Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Meeting the Expectation at First Glance

In North America at least, a typical comic or hobby game store is located in a commercial suite.  This means the store is in a shopping mall or plaza, whether indoor or outdoor, and exists alongside other small business outlets.  Nail salons, coffee shops, small restaurants, barbershops, and the like are common.  Other niches of retail appear in such locations: jewelry stores, apparel stores, pet stores.  Some of our stores abut used bookstores, thrift stores, or pawnshops.  The mix varies whether the shopping center is an indoor mall, a strip mall, or, as in the case of Desert Sky Games and Comics, a plaza anchored by a grocery store, Fry’s Food and Drug.  (Kroger for you easterners.)  If the store is in a stand-alone building in such a plaza, it’s called a retail pad instead of a suite, but it’s the same species of animal.

Shopping centers are natural locations for small retail because they are a place people go.  There is thus a likelihood that a visitor to any one store in the plaza will see another business and be interested, or at least curious.  This generates an arrival known as “walk-in” or “walk-up” customer traffic.  Walk-in customer traffic is a crucial part of how many stores survive.  It is like a vast prepaid advertisement being redeemed: the cost of rent on the store’s lease itself is generally reflected in the shopping center’s attractiveness as a place for people to go.  It is expected that a store in such a location will be visited by a non-zero number of human beings who arrived spontaneously and not in response to an advert message.

When a customer arrives and is not familiar with your store, that is when your business’s entire body of work is tested.  If you pass the test, you probably receive moneydollars.  At the very least you may generate goodwill that can convert into a bounceback visit or a positive referral.  And sometimes you will jackpot and find either an angel customer who becomes deeply supportive, or an angel “buy” source who will bring you resellable merchandise they no longer want or need.  Maybe they’re decluttering, maybe they are in distress, maybe they bought in low and are cashing in at a profit, whatever.

If your store is not ready to meet the expectations of that customer, you as the owner have not done your job, and your body of work requires attention.  Fortunately, for most comic and hobby game stores, there are some general guidelines that are proven effective.  Some are easy to implement and some are excruciatingly difficult.

First, let’s dispose of the exception.  There exist comic or hobby game stores that are pure “destination” locations, such as Mox Boarding House in Bellevue, Washington or the Reaper Game Store in Denton, Texas, that are located in light industrial plazas, not commercial real estate, and do not have walk-in customer traffic in any meaningful sense of the term.  For such stores, meeting an arriving customer’s expectation is more straightforward.  These stores have, by definition, attracted arrivals who know where they are going and generally why.  Even a first-time visitor to Mox very likely knows what a tabletop game is and wouldn’t have made the trip out unless they wanted one.  For these stores, meeting the expectation is as simple as delivering on the advert promise.  If your advert said your destination store is the comic headquarters of Westlake City, and that customer walks in and is impressed by a huge new release wall and a vast back issue library and shelves of Batman statues, your store probably met the expectation.  This does require labor.  The store has to be clean, bright, and inviting to some extent.  But if you are what you say you are, your destination store has returned serve.  Your work is front-loaded to the task of generating the arrival in the first place.

For the rest of us, stores in shopping centers, arrivals will perpetually be a mixture of walk-in traffic, much of which may be unfamiliar with our trade, and destination traffic, otherwise known as existing customers.  We need both, of course.  New blood is the only way to offset attrition and grow a clientele.  But much of the product in our industry is oriented toward devoted hobbyists who are deeply familiar with comics or games.  (Or both.)  Meeting the expectation at first glance for sustained success requires that your store appear welcoming and relevant to both types of arrivals.

General retail principles apply.  Ample parking helps, though that situation was likely set in stone (quite literally in stone) at the time you chose your location.  Good lighting is a must.  General cleanliness is important.  Clear walkways with room to browse are essential.  Allowing customers to touch and handle the merchandise makes a huge difference.  A clean restroom is important enough that a deficiency in this area is a dealbreaker for many customers.  And of course, smiling faces.  My own store is not meeting a high standard of execution on some of these items, in my estimation, and it does cost me business.  Maintenance is an ongoing process.  Buildout is more difficult to improve once the barge is on the river.  These issues will demand and must receive attention.  I am happy with the way my staff interacts with new customers, but my physical plant needs work.

Moving from the general to the specific, the product mix a walk-in customer encounters is a huge part of the impression your store conveys, and whether that impression matches the customer’s expectation, whatever it may be.

Comic stores have the advantage here.  A walk-in customer who knows nothing about the game trade can see a comic book and will instantly understand what it is and what the store is.  If only all categories were so accessible.  On the comic side of things, most people who have seen Big Bang Theory or Mallrats have a notion that a comic store should have books and toys on the wall and a library of back issues to browse.  This is why every comic store has such a library even though it takes up space, takes labor to curate, and doesn't create nearly as many sales as the store's subscription boxes.  The back-issue library is there because a back-issue library is supposed to be there; a tautology.  If the walk-in customer does know about comics and doesn’t see good coverage, they mentally dismiss you as “not a real comic store” and will buy instead from one that met that expectation.

With many pure game stores, a walk-in customer is authentically disoriented.  If the first thing that customer sees is a store full of six-foot tables and glass cases full of Magic cards, in many cases they have no idea whatsoever what the store is for.  It looks like a cafeteria, or a church social hall.  They wonder what strange place they have wandered into.  They are uncomfortable.  They don’t play Magic, or they would have known ahead of time about the store, likely by finding it on the DCI Event Locator.  They may even think it’s a poker room of some kind, which has its own set of messaging negatives.  So they are well and truly flummoxed and the impression that wallops them is to leave, now.  This is true even if the tournament area is clean and spacious.

It improves only a little bit if the first thing they see is a Warhammer 40K table with a swarm of miniatures bristling and glinting off their gun barrels, but it’s better than the Magic cult chamber.  At least the visitor might recognize miniatures as models, especially if the store has prominent paint racks and hobby supply racks.  OK, now they get it, sort of.  It’s not for them, but they could imagine their child or relative who is into “nerdy things” being involved in such a hobby.  Toy soldiers or whatever that is.

