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!