Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Road to WPN (Part 23)

[This is part 23 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, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13, Part 14, Part 14.5, Part 15, Part 16, Part 17, Part 18, Part 19, Part 20, Part 21, and Part 22]

September 25, 2011: Today was the Innistrad prerelease, my first experience running such an event. And it has its ups and its downs.

First a recap of what we knew going in to this:
  • We were running two events: an a.m. Sealed Deck event (to start at 10:30), and a p.m. Draft (to start at 3:30);
  • We were limiting the event to 18 players as those were the # of seats available
  • A signing from comic-book creator Kurt Busiek was scheduled for the same day (to run from 1 to 4)
  • We were also going to allow Open Dueling during the event
I was dropped off at the store around 9 a.m. (as my family needed to continue on to head to church for the morning). John had kindly agreed to meet me there at that time (a full 3 hours before the store normally opens on a Sunday). I found that at this point in time we had 17 people registered for the morning event, but only 4 for the afternoon. A quick look at the list revealed that someone was on there twice (clerical error), so we really only had 16.

As I was setting up, John received a phone call asking if there was still space. He said there was, and registered the player for both events. Now up to 17 and 5. Then John showed me something nice - they had brought some additional tables down from the Frederick store to help out (what with Kurt needing a table for his signing, and us potentially needed to exceed 18 if possible). With those set up, we expanded our potential to 22.

I asked John to hand the little white registration slips I use to everyone as they checked in with him, as a way to double-check that they were in fact paid & registered (and also a clue to me that I needed to give them their promo cards).

I finished setting up, and John opened the doors at 10:00 (we already had some players gathering outside). I grabbed the signup sheet and started getting folks registered into the system. Everything worked well - the majority of the players were folks who had played at one of my events before, and therefore were in the Local Players section. Those that weren't had provided DCI numbers, and were easily entered in, with the exception of the gentleman who called up that morning. His DCI number was not recognized. I hypothesized (and later had it confirmed) that he must have just gotten his DCI card the day before, and it hadn't gotten into the system as yet. I entered him in as if he were someone I had just given a DCI card to, and I hope that things work out properly there.

Two players (Serg & Vish) came in last-minute and joined the morning event, bringing us to 19. They had both been to events before, and John just quickly sent them back without the little registration slips. They flashed me their receipts and I handed them their promos.

I made my usual announcements (where's the bathroom, who I am, free shipping option at my store, etc) and then explained how the DFC's work (using sleeves or checklists, how they interact with copy cards like Evil Twin, etc). And then I handed out product and we began to open our packs (I myself was registered for the event). I gave 50 minutes for deck-building, which is longer than normal for a Sealed Deck event, but I figured as the cards were mostly new to most people, the extra time was not a luxury. That proved to be correct as some folks were still sleeving up their cards when time was called.

During deck building I collected up empty wrappers and spare token, rules tips, and checklist cards. We ended up with a big stack, as most players seemed to be opting for the sleeves instead of the checklists (I went with checklists myself). So that fear of not having enough checklist cards did not bear any fruit, I'm happy to say.

Personally, I couldn't decide on a single deck, so I ended up building two. Deck #1 was Blue/White/Black, heavy on Humans and Equipment (along with the Angelic Overseer). I was really looking forward to equipping the Invisible Stalker and running rampant on my opponent. The deck also had a slight mill theme, as I had a Trepanation Blade and two copies of Curse of the Bloody Tome. My second deck was a Werewolf/Vampire hybrid in Green/Red/Black. Two copies of Curse of the Pierced Heart (one in foil) along with great Vampires like Rakish Heir looked like a nice quick aggro build.

My first opponent was one of the young women from Clarksburg who had attended the Magic Celebration up there. This is an example of how nicely my "cross pollination" attempts have gone. We've had several players now who have found events at one site, then come to events at the other since I can advertise for both. It's nice to see that working. I think the family from Clarksburg would much rather have attended a prerelease IN Clarksburg (that makes sense), and they'll probably start coming to ones at Novel Places starting with the next set.

