On Monday, Wizards of the Coast announced that War of the Spark pre-release will take place on April 27 and 28, setting up potential scheduling conflicts with both MagicFest and Mythic Championship London, which are scheduled for that same weekend.

The Announcement

After a month of speculation, Monday’s revelation finally offered us clarity on the format for MagicFest London and the dates for the prerelease of Magic’s upcoming set, War of the Spark—neither of which had been announced despite only being two and a half months away.

When the announcement finally came, Wizard’s of the Coast revealed that War of the Spark’s prerelease would be on the weekend April 27—the same weekend as MagicFest and Mythic Championship London. Shortly after, ChannelFireball announced that the format for the highly-anticipated MagicFest London would be a unique War of the Spark Sealed prerelease, bringing it into direct conflict with the prereleases happening in local games stores across the UK that weekend.

Following nearly a month of uncertainty, Monday’s announcement revealing this scheduling conflict has created plenty of doubt in UK store owners’ minds whether they are valued in Wizards’s eyes. It has also left the UK Magic Community extremely unhappy that they have to choose between a Grand Prix at MagicFest London and a prerelease at their local game store.

Unfortunately, months of uncertainty seems to be the norm, as Wizards hasn’t been forthcoming with their announcements (or even its scheduling) as it transitions Magic into a competitive esport. For example, despite announcing the end of PPTQs and RPTQs last October, we still have no clue how future Mythic Championship Qualifiers (MCQs) will operate at store level. Announcing the prerelease date for War of the Spark seems to have been caught up in this transition, resulting in nearly a month’s delay.

Prerelease dates are usually announced by Wizards of the Coast during the previous set’s prerelease, leading to people to expect Wizards to announce War of the Spark’s prerelease date during Ravnica Allegiance’s prerelease on January 19. MagicFest formats, on the other hand, are announced in the quarter before they take place, but with the unknown release date of War of the Spark MagicFest London possibly taking place on or around its release, it was unclear what limited format would be played.

The Complications

Despite the premise of a ‘Prerelease MagicFest’ being an interesting new concept in tournament Magic, the scheduling is backbreaking for UK stores. Local game stores rely on their pre-releases to generate a significant percentage of their revenue and they now face the specter of reduced attendance due to a MagicFest occurring on the same weekend.

Grand Prix weekends are generally a huge hit for UK businesses. There are only a handful of Grand Prix a year and, as a result, players from all over make an effort to attend as these events. The UK is a small country and this announcement has generated a clash of loyalty due to players being unable to attend both their local prerelease and one of the few local MagicFests. Players are worried that if they choose not to attend the MagicFest, it may result in fewer MagicFests coming to the UK in the future. (In fact, the number of MagicFests in the UK has already decreased since last year—in 2018, there were four Grand Prix in the UK, whereas 2019 will only see two.) On the other hand, if players don’t attend their local prereleases, stores could be in danger of closing down—so it’s difficult for players to choose the best course of action.

A large part of the problem, according to Kirsty McIntyre, a Scottish Level 1 Judge, is a result of Wizards’s poor communication leading up to this announcement.

“[The format for MF London] wasn’t communicated when it was announced as a Limited MF,” Kristy wrote, “Leaving many people assuming that it would be War of the Spark sealed. It wasn’t communicated before the staffing applications opened. It wasn’t communicated to stores, giving them a chance to adjust their staffing or event schedule.”

The clash of events creates another issue: there might not be enough Judges to go around for both local prereleases and the MagicFest. The unique “flight” system that MagicFest London will use will spread the Main Event over at various points of the day, possibly stretching Judges even thinner than at normal MagicFest. And LGSes will potentially struggle to fire their pre-release if they are unable to find a Judge, which is a distinct possibility as plenty of them will be attending MagicFest London and therefore be unavailable.

The Solution

The announcement that War of the Spark’s prerelease will occur on the same weekend as MagicFest and Mythic Championship London has created plenty of logistical issues. Laurie Glover, a local store owner, proposed a potential workaround of this problem in his open letter posted on Reddit.

“The clash [between MagicFest London and the WAR prerelease] is going to impact our livelihoods in a way that doesn’t feel fair [and] doesn’t feel right,” he wrote. “We’ve got a favour to ask you, because we figure in many ways we’ve done you a few across the years—and that you might be kind enough to help us make the most of a bad situation: Wizards, would you please give each gaming store in the UK a Pre-Pre-Release, the Saturday before the MagicFest London?”

This would be an excellent compromise as it gives a lifeline to local stores who will be harmed the most by this scheduling conflict. I don’t foresee Wizards changing their scheduling as a result of a popular outcry but allowing UK stores to hold a pre-prerelease for War of the Spark won’t require any additional resources from Wizards, as local stores will already have War of the Spark product at that point. This would also solve the issue of Judge resources being stretched too thin, as well. While pre-prerelease might not be an optimal solution it would show that Wizards is listening to their customers and acknowledge the hardships their scheduling will cause for local game stores.

Although we are entering a digital age of MTG Arena, brick-and-mortar stores are still an essential part of Magic: the Gathering’s ecosystem and they require continued support from the community. Admittedly, we don’t know what Wizards will announce next, and who knows, it could create more opportunities for LGSes in the future. I hope scheduling conflicts such as this aren’t a regular occurrence in the future, as smaller countries such as the UK will struggle to maintain their bustling Magic community.

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