»13th May 2018

GP

Last year I went down to the Magic Grand Prix (GP) at the Birmingham NEC. This year I went again.

The GP is a huge, touring tournament that moves around the various cities of the world. For the professional players of Magic: The Gathering, this is the primary way for them to progress in the world of competitive Magic. For the people who attend Friday Night Magic events, I suppose it's a big, fun tournament for them to play in an opportunity for them to indulge all their hyper-competitive, completely-devoid-of-social-skills power fantasies. For me, the GP is an opportunity to wander around the stalls admiring old cards and getting signed artist prints. Because after all, it was the art that got me into Magic in the first place.

Last year I went down to the Birmingham GP and met the artists that were there. There was only really one artist who I was really excited about--Pete Venters, who did the art on many of my favourite goblin cards from when I first got into the game in like, late 1997. It turned out Greg Staples, who was also there was responsible for a whole bunch of pieces I recognised too. This year, things were different because thanks to the release of Dominaria, Magic is in the middle of a nostalgia-driven golden age, so the GP was attended by many more artists, and much higher profile ones, than last year.

You can't write about a GP without at least one photo of a load of people sat down playing cards in a huge convention centre. Seriously, every single photo could be this. No matter what angle you view a GP from, it looks like this.

The big name this year was John Avon, renowned artist of luscious basic lands who everyone absolutely adores. There was also a trio of old school 1993 artists, in Mark Tedin, Dan Frazier and Mark Poole. This was incredibly exciting for me as I love all those artists. There were some other more current and active artists like rk post, but it was The Big Four that I was interested in.

Collecting Biomass

It's a roughly two hour drive down to the NEC and as soon as I was on the slip road to the M1 after leaving my house I could hear what sounded like rain on the windscreen, except it was a lovely sunny day. I was actually hearing the sound of hundreds of aphids splatting into my car, as I apparently drove through a cloud blanketing the entire north of England. The screen wash ran out immediately so I would be spending more time with my dead insectoid friends.

Just to let you know, the photos in this blog update are going to be off. the. hook.

"I once had an entire race killed just to listen to the rattling of their dried bones as I waded through them." —Volrath

Look at the framing and composition on that one. And what exciting subject matter: a car bumper.

The usual route to the NEC is down the M1 and then down the M42, which is quick and stress free. So of course, the one junction I needed had to be closed and I had to come off the motorway early and snake through various A-roads. At one point the satnav tried to send me onto the M6 toll road, so about twenty minutes was wasted trying to find a new route that involved a lot of doubling back.

I got to the NEC at about 13:30, as you approach billboards direct you to whichever part of the centre you need to be at. For anyone who hasn't been, the NEC is huge, like an airport. It's actually pretty close to Birmingham's airport as well, so there is a whole ecosystem of hotels and whatnot around it, making it feel even bigger, like some vast post-war 'facility'. There were a few other events on at the same time as the GP. The first sign I spotted, tantalising, was 'CHEERLEADERS'. Last year, in the hall adjacent to the GP was The Festival of Quilts (really). 'CHEERLEADERS' was surely an upgrade over that.

Sadly, I only saw the one sign pointing towards 'CHEERLEADERS' and it was apparently at the opposite end of the centre to where I was going. Alongside signs for 'Magic GP' was 'Bodypower'. Great: Gym gorillas. At least it would be entertaining seeing the culture clash of B.O.-ridden neckbeards and guys who just look like bright orange inverted triangles.

I think I entered the first car park by mistake and it was full anyway. I was directed into the adjoining one and was wondering when I'd see any of the Magic lot, there were a lot of tank tops and a lot of yoga pants. And that was just the guys ('lol!') Bodypower was definitely attracting a specific clientele. The standard look for the women was too much make-up; either platinum blond or jet black long hair; yoga pants--the 'I do a lot of squats on Instagram' look. For the guys, imagine Diamond Dallas Page; lots of fake tan--look, basically DDP.


Ladies

It was only once I approached the cavernous entrance to the GP, after a half-mile walk from the car park, that I started to the see the more familiar site of lots and lots of backpacks, cargo shorts, and greasy ponytails. Hey, that's me!?

Once at the GP, I proceeded straight past the people playing Magic.

Mark Tedin

Mark Tedin was one of the original Magic artists in 1993 and illustrated a whole bunch of classic cards, many of which are far too rare, expensive and sought after for me to own in card form. He still contributes art to current sets, but no where near as much as in the past. His most famous recent artwork was for Emrakuul, who if you're not familiar with the game is an absolute monster, in both appearance and in game.


