I hope everyone had a great time opening fresh packs of M13 this weekend. I love sealed deck events, and there’s nothing better than that new cardboard smell. I played a midnight event on Friday night and a second sealed on Saturday, in both of which I got utterly wrecked. I did open an Ajani, Caller of the Pride, and a foil Liliana of the Dark Realms, which I immediately sold for cash monies, so I made like 20 bucks this weekend and got to play Magic for free. Sick rips are sick. It seems like in every sealed event I either open money and lose, or open zero value but win. Either way is good I guess.
M13 seems like the best “M” core set so far, and at first glance there appears to be some skill involved in the gameplay, but that could have been simply because my pools were such poop-scoop that I had to rely more on skill-testing opponents than just playing stuff that wins games. As I’ll talk about below, Exalted adds a new level of depth to the core set, and there seems to be a pretty decent balance of creatures to encourage more bloodsport than the simple ‘play bombs, win games’ syndrome with which many non-core sets are plagued.
First off, I want to talk about my general Pre-release experience this weekend, and then later this week in another article I’ll share some of my first impressions of limited M13. Catch it starting after the flip.
The Pre-Release Experience
Let me start out by saying that I LOVE Pre-releases. You don’t often get a chance to play a 6-booster sealed deck event if you don’t play Magic Online, and being able to touch and play with new cards before you can buy them is unique. Sealed deck is also a much different beast compared to booster draft – many “un-draftable” cards (basically anything with a casting cost over 5 mana) become absolute bombs in sealed’s slower format. I’ve been going to PRs since Mirrodin, and I always look forward to them. They’re a great way of balancing the dread/sadness/joy of set rotations and the cost of acquiring yet another playset of expensive cards. That being said I have a few observations I want to share.
1. I’m getting too old for midnight events.
Midnight events are awesome. You feel like such a baller staying up all night chugging 5-hour Energy between matches, sustaining on card shop vendor snacks (Snickers bars and Fruit Snacks are my go-to), and getting victory McGriddles at 6am after the event. You’re officially one of the first non-Wizards-employee players to lay eyes on fabulous new art and turn sideways cards that have never been turned before. It’s just awesome.
Now I’m not saying I’m an old man – I’m still only 27. But working all day Friday, staying awake all night (beyond the usual 2am bar close), sleeping for an hour and then riding off for another 6-7 hour event on Saturday is difficult without severely interrupting the following week’s schedule. I’m not quite ready to give up this cardboard marathon, but I can tell that I don’t have many more of these 36-hour Magic fests in my future without it affecting my work schedule and possibly health (surprise, long periods of sleep deprivation is bad for you). But then again, it only comes around four times a year. I’ve noticed though that after the midnighters I don’t want to get up before 1pm or go to bed before 1am for at least 4 or 5 days, which generally doesn’t mesh well with the 9 to 5 world. I think I’m just going to have to suck it up and make it happen. Especially since I see at least two 40+ year olds at these things.
2. Pre-release packs are super stacked.
For a few years now I’ve held a conspiracy theory that Wizards has a special “stacked” print run for the boosters it sends out for Pre-release events. The stuff people crack at these events are obscene, and it seems like everyone gets at least one bomb or value mythic, often one regular and one foil. For example, on Friday I opened an Ajani, the guy next to me opened both an Ajani and a Liliana, and the guy across from me opened a Sublime Archangel and Akroma’s Memorial. All of our packs were from the same box! You will never find an epic box like that after retail release. Almost of my opponents had some valuable mythic or multiple good (as in playable) rares. This type of distribution is common from my experience. At the Avacyn Restored PR, Avacyns, Griselbrands, and Tamiyos were so common you’d think it was run by Oprah. (“You get a mythic, you get a mythic, everyone gets a mythic!”) But then after that, at launch events and drafts, all anyone ever opened were Otherworld Atlas and Primal Surge. I can almost guarantee that next week and M13 launch events there will be maybe two planeswalkers opened in a 30-person event. There will be tons of Omniscence and Door to Nothingness.
It’s simple: make pre-release packs busted so people will rush to pre-order booster boxes. You’ll see how easy it is to make 50 bucks by opening six packs and jump at the idea of having six times that chance of ripping awesome in a box. Step 1 Print goodness for PRs, Step 2 ????, then Step 3 Profit! Then to not flood the secondary market with the good stuff, Wizards changes the print run so that the prime chase cards are less commonly opened, so people will want to buy more boxes later. It’s a genius strategy if it is real. But I have yet to be at a Pre-release that had generally bad pulls and then go to spectacular launch event the week later. It has always been stacked on the front end, with less commonly pulled prime cards as time goes on. That’s my theory at least…it could just be coincidence and I have no way of knowing for sure at this point in time. Anyone know?
3. Trading packs before opening is a risky venture
I get that some people are superstitious and don’t like to open packs with the same character on more than one booster pack. I get that it’s fun to view booster pack art as some sort of premonition for its contents. I also get that some people like to trade their packs before opening just for the sheer joy of inducing chaos. But I’m sort of superstitious myself in that it’s better to open the packs you are “dealt,” the same way you should choose your own fortune cookies. However, this weekend I violated my own rule and it came up big for me.
