This weekend was one of the most exciting set kickoff weekends in memory, as players all around the world—both at home and at one of three Grand Prix taking place on three different continents—worked to unravel the mysteries of Innistrad and reveal some preview cards.
For those who weren't able to experience the mystery, either online or in person, don't worry, we've got you covered too. If you want to see all of the cards previewed so far, check out the Card Image Gallery. Every card previewed—from Melbourne to Detroit to Bologna to the online experience—can be found there, plus cards already shown in the Duel Decks: Blessed vs. Cursed release.
As for the experience of actually taking part in one of the Grand Prix? We've got you covered there as well.
By Ray Walkinshaw
That's the last time I blindly follow a group into a building, make no mistake. My wife and I were walking with our daughter when we happened across a group of people, perhaps four or five strong, eagerly gathered near a darkened doorway. Mistaking it perhaps for a charming establishment where we could quench our thirst and sate our hunger, we joined the group, keen to escape the gathering storm clouds and, as my young daughter would put it, "eat nuggets and chippies and sauce."
A man dressed as a dentist, or perhaps a doctor, welcomed us inside. We followed him down a shadowy hall where he asked us to leave any bags, coats, trinkets, and items of technology in a nearby chest. Ahhh, a classy joint, I thought to myself. He then directed us through a doorway to what I assumed was the main dining room. It was anything but.
In the room stood an operating table, on which lay a single sheet of paper. As my eyes scanned the room, I took in a desk and book case, some cabinets, and a basket filled with disembodied legs.
The blood drained from my face as other grisly items became apparent. A jar of eyeballs on the table, some ears under the desk, and a bottle of brains on a sideboard. "Hey, um," one of our group said, before we all heard the door behind us slam shut and a lock click into place. I grabbed my wife and daughter and held them close—or perhaps they held me close as I whimpered, I can't quite recall.
Someone approached the table and read from the piece of paper. "If you'd like to avoid the same fate," he said, his voice shaking, "assist me in assembling my latest...creation."
What followed was a bloody blur as we muddled through the assorted body parts and pieces around the room, trying to puzzle together what went where. I vaguely remember my daughter gleefully brandishing a severed arm at one point; she really is going to need a talking-to after this. My wife took charge, bless her, directing one gentleman to paw through a pile of ears and another to go elbow-deep in the bottle of brains. I did my best to keep my composure. What appetite I may have had was now well and truly gone.
Eventually, we had assembled a...monster, of sorts, on the operating table. Nobody could bring themselves to look anyone else in the eye. "Very good!" came the man's voice through an air vent, "very good. For your reward, a glimpse at my latest creation, a Magic card!"
We all gathered around a magnifying glass on a cabinet to marvel at it, when one gentleman piped up, "Do you think we should try to escape now, maybe?"
"I saw some keys in a drawer while I was looking for elbows," someone else ventured.
"That would have been good to know 10 minutes ago," my wife snapped, yanking open the drawer. "There's another note," she added, holding it aloft and keeping it out of my daughter's grasp. "No, what have I told you about snatching?"
Another gentlemen peered at this new note, his brow furrowing as his eyes scanned line after line of handwritten madness. "There are weights," he stated, "and some scales. If we can get the weights to match the weight of the key, then I think we can..."
"Urrgghh..." came a groan from the table.
"Quickly, then," I suggested.
We gathered around the scales on the desk, tentatively shifting weights from one side of the scales to the other.
"Try this one."
"No, the other one!"
"Yes, thank you that might do it."
"Not at all."
We'd done it—my wife plucked the key from the scales and strode over to the door. We crowded around her as she wiggled it in the lock for what seemed like an eternity. Suddenly, the first door swung open. "Thaaaat's time! Who wants to do some SCIENCE?!" the doctor bellowed. My wife's key finally clicked into place. The second door swung open, and as one, we fled into the cool, welcoming night.
As you may have guessed, this was a somewhat fictional retelling of our Grand Prix Melbourne escape room experience. It was based on the real thing, though. My wife and our daughter and I did join an existing group, and my daughter did gleefully wave around a disembodied arm. The first puzzle involved picking the correct combination of body parts to unlock the special preview card, and the second puzzle was to get the correct key for the door. All in all, it took less than 15 minutes and was a blast. The props were amazing and the atmosphere terrifying.
By Tobi Henke and Frank Karsten
There is always more to a Grand Prix than the main event. This weekend, participants had an opportunity to immerse themselves into a unique experience set on the plane of Innistrad. Each Grand Prix location had its own Innistrad landmark: Melbourne featured the Stitcher's Lab, Detroit had the Thraben Cathedral, and here in Bologna we visited Markov Manor.
