Traveling and playing Magic, particularly Commander, can be a wonderful thing. You get to expand your playgroup, make new friends, and look for deals to add to your decks. This can be done small scale, say a work trip where you duck out one night to sneak in a game, or on Magic oriented trips, say Gen Con. While small trips are possible and fun, bigger gatherings like a GP or convention require more planning.
I am not talking about security here. It should go without saying that you need to be careful with your belongings. Commander decks are generally monetarily expensive, not to mention the emotional attachment many decks carry. If you want to get some tips on security I recommend the Commanderin episode where they discuss prep for GP Vegas 2017.
How you get there matters. Generally this is a debate between driving and flying. Flying gets you there quickly, but generally limits what you can carry. I personally don’t like checking my decks and don’t like paying bag fees. Flying Southwest can help me with bag fees, but if that isn’t your choice you will have to fit both clothes and decks into your carry on. Driving is generally a slower option, but provides storage for your belongings. You don’t have to worry about how much or how heavy your bags are because you can put them in a trunk.
When you travel matters. This is both time of year and for the actual event. Time of year primarily only matters if you drive. Leaving cards in a very hot or cold car isn’t a great idea. Outside of that time of year doesn’t matter a ton. When you get to the actual event matters quite a bit. If you fly and plan on coming and going straight to the event (without stopping at your hotel) you will need to plan to transport everything you bring through the convention. When you choose when you travel, you can also plan on getting to the city a day early and/or staying a day late. If you can get a group together to do this you can make some memories. Not everyone has the vacation time or cash to stay longer, but it is an option. Nicer hotels may also let you store your bag(s) with the bellhops if you need a place to leave them before or after your stay. If you’re driving, you can ignore a lot of this and simply store your bags in your car. Similarly if you’re renting a car you can store your non-convention belongings in the vehicle instead of lugging it through the convention.
How much Commander are you going to play? Some people go to a gaming convention or a GP and are planning on making casual Commander a small part of their trip. If you’re only going to get a few games in a day, or during the trip as a whole, you don’t need to bring that many decks. Sure you won’t have diversity in power level or in deck choices (unless you can borrow decks), but if you’re only playing a little then it’s an acceptable loss. The other option, and the one I choose, is to play as much casual Magic as I can. Now diversity in decks matters a lot more. Having diversity in power level and play style gives you a lot more variety as you move through the convention.
Having diversity has it’s draw backs though. You have to carry it all. Most Magic conventions involve a substantial amount of walking, even if thats just to the tables where you’ll sit most of the day, and carrying six or more decks gets heavy or at least makes your bag bulky. If you are moving around more (say for lunch, meeting artists or looking for deals) having a bulky bag becomes more problematic. One way around this, depending on how you travel, is keeping some decks in your room and switching them out each day. Another way to boost game diversity without carrying more is to borrow decks if you are traveling with friends.
Regardless of how many decks you bring I recommend bringing a small binder or relatively empty deck box with you. Big Magic trips generally include a large number of vendors, unless you do something like BruCon. When you combine this with the sharp Magic oriented minds of your fellow players, there is a golden opportunity to make changes to your deck. It may be adding foils, finding a great deal on an item not available at your LGS, or finding a card you never thought of. Regardless of why you’re swapping out cards, know that will likely happen. When it does, you’ll want a place to put the cards that you’ve cut. Having the binder handy also gives you the option to get cards for other decks or have your cards pulled out and ready for artist signatures.
Comfort and Sustenance
Magic decks get heavy. Make sure you have a good bag to carry everything in. Not only does it need to transport your cards safely, but it has to to be functional as you move through the event. I’ve seen people with big roller bags that can’t play games at the middle of a table because they can’t get their stuff in. Don’t limit where you can have fun unless you have too. I recommend a backpack or messenger bag, depending on your preference, with a very good strap. Your shoulders will thank you later.
You also should make sure that you have access to food/water throughout the event. I like bringing a water bottle that’s easily refillable and some snacks stashed in my bag. Don’t forget to take care of your body while you’re busy having fun.
I love big Magic trips and I’ve made a handful. That being said, I’m still making mistakes when I travel or encountering new issues. The first GP that I attended, even though I was playing in the main event, I still brought four or more Commander decks. I never got to use them but lugged my enormous backpack around just the same. While I attend Gen Con regularly, I’ve had three main versions of the trip as an adult. The first was when we drove from Chicagoland. We were able to store our suitcases in the car and carried five or more decks with me everywhere. The bag was heavy, but you get used to it. I’ve flown in a day early while another person in the group was there with a car. That meant the only day I was carrying anything heavy was the last day (the rest of the time I was able to rotate decks in the room). This year has it’s own unique challenge. I’m flying in, but on Thursday morning. Our hotel isn’t fancy enough to let us store our bags there nor do we have a car to store things in. That means that Thursday and Sunday I’m likely carrying more than just my con stuff.
Traveling for a major Magic event can be an absolute blast, but you need to plan ahead. How and when you travel should influence how you pack. The same goes for a realistic expectation of how many games you want to get in a day. You don’t want to carry more than you have to, but also want to have a varied experience of play. Do you have any secrets or tips for traveling to a major Magic event? If you do, I’d love to hear them.
Until next time, happy brewing
– Cowboy Kyle