Sunday, July 29, 2012

WPN Boy: Reflections on Return to Ravnica

At long last I find the time to write a post I've been meaning to do since the big MTG panel at the San Diego Comic Con on July 13. I was watching coverage of the panel live while my Magic 2013 Launch Party FNM was running, providing a running commentary for players as their matches were going!

At this panel (which you can watch in its entirety here if you somehow missed it), we learned quite a few things about the Return to Ravnica (RTR) set (as well as the set after that, Gatecrash [GTC]). I won't rehash absolutely everything, but I want to cover the points that are relevant to this post. They have to do with the prerelease events for RTR (and also GTC, as it was revealed that both sets will follow the same structure for their prerelease events).

Here are the pertinent points:
  • At the prerelease, players will choose one of the 5 Guilds covered in the set;
  • They will receive a "Guild box" which will contain:
    • 5 normal booster packs for the set;
    • a "Guild booster" which contains only cards that could be played by their chosen guild (cards of one/both of the two colors for that Guild, or artifacts);
    • a Guild-specific spin-down life counter (color coded to the Guild);
    • a sticker featuring the symbol of the Guild;
    • a letter from the leader of the Guild;
    • an achievement card specific to the Guild.
  • The "Guild box" is custom-made for the Sealed Deck format of playing (where you get 6 boosters and build a 40-card deck from their contents plus basic lands);
  • The prerelease foil promo card will be included in the Guild booster. It will be specific to the Guild, meaning there will be 5 different ones. For the first time ever, players will be able to use their promo card in their deck if they wish.
  • There will be 10 completely new (never before used in any Magic set) mechanics over the two sets (5 in each; 1 for each Guild). So there will likely be judge questions galore that day!
Now, I need to say this first and foremost. As a player, I am about as excited as I could possibly be about this. The set looks amazing. The structure (two large sets, then a small set) for the block is intriguing. The Guild boxes for the prereleases are a genius idea (and will make the TO's job somewhat easier, as there is no need to pre-make bundles of 6 booster packs like you normally need to do with a Sealed Deck event). The extras in the box, while not necessarily super-duper exciting, are a very nice touch and show that an awful lot of thought was put into making these prereleases Experiences, not just events.

As a TO, I am scared spitless. I have SO many questions running around in my head about the logistics of putting this together.

I realize that the players are probably going to want to attend multiple prereleases (some even will want to get in 5 to pick each Guild once and get all 5 promo cards!). As a result, we have decided to run 4 events at Novel Places on the Saturday (starting at midnight!) and will likely run 3 events on Sunday at Beyond Comics. That's 7 separate events over 2 days (and that doesn't count FNM the night before it starts).

While I was taking my time writing this post, I happened to get invited to attend the Alliance Game Gathering - a trade show where several game manufacturers were brought in to speak to owners & employees of gaming & hobby stores about their upcoming products. Wizards of the Coast was the first presenter, and I rabidly listened to everything that Mark Price (Senior Distribution Account Manager for WotC) had to say [even the first half, which was all about Kaijudo, WotC's new game which I must confess I have little to no interest in].

From his discussion (and some q&a with audience members, myself included), I learned the following additional points regarding the RTR prereleases, some of which helped answer questions or alleviate fears I had about the events:
  • Because they recognize that this event is likely to be extremely popular, and that there will likely be a run on select Guilds, allocations for the prerelease will be bumped up. They will figure out what the normal allocation for a store would be, and then increase it. Exactly how much it will be increased was not stated, but at least they have recognized the potential problem here.
  • The Guild boxes will be sold as multiples of 5 to stores - so stores will have an equal number of all 5 Guilds (they can't request extra Izzet packs or anything like that).
  • If a site finds out their allocation and a certain that it will not meet needs (like, as an example, they already have more preregistrations than they are getting materials) they should contact their WPN immediately to see about getting additional product. It may be possible to get more.
  • Allocations won't be known until late August (the prerelease is the weekend of September 29/30). They have to wait until the window for sanctioning the events closes, and then it takes a week or two to figure out allocations. I put the bug in Mark's ear that we need to know these numbers as soon as possible to be able to plan properly.
  • When asked how Two-Headed Giant would work with these Guild boxes (since 2HG normally starts with 8 boosters, not 6, and not 12), all they could say is that 2HG is a valid format to sanction. None of the WotC people on site had any idea how it would actually be done, however.
  • The Guild boxes have an MSRP ($24.99). Since we ordinarily charge $25 for a prerelease, this works just perfectly.
  • It was not at all clear if we would be able to order additional normal booster boxes of RTR to supplement the prize pool beyond the free boxes that are ordinarily allocated to us. Someone asked about this, but Mark did not understand what he was asking.
  • The Guild boosters will not be wrapped like normal booster packs, but will be in clear plastic wrapping (like wrapping around a preconstructed deck inside its box, or like the packaging they use for sending out promo cards). It will, however, be randomized, and he believes the rarity distribution is the same as a normal booster pack.
  • Signing up to run a RTR League will get your store the normal League things, but will also get a special bonus Marketing kit (not available any other way) which includes:
    • 25 special Guild card boxes
    • a wall clock with interchangeable Guild faces
    • 5 Guild banners
    • a RTR standee
    • [Full details on this kit can be found here]
  • There are no plans at this time to return to the old format of Launch Parties (although I was very gratified to find out I am far from alone at being upset that these were done away with!)
  • One very nice image from his presentation expanded on the Guilds, giving them "mottoes". Apologies that it's so blurry. I was way in the back and using my 2-year old phone's camera!
Image from Mark's presentation. Love the Guild "mottoes"!
With all of that said, I am still left with questions and concerns about the RTR (and GTC) prereleases. As I know this blog gets read by some of the folks at WPN, I want to use it to pose the questions/concerns to them. I think it is highly likely that many (if not most or all) of these are things that they have already thought of, and will be addressing. However, the "premium" Helvault promotion proved that the first time something gets done, it's always possible that something gets missed. Just in case any of these issues have not been thought of, I want to get them thinking about them as soon as possible. These are in no particular order.
  1. How, exactly, will Two-Headed Giant be run using Guild boxes? Or will it, instead, be done the normal way (8 regular booster packs)? If the latter, how will participants get a promo card (one of the biggest draws for players to these events) and how will we get the 8 packs (break open Guild boxes?)?
  2. Will we be able to order additional booster boxes of RTR to be used as additional prize support beyond what is provided by WPN? Or will we have to break open unused Guild boxes to get boosters that way?
  3. How soon will we know how many Guild boxes we will be receiving? It is vitally important that we know as soon as we can, so that we can have people sign up properly. Players are going to want to sign up in advance and pick the Guild(s) they want to play. We cannot effectively allow them to do this if we don't know how many boxes of each Guild we will have for each event. Even just a rough estimate could he helpful.
  4. What can the stores do with any leftover Guild boxes afterwards? Do they need to be broken open? Can they be sold as-is (once the Release date arrives, of course)? I assume the latter, given that they have an MSRP, but we need to know for sure so that we don't violate any policy.
  5. I assume it is WotC's intent that players get some say in their Guild, and that we not assign these randomly. It is very likely that one or two Guilds will prove most popular and get picked quickly. I don't think you can stress to stores enough that they should consider taking preregistrations (I have made a sample signup sheet that anyone can feel free to use as far as I'm concerned).
So that's it. Hopefully we will be seeing answers to some (or all?) of these in time that we can make appropriate plans for this event, which I am sure will be absolutely insanely popular and cool. If I think of anything else, I'll post a supplementary article, but I think those are the major issues.

I will be a dead man by the time the weekend's 7 events are all done! This is going to be crazy!

[TO BE CONTINUED IN Catching Up is Hard to Do]

Saturday, July 28, 2012

WPN Boy: M13 Musings

I need to publish my thoughts on the Return to Ravinca prerelease announcements, but chronologically-speaking I should cover events for Magic 2013 first, so here goes...

