PAX Prime Behind the Scenes!

Posted in Arcana on August 24, 2015

By Michael Yichao

Yichao is a writer of words for plays, television, theme parks, and—most recently—Magic: The Gathering. He loves Cube Draft and corgis.

PAX Prime is looming ever closer on the horizon, and there are a boatload of cool things happening there this weekend. Of course, these events don't just come together on their own. Putting together the experiences at PAX takes an enormous amount of work, coordination, and planning—and we were lucky enough to catch Toby Maheras, the event manager overseeing all of Wizards' events at PAX, for a quick interview!

All times listed below are Pacific (UTC -7), West Coast time in the United States.

Toby Maheras, on the right, is often seen behind the scenes, but rarely puts himself front and center.

First, the Basics:

NAME: Toby Maheras

JOB AT WIZARDS: Manager, Event Marketing

ROLE WITH PAX: Event Manager for PAX Prime

FAVORITE MAGIC CARD: Hmm . . . just one? I guess right now, Singing Bell Strike.

IF YOU COULD HAVE ANY SUPER POWER: In my job, I could always use more time, so I will say "time travel," or the ability to add extra hours to the day.

How long have preparations for PAX Prime been happening? How long does it take to put the whole show together?

Planning for PAX Prime began at the end of November 2014 and really got going in February and March of this year. We've been working on the plans for this year's show for a good six-plus months. We are still tweaking it down to the wire. I just made some final tweaks to the floor plan this morning (August 19) and we are four days away from load-in. There will be small changes right up until the doors open to the public on Friday, August 28. Plans always look good on paper, but once things move into a live environment, you've got to be able to adjust on the fly.

What was the planning process like? Who all was involved?

Planning events like PAX Prime involves a lot of different groups at Wizards. My team works very closely with Brand, Creative, R&D, Purchasing, Legal and CAPS (Creative and Production Services). We all knew we really wanted to make a statement this year, not only with events and décor, but with the design of the experience itself. It was going to take a company-wide commitment to execute on the plan.

We had two teams: a team focused on developing and maintaining a vision, and a team dedicated to delivering experiences for that vision. Once the vision team sets the stage, the experience team gets to dive into developing the world—décor, event experiences, promotional items, etc. As a group, we all knew we wanted to reach our fans worldwide, and we are accomplishing that through our web streaming of the World Championship, Battle for Zendikar Preview Show (Annex Main Level 7:30–8:30 p.m. on August 29), and Battle for Zendikar Worldbuilding Panel (Hydra Theater, Grand Hyatt 1:30–2:30 p.m. on August 31). I feel that we really put it all out there this year. There is some really cool stuff that I can't wait to see go up during install.

What are you most excited for at PAX Prime?

I think I am most excited to see the fan/attendee reaction to our approach to PAX Prime this year. I feel we have created a very immersive experience for the launch of Battle for Zendikar. There are things that are different this year (some things are very different), and I think we achieved a great balance of experience and content. Feedback and reaction over social media and one-on-one interaction is always what I look forward to—good or bad. The only way you can grow and change is to accept it all!

Avenger of Zendikar | Art by Aleksi Briclot

What do you think will most excite fans?

Attendees will definitely want to try and be part of the Battle for Zendikar Event (4:00–7:00 p.m. on August 29) and the Battle for Zendikar Preview Show (7:30–8:30 p.m. on August 29). A lot of really cool stuff will be revealed during those events. We also put together a very solid track of additional panel and programming content—Devign Time, Drive to Work Live!, Building the Best Worlds in Gaming (a combo D&D/Magic panel), and two game shows on Sunday and Monday. If folks can't get into the BFZ Preview Show, it is being streamed live and then rebroadcast on Sunday morning. We'll also be posting all of our panel content within 24 hours of the live presentation, so fans should be able to feel like they are not missing out on a second.

What was the most challenging part of planning such an event?

Probably the sheer scale of the event. Brian Trunk (Magic Brand Manager and a key stakeholder in PAX) asked me the other day if this was the biggest event I'd ever done. I'm not sure if it is the biggest, but it is definitely the most ambitious! The Pro Tour is and past PAX Primes have been major events, but this is unlike anything we have ever attempted for Magic at a convention. I really don't have a comparable measure. There are so many moving parts to this event—live webcast for the World Championship, camera crews filming the panels, OP events, celebrities to host . . . it's quite a lot!

Did anything surprise you about the process?

Time. Time is always the surprise. No matter how much time you build into a schedule, reality always has a way of making things take twice as long.

Any sweet giveaways attendees should keep an eye out for?

There's always cool stuff. One thing I am particularly proud of is the PAX Prime Battle for Zendikar Commemorative book. This was an item that we'd been kicking around the events team for a while, and with the inclusion of the World Championship at PAX, it seemed like a great fit. I am very proud of all the hard work that Josie Kies, Mike Rosenberg, Matt Adelsperger, and April Glass put into making this a really awesome memento. I hope the attendees like it.

Do YOU think the Zendikari can defeat the Eldrazi?

I hope so. I think they can do it.

Anything parting words of wisdom for PAX attendees?

Have a great show! Pace yourselves, there is always so much to see and do. I hope you will be awed, inspired, and as excited as we are to see what is in store for Magic!

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