My buddy across from me didn’t like that he had two booster packs with Liliana on them, so he offered to trade one of them for one of my packs featuring Augur of Bolas (I had two of those). I reluctantly accepted, noting that this sort of thing “never ends well for at least one person.” For fun, I opened the Liliana pack first, and wouldn’t you know, foil Liliana! It was cool enough that a pack with Liliana on the front actually had one inside, but to have it be the one my buddy traded away was epic. And in his Augur pack? Just a Glacial Fortress.
4. Bigger is sometimes better
Today players around the U.S. gather at their local Magic shop with 30-40 of their friends (or in a few rare cases in the more populated areas, 50+) to crack new packs at Pre-releases. In some places players have multiple options for events, based entirely on the number of stores in their local area. For example, where I play now in the Ann Arbor, Michigan, area, I have the option of attending events at four stores within a 20 minute drive of each other. I could play a midnight event at one store, a Saturday event at a second store, and even go to a third store for a PR on Sunday. Where I choose to play is based on which store my friends play at, the prize support, and (with this heat) who has better air conditioning/circulation.
But it wasn’t always like this. Pre-releases used to be massive, unique spectacles. Each state would only have one or two designated events, and players from all over the state would flock to those locations for their only shot at seeing a set before it was released at retail (and PRs were TWO weeks before launch then). These events had Grand Prix size turnouts and feeling, with lots of vendors on site, hundreds of players, and both a main event and side events offered. The main event would generally be a 8-9 round sealed event, with the Top 8 players walking away with several boxes each, depending on the turnout. Side events would be firing left and right, usually 16 or 32-player sealed flights where winners took home a booster box.
In Michigan, many of our Pre-release events took place at the Taylor Town Trade Center in the metro Detroit area. This convention hall would be the place where friends met every few months who otherwise would be too far away to play Magic together. There were those guys you only saw at Pre-releases, and they became your “Pre-release friends” you looked for first when you arrived. This is one of the ways EDH and other variations of the game took off in popularity – people going to these large events and discovering new ways to play and new ideas, then taking it back to their local playgroups.
State/regional events also supported an excellent trading environment unlike one you could ever have at your local store, since people from the other side of the state had tons of binders you haven’t looked at a hundred times already. Think about it – would you rather trade with the same 30 people you’ve traded with at every FNM, or with potentially 300 new people you’ve never seen before? You’d probably have a better shot finding that obscure rare from Ice Age or a DCI promo card that was made before the store you play at even existed.
The glory of the state-wide exclusive PR events was in the fact that it was huge. It was a big event that you couldn’t wait to attend, just like any Grand Prix or StarCityGames 5K. It was just a different experience from your regular local store routine. Way more people, way more cards, and way more fun. Sure, it was a much more competitive atmosphere than what we have now simply because of the size, but you just couldn’t have the same kind of experience any other way. We’d go to Taylor Town for the PRs and then Release events were back at our bigger local stores, much like they are today. You got the best of both worlds – large crowds and a huge tournament, and then you came back home for the local fun two weeks later.
Then Wizards changed it all with Shards of Alara. First, they eliminated Tournament Packs, little boxes with 75 cards – 45 random cards and 30 basic land (basically 3 booster packs and extra land). The box was perfect for carrying around what cards you weren’t using in the sealed deck and it eliminated the chance of getting a double rare, which was better for the game and for your collection (the person I watched open two useless Dragonskull Summits this weekend would appreciate that fact).
Second, Wizards shifted from one or two large events to many small events, eventually allowing virtually every store in America the opportunity to host PR events. In many cases, this basically created a sealed-deck FNM on Saturday or Sunday with new cards. While people who lived too far away to feasibly attend the state-wide events (especially in the geographically-huge states like California) have been able to attend multiple Pre-releases because of this shift, the general excitement of going to a huge festival of Magic is gone (especially if there hasn’t been a Grand Prix in your city in a decade, like it has been for Detroit). I think there could have been a compromise here, and Wizards just instead threw the switch in the entire other direction. Now there is tremendous overlap of events, and stores fight over the revenue and turnouts, which ultimately hurts the experience players could have. (BIG shout out to my friends in Harrisburg, PA who do a great job at setting up events at multiple stores with cooperative times that allow everyone to attend events at all the stores, rather than having to choose; here in Ann Arbor there are 4 stores running 4 different events at the same time, so you have to choose who you want to play with, and it sucks when some of your friends want to play at one store and some want to play at a different one – the big events let you play with them all at one location!)
Wizards made some effort to retry big events during Zendikar with the creation of “Worldwide” and “Regional” Pre-releases in some of the major cities like Baltimore and New York, but they just weren’t the same as before. The prize support was generally lower and entry fees higher than just the events local stores hosted, so the idea tanked and quickly vanished after a set or two. Really, it probably would have been effective to keep the original big PR idea and just make it easier for local stores to host release weekend events the following week .
Again, it’s hard to refute the tremendous benefit the shift to the local level has had on casual players and on the ability for smaller stores to get more bodies into the building for further business opportunity – that certainly could be a good thing for the game in the long run. But trust me, if you weren’t playing when these behemoth Pre-releases existed, you missed out on something epic that made a month of waiting for a new set seem like forever. Then again, you’re probably thinking I sound like some old man with a “back in my day” story; some relic of the past, like relying on Scrye magazine for card prices or playing with unsleeved cards on ESPN2.
Speaking of old things…anyone remember this?
That’s it for Part I of my M13 Pre-Release Report. Check in Wednesday for Part II where I actually talk about the new cards!