Like the rest of the world outside of Wizards of the Coast, this past weekend was my first opportunity to play with real Magic Origins cards at the Prerelease. While everyone loves a good review before the set actually comes out, there's nothing quite like actual hands-on experience. I got in a ton of games of the sealed format throughout the day between playing in one of the flights and spellslinging in between rounds. Today I want to discuss my experiences with the format, including cards that seemed to over-perform or under-perform when compared to my expectations.
Much to the surprise of exactly no one, I chose green as my color for the prerelease. I had some pretty decent options in white, red, and blue - including a Jace! - but ultimately chose to go with black as my secondary color for the removal it offered. Here's what my deck looked like:
- 1 Elvish Visionary
- 2 Eyeblight Assassin
- 2 Gaea's Revenge
- 1 Hitchclaw Recluse
- 1 Llanowar Empath
- 1 Nantuko Husk
- 3 Rhox Maulers
- 1 Shambling Ghoul
- 1 Timberpack Wolf
- 1 Undercity Troll
- 2 Valeron Wardens
Overall the deck felt pretty strong, although it clearly had a pretty glaring hole in the curve at four mana. My hope was that I could hopefully use Wild Instincts on something like a Valeron Wardens to push through damage and achieve Renown on that turn. Things never quite worked out that way, unfortunately, but it felt like they easily could have. The idea was that even if my opponent had a two-drop, my 1/3 Warden would stop it in their tracks and then I'd be able to use the Wild Instincts to kill their three-drop, since most three drops in the format tend to have two power. That would leave my Warden as a 3/5 with two damage on it, threatening to become that size permanently and draw me a card unless my opponent chump blocks. Not a bad deal at all.
But despite never living the dream, both Valeron Wardens and Wild Instincts really impressed me, and that example is a big part of the reason why. Despite the fact that a player getting ahead with Renown creatures can make it pretty hard for the player who is behind to catch up, I think that it makes you evaluate board states and the use of removal much differently than you otherwise might. It feels a bit like Bloodthirst, but plays in a much more interesting way. Instead of players living in fear of taking any damage at all to avoid triggering Bloodthirst for their opponent, now the “trick” is on-board and players can work to maneuver so that they get a specific creature through to damage their opponent.
This came up quite a bit with Rhox Maulers, which probably isn't surprising since I had three of them. Because Rhox Maulers have trample along with Renown, you can make some interesting plays. On several occasions, I attacked with my Maulers into an opponent's board that looked like it could easily kill them by blocking, and then waited until after blockers had been declared to use Cruel Revival or Unholy Hunger to kill a blocking creature. Because the blocker is no longer there, the Rhox Mauler can deal its full attack in Trample damage to the opponent and trigger Renown in the process.
If I had instead used the removal spell before my opponent declared blockers, they could perhaps block with a different creature or creatures and keep my Mauler from getting through and I would have been tapped low on mana, unable to respond to a potential trick from their side of the table. Given that Rhox Mauler is a common, this is sure to come up in a Magic Origins draft of yours sometime soon. The interaction between removal spells and trample damage is even something that comes up occasionally in Standard these days thanks to the prevalence of Siege Rhino, so it's something to be aware of whether you're the one playing with trample creatures or not.
So yeah, unsurprisingly, Rhox Maulers were really powerful. But what was surprising was just how well my Eyeblight Assassins ended up performing. There aren't a huge number of one-toughness creatures in the format worth killing at first glance, though it's certainly a big swing if you manage to take out a Leaf Gilder on the play. But there are a lot of cards which make 1/1 Thopter tokens, and it's nice to be able to remove them without having to expend a full card.
Additionally, Eyeblight Assassin also plays quite well with Renown creatures. Even if your opponent has a creature of their own in play that could normally trade with your Renown creature, Eyeblight Assassin can temporarily shrink it so your opponent has to choose between chump blocking or letting your creature through to gain Renown.
In general, it seems like any kind of cheap effect that can help push through creatures in combat is more valuable in Magic Origins Limited than in other sets thanks to Renown. While you can obviously use cards like Disperse or Mighty Leap just to get some damage in, I think the best cards in this category are those that don't actually cost a card to trigger Renown. One of my opponents used Grasp of the Hieromancer to very good effect, and while I didn't see it in action I have to imagine that Yeva's Forcemage is much better suited to this Limited environment than it was the last time we saw it in action.
On a less aggressive front, I was really impressed by Llanowar Empath. While it's obviously powerful if you can scry a creature card to the top to draw with its ability, on multiple occasions I found myself with a hand full of Rhox Maulers and other expensive spells without a fifth land to play them. Llanowar Empath was able to dig me past multiple non-land cards to find me the mana I needed so I would have a fighting chance in the game. I never actually scryed a creature card to the bottom to dig deeper into my deck, but if you're desperate enough to find a particular card you can always do that and hope that the third card down is still a creature for that sliver of an extra chance to get you closer to what you're looking for. Definitely a powerful card, albeit one that I imagine will be weaker in draft when the format speeds up.
