Like countless other gamers across the globe, last weekend I played in an M14 Prerelease. Unlike many of them, however, just a few hours later I was decked out in a suit and surrounded by perhaps the highest concentration of Pro Tour points ever to set foot in the same room.
I had the pleasure of attending Patrick Chapin's wedding in Denver. When I realized that it was the same weekend as the Prerelease and that the wedding itself didn't start until 5:00 PM, I set out to plan an invasion of an unsuspecting event in the area. While several of our intended party didn't quite make it up in the morning thanks to the festivities the night before, when time came to head out we still had an impressive raiding party: Pro Tour winner Tom Martell, Grand Prix Top 8 finishers Ben Rasmussen and Lissa Jensen, Legion Events boss man Steve Port, my girlfriend Natalie, and myself.
We chose an event run by the store Enchanted Grounds primarily because they ran a 9:00 AM flight that gave us plenty of time to make it back for the wedding. We got there a bit before nine and signed up to little or no fanfare. No one seemed to recognize us at all. It was actually kind of refreshing. While I appreciate all of my fans (even if it is still a bit surreal to me that I have fans in the first place), it was nice to be able to sit down in a room full of gamers and just play Magic.
My deck turned out to be pretty good, as you can see here:
The most disappointing card by far in my deck was Scourge of Valkas. I have never been so underwhelmed to cast a mythic Dragon in my life—when I could even cast it, that is. Triple red makes the Dragon tribal enabler rather difficult to cast, and I lost multiple games with it in my hand. When I could finally cast it, it would kill an Elvish Mystic that was long since done being needed for mana and then die to a Chandra's Outrage or get tapped down by or trade with an Air Servant. I certainly wasn't expecting Thundermaw Hellkite, but I was hoping for better than this.
A few notes on my deck:
I like Blood Bairn a lot. In previous core sets, we had Bloodthrone Vampire, which is the sort of card that's only really good if it's enabling a bunch of different things. Blood Bairn, aka Nantuko Husk Mark III, is a card that you're much happier to play on its own even if you don't have a bunch of things to combo with it. With both Blood Bairn and Altar's Reap in my deck, my Act of Treason was frequently awesome, and I also got bonus value out of my Dragon Egg.
A rather unassuming three-drop that I was quite happy with is Regathan Firecat. While it was quite embarrassing when my first opponent played Hive Stirrings, I found the Firecat to be among the three-drops I was happiest with because it could attack into or block four-toughness creatures like Rumbling Baloth that were otherwise rather problematic for my deck. The Cat also worked very well with my plethora of removal since it hits very hard when you're able to clear the way for it. They also work very well with Goblin Diplomats when your opponent is trying to develop their board and you're able to trade them up the curve.
I had a few interesting sideboarding situations come up. Against another R/B deck, I cut my Lifebane Zombie since it is just a worse Firecat when neither the ability nor the intimidate does anything and my Thunder Strike since there was so much removal floating around that combat tricks were made much worse. I boarded in a pair of Minotaur Abominations. As six-toughness black creatures, they're pretty tough to remove, and they're also pretty difficult for anything to profitably block, especially when both decks have enough removal to keep the board pretty clear of enough creatures to gang up on it. I was able to ride an Abomination to victory in the third game of the match when my opponent just couldn't find any way to kill it.
Volcanic Geyser was only okay. Geyser is a the sort of card that a lot of people like to first pick because they envision burning their opponent out with it late in the game, but it's often just an inefficient removal spell. Creatures have gotten really good, and while cards like Geyser are still solid, they aren't the bombs they used to be. I suspect that since it was unimpressive in Sealed, it certainly won't be a card I want to pick highly in Draft since that format is usually considerably faster.
My overall impression from my admittedly limited experience with the set is that it seems pretty sweet. It felt like black, red, and green were the stronger colors in Sealed Deck at least. The fliers in the set don't seem particularly awesome, and many of the ground creatures are. Cards like Charging Griffin and Nephalia Seakite seem difficult to race with compared to the Stormfront Pegasuses and Welkin Terns of previous sets—Seacoast Drake isn't really what I'm looking for. Kalonian Tusker and Rumbling Baloth are both a full stat point bigger than anything you get in the other colors at that point in the curve and in some cases are as big as creatures that cost two mana more than them—and they're accompanied by Giant Spider, the bane of fliers everywhere.
