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.