The next step up is role-playing.  I separated that from board games because while RPG materials start with books, which you’d think would be a familiar thing, it’s not that easy.  Not only does the RPG hobby involve miniatures (overlapping with miniature wargaming and modeling), complicating the merchandising mix, but many RPG books have pictures of fiery demons and the like on the cover.  Young whippersnappers in the audience might find this hard to believe, but there is a distinct cohort of mostly older people who think Dungeons and Dragons is evil or involves devil worship.  There was a big fit of bad publicity in the early 1980s when some college students who had other problems committed suicide, mumble mumble steam tunnels, and the media seized upon the most salacious scapegoat they could find, which was that several such youths owned D&D game materials.  To this day I have grandmothers walk in, look at the RPG rack, and walk out shaking their heads muttering “devil.”  So while a game category made up of books and miniatures is a little more accessible than a Magic cafeteria or a ping-pong table full of Tyranids, for purely artificial reasons it won’t help you much in terms of the impression you want to make.

The next mainstream-friendly step is to hobby-market board games, such as Eurogames and strategy tabletop generally.  This is a category that gets grouses from typical store owners because of how badly Amazon discounting has devalued it, but at least the idea of a “board game” is a little more recognizable.  Indeed, if your store carries USAopoly licensed games, it gets simpler still: If a customer doesn’t know what Monopoly or Yahtzee is, I hereby absolve you of any sins you committed in the maintenance of your store, as far as that arrival is concerned.  In very rare cases, yes, it is hopeless.  But mostly what you’re going to find out is that even evergreen titles like Catan, Ticket to Ride, Axis & Allies, and Splendor are a little off-the-beaten-path to the walk-up customer.  They don’t call those “gateway games” by accident, but it’s going to take work and finesse to convert that arrival into a customer.

A lot of people see the word “games” in the store name and assume console video games, since obviously those are the only games that exist.  Okay, maybe not.  It’s just a much, much larger market.  Your store has exactly two options in that case.  Be prepared to tell phone callers and walk-in customers every single day that the games you have are tabletop, not electronic.  Or else just carry console video games.  The latter option is non-trivial and in many cases is cost-prohibitive, site-prohibitive, or community-prohibitive.  But you understand the expectation.  A substantial portion of walk-in customers expects you to have console video games.  It’s up to you whether or how you want to field that punt.

There is a category that kind of bridges strategy tabletop and simple mainstream fare, which is party games.  The behemoth, of course, is Cards Against Humanity, a game that is essentially Apples to Apples with dirty jokes.  The frustrating retail situation with that game could fill an article by itself, but suffice it to say, it’s on my shelves and it’s not going anywhere.  Usually for your store to be in this category and have a casual mainstream customer in a frame of mind to buy, however, you need to have done something more to meet their expectation of understanding what kind of store they are in.

This is why you see so many stores bring in chess, mahjongg, cribbage, and the like, even though sourcing and merchandising on those games is cumbersome.  Everyone over the age of ten knows what a chess set is.  The sales aren’t tremendous in this category but they are there partly as ornaments.  They are there to help convey an impression.  They are there so that the moment a customer walks in, they understand that this is a Game Store.  Yes, Games.  Fun games!  Like Chess.  Be at peace, weary traveler.  Lay your burden down and exuberate.  And try to ignore the goat sacrifices going on at the back table near all those booster wrappers.

Not all game stores have the square footage or the open capital to sink into an entire category of mainstream games that exist partly as decorations.  However, the stores that last, the stores that don’t depend on a treadmill of hot Magic expansion releases to live from quarter to quarter, the stores that are sustainable, find some way to meet the customer expectation at first glance that your store be something they can recognize and understand.  Mainstream games can do it.  Comic books can do it.  Sports cards, actually, can do it, though that market is a colossal dumpster fire right now and most people from Generation Y or later don’t care about sports cards and never will.  But at least anyone who walks into the store knows what a baseball card is, or a signed jersey, or a replica helmet.  Video games can do it.  They are ubiquitous.  Console video games are a labor-intensive, capital-intensive, space-intensive category, but it can be very profitable and anyone who walks in “gets it.”  Or you could be one of the game trade’s new pioneers, offering a coffee bar or arcade or some other new value-add that ordinary non-hobbyists understand.  Pick your path.  Multiple paths are okay, and I recommend taking them on one at a time until you master them and they turn from expensive projects into revenue streams.

…Oh yeah, the devoted gamers and collectors.  How do you make your impression meet their expectation?  It’s easier in principle, just more expensive and time-consuming in practice.  You show that your store loves what they love, cares about what they care about.  You have the goods and you stand behind them.  If the guy walking in plays Netrunner and you have a good stock of Netrunner and you’re running a monthly FFG kit tournament, you won.  Barring a negative experience, you just won a customer, in part or whole.  If the girl walking in loves the Walking Dead and you have the Image library in stock and some swag to boot, you won.  If the couple walking in with their two kids passes by your Pokemon rack and the kids’ eyes go wide at all the decks, packs, and holofoils, you won.  A lot of stores assume they will have to fight price resistance every time.  That does happen sometimes, but it usually doesn't.  And if you don’t have the goods… price doesn’t matter.

This very day, if you’re in a commercial suite, the odds are good that a visitor who has never been in a comic or hobby game store will walk in your door.  That arrival will look around, see all that you have built at a glance, and they will draw a conclusion.  What have you done, or what can you do now or in the future, to make that person conclude that they belong?

When you can answer that question, your way forward becomes clear.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015


Not a full post as I'm out of town this week, as mentioned before last week's longer article.

There's a shift in one's frame of mind when one owns a business for oneself.  When your time becomes your own and is much more proximately the cause of food-on-the-table, there's a greater tendency to resent the uncompensated loss of it.

This presumes that you want to be working on your business.  How does that saying go?  "Do what you love, and you'll never work another day in your life?"  Well, running a store isn't quite there for me as I'd rather just write fiction full-time.  But running a store is rewarding and fulfilling in a way that pushing paper for the government often was not, despite that my job with the state was important and that I had tremendous colleagues whom I deeply respect.  It would take a significant compensation offer for me to consider going back.

Having said that, when something came up during my tenure working for an employer, I tended to roll with the punches pretty easily.  Jury duty?  All good, I'll move some calendar around and cash in some of the pinch-hitting favors I've done to cover for others.  Power outage?  Guess we're down for the count!  Stuck waiting for a VIP to arrive?  We wait, all the while earning our salaries.  Traffic jam?  Stressful if on the commute, but all in a day's work if during transportation in the course of services rendered.  And in most of the jobs I've had, come five bells, work is over for the day.  I work diligently while on the clock, but if I don't have skin in the game, my family time is my own.

