Last weekend I attended Lyon to compete in my first Grand Prix. I wouldn’t consider myself a competitive player, I don’t have a Constructed deck that isn’t Commander, and up until this event, the most serious event I had played in was FNM.

Truthfully, I hadn’t been planning on entering the GP at all until the Thursday night when my friend couldn’t make his flight and I took his place. The team needed a third, and I was the only person around that could jump in. I had always thought of GPs as events for serious players, for Spikes who wouldn’t want to talk and would judge my misplays. It seemed like a lot of pressure, especially when the other two members of my team had been preparing for this and I had not.

The night before the event, we sat in the hotel lobby with a box of packs and they gave me a crash course in the set. We opened a Team Sealed pool and then went through each color, with me separating out the cards I thought were playable. They’d review my decisions and talk through the card evaluation. It was helpful and I learned a lot, but I was surprised at how fun it was. The next morning, I was excited. I had a grasp of the set, teammates by my side, and a jersey on my back that was three sizes too big.

Our Sealed pool was good. The preregistered pools seemed to speed up what I was told was usually a pretty time-consuming registration period. We sorted our cards and debated how to divide things up—who should play which deck, should Pirates be U/R or U/B, and which deck got to play our 2 Pirate’s Cutlasses? We settled on a strong Merfolk deck for our captain, a solid Vampire deck, and a hyper-aggressive R/W Dinosaurs build. I got to pilot the Dinosaurs, which I was pretty happy about, as it was the deck I’d drafted the most. I was still worried though: What if my opponents looked down on me? What if they judged me for being a casual player? Would they see me as an easy target?

I felt like I got lucky in the first round. My teammates knew our opponents and they were friendly and funny. We’d make jokes, chat between games, and after the round had ended, and even though we lost the first round, it didn’t feel like a negative experience.

Then I kept getting those sorts of teams—nice, friendly players that were there to have fun and play Magic. By round 3 or 4 I started to see that that’s how almost everyone was. They were just other versions of my team, with different decks and traveling from different places, but every team was just three friends sharing their love of Magic and hoping to prove that they were good enough for Day 2, or Top 4.

Although almost every team we talked to or played against were like this, we were eventually matched against one team that was exactly what I was worried about: They were pro players, which was exciting to face, but it was clear that they wanted to win more than enjoy themselves. It made me nervous, but I had my teammates to help me. They finished their matches quickly—one loss and one win—and focused on helping me make the right moves. It helped a lot in calming me down and getting me back to enjoying the game. Our games were long, so we had actually amassed a small crowd. I was the last one left, and I managed to secure the win in the end. It felt reassuring that even though these were more experienced players, and even though I had felt a little nervous, we were still able to come out on top.

After round 7 we knew we weren’t making Day 2, but that was okay—I didn’t think that we would make it to round 4. So we dropped, and instead we went and checked in on the other teams—the teams from our local store and teams we had played against or talked to. I found myself eager to hear that someone I’d met that day would make Day 2. I was excited for them.

Coming back the next day, people we had befriended yesterday chatted with us and invited us to join them in side events. I finally understood how all the content online and conversations in LGSs are about more than just, “if Pirate’s Cutlass is actually better in a Vampires deck or not.” They translate to real interactions, real relationships, and experiences all built around a shared interest. It’s about a community that gathers together to see their friends, make new ones, and share a game they love with the people who appreciate it. On Sunday I was sad to have GP Lyon end, but by Monday afternoon I was already looking at flights for GP London.