Magic Prereleases

Posted in Feature on September 14, 2004

By Alex Shvartsman

Of all Magic tournaments, no kind is more near and dear to a casual player's heart than a Prerelease. Scheduled three times a year, these Prerelease tournaments allow participants to play with the brand new cards a week or two before they hit store shelves. Whereas an average PTQ attendance is about 100 players, it is not uncommon for a Prerelease to gather over 500! Some organizers do even better – Rob Dougherty in Boston consistently gets about a thousand people at his Prereleases! These numbers are largely due to a huge number of casual players who do not attend qualifiers but love an opportunity to get their hands on the brand new cards a little early.

vexing arcanix
The very first Prerelease style tournament was held in Toronto for Ice Age. It was not an official Wizards of the Coast tournament – more of a “release” than a “Prerelease” event even. The players absolutely loved it. A fun trivia story from that event is the special errata given to the card Vexing Arcanix. Since no one knew Ice Age cards yet, during that tournament players were allowed to describe what the card they are naming does, rather than say the actual card name when activating the Arcanix.

Having seen proof that Prereleases are much desired by the Magic community, Wizards of the Coast scheduled the first official Prerelease for Homelands in New York City. Called “The Gathering 1,” this was truly a special event. Wizards rented out two floors of the New Yorker Hotel. They converted part of the space into a fantasy setting, trying to show off the different colors of Magic. They flew out a plethora of Magic artists as well as Richard Garfield and other top Magic names to sign and gunsling at the event. It was a two-day affair, and although Homelands was not exactly the best Magic expansion the company ever produced, the Prerelease concept once again proved itself to be very viable.

Wizards of the Coast relied on its own resources to run The Gathering 1 – but they do not run the modern Prereleases. It is up to the professional organizers contracted by WOTC to do the job. Here in New York, such an organizer is Grey Matter Conventions. They ran the very first PTQ ever held and do plenty of other high-end events. They are especially busy on Prerelease weekends, as they run events in New York City, New Jersey, upstate New York, Philadelphia, and Long Island!

If you have never attended a Prerelease before, expect a very large tournament with low level of rules enforcement and generally friendly, laid back opponents. Competitive players like me generally stay out of this kind of tournament, preferring to join side drafts instead. You will likely have a lot of questions about just how exactly the new cards work – never fear, each Prerelease has plenty of judging staff who will be able to explain the new cards to you.

Most Prerelease events run in flights or pods – basically dividing hundreds of attendees into manageable smaller tournaments of 32 to 64 players. Over the course of a day you can join several of these pods and get your hands on more cards. InQuest magazine has made a tradition of showing up at their local Prerelease to trade for cards. They are almost always able to complete a full set by the end of the day! If they can do it, so can you. If you fancy yourself a good trader, you can set yourself a challenge of completing a set on the very first day. Few succeed, but I've seen it done. In fact, I once saw someone complete a FOIL set over the weekend of the Prerelease – though it was for a smaller expansion set rather than a standalone.

shivan dragon
While waiting for your round to end, there are a few more fun things to do at a Prerelease. You can shop at the dealers – they will often have older or promo cards in stock that your local store does not carry. At some Prereleases, you can also meet and get your cards signed by some of the Magic artists. I am especially excited about the upcoming Prerelease in Connecticut, where Tom Shay has secured Melissa Benson's agreement to come to the signing. One of the early Magic artists, Benson is best known for shivan dragon. She does not often do signings at Magic events anymore, so it is a special treat to have her show up.

Another great thing about Prereleases is getting a special foil promotional card unique to that tournament. It is usually a card that highlights some of the themes and mechanics of the new set – like Laquatus's Champion for Torment and Glory for Judgment. Mirrodin block saw Sword, Shield, and Helm of Kaldra as Prerelease promos, and while I cannot tell you what the Champions of Kamigawa promo card is going to be, rest assured you will find it interesting.

This coming weekend, make it a point to attend a Prerelease. If you are busy on Saturday, keep in mind that most Prereleases are run on both days, so you can always attend on a Sunday – or make a weekend out of it and play both days. To find a Prerelease near you, visit the Wizards of the Coast web site and view this page:

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