It's different now.  I try to squeeze productive output into every minute I can find.  Jury duty?  Can't possibly be impaneled, it would be highly distressing to the business.  Power outage?  Catastrophic!  Even though we could still run sales with our iPad and mobile credit card rig, during most of the year in Arizona, you don't spend time in a building with no air conditioning, and neither would a customer.  Stuck waiting for anyone?  Time is money!  Traffic jam?  Complete waste of my prime productive hours!  And work is 24/7/365.  Even when I'm on vacation, I check in.  I observe the emails, I reply sometimes, I keep tabs on social media, I even watch the cameras once or twice just to see how things are going.

Of course, in the long run, inconveniences pass.  Even difficulties can be weathered.  My approach to building up a resistance to such variables is to scale up, and then scale up some more.  I won't fully relax until I'm at a level where my indefinite absence would cause absolutely no interruption in business.

This could take a while.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi

Note: Next week I'm in Atlanta for the GTS Distribution trade show, so enjoy this double-length article and I'll see you just before Halloween!

In August I wrote about all the other game and comic stores in the Phoenix metro area and what I learned from each one.  The article title, "Enemies to the Bitter End," was tongue-in-cheek, of course.  In a niche industry like this, most of us get along pretty well.  As the adage goes, me against my brother, but me and my brother against the world.

I received great feedback on the article asking if I would say a few words about stores that have already come and gone.  This is a tightrope walk, because:

  • It's in poor taste if I'm too critical, like how one isn't supposed to speak ill of the dead; but,
  • It's an empty gesture if I don't acknowledge to some extent the circumstances of the store's closure; and,
  • Regardless of my best effort, I'm bound to forget your favorite store from Back In the Day.
Nonetheless, I am up to the challenge.  I promise my remarks on each store are my own opinion and should be taken with editorial intent.  I promise where I refer to public information that I will link a source wherever available.  And I'm sorry about forgetting your favorite store.

First, let me tip my hat to the stores I missed in my Enemies article!  Some of these are so new I was unaware of them when I wrote it, or else they didn't exist yet and have just opened.  A couple are just plain misses where I should have known better and I apologize for the oversight.

Again, this is Phoenix metro only... I simply don't know enough about the Tucson and other area stores to write substantively on them.


All About Books and Comics, Phoenix

This store was originally in the Enemies article, but accidentally deleted the paragraph during edits and the article went live with that blurb missing.  I noticed a few days later and restored it, but if you read the article on day one, you missed my remarks on this excellent shop.  You should be able to see them now if you revisit the article (and possibly refresh your browser cache).

Bookman's Entertainment Exchange, Phoenix, Tucson, Mesa, Flagstaff

How could I miss Bookman's?  I hang my head in shame.  Sure, they deal in ~95% used merchandise, but it includes a huge swath of media, from books to movies to records to comics to video games to board games to musical instruments and more.  I guess no Magic: the Gathering, but organized play was never part of the Bookman's plan anyway.  While Bookman's does maintain an impressive showcase full of valuable first editions and collectibles, most of their bread and butter comes from buying used books for next to nothing and reselling them inexpensively to price-sensitive consumers who just want something fun to read or watch.  I have spent many a shopping excursion buying tree corpses by Michael Crichton, David Eddings, and Isaac Asimov at their massive Mesa anchor store.

Fallen Phoenix Games, Fountain Hills

This newly opened store looks like it spans the gamut of card and board game offerings.  I haven't visited yet but they definitely located in an area that didn't have a store already, so props to them for doing the research.  Their logo really resembles the Mesa Comics logo, though that's likely parallel design rather than intentional.

Fallout Games, Phoenix and Tempe

This regional chain operates three stores, two of which are in Phoenix, one each at the northern and western edges of the city proper.  Fallout is entirely focused on console video games and related memorabilia, with no further reach into the hobby trade.  Their branding is high-quality and I have had good experiences shopping there.  I like that they've collected a bunch of vintage console kiosks.  It seems like the most obvious thing for merchandising consoles, but most of that gear was pawned off to department store employees or junked years ago, so it's not easy to procure.

Flashback Games, Tempe

This console-only store delivered a poor customer experience on my only visit, so let's just say I learned some of what not to do.  Maybe they're great guys the rest of the time.

Game Zone, Gilbert

This store has been around since at least 1996 and used to have an Ahwatukee location as well.  It's an interesting hybrid featuring new and used console video games but also anime collectibles, manga, anime-related toys and apparel, and tchotchkes.  Not to be confused with Gamers Zone, a defunct hobby game store that was in Mesa (see later in this article) or with The Gaming Zone, a console video game store in Tempe that is still very much alive.

Half-Price Books, Mesa

I started with this in the defunct category because "my" location in Tempe closed years ago, only to learn that their Mesa location at Superstition Springs is still chugging along strong.  I'm not including pure bookstores in these articles, such as the excellent Changing Hands in Tempe, because there are just too many and I'll never see them all.  But Half-Price Books also deals in comics and other media so they're on point.  One thing I love about this store is there is no store credit: all buys are in cash, and cash only, making the accounting end of the equation easy: no outstanding payables.  Their offer may not be as much as you hoped for, but it will be in dollars of money, and that counts for a lot.  I think store credit is too useful a tool for me to discard outright, but I am fascinated and impressed at how strong an inventory ecosystem Half-Price Books has built by eschewing it.

The House of Used, Mesa

Media, media, and more media: this converted former video rental store has been refitted into a clearinghouse for music, movies, video games, and memorabilia.  Their rack and fixture deployment is exactly what I want to use when we move back into these categories.  (We're using the same DVD racks now for our comic wall.)  I am impressed at their marketing and systematic use of price incentives to drive engagement.

Odyssey Games, Scottsdale

The dream is alive: an FLGS in the City of Scottsdale.  And not in the lousy part of Scottsdale either, but up on Shea Boulevard where it's pretty nice.  I haven't visited yet but I look forward to doing so.  I have heard entirely good things.  They appear to be focused on tabletop miniatures games.

Power Pill, Mesa

I hesitated to include this store on the list because it's not part of the comic or hobby game trade as such.  It mainly exists as a commercial storefront for the owner's arcade restoration projects.  However, it also features vintage pop culture collectibles, from toys to games to figures.  It's downtown a couple blocks west of Gotham City Comics & Coffee.  Our visit was pleasant and the pinball tables they had for sale looked sweet.

Rocky Road Comics, Chandler

At first I was like, really?  Someone opened a comic store a few miles away from mine?  However, apparently the shop is more of a pop culture project than full-scale comic retail outlet, and it serves as home base for some independent creative professionals.  For most of the rank-and-file titles, it turned out they had actually been referring customers to us!  We were delighted to make their acquaintance.

