023, and I have a pitch for you. You should go to a MagicCon. Yes, you specifically. You clicked on this article right? Did a friend send it to you, or was this a horrible misclick? Well, since you’re here, let me try to convince you. A bit of background on myself for perspective; I have been a casual Magic: The Gathering player for a long time. I don’t play competitively, heck, I don’t even build decks anymore, nor do I keep loose cards around. I played Friday Night Magic many years ago (Standard) and have long since decided that it wasn’t for me. Even being a casual player, I had a great time at MagicCon Las Vegas and I think you will too. If you enjoy the game of Magic: The Gathering in any way or even if you’re just curious about the game. You should go to a MagicCon.

Quick note, if you’re familiar with MagicCons you can jump to part two. Part one is a description of all the activities at a MagicCon, but do me a favor, consider sending this article to a friend who might be interested in going with you.

Part 1 – Magic:

The first major reason to come to a MagicCon is to play Magic: The Gathering. That seems obvious, but whether you play constructed, limited, or even nothing, there is something for you. If you play constructed there are events for nearly every constructed format ranging from Standard, Pioneer, Modern, and even Pauper. Special events such as the Secret Lair Showdown offer Modern players unique rewards with special versions of cards. There are team events like the Team Trios – Vintage, Legacy, Modern where you play a specific format, but compete as a team of three. If you’re an established player, you know this, but a MagicCon is a great way to play your favorite formats and challenge yourself.

The constructed events are for people who already have decks and want to test them out against others outside their local competition. What if you don’t have decks to bring? There are so many limited events (sealed and draft) going on. With these events you don’t have to bring anything, when you enter an event you are provided with packs from which you build a deck. Once again, there’s a variety of events depending on what you’re interested in. For Vegas 2023, Wilds of Eldraine recently released so a lot of the events were using that set. In addition to normal set drafts there were chaos drafts (mixed set drafts), throwback drafts (older sets), and special events. There was a weekend-long 100k Wilds of Eldraine sealed competition. The prize pool for this competition was one hundred thousand dollars, with first place winning twenty thousand dollars. That’s a lot of booster packs. One initial estimation I came across had the 100k event having over 1500 players. Other special events included Grand Melee games that are a wacky low stakes competition for large groups. The ever popular Unknown Event with Gavin Verhey was also present where his event is different every time. Usually at the Unknown Event are humorous play-test cards and those make for some truly unique games of Magic. There are so many ways to just show up and play Magic that I couldn’t keep track of it all.

Left: Gavin Verhey presenting his Unknown Event Right: Players getting ready to play in the Unknown Event

That’s great, but I’m not super competitive, says the imaginary friend I’ve written this for. Once again, MagicCon has you covered. There are people everywhere to play casual games of Magic with. While wandering around, I was asked many times if I wanted to play a game, and if I didn’t have a deck, they had one I could use. That friendly attitude permeated the convention. There was a free play area available and let’s not forget about the Command Zone. Here you could play Commander. You could play Commander until you fell asleep. (I did see someone sleeping in the Command Zone, it was impressive.) Commander is a very popular format for casual play and here the staff would help you find games for your style of play. There were even Commander events where your entry fee got you a random Commander precon to play with. The Command Zone was filled for the vast majority of the convention with players just jamming games all weekend.

A single day badge cost $30 and a weekend badge was $65. While you could spend far more, these seem like quite reasonable entry badge fees. I should mention that events cost money to enter, and this is on top of the badge cost. I would factor that into coming to a MagicCon, but you appear to get your value. It’s not uncommon for draft players to enter an event, sell the valuable cards they draft, and use those proceeds to lower the overall cost of the weekend. Events also take a lot of time with a few hours being the minimum an event might take so I would also take that into consideration. In addition to the scheduled events are on demand games players could also enter, these were sometimes hit and miss as they depended on enough people signing up for that event around the same time. Though, the on demand events are a nice backup when the scheduled ones are already filled. With all of this, a MagicCon is one of the best ways to experience playing the game.

Left: Players finding their seats before an event Right: The event area at near capacity

Now my imaginary friend, you might be in between events or just plain sick of playing Magic, there’s many more activities around the hall. The Artist Alley was truly a sight to behold, here you could meet your favorite artists, get cards signed, or buy special prints of their artwork. The artwork for Magic has always been a part of what makes the game so special and here this fact is on literal display. I met up with an old friend who spent one entire day of the convention getting every card in his favorite deck signed. That’s commitment. For the artists, being able to showcase and sell their art is an important part of what allows them to continue creating. I always encourage supporting an artist you like.

