Rather than a single article, you’ll get three vignettes all relating to the Innistrad prerelease.
Act One: DFC and checklist card issues
So Mark Rosewater and everyone else at Wizards asked us to reserve judgment on the double-faced cards until we had played with them. Well, I got a chance to play with them. In the long run, I think the cards will be fine, but in the short term, at the prerelease, the cards were a disaster.
I knew the double-sided cards were coming, so I ordered sleeves to give out as a gift for each of the players in the prerelease. I know that many players play without sleeves at a prerelease, so I thought that providing sleeves would give those players the option of using their double-faced cards in the deck with the sleeves. I ordered a variety of colors to give fun options to the players. Black, blue, green, red, orange, yellow, and white sleeves were seen all over the tournament. Or at least until just before the first round when people realized they could see the back of the double-faced cards through the lighter colored sleeves. In the end, only the black and blue sleeves were effective.
At the prerelease, the cards are still brand new. The difficulty with the double-sided cards was that some players could not remember exactly what the Night side of the card did after they sleeved up. This meant that they either revealed that they had a flip card in their hand when they pulled it out of the sleeve to determine what exactly the Night side did, or they played it without being sure, then desleeved it and looked. Thankfully, this is a problem that should lessen as the cards become better known.
Most players who used sleeves were happy enough to pull the card from the sleeve, flip it, and return it to the sleeve whenever they needed to flip the card.
For the players using the checklist cards, we saw this in our opening hands:
Now I know that many players flip through their cards, so they see all of every card in their hand. When they get to the checklist card, they see the mana cost of the card and the name, and their neat checkmark or X next to one of the cards. I am not in that habit. I spread the cards down so I can see the name and the mana cost.
Generally, that is the information I need, since I know the cards and know what each of them do. The checklist means I can’t see this, so now I’m forced to flip through my cards all the time, whether I have a checklist card or not since I’m giving away information about my deck if I don’t do it every time. Now even I am making that annoying flip sound constantly through a game. I know this is a minor problem, but for those of you who constantly flip your cards, try playing a game and never flipping the cards once just to see how ingrained it is into your play style.
The checklist card also meant a problem similar to that the sleeved deck players faced. For many of us, this meant that we would peek over at the double-faced cards sitting off to the side to determine exactly what the card did, to be sure we played them in the correct order at the correct time. I couldn’t remember the toughness of Kruin Outlaw and my opponent had a card out that could do two damage to a creature. Throughout the day, alert opponents knew what cards players had in hand, simply by watching their opponent look over at the double-faced cards. This is another problem that will fade in time, but during the prerelease, it was very annoying.
Act Two: Overcrowding
I ended up with twenty-one people in the tournament. It was supposed to be 20, but I had agreed to save a space for someone more than a month ago, then thought they cancelled, so I ended up with 21. My previous high was 16, and it should probably stay at 16. Our community library is quite small. The prereleases fill half of the library. Most of the players are young and prefer to “battle” on the carpeted floor since they can barely see over the table unless they are standing. I only have table seating for 12 players at best. Not surprisingly, 21 was a mess, with players playing all over the place.
If I had a bigger location, I could have easily had more than 30 players. I had so many players call up, wanting to know when things started. Many were very surprised that I had no room for more players. In fact, I had started turning players away almost a week ahead of time.
On Twitter and from friends, I heard about full houses all over the place. While I would love to credit Wizards for doing such a great job marketing Innistrad, the reality is the loss of the regional prerelease. The regional prerelease in theBostonarea consisted of a single day with 32-man flights firing all day long. There were usually 400 people at these regional prereleases at any time in the day, so it was likely that far more than 400 people played at each regional prerelease. This was in addition to the stores each holding their own prerelease.
This stopped right before New Phyrexia was released. The small set prereleases are always more poorly attended than a large set prerelease, so the press of players was not felt for that prerelease. The M12 prerelease was a core set prerelease, and these are not well-attended either. Innistrad was the first test of the prereleases without any regional prerelease support, and it failed miserably.
Small stores have capacity that is limited due to the size restrictions of the store or location where their prerelease is being held. Most small stores that I was aware of (an admittedly small sample, exclusive to the New England area) were already full to capacity. The extra people from the regional prereleases were left to find room at larger stores who could not possibly provide space (or product) for hundreds of extra players.
I understand that Wizards is doing everything they can to support local gaming stores; I applaud the effort. However, at the same time, ensuring everyone gets to play the game is the absolute top priority, and that did not happen for this prerelease. Get the regional prereleases back in place in time for next year’s big set prerelease. Turning players away is just not good for Magic.
Act Three: My deck
I have never played in one of my own prereleases before. I am a one man show for these small prereleases, so playing a game of Magic while handling judge calls, loading results, and dealing with the other surprises and situations that come up during a tournament have always made me reluctant to join in. On top of that, I have always capped my tournaments, so there has always been an even number of players. The last thing I wanted was to create a situation where one of the players was waiting around for an hour to play Magic.
