Birmingham City Center
It's about to be a HUGE summer if you're a Commander player in the UK! 2022 sees the return of the much loved CommandFests across the globe, and, courtesy of event organizers Axion Now, Birmingham gets its very own weekend of games, vendors, prizes, and more. On July 9th-10th, Voco St. John's Solihull Hotel will play host to hundreds of eager EDH enthusiasts, with doors open 9.30am - 11pm on Saturday and 8.30am - 10pm on Sunday.
I'm Adam, an avid commander connoisseur from the UK and I'm here to show you how to command and conquer Birmingham this weekend!
Technically speaking, CommandFest Birmingham isn't actually happening in Birmingham; to be more precise, it's being held in Solihull, a market town on the outer edge of the city, known for being the birthplace of the Land Rover and home to the British Equestrian team (I know, very fancy!). Considered one of the nicer areas of Birmingham, Solihull is a beautiful place with a lot to offer new visitors, and the city is even hosting the Commonwealth Games at the end of July.
Voco St. John's Solihull Hotel
The venue itself is a charming hotel and conference center situated just on the edge of town, just a short walk from Solihull train station, 10 miles from the center of Birmingham and only 5 miles from Birmingham Airport, so let's take a look at everything you need to know to get the most out of what should be an excellent weekend!
Take Rest, Weary Traveler
If you're a weekend warrior looking to sling spells from dusk till dawn, then you'll need suitable accommodation for the early starts and late finishes. Now, you might be saying, "But Adam, the venue IS a hotel? I can just stay there and never leave," which would be great if the rooms weren't already fully booked! Thankfully, there are plenty of hotels available only a stone's throw away and a whole city to explore (if you can find the time).
With the Premier Inn around the corner also already booked up, the closest hotels to the venue are going to be the Travel Lodge, at approx £180 a night, and the Crowne Plaza, at approx £200. Both are situated in the town center and only half a mile from CommandFest, making them the go to picks for last-minute bookings. Alternatively, you have the cheapest option in the area, the Village Hotel, at only £175 per night but situated a little under 3 miles from the venue.
If you're looking for a little more comfort and are driving for the weekend, then a top end option would be the Genting Hotel, at approx £300 per night and 5 miles from the festivities. What you sacrifice in distance and cost is made up for by the higher comforts and close proximity to Birmingham's renowned Resorts World shopping center. If hotels aren't your thing, then there are also plenty of options available on AirBnB as low as £74 a night and as high as £175, which work out great if you're traveling as part of a group to divide the costs.
Food and Drink
Clearly the biggest question of the weekend is "Where do we go to eat?". By the evening, you've no doubt joined a large rabble of rowdy deckmasters and you need to find a suitable establishment to recreate the last supper. But fear not! The little town of Solihull has been preparing for this invasion and provides a surprisingly wide variety of eateries and taverns for the hungry convention-goer.
With the venue being right on the northern edge of town, you're only a short walk from so many restaurants and bars. Of course, there are all your usual chain places, with your choice of Zizzi, Wagamama, Turtle Bay, Pizza Express, Nandos, Five Guys, and TGIFridays, to name a few, but we can get those anywhere, so let's live life on the edge and try something new. I've decided to hand-pick five of the more characterful places in the area that are all reasonably priced, less than half a mile from the venue and, more importantly, open past 10pm.
First on my list is The Delhi, an authentic Indian restaurant with a charming interior and welcoming staff, it boasts the best curry in town with a blend of classic Eastern dishes and new twists on the menu. Second up is The Funky Bear, bringing your classic British mixed menu to a quirky interior with a classic drinks bar. Good vibes inside and perfect for any group that can't decide on what to eat. Up next is KIBOU, bringing a taste of Tokyo to the West Midlands (their words, not mine).
Serving a signature range of contemporary dishes along with a great cocktail menu, the go-to pick if you're in the mood for a steamed bun and a singapore sling. On the subject of good drinks, fourth on my list is Paramo Lounge, a cozy lounge bar with a friendly atmosphere that even serves food. Last but not least is Jamaya, a vibrant Jamaican restaurant serving up multi-award-winning jerk chicken, so if you're a fan of heat and looking for a friendly atmosphere, then this is your spot.
Local Gaming Stores
The excitement of a Magic event can often be so overwhelming that you find yourself arriving with nothing but the 'I Heart John Avon' shirt on your back, and in your eagerness to enjoy the event you've forgotten to pack any sleeves, playmats, deck boxes, or even cards, but it's not the end of the world: there are actually a fair number of local game stores to quench your thirst for cardboard and cardboard accessories.
Despite being a small town, Solihull actually has its own Geek Retreat only 5 minutes walk from the venue that plays host to a great little community of TCG players; they'll no doubt help you with anything you may need to prepare for the weekend, even if it's some warm-up games at their FNM. If you're looking for more of a unique independent store vibe and are willing to travel into Birmingham city center, you can find the treasure trove of nerdery that is Wayland's Forge and the wide variety of stock at Battleground Gaming UK.
Sights to See
If you're lucky enough to get some time over the weekend to explore the hugely diverse Birmingham, then you've got a great variety of destinations to explore and discover. For those looking for some retail therapy, the city hosts many excellent places for shopping and food. From the famous Bullring & Grand Central mall to Brindleyplace, there's somewhere for everyone. If it's a bit of history you're looking for or just want to pretend to be a Peaky Blinder, then I highly suggest walking the canals around Gas Street Basin and checking out the frozen-in-time 'Back to Backs'.
I hope that this guide has proved useful for you, and I cannot wait to get a load of games in and meet as many of you as possible, so if you spot me then please do say hello! I'll be giving out proxies and other goodies across the whole weekend (unless I run out). CommandFest is going to be an exciting mixing pot of players and power levels and shaping up to be a memorable landmark on the UK MTG Calendar.
So remember to make the most of it, enjoy yourself at your own pace and, most importantly, respect each other. See you there!!