Friday, July 4, 2008

From the Wire to the Soapbox: Changes to Pre/Release Events

co-written by
Jeff Darran (Phfantom on Scifi Genre and ) and

Wizards made another recent announcement regarding changes to the pre/release schedule, which has caused a lot of discussion. If you have not read the announcement, you may wish to do so prior to continuing this article. Wizards has opened the field to a broader range of organizers to run events for thesepre/release times, and has narrowed the time frame between pre-release and release event from two weeks to one week. One of the regions highest level organizers, James Bailey of, has taken the time to organize his thoughts and conerns on this issue. The following article is written in a dueling banjos style of point, counter-point by myself, and with Jeff presenting the opposing opinion. We have had numerous board,IM , and telephone conversations here, and have compiled and recreated the spirit of those discussions in order to present a fair and balance perspective on a subject that will have major impact on the community. We invite you to hear both sides with an open mind, and form your own opinion.

the_magi and Jeff Darran

I think this is a change has a great promise, but that only time will tell if that promise is kept. It is important to remember that this is an effort to expand the community, not for it to compete would each other. I love the idea of more people able to run the traditionally big events. I would love to see a "regional" level organizer running an event on Saturday, with a "local" level organizer running an event the next day. I think the bottom line for organizers here is not to try and compete head-2-head. The idea here is to diversify the offerings of the events. Not to run 15 mirrored tournaments at the same time all over the region.

I actually agree with part of what Phil said, about the local pre-releases being on Sunday, but only to an extent. I wouldn't be able to if the Release is 6 days away. Let's look at a typical pre-release. I attended the Morningtide Pre-release in January 2008, in Durham, NC. I got there at 835am, and discovered when i registered, that Flight 1 was already full, and I was one of the last people that signed up for Flight #2. GREAT! 8:35am, and we are already on Flight #3! That means at this point that there are already 64+ people here. Over the course of the day people left and new people came in. They wound up running 10 flights that day. I played in 2 of them. I also did 2 booster drafts that day. I'm not going to get that at apre -release at my local store. The Release at my local store has generated between 16 and 40 people in the past 5 I went to ( I was out of the game for a period of time, got back in shortly after Time Spiral hit) which is great. The problem is that those 40 people play for 4 hours, and are then ready to move on. Not all, but some. Enough that I won't get to play a second tournament at a local store. I get 1 round, like it or not.

There are those that are going to want to attend the big event, because its the big event, regardless of what the local store is doing. Local stores are going to have to decide to compete with the big boys, or not but at least there is a decision to be made know. There is also a group of players that will attend at the store level, and never even thought about attending a big event. These are the players that are added to the equation, and where the local events can added to the community. The smart organizers are going to find ways to "step it up" by finding a niche. Simply offering more prize support is very short sided, because somebody is always going to be able to trump you. The kind of steps I would be thinking about is offering different events, and bring other factors to the table. Artists and celebrities have been making appearances at events for years, and contributing to larger attendance all the while. Creative people will find creative answers to problems. It's called marketing. I know I often travel for events that feature artists, there really is no limit to the incentives that could be offered for attendance to a particular event.

I am not opposed to "change" as long as its change for the better. I don't believe that all of this is change for the better. I support the local stores, as I realize its not conducive to have a large tournament every month. I would be happy to have more 16k type tournaments at the local level. However, this is not the change Wizards is making. Wizards is reducing the major tournaments and reducing the number of paths to get to the ones that still exist. I go play inPTQ's a lot. They are great and I get more practice and better at the game. Am I a Pro Tour player? Not by any stretch of the imagination....... YET. Would I like to be at that level, HELL YES. How do you get to that level? Honestly, by getting your feet wet, and playing at the Major level tournaments. You don't know what to expect unless you've been to one. That said, you should have some idea of how your deck works before you take it to a big tournament. Do all of you know that Wizards has cut out States from the line of Tournaments this year? States didn't offer huge prizes like aPTQ did, it was geared towards the more casual crowd. Is there such a thing as a casual big tournament? Yes, there is, its called STATES. But its gone now. Wizards is cutting out the tournaments that the casual folks play. Granted there were 180 people at States, but with nothing related to a Pro Tour at stake, people came and played for bragging rights as well as booster boxes.