"Home Brew" Standard FNM

As has become our tradition, the last standard FNM before the new set is released is a "Home Brew" event, where participants are strongly encouraged to bring decks of their own devising, and not "net deck".

This was our second such event, and attendance was higher than the first. Unfortunately (as must be expected at such a thing) we did have one or two players show up who had not gotten the word, and had simply brought a regular Standard deck that you might see at a PTQ or what-have-you (one player was even using a preconstructed Event Deck!).

Regardless, players had as much fun at this one as they had at the last, and this will definitely continue to be a "thing"!

For those who are curious, I did have players submit deck lists this time so you could get a feel for what kinds of decks came out to play. Here's the top 8 (thanks to Tom Davis, AKA @wingmanmtg on Twitter, for getting these typed up at for me!):
  1. Jon Stollberg's "Mono White Good Stuff"
  2. YiOu (Mike) Zhang's "Infinipod"
  3. Jeff Lynch's "B/R Vampires"
  4. Azelin Benson's "Mono Red Goblin-Burn"
  5. Dan Strong's "Illusion Burn"
  6. Jonathan Sirianni's "Vamps"
  7. Rob Kuney's "Tez Control"
  8. My own "Mono et Mono (v. 3.0)"


Our events went pretty smoothly. As previously reported, I decided that it made no sense for the two stores I work with to compete against one another, so we ran two events at each store, one store on Saturday (Novel Places) and one on Sunday (Beyond Comics).

At Novel Places on Saturday we had 16 players at the morning event, and 21 at the afternoon one. It was an extremely hot day (the hottest of the summer up to that point), and the store is now located on the second floor of a very old building with not-so-great air conditioning. This led to somewhat uncomfortable players, and a very exhausted TO by the end of the day. Nonetheless, everyone had fun, and enjoyed the chance to get their hands on the Magic 2013 Core Set cards a week early!

Beyond Comics proved that a Sunday slot does not hurt their numbers, bringing in 24 players for the morning and 22 for the afternoon.

Now it could be that this is simply a matter of lots of players opening lots of packs in one place at one time - but it seemed to me that we had a LOT of mythics opened during these two days. I know I saw several copies of the new Ajani and Liliana, several Nicol Bolas appearances, and even a foil Thundermaw Hellkite!

My only real concern with these is I hope the relatively low attendance (compared to what we had at Avacyn Restored) will not hurt us as far as allocations are concerned for Return to Ravnica. I believe WotC/WPN takes into account several past performances, not just the last one. Plus they surely must realize that Core Sets simply don't have the draw that expansions do (especially since there was no splashy "gimmick" this time like the Helvault promotion for Avacyn Restored).

Launch Parties

I will just state here, on record, yet again, that I think it is a mistake to tie the launch party promos to FNM. I will not waste your time with all my reasons why (you can read them here and here if you missed it the first time).

That said, our Launch Parties went pretty well. We had 14 people at the FNM Launch Party at Beyond Comics. That's a small crowd for us these days, but it was a Core Set event, and a Sealed Deck event, so those are both strikes against attendance.

At Novel Places the next day we had 16 players show up for an M13 Draft "Launch Party". I had leftover promos from the FNM Launch Party, so I gave those out to the folks who attended here (we were told that we could use the FNM Launch Party Promos the rest of the weekend - they didn't say it had to be in the same store!). Two pods of 8 people each made for a nice Draft experience, I think.


Our M13 Launch League began on Wednesday, July 18. We have 12 players signed up for the first Cycle. I have learned a few things that I would do differently the next time around:
  • When you schedule your event(s) in the WER for the Launch League, make it for the last day of the Week instead of the first. That way when you go to actually report the event 6 days later it won't be invalidated by the WER. Oops. Hopefully my manual submission of the player list will be accepted at WPN.
  • Patrick was convinced to keep his store open later on Tuesdays as well, so we are encouraging League players to come out that night to get in matches, so that the Casual Magic Night on Wednesday isn't completely overrun by League matches.
  • We decided to let players buy their packs for the next Week after all their matches are done on Tuesday night (provided I'm there to finish tallying the results). That way they can get their decks modified in time to play matches on Wednesday (freeing up more Casual Magic time that night). The caveat is that once they buy their pack(s) they of course cannot play any further matches that count for that Week that is ending.
Week 2 (with the extra rule that essentially gives each player an additional Exalted trigger) had mixed results. Some folks really liked the extra rule. Some did not. Generally those that won because of it loved it, and those that lost because of it hated it. Funny thing, that. I will hold off on deciding if we will use the alternate rules for the second Cycle or not until we get a few more weeks in and see how the different Weeks' rules are taken by the group.

I still have absolutely no idea how to use the League poster that was included in the kit, so I created a spreadsheet to track results, and created a Wiki at PBWorks to allow all the players to check the rules, see the standings, contact each other to arrange matches, etc.

To sum up...

All in all the M13 experience has been going well for us. It is a Core Set, so the excitement is lower overall than it will be for Return to Ravnica (actually the excitement over that set, with zero cards spoiled so far, is already higher than excitement about M13), but players still come out, and still enjoy the events that we put on for them. Ultimately, that's what is most important.

[TO BE CONTINUED IN Reflections on Return to Ravnica]

Thursday, July 05, 2012

WPN Boy: A League of Our Own

After some soul-searching on my part, I decided that I was very interested in giving the "Launch League" for Magic 2013 a try. Then I had to work on Patrick (owner of Novel Places) to convince him to give it a try. That done, I finally went to sign up for the League...

Only to find that I had missed the deadline. UGH!

I contacted my WPN Rep, and ended up speaking with a coworker of his (the extremely helpful Travis!) who let me know that they will make (if I'm remembering correctly) 2 exceptions per store in a calendar year. As we had not yet used any of ours, they could make an exception and let us sign up for League. What I had to do was just create 10 events (1 for each week of League) and he would change them on his end to be M13 Launch League events instead.

So we are now officially signed up, and thankfully hadn't missed the deadline by too much, so we were even able to get the League Support Kit sent out way (more on that later).

Why did I decide to run a League? WPN (via Helene Bergeot) has made it quite clear that this is something that they are "pushing" now, being almost aggressively enthusiastic about stores running this program (going even so far as to create Top 10 League Promo cards for this latest League). In fact it is the only special program left to brand-new (Gateway Level) WPN sites, now that they have killed Launch Parties. So, it seemed like a good idea for me to give it a try at least once.

So, why did this take such soul searching on my part, and convincing on Patrick's? Let me enumerate some issues for you...

 No Official Description

I could not find, despite a great deal of searching on my part, any Official word on how a League is run!

The official description (taken from this WPN site) is this:
Leagues are a great way to kick off the release of a new Magic: The Gathering expansion set. Beginning on the day it goes on sale, your players will have an exciting, ongoing event to participate in until the next expansion set is released.
The suggested play format for the league is Sealed Deck, however, the league can be run in whatever format best suits your store. Your league kit will contain enough materials to run two leagues. Prize supplements are included with your league kit, however, we strongly encourage you to add your own prizes.
You can report league play in your store whenever it happens with Wizards Event Reporter. Players will be able to see your sanctioned league in the store and event locator, so be sure to sign up now!
So I knew that the recommended format is Sealed Deck. From other sources (like the alternate League rules for Avacyn Restored) I knew that it's supposed to run for several weeks. But Sealed Deck how, exactly? 6 packs at the beginning and that's what you're stuck with? Then I found this information elsewhere:
Over the course of the league, you will be able to add more boosters to your league deck.
So, there should be a system in play that allows players to add additional booster packs. But how is that determined? Are they won (in which case the price of these must be built in to the cost of joining the League) or are they bought?