Speaking of the speed of the format, the impression that I get is that it's not quite as fast as Zendikar – the gold standard of aggressive Limited sets – but still very fast. Renown in particular has a way of making games spiral out of control. My one loss in the prerelease was to an opponent who curved out with an Undercity Troll into Citadel Castellan, with me unable to immediately stop either of them, and the game felt pretty much hopeless from the start. Thankfully, both of those are at least uncommons, but even just a Topan Freeblade connecting can make a game feel tough to win pretty fast.
That kind of aggression, and especially the importance of defending yourself against Renown, makes early drops even more crucial than usual in this format. Two-drops seem to be especially key, since there aren't a lot of ways to easily recover from getting hit by a Freeblade right away.
For decks that are looking to be defensive, the fourth point of toughness seems like a key flashpoint on creatures. Most of the Renown creatures tend to grow to three power, with only Rhox Maulers and Firefiend Elemental getting bigger than that when we look only at the commons. Hitchclaw Recluse seems like the perfect blocker for a deck that's trying to play a longer game since it not only stops most of the Renown creatures on the ground, it can also deal with the swarms of Thopters in the air thanks to Reach.
Another fine defensive card that works well against big ground creatures as well as Thopters is Fetid Imp. The Imp was among the only cards I sideboarded in all day, and it served me well. A 1/2 flier certainly isn't exciting on the surface, but the fact that it can gain deathtouch allows it to deal with big threats. I actually had an opponent hold off my Gaea's Revenges – yes, plural – with Fetid Imp for several turns, simply because the idea of trading my giant seven mana rare for a two-drop was so horrible.
The other card that I sideboarded in a couple of times was Aerial Volley. The Volley is a nice solution to decks that have either a lot of actual flying creatures or a bunch of Thopters since the damage it deals can be split up to kill multiple small things. It's worth noting from a big-picture format perspective that Volley is green's anti-flying spell in this set instead of Plummet, which means that while small fliers may be at risk of falling to a horrible arrow-laden death, big fliers are more resilient than they usually are.
Thankfully, there aren't a whole lot of giant flying bomb-rare Dragons in Origins that demand to be Plummeted or else they'll end the game immediately. In general, I found that the rares in the set felt eminently beatable, in no small part due to the speed of the format. In slower Limited formats, individual high-powered cards often tend to dominate games, but as games speed up having cohesive decks and lots of synergy tends to become more important. I won far more games with my Rhox Maulers than I did with my Gaea's Revenges, and I probably would not have played both of them in my deck had it not been a prerelease event where I just wanted to have fun killing people with giant monsters. In fact, I can easily imagine Rhox Mauler being a better overall pick than Gaea's Revenge in draft simply because seven mana is a lot to pay for something that can just end up getting blocked and killed by a Fetid Imp when you're finally able to cast it.
The most impressive rare creatures I did play against were Pia and Kiran Nalaar and Kytheon's Irregulars. The former were especially powerful because they were so resilient to removal – even if I could kill them, they still left a pair of 1/1 fliers for me to deal with. Kytheon's Irregulars, on the other hand, are relatively easy to kill... but if they stick around for even a few turns, they can make a game completely unwinnable for you by holding down multiple creatures and forcing a ton of damage through.
The most impressive rare cast against me all day – which was the cause of my other game loss in the match where I got Renown-snowballed out – was Tragic Arrogance. My opponent and I were at reasonably even board positions when he cast it. He kept his biggest creature and let me keep my creature enchanted with Suppression Bonds, which he obviously also selected as his enchantment to keep. After that point, I pretty much didn't stand a chance. Even if he hadn't had the enchantment, I would have still ended up with a 2/2 against his 5/5 and been in absolutely horrible shape.
Thankfully, Magic Origins has reasonable options to handle even powerful spells. Nightsnare is a card that I'm much happier to play in many situations than its predecessors Coercion or Duress. While it's less efficient at getting exactly the card you want, it's a lot better when your opponent reveals a hand without their Tragic Arrogance or another individual high-powered card. Being able to turn your Thoughtseize into a Mind Rot when the latter is better is very powerful, and while it's not a card I would consider maindecking in a fast Limited format like this one, it's a card that I'm certainly interested to pick up for my sideboard.
All told, I had a great time playing with Magic Origins last weekend and I'm looking forward to playing more with it in the future. Thankfully, there happens to be both a Grand Prix and a Pro Tour coming up where I'll have a chance to do just that!
What about you? What cards stood out for you at your prerelease? What cards didn't perform as well as you expected?