Last weekend on twitch, internet comedians Loading Ready Run hosted a twitch stream of the upcoming Magic: the Gathering set, Shadows Over Innistrad. The set isn’t out yet – its prerelease is next weekend, April 2-3 – so this was a unique new stream event: the pre-prerelease.
It was an amazing show, and you can watch the stream archive on Youtube. I’m a huge fan of both Magic and Loading Ready Run, but I was still initially dubious about this event. What if it turned the weird nerd jumble that is a M:tG prerelease into an ultra-competitive E-sports-style tournament? I shouldn’t have worried; Loading Ready Run invited a diverse group of internet-famous friends with varying levels of skill to play paper magic live on stream in a relaxed and jovial atmosphere.
Ordinary prerelease tournaments are held at local game stores the week before a set officially launches. Players purchase special boxes that contain packs of the upcoming set, usually 6 sealed booster packs and one promo card. They build decks using these cards (and basic lands provided by the shop), pitting the decks against each other for prizes. I’ve been playing Magic since the ice age but I didn’t attend one until 2012’s Return to Ravnica. I fell in love immediately; there is no form of Magic I love more than a prerelease.
These events combine everything I love about Magic: the thrill of opening a pack filled with cards you’ve never seen before, the challenge of building a deck with those limited resources, and the friendly atmosphere that emerges when a large group of players with varying skill levels face each other in battle.
In the old days, Wizards of the Coast would try to keep all the cards truly secret before the prerelease, but eventually the global internet made that impossible. WotC quickly adapted by creating a formal “spoiler” system, where they give different media outlets preview images of the new cards to share with fans. More competitive players can view the newly revealed cards on compilation sites like mythicspoiler before the event, but many people still show up to play without knowing anything about the cards in the set. I used to be one of those people-I even won a few prereleases that way. I almost avoided the stream this weekend for precisely that reason, but my curiosity got the better of me.
I need to reiterate how much I personally love the uncertainty and discovery of a prerelease. Even if players have seen the cards before they arrive, they haven’t played with them or watched matches. They haven’t internalized interactions or seen how certain strategies tend to play out. It’s the closest you get to that casual beginner-Magic feel, when your friend pulls out a new deck and you have no idea what wonders might be in store. As a set becomes more played, that feeling vanishes, replaced with familiarity and expertise. You know every common, uncommon, and rare; how likely they are to be played and what configurations they show up in. Expert players have played dozens of games and watched hundreds more. There’s nothing new under the sun until the next set rolls around. Would having professional streamers play with the cards the week before the prerelease would steal some of that initial mystery and wonder?
Not really. The format was perfect: eight players in a single-elimination tournament, a mix of experts and well-practiced casual players. Deck-building guru Marshall Sutcliffe of the Limited Resources podcast opened his packs and built his deck live on stream while everyone else built theirs in secret. It was very much like getting to sit next to a really good player in the store and listen to them talk strategy. This didn’t feel like a spoiler-heavy study session, instead I came away with the amount of information I’d have after playing a few rounds at a store. Mystery and excitement: preserved.
After deckbuilding, players squared off in an eight-person, single elimination bracket for a total of seven matches. A friendly and helpful judge was on hand to explain the new mechanics, and a state-of-the-art card-recognition setup showcased cards as they were used. Players frequently read card abilities and described strategies to the audience, making the event relatively easy to follow for even novice players.
The whole stream was six and a half hours long, archived on Youtube.
It was tremendously refreshing to watch a group of streamers and comedians play friendly, semi-casual Magic. Nobody was a jerk, mistakes were forgiven and sorted out by the excellent judge Serge, and opponents occasionally helped each other out. I won’t spoil it, but one particular moment in the semifinals was the epitome of good sportsmanship – exactly the kind of thing players would do for each other at my favorite game shop.
If you’ve ever been curious about prereleases or if you just think it’d be cool to watch a bunch of players with different skill levels mess around with a new set, you should check out this stream. Loading Ready Run and friends managed to capture one of the most magical feelings in Magic on a twitch stream.
I didn’t think it was possible for me to be more stoked for an upcoming prerelease than I usually am, but here we are. April 2nd can’t com soon enough.