Essentially, I was left VERY frustrated at the lack of any official description, even if it was simply "there are a lot of ways to run a League, here are some suggestions..." So, I felt like I was not at all prepared to run a League, because I didn't know what was actually involved.

Time Dedication

Patrick's biggest concern was one of time commitment. Would he have to stay open later every night of the week now? Would he have Magic players showing up when he had a book club signed up or some other function? What, exactly, would be required of him and his store?

I was pretty certain that we could fit League into the time we have currently set aside for Casual Magic Night (when Patrick stays open late on Wednesday nights for players to just show up and play whatever). It has been an exceedingly popular event (we actually had 21 players last week!), and although it is only 3 hours officially, it often runs over, and Patrick has no problem with people showing up early.

Eventually, I was able to convince myself and him that it was worth giving a try at least once. If it's a thorough disaster, we can just never do it again.

So, what are we doing?

I finally decided to look online and see if I could find the rules for Leagues that other stores have used. As Avacyn Restored was the current League, I did a search for "Avacyn Restored League Rules" and found many sites from several different stores.

After consulting these different ones (many of which had very similar rules), I created a first draft of League rules and had some of my local players read it over and see what they thought. With some input and modifications, I announced the League in my newsletter and put the Rules up.

Then, earlier this week, Patrick received the League Support Kit. Now I was in for some surprises!

The Avacyn Restored Launch League was supposed to be a 4-week cycle (you can run two complete cycles of League if you wish), so I based my rules on that. Surprise! The Magic 2013 League is a five Week cycle! Gee, WPN - that would have been nice to know BEFOREHAND!

So, I hurriedly modified the Rules (you can read the final version here if you like) to reflect this, and hope that this is the last modification I need to make before we start our first League on Wednesday, July 18 (just under 2 weeks from now as I write this).

The other frustrating thing was the League poster that was included in the Kit. It looks cool (I forgot to take a picture or I'd put it in here), and has this neat cling that you can use to hide all but the current Week's "optional rules" if you choose to run with them. There are places to put the players' names, and (I presume) keep track of their progress. However, there is not one bit of instruction on how that (apparent) scoring section is supposed to be used! There are 6 boxes with the Nicol Bolas M13 symbol thing in them, and 6 boxes showing (I believe) booster packs. I would assume that the former are to (somehow) keep track of match wins, and the latter to (again, somehow) keep track of additional booster packs added - but why 6 of each? One would hope many players would have more than 6 match wins if they're playing up to 5 matches per Week. And if it's supposed to somehow be linked to the Weeks, why 6 and not 5? I have no idea how I'm supposed to use this thing!

Also included in the Kit, for those who are curious, were two sets of 10 Goblin Tokens (to be given to the Top 10 players in each League) and two sets of 4 Nicol Bolas mini-posters (to be given to the Top 4 players in each League).

I will, you can be sure, write again once we have gone through a cycle to let you know how it went.

Suggestions for WPN on League

I have been told that many people in WotC and WPN in particular read this blog. In the hopes that this is the case, here are some recommendations I have regarding Leagues, especially if you're really trying to get more stores to run this!
  • There needs to be more details on the officially suggested format. Even, as I said before, if it's simply "Here are how some other stores have run League in the past..." with links to rules from past Leagues (used with permission, of course, or with any info that could identify the store removed if you need to). My single biggest barrier to giving this a try was having no idea what running a League entailed!
  • Basic information like HOW MANY WEEKS should be available earlier in the process. It seems like the 5-Week cycle for M13 was not announced officially until the week that the Kits got released. This is too late in the process (in my opinion) - I had to rewrite rules I had already been sharing with my players because of this!
  • Explanation on how to use the score-sheet portion of the League poster would be VERY appreciated. I still am clueless on what the intended use of that is!
  • You need to be sure that TO's and store owners know how to sign up for the League. If I had not missed the filing deadline, I most likely would have signed up for a single League event, thinking that was all that was required of me. Only because I was working with Travis on the exception plan was I made aware that you're supposed to schedule one (at least) for each Week you're running League! This information is, to the best of my knowledge, nowhere to be found on any of the official WPN sites.
  • The official Magic 2013 League site says "Are You a Store Owner? For more information about running a Magic 2013 League, visit the information page on the WPN site." By the time this site was active, I believe, it was already too late for anyone to sanction the M13 League (it certainly is too late now, and yet this text remains). It seems rather cruel to tease folks with the possibility of doing something that they cannot, in fact, do. It would seem to be more truthful to say "Are You a Store Owner? The next opportunity to run a League will be for our Fall set, Return to Ravnica. For more information about running a League, visit the information page on the WPN site."or something to that effect.

So, what's next?

This Friday will be our second "Home Brew Standard" FNM - this time around we want to gather decklists from the players so we can publish a "Top 8" list somewhere.

This weekend is the Magic 2013 Prerelease. We are running only 2 events at each store this time, on separate days, to avoid competing with ourselves. Novel Places will host 2 on Saturday (July 7) and Beyond Comics gets 2 on Sunday (July 8).

Next weekend will be the official Launch Party for M13 at Beyond Comics (at FNM), then we'll have our "Launch Party" at Novel Places on Saturday (July 14).

There are no special events (like the Helvault from Avacyn Restored) for Magic 2013's prerelease, so there probably won't be quite as much excitement to write about this go-round, but should anything notable happen, I will be sure to chronicle it herein!


Monday, May 14, 2012

WPN Boy: Avacyn Restored Revisited

Wanted to put out a quick follow-up to the last post (regarding the Avacyn Restored prereleases). This one should be relatively short.

Did we make Advanced?

Thankfully, yes! After an email to WPN, the extremely helpful Linda was able to get the two players who had dropped from the event at Beyond Comics put back in, thus allowing them to count as players 31 and 32. We therefore hit all the requirements, and both stores are officially Advanced Level now. Huzzah!
Words cannot express how happy I was to see this!

More musing on the Helvault

After I had posted my prerelease experience, including my thoughts on the Helvault promotion, I found out something that disturbed me a great deal.

It turns out that the "premium" Helvaults (the ones with the foil tokens, oversized cards, and extra super-expensive promos) were only given out to some Advanced Level stores (only 30 of the 6000 Helvaults sent out were premium - the full story is here). This means that we never even had a chance at one of the premium Helvaults, as we were not Advanced at the time.

As I am sure none of you will be surprised at, this did NOT make me happy. Wizards of the Coast/WPN should NOT be doing promotions that would ever encourage players to pick the higher level stores over the lower ones. The higher level stores already have the advantage - that's how they got to the higher level in the first place! I can already see players calling up a store and saying "Hello. I'd like to preregister for your prerelease. Are you an Advanced Level store? No? Oh, sorry. Never mind."

Now for the good news: Helene Bergeot, in a tweet in reply to my rather acerbic comments on this, said (I'm paraphrasing from memory here) "we learn from our mistakes." I take this as a positive for two reasons:
  1. It is acknowledgement that this was a mistake;
  2. It indicates that (hopefully) they will not do this again.

Launch Parties

Our Launch Party and our "Launch Party". Ah, yes. Time to discuss another recent WPN decision that I am still not happy about.

The official Launch Parties used to be on the weekend of the release of a new set. They could be scheduled for the Friday, Saturday or Sunday of that weekend. Like prereleases, the formats that could be run were a short list, but Launch Party promos were sent to stores that registered to run one. These events could be scheduled regardless of the store's WPN Level, making them a great way for a new Gateway Level site to get a big event in and help them get to Core.

