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 looks at the good and bad of Magic: The Gathering events.

In case you missed it, the new Magic: The Gathering set, Hour of Devastation, the follow-up set to the Egyptian-themed Amokhet, released last Friday with the pre-release the preceding weekend.  As with almost all WotC events, it ran smoothly except for one continuing problem.

Wizards of the Coast does a better job of putting together and scheduling events than anyone else in the industry.  Any company looking to develop some form of structured AND ongoing organized play program would do well to take a page, or several, from WotC's playbook.

It is incredibly easy to sanction events through the Wizard’s Event Reporter (WER) software, which even prompts you to do so several weeks in advance. (Steve Jackson Games is also getting better at this but still requires email confirmation of events so it’s not as turnkey an operation as is WotC's.  SJG’s store locater system is superior to WotC's though and every other company in the industry but that’s a topic for another column.)  As long as you open the WER, which most stores do several times a week, it is hard to miss the ordering prompts, though admittedly I have done so on a few occasions.  In the past year, WotC even made its Buy-a-Box promo card ordering automatic.  Stores used to have to order the promos separately; now as long as the store sanctions the appropriate events, they get shipped automatically.

Promotional materials get shipped out well in advance of the event.  Social media materials start showing up about a month prior to scheduled events.  Stores participating in the Hour of Devastation pre-release received  posters, standees, window clings, Game Day and Draft Weekend promotional materials a couple of weeks prior to pre-release weekend, plenty of time to get them out and to use them to gin up interest in the event.

The pre-release packs arrived the week of the event and are already packaged.  When the event starts, all a store has to do is check in players and hand them a pre-release kit, then point them in the direction of the land cards.  Well, it’s a bit more work than that but running a WotC pre-release is still a piece of cake compared to almost every other company in the industry that runs a pre-release.

So what’s the problem, you ask?  In a word, server access during major events.  In order to use WotC WER software optimally, stores have to log in to WotC during the event in order to register players, check for DCI numbers and run rounds.  This has gotten more and more difficult to do during pre-release weekend and on Friday nights, when you have a couple of thousand stores all running Friday Night Magic at approximately the same time.  During those periods, the WER software can take 5- 15 minutes to respond.  Our store was unable to run the WER software for about 10 hours during our release events and I have heard similar stories from other stores on a regular basis, both for pre-releases and FNM.  Most stores work around this by logging off from WotC and running their tournaments in offline mode, as we did.  Still, doing so makes it difficult to register new players and to check for DCI numbers of current players who do not have their information stored on the store computer.  Since stores cannot check for DCI numbers without server access, they have to issue new DCI numbers to players, thus slowing registration down and creating new player numbers that may only get used once, increasing WER workload.

If WotC could work on improving access to WER during pre-releases and FNM, 'twould make a few thousand stores' Magic OP much easier.

The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of