Hello and welcome back. Today I will be shifting formats and talking about one of my favorite things in all of Magic: Prerelease tournaments! In a few days, the Gatecrash Prerelease will officially be underway. A whole new crop of exciting spells will be available to be slung, and, frankly, I can hardly wait!
The Prerelease is a truly unique Magic tournament experience because every person will be encountering and building decks with the new cards for the first time. Nobody really knows for sure what cards and strategies are going to be the best yet, so it is a trial by fire kind of experience.
I have played in approximately 40 Prerelease tournaments in my life and always look forward to these events when they roll around. In today's article, I am going to share some of strategies I have learned over the course of playing in Prereleases for the past decade that may help increase your chances of winning.
Choose Your Guild!
"Who's your end boss?"
As was the case with the format for the Return to Ravnica Prerelease, each player gets to choose which guild they want to play when they sign up for the event. Depending upon which guild a player chooses, they get a "Guild Pack" of all cards that are that guild's colors and a special promotional foil that is legal for use in their deck. The five cards above are the representatives for their respective guilds.
All of these creatures seem like pretty sweet additions to any Sealed deck because they are very powerful on-color rare cards. Foundry Champion and Consuming Aberration stand out to me as being the strongest two cards of the five choices.
It seems really awkward that Treasury Thrull has to attack in order to use his ability to bring things back from the graveyard, and Foundry Champion straight up fights with him and wins (as will Consuming Aberration in most situations). I also like that Foundry Champion has the flexibility of being a burn spell or a removal spell while also being a big body on the battlefield.
Consuming Aberration seems sweet to me because he will easily win the game in a ground stall by milling your opponent. Also, U/B is always a strong choice for Limited because it has access to both fliers and removal.
It is important to be aware that each of your opponents will have one of these five cards in their deck, which means that it'll be smart to play around them when possible.
For instance, if a player is at five life and is playing against a Boros deck, they would be wise to play in such a way that their opponent doesn't end up going to the face with Foundry Champion for exactly lethal damage. The same could be said of not getting killed by the bloodrush ability of Rubblehulk on an unblocked creature.
I wouldn't pick my guild for the tournament only because of the promo rare, but it is worth considering. I think the best way to choose your guild for the tournament is to pick whichever is your favorite and run with it. None of the promos is so much better than the others that a player would have to be crazy not to pick a specific one.
Find Your Fixing
Usually, the first thing that I like to do when I am building a Sealed deck at a Prerelease is to pull out all of my mana fixing, which means:
"Welcome to the world of perfect mana."
Mana fixing is really important in Sealed because in order to win we need to be able to cast our spells. I remember at Grand Prix Indianapolis I had a really insane Sealed deck with Pack Rat, Desecration Demon, and Rakdos's Return. When I showed it to Michael Jacob, he said, "It must be unreal to have three Guildgates and a Keyrune." He was completely serious; sweet bombs are great, but even more important than that is being able to cast your spells.
In Return to Ravnica Draft and Sealed, I always played eighteen lands in all of my decks. It seems that the mana bases for our Gatecrash decks are going to be very similar to RTR since we have the same types of fixing, so I anticipate playing with eighteen lands to be the way to go. Even if you are playing a Keyrune, I still highly recommend playing eighteen lands.
Each guild has two friendly guilds that can provide mana fixing via Keyrunes and Guildgates to more easily and reasonably play three colors if necessary.
The Simic are allied with Dimir and Gruul.
The Orzhov are allied with Dimir and Boros.
The Dimir are allied with Simic and Orzhov.
The Gruul are allied with Simic and Boros.
The Boros are allied with Orzhov and Gruul.
Which means if you are playing a three-color deck in a Gatecrash Sealed or Draft, your deck should be one of these combinations of colors:
Red / White/ Green (Naya)
Black / Blue / Green (BUG)
Black / White / Blue (Esper)
Red / Blue / Green (RUG)
Red / Black / White (Oros)
Ideally, building a Sealed deck for the Gatecrash Prerelease will go something like this.
Let's say you choose Simic as your guild because it is awesome. Since you get one whole pack of Simic cards (and automatically get a Simic Guildgate, WOOT), let's assume you play Simic. The next thing you should do is look at your Simic allied mana fixing to see what you have.
The allies of the Simic in Gatecrash are Dimir and Gruul, which means the three-color decks you can make with the available mana fixing (Keyrunes and Guildgates) are Black/Blue/Green (BUG) and Red/Blue/Green (RUG).
You quickly notice that you have two Dimir Guildgates, decide to splash the best black cards you have, and play BUG.
With three Guildgates and a Keyrune, playing a third color is basically free in the sense that it doesn't make your ability to consistently cast your spells much worse but you get the upside of playing more powerful cards by dipping into a third color.
Removal to the Rescue
Removal is really important in Sealed. Having a kill spell to calmly move that Treasury Thrull out of the way before it can take over a game is a pretty big deal. Usually, black has the best removal spells (especially at common and uncommon), which is a pretty strong incentive to choose a black guild.
