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The One Day format

I hope everyone had a great time at their prerelease! I know I did at mine.
While attendance was lower than we wanted it to be on Saturday, Sunday grew to pretty much exactly as big as we hoped it would be, filling to capacity in the smaller room we had rented for day two, and pretty much staying filled all day. There was an issue in that the site closed at 5PM, making for a short day, but all in all, it was good growth, and for Arizona I plan to keep the two day event going with a hopeful growth every event.

There were a couple of complaints about the schedule this time around, which was kind of odd to me. I had a couple of players complain about not having a team flight on Sunday this time, but the reality is that no one in Arizona plays in team events. We had four whole teams for our Saturday flight, and that was when some of the already signed up people talked a fourth team into playing. On Sunday, I think we would have had two teams. The team format is what I like to call the "pro prerelease" format. The high level players like it because there are three good players against three other players, and even if one of them runs into the super broken deck, the other two teammates can still bring him through for the win. It also is a very difficult format for deck building, and the higher level players think they have an edge there because they know how to build three decks from one card pool better than their opponents.

So why don't we get a lot of teams? Because we don't have a lot of high level players. Arizona is primarily a casual player crowd. There are good players here, don't get me wrong, but most of them are good casual players, not Pro Tour players. Of the few truly high level players we have in Arizona, many of them chose Poker over Magic as their game of choice. In some ways this has been better for the game, as the casual players feel more willing to play at a PTQ without some of the super high rules lawyery type of crowd around, but for a prerelease team event, it actually hurts us.

The other interesting complaint I heard this weekend was that we timed our draft rounds. I actually had a player tell another player "Where I come from they give you a lot more time for each round, and that's why the prereleases are so much bigger there!" First, untimed rounds should not be occurring in anything other than the finals of a premier level event of PTQ level or higher in my opinion, not in an eight man draft. Second, we have space limitations, and we have other players. We can't have you sitting there playing a two hour game with your opponent because you like to play slow, it holds up the entire rest of the tournament. While in an eight man draft this is potentially only three other people, there is no reason those people should have to wait for you. Finally, just setting up a draft and letting it roll without timing it is, plain and simple, bad judging. I know judges are vastly overworked at prereleases, but timing a round keeps the event running smoothly, and keeps the judge on top of it. When an event is untimed, there is a tendency for the judge to wander off and just tell the players to report in when they win. When it's a timed event, the judge has to actually pay attention to it. Who finished? Who is still playing that he needs to tell time soon? Where are they sitting so he can put them against their next opponent? These are all questions that come naturally during timed events.

I love prereleases. I only wish spoilers didn't exist, because to me, the real thrill and excitement of a prerelease is opening and reading the cards for the first time, and trying to figure out how to build a deck out of them, trying to see synergy in card that no one else has yet.

That being said, I have to admit the "one day" format kind of makes me unhappy. By this I mean that every format you play in a prerelease will not be a valid format for any other time you ever play Magic. All the formats are exactly legal for one day.

When you play in your next sealed event for real, you will get one tournament pack of Champions, one booster of Champions, and one booster of Betrayers, not three boosters of Betrayers. During your next booster draft, you'll get two boosters of Champions and one of Betrayers, not three of Champions. Even in the prerelease team format, the packs are going to be different than what you got the day you played at the prerelease. All of these formats are "one day" formats, never being legal again anywhere, and I think this also stops some serious players from playing in the event. Even a weekly extended event can be seen as a practice event to a serious player for the next extended season PTQ. A prerelease isn't a practice event for anything, because no one will ever play that format again. The serious players I do see play at my events now play in groups in single flights, figuring one of them will make it to the top couple of players so they get plenty of packs.

Why do they want plenty of packs? So they can do a "real draft" amongst themselves. On Sunday I wanted a flight winner turn around, grab his friends and some Champions boosters they brought with them, and do a "real draft" at an empty table in the room.

Interestingly enough, I caught on to this a couple while back and tried to run a couple "real drafts" at each prerelease, using the "correct pack count" instead of the prerelease pack count. No one ever signed up for the events. I guess they didn't want to risk ratings points to test a format, which seems contrary when you picture that some of them play in flights now, which is more of a risk.

So, if the true purpose of a prerelease is attendance, and to get a "taste"
of the product out to as many players as possible, then the question becomes "why sanction the event at all?" I think you can get more players when they don't have to worry about risking their ratings on a "one day" format that, and Wizards themselves seems to agree with this, making prerelease events go down to 8K recently.

I understand the desire to leave them sanctioned. It simplifies tracking of product and players. It makes it harder for a corrupt organizer to commit fraud with prerelease numbers. Most importantly, it gets new players "in the system" by getting them DCI cards and a feel for what its like to play in "a real sanctioned event."

But none of those things actually increase attendance, while not sanctioning the prereleases may. This isn't one of my "If I ran the DCI" articles in that I lack the conviction of this suggestion that experience has provided me for the other articles, but it really would be interesting to run one prerelease without sanctioning and see what happens....

See you next week!

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