San Tan Comics Toys & Games, Gilbert

This store is about as far from mine as you can get and still be within the Gilbert city limits; it's right on the edge of Queen Creek.  I missed them in the first article but actually had a great visit a few months ago, the owner was friendly and there is a respectable inventory of mostly comics.  I scooped up an out-of-print X-Wing ship at the time to pass through at cost as a courtesy for one of my regulars.

Now that I've made the Enemies article current with the above round-up, here are my comments on the Phoenix metro stores from the comic or hobby game trade that have passed into history.

I preface this once again just to make abundantly clear: No disrespect is intended.  Three of these stores were mine, after all, so I've lost or divested of a business before, and it's an ordeal once shared that results in a degree of mutual regard.  Dating errors are mine alone and I welcome corrections.

On a sadder note, an awful lot of this interest was sourced from public records that, for obvious reasons, reflect the experiences of a business in distress.  I am no hotshot attorney -- though I have earned a law degree, I have never been licensed to practice -- but I can't help thinking that better legal information and advice might have either saved some of these businesses or at least made their bittersweet conclusions less expensive.  It is a sad truth about the legal profession in the modern day that the people most in need of its services are the people least able to procure them, which is part of why attorneys are expected to perform pro bono work regularly.  

Moreover, I want to emphasize that seeing a public record indicating an adverse judgment, tax lien, or what have you, should not be considered stigmatizing; perfectly decent folks who frankly, probably worked their asses off to make their businesses thrive, did not always prevail.  This is not necessarily a mark of shame or deficiency.  All kinds of scenarios can cause a store failure.  Some stores were sunk from the start by crushing leases that it took many months or years to finally knuckle under.  Landlords tend to be very good at writing leases to their advantage; you aren't typically going to win, you're just hoping to reduce risk exposure as much as you can manage.  It's like buying a new car or house only amped up to eleven.  Some of these stores closed because of external forces.  Economic downturns in 1994, 2001-2002, 2008-2009, and 2011 claimed several.  In other cases an owner may have gotten bad advice from his or her accountant or (gasp) attorney.  It's infrequent for sure, but it does happen, professionals are only human.  So if at any point you look at my link to someone's sales tax debacle and think that I'm piling on or being discourteous, please reconsider.  For the most part I have linked public records merely to establish dates.  In some cases, they constitute factual support for the context of my editorial remarks.  They are not meant to demean, implicitly or explicitly.


Arizona Collector's Paradise, Scottsdale, ~1997 to March 6, 2000.

Bridging the eras of Jester's Court and Arizona Gamer, "ACP" served as the starting store for a surprising number of old-guard players from today.  Turns out this story wasn't unique: ACP was a baseball card store that caught the lightning-in-a-bottle of Magic and Pokemon, then faded out to the emergence of Everquest and World of Warcraft.  The closing date above reflects what appears in the link to be the legal termination of lease; the retail store likely closed shortly before that.

Arizona Gamer, Tempe and Gilbert, February 1998 to February 25, 2002.

This was one of my stores, a partnership led by R.J. "Jason" Harris, today a civil rights attorney in Oklahoma.  I'll probably tell the entire story of this store on this blog in the near future.  AZ Gamer began as an independent Games-Workshop-only tabletop miniatures kiosk at the Arizona Mills Mall, and parlayed its opening holiday season profits into a 2000-square-foot location at Mill Avenue and Baseline that rented for a staggering four grand per month.  Landlords held all the cards during the dot-com boom.  I joined as a sublease selling Magic cards there until the Pokemon craze started force-feeding us revenue, at which point I bought in whole hog.  We briefly opened a Gilbert location at Greenfield and Baseline, but it hit the area before the population base did, and withered on the vine.  Toward the end of 2000, the other partners wanted to refocus on miniatures and the Magic scene was shifting southeast to Gamers Edge in Chandler, so they bought me out for cash and some materials, such as the arcade games we had gathered.  Arizona Gamer ran reasonably strong until 9/11, after which their military-heavy tabletop-wargame-enthusiast customer base departed to various duty deployments, and closure became unpreventable.

Atomic Comics, Mesa, Phoenix, Chandler, Glendale, 1986 to August 21, 2011.

The legendary comic retailer of greater Phoenix, Atomic Comics bestrode the town like a colossus in the 1990s and was the store where I learned to play Magic: the Gathering in between classes at Mesa Community College in 1994.  Simply put, Atomic Comics was excellent.  Unfortunately, their flagship store was destroyed by a car collision and ensuing flood, the insurance apparently didn't make up for the entire loss, and Atomic never quite made it back from the brink.  All their locations closed chainwide without warning on an August Sunday four years ago.  Owner Mike Malve, in a farewell message, thanked the public for 25 years of patronage.  Atomic incorporated May 11, 1995 and the oldest public records I turned up confirmed Atomic had been around since at least 1989; an incept date in 1986 appears accurate.  Atomic Comics may yet rise again, though perhaps not in spirit; Mesa resident Paul Struelens registered the trade name on May 27, 2014.  Apparently Struelens plans to use the "at" symbol in place of the "A," possibly to avoid infringing Malve's vestigial IP.

AZ Brain Games, Phoenix and SaffordNovember 16, 2012 to early 2014

This collaboration between Manawerx/Rookies to Legends owner Ed Caudill and emeritus Manawerx owner J.J. Moore started in north Phoenix and migrated to rural Safford when J.J. relocated.  The most recent Facebook content related to the store is from February 22, 2014.

Battle Foam Gaming Saloon, Gilbert, ~2009 to 2012

This store served as owner Kyle Kinghorn's showroom for the excellent Battle Foam tabletop miniatures storage and transport cases that are manufactured right there on the premises.  As a result, this store was unlike most others in that selling games was not actually a priority.  Kyle's objective was to drive engagement in the hobby in order to strengthen his market for the Battle Foam cases.  DSG will be adding this product line in the near future.

Beyond Gaming, Phoenix, ~2002

I know little about this store except that it was located in the area where Rookies to Legends used to be, and was rumored to be returning in 2014 but never did.

Bookstar, Mesa, Phoenix, Paradise Valley, March 13, 1991 to July 31, 2003.

Located on the Fiesta Mall's outer loop, this was mostly a pure bookstore and not part of the game trade, but from 1994 to 1998, the Mesa Bookstar was Arizona's epicenter for Decipher's Star Trek and Star Wars Customizable Card Games.  The first Decipher authorized tournament organizer in the area, Will Schmidt, frequented the store and was able to establish it as an activity venue.  Along with its categorical siblings Waldenbooks and B. Dalton, Bookstop/Bookstar crushed small independent bookstore competiton, and such chains were in turn crushed by the megaboxes Borders and Barnes & Noble... which in turn have been destroyed and crippled, respectively, by Amazon, paradoxically leaving small independent bookstores as the brick-and-mortar future.