That being said, one of the biggest mistakes I see newer players make in Sealed is to waste their removal spells on things that are not good enough to warrant using a removal spell on. A good removal spell is always going to have a favorable effect upon the game for you, so try to maximize your return on using a high quality spell.
You are on the play, and on turn 2 you cast Grizzly Bears.
On your opponent's second turn, he also casts Grizzly Bears.
The point is that just because you can use a removal spell in Limited doesn't mean that you should cast it. Sealed isn't like Standard where all of your cards are awesome rares and utility uncommons. It might be the case that your opponent has some sweet mythic creature in their deck and there are only two spells in your entire deck that can answer that card. So think about that before you Murder your opponent's three-drop to push through two points of damage.
If you are lucky enough to get removal spells in your colors, you should play them.
Double-Check Your Cards
"Combat trick? Fail."
At least two times a Prerelease, during a match a player will try to cast a sorcery spell at instant speed. Most of the time it is because a new card reminds us of an old card that used to be an instant but the new version is a sorcery.
I highly recommend consciously double-checking the card type of spells during your turn before passing the turn if you intend to cast them on your opponent's turn. It doesn't cost you anything to check, so you might as well to be safe. I haven't tried to cast a sorcery in combat in quite a few years now, and I attribute that to the many times I lost games at Prereleases because I assumed a card was an instant.
No 1/1s for One
"Your curve does not need to start at one in Sealed."
Unless your deck includes four copies of Ethereal Armor, there is no reason to play with a creature like this in your deck. Generally, the goal of Limited is to play cards that beat your opponent's cards in combat. The problem with a card like Trained Caracal is that it gets outclassed by virtually every other card in the format. Ask yourself, what does a card like this beat? If it dies to everything, gets blocked by everything, and can't even trade with anything, why even play it?
Even if best-case scenario you play a 1/1 for one on the first turn, they can basically brick that play by playing a 2/2 on turn 2! Now, there are always exceptions to the rule. Some one-drops are awesome and totally worth playing. For instance, Rakdos Cackler was a pretty awesome include in RTR Limited.
"A 1CC creature you can't laugh at."
The reason this one-drop is good while Caracal is bad is that the Cackler trades up with other two-drops. There is a whole laundry list of 2/2 creatures that cost two mana that the Cackler can actually trade in combat with, while a 1/1 can't reasonably fight any of these cards.
Perhaps battalion will make playing creature swarm decks a little bit better in this format, but my rule of thumb is that playing cards that are good on their own usually leads to better Sealed decks. There is nothing wrong with playing a few combat tricks or a few cards that have some sick synergies, but remember that you need good, solid creatures in your deck first so that your tricks have targets to do work.
My point is that some of the small creatures shouldn't be in your deck without a good reason for them to be there. Your curve does not need to start at one in Sealed; in fact, the best one-drop in the format is probably a Guildgate!
You Don't Need to Play Your Best Card
You choose Boros as your guild for the Prerelease. Unfortunately, in one of your packs you open:
"What is the Optimal Prime Speaker Zegana Boros deck?"
Many, many people make the mistake of thinking that they must play with their best card, especially if it is a chase mythic rare. In reality, trying to splash a 2UUGG card in a Boros guild deck is impossible and uncastable. Just let it go; I've had plenty of Niv-Mizzets, Oonas, and the like rot in my sideboard over the years.
You don't get to control what you open, but you do get to control the cards that you play with.
I would not recommend splashing a forth color no matter how sweet the bomb.
I would not recommend playing a deck that gets to play one A+ mythic rare at the expense of having to play four borderline unplayable commons to field a full deck instead of a full deck of solid commons and uncommons in another color.
I would also not recommend playing cards with a converted mana cost of ten or higher in Limited...
Talk to Others About Improving Your Deck
One thing I've found that's really helped me is asking other players how they might have built a deck with my pool and why. Since people haven't gotten to play with the cards yet, many times players (myself included) overestimate or underestimate how good a card is going to be in the actual Sealed format.
I don't think that I have ever started a Prerelease with the best deck that I could have built, but by the end of the event, I am usually pretty confident that I know what would have been best after getting a chance to try a few different things and talking to others about which cards are good and might be good in my deck.
One thing I usually do is talk to my opponent after our match is over and ask them about certain cards I could have played with or how they might have built my card pool. Usually, this leads to a conversation about our decks where we can help each other improve the quality of not only our decks but also our understanding of how the format works.
Have a Blast
More than anything else, the most important thing to remember about Prereleases is that they are a ton of fun and that we should enjoy ourselves. They are also great places to do a little bit of trading. There is always a pretty good demand for the new cards that you open, which is kind of an added bonus.
I encourage anyone who hasn't played in one of these events to give it a try. They are a ton of fun and a pretty great time.
My hope is to go either Dimir or Gruul and play BUG or RUG. (Basically, I just want to open Prime Speaker!)
Anyway, best of luck to all who are going to attend!
Thanks for reading.