You just qualified for the PT, now what?
The first thing you should do is sort out your passport and visa—without those you can’t travel, and they can take a surprising amount of time. Some visa processes, for example, take more than a month to complete, and there’s often no way to speed up the process, so do it as soon as you can before you find out that you don’t have any more time.
Bear in mind that, for a lot of countries, you’re required to have a passport that’s valid for an extra 6 months. One of the players on the Brazilian Bridge team had to skip the World Championship because he found out at the airport that his passport was going to expire in 4 months, and he couldn’t travel despite having a completely valid passport. It’s not the type of thing you usually pay attention to (after all, if it’s valid, it should be valid) but it will get you in trouble in some places.
There’s also the matter of vaccinations. Some countries require people from certain regions to have certain vaccines—such as yellow fever—and a quick Google search should tell you if that’s the case for you. If it is, just go get the vaccine—there’s usually a 10-day delay period for it to start working.
Finally, there’s the matter of health insurance. The European Union, at least in theory, asks everybody to have international health insurance that covers a specific amount. I’ve been to Europe about 50 times and this has never even been mentioned, so do with that information what you will.
If you won a travel award, Wizards will book your ticket for you. They’re usually flexible, unless the ticket you want is much more expensive than the cheapest one they found. If that is the case and you want to stay longer (because you want to go to a GP or sightseeing), then you can try to ask for travel equivalency where they will pay you an amount of money and then you can just pay the rest and buy your own ticket, or you can try to pay the difference. It’s not guaranteed that they will give it to you, but you can ask. Another option is asking for an “incomplete” flight and buying the other legs yourself.
If you are buying your own ticket, then I recommend simply using Google Flights. It’s like Kayak, except much easier to use and, in my experience, more accurate—the flights it gives you actually exist and can be purchased, as opposed to Kayak’s that are often unavailable.
I used to be all about frequent flyer miles, and it was often worth paying more for a ticket on your preferred airline, but airlines have been changing their miles programs for the worse, so there’s less incentive to commit to one now. If you travel a lot and can make use of the lounges and occasional upgrades that come with status, then I’d still try to choose a company and stick to it and its partners, but if you almost never travel then I’d probably just go with the cheapest ticket.
If you book your ticket through WotC, from time to time you cannot make changes to it yourself. For this reason, you should make sure everything is right before you travel, and make sure you have WotC travel services’ number on you as you go through the airport in case you need to get ahold of them.
Regarding dates, it depends on where you’re flying from and what the timezone difference is. Going from Europe to the U.S. is usually okay, but going from the U.S. to Europe (or anywhere east for that matter), I’d recommend at least a full day—my experience is that you just want to sleep all day when you arrive. Since PT registration is on Thursday, I’d recommend arriving at least Wednesday, and probably Tuesday if you can.
For Dublin, there’s a GP in Prague the week before. It’s not particularly close, but flights aren’t expensive, so if you have a couple of friends to accompany you and can take the time for a small vacation, I’d recommend going. If doing home-Prague-Dublin-home is outside your travel budget, you can ask them for a home-Prague, Dublin-home itinerary and buy the Prague-Dublin leg yourself. This gives you a full week to adjust to jet lag, which is plenty.
Going to GP Prague also has the major bonus of preparing you for the draft format—drafting at the PT is a little bit different than drafting on Magic Online, and going to the GP the week before gives you real-life experience with the cards, the format, and the players you’re going to face in the tournament, most of whom will be at the GP. If you can spare it money and time-wise, I’d definitely recommend going to the Limited GP the week before.
If you’re going to do sightseeing, I recommend doing it after the PT. If you do it before the PT, your mind won’t be completely on it, and you’ll be thinking about decks and cards instead of the attractions—it’s better to visit these places with a clear mind.
WotC will pay for your ticket, but unless you’re Platinum, you’re going to have to find your own place to stay. Here, you have 3 options: renting a place, staying at a hotel, or staying at a hostel. The best option depends on your budget, who you’re traveling with, and what you want to do.
A hostel is by far the cheapest option and by far the worst experience. You’ll have people in your room arriving at 2 a.m. and people waking up at 6 a.m. If you want to stay for longer before or after the tournament, then hostel is fine, but for the days of the tournament I’d strongly recommend avoiding it.
Renting a house or apartment is usually a much cheaper option than a hotel if you have 4 or more people, but it’s less convenient, as you have to handle contracts, payment upfront, talking to owners, cleaning up after yourself, and the like. Still, if you can spare the time to sort those things out, then renting an apartment is a great way of saving money. If you’re looking for a place to test, then this is a good choice, but make sure you actually have a living room with a big table. We usually just use Airbnb to find those.
