Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Road to WPN (Part 12)

[This is part 12 in a series, and assumes that you've already read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, and Part 11] 

July 21, 2011: Today I got word from Patrick at Novel Places that a package had arrived with my name on it. I popped up there quickly, hoping that it would be the newest batch of WPN promos (every quarter, after a new set is released, there is a new batch of WPN Gateway promos that organizers can request). I wanted to get my hands on these before Saturday, and I wasn't sure if the batch for Beyond Comics would arrive in time.

Once I got there, I was greeted by these guys:
Yeah, this Auramancer is male. Get over it.
As happened last time, we received 30 copies of each of these at the store for use in upcoming WPN events. There also was a pack of D&D promo Fortune Cards, but there was no Archenemy Scheme card like last time. I chatted with Patrick for a time, but had to run for a family obligation.

As of now, there is still no sign of the 2 extra cases of Magic 2012 that we were suckered into purchasing (see Part 11 for that tale). Hopefully that means we won't be stuck with 12 more boxes at the higher price!

July 23, 2011: Today was the M12 Sealed Deck event at Beyond Comics. It was our second event at that location, and WOW did we beat expectations!

When I arrived at the store, we had 5 preregistrations only, so I was a little nervous about how many would be showing up. I needn't have worried. After a veritable rush of people about 5 to 10 minutes into registration time, we had 15 people total in the event. FIFTEEN! We only had 16 chairs in the back - if we'd had any more we'd have had to turn people away. I couldn't believe it!

The event ran very smoothly - everyone seemed to have a great time. 6 of the 15 folks were repeats from our first event, meaning we logged in a full 9 more unique members, 2 of whom were not in the DCI already, so we got our final 2 of the needed 6 "newbies".

Everyone who attended got a copy of the Auramancer promo, and those who preregistered got a Tormented Soul promo as an extra thank-you. Everyone with a record of at least 2-2-0 (6 match points) got at least one booster pack as prizes as well as 1 or 2 additional promos (I have 6 to choose from now between the two Gateway packs and leftover M12 Release promos). After those were distributed, I still had 2 prize packs in the pool (2 per attendee were in the pool), so I chose 2 of the 5 who had records below that to randomly get one of the packs, and the final 3 got to pick an additional promo - so everyone "won" something by the end of the event.

Awaiting me at the store today were TWO packages from the WPN. The promo package (which indeed had arrived Thursday as they had at Novel Places) and also a box of rule books updated for Magic 2012. The WPN sent, free of charge and without even having to order them, 25 copies of these to each Gateway and Core level WPN site (and 50 copies to the Advanced level, if my understanding is correct). This is an amazing resource for new players, and I even gave away a couple to some relatively new players who were there today. I suspect that things like this is where the money that used to be spent on Players Rewards promos is now going, in case you were wondering what that program was discontinued. I left several copies with the manager of Beyond Comics to hand out to people who come in asking how to play the game (a not-uncommon occurrence, apparently). Presumably there is (or will be soon) another box of 25 of these awaiting me at Novel Places the next time I'm up there.

An amazing resource. Thanks, WPN!
Another cool thing that happened tonight was that one of the players had been my Round 3 opponent at the New Phyrexia prerelease. This was good for me, because I had been feeling badly about being a particularly poor loser when she won our match in Game 3 due, at least in part, to mana screw on my part. I had been having an overall bad event, and was in a crappy mood - but that was no excuse for being so surly about losing. Having her attend the event today gave me the opportunity to apologize, which I gratefully took.

Also today I spoke with another attendee who has a group of friends he plays with. We spoke about the possibility of throwing together a casual event with he and his friends, where he would maybe buy a box of M12 and they could draft from it. This would give us our 3rd event, and hopefully help with reducing the number of unique players, as none of his friends have attended either of the two we've had so far. What I am hoping is that we could squeeze this in before August 13 (our next scheduled event - an M12 Draft) and maybe use the August 13 event as #4, and (hopefully) clear out the remaining 30 unique players.

What I'm not sure of is this: the deadline to register to run a prerelease for Innistrad (the next set, released at the end of September) is August 14. I don't know if the move from Gateway level to Core level is automatic (in which case we could even run a prerelease for Innistrad! Amazing!) or if there's something manual that has to be done at WPN to get us moved up, which would happen on August 15th (Monday) at the earliest. I've got an email in to my WPN rep to ask about that.

