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Guilds of Ravnica: The Freerelease that Was


Three weeks ago, I wrote an article titled, Guilds of Ravnica: The Prerelease that Wasn't. In the article I was critical of Wizards of the Coast and their current guidelines, which cost my local store its WPN status, and the kids at my local library their Guilds of Ravnica prerelease. I questioned the wisdom of guidelines that are treated like hard and fast rules. I questioned the wording of the guidelines themselves. I questioned why Wizards would create a situation where many children would be unable to play in the next prerelease.

To say that the article drew the attention of the Magic community was an understatement. What started out as a few retweets and links to the article turned into thousands of people demanding to know what Wizards was going to do about it. As it so happens, I started a new job the day the article came out. My phone started buzzing when the article went live and by the afternoon was practically a steady vibration in my pocket!

The Magic community stepped up in a big way. A local storeowner offered the spare prerelease packs his store had to run a tournament for the kids. Online friends and strangers offered to send cash to buy booster boxes for the kids. More than one storeowner from outside the state reached out to help. Friend and former Coolstuffinc writer, Jon Medina, started to put together cards and various prizes from people across the Magic community. Magic artists offered to send special prizes. Coolstuffinc and another big online retailer (that prefers to remain nameless) offered whatever I needed to make it happen for the kids. So many people reached out to help a group of kids they don't know, who were getting a raw deal, that it was heartwarming to know so many good people are part of this community.

Before the day ended, Wizards reached out to me. While they were going to hold with their guidelines, they didn't want to see this community of young players at a local library suffer any more than the rest of the Magic community. They wanted to make things right for the kids. They started by helping me find a new store to partner with for future prereleases. I had been reaching out to stores but it was difficult for them to help me out. WPN sets an allotment of prerelease packs, based on how many your store used at the last few prereleases. You can get a few more, but not that many. This gives stores room to grow, without letting stores order crazy amounts of prerelease packs. It also meant that finding a store that would let me host a prerelease away from their store, while using up 36 prerelease packs, would be tough on them. Wizards stepped in and worked it out with a nearby store that their allotment would be their usual amount, plus forty more for the Community Library prerelease.

Game Underground in Waltham is run by James York and has only been in that location for six months or so. They are growing fast and James is thrilled to be a part of ensuring these kids get a place to play. We are talking about ways to advertise to the kids, and making sure that our Library prerelease doesn't affect attendance at the store. I look forward to this new partnership!

The support didn't end there.

Wizards of the Coast sent 40 prerelease packs to make sure the kids had a chance to enjoy the fun! I put out a notice to all the kids that regularly play at the prerelease that we were going to get a Freerelease! I explained what Wizards wanted to do and that I was going to host a tournament that weekend. Since the tournament would be free, I suggested they make donations to our Community Library. The library lets us play for free every Saturday, and gives me the keys to open the library to the public on Sundays to host the prereleases!

I only gave the kids six days' notice, so I didn't get the 36 kids I was hoping for, but 26 kids did respond, and off we went!

Not running prereleases at your local library with your computer and table space all right there, means bringing a lot of stuff. A couple of folding tables adds to our capacity and the big blue bin holds all the goodies. Extension cords, a laptop, land stations, prize support, and all sorts of things I decided were important to have at one point, find their way into the bin and comes back and forth with me.

Once at the library, we get set up and ready for the kids. After everyone had their packs, we cut them loose and let them start to build. The kids regularly take their stuff to different spots to spread out and figure out what produces the best deck. Whether it is brothers building on a coffee table, sitting on a couch, friends around a round table next to a window, or players who don't move and crack everything open right there, decks get built.

This is usually the most difficult time since the younger players tend to need help, and I'm busy getting everyone logged in and setting up for the first round. This is where having extra hands really helps. Joakim has been helping out for more than a year and is great about letting the kids build and making them aware of how good some cards are.

Griffin started this whole thing. He created the Magic Club initially, and made sure it kept going. I started running the prereleases and eventually Griffin started helping with that. He is great explaining what cards are good and bad and why, and has a knack for guiding the younger players into decks they will enjoy playing, and pick up wins! Here Griffin is helping a young pair of brothers get ready to smash face.

After building comes the face smashing. They all seem to manage to do it with smiles on their faces!

I have learned a few things about running tournaments with younger players that could probably stand to work with older players too. We stop for a lunch break after the second round. People get hungry and I found that kids are willing to forfeit a round if it means they can go eat. Rather than do that, we just delay round three by 30 minutes while most of the players descend on the local greasy spoon for a slice or delicious steak, egg and cheese sandwich!

If you take a closer look at that picture, you'll see that the kids leave their cards at the library. Decks sit unattended. Trade binders are left wide open. No one takes anything. There is a reason the players and their parents love having a beautiful, safe place to play.

Another thing I learned early on running these tournaments: spread the wealth. When an eight year old comes running up to you to tell you they won and went 1-3, there is nothing worse than seeing their face when they find out the prize structure only gives packs to players who went at least 2-2. I changed the prizes so every match win earned you a pack. Sure the 4-0 player only gets four packs, but the players at 0-3 still want to win that pack!

And yeah, the 0-4 player gets a pack too. Everyone loves ripping packs.

Thankfully, with only 26 players, I was able to rip open the other prerelease packs and give those packs away as prizes and door prizes for the event!

The tournament ended with Viola, who currently runs the Saturday Magic Club finishing 4-0. V has done a great job teaching so many of the kids how to play Magic. She has shown many of the players strategies for deck-building, given them ways to understand which cards are better and when. V loves Cube drafts, Commander, regular drafting and every other way to play Magic. Her efforts on Saturdays have made the prereleases better, as all the kids just have a better understanding of the game right from the start. We are lucky to have V as a part of our little community.

When the Freerelease ended we had 26 smiling faces and just over $150 raised for the Community Library. A successful tournament by any standard!

So a huge thank you to Wizards of the Coast for making a great Sunday possible for 26 kids and the three adults who organized the Freerelease. A huge thanks to all of you in the Magic community who care so much about the bigger community, the game, and everyone in it. All of you helped to make this happen. The 26 kids there that day say thank you and the hundreds more to come in the library door say it too.

Bruce Richard


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