The beautiful atmosphere wasn’t just in the Artist Alley, around the convention were displays that immersed you into the world of Magic. For Eldraine there was an area set up with a banquet table complete with two thrones for people to sit in. On that banquet table was Syr Ginger and several delicious looking food monsters. A massive dragon was also a main set piece that people were always taking pictures with. Around the hall were other various decorations from past (or future) Magic sets. Kaya was hanging out near the Artist Alley, while near the entrance people could find Huatli with a dinosaur friend. Ultimately these displays are minor, but they help add to the ambiance of the convention.

 

Upper Left: The Artist Alley Upper Right: Wilds of Eldraine banquet table Lower Left: The official merch store Lower Right: The Throne of Eldraine

Many of the premier Magic retailers had physical booths at the convention. If you were looking for any specific Magic product there was a lot to shop for. The exhibitors had a wide variety of singles or sealed product to choose from. Neat Magic accessories and apparel were also commonplace. The full list of exhibitors can be found here, they aren’t all going to be at every MagicCon, but it gives you an idea of what you can find. I imagine many of them can be found online, but there’s something about being at a convention. I was surprised by the number of people selling cards too. Of course, there’s the official Magic merch store too. At Vegas they even had a special event that sold out. You could feed the Sugarmaw for a grab bag of older official Magic merch. If you enjoy shopping for Magic things, or just nerdy things, there were many neat things to discover.

Perhaps meeting the many great content creators for Magic would interest you? All weekend long there were opportunities to meet artists, designers, and content creators. Whether at the content creator arena, during a panel, or at a booth.The convention was filled with the faces that help drive the community. You could even play Magic with content creators such as Loading Ready Run who had their own event and appeared in others. Roaming the hallways are some of the minds behind the game and if you’ve ever wanted to meet them here’s your chance. I imagine Gavin Verhey stopped to shake a lot of hands throughout the weekend.

Left: The Creator Arena Right: Loading Ready Run signing event

Next there were the panels, the community panels covered a wide range of topics and while these also change, they are all amazing places to engage with the community. As I’m a long time D&D player, my favorite community panel was MtG Meets D&D: Adding Magic To Your Campaign. I couldn’t attend every panel, but I wanted to. Alongside the community panels were the main stage panels and these were a highlight of the convention for me. These panels produced by Wizards of the Coast offered insights into the future and past of Magic. The tribute to Sheldon Menery was a touching farewell to a legendary figure that helped Magic become what it is today. You can find these panels posted to the Magic: The Gathering YouTube page, but witnessing them first hand was something special.

Something I did not attend was the Slumber Party. This was a separate ticketed event Saturday night that featured the DJ duo Wooden Wisdom featuring Elijah Wood and Zach Cowie. If you went to this event, I’m sure it was a great time, but for me, a dance party is not my thing.

Finally, the headline events, each night there was a headline event on the main stage. Friday it was the Game Knights Championship, Saturday it was the Cosplay Contest, and Sunday it was the Pro Tour watch party. I purposely did not take any photos of these events out of respect for the participants. If you’re unfamiliar with Game Knights Live, this is a series produced by The Command Zone where four players play commander, but with all the fanfare and style of professional sports. The introduction for each competitor is the most vibrant I’ve ever seen a crowd be. Different sections of the crowd were assigned to a player and they made it known who they were cheering for. I’m not sure simply describing Game Knights will do it any justice so check out their previous games. If you’re a fan of cosplay, the Saturday Cosplay Contest featured categories running from novice, journeyman, expert, international cosplayers, and the grand championship. This is another piece of our community that showcases the dedication and talent of so many people. I can not imagine the time it takes to create these costumes. My personal favorite was Cartoonlord as The One Ring, yup, that One Ring. Sunday featured the final matches of the World Championship XXIX. I have to be honest here, I don’t know much about the current state of Standard or the Pro Tour, but it has always been an important part of Magic. Many of the people who shape the game today started as players within the Pro Tour and I’m happy to see it at MagicCons. It may not be something I know much about, but I recognize how important it is to the game.

Left: A Pro Tour match Right: The Command Zone

Part 2 – The Gathering

I know a lot of the preceding paragraphs are just a list of offerings at MagicCon, but I wanted to highlight everything MagicCon had on offer. Maybe there are only a few things that interest you, my imaginary friend? Not every part of a convention is for everyone, but you could see the care that went into everything. If you’ve ever been to a convention you’ll know there’s a special feeling of being a part of something larger than yourself that is hard to describe. If any of it sounds fun, I can tell you that it was indeed fun.