Here's the updated "Report Card" to keep you apprised of how both sites are doing in our quest to get to Core Level:
Remember when I thought the 6 new WPN members was going to be the hard one to get?
I'm really amazed and impressed that we've accomplished so much at Beyond Comics in just 2 events.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Road to WPN (Part 11)

[This is part 11 in a series, and assumes that you've already read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, and Part 10] 

July 8, 2011: Had a bit of a panic today. Patrick (of Novel Places) contacted me to let me know that the distributor, who had promised they could have the Magic 2012 product to us in time for our Launch Party on July 16, had let him know when he went to place his order that they would be delivered on July 20 (just a wee bit too late).

Patrick was planning on ordering 3 cases - 2 for my store needs, and 1 for his store, both for the events and also to have some for sale. He knew we needed the product by the 16th, so he changed the order to put in my 2 cases only (figuring he would at least make sure to get mine ordered).

On the email circuit I went, checking with multiple sources I have dealt with in the past to see if any of them could overnight us 2-3 boxes of M12 on Thursday July 14, for Patrick to get on July 15 in time for the Launch Party. Meanwhile, Patrick was checking in with a different distributor (which is a different branch of the same company that screwed us over, oddly enough), and was 100% guaranteed by them that they could get the stuff to him Thursday or Friday July 14/15. He would need to fax in an application form to set up an account for them, which he couldn't do until Saturday (he has no fax machine in the store, and seeing as he's the sole employee of his store right now, he can't exactly shut his store down and pop out to a place with a fax).

All 3 of my sources indicated that they would be able and willing to help out if necessary. I wrote back and told them we would have to wait and see what happened with the new distributor. Keeping fingers crossed...

July 10, 2011: Today I decided to attend a prerelease at the closest "competition" to Novel Places. In the interest of not being unprofessional, I will not name the establishment, as I have some negative things to say about the experience (as well as one or two positives).

The first problem was finding the place. I had an address, and my little GPS function in my smart phone. It took me to a strip mall with a grocery store. I was looking for a certain street address, with unit #201. That address was on some of the storefronts in the strip mall, but they all had unit #'s like F3 - but three-digit numbers.

So, I called the place and found out they were across the street from that mall, in a row of what look like townhouses, but are actually businesses (they themselves are located above a barbershop, for instance). Ah - whoops. My mistake, there.

Once I get over to the right place and head for the stairs up to the store, the first thing I find when I open the door is a Snickers wrapper with one bite of candy left which has been ground underfoot. Lovely first impression. Immediately stereotypes of large, unwashed, unhygienic gamer folk spring to mind. Foreshadowing, anyone?

When I open the door to the place I was immediately hit by a palpable wave of what can only be described as "gamer funk." The space was fairly small, filled with tables (as you would expect) and eager folks ready to play some M12. I must admit that many of the clientele fell into the gamer stereotype I mentioned above [in the interest of full disclosure, I fit the overweight part of this myself - but I daresay I cannot be accused of being unwashed or unhygienic]. The vast majority of the players fit the expected demographic of white males. There was one African-American male, and one white female when I first walked in. We were later joined by a few Asian-American males. So, in other words, pretty much what you'd expect in a typical MTG gaming event (at least any I have experienced).

I registered myself in ($25 flat - either he's not reporting taxes on these, or he has built it into the price) and sat down to wait. When I signed in, the owner showed me his snack & drink section. The fridge had one door held shut by a clamp. There was a drip pan underneath to (I assume) catch condensation from the compressor. Another fridge/freezer had a large toaster oven atop it. In that toaster oven he will pop a frozen pizza for you for $9.75. Yes, someone bought one during the event.

My prerelease itself was rather disappointing. While I think I got a pretty good sealed pool, I just couldn't seem to build anything decent with it (or my opponents just got better pools). I lost Round 1 two games to 1 (and only won game 2 because my opponent got mana screwed). I got a bye Round 2, and popped out to get lunch (I was not going to buy a frozen pizza for almost ten bucks). Round 3 I was readily trashed in two games, after trashing my original blue/black build for a black/red build I hoped would perform better.
Doesn't blue/black seem the obvious build here?
The rares & mythics all screamed "build blue/black!"

And for Round 4 my opponent had to leave as his ride was heading out. So, I ended up with a 2-2 record having only won a single game. Fairly pathetic.

During Round 4, since I didn't want to leave until I knew if I would be winning anything, I watched some other matches, and cleaned up a Coke spill on one of the tables and a chair which apparently the spiller didn't feel they needed to do (nor did any one of the numerous people I saw attempt to sit in that chair). This despite the fact that said chair was right next to the bathroom, where paper towels and water were readily available. I mean, come on people - seriously? Must you live like absolute pigs?

