Yesterday I went to a Magic: the Gathering “M12” pre-release tournament. I’ll take this entry to explain what all those weird things means, since it’s full of gamer jargon and such. Magic releases a “core “set every year, which is basically the “edition updates” you see in roleplaying game equivalents — Third Edition, Revised Third Edition, Fourth Edition, Essentials, et cetera.

Magic, as a collectible/customizable/trading card game, goes evolves quite rapidly. A “core set” creates the standards for the following year’s expansions. It adds, corrects, clarifies, or eliminates game rules. The core sets used to be iterative, and named for the current edition (e.g. Fourth Edition, Seventh Edition, etc.), but they’ve recently taken to naming them by year. Thus, M10, M11, and now M12.

An expansion (there are typically three, spread throughout the year) will add to the card pool, creating entirely new rules for play, reintroducing or revising older rules, and a given “block” of expansions will be themed around a specific world, characters, and events. (There will also be tie-in novels because Wizards of the Coast likes money. *cough* I mean, because they sell. Because people buy them. Never mind.)

When a new set is released, the cards are shipped to the various stores where they can be sold to players. Due to shipping times and such, vendors receive cards before the edition is scheduled for release. It’s a big deal that all players get access to the cards at roughly the same time, because Magic is Serious Business. There are professional Magic players who make more money than you do.

Since vendors are generally discouraged from selling cards before the set has been officially released, but people don’t like to wait, there are these “pre-release” parties and tournaments. It’s impossible to prevent cards from being sold ahead of time or “leaked,” so the whole idea of getting the cards before they’re officially available has been assimilated into the subculture. It’s a beautiful thing.

New cards aren’t sold at a pre-release tournament, but there’s an entrance fee. There’s another party when the set is officially released, a couple weeks later.