How (Not) to Host a Pre-Release

Posted by zach - May 11, 2011 - Blog - No Comments

   As you all know, this past weekend was the Pre-Release event for New Phyrexia, and, sadly, the final round of regional Pre-Releases.

Before I get to our experience at the NPH Pre-Release, let me just say that as casual players we are sorry to see the regional Pre-Releases go. Large casual events, unless sponsored by companies like StarCity Games are a thing of the past. For the player who loves the crackle of a thousand booster packs being opened by three hundred of his closest friends in a casual setting, the crack of doom has sounded.

That said, I would like to remind you of the words of an ancient philosopher: “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” The upside of the end of regional Pre-Releases is that smaller local outfits will be able to make a bigger deal of their own events. This will give local store owners and local judges greater flexibility in deciding what an event looks like, allowing them to cater to their specific MTG crowd. The new system might also provide a critical opportunity for struggling stores to boost their sales on a quarterly basis.

So, having experienced our share of large-scale casual-play events like this, we’d like to share with you,for the benefit of your playgroup and your local store, some of our ideas for making your small-scale release events a BIG deal.

1. Start time is critical for the execution of a successful event. This is true from both the perspective of the player and the host. When TCP went to the last Pre-Release we attended we showed up about ten minutes after registration was supposed to begin. No big deal, right? Wrong. Even before we arrived they had run out of the promo cards and other swag.

After a fail like that we weren’t going to “get got” a second time. For NPH The Casual Planeswalker crew set their alarms for an ungodly hour, used two Reanimates and a Gravedigger to get ourselves out of bed, stopped by Starbucks for some even deeper and more ancient magicks, then piled in the car, spoilers in hand, for the hour drive to the event, planning to arrive well ahead of registration even if we ran into unexpected traffic.

And we did just that. We were there half an hour before registration was supposed to begin, money in hand, ready to go. We were the second group to arrive for Pete’s sake. BUT: There was no line. There was no logical place for a line to begin. There appeared to be no one running the thing…

More and more people filed in. Now it was 8:45 and there were probably a hundred people sitting around waiting for something to happen. Then suddenly someone, somewhere with an official looking t-shirt whispered: “line”. Having accidentally sat down on the wrong side of the room we were suddenly at the back of said line, which was okay until we realized…

2. People always forget their DCI cards… After making considerable progress through the line we found ourselves being shushed and shouted at as the irate hosts discovered that, wonder of wonders, not everyone had their DCI cards on them! We would have to start a new line to get our numbers, then head to the END of the registration line that we were already half way through, and besides that….

3. Nobody likes being yelled at. There were speakers and a microphone there, I saw them. Shouting does not make the experience “more personal”, nor is it more effective than instructions given in a calm voice over a speaker-system. More than that, being yelled at makes your customers feel like they are kindergarteners who have been eating paste, not grown men who are PAYING you for the privilege of being a captive audience, which reminds me…

4. Time is money. Not only are we a captive audience, but you, our hosts, have our favorite thing in the world, unopened packs of hot-off-the-press Magic cards. You earn your livelihood by selling these marvelous pieces of cardboard to us, and we are DYING to give you our money. Therefore: It should not take two hours from registration time to begin the first event. After recovering my DCI number and going through the main line (again), I didn’t get into pod 1 and so, by the time I finished my first match it was after noon and time for a lunch break.

With sufficient preparation we could have had two pods through at least two (if not three) rounds before lunch. Most players at a release don’t want to stick around in the tourney after they’ve missed out on the chance to win prizes. Most of us would, having lost, love to jump into another sealed event, open-dueling, or a draft.

  If you are concerned, and you should be, that if there are too many cards in circulation before lunch…

5. People will cheat, then simply have us…

6. Register our deck. It takes five minutes and we really don’t mind. I know this is “casual play,” but fairness is a big deal. Also, if unregistered decks is what’s stopping you from starting drafts and open-dueling before lunch, then having players register their decks would allow you to make THAT MUCH MORE MONEY!

Similarly, if you’re…

7. Concerned about giving away too many prizes? Don’t be. If each individual event is profitable (and it should be), then the more events you have in a day, the more money you make. It’s frustrating for players and unprofitable for hosts when people are spending too much time sitting around waiting for something to happen. If you can figure out a way to have food on site – a great opportunity to partner with another local business – you can shorten the amount of time given for lunch and…

7. Maintain the excitement. We love Magic. We really do. And all we planned on doing today was buying cards and slinging cardboard. The more you make us feel loved (giveaways, posters on the walls, banners flying) the more excited we’ll be (and the more money we’ll bring) the next time you host an event.

We’re excited for the more personal, more local experience that we’ll have at local stores when M12 and Innistrad drop later this year. If you’re planning on hosting an event in the near future, my best and final advice is simply to…

8. Ask the players what they want. We really are an easy crowd. We want cards. We want Coke. We want fast food. We want a day with our friends doing what we love best. If you provide a welcoming environment and a customer-friendly structure we are more than willing to max out our MTG budgets with a smile on our faces. See you in July!

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