Prerelease Stories—Shadows over Innistrad Edition

Posted in Magic Lifestyle on March 29, 2016

By Meghan Wolff

Meghan is one half of the Good Luck High Five podcast and an adjunct professor at Tolarian Community College. She loves Limited, likes Modern, and dips her toes into each Standard season. She's decidedly blue and is the #1 hater of Siege Rhino in the Multiverse.

I began playing Magic a year too late to know the original Innistrad block, but the memory of the set very fittingly haunted every older player I met. The hold Innistrad had on players months after the set rotated out was unrivaled and a little unnatural, and I learned almost as much about Innistrad's flavor and Draft strategies as I did about Ravnica's.

It wasn't until I went to a Theros Prerelease, my first event for an entirely new block, that I got caught up in the thrill of visiting an entirely new plane. A new block opens up more than new boosters, new mechanics, and new cards—it invites players to visit a world entirely unlike their own and become part of a story larger than themselves.

Prereleases are a gateway to the incredible months of exploration ahead, and in few sets was this as apparent as in the original Innistrad—a set remembered years later for its myriad of interesting and sometimes crazy Draft strategies and delicious flavor. In honor of our love for reminiscing about Innistrad, we're starting our journey into the ominous new world of Shadows over Innistrad with a trip down memory lane.

"Like everyone else, I loved how the flavor imparted all these unique game experiences into the set," coverage personality Brian David-Marshall recalled. "But for me the thing that I loved the most was playing with flashback cards, self-mill cards, and the Runic Repetition/Memory's Journey engine best known as the Spider Spawning deck."

The Spider Spawning deck is representative of Innistrad's host of build-around uncommons and nontraditional Draft strategies that played to a range of different play styles and interests.

"Early on when the deck was still new, it felt like you were playing a different game [than] your opponents," BDM said. "Since you could constantly shuffle cards back into your library, you had so much inevitability. I love anything that involves deck velocity—when you are seeing more and more of your cards regardless of what zone they are going to. It was a weird deck to draft that often had me playing ugly numbers of cards—42 and 43 cards sometimes—to make sure I had the right mix of lands, creatures, and the essential spells."

For Mike Linneman, noted Vorthos and art aficionado, the original Innistrad was "a perfect chocolate and peanut butter fusion of playability with an incredibly immersive (both visually and flavorfully) set."

"I loved the original Innistrad," Mike said. "For me, growing up on Grimm fairy tales, this was a reunion with my past. Looking at the art made me feel, made me react unlike any set I've seen since Lorwyn and The Dark before that. It's a rare occurrence for me to just stare at each card art in depth for so long to find every juicy bit before I move onto another preview card."

For Mike, Innistrad presented a delicious combination of the familiar and the eldritch. "Innistrad differed from a ton of other blocks because it was grounded in reality. If you visit Southern Germany, you will see the Fachwerk homes (the crisscross timber beams with the white fill). You can actually visit Innistrad's castles and churches. It's ever a question of how much reality you want in your fantasy, and Innistrad swung the pendulum to 'everything is and can be real sans the Zombies, because obviously Werewolves are real in Bavaria and Vampires are still in Romania, real talk.'"

It wasn't just the flavor that made Innistrad so enjoyable, but the unique cards and mechanics of the set that made it so appealing. Mike remembers the pressure of playing against opposing transformed Werewolves in particular. "It was like playing on edge, you know?" he said. "Like you're X-2 and you have to win that last match, except it was in the middle of a game like 'Oh biscuits, that Werewolf is NOT GOING AWAY.' It wasn't terror, but I wasn't comfortable."

In the fall of 2011, Magic players everywhere unknowingly stood on the brink of a set about to take their world by dark and menacing storm. Come the weekend of April 2–3, stores across the world will be opening their doors and inviting players to once again visit one of Magic's most dangerous and beloved planes.

Here's how just a handful of stores celebrate community, flavor, and competition on Prerelease weekend.

At Grinning Goblin Comics and Games in Batesville, Indiana, Prereleases are by far the store's biggest events. The midnight Prerelease adds to the excitement and anticipation of the arrival of a brand new set. "The mood at our store is crazy excitement and tons of anticipation," said Jessica Browning, who owns Grinning Goblin with her husband, Don. "These players are ready to play when they get here!"