Moving Doom Blade to uncommon and replacing it with Liturgy of Blood and cutting Searing Spear for Shock and Chandra's Outrage at the common slot means that compared to many previous core sets there's much more incentive to be heavily black or red rather than just splashing for removal. Black in particular rewards you for committing to the color with both Quag Sickness and Deathgaze Cockatrice joining Liturgy of Blood as the best commons, none of which is easy to play outside of a black-heavy deck. It seems pretty clear at first glance that Chandra's Outrage is the red removal spell of choice given how many four-toughness creatures are floating around at common, which tend to be the toughest for red decks to deal with.
I didn't get a chance to see any Sliver decks in action, but they seem like they could be promising. The uncommon and rare Slivers seem pretty insane, especially Galerider Sliver, which suddenly gives your entire team evasion for one mana. Since most players at a draft table are unlikely to have much interest in the powerful Slivers at the higher rarities, it seems like you can have a very good chance to get some quality late picks if you commit to the tribe. Cards like Galerider Sliver, Megantic Sliver, Bonescythe Sliver, and Syphon Sliver are marginal cards in most decks but have the potential to be absolutely absurd if you can assemble a Sliver army.
I anticipate Manaweft Sliver being a key part of making these decks work along with cards like Lay of the Land and Shimmering Grotto since I suspect you'll need to stretch into more than just two colors to put together enough quality Slivers for a deck.
But enough about Slivers. Let's talk more about my Prerelease because it was awesome. I won my first several rounds against some solid local players, as did Natalie with a sweet G/R deck highlighted by Kalonian Hydra and three copies of Chandra's Outrage. In the fourth round, I was paired with one of the few female players there, who was excited by the prospect of meeting up with Natalie in the finals since our two matches had the only undefeated players left in the tournament. Our match was a close one and went to three games, but I ended up pulling it out with a pretty gross draw in game 3 that saw me get value with both a Lifebane Zombie and Flames of the Firebrand.
After I got home, I was pointed in the direction of this thread on Reddit, which was the tournament through my round 4 opponent's eyes. It was very cool to see that our little Prerelease invasion helped make her day so awesome.
But the story isn't over yet! Since I won my fourth-round match, I went into the fifth and final round as one of two undefeated players—and the other was my girlfriend Natalie! She only started playing about a year ago after we met and has pretty much only played Prereleases in that time, with one PTQ, one Grand Prix, and one StarCityGames.com Open thrown in. I got her somewhat addicted to phantom events on Magic Online and now she steadily drains my account four tickets at a time, but she's been improving. I thought there was a good chance the finals of the event would be two people from our car, but I didn't suspect Natalie might be one of them.
For much of the day, Natalie was hoping to dodge me, but after we played a few games between rounds that she won, she was excited for the pairing. I lost a quick and relatively painless game 1 after a double mulligan kept me from playing most of my hand, though I did manage to exile her Kalonian Hydra with Lifebane Zombie.
In the second game, we both mulliganed and I again had an early Lifebane Zombie, but it totally whiffed on her hand of Ranger's Guile and two Chandra's Outrage. She killed my Zombie, and we both flooded out for a while. I had a hand of Liturgy of Blood and Volcanic Geyser, so I had the tools to take something out through Ranger's Guile, but she ended up drawing her Kalonian Hydra the turn I drew a creature and tapped below enough mana to Geyser it out. She Guiled my Geyser on my turn, used Hunt the Weak to kill my creature, and then swung in with the Hydra.
It was rather painful.
I was able to remove the Hydra the following turn with my Liturgy of Blood, but I was already down to a precariously low life total thanks to the ten-point hit and knew she still had a Chandra's Outrage in hand. I had to Doom Blade a Predatory Sliver to avoid falling into burn range, and when I tried to sandbag my Sengir Vampire to bait her Chandra's Outrage with a weaker target, she drew Howl of the Night Pack and swarmed the board with Wolves—which were represented, of course, by my SCG token. I had no way to deal with the horde and died shortly thereafter.
Earlier that week, Natalie won her first eight-player tournament ever on Magic Online, and she followed it up with another victory at the Prerelease. Not bad in a room with multiple Pro Tour winners and Grand Prix Top 8 competitors! I told her she'd have to start giving me tickets for events from now on, but I don't think she bought it.
Anyway, I thought I'd briefly abuse my soapbox here and use it to congratulate Natalie. She's certainly come a long way since her first Prerelease where she started 0-1-2 because she played far too slowly to finish her rounds! But I'll get her next time . . .