Now the Launch Party promos are instead tied to the Friday Night Magic of the release date. Only if a store signs up for FNM that week do they get the special promo cards. I've discussed this before, but here's a quick list of the problems I've thought of (or had pointed out to me) to remind you:
  • It leaves Gateway Level stores out of the running, since they can't run FNMs (and Launch Parties were the only "special events" a Gateway Level store could run);
  • It leaves out any store (regardless of Level) that can't (or doesn't want to) run an FNM;
  • It leaves out players who can't (or don't want to) attend an FNM;
  • It prevents players from attending multiple Launch Parties in a weekend (something many people like to do);
  • In my particular case it takes our Friday night Launches (which were unique in our area) and makes them generic.
We did end up with 20 players (our most comfortable maximum) at the Friday event at Beyond Comics, including a few players who had never played there before. However, the event at Novel Places the next day - our "Launch Party" (in quotes as it was not an official one) - had only 4 players (including myself). As this was a Draft event, it was not the most exciting event ever.

The event had many things going against it. I had decided to run it at 3 pm, as a few players had indicated that a later start for our Saturday events would mean they could more likely make it. Of course, none of these players actually made it to this one. Second, a Draft event for a brand new format this quickly may not be that attractive to my player base. They want a bit more time to get to know the cards better before trying to draft it. Third, Avacyn Restored is, according to a lot of the players in my group who really like skill-intensive play, not very skill-intensive. It seems to very much be "get the big creatures in play and bash face with them." And, of course, I'm sure the lack of actual Launch Party promos did not help matters.

So, I will continue (probably in vain) to hold out hope that WotC/WPN will reinstate the Launch Parties of old. They recently undid a change that was only two sets old. With Dark Ascension and Avacyn Restored they linked the Buy-a-Box promotion to the prerelease - if you signed up to run a prerelease, you were automatically signed up for the Buy-a-Box promotion as well. As of Magic 2013 (the nest set to be released, in July), they are back to making them separate sign-ups. If they can reverse a program policy change that quickly, maybe the Launch Party change can be reversed quickly as well (although this first requires that they actually see this as being a mistake, which I have yet to see any indication of).


Tuesday, May 01, 2012

WPN Boy Avacyn Restored Edition (or, "What the Helvault?")

It has been a good while since I updated this thing (for which I greatly apologize). The increase in business of late (for which I can at least partially thank running events) as well as the time and energy involved in running the actual events has left me with little free time.

Let's Play Catch-Up

A quick update of some important events since the Dark Ascension prerelease:
  • On February 11 we ran an Innistrad/Dark Ascension draft in the "haunted attic" of Novel Places (there is, purportedly, a ghost in the store). The event had 13 players. Given the horror themes in those sets, this was an event absolutely dripping with flavor.
  • In the week leading up to February 24, Beyond Comics moved 1 mile north along Route 355. The new space allows us to hold somewhat larger events than the old space. More importantly it allows us to hold events in the main section of the store (as there is no back storage room like in the old site) so we don't quite feel like second class citizens any more!
  • The Dark Ascension Game Day attendance (February 25) was poor (only 6 players at Beyond Comics, and 9 at Novel Places). This was mostly due to the fact that there was a Grand Prix in Baltimore this weekend, and we lost a lot of players to that larger event.
  • On March 15, I helped my fellow TO at the Frederick branch of Beyond Comics get up to Core Level in time to run their own Avacyn Restored prerelease. When I tweeted an advertisement about it, this popped up in my feed:
  • Yes, you read that correctly. I have been invited to GenCon. By the Director of Organized Play. I was jittery with excitement for a good hour after that one.
  • On March 16, Beyond Comics had an FNM hit 25 players, a record attendance for either store. This prompted me to check on how close the stores were to getting to Advanced Level in the WPN, and it turned out both were crazy close. The big hurdle was an event with 32+ players. This, I felt, we could pull off with the Avacyn Restored prereleases. More on that to come.
  • On March 23 we had our largest (to date) Two-Headed Giant Sealed Deck event. 8 teams competed - a good deal more than the 3 teams we had at our first such event!
  • On April 20, we ran out very first "Home Brew" Standard event at FNM. The plan is to do this at least 4 times a year (the last Standard event before a new set is released). The description of the event for players was: "As this is our last Standard event before the new set (Avacyn Restored) is released, participants are STRONGLY encouraged to bring decks of their own creation. No netdecking; no copying the "best deck" from last weekend's big event. While we of course cannot REQUIRE you to do this, those who fail to join in the spirit of the event risk taunting, shunning, ill will and cooties." The event was VERY well received by the community, and VERY well attended. Some folks, who had never been to the store before, came out to this BECAUSE it was Home Brew. Amazing.
  • Novel Places has moved - one floor up. The week before the Avacyn Restored Prerelease, Patrick had to move his entire store to the second floor of the building (the "haunted attic"). My sons and I helped him move for several hours on Monday (April 23) and again on Thursday (April 26). Not quite as bad as it would have been to have to pack up a truck and move to an entirely new location, I suppose, but extremely tiring work nonetheless.

The Drama Beforehand

And that brings us up to the Avacyn Restored prerelease weekend (April 28 & 29). As I mentioned before, each store needed to get an event with 32+ players in order to reach Advanced Level. Novel Places also needed to get (at the time I checked, March 21) an additional 6 unique players.

To review, here are the hoops a store must jump through within a 12-month period to get to Advanced Level:
  • Report a minimum of 20 tournaments
  •  Maintain a delinquency rate of less than 10%
  •  Have a minimum of 100 unique people playing in your reported events
  •  Run and report a single tournament with 32 players or more
  •  Introduce 20 new players to WPN events
I had never really planned on getting either store to Advanced Level (I never really thought we had any realistic chance of doing so), but to realize we were so close I decided we needed to try. There are many benefits to being at Advanced Level. The biggest is greater support in terms of prizes (extra promos in Gateway Kits, extra Helvaults or whatever the next great idea from WPN is) and greater access to premium products (an Advanced Level store can order more copies of From the Vaults than a Core Level store can, for example). So, I decided we needed to give this a try.

With the announcement of the Helvault promotion for the Avacyn Restored Prereleases, I decided that our best chance at trying to get 32+ players was to do so for that event. After a great deal of soul-searching (and an attempt to poll the player base), I decided that we would repeat the schedule of the Dark Ascension Prerelease weekend, with 2 events at each store on Saturday, and one at each store on Sunday. The Sunday events would be the Helvault events, and our shot at the epic 32.

A whole lot of planning went into this. The March 16 FNM proved that we could not handle 32 players at the new location of Beyond Comics (it was literally standing-room only at 25 players). And Novel Places (in its original first-floor configuration) would not be able to handle more than 20, and even that would be a bit tight. I had the thought that the two stores could work together to find a single large venue that could hold the events, one in the morning and one in the mid-to-late afternoon.

Our first attempt at a solution looked good initially. A customer at Beyond Comics works at (or runs? owns? I was never 100% sure) a martial arts training facility. They have lots of room, and only have one early class on Sundays. Early contacts seemed positive, but I never got replies to my emails asking for further information on how we could run things, and it was getting to where we HAD to start advertising where the event was going to be, so I jumped to Plan B.

At this point in the story, Patrick had found out he would need to move his store upstairs. The new arrangement would allow for four of the tables we usually use for events (which hold 2 matches comfortably, 3 if we get really friendly), in two rows of two (which would allow for 10 marches if one were held on the adjacent ends of the two tables. That takes care of 20 players. If Beyond Comics could provide a couple of more tables and chairs, we could handle the additional 12 players in what was to become the common area on the second floor (kinda hard to describe without an architectural layout of the store here). The idea I had was that we could hold both events in this space, with Novel Places essentially donating the space to the venture, while Beyond Comics donated the tables and chairs needed to get to 32 seats.

