I'm going to assume that the majority of my readership who live within a reasonable distance of a local game store have been to a Prerelease event before. Prereleases are super fun, as they are the very first chance we get to play with cards from the new set. This much has been pretty well established over the years of Magic.
Today, however, we are going to talk not about Prerelease events, but about the Release events that happen the weekend after a Prerelease. You see, with all a Prerelease has to offer, it's missing one key item: Booster Draft.
The main difference between Release events and Prerelease events is that Prerelease events are Sealed Deck only but release events include Draft in the mix. For me, this makes the Release an exciting and important weekend, as it's the first time we get to sit down and actually draft cards from packs, out in the wild.
When I go to a Release event, I try to do as many drafts as I can fit in. I've been known to coerce random players in the shop into drafts just to make sure they keep firing. At my local shop, I'm That Guy. The way I see it, I have a Pro Tour to commentate in just a few weeks. Work research and such, you know.
But the truth of the matter is that these initial steps into the Draft environment are both incredibly fun and even quite important. This is where your baseline will start to form as to which colors and cards are best and which archetypes to focus on early. This is where you get to try out the new mechanics and cards for the first time in this environment.
It's important to remember that these are just data points, not conclusive evidence of any sweeping truths about a format. Also keep in mind that many of the players you are drafting and playing against won't be as experienced as you are at evaluating and assessing cards. Or they might be more experienced. Or they might be cyborgs from the future programmed to draft Oath of the Gatewatch. The point is that you shouldn't sweat these first few drafts. Just learn. This is just the beginning of forming what will eventually be your final picture of the format.
But my goodness, does it feel good to finally crack those packs and stare down fourteen different options just waiting to be picked. You'll start to see interactions you hadn't considered, and you'll get to debrief with everyone in the draft afterward about what they drafted and what they thought about it. This does nicely filling the time until the next draft fires or the store closes, whichever comes first.
One goal I bring in, whether I'm drafting or playing anything else, is to win as many booster packs as I can. If I can win a pile of them, that lets me draft more with my group of Magic friends later in the week, which acts as stage two of my Booster Draft initiation schedule.
One note on booster packs and Release events (which also applies to Prerelease events). Don't just crack those packs open. I am known for being averse to this, and here's why it bothers me: it's a loss of value. It's a disturbance in the value force, and I feel it every time you just randomly crack open a booster for no reason. It hurts me. A jellyfish loses its tentacles every time you crack a pack for no value, I swear.
This jellyfish specifically.
While I'm not normally one to tell people what to do with their own property, all I ask here is that you use the pack to further your own Limited development. Or at least have a little fun. I know you want to see which rare you got, and that's exciting. I'm not here to take that from you. I'm here to add to the experience.
So use it to do a Booster Draft. Or a one-on-one Sealed Deck match. Or just use it to do a quick Pack Wars style game against someone else in the shop with an itchy pack finger. Pack Wars is when you open the pack, shuffle it (without looking), and play a game where you have infinite mana of any color. You start with zero cards in hand and draw one card per turn from your "library" (really just the booster pack worth of cards) until someone wins. It's fun, it's quick, and it almost approximates a game of Limited sometimes.
At the very least, when you open it, pretend like it's pack 1, pick 1 of a Booster Draft and discuss your decision accordingly.
I'm not saying not to open the packs, I'm just saying to do it for value.
Okay, back to Release events.
Release events are a great time to get some trading in if you are into that kind of thing. Particularly if you need any of the hottest cards from the new set, you can usually trade some of your previous-set stuff for the new cards. I know people who go to the Release events just to trade. While that's not my particular cup of tea, I will sometimes seek out a sweet new card if I need one. Check out Melissa DeTora's great article from last Friday for more on trading for new cards from Oath of the Gatewatch.
My advice for Release events is to draft, because drafting is awesome. Once you are in a draft, remember to keep an open mind. This is really important. You'll have a few vague assumptions lined up in your head about what the new set means in Booster Draft. That's good, it means you took the time to consider these things before going to the event. What isn't good is assuming your assumptions are correct. Your brain should be ready to absorb information, even if it comes in ways you didn't expect.
Try out colors, strategies, cards. For my first draft, I'll make my first few picks and then try to go hard in one direction. Maybe it's trying out a new keyword mechanic or color pair. But I am pretty fearless in the earliest stages, and if things don't work out, I accept that ahead of time. For me, it's not as much about outright winning drafts at this stage. It's more about learning and gathering information. Winning is also okay.
I've mentioned this in the column before, but I'll also remind you that many of the players at a Release event will be relatively new to Magic and new to your Magic community. In fact, you might be one of them!
As someone who is a bit further down the line on their Magic development, it's your job to make sure they have fun and feel comfortable. You don't have to go out of your way or anything, but keeping everyone's perspective in your head can be really helpful.
As someone who is new to Magic, look for those people who are willing and happy to be helpful. Every store has them. It's part of what makes the Magic community so great.
Release events are fun. You get to draft, get your hands on some packs (so you can draft more), and hang out with your Magic friends in a fun, safe environment. What's not to love?