I want to preface this article by stressing that the views represented within are my own. Not everyone is going to share my opinion of the modern Prerelease system, but there’s more than enough room in the world to allow for me having a different opinion than might be shared by everyone who happens to read my column.


If there ever were a time to tell me my opinion is wrong, this would not be it. Save that shit for last week.


All tea, all shade.

Being yelled at on the internet because my opinion is different from yours bores me.


So! That having been established: I skipped the prerelease this season. It was the first expert-level prerelease I’ve skipped since Zendikar, and while I am sad to see my streak end, this is a decision that’s been coming for a while now.


See, I’m at an awkward place, in terms of my identification as a casual or competitive player. My true affiliation is with neither identity; I write columns on Magic and thus can’t really be considered casual, but I’ve also largely forsaken competitive play. I don’t like what competition brings out in me. I’m not a great sport when I’m in a competitive mindset. I’m not a great winner, and I’m a worse loser. I’m not terrible, but I’m also not proud of how I am when I get in that headspace.


Something like this cuts against any protestations of casual identity that I might make.

Something like this cuts against any protestations of casual identity that I might make.

Prereleases, though, bring out the worst in me. Or at least they’ve begun to. Not only does it suck to beat a child or lose to some competitive player spiking the event for packs, but you can even win or lose at cracking packs. Even with a seeded pack, some people are going to end up opening cool stuff and some people aren’t. And, over the last couple of sets, the disparity between the good packs and the bad packs has gotten worse.


And thus my love of prereleases was born.

And thus my love of prereleases was born.

In the past, the promo foil was the backstop. I still remember the first time I heard about prerelease events. My partner (Dana) went to a prerelease for Alara Reborn, and when she came back she had a promo Dragon Broodmother. For me, that was the moment where the prereleases took a hold of me. Because, on top of the packs she got in the event, they just gave her a cool mythic I didn’t have! That was so cool! And it really stimulated the part of me that responds with pleasure when I get cool new cards.


Not the best art, but certainly the most powerful prerelease card ever printed.

Not the best art, but certainly the most powerful prerelease card ever printed.

For a while, things were good. Zendikar and Worldwake promos were solid, if not amazing, but then Rise of the Eldrazi and Scars of Mirrodin both had the coolest promos ever. Emrakul, the Aeons Torn was an amazing promo card, particularly before she got banned from Commander for being hella OP. And Wurmcoil Engine saw play everywhere! These promos were awesome, and Dana and I got a bunch of them, sometimes requeuing immediately once we washed out of one of the rolling events.


Because, back in the day, that was the type of thing you could do! There were companies that only did prerelease events and tournaments, and in NYC those companies used to hire out the gigantic basement of this Manhattan church and just run events from morning to night. If you wanted to draft, you had that option (and still could get the promo card for it), and if you wanted to do another sealed event there was practically no barrier for reentry. We used to make a day of it, and it was so much fun.


The first one's a solid Commander, but the second one is much harder to fit into a deck.

The first one’s a solid Commander, but the second one is much harder to fit into a deck.

But then Wizards made a couple of changes that started us down the current path. First, they stopped focusing on a single awesome promo card. In Mirrodin Beseiged you could choose from a promo Glissa the Traitor and a promo Hero of Bladehold depending on your chosen alignment. It was gimmicky, and coming at the same time that they canceled the Player Rewards Program made it feel a little special, like this was a one-time apology for them screwing that up. It was not a one-time thing, though.


Whereas I got a ton of play out of this card over the years, little of which was in Commander.

Whereas I got a ton of play out of this card over the years, little of which was in Commander.


Second, they iced the touring prerelease companies out of the event business. While their reasons may have made sense in less dense parts of the country where floor space is at a lesser premium, in NYC what this meant was that prerelease spots were suddenly super hard to get, because none of the stores here are particularly large. While this aspect has loosened up a bit, with urban stores getting appropriate amounts of product after the initial kinks were shaken out, it’s still no longer possible to just show up and be able to play until you’re bored. Heck, at my local store you have to sign up online or in advance if you want a slot. The flexibility of the major events are gone, and that makes the whole thing feel more like a planned chore. Even if you’re not feeling it on Saturday, for example, you still have to drag yourself there, because you’ve already paid and good luck switching your slot.


