Magic: The Gathering Pre-release Guide; Or, How to Survive the Creeping Horrors of Shadows Over Innistrad

innistrad shadows header

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.


Scroll to top