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This Friday marks the first of the pre-release events for Magic: The Gathering (MtG)’s newest addition to its family, Shadows Over Innistrad, and we at SuperNerdLand are dedicated to helping you survive the night – if not walk away victorious as well.

There’s two different breeds of events we will be preparing you for – the general events, held on Saturday and Sunday, and the midnight event held Friday evening/Saturday morning.  This guide is meant to be for the layman, the person who’s never been to a pre-release event before, or is just getting into MtG for the first time, or just for those who need a refresher on how pre-releases work.

What is a Pre-release?

A pre-release is exactly what it sounds like!  One week from the release of a new MtG set, special events are held, where entry buys you a special kit containing packs from that new set (or if it’s the second set in a block, some of the previous sets packs as well).  You then have a set time to open those packs and construct a 40-card deck from the contents within, as well as the basic lands the store provides.  What follows is an intense Swiss-style tournament of anywhere from three to four rounds (depending on how many people are attending the event), where participation in the tournament nets you a single pack from the new set, and subsequent wins earn you more.  Additional product, such as intro decks from the new set, will also be available for purchase, and most stores do giveaways of product like sleeves and card binders as well.

Registration prices for the pre-release events varies from store to store, but most price a single event at thirty dollars, with discounts for further events (i.e., one event is thirty dollars, two events are fifty dollars).  If you have multiple stores in your area, shop around and see who offers the best prices for events, or which store is more competitive if a challenge is what you’re looking for.

With the exception of the midnight pre-release, most stores run anywhere from two to three events on Saturday and Sunday.  If you have work, school, or other obligations, this allows you to still attend at whatever time is convenient for you.

We recommend checking ahead of time to make sure a store still has spots open for an event in the time slot you’re looking for; no one likes turning up to an event they’ve been anticipating and finding out that they’re unable to compete.

What do I need to bring to a pre-release event?

Once you’ve bought a slot for an event, you’ll need to make sure you have a few things ready for that day.

Firstly, if you don’t have a DCI number, you’ll need to get one.  Registration is free and it is needed for the event organizer to complete your registration for the event and properly make brackets.  You can get your DCI number here.

Second, you might want to get sleeves for your cards, if you want to get them from getting scuffed up during play.  You can purchase your sleeves ahead of time at the store, or during the time allotted for deck construction, but we recommend getting sleeves beforehand – you don’t want to waste anytime you could be using to build your deck.  Players also like to get playmats to further protect their cards from random dust and debris, but like sleeves these are optional.

If you’re interested in trading cards with other players during lulls between rounds or events, you can bring your collection along – just be sure that if you bring a card, you’re willing to trade it.  There’s nothing more frustrating than opening someone’s trade binder and finding that every card you’re interested in, the owner doesn’t want to trade.  It’s also important to have access to current prices for cards, to make sure that someone isn’t undervaluing your card and overvaluing yours.  Whether a trade is fair is up to you, just remember that you’re under no obligation to complete a trade, and can walk away at any time.

Most players also bring spare decks to play others with between rounds, ranging in formats from Standard to Modern to EDH, so if you have any make sure to bring some with you.  Store employees or other players sometimes can lend out decks, but it’s never ideal to expect others to be that prepared – or that generous.

Things like life counters/spindown dice, dice for +1/+1 counters, and other odds and ends aren’t necessary, but can be helpful depending on the set.

What’s in my pre-release kit?

Once an event is underway, the store employees will start calling out names of players, who will then receive a pre-release kit.  Your pre-release kit will feature the following for Shadows Over Innistrad:

  • 1 spindown life counter, featuring the set’s symbol in place of the twenty;
  • 6 packs of Shadows Over Innistrad (when Eldritch Moon is underway, you’ll instead receive 4 packs of that, and 2 of Shadows Over Innistrad);
  • 1 pre-release promotional of a random rare or mythic from Shadows Over Innistrad;
  • A card divider for separating your deck and sideboard.

The kit the packs come in doubles as a deckbox, which is a very nice touch over previous pre-release kits, which tended to be very flimsy.