Flavorful... but stupid.

Flavorful… but stupid.

Third, they kneecapped the promos. Because of “effects on the secondary market,” which is always the justification for Wizards’ worst decisions, they decided that giving mythic rare promos was bad for the game. And, just to drive home the fact that the promos were no longer going to be as mythic, the final mythic promo was Bloodlord of Vaasgoth. Have you heard of that card? Because I literally have never seen a person play it outside of Magic 2012 limited. The rare promos started out decent, with Mayor of Avabruck at least being a playable card, but it was followed by Ravenous Demon and Moonsilver Spear. They’re shit rares, foreseeably relegated to bulk status unless some catastrophe results in the destruction of almost every other demon and equipment card in the game.


Fourth, they then split the promos over the guilds, offering five mediocre rares instead of one cool mythic. It was initially not terrible, since invariably at least one or two of the promos was interesting for Commander… although it was usually one of the cards that was worse in Limited. As if by recognizing this tension, they let you play with your rare, which may have been the bigger misstep; playing with the rare in your pool was the entry point for the seeded packs that have so severely skewed the play factor of the prerelease. Suddenly, a thing that was supposed to minimize variance (a seeded pack of base cards) ended up amplifying it instead. If you have a seeded pack, but the rest of your packs didn’t support that strategy, you were forced to either abandon your base and run a deck without the basic elements your opponents could rely on, or stick to your base and end up with an underpowered deck that required finding your expected haymaker if you wanted a chance in hell of winning.


But that wasn’t what sounded the death knell for me. I’d been grumping about this for years now, but still going because the lost opportunity to get a sweet promo still got under my skin. And then Khans of Tarkir came around. Khans had 40 “prerelease cards,” none of which offered alternate art. No, Khans just gave you a preseeded pack with a random foil rare or mythic in it. They’re no different than any other foil rare you’d pull from a pack, only the foiling process is a little worse, and these have a date stamped on them.


It looks like this, only it's foiled and stamped with a day.

It looks like this, only it’s foiled and stamped with a day.

For me, that was it. I pulled a foil Siege Rhino, which is not a particularly strong card in Commander. If I wanted to play it in Modern, either I’d have to make peace with my Rhinos not all being the same or I’d have to hunt down three more promo copies, which has proven nigh impossible. In short, I ended up with a card that was superficially sweet but actually worthless to me, and this was one of the best cards I could have pulled! Can you imagine how negative I’d feel if my pull was Flying Crane Technique instead?


Screw that! Instead, I decided for Fate Reforged I’m just going to wait a week and spend my money on a box. If there are any promo foils that are decent, now the only way to get them is to buy the relevant Intro Deck, and that’s cheaper and comes with two packs. If I’m just cracking packs for random foils, why expose myself to cramped spaces, small children, and the sense of obligation that has come to characterize my relationship with the prerelease system?


Amusingly, I expressed this opinion to some of my fellow writers on Hipsters of the Coast, and there were a lot of people who shared it. Apparently it’s even worse for competitive players who, having the advantage already going into an event like this, do not feel good about slam-dunking on children and newbies. But since the prerelease system no longer allows them the alternate outlet of rolling drafts, they’re going to keep going to these things to get their hands on the cards, and to get practice packs for drafts conducted outside the prerelease system.


Maybe all this does appeal to casual players. Apparently I am out of the loop on that front. But it doesn’t appeal to me. Between the luck disparity, the skill disparity, and the absence of any reliable reward other than the sealed pool, I’m no longer guaranteed a good time at these things. And that’s a shame, because as they’ve proven in the past, they know how to make, and meet, that guarantee.


Jess Stirba really misses the Player Rewards System, which did more to motivate her to draft than any other WotC incentive system.

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