f you follow any of the Magic R&D types on Twitter such as @mtgaaron (Aaron Forsythe), @maro254 (Mark Rosewater), or @zdch (Zac Hill) among others you may have noticed that something odd was brewing. Many of them were traveling and posting the various tweets one does on the way to airport. That there were multiple people doing this would not be unusual on the weekend of a major convention, Pro Tour, or Prerelease weekend, but there was no such happening scheduled for last weekend—or was there?
As it turns out, there was. Wizards decided to surprise a handful of North American WPN locations with a visit from an R&D member at their Friday Night Magic event. That would be cool in and of itself, but to up the ante, each of the R&D members came armed with Rise of the Eldrazi intro packs to give the local players a pre-Prerelease look at their new Eldrazi overlords in action.
Here are the R&D members who participated and the stores that they visited:
Mark Globus – Cyborg One, Doylestown, PA
Aaron Forsythe – Game Kastle, Santa Clara, CA
Mark Rosewater – Berserk Games, Seattle, WA
Matt Tabak – Little Shop of Magic, Las Vegas, NV
Zac Hill – TJ Collectibles, Milford, MA
Ken Nagle – Arkham Asylum, Norwich, CT
Ryan Miller – Collector's Cache, Lenexa, KS
Steve Warner – Tara Angel's Magic, Tallahassee, FL
Tom LaPille – Yottaquest, Cincinnati, OH
I caught up with everyone on the list, with the exception of Aaron Forsythe and Tom LaPille—who has written about his experience in his own column today—for a roundtable discussion about the experience of visiting a Friday Night Magic location, players' reactions to seeing the new cards in action for the first time, and to get some tips for players heading out to this weekend's Rise of Eldrazi Prerelease events.
BDM: Was there any special reason you ended up visiting the specific store you ended up at last weekend? What was your impression of the stores?
Ryan Miller: I went to Collector's Cache in Overland Park Kansas. I was scheduled to go to Tallahassee, but I traded for Kansas since I had been stationed there when I was in the army and wanted to head back to see some old friends. I had actually played at Collector's Cache when I lived out there in the mid to late 90's, and even had the pleasure of being beaten by Matt Place. Who knew I'd be working with him years later! It was nothing short of outstanding. Collector's Cache has clearly done a lot of work to make sure they have a clean, friendly place for gamers to gather and play. Tons of tables and chairs, well-lit and lots of cards to buy.
Zac Hill: I visited TJ Collectibles in Milford, MA. Tom Shea did a great job running events at PAX East, and has been a longtime community builder in the New England area. That plus a solid-sized gaming area made for an excellent place to visit. I really enjoyed it. I'm known to be skeptical of a lot of gaming stores because they're kind of small and cramped and unpleasant, but TJ's had tons of space, drinks, food, and a generally welcome environment. I would definitely go back if I was in the area.
Mark Rosewater: I visited Berserk Games in Seattle. I chose Seattle as I've been severely cutting back my travel because of my family, and this allowed me to participate in the program without having to leave town. In addition, while I've lived in Seattle for many years, I have not been to every game store so it was fun to visit a store I hadn't seen yet. It was the kind of game store I wish existed when I was growing up. It was well stocked, had a friendly staff, was clean, and had room for people to play.
Matt Tabak: I visited Little Shop of Magic in Las Vegas, NV. When I saw the list of stores we'd be visiting, and I saw one was in my home city, I was eager to volunteer for that one. I was very impressed by Little Shop of Magic. It was a new location for them and although I had been to the previous location several times when I lived in Las Vegas, this was only my second time at the new store. It has ample play area, probably enough for 100 players if things got cozy.
Steve Warner: Tara Angel's Magic shop, Tallahassee FL. Awesome store—the store obviously cared about Magic since it seemed like their main product. They had a few board games / puzzles, but not not much. I didn't get much chance to meet the owner since by the time she showed up the event was already going kinda crazy.
Ken Nagle: Arkham Asylum in Norwich, CT. It had most all of its space allocated for something, including comic books, Magic cards, tables, and even vintage arcade machines like Ms. Pac-Man.
Mark Globus: I visited Cyborg One in Doylestown, PA. The store was fantastic. They had 71 players for FNM and everyone seemed to be having a good time. People would stop by between rounds to chat and we all had a lot of fun.