Empire Games, Mesa, Summer 2007 to April 2, 2016.
Entry added April 5, 2016.  When does a healthy store close?  Ownership had other things on their mind and decided they had a decent run and were ready to call it a day.  Empire Games was a close neighbor to DSG and a great neighbor.  I have been friends with Brock Berge, the principal, since the 1990s.  I cannot state enough how much respect we have for this organization.  Empire Games was a miniatures mecca par excellence.  For years they were the largest Games Workshop account in the western United States.  How does a miniatures store look at scale?  How does owning the building impact what you can do with a buildout?  I am privileged to have been able to learn these things firsthand from Empire Games.

Endless Universe Books & Comics, Mesa, ~1986 to ~1988
The standout attribute of this store, as I remember it, was that it was within bicycle range of my boyhood home in Tempe.  Located on the southwest corner of Dobson and Guadalupe, this store's passage went unnoticed.  The One Book Shop (see below) started me into comics, but Endless Universe and Greg's Comics were my ports of call until the mighty Atomic Comics arose.

Fat Man's Comics, Mesa, ~1989 to ~1994

Located just southeast of Mesa Drive and Southern, this store was truth-in-advertising as its proprietor was, in fact, a fat man.  In addition to comics, this store was notable in accumulating Kenner Star Wars action figures and toys during the "dark years" from 1984 to 1995, when mainstream collectors hadn't yet recognized their value and nobody in the trade cared except Steve Sansweet.  FMC used to have shelves and shelves crowded over with figures and vehicles, many loose and a few still carded or boxed.  This establishment may have closed due to the ill luck of hitting its stride just as its primary product became utterly worthless.

The Front, Peoria, ~2002

I know nothing about this store except that it was on the Crystal Caste Dice game store locator.

Game Daze, Phoenix, Chandler, Mesa, Glendale, and Tucson, ~2002 to January 13, 2014.
To this day the market is feeling the absence of Game Daze, because so few sources remain in the metro for things like top-end chess sets, cribbage boards, and other mainstream materials.  One might think Amazon has those categories killed, and they do to an extent, but despite everything we know and hear, online commerce remains still only about a tenth of all retail.  Even if you think the game trade is double or triple that, we're still talking about 70% of the demand for those products coming from in-person shoppers.  DSG is in the process of entering the category.

Gamemaster Games, Gilbert, September 20, 2006 to February 29, 2008.

Located near the Wallace Theater at the Gilbert Civic Plaza, this clean, pleasant, and inviting store focused on tabletop miniatures games during its run.  Their website now links to a store by the same name in Hicksville, New York.  I speculate based on public records and knowledge of the plaza that this store closed due to lease distress.  The extremely overbuilt, upscale new urbanist shopping center has turned into something of a ghost town since; enough of its other tenants have departed that the developer never finished putting up the rest of the buildings in the plaza.

Game Nightz, Phoenix, June 1, 2007 to April 30, 2011.

Owned by the notorious Esposito brothers, now banned for life from Magic: the Gathering tournament play for allegedly operating a Magic card thieving ring, Game Nightz started inside Metrocenter and moved to a standalone building on the Metrocenter loop on November 13, 2010.  The ban effectively expelled the Espositos, the Castillos, and Nick McKean from the game trade, and various taxing authorities did their thing with holding entity Parlor Casinos Inc., which eventually resolved.  Game Nightz coasted to a stop, and Aaron Combs salvaged what remained of its player base into a revived Manawerx on Thunderbird Road between Imperial Outpost Games and the suite that would eventually house Ed Caudill's Rookies to Legends, which in turn absorbed Manawerx itself.  Everybody got that?  There will be a test later.

Gamers, Phoenix, Tempe, and Chandler, ~1989 to October 31, 2004.

Benson Leigh's metropolitan retail chain sold primarily console video games, but also dealt in anime, manga, and related collectibles.  I never made it to the Bell Road location in Phoenix.  The Tempe location at Southern and McClintock abutted a Subway and always smelled like baked bread and cold cuts.  Gamers was an early example of catering to the devoted fringe of the hobby, offering rentals of Japanese import games and console modification services to make them playable.  The Chandler location at Alma School and Warner outlasted its older brother.  This business closed very late in a console generation cycle, a year before the Xbox 360 debuted and two years ahead of the Playstation 3 and Nintendo Wii.  I wonder if this is the console equivalent of all those hobby game stores that closed because of Fallen Empires or Saviors of Kamigawa?

Gamers Edge, Chandler, April 2000 to May 17, 2005.
My "home store" in the early "aughts" was Ray Powers' retail enterprise at Warner and Arizona Avenue between a Target and a movie theater.  Ray also briefly had a north Phoenix location in the storefront that was formerly Gamerz Cards (ahead on this list).  I served at the Edge as tournament judge during my heyday and drifted away from the game trade in 2004 to go to law school.  Gamers Edge was popular throughout its tenure, but at lease end Ray found the landscape too unstable, both of the game trade and of that area of Chandler.  He opted to wind up business with a planned shutdown rather than renewing or relocating.  Magic: the Gathering's popularity hit a trough during this time period, which coincided with the explosion in popularity of Texas Hold'em Poker in gaming circles.  To this day, the "Gamers Edge Draft Crew" still meets for drafts and prereleases at Desert Sky Games and Comics.

Gamers Inn, Mesa, ~2002 to March 31, 2014.

Kevin "Presto" Bertrandt became the king of the east Valley game trade by harnessing the player base's shift to computer network gameplay and the World of Warcraft with this hybrid LAN cafe and game store.  At its pinnacle, Gamers Inn measured some 5000 square feet of retail and warehouse space and was among the largest Crystal Commerce merchants operating nationwide.  Until September 2011, the store was open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  That was when two major setbacks undercut Presto's foundation: the store had a bookkeeping catastrophe, and the LAN gameplay market fell off a smartphone-induced cliff.  Kevin retrenched and focused on web sales, which continue to this day on the premises of Prime Time Cards and Games in Gilbert.

Gamers Paradise, Phoenix, 2008

I don't know where this store was or what it was like, and I don't know Philip, the guy who owned it.  All I know is that it appears he may owe somebody eight hundred thousand dollars.  That's an awful lot of Eventide booster packs.