Camaraderie and friendship are central to Grinning Goblin's events. "We like to build friendships and relationships with our customers and players," Jessica said. "We're kinda like Cheers!"

This focus on community and creating great player experiences is apparent in one of Grinning Goblin's more unique Prerelease traditions: a potluck. In keeping with Oath of the Gatewatch's Two-Headed Giant theme, "The Goblin supplied Planeswalker Punches and our super-awesome players supplied their favorite food pairings and combinations," Jessica said. "We had all kinds of items, from homemade french fries and salt to peanut butter and jelly–stuffed biscuits topped with chocolate covered bacon and powdered sugar, to chicken teriyaki to Butterfinger cheesecake!"

In the spirit of Magic competition, there was also a prize—a one-of-a-kind Goblin potluck apron—awarded to the potluck champion.

For Shadows over Innistrad, the store's offerings will get a little more ominous, though no less delicious. "Plans for Shadows over Innistrad include blood red and black candy apples, bleeding eyeball cake pops served on a silver fork, white chocolate covered bones and white chocolate mice, garlic dip, and a deliciously devious poison punch," Jessica said.

At Grinning Goblin, Prereleases are an opportunity to provide a fun and completely unique Magic environment for new and veteran players alike. "We try our very best to make these events the absolute very best experience for our players," Jessica said. "We make each and every event one not to be forgotten."

Pulsar Games Store in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, known as MTG Club Plovdiv, also recognizes the need to provide a fun environment that encourages players to make the game their own and venture deep into the world of Magic.

At the Prerelease, "All players—experienced and newcomers—are in high spirits," said Atanas Shiekov, the manager of Pulsar Games Store. "Experienced, because Shadows over Innistrad brings them back to the memories of the original Innistrad and causes many assumptions and expectations. Newcomers, because the world of SOI will be radically different from the worlds they are familiar with."

Atanas worked hard to make the store's Oath of the Gatewatch Prerelease appropriately ominous. "I worked with fluorescent lamps and other such materials to create a handmade model of a hedron," Atanas said. "Production took me three days of work, and I managed to keep it a secret until the day of Prerelease. On the day, each participant took a Prerelease pack from those available. Then, accompanied with appropriate music in apocalyptic style we "activated" the hedron, which glowed white and blue over the 'field of battle.'"

Tabletop Game Shop turned their store in Burnley, Lancashire, England into Zendikar for the Oath of the Gatewatch Prerelease, including walls and floors turned into iridescent bismuth by Kozilek and his brood. Transforming the store was so much fun that all three of their locations—Burnley, Chester, and Colne—are taking their Shadows over Innistrad decoration inspiration from three iconic Innistrad locations: Thraben Cathedral, Stitcher's Lab, and Markov Manor. (You might recognize those as the three locations from Wizards' SOI kickoff event a few weeks ago.)

"Everyone is getting very excited for the Prerelease," said Kathryn Adams of Tabletop Game Shop. "Older players are excited to be going back to Innistrad, whereas newer players are excited by the Vampires, Werewolves, and of course the mysterious storyline."

As with Grinning Goblin and Pulsar Games, creating a memorable and enjoyable experience for players is central to Tabletop's Prerelease strategy. "We are making sure that fun is at the center of everything we do for the Prerelease weekend," Kathryn said. "We want everyone to have a fantastic time, playing a game they love with the friends they have made in our stores."

The same is true at Adventure Games & Hobby in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. "Our store is special because we put a lot of emphasis on our gaming space," said Charlene Alecos, one of the store's co-owners. "We really wanted to make sure that our store had an open and inviting atmosphere where gamers of all skill levels would feel welcome."

Players at Adventure Games aren't immune to this season's particularly flavorful approaching Prerelease. "During the Prerelease weekend, the store is bursting with excitement and energy," said Charlene. "We see the community really come together and forget everything else, as they immerse themselves into an entirely different world, even if only for a few hours. Vampires and Werewolves have captured people's imaginations for over a century, and that doesn't look like it's going to change anytime soon."

Whether you're delightfully terrified by Innistrad's sinister Spirits, Vampires, and worse, or you're ready to see if Rise from the Tides is the new Spider Spawning, Shadows over Innistrad Prerelease weekend and your local game store await. Enjoy the community, revel in the atmosphere, and maybe check over your shoulder every once in a while—it is Innistrad, after all.

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