The Tournament Organizers (TOs) are just as excited as you are. As someone who is running a Prerelease this weekend (you can expect to see pictures of my Prerelease in the coming weeks!) I can't wait to get started. The difference between the TO and the player is that the TO has been working quietly behind the scenes for weeks to bring it all together. And while you are playing out your rounds, beating down with your Flame-Wreathed Phoenix, your TO is still working to make sure your Prerelease experience is the best yet.
I realize that most players have no idea what goes on in the background to bring you that smooth experience. Since every TO has slightly different problems to deal with, I can't speak for all of them, but I thought I'd let you know what I do to make my Prerelease happen. Let's throw back the curtain and look at how the wizard performs his tricks!
Ahh! Wrong curtain!
The Early Work
Preparing for Born of the Gods Prerelease began in December, when I was first permitted to sign up. Wizards of the Coast provides a window when stores can sign up for Prereleases. It is usually a couple of months ahead of the actual Prerelease. It is at this time that I get confirmation of the exact dates for the Prerelease weekend. In my case, I don't run the Prereleases in the sponsoring store because it is far too small. I talk to the scheduling person at our local library and book the library for the Prerelease. I'm lucky in that no one else books time at the library as far ahead as I do, so I've always been able to get the dates I need. Once I've confirmed with the library, I book the Prerelease. Things are getting underway!
The next step is determining how much Magic to get. If you are only expecting sixteen people for your Prerelease, you probably aren't going to order enough for sixty people! For many stores, this is easy: they take as much as Wizards of the Coast will let them order. Stores with large play spaces or a willingness to try and sell anything extra might as well maximize their orders. Wizards does put a cap on what you can order, so if you find a Prerelease that has run out of product, it could be that the TO didn't order enough, or it could be that Wizards underestimated what the TO would need. I always make sure I have more packs than I need. At one of the first Prereleases I ran, I had to turn away one of my regular players because I didn't have any more product. Knowing that my mistake brought a nine year old to tears means that I never under-order. Ever.
Will They Come?
The next thing for me is advertising. This is a fairly minimal effort, since I have sold out every Prerelease I've held for years. I send out a mass email to everyone on my email list, letting them know that I'm accepting preregistrations for my Prerelease. The first people to pay get first pick of the event packs, so almost everyone preregisters and gets me a check right away. For Born of the Gods, my Prerelease was sold out two days after the mass email was sent, and everyone has already paid. The parents of my players are great about responding quickly. The first time you have to tell your ten-year-old child that he or she isn't in the Prerelease because you forgot to sign up is also the last time.
Other stores post on their websites, note the event in the store, and/or advertise in other locations. I've seen some amazing flyers for Prereleases. One store produced a card that advertised the Prerelease in the text box, using the art from one of the new cards. There are some inventive TOs!
Much of the advertising exists to get the players to preregister. It is always easier for TOs to plan the event if they know how many players are coming. Getting the registration fee ahead of time is nice, but knowing if you'll need extra tables and chairs, more staff, or if you'll need to cap the Prerelease, are all good things to know well before the day of the Prerelease.
I keep a list on my iPhone of everyone registered for the Prerelease so I know exactly when I'm full. It is also handy at the time of the Prerelease as a list to check off who is there and who is not, so those on the wait list can get in.
For me, the next thing is prize support. While Wizards of the Coast provides Born of the Gods boosters for prize support, I like to go a little further. I make sure every player receives a free pack of sleeves (or a deck box) at the start of the tournament. This is mostly for my benefit, as it reduces how much garbage I have to pick up off the library floor during the event.
As many of you know, the players at my Prerelease tend to be younger. I want these newer, younger players to win prizes so as many players as possible get the most from their Prerelease experience. This is why I use a very flat prize structure. While most Prereleases offer booster packs to anyone who finishes at least 3–1, I offer a booster for every match win. This means that the player who goes 4–0 only wins four boosters, but it also means that the players who are 0–3 and still battling in the last round have a chance to win a Born of the Gods booster pack. When you add in the free booster pack that everyone gets at the end of the second round, I end up giving out as many boosters as the other stores.
Something I do that I haven't heard of elsewhere are Consolation boosters.
While the winners of matches get Born of the Gods booster packs, the losers receive Consolation boosters. A Consolation booster includes ten commons, three uncommons, a rare card, and a foil card. These cards are randomly picked from the extra cards that my friends and I have and are squeezed into a "penny" sleeve. I try to make sure these cards are older cards that my young player base doesn't already have, so even the players who don't have the most successful day at the Prerelease come away with cards to add to their collection. This batch of Consolation Packs has a foil Wurmcoil Engine and a foil Steel Hellkite, so a couple players will be very happy they lost that round!
I also do several door prizes. Magic posters, extra dice, and deck boxes are some of the smaller prizes. I usually manage to round up a couple of Intro Packs as well. In the past, we have offered Fat Pack boxes loaded with Magic cards as door prizes. This time around, there will be a couple of playmats as prizes as well!
The night before is a big prep night for me. I am holding the Prerelease at a location away from the store, so I need to pack up everything I need for the tournament that the library doesn't already have. I've done this many times now, and I have a long list that I check off to make sure everything is in boxes at the door, ready to go the next day. It is easy to forget an extension cord, or even land, if you haven't thought it out in advance and have everything ready to go.
After dragging everything out to the van, I arrive at the library as soon as it opens to start setup. Everything has a particular order, based on what needs to be done before I can start the players building their decks, and what can wait until then. While the library staff will stay open after their usual closing time at 3:00, I hate to inconvenience them and try to keep things running quickly so we finish on time.
Once the tournament gets started, the things the TO does becomes more obvious to the players. Judge calls, scorekeeping, and cleaning up are all things that are obvious to the players. It is during the tournament when I discover whether my planning ahead worked or needs more improvement. Did I remember to tell the parents of younger players when the lunch break would start? Do I have enough land? Did I remember the three-prong converter for the extension cord? I only had a laptop until the start of the final round for that Prerelease!
When the preparation is done and everything runs smoothly, it gives me the time to interact with my players. A well-run Prerelease gives me the chance to see the decks being played and be part of the excitement the players feel playing the Prerelease.
I hope all of you enjoy your Prerelease weekend. Be sure to thank your TO for all the work he or she has put into making your experience a great one!