Running contests can be fun and rewarding, and a great way to involve your members in the TCG, but the biggest complaint I've seen is that members rarely participate! Find out how to fix that here!
make it fun
The main reason why members don't join contests is because the contests require skills that they don't have. Remember that not everyone is a graphics whiz, some people don't like sharing fanfiction, and many of us can only draw stick figure fanart.
What's a TCG owner to do?
Try to invent fun contests that all the members can participate in!
Sure, you say, that sounds easy, as you roll your eyes.
No, really. I've thought of three ways to go about this. And if you can think of more, that's even better.
option one: mega games
The first and simplest way to create a contest that all members can enjoy is to select a few favorite TCG games (likely candidates are puzzles, hidden links, or "find me" types of games) and pump them up. Make them super hard, or string a bunch of them together in a long series.
Personally, I've had the most success with a superhard hidden links game. I took two pixel art wings that were mirror images of each other (like a right and left wing) and scattered them about ALL of my websites, then challenged members to find them all. Each pair of wings had a name so members could keep track. To make it more difficult, I never said exactly how many there were, AND I gave bonus points for finding both halves of a pair.
At least forty members participated in that one. o.o
Now, even if you don't have several websites to hide items on, chances are that your TCG has many pages that would be great hiding places for stuff! Add in original twists such as the wing pair bonus - make hidden items worth different amounts, make some very small, make some hide on pages that can only be accessed via a hidden link - and your members will love it. Trust me.
Of course, you can pump up other favorites too! Stage a puzzle tournament or challenge your members to get through ten increasingly difficult rounds of "name that tune" or word scramble. Or mix it up, and have a puzzle lead to a warped card game, which in turn leads to a logic puzzle. Offer small rewards along the way to keep interest high and go for it!
option two: multiple divisions
Another option is to allow members to enter in one of several creative divisions, such as avatars, fanart, fanfiction, anime/game/movie reviews, or anything else you can think of. Try to keep a balance between the types; don't have three divisions that require graphics skills and only one about creative writing.
I've tried this too, with moderate success. Because there are multiple divisions, each one will probably get fewer entrants than it would if that division was the entire contest. To combat this, you could allow members to participate in more than one division, but not all.
option three: teams
Finally, you can divide your members into random teams and allow the members to claim points for certain actions such as leveling up, mastering decks, donating deck images, and referring new members.
If you do this, be sure to have a wide variety of ways to earn points. If you plan to give team rewards, remind members that they can only receive rewards IF they participate... anyone with zero points gets zero prizes!
A fun way to encourage lots of participation is to have a bonus reward for members who reach a certain point total AND an extra bonus for the top scoring member of each team. That way, members won't be discouraged from participating even if their team is behind.
Another problem with contest participation is prizes.
Too often, I see TCGs with contests that sound really difficult and the prize is something small like one choice card and two random cards for first place. No one wants to compete for such a tiny prize! (Well, maybe someone would, but I sure wouldn't.)
Offer something GOOD. This is a contest, after all! Put some rare goodies in with the prizes, like choice special cards, rare coupons, or the largest unit of currency. Allow the first, second, and third place winners to claim several choice cards, and shower all participants with a nice selection of randoms.
Another option is to offer non-TCG prizes. These can be free and virtual (hosting, layouts, avatars) or physical items with a "real" value (manga, trading cards, stationery).
If you're offering virtual prizes, be sure to get them finished on time so the winners don't get frustrated or feel cheated. If the prize is webhosting, be sure you can host the winner for at least a year (though permanently is better).
If you're offering physical items, keep two things in mind. First, some players will not be able to give out their mailing address online, so be sure to offer an alternate TCG prize pack or virtual prizes. Second, TCG players can live anywhere in the world, and shipping heavy items such as books internationally can get really expensive, really fast. Stick with small, lightweight items.