Unfortunately, this plan was not quite met with enthusiasm by Beyond Comics' owner, so he came up with Plan C. Novel Places could hold their event in this new space (but would have to find tables & chairs to finish things off on their own), while Beyond Comics held theirs in their old location, the lease on which they still have until June (or whenever the mall management can find a new tenant). They are using it as a $1 comic shop, but only actively use the front half of the retail space, leaving the back half (and the old storage area where we used to hold our events) open and available. Beyond Comics would get more tables and chairs to finish off what they needed. To make things easier, we decided to just run all the weekend's events (FNM on April 27, the 2 Prereleases on April 28 and the Prerelease on April 29) at that site, rather than try to move all the tables & chairs Saturday night.

Side note: As I was working on Plan A, I realized that if we were going to get traffic from the Wizards Event Locator (the number one answer when I ask new players "how did you learn about us?"), it would be extremely important to have the correct address for the event in there. Unfortunately, I had to register the event about a month or more in advance, before I knew where the event was to be held! So while awaiting word from the martial arts studio, I contacted WPN and added an event location to both Novel Places and Beyond Comics. That remote location is now permanently an option when I go to sanction an event, so I need to be careful and make sure that it is not selected (it's actually the default for Novel Places, which is incredibly annoying, and I would change it in a second if I knew how to). Then when we went to Plan C, I had to add the $1 comic shop address in for Beyond Comics (which I found funny since it was the old address that used to be in the system!). Then, I had to call WPN customer support and get the event location switched to the new sites. A special Thanks to Jamie for his assistance with that matter!

My buddy Craig agreed to run the events at Beyond Comics on Saturday for me while I ran the two at Novel Places. Then he more amazingly agreed (and his wife as well, which is even MORE amazing) to come out on Sunday and help me run both of the huge events, as I came to the realization that I would need help to run events this big.

In other news, local Magic celebrity Adam Styborski agreed to come out to the event at Beyond Comics (and even gave a mention to it in his weekly article on Daily MTG). Jason Clark (@RealEvilGenius on Twitter, and member of the Brewport Avenue podcast) also jumped in to help, rounding up two friends and making the 3 hour drive out to be at both events on Sunday. To help entice folks further north, Patrick ordered chocolate 20-sided dice from to be handed out to players at the Novel Places event.

The Actual Prereleases

So, Saturday arrived and I head to Novel Places. As an added bonus twist, Patrick had a huge conference to go to this weekend, so his part-time volunteer "employee" Jim was on duty during the events. Patrick had a heck of a busy week! I ended up playing in both events to make it an even number (I was hoping to play in one or the other - didn't intend to do both). We had 12 players at the first, and 14 at the second. Meanwhile, Craig ran Beyond Comics' events, with 10 and 8 players. We had expected the Saturday events to be small, as we didn't have the Helvault promotion that day.

For those who care about such things, I got a killer RG deck in my first pool, and smashed face to go 3-0. My favorite moment was having 3x Kruin Striker on the field, then casting 2x Thatcher Revolt. Good. Game. The afternoon event my pool was not as impressive, and I honestly can't remember if I went 2-2 or 3-1 (we had enough time to get in 4 rounds in the afternoon).

Then came Sunday. I was extremely nervous, as we had only 26 pre-registrations at Beyond Comics and 20 at Novel Places as of Sunday morning. As it turns out, I has some cause to be concerned. To get out 32, Craig and I had to each join in at Beyond Comics. Two players showed up to show support for the cause, but couldn't stay. They paid their entry fee but left when it was time for Round 1 (after getting their product and opening with everyone else). To avoid essentially giving two players a Bye in Round 1, I dropped these two players from the event before creating the matches. This becomes important later (oooh! Foreshadowing!).

Everyone had a BLAST! Most of the players really got into the spirit of the whole Helvault promotion, trying to get achievements knocked off so they could break seals. It's the first time I have seen anyone really bother with the achievement cards (which I've handed out at several events now). So that part of the Helvault promotion was successful. WPN/WotC finally found a way to get more people to care about those. By this point in time, rumors were circulating that some of the Helvaults were "juiced" with extra bonus materials, and we eagerly awaited opening ours to see what it contained. Alas, it was one of the "normal" Helvaults. But I believe a fun time was had by all. Adam tweeted the following afterwards:

I did my utmost to sell the afternoon event, promising that Patrick would honor the 10% discount he normally reserves for preregistrations, reminding about the chocolate dice, and suggesting that the odds of his Helvault being premium went up when it turned out Beyond Comics' was not one. One or more of the above worked, and a couple of players headed north who hadn't been planning on it, and some even phoned a friend or two and convinced them to come out.

As I was setting up the afternoon event, I had a nagging thought and checked the email I was sent from WPN when I submitted the morning event. There I saw something that nearly had me in tears. "Number of Players: 30" The two players who I had dropped before Round 1 didn't count. We had not reached our goal as I had thought. I quickly made up my mind to not make that mistake again (we had the same situation at Novel Places), and I put those players in Round 1 but dropped them after that. I have contacted WPN to see if anything can be done about the earlier event. I sincerely hope that we did not miss getting Advanced Level because of this, after all the work and effort that went into making that event happen.

Conditions were quite crowded at Novel Places. The owner of the building had not moved all of the stuff she was supposed to move out of the "common area" so we were forced to set up tables in a rather narrow hallway, and players were cramped. Fortunately the new tenant on the ground floor had set up three tables for us to use, allowing us to have a "feature match" area that helped alleviate some of the overcrowding. Again, players really got into the achievement thing (one player, after playing a Legendary permanent, went on a run through the whole store, high-fiving everyone so they could check that one off their lists). Again, the Helvault was not "premium", but the extra goodies were appreciated (especially by the younger players at this event - we had 5 players aged 8-14 among the 32).

My Thoughts on the Helvault

I've made it my policy to always say what I really think in this blog. If the WPN does something praiseworthy (their [in my opinion] extraordinary customer support, for example), I'm sure to mention it. On the other hand, if I think something is not so good (like the change to do away with Launch Parties outside of FNMs), I'm sure to point that out as well. The Helvault promotion is, in my mind, a little of both.

Ironically, I think the Helvault promotion both helped us and hindered us, attendance-wise. I think it definitely helped bring people out to our Sunday events. I'm fairly certain that without it, we could not have hit our 32 player goal. On the other hand, I believe our Saturday event attendances were WAY down, as we didn't have the Helvault at those events. So, in other words, the promotion only helped the events that had one. Advanced Level stores got two Helvaults each, making them even more appealing against those of us who only got one (and yes, the irony of using the Helvault to make Advanced Level myself is not lost on me).

The biggest mistake, in my opinion, was running some of the Helvaults as "premium". In some cases, the Helvaults contained prom cards worth ~$100 each. They also contained special foil versions of the promo cards given out in the normal Helvaults. Everything in the premium Helvaults was better than the normal Helvault equivalent (with the exception of the spin-down life counter as far as I know). Here are my thoughts on why this was a mistake:
  • They didn't let anybody know in advance. Yes, the contents of the Helvaults were supposed to be kept secret, but it is naive in the extreme to think that it would remain so. A week and a half before the prerelease, the contents of a Helvault were spoiled. God help WotC if the spoiled one had happened to be one of the premium ones! If everyone came rushing to the events expecting $100 promo cards and instead just got what was in the normal Helvault, I think there would have been rioting and lynching of the tournament organizers.
  • As a corollary to the above: if you know there's a chance of getting the special prize, and you don't, you feel disappointed, but you knew it was only a small chance anyway. If, on the other hand, you find out about the chance afterwards, you feel angry and cheated. Don't ask me why - it's just how the brain works (or at least how it seems to work for most of us).
  • EVERYTHING about the premium Helvault contents was better. Foil tokens. FOIL TOKENS! Something that we have never seen before (yet many/most folks would love to get) and only a select few sites get them. In my opinion it would have been much better to put the money that was spent on the major bonus (the $100 promos, etc) and put it towards making every Helvault "premium light" (like foil tokens in all of them, for example).
On the other end, I've heard of some stores/TOs doing some things I consider to be shady:
  • The store that spoiled the contents early. If their story is to be believed, their Helvault was damaged during shipping. But you know what? THEY DIDN'T HAVE TO SPOIL IT ON THE INTERNET! I was extremely ticked off when this happened.
  • Some stores were charging more for their Helvault events than their non-Helvault ones. REALLY, people? We were given the Helvaults FREE OF CHARGE! There is no excuse beyond "I can" for charging more for that event. Some think it's good business. I think it's dirt-baggery.
  • Even worse, I have heard of one store where the premium judge promos in their premium Helvault were taken out and SOLD! I can only hope that (if true), this site has all WPN privileges revoked.
So, unfortunately, there were problems on both ends with the promotion. That said, I applaud WotC/WPN for trying it nonetheless. I love the fact that they are trying to make the Prereleases more of an experience than your run-of-the-mill Sealed Deck tournament. These events should be special, and cause lasting (positive) memories for months/years to come. While I think things about this promotion could have been done better, I have high hopes that lessons will be learned, and whatever goodies they have in store for future Prereleases will be even better.

