Probably the most entertaining portion happened later in the night. The Rakdos dance floor was packed as the DJ was spinning song after song. A larger member of the Gruul guild had climbed up onto the stage and started dancing, exposing the tattooed Gruul symbol on his chest. The Rakdos faithful went wild. The eyes of the Azorius, Boros and Selesnya were watching from their higher ground\ trying to decipher the madness below them. The Orzhov were behind the stage, playing games; Golgari were the gate keepers to who came in an left the party. Meanwhile, the Simic were trying their hand with new drink concoctions, the Izzet were steampunking around and the Dimir, hidden from view, were trying to assassinate everyone.
This was the Return to Ravnica PAX party. And I honestly wish you were there.
I’m not gloating that I got to go and you didn’t. I happen to live in the area that both PAX and WotC make their home so it is shear luck that I’m able to do this. I kept getting requests for a link to a live stream of the party so they could watch on their computer, but there isn’t one. It’s a party, and even though I’m a fan of people watching, staring at a computer screen of people dancing, talking while music pumps in the background isn’t much fun. This isn’t a panel where people speak and there’s a Q&A afterwards, this is a full blown party.
With cage dancers.
We’ll get back to them in a moment.
WotC doesn’t have to do this. What started as a fun time three years ago has now become one of the highlights of the PAX weekend. For the first year (Zendikar), I went down to the party about 30 minutes before it started, I was around one of the first 100 people in line. This year, the line started 6 1/2 hours before the actual party. PAX is known for its lines, but if you’re that dedicated, you know it’s anticipated.
It’s not like WotC doesn’t have any presence at PAX, a con that is devoted mostly to video games. Jace and Niv-Mizzet were the swag bag. When I got there Saturday, there was a three-hour line for just the swag bag. In it you got a Magic coloring book of Planeswalkers drawn by the guy who does the art for Penny Arcade and Magic crayons where the Magic card names represented the colors; Dark Ritual for black, Sun Titan for yellow, Ivory Tower for white. Only, purple didn’t have a card name, it was Violet Ultimatum.
The party is more advertising. Sometimes advertising is tokens in packs, other times it’s a huge party. At the time, I don’t know if WotC knew how successful this was going to be outside of Seattle. There were going to be games, dancing, food and drinks, and a few cards blown up so people could see some previews. Not a big deal, right? The internet is hungry for spoilers, but rumors don’t mean anything if you can’t back them up. Here’s what I said in 2009 at the first PAX Party:
So, I’m walking around tweeting the new cards in the nightclub (Very beautiful nightclub, by the way) when I come around the corner and see the beautiful work of art that is Arid Mesa. I took the snapshot and twitpiced it. A man stood next to me and smiled. “Are you putting it online?” “Yeah, I hope someone’s reading my tweets.” “What do you think of it?” “I love it.” I met Mark Purvis, creator of both Planechase and the From the Vault series. He was standing there watching the reactions from people looking at the enemy sac land.
The problem was, everyone else was looking at the art for the contest and not actually looking at the cards themselves. I was one of the first to put the card online for everyone else to see.
Every year WotC has incorporated games in the party as well. The first one was like the Arcanas that you see after a new set arrives. Everyone was focusing on that trying to win the money prize while I was going around tweeting and taking pics of the cards. I wanted to get the cards out there for other people to see. Yes, that’s the Selesnya in me.
Much has changed in 4 years.
Twitter became more embraced in the 4 years of this party. I wasn’t the only one tweeting. The advertising works, especially to everyone who wants to stay connected online. WotC embraced this and instead of being a local celebration, trying to make it something that even to those who weren’t at the party experience something. Now there are videos and Facebook images, more than just a fun time for people that were there. How many other parties connected to gaming are people actively seeking information about?
But this party was more than just the new cards and mechanics, it was about selling the flavor of the set. Magic is in its third block in the fifth stage of design: Scars of Mirrodin, Innistrad, and now Return to Ravnica. Flavor has been much more important than previous sets, so a party where WotC celebrates this is huge. It sets the tone for the entire year. This year we have the Ravnica guilds and the idea to choose which guild you want to belong to. There’s the human sense of wanting to belong to something (no matter how big or small) and this plays perfectly into that feeling. Players from the original Ravnica know what they are while it encourages new players to pick a side. This is not unlike the “Choose a side” battle from the Scars of Mirrodin block.