Things I learned about running WPN events today:
  • Post your winning structure fairly early (Round 3 at the latest, I'd say). People need to be able to make an informed decision on whether to stick with the whole tournament or not. I should not have had to sit through all of Round 4 waiting to see if I would even win anything or not. Since my opponent had left, I had nothing to stick around for except the hope that I would at least win 1 pack (which I did end up doing, thankfully - otherwise I would have been furious).
  • Encourage and try to promote a clean environment. Thankfully I don't own or run the stores where I organize events, so it doesn't fall entirely on me. But I encourage my players to think of ourselves as guests, and treat the establishment with respect. That uncleaned up Coke spill and the abandoned Snickers wrapper should never have happened.
  • Encourage better behavior as well. I've brought at least one of my sons to each event I've organized so far. They're 11 and almost-8. They don't need to be hearing F-bombs flying around all over the place. And, frankly, such language is inappropriate and unnecessary. Especially in the case of my events, where we are in a store during normal business hours, where gaming is not the main focus of the business.
  • One thing that the owner did that I truly thought a good idea: giveaways during each round. As a nice way to encourage people to maybe stick around when they would otherwise drop out, randomly selecting a few players each round to receive some giveaway may work wonders. I think I'd skip Round 1 if my purpose were to encourage people to stay, but otherwise I think it was a great idea. I won a nifty spin-down life counter die with the Planeswalker symbol where the 20 would be in Round 1. Cool.
July 12, 2011: It looks like we are safe on the M12 product. Patrick is quite certain that the new distributor will work. Meanwhile we are trying to get the 2 cases he ordered for me from the other source canceled, as they were charging more for the product than the new place. They have a no cancellation policy, but we are hoping we can get an exception made, since they completely lied about being able to get the stuff to us in time.

Meanwhile, I have asked Patrick to order me two more cases from the new place, as I really can't afford to wait almost a week after the release date to get the new set up into inventory on my site!  If the original order can't be canceled, I guess I'll just resort to selling unopened boxes on eBay!

As far as I am concerned, this is even more reason to try to quickly get up to Core Level in the WPN, because then you can set up an account with WotC directly, and not have this distributor nightmare to worry about.

At least, if the new place works out, we won't have this headache to deal with for future sets. 

July 15, 2011: Today was the M12 release date, and the scheduled arrival date of the 3 cases (and 3 Fat Packs) that Patrick ordered from the new distributor.

Around 1:45 or so I get this tweet from Patrick:
UPS driver just pulled up. He knows I'm waiting 4 this order. Said a fatal accident closed I-95 & UPS freight truck was stopped.
You have GOT to be kidding me! After all the problems with ordering, PLEASE don't tell me our M12 is stuck in a freight truck somewhere! [And, of course, tragic that someone(s) lost their life/lives in the accident - it does kind of put a little perspective on my whining, doesn't it?]

This was followed by this string of tweets:
Driver scared because they were going to the truck to pull off next days only for delivery. Had 3 boxes in his truck for me.
1st box is @DonnaAndrews13new The Real Macaw, available July 20. I'll have to see if I can get her to sign them on Monday.
UPS driver is looking at the next 2 boxes to see where they came from, and the winner is ... Alliance Games! God Bless you, Tim!
[Tim is Patrick's "handler" at the new distributor, who did a little bending over backwards to get this order to us.]

The boys and I jump in the car and head up to Clarksburg to pick up my two cases so I could start opening packs for my store's inventory. We are a go for our Launch Party!

I had to take a shot of Patrick's MTG display at his store. It looks so professional! You can tell he brings a book store mentality to it: have you EVER seen booster packs displayed so artfully before? Awesome!
I'd almost be afraid to buy a booster pack and disturb the aesthetics!

July 16, 2011: Launch Party!!!!

Today could not have gone better (with the possible exception of a few more players). It was so far improved over the first event held at Novel Places (see Part 9 for that story). We had 9 players in attendance, so we were able to run the event as sanctioned. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, and all involved I believe had a great time.

The most impressive (and humbling) thing for me was the fact that three gentleman actually made a road trip down from New York just to be with us for this Launch Party. The trip was spearheaded by Mike Cox (@Burritoman88 on Twitter). He wanted to help out with our efforts to move up to Core Level in the WPN, and I very much appreciate the time and effort he and his friends put into coming down to join us. If they hadn't been there, we would have had only 6 players, and my older son and I would have had to join in the event to have the 8 minimum needed. And to make things even better, this was the first WPN event for one of the three, so we had another new DCI card to issue, helping us along in that portion of the process!

We were also joined by Craig & his daughter (who were there for our first event), another Twitter follower who happens to live in Clarksburg (thanks, Mike!), one of the players from my first event at Beyond Comics (as well as a friend of his, and fellow member of The Hoopy Froods' Amazingly Together, Pan-Galactic MTG League) and a player who found us through the WPN Event Locator (nice to know that thing actually works!).

