Return to Ravnica Prerelease Roundtable

Posted in The Week That Was on October 5, 2012

By Brian David-Marshall

Brian David-Marshall is a New York–based game designer who has been involved with Magic since 1994, when he started organizing tournaments and ran a Manhattan game store. Since then, he has been a judge, a player, and one of the longest-tenured columnists on, as he enters his second decade writing for the site. He is also the Pro Tour Historian and one of the commentators for the Pro Tour.

As record-breaking numbers of you are very well aware, this past weekend was the first threshold crossing on the Return to Ravnica. There were Prerelease tournaments held all around the globe, with attendance numbers exceeding the previous high-water mark set during the Innistrad Prerelease weekend. In the days leading up to the weekend, with so much excitement built up around the set, there was extra scrutiny paid to the stores and tournament organizers and whether or not they would be up to the task at hand.

Isperia, Supreme Judge
Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius

I checked in this week with a handful of tournament organizers to see how their weekend went, what they did to prepare for the fervent demand, and what guilds were the hot movers—but also which ones were the big winners. Tournament organizers who participated included:

Michael Girard and Michael Bahr of Desert Sky Games,in Arizona. Their store raced not only against the deadline of the Return to Ravnica Prerelease to get open but in jumping through the necessary hoops to get their shop advanced to the point where they were eligible to run the events in the first place.

Scott Lipp of Spanky's Card Shop, in Missouri, and another store new to running Prerelease events. While it was his store's first event of this magnitude, he has been judging for more than ten years and had a pretty good idea of what was in store for him.

Alan Hochman of Pastimes, in Chicago. Alan is a veteran of Prereleases and just about every other type of Magic tournament there is to run. He has run events as a Regional TO and more recently as a local game store.

Teun Zijp ran an event in The Netherlands at the legendary Cafe Twee Klaveren (you might recall a video segment we shot there prior to Pro Tour Amsterdam) and stands out from the rest of our respondents by bringing in a European perspective and for running his prerelease outside of an LGS (local game store). He worked with the store Gamekeeper for this event.

BDM: Tell me how your Prerelease weekend went? How many people were you expecting and how many actually showed up?

Desert Sky Games a phrase, it was AWESOME! When we were laying all the groundwork for opening our store, we were using the Return to Ravnica Prerelease as the target date that we needed to hit. This meant that we needed to be up and have Core status before the cutoff date. Our buildout was taking longer than expected and we were sweating it. We were able to get open the first week of August and crush Core the first weekend in order to qualify (incidentally, we hit Advanced about a week later). Basically, our entire timeline was set around this Prerelease. As for the number of people that we expected, buzz was high and we took as many as we were allocated by Wizards. If we could have gotten more than ninety guild packs, we would certainly have taken them. We sold out of all three events we ran (12:01 a.m., 11 a.m., and 4 p.m.) about six days in advance. The midnight event was sold out well in advance.

Pastimes: Our expectations were huge for this Prerelease—and they were met with throngs of happy Magic fans. We expected a large crowd and prepared for it. We had more than 150 at our midnight Prerelease—our largest midnight ever. Our final number for the weekend was more than 450 entries. It would have been more but we always make sure to run one Two-Headed Giant event. That event had solid numbers, but with twenty-five teams it was our smallest event.

Spanky's Card Shop: This was our first Prerelease for our store and the weekend was AWESOME! We did pre-reg for the guilds so we expected to get around thirty-five to fifty people for our midnight release. We ended up getting fifty-five for our midnight release!

Teun Zijp: We had an amazing weekend here in Amsterdam and attendance blew our previous record. As has been the case for decades now, the events in Amsterdam are in our home pub, Cafe Twee Klaveren, and we figured it would be full (eighty players). We ended up bringing chairs and tables from outside, and managed to somehow fit ninety-eight players into the main event on Saturday. All of the "extra" "side" events were pretty full as well, and we had a total of 275 entries from Friday midnight up to Sunday night.

BDM: How did it compare to previous Prereleases you have run?

Teun Zijp: This Prerelease was easily the biggest ever by far. The previous record was Zendikar.

Pastimes: This was our largest Prerelease under the new system. Players' excitement level for this event was higher than I remember. The guild promotion worked great—better than any other promotion we have seen from Wizards so far.

Desert Sky Games: This was DSG's first Prerelease. The last time that we were involved in a Prerelease, we assisted with the regional Prerelease era for Monastery Productions. We're really happy with the new structure making it possible to host the event in-store every time. We're hoping to grow the event much larger for Gatecrash.

Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord
Rakdos, Lord of Riots
BDM: What preparations did you make for the event? What did you have to do to account for the guild aspect of the event?

Spanky's Card Shop: We did a Cube Draft and had free pizza for everyone who wanted to get to the shop early and have a fun time before the Prerelease. We offered a pre-reg system for each guild to make sure you got what guild you wanted to play with. I feel everyone really enjoyed being able to be different and pick what guild suited their Magic flavor/taste the best. We had a pre-reg sheet with the exact number of guilds we were getting so if we ran out you could not sign up for the event. I've been a Judge for over ten years and handling a large group of players has never been challenging. We had one other judge come for the event to get some experience.

Desert Sky Games: We held a large free event to get our thirty-two for Advanced status (we ended up with ninety players for that), so we knew to be prepared: made sure matches were spaced out comfortably, stocked up on concessions, the usual "good store" prep work. When we took pre-reg, the players had to pre-pay and that would ensure that they would get entry into the event. We did not take guild choices at that time because we knew there was still rampant speculation about which guild was going to be the best in the Prerelease. We decided that, at the start of the event after player seating, we would go down the list and let people choose which one they wanted right there. It added maybe five minutes to the event and the players got some excitement out of it.

We did prep work and knew exactly how much product we had to work with. Based on the number of guild packs we were receiving from Wizards as well as the amount of support product we had, we were able to offer three thirty-person events with prizes awarded based on number of wins. The breakdown was four wins for nine packs and three wins for three packs. I feel like we had a leg up because so many people on staff have premier event experience; we knew what to expect and what to do in advance.

Pastimes: We brought in several Level 2 judges and it was all-hands for our store staff! We rarely take pre-registration—but we did for this event. If you pre-registered, you got to pick your guild. On site, we had special registration slips letting people prioritize their desired guild. We did what we could—and I did not hear any complaints.

We always make sure we have lots of fun promotional goodies to give away—and other regular product. We had a fun tournament planned for players if we ran out of product—and we were going to offer $9 Magic 2013 drafts. Ultimately, players would have been disappointed they did not get to play Return to Ravnica, but they would have left happy with the goodies we would have given. Fortunately and unfortunately, we did not need to do this. We talked at length with our Wizards rep, who understood our history in the market and helped to make sure we were prepared to take care of our customers. With eighteen years of event history, we usually predict fairly well.

Teun Zijp: We didn't make special preparations (except proudly displaying all of the Prerelease pack boxes so players could see them when coming in). Players could choose their guild first come, first serve. For us, running out of product wasn't really a possibility, and the venue capacity was the actual bottleneck. (However, the evening and night events were so popular that we actually came pretty close.)

BDM: What guilds were most popular/least popular over the weekend? Did any of them become more popular as players saw the guilds in action?

Desert Sky Games: They were all over the place. For the midnight release, Golgari and Selesnya went quick. By the time that the 11 a.m. event rolled around, Rakdos became the favorite with Selesnya being second to last. The feedback was that Selesnya really didn't "do all that much" and was "not as good as advertised."

Spanky's Card Shop: Izzet was the most popular during the midnight release but the guilds that were doing well and got played the most after that day were Selesnya and Azorius. The guilds that went undefeated for the event were Selesnya, Azorius, Rakdos.

Pastimes: Selesnya started out least popular but was second-most desired by the end of the weekend. Golgari was the most popular. Least popular—Rakdos.

Teun Zijp: Golgari was the most popular guild and it "sold out" first for each event. This is interesting as it didn't really post results; players with Azorius and Selesnya were more successful. Of the guilds, Rakdos was least popular, but players choosing it did pretty well and in the last event there were quite a few players choosing it to battle with unleashed monsters. A lot of players told me that the "guild pack" meant that deck building was simplified; it was always possible to "default" to just putting together all of the cards of that guild and you'd have a playable deck.

Trostani, Selesnya's Voice
Transguild Promenade
BDM: Any noteworthy stories from the event?

Teun Zijp: Running a Two-Headed Giant event was pretty interesting to see. Because we still used Prerelease packs, teams had twelve packs to build their decks—just as many as in the upcoming Team Limited GPs—but only for two decks, and then you could even design them to work together within one game. Of course, this went for all teams, so it was definitely fair, but I expected to see very powerful decks, and they were. Bomb after bomb, only the best cards in the colors. The talk of the day was Havoc Festival; it causes the other team to go from 30 to 7 on its upkeep. Of course, next turn your team will as well, but it's not really Rakdos to care about next turn, now is it?