Wizards is making changes that will wind up hurting the game. For example, the Pre-release is now 6 days before the official Release date. This is a change that hurts EVERYONE. I will acknowledge that the economy is in a slump, that not everyone has a crap-ton of spending cash. I will acknowledge that i do tend to spend a decent amount at thePre -releases, however, with the 13 days in between, i can pull that from one paycheck, and spend on my booster box and Release tourney with the other paycheck. I plan this out 2 months in advance. If the events are only 6 days apart now, I have to choose between thePre -release weekend of madness, and supporting my local retailer with a booster box and Release tournament. I don't know which i will choose.

I totally agree with the issues raised on the timing of the events. Putting these two existing events, and potentially more events closer together is a mistake for Wizards. I can only hope that they realize this fairly quickly, so that it can be corrected before it does to much damage. As a budget player myself, I have no doubt that this will effect many of the very players that Wizards is trying to target.

We also need to keep in mind that Wizards has not released all the information regarding the play network. There is a lot of speculation that Wizards is going to offer different levels and forms of support for each of the organizer levels. There has been concern that players won't travel to events, if they can simply attend a local event. I bet they would if they got a different promo card at that event. What if higher level organizers had other official prizes? There is a lot of possibilities here.

When ever Wizards and DCI make a change folks come out of the wood work to explain how it spells the doom for the game. This is still the longest runningTCG in the industry, and Wizards/DCI has made mistakes in the past that didn't destroy it. Change can be a good think, and good organizers and good communities will find a way to thrive in the new environment. Frankly, any "big event" organizer that can't find a way to compete with Mom&Pop size stores, and grassroots organizers, may not be as big as they think they are. I'm not saying this about James and company. I have had very little personal contact with their events, but have always had good experience, and always heard good things about their events and staff. I simply refuse to believe that organizations like these are going to be toppled by little folks like me, or the ripples of scheduling. Many people with in the community, who are have been comfortable for years in what, how, when and why they do things are now watching the landscape shift around them. They may be forced to compete with the new surroundings, and like everyone, they are scared of the unknown.

Phil pointed out that he "...simply refuses to believe that organizations like these are going to be toppled by little folks like me." He's right. The Tournament Organizers aren't going to be toppled by little folks like any of us. They will get toppled by Wizards, who has managed to form an angry mob. Lets say you go to aPre-release at a local store. Let's say that in the RDU area, all 4 of the major stores get the Pre -release Tournament go ahead from Wizards. Are the 4 stores going to work together to not overlap who starts when so as not to be in direct competition. A game needs 8 people to beDCI sanctioned. What happens when only 7 show up. They don't get to play? If the stores do work together and stagger them all over the time frames, so as not to be in direct competition, what happens when 3 people show up at the last of the stores. Conversely, what happens if 100 people show up? At this point every storethats going to run a tournament has to have enough product on hand so that everyone can play. But how do they know how much thats going to be. No one is made of money, they can't afford to order 5 cases of tournament packs and 5 booster boxes to supply 60 people. Lets look at another part of this situation. Why is it that Wizards moved thePre-release and Release date so close for the future? Perhaps its a lack of control issue.&nbsp ; With the big tournament organizers, they can project how many will show up, and they get product accordingly (including extra for growth of the events, and to not run out). At the end of the event they send all the unused product back. If Wizards is going to start providing to each and every store at the local level who is holding an event, they no longer have the promise that they will get the leftover product back. There will be retailers (not in our area) that won't send the excess product back, they will start selling it. I would wager this is why the shortness between events. Its so that they can control the release of cards into the community better. I am not saying that the retailers in our area would do this. BUT there will be some that will.

