Rolling for Initiative is a weekly column by Scott Thorne, PhD, owner of Castle Perilous Games & Books in Carbondale, Illinois and instructor in marketing at Southeast Missouri State University.  This week, Thorne shares his most recent Magic: The Gathering Pre-release experience.
Magic: The Gathering Pre-release weekends always take a lot out of a store as they require quite a bit of pre-planning regarding how many events you plan to run (three if you are a Core Store, up to six if Advanced), when you are going to run them, what you will offer as prize support (Wizards of the Coast requires a minimum of two booster packs into the prize pool per player but encourages stores to add more), where will you run it (many stores limit attendance to available seating, others rent out locations to handle expected overflow attendance), and staffing.  Having an appropriate number of people on hand to run the event makes the difference between having a smoothly running event and one that has you pulling your hair out.
In-store Pre-releases are comparatively new, something that Wizards of the Coast has only sanctioned in the past few years.  Prior to that, WotC relied on Tournament Organizers who sanctioned events in specific regions and handled the logistics for the hundreds of players that invariably turned out.  In-store events tend toward the smaller side, though well run venues will pull in upwards of a hundred players for a single tournament, requiring multiple staffers and judges to make sure the event runs smoothly.
However even a smaller store such as ours, which might pull in a few dozen for an event, still need to have extra staff to handle the players.  Assuming you offer pre-registration, you need a staffer to handle checking in pre-registered players and one to handle those who register on-site.  You need a judge or at least someone who is very familiar with the rules and able to deal with players who may get argumentative about rulings.  (I heard of two instances of this happening at stores running Pre-releases this weekend.  Happily such instances are comparatively rare.)  If you are serving food, as a lot of stores have started doing, you have to arrange to obtain it ahead of time; store it; and designate someone to keep an eye on it, serve it if needed and restock it when supplies run low.  Likely that same someone will have to bus tables and otherwise clean up the area as players are wont to leave trash lying around.  This is quite a bit of extra staffing to have to schedule for a large store, not to mention a small store that may be run by just the manager and one or two part time employees.
A number of stores have decided to make Pre-releases even more of an event than they already are.  Midnight releases are quite common and often prove the biggest draw of the weekend.  Some stores create events that play off the theme of the set (easier to do with Magic than with a new set of Yu-Gi-Oh!, since Magic themes are typically more relatable to their player's lives than are Yu-Gi-Oh! releases).  Although the Return to Ravnica block didn't really lend itself to this, the Gothic theme of Innistrad certainly did as did the Greek theme of Theros, as the number of photos of store owners and players clad in togas floating around the Internet can attest (Yep, I was one of them).  Some stores give out trophies, others create cool promo items as premiums for players, others give additional door prizes (a From the Vault 20 set was fairly popular this time).
In short, to have a great Pre-release, a store owner/manager has to wear the dual hats of logistician and event planner, just like we do every day (only more concentrated).
The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of