Pastimes: We ran a couple of our Prerelease events as TCGplayer events—those were great and brought out some more competitive players. Other than people having fun for 48 hours—nothing crazy happened!

Spanky's Card Shop: We were giving out tons of free stuff and one of the door prizes was the first person to bring up a new Jace got an awesome Jace deck box. So when the packs started flying open I saw two guys RUSHING to the front of the store to get their prize and it was so close I had to give them both a deck box! We also gave out some awesome prizes to anyone who wore their guild sticker. Every round, I had a stack of every Prerelease promos that came out before Return to Ravnica and the Hypersonic Dragon was the very last one to get randomly picked! Pretty amazing.

Desert Sky Games: After four grueling hours and the clock at 4:60, Jake Baker was 4–0 and took home nine packs. He cracked two Dreadbores (one foil) and he rode those to victory. In the first pack he cracked for prize support, he pulled a foil Jace. Needless to say, he was grinning from ear to ear.

BDM: How many new or returning players showed up this weekend?

Teun Zijp: We ran out of new DCI membership cards. Seriously, the number of new players was huge. A lot of those players said that they have been playing Magic for a long while, but finally took the plunge to go to this Prerelease because they simply couldn't wait for the set to come out.

Desert Sky Games: I was very happy to say that we had a lot of new players coming to play in our events. Even the midnight event had at least ten players who had learned how to play Magic within the last month and a half. We had at least a dozen or more players who hadn't been too active in DCI events playing in ours, mostly people who used to play at stores like Gamer's Edge in Chandler, which closed years ago. There hasn't really been a place to play Magic in Gilbert for a while until we opened, so those players were among the first to show up for us.

Spanky's Card Shop: I would say we had roughly fifteen new/returning players who had not played in a long time.

Pastimes: I would say we had about 5% of players who have been on hiatus for quite some time. We also issued quite a few new DCI numbers—which is always the best!

Chromatic Lantern
Street Sweeper
BDM: What kind of events do you have in store to take advantage of the new players and capitalize on the excitement from the event?

Pastimes: We run a great promotion at our Prelease to bring everyone back: For every entry into a Prerelease you pay for you receive a FREE draft the following weekend on the release weekend. We also run events every Wednesday through Sunday. There is always Magic going on at Pastimes!

Desert Sky Games: We promoted the Return to Ravnica release weekend heavily, with a thick event slate running from Thursday just after midnight through late Saturday night. (DSG is closed Sundays since Gilbert is a very conservative religious community.) We are starting the Return to Ravnica casual league and a Commander casual league this month as well because of our player base being as casual-oriented as it is and Commander is really catching on, even among the tournament players. On the competitive side, we are hosting the 2012 Arizona State Championship a week after the release and we hope to keep the interest level high!

Spanky's Card Shop: We offer a ton of casual friendly events. For example, we are one of the few stores who do boosters drafts for FNM and you keep what you draft. This structure really brings in the new players and old ones since they have no risk of losing cards and they are on the same playing level as everyone else.

Teun Zijp: This year, because we didn't have an "official" Dutch Nationals, several TOs and stores are working together to bring an unofficial Nationals to the players so we can crown our champion after all. The Nationals Qualifier season has begun, and the Qualifier in Amsterdam will be double Return to Ravnica Booster Draft. The format looks great and I'm sure that event will be big as well.


Sounds like it was an amazing weekend, but if, like me, you missed out on playing in a Prerelease there is a ton of Return to Ravnica action on the horizon for your participatory and viewing pleasure. This coming weekend—why, the very day this article goes live—is when you can descend on your local game store like some depraved Rakdos creature and actually buy packs and play in release events all over the world.

The following weekend is Grand Prix San Jose, which will be a Team Limited event using Return to Ravnica. If you watched the World Magic Cup, you got a glimpse of what the Team Sealed format is like, and if you can't make it there with your pals to play it will be streaming right here at You may want to block out that entire weekend, because while you sit there and watch some Magic, you can also play in the Magic Online Return to Ravnica Prerelease events! It is the closest we have ever seen a Magic Online release to a paper release.

The following weekend is Pro Tour Return to Ravnica and we will get to see how one week of online Draft practice affects the pros as well as see what impact the new format will have on Modern. Don't forget to hop onto Facebook and make your predictions for which new cards will have the biggest impact by playing in the Fantasy Pro Tour. It is going to be a busy couple of weeks and you don't want it to get lost in the all the hoopla around Return to Ravnica.

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