This time, I had 21 players signed up for the tournament, so I went in thinking I may end up playing. This thought was quickly banished when one of the players was not there at the 10:00 start time. Twenty players were going to keep me plenty busy through the day, so I was almost relieved. Just as the deckbuilding was finishing, Matt, my 21st player, showed up. He had expected an 11:00 start and arrived accordingly. I managed to add him to the tournament, but stuck him with a first round loss, so he spent the first round building a deck.
I knew with Matt in the tournament, I would be looking at an uneven number of players. I didn’t want to add my name to the tournament since I only wanted to play if I had an uneven number of players. I resolved the problem by being the spellslinger for my tournament!
After opening my packs, I knew I’d be using red. The only real question was what the other color would be. While white’s removal was very conditional, and it was the only color offering up any flyers, so I went R/W. Highlights included:
Kruin Outlaw – This card was solid on the Light side, and a complete house on the dark side. The double red in the casting cost was a problem once, but that was a result of me poorly balancing my Mountains and Plains, rather than a knock on the card.
Instigator Gang – I liked this card when I saw the +1/+0 on the Light side. On the Dark side, +3/+0 just ended games very quickly.
Hanweir Watchkeep – I almost preferred to not see this one flipped. Being forced to attack every turn was not always what I wanted. At least he seemed to bring a creature with him when he died.
Tormented Pariah – This card benefitted from the numbers game. I know it was overcosted, but I wanted to up my creature count, so he made the cut.
Bloodcrazed Neonate x2 – These guys never had more than one counter on them since people just blocked them. I think I was expecting too much, since I was completely underwhelmed by these cards.
Ashmouth Hound – Seemed like a good weenie, but its ability was never used.
Balefire Dragon – I only had one chance to play it, but my opponent couldn’t even deal with the one creature I already had out, so it stayed in my hand. For his mana cost, I think he will be heading directly to my dragonstorm deck.
Brimstone Volley x2 – They were always expensive Lightning Bolts. The Volley is what you used to kill a creature, not wait for a creature to die so you could do two more damage. Given my removal in the deck though, I was happy to pay three for three damage.
Devil’s Play – This is pretty much as good as expected. I even got to use the flashback to kill a second creature!
Cloistered Youth – I had only one chance to play it and I didn’t. Losing a life each turn wasn’t appealing and I had the game in hand.
Mausoleum Guard – I liked the idea of 1/1 flying tokens since I had almost no flyers.
Slayer of the Wicked – I never played it, but it was played against me. It looks really good in limited formats. I may run him in some multiplayer decks since there are at least 4 different Vampire and Zombie decks in my group right now. The danger is that he is likely an expensive vanilla card too many times.
Voiceless Spirit – I wanted a flyer so I added him to my deck. It wasn’t until afterwards that I realized what a beast this creature can be.
Doomed Traveler – More flying tokens seemed like a good idea.
I’d like to tell you that my deck steamrolled my opponents, demonstrating its dominance and my skill as a deckbuilder, but we need to remember, I was playing against the player who was getting the bye, which meant my opponents had not won a match yet. I was manascrewed in my first game and lost, but the Kruin Outlaw and Instigator Gang came up in the next game, right on the curve, to cause problems. Simon ran out of spells to cast, so he had to let them flip on turn 5, and he just had no way to stop it. Game three looked like it was going well for me with the Instigator Gang and Hanweir Watchkeep doing the work this time. However, between judge calls and deck questions, and inputting results, we just ran short of time. I conceded with 5 minutes left in the round, so Simon got his prize booster.
My next round was against Spencer #3 who was playing an all-green deck with only 11 creatures. I probably would have added a second color, but his green pool really was quite deep, so I understood why he did it. Unfortunately for him, none of his 11 creatures showed up in either game.
The deck was fun to play, but the checklist cards I used were very annoying. While the deck seemed like it would be quite good, I suspect I was weak to flying. I also think that talented players will parse out their spells slowly to prevent you from transforming your flip creatures. The problem with the flip cards was that if you want to reliably flip them, you have to be prepared to kill your tempo and do nothing for a turn. I wasn’t prepared to do that, so I tried to apply pressure to my opponent in the hopes of drawing out all of their stuff right away, leaving them with no way to stop the flip. Once the flip happened, I had to apply significant pressure right away, since I did not want my opponent to be able to hold off playing a spell in an effort to play two spells the next turn. I’ll be looking forward to seeing how these actually end up playing in multiplayer games, where they could flip back and forth before you even get back to your turn.
All in all, the tournament went well and everyone had a good time. The rounds were quick and each round started quickly after the next. Only one round went beyond the 50 minute time limit and turnarounds were never more than three minutes after the last match in the previous round finished. Garruk was a big star as well. He’ll be coming back for Dark Ascension!
I gave out a free pack to everyone during the second round, and a pack for every match win. While this is a little lousy for the 4-0 players, it does mean that the guys at 0-3 still have something to play for. With my younger crowd (7-15 years old this time around) this just seems like a plan everyone likes.
 There were three Spencers in the tournament. This was the youngest and it was his first prerelease.