If you want a hotel, then you can just do a search and find the combination of price, comfort, and location that suits you. I use two websites to find hotels—the first is Booking, which is just a normal search website, and the other is Hotwire. Hotwire is a bit different because you don’t choose your hotel. Instead, you give them a general area of where you’re staying and they’ll give you options within a certain radius. You get to see stars rating and price before you book, but you don’t know which hotel you’re getting (though if you Google it, it’s always going to be one of a couple of options). Hotwire is often much cheaper than just booking a hotel (like, 50% cheaper), so if you’re on a budget it’s a great choice. I’ve had some bad experiences with it in the sense that my hotels ended up being worse than I expected, and you have very little recourse when that happens (our hotel in Rotterdam was in a bad location and looked like a 2-star hotel, even though it was supposedly a 4-star hotel), but even then it’s cheaper enough that I still use it more frequently than booking a hotel normally.
Testing is the part most people have trouble with. There are basically two ways to test—with a team, or solo. Having a team is better by far, but not always doable.
If you’re talking about testing with a team, there are two kinds—testing with one of the MTG super teams (Pantheon, East West Bowl, CFB, Eureka, F2F, and so on) is one of them. A lot of people ask “how do I get in one of those teams?” and the answer is that, unless you know someone on the team, well, you don’t. All are players that already know each other , and it’s very unlikely that a spot will open up for someone in their first PT.
This doesn’t mean you can’t have a team, though. I’ve been on big pro testing teams for years now, but before that happened I just tested with my local or internet friends who happened to be qualified, and that worked well enough. So by “team,” you’re not required to be one of those super teams—you can simply have a group of friends who are also going to the PT, and this is definitely enough to put you in the competition.
In my experience, you want to find people who have the same goals. If you can find others who are playing in the PT as well, that’s the best. If you don’t know anyone, you can try to get in touch with the RPTQ winners. There should be at least 3 other people who are in a similar situation to yours and who live reasonably close to you. Some will already have a team, and perhaps you can join them, and some will not and can then form a team with you. I recommend getting the contact information for all the other RPTQ winners if you qualify this way, and then just get in touch with them to see what they’re going to do.
If you can’t find other people who are going to the PT, then your next best bet are friends who are also interested in the format. Maybe you have a friend who’s playing in a PTQ that same weekend, or a GP the week after, and then you can test together. If that’s also not the case, then you can simply ask a friend to help you test.
The most valuable resource if you’re testing without a super team is Magic Online. You can use it for Drafts and you can check a lot of Standard results, which should give you an idea of what to expect. I recommend signing up for MTGO Beta, so you have access to the cards earlier—they usually accept everybody that applies.
Assuming you find someone to test with, I’d recommend the following steps for a new player:
- Familiarize yourself with the metagame. This is harder to do when it’s a brand new format, but even then you can follow SCG results and Magic Online, and you should have at least a passing familiarity with each viable deck. If someone is playing an established deck and you can’t identify it within their first 2 or 3 land drops, or if you have no idea what kind of sideboard plan they could have after game 1, then you probably didn’t dedicate enough time to just knowing the format. For PT Dublin, we’re not going to get a brand new format (there’s a set added, but nothing rotates out), so you can start right now by simply playing matches with all the decks and watching the coverage from past GPs.
- Select a deck that you think you’re likely to play and start working on a sideboard for it. In my opinion, if you’re new to the PT, you do not want to break the format—you want to master a deck. If you’re solo or don’t have a lot of time, it’s very unlikely that you’ll come up with a strategy that no one else came up with, so you should focus on playing very well with the deck you’re playing. If you have a big team then you can think about brewing ways to break the format, but if you don’t, then I’d honestly recommend just skipping this step, because time spent testing and figuring out good sideboard strategies for your deck is more valuable than time spent trying to brew something.
For Limited, I’d recommend reading the entire spoiler, going to the prerelease, and drafting to get a general feeling of the format, in person or on Magic Online. It also helps to follow the coverage for the GP the week before, even if you don’t attend—people usually skip the Limited deck lists, but they can give you an idea of what other people think a good deck looks like, and introduce you to strategies you hadn’t thought of. Ideally, you want to do at least 10 Drafts before the PT.