Four rounds of Swiss were played, with a prize structure paying out to anyone with a 2-2 record or higher. Most of the players chipped in for pizza at registration time, which I popped out during Round 2 to pick up. I'm pleased to say I only know of one spill incident, where a player had tomato sauce squirt out from his pizza, and he immediately went for a napkin to clean up the drops off the floor.

After the event, I decided that for these Road to WPN write-ups, I need a report card keeping track of how we're doing so far in our quest to get to Core Level. So, without further ado:
The WPN Report Card as of July 19, 2011.
My next scheduled event is this coming Saturday (July 23) at Beyond Comics. It will be a M12 Sealed Deck Event. Then in August we have M12 Drafts scheduled for each store (August 6 for Novel Places and August 13 for Beyond Comics).


Saturday, July 02, 2011

The Road to WPN (Part 10)

[This is part 10 in a series, and assumes that you've already read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, and Part 9]

June 24, 2011: Stopped by Beyond Comics today to meet with the manager, John. He had told me that the store had received some WPN materials, and I wanted to make sure my netbook and smart phone were connected up to the store's wifi network for our event on July 2.

The hook-up to the network went reasonably well (once John was able to locate the correct WEP key for the network), but the WPN materials were a bit disappointing. I was expecting there to be the foil cards from the Gateway support kit, and the banners & posters from the Store Support kit. But instead, all that awaited my perusal was the Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012 promo foils and decks (which, granted, are nice - and I wasn't sure they'd be able to get the decks since we had applied after the May 25 deadline, so - yay, there). John told me that these were all the materials with my name on it he knew about (although he had been away the entire week prior).

So I went home and found some emails from my WPN rep who had, apparently, been out recovering from surgery (thus explaining his lack of email responses of late). Since he seemed to be in, I quickly shot off an email asking about the Gateway support kit and Store support kit I had ordered for Beyond Comics. He replied fairly quickly and said he's get the tracking info. A few minutes later I got another email letting me know the items had been shipped, delivered, and signed for. I sent this info to John, who did a little digging and discovered that the items had arrived, but a helpful employee had cleaned up and stashed them in the back room, where John never even saw them.

Also in this email batch from Brian at WPN I was assured that yes, indeed, the casual event I ran at Novel Places (when our first event didn't produce the needed 8 participants to be sanctioned) would count as our first event. So, that's a small load off my mind.

JUNE 28, 2011: Today I stopped by Beyond Comics' Frederick, MD location to pick up some additional flyers for the July 2 event, for posting at some local community centers (I was going to be in Frederick, anyway, so it was not a problem to swing by and pick them up). My younger son and I drove to several community centers and posted flyers on their community events boards.

A Twitter follower recommended I may want to post an ad on Craig's List as well, which I thought was an excellent suggestion (thanks, @studweaver!). So, now, there is a Craig's List ad for the event.

For all future events I think I will use both of these methods to further advertise and hopefully bring more folks in. Every little bit helps, I think!

My final task for the day WPN-wise was to try and tackle the netbook/printer problem. After over an hour (during which I thought I had licked the problem more than once) I have given up. Either I need a newer printer that definitely has a Windows 7 driver, or I need to upgrade my netbook from Windows 7 Starter to Windows 7 Home Edition (I have no trouble printing from my desktop computer which is running the latter). Before I resort to either of those, however, I plan to go to Beyond Comics tomorrow and see if I can print from my netbook to their printer via their network. If so, then that will be one less thing I have to drag with me to events there, at least. I can also go through the other WPN materials this way, and maybe get that vinyl banner hung up at the store.

JUNE 29, 2011: Did make it to Beyond Comics, and was able to successfully print from their printer via their network, so there's that minor crisis solved. Also, I picked up the WPN promos (30x each of the Maul Splicer and Vault Skirge foil promos, as well as 20x more Drench the Soil in Their Blood). I think we are ready for Saturday!

JULY 1, 2011: I decided that instead of lugging my two very large and heavy boxes full of "scratch & dent" cards, I would instead bring several of my "grab bags" - 100 scratch & dent cards in a box for $3. So I spent some time today making up 20 more of those (each one contains 10 basic lands, 75 commons, 10 uncommons & 5 rares/mythics/foils). I also spent a fair amount of time getting everything packed up for tomorrow (WPN promos, card sleeves, grab bags, DCI cards, table number signs, etc, etc, etc).

JULY 2, 2011: Night and Day. That's all I can think of to describe the difference between today's event and my first event two weeks ago.

