The Magic Show #116 – Shards of FAIL

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Friday, October 3rd – Hello everybody, and welcome to another edition of the Magic Show. After suffering through this past weekend’s prerelease festivities, something must be said. And if I’m the guy who has to say it, so be it. I’ll also cover the leak of the complete Conflux card list, and feature a special visit from Patrick Chapin and Friends. Let’s go!

Hello everybody, and welcome to another edition of the Magic Show. After suffering through this past weekend’s prerelease festivities, something must be said. And if I’m the guy who has to say it, so be it. I’ll also cover the leak of the complete Conflux card list, and feature a special visit from Patrick Chapin and Friends. Let’s go!

Just wanted to support your great show! - David Hornung
-*-PROXIMA CENTAURI-*-  Vesuvan Mage

Shards of FAIL

Quite simply, this weekend was a colossal and epic failure. From every metric I can find, from every store I can contact, the turnout for the Shards of Alara Prerelease was abysmal. It was so bad at my ‘Premier Event’ location that it actually made me less interested in Magic. There was no large gathering of gamers who loved the same game as I did. There was no sense of community. There was no constant murmur of voices as pairings are called for one flight while seatings are up for another.

The Shards of Alara prerelease really opened my eyes to just how important large prerelease events were. They are essential to keeping a regional community excited about the game. After this past weekend and the humdrum and grumpiness of what few players showed up, I’m now less excited about Shards of Alara as a set. As a result, players who go to their first prerelease to see unexcited players waiting hours to play a single game may not be inclined to come back for more tournament experience, even if those events would be vastly superior.

There is no footage of Magic players like you and I enjoying the set because with a turnout less than an FNM, I wouldn’t be able to provide you with a varied set of opinions that ran the gamut. Why? Because everyone I spoke to was unhappy. There were no drafts. There was no turnout. Gamers had been tossed far and wide. Confusion abounded. The wait was ridiculous.

I waited four hours for my flight to start. Four. Frickin. Hours. And that kind of wait doesn’t actually make you excited about the set. It just makes you frustrated that you can’t play with it. By splintering the entire playerbase, you demolished turnout. The turnout was even worse than Coldsnap, for God’s sake, and that set was absolutely awful. Shards of Alara is not a bad set. Not in the least. But you know what’s a ton more fun than playing a multicolor set in Sealed? Drafting it! That’s where gold sets really shine. And you completely cut us off from that.

And, I’ll be honest, I wasn’t completely blown away with how the set fared in Sealed. I thought those with manafixing have a huge advantage over those who aren’t so fortunate. Every game I won in my Sealed flight had to do in some part by the two tri-color comes-into-play-tapped lands I opened. Those who opened less or opened saclands not in their shard were struggling at times to keep it together.

After hours, as me and some buddies pooled together our meager winnings, we played a few drafts. Drafting the set, even in a few four-man pods, was a much better experience than Sealed. I can imagine the set is going to be an absolute blast to draft with a full roster. And you know what? It’s okay that Shards of Alara has a better draft environment than Sealed environment. I just wish I could’ve drafted the set, sanctioned, with seven other people like I have been able to do ever since I returned to Magic. Even with the low turnout, that positive experience would’ve left a much better impression than the one I got.

Speaking of shards and their colors, I’m personally not going to bother with a Release Sealed event if it makes me choose just one shard to play with. This is needlessly restrictive, and I think takes part of the fun out of Magic. Why can’t you play with whatever colors you wish? Since when was playing with fewer colors more fun? Has there ever, in the history of the game, been a Sealed format in which the rules state you can’t play certain colors? Good job Wizards, nothing like giving us a format that is not only confusing since you can still have cards with off-shard activation costs and things, but could be very unfun as you are forced to leave some of your best cards in your sideboard because they’re one color too many for the shard you’re forced to use. I think I’d rather just draft, thanks.

But let’s take a look at prize support, shall we? One box of product for 24 players is pack a and half per player. This is half of what was previously provided for American players. Now the funny thing about prize support is that different places had different support. Two packs per player in Japan, a whopping six packs per player in France, and so on. This pack-and-a-half decision was in effort to standardize support across all regions. But when you cut prizes in half you give players even higher incentive to not show up.