Wrapping Things Up

So, here's where we stand right now. Novel Places should be Advanced Level (although that officially doesn't happen until Thursday, I think, when the WPN system syncs - it still shows as "Core" in the WER right now). Beyond Comics, I'm less sure of. I'm hopeful that the problem of the 2 dropped players can be resolved.

This week we have our Launch Party FNM at Beyond Comics, and our "Launch Party" (minus the promos) at Novel Places on Saturday. I'm running the Novel Places one as a Draft in the hopes that this will entice more players out who want to see what the Avacyn Restored Draft environment is like.

I have decided that running 3 Prerelease events is a bad idea. When the stores compete against each other, everyone loses. So, I need to figure out what the best schedule is to satisfy the most people involved. If I run one event at each store on Saturday and the same on Sunday, I will likely lose some of the folks who like to come to one place and make a whole day of it. On the other hand, if I run two events and one store on Saturday, and two at the other store on Sunday, I'm likely shooting the second store in the foot, as Sunday attendance is generally lighter (barring some massive promotion and incentive like the Helvault this go-round). I'm really not sure what the best solution here is, unfortunately.

I will try to get a quick post up after this weekend, with my thoughts on the Launch Parties, and (hopefully) the resolution of the "did Beyond Comics make Advanced or not?" issue.


Saturday, February 18, 2012

Red Monkey's Planeswalker Messenger Bag: A Review

A while back (shortly after they were announced in this Arcana on the Daily MTG "mothership"), I placed an order from Red Monkey for a Planeswalker Messenger bag. At the time I ordered it, I promised a full review of it to my Twitter followers, as we were all curious as to whether it was really deserving of the $50 price tag. Here, at long last, is that promised review of the bag (the item page of which is here).

First I will comment on the service aspect. It took a LONG time (in my opinion) from order to final shipping. I suppose it is possible that either:
  • they make these bags on an as-needed basis, and it takes a while to construct, so there's a delay; or
  • they were overwhelmed with orders after getting the top spot on the aforementioned Arcana article
Regardless, I will just state that I ordered on January 18, and the bag shipped on January 30, arriving via UPS on February 3. I cannot say whether this is a normal turn-around time for them or unusual. Your mileage may vary.

Now as for the product itself, here's what I can say. It seems quite sturdily constructed, and seems (so far) like it will hold up to a great deal of use and wear. Of course, as I have had it less than a month, I cannot be absolutely certain of this.

My biggest complaint about the product page (and the reason I decided to write this review) is that it was very difficult to get an idea of what the bag was like, exactly. They only show one image of the bag, and that's with it closed. I am a man who loves pockets, and I wanted to see what the various compartments looked like, and just couldn't do so in this case. I took it on faith that the thing would be useful, and figured that if I started using it to lug my netbooks around for the events I TO for I could at least write it off as a business expense!

Some photos for you, with comments added to flesh out the review...
The Planeswalker Messenger Bag
 So here's a shot of the full bag. The strap is quite adjustable, and comfortable on the shoulder (it's nice and wide, so doesn't dig in). The large flap on the front gets held in place by two Velcro strips.

Flap open

You can see the Velcro strips in this shot. Note that the strips on the inside of the flap run horizontally, while the ones on the front of the bag are vertical. Presumably this is so that if the bag is stuffed full, and the flap can't hang down as far, it can still connect with the Velcro on the bag.

If this picture you can also see the four smaller pockets of the bag. There are two on the front, and one on each side. More on these later.

The interior
So here's the bag's main compartment. Note the small extra zippered pocket attached to the back of the main section. It's not that large, but would be good for pens, random loose dice, life pads, that sort of thing. I use it for the USB-charger for my cell phone, a pen or two, and some spare business cards and stickers :)

Open wide!
The bag's base actually sits flat, so when fully opened the bag can stand at attention. Once anything's put in here, of course, it will tip over to one side or the other unless said item can stand on its own as well. But as you can see there's plenty of space in here for trade binders or smaller boxes of cards (an 800-ct long box is just a bit too long, but anything smaller should fit nicely). The base of the bag is right about the width (front to back) of a typical card storage box.

My two netbooks, a mouse pad, and a playmat fit quite nicely with room to spare.

Side pocket snap-action
Finally, my main interest - the pockets. The two side pockets are too small to fit the Ultra Pro magnetic flip boxes that I prefer (see here for an example of what I mean) but the two front ones are large enough to accommodate those. The side pockets can, however, fit the smaller plastic deckboxes (like these). The side pockets have (as you can see in the photo) a snap to close them off, a feature the front pockets do not have.

I use the front and side pockets for power cords & corded mice to go with the netbooks.

So, would I personally use this as my "gaming bag"? Probably not. I'm not one to tote around trade binders, nor do I bring boxes of cards to things. I generally travel with several decks, which would either be banging around together in the copious main compartment, or I'd be limited to 4 decks (2 of which would have to be in smaller deck boxes) if I used only the outer pockets. For me, something like this is better.

HOWEVER - that said, I DO think that this bag would work for a LOT of other gamers out there, from what I have seen at the events I host. If you're heading to an event, and only going to be bringing 1 or 2 decks with you, plus binders of cards to trade...I honestly think that this bag could do very well for you.

Now - is it worth $50 plus shipping? That I can only leave up to you to decide.

Monday, February 06, 2012

WPN Boy (Special Dark Ascension Edition)

Okay, I am going to abandon my usual format for this special edition of WPN boy. Below are my reflections from organizing & running 6 Prerelease events and 2 Launch Parties for the newest set, Dark Ascension (hereinafter referred to as "DKA" for simplicity). As usual, this post will assume that you are already somewhat familiar with my situation from reading the Road to WPN series (which begins here) and previous entries in the WPN Boy series (which begins here).

To begin with, this is the first set where stores at the Core level as we are were allowed to run 3 Prereleases. This was the first Prerelease that Novel Places was eligible to run (we got that store up to Core Level shortly after the deadline for registering to run a Prerelease for Innistrad ("ISD" from this point on). This meant that, between the two stores, I would be able to register to run 6 different Prereleases. My struggle over what to do with this has already been covered (here). We ended up running two events at each store on Saturday (with my friend Craig running the two at Novel Places for me that day) and one event at each store on Sunday.

The two events on Saturday at Beyond Comics were extremely well attended, with 19 players at the morning event, and 20 at the afternoon event (we can only seat 20 under our current conditions - this may change in the near future as the store is moving to a new location).

Novel Places, on the other hand, had only 6 players at each event, meaning that each event had to be run as a Casual Event as far as the WER is concerned.