BDM: There seem to be so many different ways to handle your arrival at the shop. How exactly did you handle your grand entrance?
Mark Rosewater: The employees were the only ones who knew something was going to happen, so when I showed up the players were quite surprised. It probably helped that I was carrying a giant stack of pizzas.
Matt Tabak: Someone from Wizards alerted the store that "something" was happening, but not specifically what. Unfortunately, I kind of ruined my own surprise entrance a few weeks back when I was visiting family in Las Vegas, but most players had no idea what was about to happen when they showed up for FNM. When I walked in the store wearing my Wizards polo shirt, there were definitely a few heads turning. I started by heading to the back office so I could put my bag down and get settled, but the whispers and pointing were amusingly noticeable.
Matt Tabak towers over the players at Little Shop of Magic.
Mark Globus: The reaction was very positive. The store owner noticed me as I walked in the door and called me over. We chatted a bit, and then he announced to the crowd that I had showed up with some Rise of the Eldrazi cards. Everyone was quite excited that I was there and I ended up playing about thirty games with Rise of the Eldrazi with the players.
Ken Nagle: I snuck in the building just before Round 1 of the Standard FNM was about to begin. My announced name, "Chris Nagle," was corrected by the crowd.
Steve Warner: I was early. The person running the store at the time announced me to the people there, so all three people were very excited. As people continued to come in they got stopped by the person playing me or a spectator and told what was going on, usually followed by a "cool!" A number of people then called friends and told them to come play because I was there.
Zac Hill: Basically—I showed up! I came in straight for the airport with some very budget luggage packed with ROE cards and shwag. Not five minutes after I arrived, a guy came in carting infinite pizzas, and it was clear something was going on. I talked to Tom and his wife right after I showed up, but in general I kept stuff low-key and set up a gaming area next to where people were drafting Zendikar / Worldwake. Once the Rise of Eldrazi intro packs got busted and the foils were spread around, though, people wanted to start battling pretty quickly :)
Ryan Miller: I was wearing my R&D t-shirt under a collared shirt. I walked in and challenged a player. I was playing with a Rise of the Eldrazi intro pack. The player didn't bat an eye at the cards, but once I dropped an Eldrazi, he asked where I got these cards. In a totally cheesy move, I opened my shirt to reveal the t-shirt, and said "I'm WIZARDS R&D!" We had a good laugh, and the store manager announced my presence to the applause of the gamers.
BDM: Aside from the "cool" factor of showing players the new cards, how often do you actually get a chance to go "out in the field" and see a smaller tournament in action like an FNM event?
Find an FNM Near You!
Find an FNM Near You!
I try to make a point of hitting up a lot of the stores, restaurants, and bars in the Seattle area where people play just because people are awesome, I enjoy chattering with them, and they're usually nice enough to oblige me. So this was right up my alley. It's so valuable just to talk to players and get a sense of what people like about Magic
, and what makes Magic
fun. Plus in general it just rules to be introduced to other human beings. I had a great time—we gamed until like three in the morning—and I learned a lot as well. I'd say it was definitely a success.
Ken Nagle: It reminded me of the local stores I would visit weekly to play before I worked at Wizards. I go out often compared to the rest of R&D due to not having a family commitments.
Mark Globus: I don't get out to FNMs as often I as I would like, and it was wonderful to see everyone engaged at a store. When I was first introduced to Magic years ago, there were stores that sold Magic, but none of them rivaled what was going on at Cyborg One.
Ryan Miller: I don't get out nearly enough to these types of things. I help out with a middle school Magic club every once in a while, but I'd love to start doing more of these!
Matt Tabak: I was surprised by the attendance. The place was packed with Magic players! I was used to Las Vegas FNMs coming in around 25 players, so being greeted by well over 50 Magic players was surprising and delightful. I've only been to two FNMs since moving up to the Seattle area, although I try to make it out to each PTQ to check out the local metagame.
Mark Rosewater: I don't get out to FNM all that often (usually I attend larger events), so it was fun to see a small tournament in action.
Steve Warner: I try to get out every so often (two or three times a month) to visit people playing and chat. Having something like Rise of the Eldrazi to show them and talk to them about before the world had formed an opinion of the card was nice.
BDM: Did you find yourself autographing a lot of cards?