Gamers Zone and CollectiblesMesa, 2004 to May 31, 2006.

This store on Val Vista and Southern sat cornered across from Michael's Magic (see further down) and was the brainchild of Bob Wilkins, still a prominent name in the local player community.  I never visited, and I'm kind of bummed about that because my present-day customers who frequented Bob's store speak highly of it and of him.

Gamerz Cards, Phoenix, 2000 to January 31, 2003.

Jeff (not that Jeff) and J.J. (not that J.J.) started this store on Cave Creek Road right as Jester's Court (further down the list) expired.  I operated several arcade games there for about half a year, splitting revenue with the owners.  There was some ownership conveyance, and a brief stint during which the store was owned by Ray Powers as "Gamers Edge North," and ultimately Gamerz Cards was subsumed into the formation of that Jeff's and that J.J.'s original Manawerx store on Bell Road in north Phoenix.

Hero Comics, Phoenix, 1993 to June 22, 2014.

This was a decent shop that seemed to be turning good business, but closed unexpectedly last summer after over two decades in the trade.  Sad to see it go like that.  Strong comic industry chops, particularly with in-store events.

Jester's Court, Phoenix, 1995 to 2000

This store stands out in memory because it was the first Arizona store devoted entirely to collectible card games, in particular Magic: the Gathering.  By modern standards Jester's was an absolute dump, but at the time we couldn't get enough of it.  Fire codes fell before the onslaught of more tournament attendance than the tiny suite could hold, and desperate meth junkies from the nearby Sunnyslope neighborhood absconded with many a Magic player's car stereo.

Los Arcos Sports Cards & Collectibles, Scottsdale, ~1993 to ~1997

I only knew about this place because my friend Steve worked there.  A pure consignment shop with floor-to-ceiling showcases mostly focused on sports memorabilia, Los Arcos Cards was a good source for Revised Edition and The Dark booster packs when the local game stores hit their dry spells due to Wizards of the Coast's wildly inconsistent production schedule at the time.  At some point the owner had a branding stomachache and expelled all non-sports items from his consignees' booths.  I guess he was tired of making money, because the store closed not long thereafter.

Major Players, Mesa, ~1991 to ~1996

Sporting a beautiful retail pad location in the Target plaza at Gilbert Road and Southern Avenue, this was the place to go for console video games during its run, and as Magic: the Gathering picked up steam, they offered that over the counter as well.  It's a shame the store didn't quite make it to 1999 and the Pokemon craze, because they surely would have gotten healthy on that.  If you wanted to rent a Neo Geo AES console and ten games for the week and you had seventy bucks ready to spend to do it, by golly, Major Players made that happen.  One of the best ever stores in its category and one I was sad to bid farewell.

The Mana Dump, Tempe, February 16, 2010 to October 7, 2011.
For as easy as it was to source this store's opening and closing dates, I know remarkably little else about it.  Apparently the business entity was "Ebtown LLC" and the principals were the Estabrook brothers.  See, you learn something new every day.  By accounts, this store served almost exclusively as a clubhouse for a small group of competitive Magic players in the area, and sold singles on consignment from one of Tempe's prominent backpack dealers.

Michael's Magic, Mesa, September 1999 to May 15, 2003.

In 1999, before Magic: the Gathering was enough to sustain an entire store, there was New York hustler Mike Bauerlein, somehow making Magic sustain an entire store.  This was Mike's second separation from Waterloo (see further down the list) after briefly partnering with me to open Wizard's Tower (also further down the list).  This store closed under extremely sad circumstances upon which I will not comment in this or any other article, out of respect.

The One Book Shop, Tempe, ~1980 to February 28, 1995.

Located at 120 East University, across a parking lot from the original Game Depot and across Forest Avenue from today's Critical Threat Comics, behind an archway in an orange brick building long since demolished by ASU's Facilities management, Paul Freeman's The One Book Shop was the first comic book store I ever visited.  I don't remember what the first books I bought were, probably the original Comico Robotech Macross series, but I do remember also buying Dragon and Dungeon magazines, X-Men and Excalibur, and even a few issues of White Dwarf once.  It's entirely possible that first visit steered the course of my life into this industry, though that might have happened anyway no matter which comic or game store I first encountered.  I remember very little about this store except that I never wanted to leave.

Pop Culture Paradise, (I) Tempe and (II) Phoenix, ~1998 to ~2007.

So, first there was a Pop located in one of the former Game Depot locations on the east side of Forest north of University.  Then, or perhaps concurrently, there was one in Phoenix.  Around May 2007, the ownership of Pop Culture Paradise LLC encountered some difficulty and sold or otherwise conveyed to Marco Regalado's More Than Comics LLC.  Marco operated PCP at 707 South Forest until ultimately conveying the business to Jeremy Champe and Jessica Fishell in June 2015, who renamed the store Critical Threat Comics.

Roaming Panther Adventure Games, Phoenix and Mesa, April 30, 1986 to April 30?, 1996.

A small shop located on the southwest corner of Alma School and Guadalupe across the street from Greg's Comics, this was the last place in town I was able to buy Beta, Unlimited, Legends, and Revised Magic: the Gathering starters and boosters at not that much more than retail.  I also scored the original D&D Al-Qadim sourcebook from there long after it had become unobtainium.  Of course, this was before the emergence of eBay, where you can buy that book today for ten bucks.  This was apparently the first of two locations, the second being at Thomas Mall in Phoenix.

Silver Talon Comics and Games, Chandler, ~1992 to September 19, 1996.

Located on Ray Road and Alma School, proprietor Loren Lunsford's hole-in-the-wall shop was everything that was great about late 1980s-early 1990s hobby game stores, and of course we remember none of the negatives.  I bought some things there, mainly White Wolf's Vampire: the Masquerade RPG sourcebooks.  This store might have faced Taxmageddon: liens from 1994-1995 are among the few documents that survive, based on which I placed the business's end date when the store's inventory may have been liquidated.

Sports Cards II, Phoenix, ~June 1999 to ~2002

I know nothing about this store except that it was on the Crystal Caste Dice game store locator.  Was there ever a Sports Cards I?  There kind of had to be, right?  It's possible that it is the same as Sports Cards Express, which it appears had a rough go of things.

Starlog: The Comic & Science Fiction Universe, Glendale, June 4, 1994 to April 30, 1998.

This comics, toys, games, costumes, and collectibles nationwide franchise store with a sci-fi theme was an opening-day tenant at Arrowhead Towne Center Mall on the northwest side of town.  It was absolutely awesome the one time I ever managed to get all the way over there for a visit.  The next time I was there, it wasn't.  It sounds like high buildout costs and expensive mall rents may have hobbled the Starlog stores from the beginning.