From the time kits are opened, you have approximately forty minutes to build a forty card deck.  What you build is highly dependent on the cards in the set, what you open, and your own particular style of play, so I won’t get too much into the specifics of any one deck.  What you should be looking for are your win conditions (usually a “bomb”, a strong card that is hard to deal with such as the new Avacyn); removal spells to handle your opponents threats; mana acceleration (cards that generate additional mana); and making sure that your deck has a nice mana curve – it has cards that you can play every turn, and not a lot of heavily costed cards.

How should I prepare for playing in the pre-release?

If you don’t really care about how well you place at your pre-release, and are really only there to get your hands on new cards before anyone else, you don’t really have to worry about preparing in advance for the pre-release.  If you’re aiming for Top 8 though, or winning the pre-release outright, then you’ll want to make sure that you’re ready.

Spoilers in full for Shadows Over Innistrad are available on Wizards of the Coast’s MtG page.  Make sure you’re familiar with every card in the set, as chances are you’ll be seeing the majority of them, either in your own card pool or in an opponent’s deck.  Also make sure that you’re familiar with new and returning mechanics, and how interactions between cards work – you don’t want to make a play that you think will win you the game, only to find out actually doesn’t work, or is illegal.

There are online simulators that create pools of cards for you to practice deckbuilding with, with varying degrees of reliability.  MTGMirror and Magic Drafting are just some of the sites that host simulators for practice.

Various pro-players and groups regularly discuss the viability of cards in a new set, either in written formats like Luis Scott-Vargas, or in podcast format like Limited Resources.  I don’t recommend listening to a podcast unless you’re already familiar with the cards in the set, but if you want something to listen to while you’re practicing with your pre-release simulator, it’s a good choice.

Etiquette – Manners Matter

Just because Sorin Markov’s Tea Time™ is on indefinite hiatus while he and Nahiri sort out their personal grievances doesn’t mean all manners have gone out the window in the meantime.  So to help keep a millennia-old planeswalker vampire from getting on your case over using the wrong fork, here are some tips to make yours and others nights enjoyable.

  • Do make sure to thank your store owners for being good hosts! Having a lot of guests also means having to look after everyone and make sure they’re happy (and not wreaking the place like a certain Lithomancer).  If you have free-time after your event, be a good guest and volunteer in helping to clean things up.
  • Do make sure to keep an eye on any open drinks you may have purchased; ideally you’ll want to get something with a cap on it, but if you bought a pop-tab please keep it off the table. Even with sleeves, liquid spillage can seriously mess up someone’s day if it gets on their cards.
  • Do make sure to be respectful to people you play against; just because you may be playing competitively, or having a bad day, doesn’t give you the right to be unsportsmanlike to your opponent – especially as there’s a good chance it may be a young kid, or someone just learning how to play
  • Do make sure to be well-rested if you’re playing the midnight pre-release; it starts at midnight and usually doesn’t end until well after three in the morning. Even someone who regularly stays up late will have a hard time playing to the best of their abilities.  A quick nap before the event starts is a good way to keep yourself in good mental shape for the night.
  • Do make sure to dress in fresh clothes, shower, and use deodorant before going to your pre-release; unfortunately, there is a bit of a stereotype about MtG players being smelly, unkempt neckbeards and while in the vast majority of cases it isn’t true, the author has attended enough events to know that some people do have problems with acceptable hygiene. You wouldn’t attend Tea Time™ smelling like musty month-old clothes, why do it at your pre-release?
  • Do make sure to keep your clutter to a minimum; keep your backpack/bag/purse tucked beneath your legs, underneath the table. Pre-releases can and do get crowded and the less there is for people to trip over, the better, and it also allows people to have enough room to play comfortably.  It also minimizes the chances of something swiping your stuff when you’re not paying attention.
  • Do make sure to have fun! That’s the real reason people go to pre-release events, even if having fun for them is doing well competitively.  Bring your friends, or make new ones at your event, and you’ll be sure to have an enjoyable and memorable experience.

Final Notes

Shadows Over Innistrad looks to be a much more enjoyable set than Battle For Zendikar or Oath of the Gatewatch were, and manages to capture the spirit of the original Innistrad block while also contributing new material for players and lore-lovers alike.  Even the knowledge that Emrakul may be spreading it’s noodley appendages over the set doesn’t detract from the new additions to Innistrad’s gothic horror motive.

So grab your pitchforks, sharpen your swords, and keep plenty of torches stocked, because tonight , werewolves and vampires reign supreme over MtG.