Generally, Prerelease weekends are my favorite part of preview season. No amount of theorycrafting about new cards and new environments can compare with actually cracking packs and sleeving up those cards. Like many local game stores, my haunt of choice (Midgard Gaming in Mount Pearl, Newfoundland) really pushes the boat out for Prereleases:
For the first time in a while, I was in town for a Prerelease weekend and so was able to gorge myself on eighteen rounds of Limited action. Card quality doesn't always translate to Constructed, but I was able to glean some important information that will shape my brewing once Felidar Guardian gets banned.
Metallic Mimic Might Be the Real Deal
I wasn't sure coming into the weekend if most Sealed Decks would be able to get critical mass of one creature type to make the Mimic worth running. Not only is it relatively easy to do, but some of the choices (Human and Elf, mainly) are downright powerful.
One thing that really excites me about the card in Standard is that there are so many obvious applications. Humans has been a deck ever since Thalia's Lieutenant got printed, and having another counter-generating effect might be what that deck needs to come back into the spotlight. Dwarves are also a viable tribe, with Solemn Recruit and Aethergeode Miner joining Depala, Pilot Exemplar; Aerial Responder; and Veteran Motorist. As there are plenty of Dwarf-Vehicle interactions, the other slots can easily be filled in with things like Aethersphere Harvester and Fleetwheel Cruiser. Of course, we could just name Servo and go ham with Master Trinketeer, Sram's Expertise, and fabricate creatures, but that's easy.
Although we are probably never naming Snake (Narnam Cobra and Noose Constrictor aren't really scaring anyone), playing Winding Constrictor in the same deck as the Mimic worked very well for a friend of mine this weekend. Putting lots of counters on things is good. Who knew?
The scariest option in Standard might be Eldrazi. Turn 2 Metallic Mimic into turn 3 Eldrazi Skyspawner creates a lot of power in a hurry, and cards like Drowner of Hope and From Beyond get very good in this strategy. We might even want to look at Rishkar, Peema Renegade to help us ramp into big Eldrazi, which we can tutor up with the From Beyond. Just don't try to tutor up Emrakul, the Promised End.
Flying Whales Are Scary
I saw a lot of people dismissing Aethertide Whale as unplayable, but every time I saw it this weekend, it was either winning a game or holding back an opponent until the Whale's controller could find an answer to whatever was threatening them. Of course, big fliers are generally very strong in Limited, but this one seemed strong and resilient enough to possibly break in to 60-card decks. A 6/4 flier will finish games in a hurry, and it is nigh-impossible to kill.
As you net two energy each time you bounce and recast it, it doesn't take long before you can hold up an extra bounce. "Block, bounce before damage" is a viable line, as is "attack, bounce, recast to block." The card might not be top-tier in terms of control deck finishers (not with Sphinx of the Final Word around), but don't sleep on this one.
Baral Really Is an Expert
I have a shocking revelation for you. One that might shake you to your very foundations. Brace yourselves, friends:
Baral's Expertise is amazing.
Sure, there are limits to how good a five-mana sorcery can actually be. I understand that. When the competition is Fumigate, for example, you might think that Baral should take his Expertise elsewhere. I had it played against me twice and was able to beat it both times in Limited, but that was because the free spell was very low-impact.
In Standard that won't be a concern. Bouncing the opponent's entire battlefield (or at least everything relevant) and following up with a Gideon, Ally of Zendikar or even a Dovin Baan is going to leave your poor opponent in a very uncomfortable position. Tamiyo, Field Researcher is also an option, in case you had forgotten. And the possibility of a cascade chain of Baral's Expertise into Yahenni's Expertise to kill what you didn't bounce into...well, basically anything at that point. I don't think it matters. You already won.
Without Reflector Mage, we may see that tempo decks take a hit, but Baral's Expertise is a heavy hitter in the tempo department and one we should keep an eye on. Bounce might seem inferior to removal, but if your follow-up is Mind Rot (or Lost Legacy, heaven forbid), you can make your own removal without worrying about a surprise Archangel Avacyn.
So Much Double Strike
Seriously, this set has three creatures with double strike and they are all playable in Constructed in my opinion, though Scrapper Champion is on the verge. With Needle Spires, Scourge Wolf, and Odric, Lunarch Marshal also in Standard and a plethora of powerful pump spells to boot, there might well be a “double strike pump spell” aggro deck in the format.
Built to Last and Built to Smash are at their best when targeting artifact creatures, but they are still usable otherwise. Invigorated Rampage has a huge damage output for very little investment, Rush of Adrenaline provides trample, and Mighty Leap can give flying. If we branch into green instead of white, we do lose access to Solemn Recruit and Needle Spires, but we get Highspire Infusion, Blossoming Defense, Swell of Growth, and even Woodcutter's Grit if we want to stretch. As both the red double strike creatures like to use energy, green might be the better option.