Things for Thinkers, Tempe, 1996 to 1999

Located behind a Jack-in-the-Box in a plaza abutting the erstwhile terminus of Loop 101, "T4T" was a diverse game store swept up in the emergence of Magic: the Gathering.  Owner Lorna Klein began in Denver but relocated to Tucson.  This article confirms her second store in Tempe was operating by February 1997, but I know it was there at least since the previous summer because I participated in the entirety of the inaugural DCI Arena League there, which took place in late 1996.  Straining at the golden handcuffs while doing their best to keep up with the embryonic development of organized play, T4T eventually ceded the MTG audience to entropy, and bowed out entirely shortly afterward.

True Believer Comics, Gilbert, November 27, 2014 to December 31, 2015.
Entry added January 6, 2016.  My neighbor's store is no more!  Truly the East Valley has lost a wonderful retail option and a gorgeous boutique store to boot.  According to the owner, comics guru and fellow Deadpool skeptic Michael Kessler, the store never quite got the community traction it needed.  TBC will be missed.

Warboss Games, Tempe, November 2005 to October 2007

Mike Jackson's heavily miniatures-focused haven, complete with suit of armor in the entryway, fully superseded the departed Arizona Gamer and stayed that way until yielding the podium early in the time of the economic meltdown.  Clean and richly thematic, the store promised Warhammer players a place to call home, and delivered on that boast.  Jackson's fieldcraft lives on: his custom assembleable Warhammer tables are featured at Desert Sky Games and Comics to this day, as well as an extensive array of sharp terrain and two store armies.

Waterloo Adventure Games, Gilbert, 1987 to ~2002
I discuss Gilbert's original hobby store at greater length in an article from March 10, 2015. Waterloo also briefly had a Phoenix location that closed in 1996, for which owner Scott Bizar was eventually granted a monetary judgment against the sublettor/franchisee/whatever.

Wizards of the Coast / The Game Keeper, Mesa, May 4, 1999 to early 2004.

Yes, believe it, WOTC once had a company-branded store at Fiesta Mall after buying the Game Keeper regional chain.  Mostly it sold Pokemon cards during the 1999-2001 craze.  It also hosted LAN gameplay and Friday Night Magic.  Hasbro killed off the company stores once Pokemon settled back down.  Their buildouts looked expensive.

Wizard's Tower Gaming Center, Mesa, August 8, 1998 to December 12, 1998.

The first game store I ever owned!  Read its inglorious tale from beginning to end (it only lasted a few months) right here on The Backstage Pass.  Introduction, August, September, October, November, Conclusion.  I drove by the Paradise Palms Plaza the other day and this is what the former Wizard's Tower looks like now.  Pavement is about the same as I remember it.  It would appear that Joanna's Accessories and Novedades has made a better go of it in Suite 119 than yours truly ever did.  Much respect to you, Joanna.  May your business be healthy and prosperous.  And watch out for those jerks next door in Electrical Room, they'll do you no favors.

So there we go.  Corrections and updates welcomed, especially when accompanied by a link to a secondary source.  I would love for this article to become a go-to link for bygone comic and hobby game stores in the Phoenix metro area.  I hope you enjoyed this nostalgia trawl, and I'll see you on October 27th for my next article!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Battle for Zendikar Release Post-Mortem

I've written articles like this for every Magic: the Gathering expansion released since this business blog began!  They are some of the most heavily read and linked articles on this blog, so evidently people enjoy these observations.  Good enough for me!  (Enough that I basically copy the template and write in the details afresh each time.)  Here, then, is the DSGCW's experience with the release of Magic: the Gathering: Battle for Zendikar!

First of all, a quick bulleted list of what Battle for Zendikar gave us:

  • Ultra-Chase Cards!  A subset of 25 "Zendikar Expeditions" land cards appeared in the set at a rate of roughly one card per 160 to 180 booster packs.  I discussed the "dangling carrot" of Zendikar Expeditions a few weeks ago in this article.  The Expedition lands in person are, if anything, far more impressive than we were led to believe.  The foil gloss is deep and allows rich, vivid color to come through.  The artwork on some of the lands is breathtaking, even for a guy like me who doesn't enjoy the theme of floating rocks and angular "hedrons."  And the economic effect is already proving as predicted: Standard players are trading them in immediately and using the store credit to complete their decks with regular cards, while players (like me) who enjoy beautifying our Commander decks have some new treasures to buy.
  • Giant Eldrazi creatures!  They no longer have the fun-repellent Annihilator mechanic, and instead are invasive and destructive in new and imaginative ways.  In terms of the main Zendikar set itself, I think this aspect will rank above the Allies synergy as the lasting design achievement.  Casual Magic players love big creatures, so this set is perfect for them.  Competitive Magic players love winning, and if it can be accomplished with big creatures, they have no particular objection to that.
  • Some standard "push" mythics that should see meaningful action, provided a deck arises by the weekend of October 24th, when the pros tell the hopefuls what cards everybody is allowed to play.
  • More than a few cards that are good enough to make the list of 99 in well-developed Commander decks.
  • A glorious surge of pre-order activity thanks to all of the above.
  • Once again, a good limited format.  And,
  • A cogent continuation of the new method of Magic: the Gathering storytelling, wherein narrative lines involving the game setting's main characters, the Planeswalkers, are interspersed between and among one another against a backdrop of exotic settings, epic struggles, intrigue and war and heroism and everything that comes with it.  While nothing that has happened so far in the Zendikar story is going to shock and astound anyone familiar with fantasy fiction tropes, the execution has been sharp and the flavor appealing.  It's the fictional equivalent of a restaurant quesadilla: Not the most nourishing thing you could have ordered, but great taste in every bite.
Conversely, we did not get:
  • Nearly enough fat packs!  With each fat pack containing eighty full-art basic lands, much as the original Zendikar and Worldwake fat packs did, the $39.99 product SKU was a quick and furious sellout at retail and climbed right past the fifty-dollar level on the secondary market.  I say this despite receiving well over a hundred fat packs, more than I've ever ordered before; I could have sold twice that number.
  • A main-set reprint of the enemy fetchlands.  I know, they're in the Expeditions.  And that's probably good enough for now.  But man, it has been a genuine pleasure having allied fetches available and affordable to everyone thanks to Khans of Tarkir, so I really want to see WOTC keep reprinting utility cards right into oblivion so that Magic becomes a game again, to everybody, and not as much of a financial instrument to the speculators.
  • That's about it.  There wasn't much about this set that didn't deliver.  Oh, I guess:
  • Much in the way of new, non-reprinted cards with significant implications in Modern and Legacy.
The new reality of two-set blocks as Magic: the Gathering's release pattern has now commenced.  We know already that the second set is called Oath of the Gatewatch.  We can speculate quite a bit about the direction the story will go based on that: in all likelihood the planeswalkers will banish the mighty Ulamog to that flying rectangle place where Superman sent Zod and the other miscreants, and the good guys will have to take turns watching the portal to make sure she doesn't sneak back across the chasm of eternity.  That crafty abomination, she.