Round one went fairly well for my deck, despite not ever really getting the Stalker/Equipment combo thoroughly working. We had near mirror decks, each having a lot of Humans and Equipment (she even had a Curse of the Bloody Tome and a Trepanation Blade!). And we nearly used up the entire 50 minutes for the round getting two games in. I won both of those games by milling - a strategy I don't particularly enjoy winning by. I decided then that I would try the other deck in Round 2.

That deck proved to be MUCH quicker. I won against another Red-heavy aggressive deck in two games fairly quickly, which was good because one of the drawbacks of taking long in Round 1 is that results slips started to build up. A quick round meant I was available earlier to start processing those. It also gave me an opportunity to quickly eat the sandwich I had brought along for lunch.

Round 3 proved to be much worse for me (understandably - since, with Swiss pairings, you're put up against another player with the same record, if you keep winning, your opponents, theoretically, get more difficult). Despite getting an early Curse of the Pierced Heart out, I just couldn't get enough Creatures going in Game 1. I decided to switch to the first deck for Game 2, since my opponent was playing more White/Blue. Didn't matter, and I lost that game fairly quickly as well (although I did enjoy getting a Bonds of Faith on his Hanweir Watchkeep - on one side it was buffed up but has Defender; on the other side it loses the buff and can't attack or block!).

Round 4 I swapped back to my quicker deck, and hoped for a fast Round so that I could be available to distribute prize packs as people finished their rounds. This proved to not be the case, as the first game dragged on a long time (I almost had managed to defeat him, but a judicious life gain spell combined with a clever Butcher's Cleaver wielding gained him enough life to survive my onslaught and launch one of his own). The second game took almost as long, but I managed to win it. At this point there were only 5 minutes left, and several people were standing around awaiting their prize packs. I knew I needed to quit then and there, so I conceded game 3 (and therefore the match).

Lesson here: Don't sign up for your own event if it's this big unless you've got someone to assist with the administrative stuff. I thought I'd be able to handle it, but I ended up inconveniencing some folks (since the event ran longer than expected, some like the Clarksburg family really needed to go, but were awaiting their prizes). I should not have made them wait like that.

While all of this was going on, a few other things were happening as well. My two sons had shown up and bought their decks to start Open Dueling. A few folks from the Sealed Deck event also joined in, and side games were being played while folks who had ended their rounds early (or the one each round who had a Bye) played those who needed to get in 5 games to collect their bonus booster pack. One person paid four times for Open Dueling to get 1 copy of each deck, but then never joined the group to play. I've heard of such things before (like people paying for the Sealed Deck event, then taking their packs and immediately leaving before Round 1 even starts) but it was the first time I had it happen at one of my events.

The other thing is one on a personal level. I started getting a low-grade headache and having a very odd feeling in my chest starting around Round 3. I think it was part tension, part dehydration. But it led to me feeling very uncomfortable for the rest of the day, and it was a LONG day. Lesson here: make sure to bring PLENTY of water (my Klean Kanteen was empty long before the first event was finished) and pain relievers just in case.

So Round 4 was finishing around about 3:15 or so, and 3:00 was the published start time for registration for the Draft (to start at 3:30). Needless to say, things were tight. I was juggling folks' prize packs, and awaiting the last couple of matches to end, and dealing with folks finish up their Open Dueling, and trying to get my sons out to the car where my wife was waiting to take them home, and also dealing with a situation where someone who had paid for the afternoon Draft had decided he was too tired to continue (he had done a few events the previous day), so his friend was going to take his slot (not a problem as I had not yet put anyone into the system)...in short, it was just a wee bit chaotic. Somewhere in all this Serg asked if there was time for him to go get something to eat. I answered "yes", not fully registering what the question implied. This would come to haunt me later.

