It’s been over a month since War of the Spark (WAR) debuted to the general public. On the last weekend of April 2019, both online players through MTG Online and MTG Arena and flesh-and-blood players at their local game stores were finally able to purchase and play with the latest Magic: The Gathering expansion set for the very first time.
With the fun of an event where no one knows for sure what the cards do and each pack holds the promise of a Planeswalker card, it felt like a very momentous weekend to be playing Magic—which is why I decided to attempt to play in three different prereleases at three different Twin Cities game stores.
I thought I’d make things easy for myself by beginning my prerelease weekend on the morning of Saturday, April 27, instead of a midnight prerelease the night before. Because Dreamers Vault in Minneapolis was the closest store to me, it was easy for me to wake up at a semireasonable time and grab breakfast at the Burger King that’s within walking distance of the store. When I got there at 8:30 a.m., there were about 13 other people in the store, including a few children who seemed to be in either second or third grade.
Looking around the room, I saw that there were about 29 or 30 dedicated tables where a pair of players would play their matches, meaning that Dreamers Vault could easily host around 60 people per event. As the start time neared, more and more players I recognized from other prerelease events and regular weekly games filed into the store, and by 9:00 a.m., all the chairs allotted for the event had been filled.
When it came to my sealed pool of cards, I was very lucky to pull a specific Mythic Rare card from either the first or second of my six booster packs of cards. Niv-Mizzet Reborn is a creature card that requires a player to have one of each color of mana (white, blue, black, red, and green—collectively, WUBRG) in order to cast it. I had seen it cast and played during the Loading Ready Run prererelease by Sydney Stafl (@TappyToeClaws), which made me very excited to have it. Alas, the rest of the cards in my pool didn’t support being able to cast it, so I reluctantly put it into my sideboard and focused on the other awesome cards I did open.
In pack after pack, I noticed I had more cards with the older mechanic Proliferate from Scars of Mirrodin (2010) rather than the brand-new mechanic Amass (which creates Zombie Army creatures and then can make them bigger). To Proliferate meant that you could choose to increase the number of counters on any or all of your cards which already had counters by one. WAR features Proliferate in the blue, green, and white cards, and since I didn’t have many blue creature cards, I had a strong idea of what I was meant to play.
I eventually decided to play a deck that featured heavy hitters Gideon Blackblade and Karn the Great Creator, with support from Jiang Yanggu, Wildcrafter, his dog Mowu, Loyal Companion, and a new Planeswalker character created just for this set named Teyo, the Shieldmage. Removal would come in the form of Fireblasts to my opponents’ creatures with Jaya’s Greeting and Heartfire, hitting them hard with my Bloom Hulk and its many +1/+1 counters, or catching them in the air by my Snarespinner.
My first round went to overtime in the second game, and out of the rest of the four rounds, I ended up with a record of 5–4–1, which is typical for me at this stage of my Magic-playing career. Hoping to do better later going forward, I packed up my gear and headed to my next prerelease.
My second stop of the weekend was Level Up Games in South St. Paul. I arrived during the third round of the prerelease that had started at 12:00 p.m. on Saturday, only to find that the 6:00 p.m. event I wanted to play in was completely sold out and I had to be placed on the wait list. Event coordinator and social media manager Josh Marcotte let me know that entry into that event had sold out three days prior, which is apparently pretty typical for the South St. Paul store.
Panicked, I called the Source, which I was intending to visit on Sunday for the 2-Headed Giant format, and found out their event had sold out as well. How was I going to have my first-ever game of 2-Headed Giant now? Thankfully, after some Google searches and phone calls, I was able to reserve my place in line for Sunday at Universe Games instead. In the meantime, resolved to wait at Level Up for my next opportunity to play in either the 6:00 p.m. or midnight event.
Since I had over two hours to kill, I decided to chat with Marcotte about how prerelease events are run at Level Up, having only been there at a Friday Night Magic once before in 2015. He said that when the prerelease date is announced, the store allows customers to register and pay no fewer than three days in advance on the store’s website. By Wednesday, 100 people had signed up for the noon WAR prerelease event. “For better or worse, Magic players are still procrastinators,” Marcotte said.