Where will the story go in the spring?  WOTC has already laid the groundwork for stories involving Liliana and Chandra, and it's sensible to expect our other leads to continue to protagonize to some degree.  I expect popular planeswalkers and characters from the past to start dropping in.  It's tough for me to name names because I am informed that some of these characters are dead, and I'm not conversant enough with the storyline to know which, though Elspeth and Venser were obvious even from my distant perch.  We know Ajani's story is in limbo, so he may jump back into the plotline.  Couldn't tell you what Koth, Tibalt, Ral Zarek, Ashiok, or Teferi are up to, so maybe some of them make it back?  Once Sarkhan and Narset get tired of the same old household routine, I'm sure they'll reappear as well.

The prerelease for Battle for Zendikar broke all records for us.  We were allocated 414 player packs and sold them all out, seating 362 players.  That's a pretty high rate of take-and-drop at 52 heads, and I imagine WOTC will take notice of this.  In fact, I brought this up in the private WPN Retailer online forum for discussion, so hopefully if this is indicative of a greater and more widespread concern, it can be addressed.  Stores are anxious to continue to max out their allocations, which in the past at least has meant reporting the highest possible participation metrics.  However, the integrity of the event is served by having as many possible registrants actually take part in the tournament.  There was a time when dropping from a prerelease actually earned players a DCI warning, which didn't make a lot of sense, but so it went.

Our actual attendance figures in final reported participant totals:
Saturday 12:01 a.m. ("Friday Midnight"): 106 players
Saturday 11:00 a.m.: 76 players
Saturday 3:00 p.m. (2-Headed Giant): 56 players (28 teams)
Saturday 7:00 p.m.: 44 players
Sunday 11:00 a.m.: 62 players
Sunday 3:00 p.m.: 18 players (and ran out of product).

These are outstanding totals and I hope we are given an opportunity to improve on them further for Oath of the Gatewatch in January.

We kept the reduced price of the prerelease at $24.99 plus tax, whether paid in money or store credit.  Prize pools consisted only of the two boosters per player provided by Wizards of the Coast.  Online preregistration was unfortunately unavailable to us this cycle because we're migrating to a new web host and point-of-sale system, and believe me, it was missed.  And I continue to get a strong signal from players that, regardless of what else they say, their behavior indicates that price is the primary concern for them in making a buying or attendance decision.  This is not a good or bad thing but simply an observation of customer behavior.  It is not up to the customer to behave as the retailer might like or prefer; it's up to the retailer to adapt to what the customer does in reality.  That topic is an ongoing study for our ownership group this autumn.  Of course all retailers would like all customers to spend wildly and indiscriminately like drunken sailors.  If wishes were fishes, we'd all cast nets.

Our singles strategy returned somewhat to normal for this set, with a deep open of a lot of cases to ensure the store would get a bunch of Expeditions to sell.  With our recent changes to singles pricing, business was brisk.  Players readily cashed in their Expeditions and hauled off with piles of Standard singles from the set.  The dream of an ultra-affordable Standard environment, rarefied air we tasted for a tantalizingly brief time last fall, appears promising once again.

The case breaks led to a relatively even mythic spread, with some variance as always, mostly favorable from where I sit:

  • 17 Oblivion Sower
  • 19 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
  • 19 Void Winnower
  • 16 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
  • 12 Quarantine Field
  • 12 Part the Waterveil
  • 11 Drana, Liberator of Malakir
  • 13 Ob Nixilis Reignited
  • 14 Akoum Firebird
  • 11 Dragonmaster Outcast
  • 16 Greenwarden of Murasa
  • 16 Undergrowth Champion
  • 19 Sire of Stagnation
  • 10 Kiora, Master of the Depths
  • 16 Omnath, Locus of Rage

The Expeditions yield also pleased us, offering up:

  • Prairie Stream
  • Smoldering Marsh
  • Cinder Glade
  • Hallowed Fountain
  • Stomping Ground
  • Temple Garden
  • Godless Shrine
  • Steam Vents
  • Overgrown Tomb
  • Bloodstained Mire
  • Wooded Foothills
  • Marsh Flats x 2
  • Verdant Catacombs x 2
  • Misty Rainforest

Apologies for any errors in that listing; we had taken in some singles during the prerelease and these counts were from the combined haul.  Given the law of averages and large numbers, it should remain an accurate reflection of the actual multi-case break.

We sell boosters at MSRP and boxes at 20% off MSRP, making off-the-shelf booster box sales about $114.88, or ~$123.90 after tax.  How did sales reflect the vastly increased levels of competition and market saturation?  Turns out Battle for Zendikar still outsold every other release we've ever had.  We divided our allocations roughly fifty-fifty between pre-orders and release day shelf stock, to ensure we'd have enough for each.  Pre-orders sold out in two days.  Release day came and the other half of our product hit the racks.  Thirty minutes into Friday morning, fat packs were sold out.  By midday Sunday, there wasn't a Zendikar booster pack left in the building.

So that's it!  I am beyond happy with Battle for Zendikar.  It has outperformed every expectation and done so despite what I and others thought would be crucial flaws, such as not having fetchlands in the main set.  It turns out the rest of the equation was so strong it just didn't matter, and now WOTC has banked that mechanical equity for future releases.   I pre-ordered heavily into fat packs and guessed correctly.  For Oath of the Gatewatch, everyone will guess correctly, thanks to the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, and it won't matter; they will still sell through.  Will a Jace: the Mind Sculptor analogue appear and make Oath a reprise of Worldwake?  If so, batten down the hatches.  These seas are going to get pretty active.

Magic: the Gathering has used a fall expansion once again as an opportunity to revisit a popular setting and tread familiar territory.  In response to popular request, I'll do the same right here next week: A special double-length article revisiting one of my most popular recent articles from a different perspective and in greater detail.  See you then!