Willing groups of five to nine people could sign up to be locked inside Markov Manor for a fifteen-minute "escape room" experience, in which the participants had to use elements of the room to solve a series of puzzles, obtain the key, and escape in time. Your text coverage reporters, along with a group of other Magic fans, bravely entered as well.
Outside, we were asked to leave all of our possessions in a well-guarded chest. Mobile phones were not allowed in Sorin's ancestral home. We were then directed into a narrow corridor, dimly lit by candles, one of which was carried by a man in Gothic attire. He greeted us and introduced himself as the butler of this place. Speaking of his master, he asked us, "Do you know who Markov is?"
"A vampire, isn't he?" one of our group ventured.
"Of course. We're all vampires here," the butler said with an unsettling glimmer in his eyes, his smiling face illuminated by candlelight from below.
Inside the even darker main hall, we marveled at the paintings, all set in elaborately ornamented frames, at the ancient furnishings of the place, at the sheer stone walls. And at the horrors: body parts protruding from the walls, arms and legs embedded within the masonry, a head forever frozen in the moment of a bloodcurdling scream.
While we took in our surroundings, the clock was ticking, and we had some puzzles to solve! To give you an idea, here are some of the shouts that could be heard from team members:
"What is a five-letter word connected to Innistrad? Can we spell that with these candles?"
"Hey guys, look, we unlocked some lanterns!"
"It looks like this involves some encryption with numbers. Who is good at that?"
"Can we move these stones?"
Among other things, we found a key, hidden messages in the paintings, and a secret latch that opened to reveal a brand-new Magic card. It was in Italian, but we fortunately had a four-time Grand Prix Champion, No. 12–ranked Fabrizio Anteri, with us to translate.
Every five minutes, a harrowing gong went off to indicate the passage of time. Five minutes. Ten minutes. The fifteen-minute mark was fast approaching as we kept on making small mistakes, and we weren't going to beat the time of the best team so far. But then, just in the nick of time, we escaped before the clock sealed our fate. One can only wonder what would have happened to us if we hadn't.
Players responded enthusiastically to the experience. "This was awesome! Really fun to do," said Anteri. Others praised the set design and the production values. "I had never done one of these escape rooms before, but I heard there are a few of them in London. I might explore those as well," Anteri said. "But their setting probably won't be as cool as Innistrad," he laughed.
There are many places where one can solve puzzles. But stepping into a vampire's home on the world of Innistrad? That's Magic.
By Corbin Hosler
The first thing we heard was the ding of the bell, long and deep from the heights of Thraben Cathedral. The chilling sound let us know exactly what we were getting into—Innistrad stands in disarray, its leadership and people decimated, and we had wandered into the middle of it.
As the doors opened on Thraben Cathedral, we were given a simple instruction: find a way out of the sanctuary at all costs. A series of puzzles stood between us and that goal, and there were no easy answers here. While we began to investigate the clues around the room, a local villager prayed to Avacyn for her guidance. Little did we know how bad an idea that was.
The puzzles were challenging, truly—as the villager pointed out to us—a feat of the mind, not of the body. With the iconic stained-glass portrait of Avacyn herself above us, our team began working out the details needed to rejoin the crowd steadily gathering outside of the cathedral.
Our first break came slowly, but once it had—one member of our group exclaiming proudly when he worked out the puzzle to find the candle needed to unlock the next obstacle—progress came quickly. As we progressed, we began to fill up the partially shattered portrait of Avacyn, moving one step closer to escape with each piece.
With the clock running, we finally moved to the last puzzle: splotched ink scrawled on an old piece of parchment. As the team puzzled out how to find the key needed to unlock the exit, it turned out our escape plans were not the only thing in motion. Little did we know what awaited us when we finally found the key that led us once again to us the presumed safety of the outside world.
Avacyn herself was our reward, much to the joy of the villager alongside us. But it didn't take long for that joy to turn to terror, as we heard the shattering of glass and the opening of another set of heavy wooden doors.
We weren't the only ones watching events unfold outside Thraben Cathedral. In front of a huge and quickly growing crowd, Avacyn marveled at the heights of her power, while we took in the wonder of the fallen angel herself.
As the crowd on hand stood in awe, the world outside began to catch up on what exactly was going on in Thraben Cathedral and the rest of Innistrad.
The finals of our PPTQ just paused between games for everyone to admire flip Avacyn. #MTGSOI
— Andrew Rudiger (@nostrangenames) March 6, 2016
— Janelle Bonanno (@s0osleepie) March 6, 2016
— Kyle Hill (@Sci_Phile) March 6, 2016
— Aaron Forsythe (@mtgaaron) March 6, 2016
— Chaz V (@ChazVMTG) March 6, 2016
So ended our trip into Thraben Cathedral. But as we left, meek with the knowledge of the awesome powers at work on this world, we knew our journey into Innistrad was only beginning.