Speaking of prize support, how about this whopper? How about judges no longer get prerelease product? That’s right. Ever since the inception of a prerelease, judges for the event would get to take home product for said prerelease. You judged the Lorwyn Prerelease, you got Lorwyn product for your services. This is no more. They get cash, existing sets, or they can get their prerelease product when it’s, well, released. So the cool bonus for spending your day judging instead of playing is basically negated. Not that getting paid or existing product is awful, but…c’mon now. Get real here. The only reason I’d judge a prerelease is if I could take home a box or so of product when I was finished with my day. I know a lot of judges who were surprised by this move, had no prior warning, and were highly upset at the Shards prerelease as a result. This does absolutely awful things for the judge program.

Then, of course, there’s the ‘Wild West’ feel of having local shops dealing with prereleases. I don’t know about you, but I heard plenty of stories about drafts being held in local stores. And while claiming ignorance is easy, the fact is that the bigger and larger the operation, the less likely someone breaking the rules will occur. Right now there is just no incentive not to break the rules for local shops. To shop owners it can appear to be free money, just waiting to be taken from players. Let’s hope that Wizards cracks down on the shops who were running drafts over the weekend to ensure these new policies, however misguided, are still respected.

There were also reports of widespread product leakage. For the past week or so many eBay sellers not only had Shards of Alara product, they were willing to ship them immediately. Sure, WotC tries their best to pull these auctions, but the fact remains that cases of product were on the street before it was legal to do so. One player at my own prerelease had a full box of product as he walked through the door that morning.

I really didn’t understand how fundamental drafts are to the ambiance of a prerelease. There’s just something really cool to be able to wander around and check out not only the cards being drafted, but how cards are being evaluated by various players. How friends would run over and show you their latest draft and what your thoughts were on it. And now… now that’s gone.

The last minor point I’ll make is that Wizards has saved a little on the budget end by not providing unique Prerelease foils any longer. The same foil you got last weekend is the same one you’ll get this weekend. This provides even more incentive to not attend a prerelease.

The changes to the prerelease system are a huge misstep for the game. There is no other way to put it. I don’t care if Wizards listens to me or not. This was a huge, monster screw-up on every level. We need to not only recognize it, we need to fix it. While I would simply reboot the Prerelease system to the way it’s been ran successfully for years instead of trying to prop up this rotting corpse of new policy, perhaps enough of an outcry can make this an option.

But I cannot stress the importance of this enough: Large prereleases are key to building local communities. You must give people a regional focal point to bring them together for prerelease celebrations. This was the biggest mistake made last weekend, and it’s why Wizards failed so badly. Conflux now has my lowest expectations of any prerelease in the history of Magic, and ‘Scissors’ is now looking grim: Traditionally the third set of a block is the worst attended prerelease. At this rate, it could be rather… lonely at the Scissors prerelease.

So here are some tips on fixing this broken system.

First, for God’s sake, give judges prerelease product. You should be ashamed of yourselves for even mentioning not doing so.

Second, limit the number of Prerelease locations. This is the key. This is the reason they were previously successful. Pay attention, Wizards. When there are fewer events, then those events are more special. They are now unique and not found at every card shop in town. When there is nothing special about them, then players don’t make special plans for them.

Third, you need to develop Prerelease and Release foils again. This is probably minor, but this is another strike against Prerelease events that they don’t need.

Finally, please consider upping the prize support. I’m just a Magic player, I just like slinging cardboard. And giving me more cardboard, or even the same amounts as I’ve been used to for the past few years, encourages me to attend events. Giving me half of what I’m used to isn’t encouraging in the slightest. This is the least likely change as it affects the pocketbooks the most, but hopefully they’ll at least consider it.

All I know is, something’s gotta change. Large tournament organizers all over the country lost a boatload of money and many players decided to stay at home or do something else. Maybe the points I detailed had something to do with those. I bet they do. When you change a dozen things about an event, it’s hard to pinpoint just what went wrong.

Let this be a lesson to Wizards of the Coast. And with all great lessons, hopefully something will be done so this travesty doesn’t occur with Conflux. Because I’ll tell you right now: If Conflux is the exact same setup, I’m staying home. Good grief.

So that’s my opinion, based on what I saw and experienced firsthand. How do you feel? Good or bad, I want to know. Leave a comment, reply in the forums, or, better yet, why not tell Wizards of the Coast directly by dialing this number: 1-800-324-6496 or go to http://wizards.custhelp.com for Wizards of the Coast customer service. Let them hear your story. Good or bad, let your voice be heard.

