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Feature Article – Play the Game or See the World (English)

I’d like to apologize for the lengthy intervals between my articles. Previously, although I have written articles in a timely manner, as a result of the translator’s availability my articles may simply appear to be out of date, and this is a struggle for me.

For example, there was the Catfish deck at Pro Tour Philadelphia. It was a very good deck and there were aspects of it I really wanted to write about, but my article was still only half-finished when PV posted his opinions on ChannelFireball and it seemed Brian Kibler also addressed it in more detail, discussing the interesting points.

Planeswalker Points is a similar topic in that it has already been addressed, and I’ll reserve judgment on it for the time being. You can now get closer to an invitation to the Pro Tour just by participating in a tournament. On the one hand I think this is a great system, but as Jon Finkel said it never reflects a player’s real ability. I reached level 42 because I gained 320 points for each of my Top 32 performances at past Grands Prix, but according to Makihito Mihara the World Championship title rewarded only 660 points. No one thinks that someone who makes Top 32 in three Grands Prix is better than someone who won the World Championship, right?

And more than anything, why does Wizards never seem to provide complete information? Because nothing was announced regarding these changes and their effect on my “lifeline”, the Pro Player Club, I can’t draw any final conclusions. Planeswalker Points do lead to better airline tickets, and surely this alone is a great benefit, but professional players level seven and higher already receive this privilege.

For example, looking back I remember the one time when they stopped holding the Invitational and replaced it with a Pro Tour, which should have been the summer Grand Prix series. This seemed to be heralded as bad news and created distrust, but for whatever reason I didn’t feel that way at the time. However, deep down I also have other sentiments. In any case, my feelings surrounding the issue are complex.

At Grand Prix Montreal, when Planeswalker Points took effect I had a disappointing start, opening three useless packs, which quickly led to a record of one win and three losses, missing Day Two. Although the possibility of reaching Day Two had vanished completely, I stayed in instead of dropping. However, this was not for Planeswalker Points, but rather because some of my friends were aiming to improve their rating for an invitation to the World Championships. Because my own rating necessarily dropped in this endeavor, I think I was in quite a cynical mood. At any rate, I am unable to evaluate what happened as I honestly find the big picture to be unclear.

Leaving that subject behind, after not making Day Two I sat dejected in my Montreal hotel room with Martin Juza and came to a serious resolution about the near future. We were both going to participate in all of the season’s remaining Grands Prix. I think that those who are familiar with my lifestyle seem to have an idea of what it is like at this point, but there are some things about the schedule that are very tough. Starting with Milan in Italy, then Brisbane in Australia, Santiago in Chile, Hiroshima in Japan, and finally San Diego in the U.S, a rough calculation of the distance traveled from Japan easily comes out to 60,000 miles. That’s more than twice the circumference of the planet.

“Play the game?”

Naturally, this is the reason I do this. In order to guarantee being a level eight pro, I still have some ways to go in terms of Pro Points. But it’s not just that.

“See the world?”

Obviously, my compensation is not equal to what I spend when I travel strictly to play Magic. In the end, I think my travel expenses alone exceeded five thousand dollars. The guaranteed sum total of the compensation I receive is two thousand five hundred dollars. In order to come up positive in terms of income and expenses I need to make at least 16th place or better in every Grand Prix or win one somewhere along the way, an extremely nonsensical and unlikely plan. But what should you do if there’s a place you would like to travel to? Why not play Magic while you’re at it?

For me these two aspects of the professional lifestyle are reasons to travel, and in today’s article I will note some useful information and corresponding tips that apply to both.

I will begin with a discussion of things that can be very helpful if you are considering where to travel for an event or alternatively traveling overseas on a trip that is unrelated to Magic.

On Setting a Goal and Making a Plan

This is fairly obvious, but first you need to make a goal for yourself. In my case, I started first with the goal of “going to Grand Prix Santiago in Chile”, but Chile is situated on the opposite side of the world from Japan and being careless could mean that I would not be able to go to such a distant place. In the past I had attended Grand Prix Buenos Aires, and I knew that South America had spectacular people and places. So I wanted to go, and this was a great opportunity to do so.

