A Full Breakdown of MTG CommandFest – The Return of In Person Play

Richmond Convention Center

When I saw the news that Magic: The Gathering would be hosting an in-person event I was pretty excited. After Covid hit the world we lost the Gathering in Magic, and everything went digital. So when the news came out that in-person festivals were coming back in the way of CommandFest, I was pumped. Got my ticket the day of and started guilting my playgroup to join me.

My group doesn’t exactly love to attend these types of things. Some of our veteran players wanted nothing to do with another event like this and warned that it would be full of neckbeards and un-washed individuals that the Magic community can sometimes attract. But a couple good friends and I took a four hour drive up to the first CommandFest being held in Richmond, VA. And man, it was a blast.

The three of us purchased the “VIP” experience for the event which came with 4x Foil Promo Sol Rings, a Sol Ring deck box, a Path of Ancestry playmat, and 8 copies of the promo Path of Ancestry (4x foil and 4x not). This also included 4 on-demand event vouchers and 3 pre-release tickets.

Before heading up we started brainstorming decks we wanted to have, trades we wanted to make, and artists we wanted to meet. Hours upon hours were put into organizing trade binders to make life easier once we got to the event, and let me tell you it was worth it. You will be confronted with so many cards and vendors, if you want to trade then get prepared because it will save you a lot of time.

On our drive up we started planning for the events we wanted to make it to. Having no clue how long things may take we assumed that we would have a bit of extra time and may even be able to sneak enough time into our schedules to hop into a Mystery Booster Draft…

The Events

We pulled into the convention center about an hour before the first pre-release draft for Commander Legends: Baldur’s Gate was set to fire. We grabbed our badges and signed up. The companion app (which is mandatory for these events – make sure you know your password) assigned everyone a table number. Even though we had all signed up at the same time we were still separated at different tables. The draft was great fun, everyone was super friendly and not the crowd I often find at my LGS, which was surprising to me. While this is the only CommandFest that has a pre-release attached to it, I’m sure others will still draft it. Make sure you at least take a quick glance at the cards of high value before jumping in, as I had a few high dollar mythic cards being passed to me from others in my pod. Once the final event ended I took a glance at my watch and it had been four and a half hours at just this one draft! The draft took about an hour to pull cards and build a deck, and then there were two separate rounds of play.

From here we knew we needed a game plan if we were going to make it to every event we had a ticket for and still shop at vendors and meet the people we wanted to. So we planned to arrive about 30 minutes early the next day to sign up for an on-demand event before our next draft.

Cut to the next morning, 30 minutes early and running on a 7/11 Poptart. We walk up to the door ready to hop in and are greeted by a 30-minute long line, and unfortunately missed that event. But that’s fine, it gave me the chance to offload a few cards in exchange for a beautiful borderless Blightsteel Colossus for my Satoru commander deck.

The rest of the day was spent hopping into pre-releases and playing on-demand events in the afternoon. The on-demand events were simple enough; you sign up and once there are four people they fire the event. These events can be either casual or competitive. I don’t think we ever waited more than five minutes for an event to fire from the time we signed up. Once we sat down with our new pod and had the usual introductions we would go over what decks we wanted to play and the power level we were trying to stay in. I found most people were looking to stay around power level seven in casual, and most were honest about their deck’s strength (although I did see a few games where the casual decks were far from casual).

Saturday was by far the busiest day of the event and you would see lots of attendees walking around with a red one-day pass. This also meant that vendors, artists, and content creators were the busiest on this day as well. We found it to be the best day to play and not deal with much shopping.

As the day came to an end we exited the convention center around 8pm (11 hours later). Our only break in the day was a lunch break at a sandwich shop across the street. We grabbed some food at a local restaurant and then went straight to our hotels. I spent about 30 minutes un-sleeving some draft cards and scanning my rare cards on TCG to see if I pulled any unknown value. After that, we called it a night and were exhausted.

When Sunday rolled around we were much more prepared and got to the convention center earlier and ready to go. It was not anywhere near as crowded as the day before and we hopped into an event before the next pre-release. I spent the day running around and talking to players and getting a few tokens and cards signed by the artists I enjoy (which on Sunday hardly had any line so it made it much more enjoyable).

A few signed cards

Once the final event was called we cashed out any more prize tickets we had and hit the road to return back home. Everyone was tired and we didn’t want to look at a Magic Card for the next few days, but we all agreed we would definitely go back to the next one.

