Prereleases: Tournaments or Experiences?

Posted in Magic Lifestyle on July 12, 2016

By Bruce Richard

Bruce's games invariably involve several friends, crazy plays, and many laughs. Bruce believes that if anyone at your table isn't having fun, then you are doing it wrong.

With the Eldritch Moon Prerelease coming up in only a few short days, you are probably pretty excited about getting your hands on the new cards. You've preregistered at your favorite place to play and are just champing at the bit to get started. (You have preregistered, right? If not, just stop reading for a second and get preregistered. Click here, or on that little "Locator" button at the top of the website, and fill in your information. Call your nearest store and get preregistered. The Prerelease I host is already sold out, so don't wait and miss your chance!)

Trust me, your Tournament Organizer (TO) feels the same way. You've been thinking about this Prerelease for a couple of weeks; they've been thinking about this weekend for a couple of months! The preparation TOs go through is likely more than you realize. Tournaments, when run well, are organizational masterpieces. Getting the rounds to run quickly with great judges and helpful staff only looks easy when everything is organized and problems are anticipated and solved before they become problems.

A Prerelease has its own set of issues. Many of the players are new to tournaments, so they need to be signed up ahead of time. The rules need to be explained and some may need extra assistance. These tournaments are supposed to be relaxed, fun interactions where we all get to enjoy the new cards. It is up to the TO to balance the fun and organization and give you a great experience.

Some TOs have decided to take things to a different level for their Prereleases. Wizards of the Coast sends promotional packets to the stores, so when you see hedrons or moons hanging from the ceiling of your store, you know your TO is really working to make your experience even more fun.

I've enjoyed trying to give players at my Prereleases something extra. We've set up teams of players to add an extra layer to the tournaments. We've tried side tournaments and games. Extra door prizes have been well-received. At the Shadows over Innistrad Prerelease, temperatures near me were around 20 degrees Fahrenheit, so we offered hot chocolate to the players.

What I haven't tried is the "Go Big" attitude! I reached out to store owners around the globe who have the "Go Big" attitude. Stores like Lavka Orka, White Unicorn, and Magicsur understand "Go Big!" When they discovered Magic was going back to Innistrad, they decided just decorating their stores wasn't good enough. They turned their Prereleases into immersive experiences!

Lavka Orka in Stavropol, Russia
Terror and mystery accompanied the Shadows over Innistrad Prerelease at Lavka Orka in Stavropol, Russia.

Evgeniy Gusanov, owner of Lavka Orka in Stavropol, Russia, explained everything they did for the Shadows over Innistrad Prerelease. Envy doesn't begin to describe how I felt.

Since the theme of Shadows over Innistrad was exciting for our staff, we tried to convey our excitement through the Prerelease in our store. We decorated the room with various elements of the macabre—there werebats, ravens, and black cats. Webs hung in the corners of the store. Even a few ghosts could be found. The staff all wore costumes: Vampires, Zombies, and cultists. We put all sorts of related items throughout the store: "blood"-filled glasses, candlesticks, and even a crossbow! During the break, we held an Innistrad-related trivia game, which included questions about Innistrad history and well-known characters of the world. The players loved it; it allowed a deeper dive into the atmosphere of the event.

Daniel Ortiz, one of the business associates with Magicsur in Santiago, Chile, created a Gothic setting.

Innistrad is one of our favorite planes, and we were very excited to return to it and to run a Prerelease. Taking advantage of the Gothic setting, we hired a couple of "maids" to receive the players at the entrance of the store, which was decorated with candles and all the objects from the immersion kit provided by Wizards of the Coast. After a brief welcome and introduction, the players had the time to build their decks. Finally, after the first round they were offered cakes and snacks handed out by the maids of the manor.

Alexander Semkin, owner of Edinorog (White Unicorn) in Moscow, Russia, explained how their decor and the quiz they created helped produce the immersive experience they wanted for their players.

We decided on a two-part plan: a) craft horror stuff (masks, bones, evil dolls, blood potions, bloody handprints, etc.) to decorate the store, and b) run a quiz for the players, where we've hidden clues in the store and announced that we want players to investigate, and whoever guesses the code name first wins a prize.

An investigation with clues?! Perfect flavor for Shadows over Innistrad!

Edinorog in Moscow, Russia
Edinorog (or The White Unicorn) in Moscow, Russia, crafted props and puzzles for its own unique Shadows over Innistrad experience.

Each of the stores took between two weeks and a month to set up their immersive experiences. The stores spent this time planning their activities, decorating the stores, and even sewing the costumes. Semkin discovered talents among staff and friends he didn't even know about!

Crafting everything took a couple of weeks—a girlfriend of one of our employees turned out to be an excellent decorator. Making physical clues, hiding them in the store, and creating a checklist for judges to give out verbal clues took one evening.

With the amount of work involved, I was curious why they decided to decorate their stores and make the Prerelease such an immersive experience for the players. Magicsur's Ortiz explained their motivation.