Go to the venue on Thursday to register. There’s usually a big line, so I recommend getting there either early or late. If you don’t know other people there, then there’s really nothing to do, so you should plan for it to be a quick trip. We used to have pre-PT parties, but those don’t exist anymore—nowadays you get some swag (deck box, boosters, shirt) but it’s all done in basically under a minute if you don’t have to stand in line. You will also get sleeves for both Drafts and, of course, basic lands. If you need a pen or paper, ask a judge.
Thursday is also the best time to buy cards, if you need to. There are usually two vendors, and they will have most cards, but not all. If you need cards, then I’d recommend getting to the venue earlier rather than later, because they do run out of them. Cards at PTs are usually pricey but not by a ludicrous amount, so it’s not the end of the world if you end up having to buy something. In general, mythics of the newest set are the most expensive.
Other than cards, you can also buy some Magic merchandise, such as shirts, hoodies, and playmats. Each PT has a different playmat that is sold for about $25-$30, and they’re usually very pretty—way better than the GP playmats, in my opinion.
During the tournament, there’s not much for you to do. There are no side events of any kind, but you do get one booster set per day, so you can Draft if you find more people. There’s free WiFi (but it’s not great and sometimes doesn’t work), and there are water fountains everywhere, but you have to buy your own food. There’s a small break after the first Draft for lunch, and there are normally food options around (if there are not, there will be food trucks). Since a PT is relatively small, you can actually find the time to eat (as opposed to a GP where any break means there will be 200 people in line for food and you can never realistically find time to have lunch).
The PT is 3 rounds of Draft, followed by 5 rounds of Standard. Standard is basically the same, and the biggest difference in Draft is that you are not allowed to look at your picks during the Draft itself (instead you get a viewing period at the end of each pack). If you only draft on Magic Online, this could be a problem. If you want things to be more realistic, you can cover part of your screen during MTGO Drafts and only look between packs.
You don’t need to know exactly what you’ve taken, but you need to have a general idea of what you need. For example: “I picked up another 4-drop, I need cheaper cards now” or “I have those Human synergies but only 2 Humans—I need more Humans” are good things to keep in mind.
There are many questions about the Rules Enforcement Level, but it’s probably more relaxed than you’d imagine. There is less rules lawyering at the PT than at the PTQ level, but you should still try to be as clear as possible in everything you are doing, just like you should still keep an open eye to anything suspicious even though there is less cheating. Judges are very understanding and you shouldn’t worry that you’ll be DQ’d for something silly. In fact, most DQs in PTs happen because people lie to the judges because they’re afraid of what the reaction is going to be. So always call a judge when you have a question, and always tell the truth when they ask you something.
During the tournament, especially if you’re doing well, you might be called for a feature match. This means your match might be on camera and people will watch you live, with commentary. This makes people nervous since they’re worried everyone is going to think they’re awful if they mess up, but the reality is that Magic is a very hard game and we’re all making mistakes constantly. I’ve certainly gotten my share of “wow, what a horrible play—how is this guy in the Hall of Fame?” comments. The people who truly understand that Magic is hard and that there is a ton of pressure aren’t judging you for your feature match game—it’s the ones who have never been there that do the most judging. On top of that, the commentators are very nice, and they will not call you out if you do make a mistake.
A lot of my friends ask me about the “pro etiquette” when they’re going to their first PT—can they ask for signatures? Pictures? What if the person just lost… would they prefer to be left alone?
I can’t speak for every pro, but the overwhelming majority will be happy if you ask for any of those things. When I lose I’m usually upset, but then if someone approaches me and asks to take a picture, that makes me feel better, not worse. So, if you want to take a picture or get a signature, don’t worry about it and just ask!
When you’re playing a well-known pro, you might feel intimidated—I know I was in my first PTs. My best advice is to not act on this feeling. Most pros are good players, but they also lose a lot in Magic, and anything that you do to compensate for the fact that you think they are better will likely contribute to their win percentage. Thoughts like, “if I play normally I’m just going to lose, so I’m going to keep this risky, weird hand,” or “he’s a pro so obviously he will have the counterspell,” will just make you win less. Just play your game normally, and whatever happens, happens—even the best pros only win 65% of their matches at PTs.
If you win any prizes, you’re going to receive a piece of paper with information on how to get paid. It involves registering for eWallet, through which they’ll send the money, and you can then transfer it to your bank account. It’s a very easy process and you should expect the prize to be deposited on eWallet the week after the PT.
If you have any questions about the PT, don’t hesitate to ask in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer!