MTG and Poker to compete for largest-ever card game tourney on same weekend in Vegas

Poker is the king of card games.

Photo via dupo-x-y/Flickr (CC BY 2.0) | Remix by Fernando Alfonso III

Poker is the king of card games. The world record for largest card game tournament—8,773 players—was set by the World Series of Poker’s Main Event during the Texas Hold ’Em revival back in 2006. This year, the World Series of Poker is looking to break that record with a special low-buy-in tournament called “The Colossus.”

Magic: the Gathering, the classic fantasy trading card game, won’t let poker hold the title so easily. The upcoming release of the Modern Masters 2015 set might be one of the most anticipated releases in Magic history. And the company’s developer, Wizards of the Coast, is planning a triple Grand Prix tournament weekend exclusively for it. One of those Grand Prix, set in Las Vegas, is aiming to fill 10,000 seats—twice what Magic had when it set the largest trading card game tournament record back in 2013 with the release of the original Modern Masters set.

Both the WSOP Colossus and the Modern Masters 2015 Grand Prix look primed to break records for their respective games, and both will challenge each other for the record of the largest card game tournament in history.

The catch? They’re also both happening in Las Vegas on the same weekend at the end of May, with less than three miles between them. Records are bound to be broken, but whether Magic ends up finally toppling poker—or whether poker successfully defends against its rival upstart—will only be determined at the end of what promises to be one of the biggest card gaming tournament weekends in history.

To be clear, poker will still remain the king of card games. The largest online card game tournament, set by Pokerstars in 2013, had 225,000 players. But in terms of live attendance, poker has been unable to get close to its former record, with WSOP Main Event entrance numbers since rarely breaking 7,000.

“The Colossus” is World Series of Poker’s attempt to change all that. With just a $565 buy-in—and a guaranteed minimum $5 million prize pool—WSOP actually needs to break its old record just to break even (with 8,850 players, to be exact). However, with four flights, The Colossus has a maximum capacity of over 24,000, and Seth Palansky, VP of Communications at Caesars Entertainment—the company that runs WSOP—doesn’t think breaking the old record will prove difficult.

“The response to this event has been the most significant in the eight WSOP’s I’ve worked,” he says, “ The Colossus has really struck a chord with people.”

Meanwhile, on the other side of the strip, what looks to be the largest Magic: the Gathering tournament in history is being planned by Channel Fireball, a popular card and board gaming website. The release of the Modern Masters 2015 set is exciting for a number of reasons, with the primary one being the likely reprinting of popular and competitive cards used in the game’s “Modern” format.

With a few exceptions, Modern includes all cards printed since 2003’s Eighth Edition release, and is a powerful and complex way to play Magic: the Gathering. However, certain Modern cards are increasingly difficult to get ahold of, and Modern Masters sets allow players new opportunities to get those cards. One of the already spoiled cards, the $200 Tarmogoyf, still has a steep price despite a reprint from the original Modern Masters set.

While Modern Masters 2015’s reprintings promise value to all traders and collectors, the set is also generating hype based on the “Draft” format from the original Modern Masters. Drafting is a competitive format that involves opening packs at a table with other competitors, picking cards out of those packs and passing them around. In many ways, this increases the complexity of the game, rewarding flexibility and problem solving rather than preparation and simply using the “best deck.”

Many consider 2013’s Modern Masters as one of the best draft formats ever, but limited availability of the set meant few had the opportunity to play it—and almost nobody does just a couple years later.

Grand Prix Las Vegas, therefore, represents one of the most exciting events of the year for Magic players, and will likely be the game’s biggest event ever. Over 3,500 players have already registered, and Channel Fireball employee Chris Davis doesn’t think filling all 10,000 seats will be a problem.

“If we build it, they will come,” he says.

Regardless, their current record is just 4,492 players, and Channel Fireball is very likely to break its own record this year.

In fact, it’s keeping a running tally—and currently sits just shy of its all-time record at 4,124.

Currently, there’s no way of telling which event will end up on top. Poker definitely has a higher ceiling, but still has yet to beat its 2006 record. Meanwhile, Magic has been growing steadily and looks primed to shatter its 2013 record, by a mile. Bottom line—regardless of which game you fancy, both will likely be talked about for years to come.

The Colossus begins May 29 at the Rio in Las Vegas. Grand Prix Las Vegas begins May 29, at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Both are currently accepting pre-registration, and both will be broadcast exclusively via online streams.