Sunday's events were also low, with only 5 players at Beyond Comics in the morning, and 6 at Novel Places in the afternoon.

I now find myself struggling to decide what to do with the next set's Prerelease. I feel that running simultaneous events at both stores hurt the attendance at Novel Places. I don't know if the solution is to run 1 event at each site each day, or to run two events at one store Saturday and two at the other store on Sunday (which will almost certainly result in lower attendance for whoever gets the Sunday slot). The latter has merit, however, as roughly 50% of the players at the afternoon event at Beyond Comics were holdovers from the morning event - they just came and made a day of it. I'm not sure if they all would have been willing to drive 10 miles further up or down I-270 to the other store for the second event.

This is about the only time when I really don't like being the TO for two separate stores - I am obligated to try to maximize what's best for both stores, and I'm not sure how to do that. Jon (store owner for Beyond Comics) has recommended that I poll our players and see what they think should be done, which I think is an excellent idea. Now I just need to draft said document and figure out the best way to get it out to everyone.

Monsters vs. Humans
This prerelease had a gimmick built into it (by WPN, not me). We were to randomly assign players to be "Monsters" for the start of the event (1 player in each tribe: Vampire, Werewolf, Zombie, and Spirit). Everyone else was a Human. Each time a Monster beat a Human, that Human joined that Monster's tribe. At the end of the event, each surviving Human and each member of the tribe with the most members was to receive a special prize.

Sounded good on the surface, and I think the players really got into it (the number of "Team Spirit" and "Lone Wolf" jokes alone was phenomenal). But I had the following problems with it:
  1. This was thrust upon the stores with no prize support to back it up. It was up to the store to come up with the prize for this contest. Neither store was ready to put anything up (we found out about this only a week or so before the event), so I ended up creating a coupon to hand out as a prize (see below). I think that inventing a special promotion is great - but don't announce it to the locations a week before the event and say "oh, by the way, you need to fork out a prize for this." [It appears that this may be fixed as of the next set - more on this in a future entry - but if you'd like a preview, check this out].
  2. Better than nothing, I suppose!
  3.  I had misread the instruction sheet initially, and I thought that only the winning tribe was supposed to get anything. But the directions were for the winning tribe AND any surviving Humans. In our experience, at least, this meant that the majority of players "won". We had, for example, only 1 Werewolf, 2 Zombies, 2 Spirits and 3 Vampires at the first event (if memory serves me correctly). This meant that 11 players were still Humans. So 11 Humans + 3 Vampires = 14 out of 19 players "won" this competition. That's a lot of prizes to give out (and, possibly, hurt feelings among the only 5 people who didn't "win"). For a company that creates games, I think this one was put together rather poorly.
Prize Support
This is the biggest problem I had with my experience. When Beyond Comics ran Prerelease for ISD, we were only allowed to run two events. We ran two on the Saturday (1 Sealed Deck, 1 Booster Draft - the latter of which is no longer allowed as of DKA). For prize support, the store was sent two "Prerelease Kits", which included a batch of Prerelease promo cards, some other goodies, and (most importantly) a free booster box of ISD to be used as extra packs in the prize pool.

I assumed (yeah, yeah) that, since we were running three events this time, we would get three "Prerelease Kits". NOPE! Core Level stores, from what I have since learned, get two kits, regardless of the number of events they are running (maybe if we only ran 1 event we'd only get 1 kit - not sure on that).

And then we get to the worst mistake: this one by me. Note that I may very well be getting myself in trouble for this, as I am willingly admitting that I broke an agreement with WotC/WPN (although not knowingly at the time). I can only hope that they will be understanding (or that I am wrong in my current understanding of how things are supposed to run).

I had understood that the free boxes we were sent was to be additional prize packs for the pool (2 packs per player is the instruction given). We usually have 2 packs per player in a prize pool, and 4 seemed overly generous, so we ran 3.5 packs per player in the pool. This is how I ran the ISD Prereleases, and also how I planned to run the DKA ones. This, however, gave us two problems:
  1. Since we were only given 2 boxes for free, the "2 per player" ran out during the second event (two boxes of 36 packs only supports a total of 36 players, and we had 19 and 20 at Beyond Comics that first day).
  2. We actually ran low on DKA packs to the point where, for the second event, I felt I needed to modify my policy and limit the prizes to 4 packs of Dark Ascension per winner (any additional packs were ISD instead). So, for example, a player who got 12 match points (going 4-0-0 in our 4-round event) would win 7 packs: 4 DKA and 3 ISD.
My understanding now, however, is that the prize packs given to us by WotC/WPN in the Prerelease Kit were supposed to be the ONLY packs of DKA in the prize pool. We were welcome to supplement the prize pool with other non-DKA items, but that is it for DKA.

So here's what I don't get. If we are supposed to limit ourselves to only the 2 boxes we received, and we're supposed to put in 2 packs per player, and we're allowed to run 3 events...we're only expected to average 12 players per event? Something seems VERY wrong here, and I'm hoping against hope that someone official from WotC/WPN can tell me I've misunderstood something.

What's also confusing is the Prerelease promos. Each Prerelease Kit comes with 24 promos, so we got 48 promos for each store. At 3 events per store, that's an average of 16 promos per event. This does not match the 12 players per event of the booster packs. Why don't these numbers match up? [Add to the confusion: The "Helvault" promotion mentioned in the Avacyn Restored solicitation supposedly supports up to 54 players: an average of 18 players per event if a store runs 3 events! None of these numbers match up!]

Launch Party
The Launch Parties were EXTREMELY successful for us. Beyond Comics ran theirs on Friday night in lieu of an FNM that week, and had a full house of 20 people (we even had to turn some folks away as we had run out of room). Novel Places' event on Saturday brought in 12 players (and some additional "railbirds"), and helped Novel Places to set not only a new single-day sales record, but a weekly sales record (beating out the week of Christmas, 2011). A blast of a time was had by all, and I was extremely pleased with how everything turned out.

And if I had written this blog entry this weekend (as I had originally hoped), this would probably have ended right here.

But, unfortunately, I awoke this morning to read this article on the Daily MTG "mothership" this morning. Helene Bergeot, Director of Organized Play announced that, essentially, Launch Parties are done. There will be no official events using this name, and the special promo cards that used to go with said event will only be distributed at FNM the night of the release day.

It was somewhat unclear whether the promo cards could be used, for example, on a Saturday event instead (like we just did this past weekend). So I emailed her using the link at the bottom of the article, and she kindly replied later in the day (kudos to her for the quick response!):
Your assumption is absolutely correct - moving forward, in order to get access to the LP promos, a store will have to schedule an FNM that day. We want FNM to be a great place for players to join their local community & enjoy playing Magic and this is why we want to make a big deal out of the very first FNM of a new set.
If one of the stores you TO for doesn't run FNM, it may just be the perfect opportunity to get started.

With that said, we want to continue offering great events (sealed or draft) to the players this very first weekend, but in a much more flexible way than for the prerelease. The local stores and TOs are in the best position to evaluate which events will be the best ones for their player community.

So, we certainly want to encourage stores and TOs to run lots of events the weekend a new set launches. But as for any other FNM promo cards, these additional promos are meant to be used during FNM.
This confirmed it. We will not be able to do what we did just this past weekend for both stores. The only way that both stores can participate is to have both stores run FNM that week. Of course for us this is a problem, as there has thus far been a "gentleman's agreement" between the stores that Beyond Comics gets FNM, and Novel Places gets regular Saturday-afternoon events. Since the two stores are so close to each other, directly competing seems counter-productive (not to mention the fact that I can't be in two places at once!).

True, we can continue to run a special event at Novel Places on the Saturday after a release day, but it will not be the same (the loss of the promo is part of it, but more importantly the loss of folks finding us through the Wizards Event Locator looking for a local Launch Party).

