Last week, Wizards of the Coast made an announcement that they were going to change the tournament setup for 2012. They were going to make Pro Tours private and increase the number of Grand Prix events. In other words, they were doing things casual players could care less about. Then at the bottom of the release was a quick paragraph, explaining that they were going to cancel the Regional Prereleases. Funny how when the casual players get screwed it is always buried at the bottom of the press release!
I understand that you come here to get articles about multiplayer Magic, and Prereleases, regional or otherwise, are not multiplayer. I know that. Just indulge me on this one. I play in prereleases and I’m betting that many multiplayer Magic players do as well. I promise I’ll be going off the deep end next week with ridiculous amounts of casual player content.
So just what exactly is happening? In Wizards of the Coast’s own words:
As many hobby stores create great, large-scale play events and we add large-scale Grand Prix Magic events, we will be eliminating Regional Prereleases in North America starting with the Magic 2012 Core Set release this summer. The store-run events and Grand Prix will more than fill the absence of Regional Prereleases, providing players with similar opportunities to gather with hundreds of their fellow players for a shared gaming experience. This also shifts the focus of new set celebration events to Wizards Play Network locations.
New Phyrexia’s prerelease will be your last chance to go to a regional prerelease.
Why are they doing this? Wizards claims this is to shift the focus on “new set celebration” to Wizards Play Network locations. This is a continuation of the previous policy of eliminating Independent TO’s from the WPN to force the focus on stores.
Now that we are clear on what is happening, let’s look at the downsides of this decision. What was so great about the regional prereleases? What was it that drew big crowds to these prerelease events? When it comes right down to it, one thing made the regional prereleases so amazing: the crowds themselves. My regional prereleases here inBostonoffered up hundreds of people. Whether the prerelease was held at UMassBoston, Boxborough or the Knights of Columbus hall where it is currently played, there were always plenty of people coming to play. Before they let the stores host the prereleases, the regional prereleases were even better. More players just accentuated the positives. The size of the crowd enabled prereleases to do so many more things that store prereleases just can’t offer:
1. You play against new people. Rather than sit in your local store and play against the same people you always play against, you have the chance to meet fun, new players. I’ve been attending regional prereleases for years, and I only ever ran into 2 players that weren’t fun to play against. And even those two guys weren’t jerks, they just weren’t great guys. The chance to meet Magic players I’ve never met before has been a great thing.
2. Faster tournaments. With so many players, flights start faster. While your local store offers a single tournament that starts at a specific time, regional prereleases offer flights starting as soon as enough people sign up, and that rarely ever took even an hour. This means that you can arrive at any time and expect to start playing soon after. Multiple flights also gives you the chance to play in multiple flights. More flights = more cards and more games! Isn’t more new cards and more games what you are looking for from your prerelease experience?
3. Greater variety of tournaments. Do you want to draft instead of sealed? Did you bring a friend who is just getting into Magic and thought that Two-Headed Giant was what you wanted. You can likely get both of those options at the regional prerelease, since a larger crowd means that there will likely be enough players to start drafts and a Two-Headed Giant flight. Good luck finding that at your local store.
4. Multiple dealers. At your store’s prerelease, if you want to buy other cards, the only choices you have is what the store is offering. Since they are the only ones selling cards there, they can set their prices wherever they want. I’m not saying your local store rips you off on prereleases, but they don’t offer deals. Regional prereleases have multiple dealers at tables right next to each other. The dealers talk and the prices of cards come down as they compete with each other to sell their cards. The prices they offer for cards goes up as well. At my last regional prerelease my son managed to spark a bidding war between two dealers over his two mint Jaces. That doesn’t happen in stores.
5. Artists. The guys running the regional prereleases can get artists to come to the event. With the number of people there, an artist can be kept busy the entire day. Is your local gamestore with 50+ people in your tournament going to bring in an artist? Not a chance. All the cards I have signed, and the artwork I have on artist proofs, are from prereleases.
6. Gunslingers. Yes, your local store can do gunslinging but is it all that interesting to play against the local player you play against regularly who made the pro tour once? Regional Prereleases bring in Magic celebrities or current Pro Tour stars. My regional prerelease regularly has Hall of Famers Darwin Kastle and Rob Dougherty.