I think that this event had several things going for it that helped things out:
  • Beyond Comics has already established themselves as a source for Magic product. At least two of today's attendees found out about the event simply by stopping by the store to buy some booster packs.
  • They are located in a more central, busy location. Novel Places, while an incredibly lovely historic building, is somewhat "in the middle of nowhere" (which I'm sure the folks in Clarksburg would not appreciate me saying).
  • There was more advertising done for this one (a lesson I learned from the last one).
  • We weren't competing against Launch Parties for a popular product (as we were two weeks ago when Commander was released).
All of this lead to a very well attended event, with 10 participants (without the need for any of my own family to join in!). Four of the 10 were new to WPN events, and needed to get their DCI numbers (good news for us towards moving up to Core Level), and the remaining 6 were very nice, laid-back (dare I say "casual") players, who were very welcoming of the new folks, making for an overall very positive vibe to the event.

The event was again a Scars of Mirrodin block sealed event. I believe it was the first time that the 4 new DCI members had played a sealed event, so we made sure to cover how things worked (and some of the veterans even gave the newcomers some deck-building advice, which was great!). We ran 4 rounds of Swiss, had an overall 4-0-0 champion (12 match points), two 2nd-place winners (3-1-0 records; 9 match points) and 4 3rd-place winners (2-2-0 records; 6 match points).

I pulled 20 booster packs to be the prize pool (2 per customer), and had the WPN foil promos to use as well (each participant got a foil Vault Skirge just for signing up). The two people who had preregistered I gave an additional promo to (there's got to be SOME incentive for signing up in advance!). Folks with the following records got these prizes:
  • 4-0-0: 6 booster packs & 2 promos
  • 3-1-0: 4 booster packs & 2 promos
  • 2-2-0: 1 booster pack & 1 promo
In a move that I think surprised most of the recipients, I let the winners choose which set (Scars of Mirrodin, Mirrodin Besieged, or New Phyrexia) their booster packs were from, and also which of the 3 WPN promo cards they wanted to receive.

Those of you quick with the math have figured out that I've only accounted for 18 of the 20 prize packs. For the participants who didn't place in the 2-2-0 bracket or higher (3 of them in this case), I randomly chose two to each received a booster pack as an additional prize (and the remaining player I let pick another promo for himself).

I think, overall, I couldn't have asked for the event to go much better at all. Several people said they'd definitely be attending more of these events in the future (some even assured me they'd try to come up to Novel Places in Clarksburg for the M12 Launch Party). I overheard a few say they'd rather come to an event here than at some other store I won't mention because the atmosphere is much more friendly, and not as competitive (which is something I really appreciate - I hope we can maintain that open welcoming atmosphere to our events). One gentlemen is part of an entire playgroup and assured me he would be spreading the word about our events. John, the manager was very pleasantly surprised at the turnout (and with the monetary inflow that comes with it as well), so I think it is safe to say that no-one involved was disappointed at the end.

In short, it was AWESOME!

As will become my habit, I am sure, I will give you the scorecard for how this location is doing at meeting the hoops we need to jump through in order to reach the Core Level where we can run prereleases and FNMs:
  • Report a minimum of 4 events [this counts as our first of the 4]
  • Have a minimum of 30 unique people playing in your reported events [we have 10 so far - only 20 more to go!]
  • Run and report a single event with 12 players or more [so close! Hopefully our next one will hit 12!]
  • Maintain a delinquency rate of less than 20% [no problem - event is already reported]
  • Introduce 6 new players to WPN events [4 new players already!]
Our next event at this site will be in 3 weeks - a Magic 2012 sealed-deck event on July 23 at 1 p.m.

My next event will be in 2 weeks, however, at Novel Places - the Magic 2012 Launch Party. I have high hopes for this event being MUCH bigger than the first event at this location.

Things I learned from this event (for any out there who may be considering going down this Road themselves):
  • The WER has a built-in timer that you can display full-screen on your computer. While this may not be large enough to see at a big event, it worked fine for this one today.
  • I think a 1 p.m. start time worked VERY well. If we hadn't already advertised the M12 Launch Party as starting at 4, I would consider moving it (and may see if Patrick is willing to start earlier in the future).
  • Be generous with the WPN promos. Attendees love getting the bonus, and WPN gives so many (I got, between the 2 sites, 60 copies each of the Vault Skirge and Maul Splicer promos!).
  • I wish I had collected people's emails, or had a sign-up sheet for a newsletter of future WPN events. I need to generate this - the newsletter works well for my regular store, so why the heck not run one for the WPN events?
All in all, this was a very pleasant stretch of the Road to WPN.