On the larger scale, this policy shift bothers me because it leaves so many players and locations out in the cold.
  • FNM is only available to Core and Advanced level stores. Launch Parties were available to Gateway-level stores, and were a chance for such stores to draw a big crowd, and help them get up to Core level. It's now that much harder to level up.
  • Many, many people either cannot attend (jobs, family commitments, what-have-you) or choose not to attend (date night, anyone?) FNM. But these people would like to participate in Launch Parties.
All in all, I'm very disappointed with this change, to put it mildly. I certainly hope that this, like a few other policy changes that got quickly overhauled after negative player response, gets changed soon.

Okay, that's all for this installment. I should get another normal edition of WPN Boy out before too much longer (I have many Diary entries already, and even some Q's to A). Here's hoping that in that entry I can report a Launch Party policy shift...


Thursday, January 05, 2012

WPN Boy (Part 3)

[This is part 3 in a series, and assumes that you've already read Part 1 and Part 2 (not to mention the entire Road to WPN series, which begins here)]

Q&A Session

I'm afraid no-one has sent me any questions (via email, or comments on the blog), so there's no Q's for me to A this time :( I will say that the comments from last time about having a Draft-training session some time sounds like a mighty fine idea. Lord knows I could use it!

December 27, 2011: I'm a little frustrated with WotC's Customer Service right now. I emailed trying to find the answer to a question that I just can't seem to get an official answer on. Namely: how many booster packs of Innistrad and Dark Ascension are used to do a Sealed Deck event? My thinking (and I don't know where this comes from) is that at the prerelease it's 3 packs each, then for regular events it would be 4 packs of Innistrad and 2 of Dark Ascension.

When I posed the question via the WotC Customer Service interface (remember: I can no longer directly email my WPN "handler", Brian), I got a VERY speedy reply (even though it was around 9:30 pm my time) which was pleasantly surprising. Less so, however, was their response, which directed me to the sales announcements for Dark Ascension. These documents did not have the answers I needed, so I wrote back and thanked them for the quick response, but stated that I didn't get the answer I needed.

The reason I need this answer is so that I can advise Patrick and Jon as to how much product of the two sets they need to order for the events coming up.

December 28, 2011: Got another reply from WotC Customer Service:
Thank you for your reply. Unfortunately, we do not have any other more specific information for the Dark Ascension Prerelease. Often the specifics (like how many of each booster to be used) will be included in the event kit and it's occasionally posted in an article on our website ( as soon as that information is available. For questions about how much to order, you may want to contact (or have the store owners contact) their Distributors for help with recommended quantities or limits for purchasing products for the prerelease.
I'm sure it will be in the event kit. Unfortunately that will be too late for ordering purposes. Plus, it will not answer the question as to whether regular events use a different ratio of booster packs than the prerelease.

A quick Twitter discussion today indicates that I am off my rocker, and the whole 4/2 booster split is a figment of my imagination. It seems that the split is 3/3 always. I have no idea where the 4/2 thing came from (maybe I just assumed it, since once the third set of a block comes out it's usually 2/2/2 - so it seemed logical that the big set would get more representation until then?). Anyway, unless I somehow hear/read/see something official that says differently, I will operate under the working assumption that a Dark Ascension sealed deck event will use 3 packs each of Dark Ascension and Innistrad.

[SIDE NOTE: A Dark Ascension Draft, on the other hand, will be 1 pack Dark Ascension and 2 packs of Innistrad, drafted in that order. Just FYI in case you didn't know.]

Meanwhile, in much more exciting news, Casual Magic Night had 10 people tonight - including 2 new DCI members, which helps Novel Places' bottom line towards staying at the Core Level. My Green-White Tokens deck ("Tokens of my Affection") proved to be a VERY capable Archenemy deck with the tailor-made Scheme deck I put together to run with it. BWAHAHAHAHAHA!

December 30, 2011: FNM tonight was Standard. We had 8 people, so barely enough to run sanctioned (but, then again, it WAS sanctioned, so I can't complain too much!). Everyone had been there before (one player was the gent who had been "strong-armed" into playing Two-Headed Giant last week).

January 3, 2012: Today I received the nicest note in my email (sent to me and a few of the regular players at our events, from another one of our regulars). I will leave it here with no comment other than: this is EXACTLY why I wanted to start organizing events!
Gentlemen - a quick Happy New (M12) Year to you guys!
Just wanted to say thanks for making all the games at Beyond and Novel very fun this past year!

And a big thanks to Mr. Don for starting up his FNMs and other events - we've got a great group
of players and it has been my pleasure to meet everyone.
See you at Don's events throughout "M12"... ;-)
 January 4, 2012: Casual Magic Night. Tonight we tried a new format created by William Davy, who runs events for Beyond Comics' Frederick store. I will include here his report from what he learned after the playtest. Here are the rules for the format (called Political Economics Magic) in case you'd like to read them for yourself before reading his review. Take it away, William!
Let me start off by saying that I expected a lot less of the format. I expected I would have to completely overhaul the rules after a play test. I never expected that it would work as well as it did.
Before the game began, I realized I had not planned for Foil lands in the packs. If they were removed, it would reduce the card pool (admittedly only a little bit) and I didn’t want that to happen. So I added this to the rules: If a foil basic land is opened, that card goes into the Spell Deck.
1.3.1 Foil Basic Lands are shuffled into the Spell Deck.
2.6.1 If a foil Basic Land is played, that land generates 2 mana of the specified type. Even if a Foil Basic Land is exposed, that portion of the card’s effect does nothing.
Even after making this adjustment, we did not open any foil lands and as such, did not get to test this mechanic.
To begin, the card pool was incredible. We used eighteen packs of Mirrodin Besieged and in the process of opening all the cards, I opened a sword of Feast and Famine, Inkmoth Nexus, Contested war zone, Consecrated Sphinx, Hero of Oxid Ridge, Tezzeret, Mirran Crusader, Victory’s Herald, Cryptoplasm, two Galvanoths, a foil Distant Memories, and a Foil Massacre Wurm. Not bad for just eighteen Packs. Anyway… on to the gameplay.
It went much better than I had anticipated. The Face up Land deck made for an interesting mechanic, At more than one point during the game, there was a land that nobody needed sitting on top (a swamp to be exact) and it sat there undisturbed for several turns. And this was not because nobody needed another mana, it was because nobody wanted a Swamp. However, there was much of the land deck that went undisturbed. Because of this, I am changing the land deck construction to include only three of each basic land for every player at the table.
Because we were playing Mirrodin Besieged, there were a lot of creatures being played that had Infect. Right off the bat, we determined that nobody liked poison damage and that, because of our high starting life, fifteen poison damage sounded fair. The starting life total will also be reduced from 40 to 30.
The card pool, while quite valuable, was enormous. Eighteen booster packs for five players seemed like quite a lot. The card pool will be adjusted accordingly. Each player will purchase/supply three booster packs to the card pool. These booster packs will be from any set of the player’s choosing.
The shared mana mechanic was used a lot more often than I expected. Red and Green mana were at a premium (no more than two of each were on the board throughout the game) and as such, the other players often left them untapped in case someone wanted to use them. I remember at one point, another player was swinging with all of his creatures, I think he had three of them, into the biggest threat on the table. He blocked most of the damage but before the damage occurred, I noticed the attacker had an untapped mountain, and offered Rally the Forces. He gladly tapped the red mana and I paid the other two, destroying most of the defender’s creatures in the process.
Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to test the graveyard mechanic extensively, and the milling mechanic was not used at all. I would like to run another game using cards from Innistrad at some point in the future to test the graveyard mechanic more thoroughly.
Overall, I think the game was a success. Many of the mechanics I devised for the game worked much better than anticipated and only need minor tweaking. Below are the modified rules. Italicized sections are still subject to change, bold sections are new additions and changes.