The week before the Prerelease is a truly frustrating week for me, and I'm betting for you as well. We know all the cards. We've discovered the Masterpiece Series. We've decided which cards we are hoping to open in our Prerelease pools. And now we have to wait until the weekend! Oh, what kind of a curse is this? You have slowly been seeing all the cards from Kaladesh over the last few weeks, and now Wizards says, "No! Wait!" But I want it now!
In an effort to dull the pain of watching the clock tick ever so slowly toward Prerelease day, I like to spend some time preparing for my Prerelease. I run Prereleases for young kids at my local library. I've discovered that the key to a smooth-running Prerelease is preparation. It is during this week that I double-check to make sure I have everything I'll need to run my Prerelease without problems. The real trick for me is that I can't leave anything at the library, so other than the chairs and some tables, I bring everything. I've been doing this for a while and have a checklist I go through now. It is too easy to forget the extension cord I need for my laptop, or checking to be sure I'll have enough basic land for building, so the checklist is key.
Other stores take it a step further. While I feel like a success when I remember to bring everything (fine point Sharpie? Check!), other stores make their Prereleases into feasts for the senses. I spoke with George Proikas of Kaissa Glyfadas in Athens, Greece and Raimundo Meza of Command Center in Viña del Mar, Chile to see what they do to make the Prerelease special for their players.
At Kaissa Glyfadas, they focused on a feast for the eyes. George explained:
We had some pieces of art prepared for this event by our artist friends with luminous features. All three of them have studied fine arts and we are proud they are part of our community.
Panagiotis Gritzos crafted the Eldritch Moon itself with Emrakul's Tentacles emerging from its depths. It kind of resembled the card Imprisoned in the Moon and the tentacles were painted with luminous colors.
Aigli Vogdanou used transparent sheets to lay her art on then folded some of them into tubes. All the paint was illuminated when hit by black light and it resembled tentacles.
We then added decorations to our playroom, keeping in mind to make it as dark as possible. We used black tablecloths to cover up all the tables, placed a lot of candles all over them, and used some rich red details to spice it up. Then we installed some black lights in the playroom to interact with all the fine art and make it stand out! We hung a black curtain at the entrance of the playroom and placed Avacyn (the big stand) to guard it so no one entered before the event.
At the Command Center, they focused on touch and taste. For touch, they "zombified" willing players with makeup and some costuming. Then came what is always my favorite part, the tasting!
Karina (my wife and co-owner of the store) made a big Emrakul shaped cake (Emra-cake) and many Eldrazi-shaped cupcake monstrosities. Each player who won a round could "eliminate" (eat) an Eldrazi and those players dressed as "Zombies" could eat whenever they wanted. Once the cupcake-shaped Eldrazi were all defeated, the Top 8 of the event could eliminate (eat) Emra-cake and save the store from the Titan Eldrazi's invasion.
All activity was accompanied by our classic stand free refreshments for players (tea, coffee, biscuits and sweets); something we've been doing for years.
I'm confident I could take on Cupcake'rakul all on my own! Those cupcakes look delicious!
Not surprisingly, events like this can take some time to prepare. Both stores took roughly two weeks, but the surprise forced a lot of the decorating to happen the day before
Command Center: Planning began two weeks before the event. The preparation of cakes was the day before. The rest of the activity was set up only minutes before (stand paintings, installation of cake and cupcakes, etc.) in the usual place in the store.
Kaissa Glyfadas: After deciding the thematic detail with our friends, they had a week's time to complete and present their projects. Meanwhile we collected the rest of the decorating elements, but we did not want to spoil anything. Two days before the event, we laid around the artistic creations. And one day before the event we placed the decorations and tested our lighting effects to be sure everything worked smoothly. Placing the decorations and installing all the elements could be wrapped up in a single day, but we wanted to keep them secret so we worked on them only after working hours.
I'm always fascinated with stores willing to go the extra mile for their players. Every store appreciates their players, but to offer a feast for the senses, like these stores did, suggests a different level. I asked George and Ray what inspired them to really ramp things up.
KG: We have done special events with extra mini games before, but this time we wanted to go a step further and create a memorable visual experience. Our main motivation was to give a big thanks to everyone sharing their gaming passion with us. We went on to invite players that have quit competitive magic, or even friends involved in different kind of games and hobbies. A Magic: The Gathering Prerelease event is more than cracking packs with new cards for us, it's a celebration for our community and a way to show our appreciation of their loyalty and support.
CC: We've spent years doing simple activities such as offering refreshments or snacks to the players of the events. This year, we decided to go one step further to improve the gaming experience of our community. Karina and I are players, we love Magic and enjoy the game itself, so our goal is always to make the experience of the event the best. And what better way than to add fun activities to an event that already is very fun.
Getting to this level, you would expect a gradual buildup, adding more events and levels of crazy. That's exactly how Command Center started.
We started with the Mirrodin Besieged Prerelease, offering a snack and refreshment booth so that players could enjoy the event with something to drink or eat. In addition, we carried out the Prerelease following a theme.
After that, we could not stop offering the service. And every time we improved, adding snacks typical of the plane or sometimes soft foods typical of the season. This year we realized that we should move forward and further improve this service, adding the activities already mentioned, contests between rounds or goals to players. No one is forced to participate if they do not want to.
Our preparations have been continuous and increasing over time. We set new goals to beat with each event!
Kaissa Glyfadas opted to go big right away, jumping in the deep end of the pool for the Origins Prerelease.
After the Standard new set story briefing by loremaster Paul Opaouka, we had prepared an escape room-like experience by hiding a lot of clues all around our playroom that had to do with Magic: The Gathering tales about Planeswalkers. At the end, the participants had to combine their findings to solve a big riddle.
Each Prerelease we had something completely different in mind. We had an Allies vs Eldrazi clash in Battle for Zendikar with thematic extra objectives that scored points for each side. Each team had its assigned leader pick teammates to complete the line-ups. Then we had a cool mini game for Oath of the Gatewatch that had an arcade kind of feeling where the players flipped over cards with positive and negative effects, with the winner being whoever managed to collect three of four hedrons before being overwhelmed by the Eldrazi. You could seek help from the set's Planeswalkers while avoiding Ob Nixilis' traps. Every participant that survived won a booster pack! The mini-game was designed by Paul Opaouka and was kept intact for a couple of months. It was replayed a lot of times by both MTG fans and other hobbyists!
The rewarding part of all the preparations involves seeing the players' reactions. As both of these stores have been doing this for a while, the players don't know exactly what to expect, but are ready for something and can't wait to join in!
KG: We carefully leaked some photos on social media day by day, building up anticipation but not revealing the main features. After everyone got their packs in front of them and during the new set's lore briefing, we started lighting the candles. When the time was right, we suddenly turned off the main lights and switched to black light. Some jaws dropped and there were cheers of awe, and some players even took photos and video shots of the scene! There followed a heart-warming applause mixed with screams and smiles, just the reaction we hoped for!
CC: The players really loved the Emra-cake and the option of being surprised Zombies!
We had a very good response, many players were encouraged to actively participate, pretending to be zombies to devour the monstrosities, and even allowing us to make a video with the "Zombie March" to Emra-cake to remove it from the store!
I'm jealous of the effort these stores put into each Prerelease! Kaladesh offers many new ways to be inventive with Prereleases, and I can't wait to see what stores do to celebrate the latest set!