My show gets thousands upon thousands of views a week. I know you’re out there. And I want you to make a difference. So get to dialing or typing, and let’s make some noise here.

And now…a special segment from Patrick Chapin.

Text Only Section Bonus
For some ‘Real World’ forum reactions, here are some helpful links:

Worst Prerelease Experience Yet

WTF WotC. You really sucked out there today

Great prerelease

ATTENTION: You may not be able to get into your prerelease. Details inside

Discussion on the Prerelease System, then and now

Why Smaller Prereleases Suck: An Anecdotal Story

Global Prereleases now tied to Wizard’s Play Network

Disappointing prerealese

Local prereleases turnout?

How do you like New Prerelease System?

How was your Shards PreRelease?


So this past Sunday, something very interesting popped up on the Rumor Mill. Someone claimed to have found the entire card listing for Conflux. That’s right, the entire card list, all 149 cards coming next February.

The problem with this is, of course, that it supposed to debut next February. Matter of fact, based on the date listed on this file, it had been up for a week. A random Google search had picked up a file located on a Japanese Magic translation site that included all of the Alara card names and their Japanese translations… along with Conflux as well.

If you’re not exactly sure how bad this is, let me assure you: It’s bad. This is a leak of epic proportions. To put it in context, the Rumor Mill didn’t have the final Alara card names a week before the prerelease. Here is a list of all of the Conflux card names, oh, what, five months in advance?

For the naysayers, let’s cover the facts:

– The file has a Google cache date of September 22nd, 2008. This is a week before it was discovered. On September 22nd, the Rumor Mill didn’t have all of the finalized card names while this file did with pinpoint accuracy, including their correct translations.
– The file has exactly 145 Conflux cards listed. This is the final number for the set.
– The cardnames themselves “sound” correct. That’s tough to discern, but we’ve been watching people fake us out for years now. None of the names have been used before, except the reprints, and the other names fit the Alara world perfectly.
– The file was taken down two hours after the Rumor Mill reported its findings.

Now you’re not going to get Wizards of the Coast denying or confirming this in any fashion. They can’t, because they like their jobs. We’ll know for certain early next year. But not since Judgment has a set been busted so early.

To turn the clock back a moment, Judgment was meant to have both an online and offline simultaneous launch. For those in software development, you know the only way you can successfully launch of product of this magnitude is through beta testing. So out went the Non-Disclosure Agreements to beta testers, and lo and behold, the set was busted a full six weeks early.

By the time Judgment was on store shelves, the interwebs had not only known about it, an entire metagame was already in place based on the new cards. This, as you can imagine, is about as bad as it gets for Magic. With no sense of discovery and little excitement, sales of Judgment suffered as a result.

Conflux luckily won’t have this fate. But it will have is less of surprise in regards to one big name: Nicol Bolas. Because, you see, in addition to the reprints we have coming in ConfluxMana Cylix, Unsummon, Maniacal Rage, and Worldly Counsel – there was one card name that makes every Magic player stop in awe.

Right there, in the N’s, is “Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker.”

Holy crap. Hot diggity. Now this is news, ladies and gentlemen. Nicol Bolas, one of the most beloved Elder Dragons of all time, is headed back to cardboard in a new Planeswalker form. For those who argue about the name, you can imagine that Nicol Bolas would simply have his name in the title much like the other Planeswalkers, but he can’t do that since he was an existing card from Legends. This explains the comma and the title. Also notice that he is in Grixis colors. Could this be our first ever tri-colored Planeswalker? I’m willing to bet ‘yes.’

So, of course, the Rumor Mill has absolutely gone bonkers with this thing, with everyone speculating on what the five land-ish card names may be, and whether Conflux is the Enemy tri-color set or some other variation of “worlds colliding,” whatever that may be.

All I know is, it was one bad weekend for Wizards. Here’s hoping they can keep a lid on the rest of Conflux until official previews begin… in January.

And that’s the latest from the world of Magical cards, folks. Thanks for watching and I’ll see you here next week. Until next time Magic players, this is Evan Erwin. Tapping the cards… so you don’t have to.

Evan “misterorange” Erwin
eerwin +at+ gmail +dot+ com
dubya dubya dubya dot misterorangeproductions dot com
Written hoping that Wizards understands that I do this because I care.