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Greetings, TechRaptor readers and fellow Magic: The Gathering fans! We’re just a few hours away from the midnight pre-release event for Eldritch Moon, which means it’s time for TechRaptor’s first ever Magic: The Gathering pre-release primer.

But what is a pre-release event, exactly?

One week before the official release of a new Standard-legal Magic: The Gathering set, Wizards of the Coast ships out special pre-release kits to local game stores. Players can purchase these kits to compete in the Sealed format, in which they construct a minimum forty-card deck from the contents within (basic lands supplied either from their own collection or from the store). The contents of these kits have, historically, varied quite a bit but for Eldritch Moon, players can expect their kits to contain: four packs of Eldritch Moon; two packs of Shadows Over Innistrad; one foil rare or mythic rare card, stamped with the dates for the pre-release; one twenty-sided spindown life counter die that features the set symbol; and one foil double-sided Zombie token card.

Pre-release kit for Magic: The Gathering set Eldritch Moon

Players typically have thirty minutes to construct a deck from their packs, before engaging in a Swiss-style tournament. Unlike other formats and tournaments, in which the contents of your main deck must return to the registered deck list before the beginning of the next round, players can reformat their decks as much as they please between rounds if their current build is unsatisfactory. Additionally, players can run as many copies of cards as they wish to, unlike other Constructed formats which limit the number of copies of cards (other than Basic land cards) to four per deck.

Unlike other, more competitive tournaments (such as the Grand Prix, anything related to the Pro Tour, or even Friday Night Magic at times), the focus of the pre-release events is on social gameplay, with players celebrating the impending release of a new Magic: The Gathering set. Generally speaking, pre-release events are the place new or returning players will go to first, before diving into other Magic: The Gathering events.

Let’s assume you’re a brand new (or returning) player, and this is your first event. What should you be bringing to the pre-release?

Sleeves and a playmat are the first things you should make sure to have with you when you show up. While the tables at your local game store will start the day off clean, after many hours of playing they will be dirty and grimy. Sleeves and playmats keep your cards from picking up that dirt and dust, while also protecting them from other damage (bending, corner wear-and-tear, etc.).

In addition, as the Shadows Over Innistrad block contains many double-faced cards (featuring the Transform and Meld mechanics), opaque sleeves are needed to prevent your opponent from knowing what double-faced cards you have in your deck. If you don’t have opaque sleeves, or only have transparent sleeves such as penny sleeves or the KMC Perfect Fit sleeves, checklist cards (which are included in the booster packs) can be substituted for the double-faced card. You’ll need to mark on the checklist card which card it represents, and to have a physical copy of that card on hand to verify that you own it. Additionally, you can not use multiple checklist cards if you only own one copy of that card; for example, players can’t run four checklist cards in place of Docent of Perfection if they only own one physical copy.

If you don’t have these and want to purchase them, your local game store carries plenty of sleeves and playmats in a variety of colors, designs and quality. Make that if you need to purchase them to do so before deck construction begins, as you don’t want to waste any time waiting in lines.

Final Iteration; artwork by Nils Hamm for Magic: The Gathering set Eldritch Moon

You may want to bring cards you wish to trade, or spare decks to play with between rounds/events. Your game store won’t be able to buy any cards from you that you pulled in your pre-release kits (or prize packs) until the official release, but other players may be interested in what you have. Making a fair trade is a topic for another day, but know this: you don’t have to make any trades you don’t want to. If you feel uncomfortable trading a card, don’t let yourself be pressured into doing it; you can walk at any time you want to. Just make sure not to trade any cards you pulled in your Eldritch Moon pre-release kit until after the event has concluded.

While you can bring basic lands to build your deck with, most game stores have a box of basic lands for use in Limited format deck construction. Just make sure to return any lands you borrowed to the store before you leave.

What else should you need to know in order to have a good pre-release? Well, you should know (or at least have a passing familiarity with) all of the cards and mechanics in Eldritch Moon. Thankfully, TechRaptor has provided consistent coverage of the cards in Eldritch Moon, up to last Friday’s full spoiler. Players should also be familiar with the cards in Shadows Over Innistrad, as their pre-release kit will contain two packs from that set.

Players should also be aware of synergy between cards. For example, if you wish to cast Lightning Axe, you will need to discard a card as part of the casting cost (or pay an additional five mana); therefore, you should make sure to have many creature cards with the Madness mechanic, which will let you cast them from exile if they were discarded from your hand. Likewise, if you have a lot of Human creatures in your Eldritch Moon packs, and you pull a Thalia’s Lieutenant from one of your Shadows Over Innistrad packs, you might wish to build a Human-tribal deck.

Thalia's Lieutenant; artwork by Johannes Voss

It’s also important to make sure your deck isn’t too “top heavy” with high-casting cost creatures and spells. You want to be able to maximize your mana, and not have turns where spells and creatures aren’t cast because you don’t have enough lands on the battlefield to cast them.

The new set mechanics for Eldritch Moon are Meld, Escalate, and Emerge, all of which are covered in this TechRaptor article. Transform, Madness, Skulk and Delirium all return from Shadows Over Innistrad, so make sure to re-familiarize yourself with how they work if you’re rusty.

Some final words; remember to be courteous and have good sportsmanship when you play. If a player looks like they’re struggling with their plays or deck construction, offer support and constructive criticism. Be mindful of where your things are, and make sure they don’t take up other players space. If you have open drinks, keep them in a place where they can’t spill over other players belongings – or your own. And most importantly – have fun! While pre-release events can be competitive, the focus is primarily on having fun and the social aspect of the game, more-so than winning packs and acquiring player points. At the end of the day, you should be able to look back and reflect on the fun you had playing.

Stay tuned to TechRaptor for continuing coverage of Eldritch Moon and all things Magic: The Gathering.

Have you ever played in a Magic: The Gathering pre-release? Do you plan on attending the events for Eldritch Moon? Let us know in the comment section below.


Brandon Bobal

Partner Manager

Brandon writes articles with focuses on video and board games, and Magic: The Gathering. When he isn't doing research for his weekly Magic: The Gathering column, he can be found enjoying the outdoors.