He added that about 60 percent of players who come to prerelease events are seasonal players—the ones who mostly come out for prereleases, special draft weekends, and Open House events. Of the other attendees, he estimates 10 percent are brand-new Magic players and about 30 percent are the regulars who play once a week. “[Prereleases] make me excited for the weekend so that I can see these folks again,” Marcotte said.
He also said he is excited to see more women and more children playing in Magic prerelease events. He’s noticed that many of children who started as Pokémon players have now graduated to Magic. The midnight events are more informal and feature a lot of smack talk; however, Marcotte wants every event to be as casual as possible. “There will of course be folks who want a judge call. As an event runner, I try to encourage folks to be casual about it,” he added. “There is plenty of time for folks to try and break the set wide open.”
When 6:00 p.m. rolled around, I was lucky enough to be one of the people called off the wait list to participate in the event. My patience in waiting over two hours to play was rewarded with Liliana, Dreadhorde General; Tibalt, Rakish Investigator; Chandra, Fire Artisan; Angrath, Captain of Chaos; Neheb, Dreadhorde Champion; and Krenko, Tin Street Kingpin. I also picked up two Grim Initiates, two Jaya’s Greetings, two Spark Reapers, two Unlikely Aids, plus some other burn spells to round out my deck.
Unfortunately, I did not do as well with this deck and only won three games. I did win one of the games when Krenko came online and I was making four to six goblins per swing, so it wasn’t too terrible for me. Finishing with a record of 3–7, I drowned my sorrows into a bag of White Castle and headed home for the night.
As I have written about before, Universe Games in Minneapolis was the first store I went to when I wanted to learn how to play Magic. I was so glad when I called on Saturday to hear that the 2-Headed Giant prerelease was not sold out. The Sunday-afternoon event would be my first time playing the multiplayer format, and if I was going to do it, I would want to do it in a place that was familiar to me.
I was a little apprehensive going back to the store because when I was a regular, I was there almost every week, and then I disappeared after moving to a new neighborhood. Imagine my surprise when not two seconds after sitting down, the same person who taught me how to draft and whom I’ve seen at the last two Grand Prix Minneapolis came over and gave me a big hug. After catching up with him, I continued my conversation with a woman named Keladry Goodell, who was just unsleeving her deck after winning three matches to one in her second prerelease of the weekend. Since she wasn’t doing anything else that day and I did not have a partner, I offered to pay for her share of the entry fee in exchange for her being my partner. (We would roll dice to see who would get the best rares from our combined pool after the games were over.)
I was lucky that Goodell had the day free because she has been playing Magic since she was four years old. Like many players, she has started and stopped playing at various points in her life. The first time was because her mother asked her to stop, and the second time was during college. She recently started playing again with the recent Guilds of Ravnica set and has been playing competitively in Standard and Limited events since.
Goodell said that she loves playing at Universe Games and has really enjoyed playing War of the Spark. “It’s a fun set in itself, and it’s interesting. I want to see what it does for Standard play,” she told me. She prepared for the weekend by studying the set, reading spoiler information, and watching reviews on the Nizzahon YouTube channel.
In 2-Headed Giant, two players receive 12 packs of cards to share between them. The two play as a team and start with 30 life points. Out of the total 90 cards (plus four promo cards) opened, the team has 50 minutes to build two 40-card decks. Goodell took the lead in building our decks, choosing black and white for her colors and giving me all the good green, red, and blue cards. Our strategy was that I would use cards like Courage in Crisis, Merfolk Skydiver, New Horizons, and Jiang Yanggu, Wildcrafter to put +1/+1 counters on my creatures, then use cards like Bloom Hulk, Contentious Plan, Karn’s Bastion, and Kiora’s Dambreaker to make them even larger. She would take cards like Ob Nixilis’ Cruelty, Rising Populace, Dreadhorde Invasion, and Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord to keep their creatures from blocking my attacks. This is a strategy I very much prefer to play, and we were rewarded with a 2–1 record, which meant that out of 10 teams of two people each, our team received six booster packs, three for each of us.
I really enjoyed seeing so many different people play Magic over the course of the weekend. Even though each store was laid out differently and I never met the same person twice, I felt good knowing that everyone I played was having as much fun as I was. The cost of the events I attended ranged from $20 to $25 each.
The next prerelease event is Modern Horizons on June 8 and 9, 2019, but you don’t need to go as far as I did in playing three games at three different stores. Just learn from me and make sure the event you do want to play in hasn’t been sold out.