Right you have Juzan Djinn, who was for quite a few years the face of Magic, used on booster packs, advertisements, everywhere.

I picked up two prints from Mark Tedin, Juzam Djinn and Jayemdae Tome, both old school 1993 artworks. Mark Tedin had a range of fancy prints on aluminium sheets and such, these looked awesome but were pricey. The prints all had super bright colours, I'm not sure if they were heightened from the originals to stand out more or if that's just what his artwork looks like in person.

Mark Poole


What a cool carpet I have.

Like Mark Tedin, Mark Poole was one of the original Magic artists and illustrated loads of classic cards. He had a whole bunch of prints at various sizes as well as playmats and other things. I have a particular fondness for the Urza's Tower art which has four variations for the seasons so was delighted to find a whole choice of different sizes of prints to choose from. I ended up going with a small set printed onto kind of hardboard stuff that looked like it would frame nicely.


One of the many pieces of Magic artwork where it's cheaper to own a full-size print of the art than the card itself.

Dan Frazier

Dan Frazier was a disappointment. He's responsible for some of Magic's most iconic art and many of my favourites, however, his stand only had playmats. He had absolutely loads of playmats, but I don't really think they'd look good hung up on the wall.

John Avon

John Avon is one of Magic's most beloved artists. Specialising in the art for basic lands, the game's most ubiquitous cards, it's always a big deal when a new set features some of his artwork. The recent humourous/joke set Unhinged featured full art lands with John Avon art that will no doubt only rise in price as a collector's item in the next few years.


Everyone loves John Avon lands. EVERYONE.

John Avon had the largest stand and had a long, long queue of people lining up for signings. Artists usually charge around £1 for signing a card, but John Avon was offering free signings, so it was hard to tell if the massive queue was because it was free or because he's just that popular. It was strange because I couldn't see anyone queueing up holding prints or even playmats to get printed, so I'm guessing he was just signing cards.

With one of the event security guys breathing down my neck I hopped between the queue to the 'direct sales' area where a guy called Guy sorted out people who wanted prints and such. The two guys in front of me had apparently come to the GP without any cash and were hoping to pay using card in an arena full of those mobile card machines that either use WiFi ('don't even try the WiFi, it's appalling') or the mobile network ('Is it just me, or is there like, no signal in here?' 'Maybe, but there's also five thousand people in here, don't forget.')


Now I can has art book.

John Avon had the biggest variety of stuff for sale: playmats, prints in sizes up to A1, even an art book. He had about fifty prints to choose from and was also the cheapest per print, although the quality of the prints probably wasn't as high-end as the other artists.

Bodypower

I was now running low on money, about £9.50, enough to get lunch from the ridiculously overpriced cafés. Or alternatively, to spend on Magic cards. I mean, I've come all this way. I should probably get at least one, right?

Well it didn't take long. My not-really-Standard-legal cat deck needs some more 'Adorned Pouncers'. So I got three. Yes, Magic is a game where Carl gets to pretend he's a proud lion warrior commanding an army of cats. Ahem.

I was out of money and getting hungry, but mission accomplished. Time to head back. I was intimidated by the muscle masses in orbit around the Bodypower Expo. I found out later that a whole bunch of strongmen, including World's Strongest Man and part-time zombie knight, Hapthor Julius Bjornnson, was there. I could have hanged around awkwardly and been too scared to get a photo with them, oh well.

I was really hungry. The entire GP hall smelled of hotdogs and barbeque (much better than B.O.) I looked at one of the cafés: £4.25 for a chicken Cesar wrap. Nope. Back to the car.

Yep, it's another nerds in a convention hall shot. Check out those ventilation pipes though.

Reports of Animals

On the way back I was hoping to avoid the M6 toll road once more and managed to follow quite a lengthy diversion since the M1 junctions 23 and 24 were still closed. The car was still getting plastered in aphids. For one stretch there was a 40mph speed limit due to 'Reports of Animals'. I managed to resist the urge to go call in at a services and get a Burger King and got home in about two hours.

So I had achieved my goal of picking up some prints, stuck to budget (didn't spend the deposit for the house on a Black Lotus and a Timetwister) and didn't sign up to a gym membership. Let's look at what we have learned:



Extar, over, out.

Extar

TCP/IP, it's fucking me off. Other protocols doing little more. Definitely got worse. Now making me curse. Removing IPX. Will it ever work? Never!