Ryan Miller: We had some common Eldrazi to hand out, and a couple of folks asked me to sign them. I took the opportunity to errata a single Ulamog's Crusher, giving it the ability ": Ulamog's Crusher gets flying until end of turn." They laughed, then started talking about ways to take advantage of the ability, even though it was obviously powered-down. You gotta love Magic players!
Zac Hill: I signed a bunch of Eldrazi, and apparently there was a Magic Show where I flipped out over how awesome I thought Peek was—hint: it's probably the best blue card of all time—so I signed one of those too. :)
Steve Warner: Oddly, no signing (I don't think they knew I could do that).
Mark Rosewater: Before I left, my wife reminded me to take a Sharpie because I'm usually asked to sign cards, but no one asked me to sign anything. I did get my picture taken quite a bit.
Ken Nagle: I signed many Eldrazi, a foil Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and quite a few Terastodons. I've been working on Magic long enough that the average number of Nagle cards in a random sampling of Magic cards on tables is close to 1.
Mark Globus: Actually, everyone just wanted to play! I played non-stop for the entire time I was there, while fielding all sorts of questions about the set and Magic R&D.
Matt Tabak: Actually, all I signed were the Rise of the Eldrazi common cards I gave away. I tried to make a unique joke on each one, so I was scraping the bottom of the barrel by about card #10. On the last one, I replaced the flavor text of Ulamog's Crusher with "Your MOM attacks each turn if able." Yeah, I went there.
BDM: Enough about the stores and FNM .... What were player's reactions to seeing the Rise of Eldrazi cards in action and what cards did they seem most excited about?
Matt Tabak: The players all seemed very excited about Rise of the Eldrazi. There's a lot of variety in this set, and no one had a hard time finding some aspect of the set they liked. Emrakul, the Aeons Torn got a lot of love, as well as Momentous Fall. Overall, I'd say the most exciting card was Student of Warfare, a marquee card in one of the Intro Packs we were playing with.
Mark Globus: The reception was very positive. In general, people were very excited about any of the Eldrazi plus the Student of Warfare.
Ken Nagle: The intro pack decks were promptly ripped open and perused for spoilers. All in all, the hottest card was I believe Gideon Jura. I brought a real Gideon in my Green-White Eldrazi Ramp deck—a few people got to see it in the one game of Standard I played.
Zac Hill: Student of Warfare raised a lot of eyebrows, particularly after it got inside the Red Zone. Flame Slash also got a lot of people talking, and Gigantomancer certainly does, well, Gigantomance. Overall the response was very positive, and I don't think this is accidental: Rise is a really fun set. That is not Magic Developer Zac talking. We took a lot of the things that rule—Auras, fatties, mana ramping—and constructed a world inside which it was correct to play them. So tournament players don't have to "feel bad" about doing the things they want to do anyway, and I think that carries over into people's experience.
Ryan Miller: While the huge creatures certainly catch the eye, it was the levelers that most of the players were talking about. Transcendent Master, Guul Draz Assassin, and Student of Warfare all made a big splash, especially once they were able to see them in action.
Mark Rosewater:. Most players were familiar with the mechanics, but there is a big difference between reading about something and playing with it. The best response I got was with levelers. Every time a player would play with one they'd say the same thing: "This is a lot better than I thought it was going to be." One of the reasons I think the Rise Prerelease is going to be so much fun is that the mechanics really shine once you start playing with them.
BDM: For players heading to these stores—or any of the hundreds of Wizards Play Network locations around the world—for the Rise of the Eldrazi Prerelease, what is the most important thing that they should know about building their Sealed Deck?
Mark Rosewater: Here are my top three tips for playing ROE Sealed:
#1: With the exception of a few rare narrow levelers, play all the levelers in your colors. They are amazing in Limited.
#2: Eldrazi are playable if you make sure to play the cards you need to get them out. Eldrazi Spawn creature tokens (and the cards that make them) are in general very good. Play the ones in your colors if you want to cast expensive spells.
#3: The environment is slower than a normal Limited environment. Plan accordingly. With a few exceptions, Zendikar-style agrro decks tend to fare very poorly.
Matt Tabak: The most important thing to know about Rise of the Eldrazi Sealed Deck is something we've been saying in preview articles since week #1: the format is slower, so plan for the long game. At the employee Prerelease tournament this week, I played a black-red deck with no way of accelerating my mana, including no Eldrazi Spawn tokens, and I still won a few games by casting Kozilek, Butcher of Truth by tapping ten basic lands on turn ten or later. Be patient with your removal. Like Zendikar / Worldwake Sealed Deck, you may find yourself playing more lands than you otherwise would.
