Changing the Prerelease Experience

Written by John Cuvelier on . Posted in Casual Magic, Competitive Magic, Limited

7:00am Friday Morning. I get ready for work like every other Friday. Knowing the prerelease is a mere 17 hours away it’s on my mind most of the day. I get off at 4:00pm and head over to a friend’s house to hang out until we can go to the LGS for some sweet prerelease action. We try out some of our new standard brews and that really gets us pumped up for midnight. We show up at 11:45pm and attempt to register. It’s a full crowd; a store that can hold 100 players is at capacity. Luckily we were the last four slots available and got in. 5:00am rolls around and our group runs it back without a hiccup. This time there was about half as many people, but still a respectable sized event for 5:00am.

It’s now 10:00am and the next event isn’t until 2:00pm. We decide we’re in full degenerate mode and want to play the next event at 2:00pm. The store closes for a couple hours and we use this time to get breakfast, play some Mario Kart and before we know it it’s 1:30 and it’s time to head back to the store. We get there at 1:45 and it’s more crowded than the midnight event. We go to register and the employee says “you preregistered, right?” to which we replied that wasn’t an option. “Sorry” he says. The event is capped. The excitement we had that once filled our hearts is deflated and whatever energy we had left to keep chugging along was stolen from us. Sure the store was partially to blame for not offering preregistration. But even if they did at 100 players these events shouldn’t be capping. Someone is getting turned away whether it was us or someone else. There was also a store less than five minutes away from this store that was also capped at around 100 players as well. There has to be a better way.

The Problem – Hype Train:

The issue of being turned away could be attributed to the expeditions. Everyone at the prerelease felt like Charlie from Willy Wonka. We all just wanted that Golden Ticket. The influx of players meant that the stores simply couldn’t handle the uptick in players. Every time a set brings a lot of hype or heaven forbid they continue doing something similar to Expeditions this is going to happen. But space alone wasn’t the only issue.

Product distribution was also a real problem. Some stores had the space but simply ran out of product. Others like this one had the Product but no space. Even after requesting additional product in fear of running out it simply wasn’t enough. This can be fixed if WOTC would allow stores to request the correct amount of product. As it currently sits WOTC distributes according to historic data at that store. For example if at Origins Prerelease a store used 100 Prerelease Kits then at Zendikar they would get 120 Prerelease Kits. The problem is when a set brings a lot of hype a store simply cannot handle the influx in players. Not from lack of willingness but lack of product.

Potential Solution – Better Product Distribution:

This is where WOTC needs to step up. A simple solution could be for stores to let WOTC know the cap they can have for each event. For simplicity let’s say 100. WOTC could just send the LGS 100 prerelease packs for every prerelease event they sign up for. Whatever leftover product they have they can send back to WOTC or keep to sell; depending on whichever they determine is a better model. This is something that should have been implemented immediately up the switch to store prereleases because it’s such an easy fix to the problem.

The Problem – Space Jam:

WOTC moved away from regional prereleases to grow the community and it’s LGS’s. They did a great job, such a great job in fact that the stores are meeting their capacity. This however creates the problem of having to turn players away. Now a player like me although frustrated it happened isn’t a huge deal. It won’t prevent me from playing magic in the future. But let’s say Timmy was excited to go to his first prerelease and gets turned away. This experience is far worse and can lead Timmy to conclude it’s not worth going back if he doesn’t get to play. Maybe this Timmy would be the next Kai or Finkel. The world would never know because Timmy got turned away. Now of course this is very unlikely that Timmy would be the next big thing, but even as a casual contributor to the game; being turned away is bad for the game. In an alternate reality where Timmy gets to play, most likely he would continue to do so, spending countless hours and dollars to the game he would grow to love. I could go on all day about how this can negatively impact the game.

This is the problem. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fantastic problem to have. This means Magic is getting so popular that the current stores can’t house all the players even when there’s ample space available. The more Magic grows the better it is for all of us.

Potential Solution – Regional Size Me:

At first I thought the best thing to do would be to reintroduce Regional Prereleases and stop doing store ones. Then I realized that simply cannot happen because WOTC made the change to grow the community and reverting back would go against everything they’ve been working towards. I do believe adding a Regional Prerelease on top of store Prereleases could do just the trick.

Before I delve into how that could work I want to just really briefly let those of you unfamiliar with Regional Prereleases to get a little more acquainted. Regional Prereleases would start at midnight just like those at your LGS. They were held in hotels or convention halls that could fit hundreds. There were vendors where you could buy and sell cards, including the ones you just opened! With the expansion of the game I believe finding a location that can fit closer to possibly 1000 depending on the area would be correct. Of course every region is different and whoever WOTC felt like putting in charge could make that determination. Instead of one giant event they would hold “flights” of 32 people. As soon as they got 32 people the event started. These events paid out based on record. They also paid out more product than the current models. These flights were also five rounds of swiss instead of the current four. These flights would continue all weekend for as long as they got 32 players they would start.

Then on Saturday at around 2-4pm they would start booster drafts. That’s right! Instead of having to wait until Release weekend to get your draft on you could start at the prerelease. A lot of players would simply wait until Saturday and come up to do just drafts. This certainly contributed to a golden age of limited play you just don’t see any more in my opinion.

Sunday there was the “mega flight”. This event would be a top heavy payout that would cut to top 8. If you win this event you’re looking at walking away from a prerelease with three or four boxes all for about 25$. How the current model is it’s mathematically impossible to walk away with that much product even if you spend hundreds of dollars playing in all the prerelease events your LGS offers.

With that said, there’s a couple ways in which they could correct this problem. One solution could be to allow LGS’s to have the midnight and even a 5:00am event that’s exclusive to just LGS’s. Starting Saturday around 10:00am have the Regional prerelease start allowing players who don’t or can’t travel the opportunity to still play while the chances of being turned away diminish significantly. The Regional event could be just like the past with flights firing on demand or they could choose to change the format. Either way this would allow players the chance to see friends they don’t regularly see in a more casual atmosphere players don’t necessarily get much exposure to anymore. This would also reduce players being turned away to 0.

Another solution could be to simply run both simultaneously. You could have the LGS’s run events like they’ve been doing all along and just allow the players the option to go to the Regional event if they so choose. Although you would be taking away a portion of the player bases from the stores, the players wouldn’t be turned away. I feel like this is something that needs to be done. If both events run simultaneously then you wouldn’t need as big as an event hall for a Regional prerelease. There would be a bit of trial and error but I feel this is something that needs to be implemented sooner rather than later.

Maybe I’m just overacting because it happened to me. But as I looked around at numerous shops I saw the truth that players were turned away from having fun with their friends. I’m not suggesting my possible solutions are a fix to the current model. I’m saying that the current model is close to broken. It’s better to find a fix now then wait until it happens more frequently.

What do you think? Let’s come up with a solution as a community. Magic is too fun to be left wishing you could play.

John Cuvelier
@JCuvelier on Twitter
Gosu. on MTGO

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