Prize Wall and Tickets

While prize support may vary depending on the CommandFest I can tell you how ours worked. I couldn’t find any info on it before attending so hopefully this may help some.

For every event you play, you are given some tickets. For the pre-release, a judge would come around about 10 minutes into the game (so you didn’t just take your tickets and run) and hand each player 50 tickets. Another 100 tickets would be placed in the middle for the winning player to take. Once we got to two players remaining I always offered to split the tickets 50/50 to the other guy and then just play it out to see what happens. Which most players were usually interested in doing. Should time run out and it’s a draw the judges will come around and split it among the remaining players. In one case we had a four way draw after time and turn counters so the judges gave each player 30 tickets.

For casual on-demand, the prize was 80 tickets to every player and no additional tickets for winning. This meant that you really could play decks for fun and most people weren’t going to lie about power levels just to win.

For competitive a bit more was on the line with the winner taking a large number of tickets.

Of course, nothing was stopping you from trying to get the entire table to throw in all their tickets into one prize pool in casual or pre-release, but I can tell you most people didn’t want to do that when another player suggested it in our pods.

At one end of the hall is a large wall with things you can then spend these tickets on. Things ranged in prices from 10 tickets to several thousand tickets. Some examples are two dice for 10 tickets, a Commander Legends: Baldur’s Gate draft pack for 50 tickets, a Commander Legends: Baldur’s Gate pre-con deck for 400 tickets, and up from there. You could find collector boosters, deck boxes, boxes from about 7 different sets, playmats, and tons of things in between.

If you play a few events you should at least be able to get a new commander pre-con, so definitely worth it to hold onto those tickets. You will see people trying to trade for tickets, and one day pass members even giving tickets away. A lot of people would trade the tickets from an on-demand event for another on-demand voucher just to play more.

We stopped by on Saturday night to claim most of our prizes, and it’s a good idea if there is anything you really want. When we came back Sunday about half the boxes and a good amount of the commander decks were sold out.

Card Trading & Good Deals

The venue will be filled with both individuals with binders as well as vendors from well-known shops. If you have a lot to offload look for the vendors for help. You will have to sit for a while while they look up cards and determine value, but it will save you a lot of time in the long run. Always take the store credit option as well if you see anything you want to take home as you will get more value from that than cash.

I saw some players with very well-organized binders that had QR codes you could scan for a full list of what was inside, as well as some that had no organization. If you want to trade among other players I highly recommend you organize things.

Some vendors have “heavy played” binders. You should definitely check these out if you are looking for any cards that might usually be too expensive. We found some awesome deals out of these just because the cards were a bit worn around an edge or had a scratch on the back. The event host also had huge heavy played boxes at their stand where you could take 50 cards for $20. We brought home stacks of mythic, rare, tutors, and more for a great deal. These binders and boxes will get picked through quickly so definitely suggest looking for them in the first couple of days.

Also, keep a lookout on the whiteboards/screens in front of each vendor for the buy list they have going. They often change and you may just be sitting on some cards you didn’t know held such value.

(Source: 341 Event Booth)

Hotels, Food, Parking

A final few words regarding just making things easier at the event. Hotels near the event will definitely be more costly, but they also usually attract a lot of attendees. Do with that what you will. If you are looking to play more after the event or just hang with MTG players stay at the close-by ones. They were always having parties afterward.

Food is costly at the convention center and usually isn’t that great. We asked locals what they would recommend and were not disappointed in the options. Might be a 20-minute walk away but the food was top quality and way cheaper.

Lastly, I did watch people sweeping glass out of their cars after their windows had been bashed in. While the community is great, remember that you are usually in a large city for these events and people around the area may know how much value some of these cards can hold. Don’t leave binders or cards out for passing people to see through a window. I would recommend leaving everything in your hotel room with a do not disturb sign on the door if you don’t need it that day at the event.

Final Thoughts

Everything from the players to the judges was great at CommandFest. Of course, there were a few hiccups with throwing such a big event after years of no in-person play, but it was handled well and problems were addressed quickly. If you want to get out and meet more players and enjoy what Magic has to offer I highly recommend going to one near you. Grab some friends or go solo, it will definitely be worth it. The event really brought people back together, which is what Magic the Gathering should be about.

Joshua Myers
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Joshua Myers

Writer for Petition Play and lover of all things gaming

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