Additionally, I had one other goal. I wanted to visit Machu Picchu in neighboring Peru. This is why Grand Prix Santiago was convenient. Short of a Grand Prix being held in Peru itself, you could say that these were the best conditions I could ask for.

So, I decided to visit Santiago and Peru. But now I noticed that if I was going from Japan to South America, it might be cheaper to make a stop in Australia and fly to South America from there…

First, decide what you would like to do and decide on your priorities. Then list up the combination of personal circumstances and other conditions that must be achieved for your plan to be completed. Whatever your goal is, and whatever the combination of conditions required, obviously just imagining a plan never leads to its success. In order to make it one, you need to add priorities.

I have already bought my plane tickets for Milan. For me that leaves going to Grand Prix Santiago, Grand Prix Brisbane, and Machu Picchu. Among these goals, I prioritized Santiago, then Brisbane, and then my trip to Peru.

From here on, I will discuss the construction of a concrete travel plan.

On Buying Tickets

To further define your goal, look for tickets to your destination of choice. Tickets comprise the majority of travel expenses. This is true with plane tickets to such an extent that I am very familiar with the reasons behind their price.

Two flights end in the same destination: one is a direct flight, and the other is less expensive but stops somewhere along the way. The latter flight arrives only one day later and costs 40% less. By changing your itinerary only slightly, you can have a very different result.

As far as I know, kayak.com is the best tool for finding airplane tickets, a website I was first introduced to by Alex West and Gaudenis Vidugiris. Whether you’re putting together a simple round trip or a complex itinerary, it will not only show the lowest price from each company, it also suggests itineraries combining multiple different airlines. It also doesn’t just simply indicate a flight fitting your criteria; it adds new arrangements little by little confirming the price at each juncture.

Occasionally, due to an unexpected combination it will display a surprisingly inexpensive fare. The result of joining up these methods in searching for my upcoming itinerary was that I came to learn that a Brisbane –> Santiago –> Tokyo itinerary was significantly more expensive than a Brisbane –> Lima –> Santiago –> Tokyo one.

From there, I found a one-way ticket from Tokyo to Brisbane, as this was the least expensive plan. Brisbane –> Lima –> Santiago –> Tokyo ended up being a round trip ticket. And then to get to Machu Picchu from Lima, I would fly to the nearest airport in Cuzco on a separately purchased round trip ticket.

And when buying a ticket, make sure to double and then triple check the date. Once the credit card payment is settled most tickets cannot be changed, and you will not even be able to cancel them in most places around the world. I really have to recommend being careful when doing this.

This is unrelated to a Grand Prix trip, but there is also the question of booking tickets to a Pro Tour with an allowance from Wizards. By winning a PTQ, being a certain level of professional player, or more recently having a certain amount of Planeswalker Points, you can receive money to travel to the Pro Tour. There are certain restrictions, but generally making a stop on the way is acceptable. For example, I have the pro level to go to the World Championships in San Francisco, but I think I can add a stop in San Diego for the Grand Prix along the way. It’s included. If that’s the case, I might also make some minor changes to go to Las Vegas.

If you are familiar with this rule, it might greatly increase the number of Grands Prix you can travel to all by itself. And next year there will be forty of them. You need to at least understand airline company stop overs. Wizards of the Coast will shoulder up to 110% of the average cost of the ticket for any given trip, so there are circumstances they would not approve.

On Mileage

This is something you absolutely need to have. If you choose to have a mileage program, there are three airline carriers that are most desirable: Star Alliance, SkyTeam and One World. They are definitely American companies, but there is also United, Delta and American Airlines. Flying one or two times will certainly not lead to any sort of bonus, but my sense is that one mile is worth upwards of two dollars. Converting the profit you can make from ticket values using miles results in a similar ratio. Why wouldn’t you take advantage of money that basically falls into your lap?