With an idea of what is at a MagicCon, let’s talk about the real reason I think you should go to a MagicCon. It’s the people. I spent my time talking to so many people that my voice died when I got home. I should have gotten names, taken quotes, but I forgot to. From moment to moment I was just having a good time. In fact, I didn’t find anyone who was having a bad time. Everyone I interacted with was helpful and friendly. I saw people helping each other build decks or swapping stories. We all knew we shared something we knew we could bond over, Magic: The Gathering. Once again, I want to stress this because this is the reason I think you should go to a MagicCon. It is the community who make the game as great as it is. Magic has been around for 30 years and with it the people who play the game have grown. The best way I can think to communicate this is by describing a moment that made me chuckle. As I crossed the convention hall, I walked by a family; the father holding a sleeping toddler in his arms while the mother was pushing a stroller full of Magic deck boxes. Priorities. :)

The Studio X Q&A Panel

In the past the Magic community has struggled keeping up with cultural changes, and to be blunt inclusivity. Compared to other parts of the tabletop community Magic likely still lags behind. The convention was a largely male dominated space, but I would be amiss if I didn’t point out the efforts of Wizards of the Coast. Every aspect of the convention made sure you knew this was a safe space, the code of conduct was front and center. Additional signage made it clear that any form of harassment would not be tolerated. Convention staff, judges, and security were always present if you felt you needed help. All of the staff at MagicCon were fantastic. I always want to recognize the judges and event staff keeping the convention running. The organizational efforts by Wizards of the Coast should be applauded and I want people to know the steps being taken. Only together can we continue to expand the community.

The feedback from previous MagicCons was that Wizards of the Coast had done a good job of spreading out the convention so that it wasn’t cramped. While this changes from venue to venue, Vegas was the most accessible convention I’ve ever seen. There was plenty of space, but in addition to that, there was seating everywhere. This was a nice change compared to other conventions I have been to. There was also a quiet room available if you needed somewhere to escape from the noise. Like many conventions Saturday was the busiest day, if you wanted to avoid the crowds, I would come on a Friday or Sunday. Be aware, some lines were long. Around 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, I counted the prize wall line 50+ people deep and the more popular artists had long wait times. From talking to people it sounded like Wizards of the Coast had done their best to incorporate the feedback from previous MagicCons and that is nice to hear. No convention can be perfect, but I could see everyone was trying to create the best convention they could.

The Free Play area

Part 3 – All together now, Magic: The Gathering

If this reads like an advertisement for MagicCon Las Vegas 2023, that’s because it sort of is. I didn’t know what to expect from my first MagicCon, nor did I know what I would find interesting. For my first experience, I tried to just take everything in. For me, I had a wonderful time and I just want to communicate that. What stuck with me is the atmosphere, and the sheer camaraderie from everyone I came across. I didn’t play a single game of Magic the entire weekend. I could have. Plenty of people offered, but I mostly walked around and talked to people and that’s not something I usually do. There are fair criticisms of Magic and how Wizards of the Coast manages the game. There are discussions to be had about the state of the game, pricing, and thoughts on Universes Beyond. But MagicCon Las Vegas 2023 was a wonderful experience. I’m sure there is something that can be improved, but I do not know what that is. The experience reminded me of how wonderful the Magic community is and how far it has come. If a MagicCon comes to a city near you, I think you should give it a try. Maybe you will find something there for you.

If you’re still unsure, let me leave you with this, my last MagicCon Las Vegas experience which wasn’t even at the convention center. As I was leaving Las Vegas, sitting in the airport, out of the blue a gentleman approached me and began asking me questions about MagicCon. Surprised and bewildered, I just sort of answered the strangers questions. It turns out he was an employee of Wizards of the Coast and due to my Magic paraphernalia had correctly deduced I had attended MagicCon. He was very nice, wanting to ask me about my experience at the convention and I had a pleasant, albeit brief conversation with him. (You told me your name and I immediately forgot it.) Not fifteen minutes later, I ran into another MagicCon attendee. Again, I had a nice conversation with this man about the weekend, each of us happy to be going home, but a little sad the weekend was over. Conversations like these were the heart of my experience. If this sounds like it’s for you, my imaginary friend, you should go to a MagicCon. Because, after that, you’ll just be my friend.

Tabletop Editor | [email protected]

Chris began tabletop gaming in college and quickly fell into the addictive world of cardboard. Beginning with D&D and Catan he became an enthusiast of all things gaming; analog or digital. Chris, now a relapsed MtG player, loves connecting with people via gaming through RPGs, board games, and video games. A particular favorite is testing friendships through social deduction games.

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