We finally got things settled from the Sealed Deck event and got ready to launch the Draft. Vish had decided to sign up for the Draft as well, and that put us at 6 players - 5 on the signup sheet and Vish. Five of them had been in the Sealed Deck event, so I just checked with player 6 to see if he had any questions regarding the DFCs, and he seemed pretty comfortable with them. I told him to feel free to ask if something should come up. I explained to everyone how drafting would work with the DFCs. Then we got ready to start. But wait, Vish said - wasn't Serg going to Draft? I didn't think so - he wasn't on the list. Vish tried to call him, but got no answer. We were already running late, so I started the event, and everyone cracked the first pack and began to draft.

After the first couple of picks, Serg came back. He had indeed been planning to Draft (which is why he asked me if there was time before he went to eat - this is what hadn't clicked with me). He had, in fact, already paid for the Draft (he paid for both when he arrived). But, at this point, it was too late since the event had already been started in the system, and in fact the first pack of the Draft had been opened.

What we had was a complete cock-up of a situation which could have been avoided if almost any of the following had happened:
  • I had left the Draft portion of the sign-up sheet with John when I went to put people for the Sealed Deck event, so he could add names to that list if people paid later;
  • John had given Serg two Registration slips to indicate that Serg had paid for both events;
  • Serg had said something more definitive like "don't start the Draft without me" or answered his phone when Vish had tried to call him
And there's probably many other ways it could have been avoided. But to my mind the lesson here is that EVERYONE absolutely MUST fill out a registration slip when they pay and give it to me. There can't be any exceptions, that's got to be the way it goes. Otherwise, there's this possibility of missing someone.

To make matters worse, Serg was Vish's ride home, so he was stuck and had to sit around and watch a Draft he couldn't participate in. I felt horrible about the situation, and hoped I could find a way to make it up to him. As it happens, at the end of the evening he expressed interest when I jokingly offered the giant Garruk advertising thingy for the prerelease, so I gave it to him. Hopefully that helps to make amends. And, in case you're concerned - Serg was, of course, given a refund for the registration fee for the event.

The Draft went relatively well. They only played three rounds, as there were only 6 in the event. One player did drop after Round 2 (which is the first time I've ever had anyone actually check the "drop" box on the results slips) which led to someone getting a Bye for Round 3.

Other than the delayed prize packs at the end of the first event, and the snafu with Serg's registration, I think everything went well, and everyone was happy with how the event went. I'm very curious as to the discrepancy in attendance between the two events. A bit more than 3x the number of players in the morning event vs. the afternoon. I don't know if it's Sealed vs. Draft, or morning vs. afternoon. But we may be better served running two Sealed Deck events next go round. I need to come up with some way to poll the players and see if I can find the answer to why the numbers were so different.

Another lesson learned: Prerelease events take longer than normal ones. Since the cards are brand new to everyone, deck-building is slower, drafting is slower, and games go slower (as players often need to read what cards do when their opponents cast them). I scheduled the two events figuring on normal times, and that proved to be a mistake.

September 27, 2011: Today I was very disheartened to receive the following email:
The DCI has invalidated the following event:

Event name:       Prerelease - Innistrad
Sanctioning #:    11-09-2989605
Coordinator:      Don G. Wiggins, DCI# xxxxxx
Brand:            Magic
Event type:       Magic Prerelease
Game:             Booster Draft
Location:         Gaithersburg, MD, United States
Date:             2011-09-25
# of players:     6
# of matches:     9
Former status:    Received
New status:       Invalidated
I can only assume that the problem is that the event was registered with under 8 players. To be honest, I wasn't sure if I should cancel the scheduled prerelease and create a casual event instead. It would seem that this may have been the right thing to do. I've got an email in to Brian (my WPN Rep) asking what I should do at this point. Hopefully it's possible to resubmit this event as a casual one after the fact, but I don't know.