7. Better run than stores. Most of us know of a store or two that runs spectacular tournaments. For every store like that, there are five others that are just outright horrible. The regional prereleases are run smoothly: prompt round postings, plenty of judge staff and reliable prize support. I’ve never been to a regional prerelease where I was crammed into a space that was far too small.
8. The best way to get your first big tournament experience. At a prerelease the REL is as low as it gets, but there is still the understanding that this is a tournament. If Wizards is looking to add people to the tournament scene, a regional prerelease is a great primer for that.
Without the regional prereleases all of this is gone. The replacement for this is supposed to be store tournaments? Now, for some lucky few this is fine. You lucky ones can attend a prerelease at a fine store that does a great job with a prerelease. Most of us have to make do with a crappy store whose owner has little rules knowledge and who wants nothing more than to collect the money and pass out the cards. His tiny play area is overrun and dark, with crappy chairs and dirty floors. So many card shops simply do not have the space to properly run a tournament. He has room for 8 people to play and is trying to fit 16. With the regional prereleases gone, the remaining stores will be left to accommodate those players. This is simply adding more players to cramped quarters. This is not the experience I want to suffer through every three months to get a chance at the new cards. Even for those of you in the nice stores, the problem is that no matter how well-run the store tournament is, it is still just a store tournament. It has only one or two tournaments that start at specific times. The variety of the regional prerelease is something the store owner can’t offer, no matter how much he wants to.
I speak from experience here. When the prereleases first went to stores, the regional prereleases were canceled, and I was forced to attend a store prerelease. We arrived on time, but were forced to wait for the second flight before we could play. We jammed into a small space and sat for over 2.5 hours waiting. The second flight only started because so many people had dropped from the first flight. The time between rounds was endless and there was only one judge for the entire store. It was not nearly enough for that dark basement.
Even now, I am a TO for a small store and I still don’t want to lose the regional prereleases. My store has a limited size and my prereleases already max out with just our local players. Where will I tell other players to go if there is no regional prerelease for them to attend? This will be a nightmare. This says nothing of the allotment of cards from Wizards. Each store is allotted only so many cards and it is based on prior attendance. Hopefully Wizards will have the foresight to ratchet up the allotments to the stores in expectation of bigger crowds, but I wouldn’t count on it.
Wizard of the Coast did address one of my concerns in their notice. They explained that with more GP’s, they will replace the fun, easygoing, four-times-a-year regional prerelease that gateways new players into regular tournament play with Grand Prixes (GP’s)!
Wizards is doubling the number of GP’s from 20 to 40, and places that don’t normally get GP’s will be getting them now. Latin Americawill get one and other places will see an increase in proportion to the number of Magic players there. Currently, there are 7 GP’s in the US and 1 in Canada. This would suggest North America will get 6 more GP’s. It is a good bet that these 6 extra GP’s will be spread around North America, so most places will see a GP within 8 hours drive of their location. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the four regional prereleases we are losing will not be replaced by a single GP. On top of this, the nearby GP may not be Sealed. It may not be a chance to open new cards. In fact it will almost certainly not be a prerelease.
Grand Prixes have their own set of problems as well. Going 4-0 will not get you 8 packs of cards, it will only get you less than half way through the first day. You can’t show up whenever you want to start playing, since the GP will start early and not finish until late in the day. In reality, the Grand Prixes offer very few of the benefits that the regional prereleases offered. If you are interested in some cutthroat competition in a tournament of over 1000 people, then a Grand Prix is for you. I’m betting if you are reading this, that isn’t you.
When you consider in the last year, Wizards has cut independent TO’s (leaving many thriving Magic groups foundering), dropped the Player Rewards Program, and now cut regional prereleases, I’m just not sure what they are hoping for. I assume the drive is to try to get people into their local card stores, since they have now taken away anywhere else to play. I just hope you have a nice store nearby.
On a separate note…
Be sure to check out CommanderCast next week. Yours truly and the rest of the Muse Vessel writers are guest hosting the episode! We hit a wide variety of Commander-related topics I’m sure you’ll enjoy. You’ll also be able to put a voice to the articles you are reading each week! Check it out.
Speaking of Next Week…
Wizards’ ill fortune is our article fodder! We are running our New Phyrexia set review all next week! After hours of fighting and nastiness, we’ve split the entire spoiler list up and we will be giving you our casual player look at things. While Brandon and Daryl are biters and fight dirty, I managed to get my share of the goodies and look forward to bringing you my “wisdom” on the new set.