Furthermore, as you accumulate miles you also advance in class, which has its own excellent benefits. There is the minor bonus of getting priority when boarding the plane at the airport and getting free food and internet when in the airport lounge. Or, depending on the situation you may be able to upgrade your ticket to business class. More than anything, I’m glad to keep accumulating benefits due to my mileage.

Right now I have elite class status, but I have used my mileage only two or three times this year to fly to and participate in Grands Prix. A round trip from Japan to the U.S includes the bonus of adding a little more than 20,000 miles, and the same round trip requires about 60,000-80,000 miles. Because three times a year the Pro Tour is not held in Japan, Wizards of the Coast effectively gives me a free trip once a year.

On Lodging

It’s best to rely on friends to make arrangements. (Thanks to those who accommodated me during Philadelphia and Montreal!)

That was half a joke, as in reality at the time of this writing I have yet to find a place to stay. However, that is always how I feel about finding lodging. It is often the case that inexpensive plane tickets disappear quickly, but in contrast hotels usually have vacancies and you will rarely find that similar rooms cost different prices. There is also plenty of time to cancel your reservations.

If you don’t get a room in your desired hotel and it’s easy to change plans, at worst it’s possible to find a hotel in the same area.

The general framework is to decide first on your flight itinerary and then decide what you will do locally. My basic plan is to carefully look for a hotel that fits my requirements.

The website I usually use besides kayak.com is Expedia, which can be used by anyone the world over. I think that Agota is used in Asia, and booking.com in Europe. In terms of information about the tournament location, I always check the official Wizards of the Coast website for the facts about Grands Prix. This is because not only does it provide information about the tournament site, sometimes there are also special discounts at nearby hotels.

Listen to Experience

If you take care of tickets and lodging, there are no real physical obstacles in front of you. What remains is learning about your destination. For things like whether you need a visa, how much things generally cost, the best means of transportation, etc., a travel guidebook will generally suffice when you visit a country. However, looking at personal travel blogs is also a great help. The needs and mistakes of travelers in general closely resemble those of Magic players.

What was useful to those who traveled first is also useful to us, and there is a high possibility that we will be caught in the same pitfalls. Nothing beats the word of an experienced individual.

During Grand Prix Montreal, Martin Juza and I sought Raphael Levy’s opinion about the trip to Machu Picchu, since he had visited there two years ago. “If you go to Machu Picchu, there is the issue of travel time. There is not enough time for a day trip there, so it’s good to spend one night in Machu Picchu itself.” Because of his advice, I plan to book one night in a hotel in a village on the outskirts. Among countries where Grands Prix are held there is a frequent rotation among cities, and I think you will easily be able to find people who have visited them.

In Conclusion

If you will only be traveling to domestic Grands Prix, this article is not very meaningful for you. But if you are planning to attend international Pro Tours and are thinking of sightseeing along the way, I think there are many parts that may be helpful as a reference.

When you persist at and succeed in playing Magic, you can go to places others rarely get to visit. And if you are considering traveling even a little, I think you should go. Take your next opportunity; it could be the chance of a lifetime. As for me, at every Pro Tour I remember my first PT Top 8 in Columbus in 2005, and I don’t know how many times I have regretted that at present that is the only time I appeared in the finals of such an event. This is a slightly different subject, but after the fact the regret I feel for things I haven’t done really propels me forward.

There’s just one more thing I do when preparing to travel: make sure my luggage is as light as possible. There are weight restrictions for checked baggage on an airplane, but whether or not your carry-ons are a burden significantly changes how active you can be on your trip. Being exhausted when arriving at a lodging is a very common travel phenomenon, and an unfortunate one. I think that with skill you can cut down on this sort of thing.

Putting things you think might be necessary into little piles without thinking carefully can make for enormous luggage. Things that can be substituted with other items are unnecessary, and most things can be bought at the actual location.

I hope this helps you improve your own travel experiences. Thank you for reading.

Shuhei Nakamura

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