Prereleases are meant to be a celebration; every participant is eager to know what is coming in the new set or expansion. The excitement of cracking open every booster is like no other tournament before or after the Prerelease. Also, due to the nature of the event, it is a moment to bring together all kind of players, casual or competitive. A lot of new players are drawn to Prerelease tournaments, and that makes for a great opportunity to introduce them to the game and the community. That is an important reason to work on something different and more appealing to the players and curious people.

Semkin of White Unicorn was particularly excited by Shadows over Innistrad.

Innistrad provided a whole lot of lore, and we've just had to use it to create more hype. Besides, we like to do cool things! When Wizards give us an excuse to do more (like this time), we can't pass on it. And, well, there was Triskaidekaphobia that immediately made us decide we want to hide it and give clues.

White Unicorn was inspired by the Gothic horror theme of Shadows over Innistrad to create this immersive experience for the first time. Magicsur and Lavka Orka, however, have been dressing things up for a while.

Magicsur—Since we started this store, we were clear on our goals to the community, and with our first Prerelease (Khans of Tarkir) we started to plan events to make a difference for the players. Khans gave us the opportunity to let the players feel they were part of something. We placed each clan in a different set of tables during the deck-construction time, and they felt like a small community inside a bigger conflict. Also, that time the Prerelease was during our national festivities, so we decided to offer our customers some typical snacks (empanadas horneadas) and soft drinks. Since then, every new Prerelease has become a bit of a challenge to be different than the previous ones, and Shadows over Innistrad has been a great opportunity to give them an experience to remember.

Lavka Orka—We got to Advanced level about a year ago, but we have been getting creative with tournaments before that. We have long noticed—if you bring Prereleases beyond the usual tournament, they will attract more players! Currently, Prerelease tournaments in our club are the best-attended tournaments of all our events.

While it was no surprise to discover that the players loved the extra attention, the monumental efforts of these stores captured the attention of several players who wouldn't have normally taken part in the Prerelease. (And in case you don't know, stores that offer Prereleases are part of the Wizards Play Network. The stores have four levels: Gateway, Core, Advanced, and Advanced Plus—so Lavka Orka being Advanced is quite good!)

Magicsur—Most of our players weren't used to this kind of preparation and attention during Prerelease events. It has helped us to grow our local community, attract new players, and create a strong bond with our customers. Funny story: we are located next to a pub, and every time we host our midnight Prerelease events, they are amazed with how many people gather outside the store waiting for us to lift the curtains! During Shadows over Innistrad they were even more excited, since they were watching the candlelight going through the windows.

White Unicorn—We got massively positive feedback. We decorated the store a couple of weeks before the Prerelease and it helped us to start conversations with the more casual crowd on what a Prerelease is and why it's so cool. As for the quest, the first thing that happened on Saturday morning when I entered the store (we've also run a midnight Prerelease) were players surrounding me and asking what were the clues and where are the ones they haven't found!

After seeing what these stores have done, I was curious what they would recommend to other TOs. As a TO who runs events from a location outside the store that sponsors me, I only have access to the building an hour before the event. Turning my library into a house of horrors in an hour would be very difficult! Each store answered my question very differently. Lavka Orka recommended keeping the focus on the players. Whatever you do should be just as exciting to the players who are struggling at 0-3 as it is for the players who are 3-0. White Unicorn recommended the quest idea. It involved minimal effort and provided an alternate source of excitement for the players, beyond the tournament games themselves. Magicsur suggested setting goals for your Prerelease event, then keeping the focus on those goals. They described the Prerelease as more than just a Magic tournament, but an evening of entertainment.

Magicsur in Santiago, Chile
Candlelit madness waited behind the curtains for Prerelease players at Magicsur in Santiago, Chile.

Magicsur—You can compare this with the excitement to see your favorite band live, or to go to a match of your favorite team. We are not just selling boosters, we are giving our customers a night to remember.

After their experiences with Shadows over Innistrad, do they intend to keep it going for Eldritch Moon? While it was White Unicorn's first time going this deep with their event, it looks like they are hooked!

White Unicorn—It's a bit trickier in terms of decorating, but we're thinking of tentacling the store. I'm considering Liliana cosplay as well if I find a decent one. I certainly plan to involve judges in promoting the "We'mrakul" theme. By the way, judges are a great resource, and if you plan well, they can add a whole lot of flavor to your event.

As for Lavka Orka and Magicsur, it appears their Eldritch Moon Prereleases may have a Zombie theme...

Lavka Orka—So far, our creative team is still developing a script for Eldritch Moon, but we can already say that we will have a Liliana with a whole horde of Zombies—the entire staff of the shop is already preparing for it! We are also planning competitions for players, which can be the game between the rounds, and various quizzes. We are looking forward to the new release!

Magicsur—Liliana has raised a horde of Zombies to fight Emrakul, the horde is approaching the gathering point, which is set in Magicsur Chile...would you like to be part of the horde?

I can't wait to see what these and other stores have planned for us this coming weekend!

Bruce Richard


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