Ryan Miller: Grab the levelers. They give you a flexibility unheard of in Magic's past. They are often one- or two-drops that after a while can really swing the game. A first-turn Guul Draz Assassin can be a game winner. Also, don't be afraid to add an Eldrazi or two, since Limited games can often last long enough for you to hardcast them.
BDM: What is the most exciting card for you in the new set? The most exciting combo?
Matt Tabak: The most exciting card for me is Guul Draz Assassin. Not only does it dominate the battlefield, especially in Limited games, but it was based on one of my design submissions—although I must say development powered it up considerably! The most exciting card combo I've found is the turn-three Eldrazi I cast in my very first Rise of the Eldrazi booster draft: Spawning Breath into Brood Birthing into Hand of Emrakul. I found a way to win that game. Also, put a Snake Umbra on a Magmaw. You won't be disappointed.
Mark Globus: Kozilek, Butcher of Truth! I play him in my FFL deck and he is tons of fun. Gigantomancer and Skittering Invasion (or any other Eldrazi Spawn generator) is fun!
Ken Nagle: The most exciting card in Rise of the Eldrazi is far and away Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. It's the Best Fatty Ever Printed by a light year. I'm a huge fan of Explosive Revelation for Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. At an employee Prerelease event, I opened 1 Emrakul, 3 Hand of Emrakul, and 2 Explosive Revelation and put them all in my red-green deck. I always aimed Explosive Revelation at my opponent. While I never revealed Emrakul, I did reveal a Hand often enough.
Mark Rosewater: Goblin Tunneler. Partly because of my love for Dwarven Warriors and partly because it's one of the key cards to the deck I like to draft: Goblin Tunneler / Valakut Fireboar. What's not to like about an unblockable 7 damage?
Steve Warner: Pelakka Wurm is probably one of my favorites—you gain 7 life for the guy, and even if they kill it you get your card back. And don't get me started about combos—Khalni Hydra + green creatures ... Nothing like getting a turn three 8/8 trample into play!
Zac Hill: Kargan Dragonlord—because, RAWR!!! Also, it's really good against cards that are really good against you. Plus, he RIDES A DRAGON. I really enjoy when I have to Gigantomance my opponents' Eldrazi so that they're manageable to block. :)
Ryan Miller: I've been cultivating a Vampire deck since Sengir Vampire was my only choice, and ROE continues the Zendikar block's support for these undead. Having said that, Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre has given me the most enjoyment. It's one of the toughest Eldrazi to deal with, due to the fact that it's indestructible.
Eldrazi Conscription plus Sovereigns of Lost Alara—OUCH!
As you probably are already aware, you can find the entire Rise of Eldrazi Visual Spoiler in the product section if you want to study up before you head out to your local Prerelease event this weekend. Many of those events will have champions from R&D and other areas of the Magic world to play against. I will be in Richmond, Virginia for the Star City Games Prerelease along with developer Mike Turian taking on players with Standard, EDH, and Sealed Decks—maybe we can even squeeze in a little Two-Headed Giant. Hope to see you there!
A Sad Day in Magic
This past week a friend, and long-standing member of the New York and Ohio Magic communities, passed away. Pat Donovan was someone I met at my store, came to know better traveling to early PTQs, and who became a neighbor and dear friend. He leaves behind a wife, three children, and countless heartbroken friends and family members. Pat was truly one of the good guys; someone who played hard and played fair—and expected everyone around him to do the same. While Pat was a quiet guy who would never be the funniest person in the room at any given minute, his one well-placed joke or barb would often be the funniest thing anyone said that evening, tournament, or road trip.
Pat was also a Magic player who loved a fatty—he once qualified for the Pro Tour playing Secret Force in a roomful of Necro-Donate decks—and was excited to hear about some of the unprecedentedly large creatures in Rise of Eldrazi. I know that when I attack with a large creature this weekend it will be with a bittersweet smile as I think of Pat. I know it is just a name to the vast majority of you out there, but the next time you are playing Magic, play hard, play fair, but most importantly, take a moment to be grateful for the friends you have made playing Magic. And let them know it too. I miss you Pat.
Pat Donovan's Secret Force
Former Extended – Winner, PTQ at Neutral Ground