In the end this promise will be kept or broken, not by the DCI, or Wizards, but by the community. A far better man then I once made note, that "Bravery is not the absence of fear, but the actions you take in spite of the fear". In every example of evolution you can see that those that adapt to change, not only survive, but flourish. If we stand together as a community, pool our resources, and explore our newly expanded option together, we can ultimately grow our community. Each member of this community will make these decisions for themselves, but will be impacted by the decisions of those around them. Do we hesitate due to fear, or do we press on despite it? Do we stand together, or quibble over fiefdoms? Do we evolve or wait for extinction? I have made my choice, and in this vein I conclude this article with a modest proposal.

To every event organizer with in the sound of voice, and view of my written word. From the smallest newest budding organizers like myself, to the biggest regional organizers like James, and every store in between, I say simply, lets pool our resources. Instead of running separate events, lets run the single biggest best damn event the south east has ever seen. Lets bring it all together (or multiple locations as needed), and set the new standard for events like this for the entire Magic universe. The Carolina region has a broad enough community to really make this work, in a way Wizards probably hasn't even dreamed of. Grassroots newbie scrubs like myself are perfect for running event segments like open dueling, and other low impact activities. We have a working knowledge of the game, and if we screw up a ruling, there is limited impact. We could do this on a volunteer basis, gaining valuable contacts and experience, and freeing up the judge resources for higher impact activities. Store organizers could handle things like the side events, from booster drafts, two-headed-giant, and side constructed events of all sorts. The typical 8-man pod for this kind of event is just the speed (or smaller) then what they are used to. They have the knowledge, experience, and resources to make this event segment work, again freeing up the limited Judge resources for more crucial activities. Both of these game segments can be run from beginning to end by separate organizers, sharing costs, responsibilities and work load. Both of these examples give invaluable experience to a wide range of folks, and seeds the ground for future potential rules advisers, and judge applicants. Lets not forget, that in addition to more judge power for the main event, this will increase the crowds for our little endeavor, since they will not be lined up at different locations all over the immediate area. We can bring them in for one event, and keep them there with a broad, and deep offering of events from dawn to dusk. Now I realize that this is a completely different concept from any event I have ever seen offered in the magic community, but it has the potential to redefine what we mean by "big event". It is going to takeun-matched organization, communication, and cooperation to make this work. We have the resources, but are we willing to try?

I disagree here to a point, but only part of the point. I don't like the comparison of this situation to fear or bravery. I like his idea, I think its a great idea on paper. The problem with this is that this is what is already happening at a pre-release. I am not trying to be negative, but how does the judging staff become less burdened? Tournament organizers aren't judges, they hire the judges. I also ask on your idea, what are the local stores in this sense bringing to the table? Volunteer work to organize something that still has to run through the computer by James and his staff? Are the locals helping with the costs of the events. Do you have any idea how expensive these venues are? There is a lot that goes into these events. Wizards has not put any thoughts into this set of decisions. Back to the beginning point. At the typicalPre -release tournament, I get the options of open dueling, flights, and 2 headed giant right from the beginning. booster drafts start at 2-4pm depending on demand. and when people have gone up and asked about it, that's generally when they will take names and start running them. These events are already staffed and while the judging resources are slim, maybe they would like one or 2 more, but there is still great judging, and i have never had to wait more than a minute or 90 seconds for one to appear after i yell judge and raise my arm. Part of the "crucial activities" that Phil refers to is running the side events. Again, the idea looks tempting on paper, but there are still big questions. What do the smaller retailers bring to the table in this plan? I don't see this bringing in more players. I see fewer showing up due to costs. Sadly costs are going to be a killing instrument in this equation. That means fewer whole dollars to pay for a venue. Fewer dollars to pay for the judges. Fewer dollars to pay for everything. In conclusion, I just don't see this change being anywhere remotely close to good.

Like I said earlier, there are many questions to be addressed. I hope we can bring the interested parties together to explore the answers. I think this is feasible if everyone is willing to work together. We can share the overall costs, responsibilities and hopefully create larger rewards together, then multiple single efforts could generate. If you are interested in joining a round table discussion to explore this issue, please email me at

Thank you all for taking the time to read our thoughts on this important issue to our Magic Community. Now that you have explored the many sides to the issues, I hope you have a better understanding of the key issues, and have formed your own opinions about how you can best deal with the coming changes. Please feel free to post your comments.

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