Even worse, I'm worried about what this may mean for future prereleases. My understanding is that your allocation of product for a prerelease is based on past performance. And essentially I've managed to prove to WPN that we can only successfully run a single prerelease. Let's hope that they're a bit forgiving in this department!



NLi10 said...

If it was only a single pre-release its probably been read about more than any other so that must count right? :)

Justin D-Z said...

I think things went pretty smoothly, other than Serg-gate. However, he would not have fared any better at an event run anywhere else, and possibly worse.

Re: the sealed/draft disparity, here are the factors that I think bottom-weighted the day:

- First, the sealed event runs over lunch, the draft runs over dinner. Most families are tighter about dinner than lunch and most people can handle missing one meal, but not missing one meal and then running late on another. So, my guess would be that for some people, it was just a logistical challenge to do both and Sealed gets you more packs.

- Second, an continuing from above, drafting has a bigger skill gap than sealed, because not only do you have to be good at limited deck construction but you need to know the cards in the set, archetypes, have some idea of pick orders and card evaluations, etc. So I think a lot of people are just less confident with draft. Or at least that's true early in a draft format before all kinds of online videos, set reviews and such come out.

It's also possible that younger people have X amount of dollars to spend and that's burnt through by the end of the sealed event ;-)

At any rate, I'm looking forward to Friday and I'd love to do more drafts. It's a shame that Ryan couldn't make it because we might have made it to 8. I wasn't enough peer pressure to get Jamie to stay but in the future hopefully it's a tag team effort.

Bruce said...

As a way to get my Magic playing fix in, I played against the player in my group who had a bye. It was not a sanctioned match, but it did mean that I got to play some Magic and the player with the bye also got a game in as well. The bye counted as a win for him, and I offered a pack if he beat me. I only played in two of the four rounds (I had one late player and one player who left early), and it was pretty tight time-wise. I actually conceded one game since we were not going to finish due to all the stops I had to make to handle judge calls, or input results during the round.

Zamasee said...

I've been reading your blog ever since Mark Rosewater linked to it and I have to say: keep up the good work. I also hope that the WPN won't treat you too badly regarding the disqualified event, I hope it gets settled in a proper manner.

Either way, really, keep up all the good work, and if I lived nearby, I totally would drop by.

Sergey Danshin said...

I just want to say, to add the cream to the cake as it were...

That If I had played in the draft

Then you would have played in the draft

Then WOTC wouldnt not have invalidated the draft because it had less than 8 players


jack said...

I just read your history of getting to WPN; congratulations on an excellent time :)

Nathan Harrison said...

My take on Sealed vs. Draft for a pre-release: my own thinking going into a pre-release is that I want to get my hot little hands on some cards ahead of schedule! ;) The Sealed format gives me more of that, and I don't have to let anything go to participate. Draft also has its own needs, so you might end up picking slightly more boring removal when given the chance, etc., instead of something flashy you can build around once you add it to your larger collection.

And as someone else said, the skill level needed for Sealed is indeed not as high as for Draft. Especially when a set is as new as at a pre-release, I like to have that flexibility to look over my pool and see what jumps out. Last of all, even though luck of the draw always factors into Limited play, I really enjoy the challenge of taking 6 random packs & turning them into something playable. Forces me into some weird combinations I wouldn't always do, and that can make for some really great "aha!" moments!

Don said...

@NLi10 - I certainly hope so!

@Justin - The Draft issue has now become moot, as we can't do those for prereleases (at least not for Dark Ascension).

@Bruce - now that we get 3 events per store, I'm hoping that there will be at least one with low enough attendance that I can join it guilt-free :-)

@Zamasee - thanks! And I also saw that it was you that asked Maro to repost the link for the blog, so thanks very muchf or that as well!

@Serg - If I hadn't been feeling so poorly I probably would have joined it to make it to the 8.

@Jack - thanks!

@Nathan - good points. Possibly some of the factors that went into WotC's thought process of dumping Draft as a prerelease format.