When players have chosen their guild they want to support it: play with those sleeves, wear those shirts, “insult” other guilds. At the party, fans were treated to the entire nightclub changed into Ravnica. There were 11 separate areas, 10 for guilds and one where it wasn’t guild oriented. You could go to your favorite guild and see what that area would be like if you were on the plane itself.
- Azorius – The highest elevated section that watched over the main room. Had a bar and a giant sphere (Like something was being detained).
- Boros – Right next to the dance floor. Had a bar and a drum you could beat to gather your troops.
- Dimir – The “hidden” room, behind curtains. Was guarded and contained the Assassins game.
- Golgari – The entrance into the main room (entering and leaving the party as a metaphor for death).
- Gruul – Had the meat section (Chicken wings, I think a Roast beef). Also spray-on tattoos of the Gruul symbol.
- Izzet – Underground, where mad scientists could mingle. Filled with test tubes and steampunk type decorations.
- Orzhov – Behind the main stage. Two large tables with Gothicy chairs so people could (and did) play Magic.
- Rakdos – The main dance floor area. Contained two cage dancers, male and female. Also, dessert carts (yes, plural).
- Simic – A bar off to the side filled with a water theme (it’s a wet bar, get it?). Get your mixed drinks there.
- Selesnya – Next to the Boros. Contained the breads and vegetables.
- Unaligned – The entrance to the club. Walls were covered with the basic land art.
Here’s Richard Hagon in a video showing off all the areas:
WotC wants to create an experience with the events that they throw. It’s more than just the party here but it’s is the prereleases like the Helvault and the Guild boxes for Return to Ravnica and Gatecrash. They know you can wait a few weeks and buy the cards without much fanfare. If given the opportunity, WotC wants you to give you an event to remember and get excited for. It’s entertainment, something for you to get emotionally invested in. If you went to that party Saturday night not knowing what Magic is or have never been to Ravnica, you would’ve been interested in how much flavor and substance there is to a “card game”. Some of it might have been confusing, however it was done in a way where you could grasp what was going on.
The cards were littered in their respective guild areas. If you take a look at my pics, you notice that some of them aren’t taken with the best quality. The display of the cards look much better in the club than on a computer screen, or a camera. They shine colored lights on them (which correspond to the guild) to give it a cool effect. It makes it kind of hard to read when you’re on the internet trying to get information about the spoilers; there was much discussion about Dreadbore being Rare or Uncommon. How I wish I could take one of the cards home; it didn’t happen this time.
I did get a few minutes to talk with Mark Rosewater and Aaron Forsythe. In fact, I talked with several other members of WotC while I was there: Helen Bergeot, Elaine Chase, Trick Jarrett, Mark Purvis, Lee Sharpe, and Andrew Strauss (plus others that don’t have Twitter accounts I believe). Oh, and Marshall Sutcliffe, Rich Hagon, Brian Kilber, Player of the Year Yuuya Watanabe, PVDDR. Most of the other contestants from the Player’s Championship were also in attendance as well. I met other Magic fans, some writers and some fellow Twitters. This was an event that everyone, no matter your involvement in Magic, could come and attend, mingle, and have a great time. The party was celebrating Magic, its fans, and the game itself.
After Closing Time played, people didn’t want to leave. This was the most ambitious party that WotC had thrown and it was fantastic. When you finally stepped out into the night air you were excited for Ravnica to come back. You knew which guild you supported and you hated the other guilds for not being your guild. Hopefully online you got some of that feeling; this is why I wish you were there as well. I did the best I could on Twitter, I wish it was enough.
Next year if you’re in town for PAX, you need to get to this party. Every time WotC has topped themselves. It will be hard for next year. Here’s hoping that they can.
Here are my photos from that night, including ones that didn’t get sent out thanks to issues with my phone.