Hungry Flames Is Standard-Playable
It takes a lot for a three-mana burn spell to make it into Standard (see: Welding Sparks, Exquisite Firecraft) with any sort of regularity. Having played Hungry Flames a bunch this weekend, I think it has what it takes to make it. Searing Blood saw a fair amount of play at RR and it dealt only two to a creature, so with the prevalence of x/3s and the relative ease of casting, Hungry Flames might have what it takes.
It's almost sad to think that we are so desperate for good instant-speed red removal that this is actually a card I want to play. Oh, Lightning Bolt, how we (don't really) miss you. Being eligible for “flashback” via Goblin Dark-Dwellers and Torrential Gearhulk is certainly a point in its favor, as is the ability to cast it for free via Yahenni's Expertise. That sounds pretty Grixis to me.
Lifecrafter's Bestiary: Verdict Uncertain
I wish I had more data to provide on this card. It is all but screaming at me to break it in a combo, but I have just not been able to get any reps with it or even talk to anyone who played it enough to get an impression of the power level when you're not comboing off.
In theory, the card is good. You build your deck so that the cards you draw are almost all creatures, hopefully reaching critical mass and just filling the battlefield with power. A local player showed me a Mono-GreenAaggro list that looked like it could take advantage of both Bestiary and the Revolt mechanic, but of course we do not play our games in theory. The list of powerful green creatures that cost three or less is long, and with both Bestiary and Tireless Tracker to keep your hand full, the thought is that you should be able to bury your opponent in a deluge of card advantage.
Modern is perhaps a more likely place for the card. Tangleroot provides you the green mana you need to pay for Bestiary, and we have both Burning-Tree Emissary and Hidden Herbalists that make green mana when they enter the battlefield. Wild Cantor and Priest of Urabrask are also possible inclusions, with the former setting up the Revolt on the Herbalists. Grinning Ignus might also be worth a look. I know I have mentioned this shell before, but the addition of a card draw engine that also lets us scry every turn might be what we need to actually turn the deck from theoretical to playable.
Untethered Express Is the Best Vehicle Nobody Is Talking About
One of the ways I choose cards for my brews is to look at powerful Limited cards and figure out if they can transition to Standard. Renegade Freighter was really close, as the combination of a sensible crew cost and a low mana cost made for an appealing five-powered trampling package. The three toughness made it just a little too vulnerable to too much removal, though, so it sat in the box.
Untethered Express fixes one of the big problems with Renegade Freighter in that it has four toughness, making it harder to remove with Harnessed Lightning and protecting it from a Hungry Flames. The +1/+1 bonus is permanent, the crew cost is as low as it goes, and you get all that upside for just one more mana. In a world without Smuggler's Copter, this and Aethersphere Harvester are both in contention for the “crew with my Thraben Inspector” slot in a lot of decks. Although the Harvester has received a decent amount of press (and rightly so, for the card is really good), the Express has been basically ignored from what I have seen. It might be too expensive at four mana, but it certainly warrants closer inspection. Crew 1 is just too appealing.
Winding Constrictor Is Terrifying
Everyone and his dog are on this card. Ross Merriam is all about it on Premium, and I could not agree with him more. The interactions on this card in Standard are simply incredible. Longtusk Cub gets two power for two energy, Verdurous Gearhulk is a complete monster, and Nissa, Voice of Zendikar becomes a massive threat for 1GG.
Aether Revolt adds Rishkar, Peema Renegade to the mix to make all your creatures tap for mana, plus the one card that Ross isn't playing: Scrounging Bandar. I managed to have two Cat Monkeys on the battlefield at the same time as Winding Constrictor, and let me tell you...that was not a long game. I don't know if adding Fairgrounds Trumpeter is necessary, but it is a possibility worth considering. The G/B Counters deck is either this format's R/B Vampires or it's the real deal, and if it's the latter, it will be because of the next card...
Walking Ballista – Not Hangarback. Do Not Care.
One of the biggest criticisms of this card that I have seen is that it's not Hangarback Walker. Well, that's indisputable. It's an artifact that costs XX that can add counters to itself, and there the similarities end. I would not call it worse than Hangarback Walker, however, nor would I call it better. It's just different. It serves a different purpose and has different strengths.
While it cannot leave you in a very powerful position after a sweeper, it can mow down opposing creatures. In the event it gets exiled, it can still get some sort of value by killing a creature or, at worst, going to the face. Four mana is a little steep to reload, but it's important to note that the Ballista does not tap to do so. That cost is also somewhat mitigated by Winding Constrictor's ability. Oh and in a pinch we can use Ballista to trigger Archangel Avacyn's transform ability. You know, like Hangarback Walker did.
It will be interesting to see if the Ballista can and does make an impact in Standard. It is certainly on the list of cards I want to play with. It takes a little while to get going, but once it does, you really shouldn't lose. I heard disturbing stories about looping Walking Ballista with Scrap Trawler and Renegade Maps or Implements, too...which makes me shiver at the very thought.
Peacewalker Colossus Might Not Be Good, But It's Very Scary
The evidence here is completely anecdotal, but I have seen R/W Peacewalker decks doing very silly things all weekend. With Start Your Engines and Siege Modification, plus the already-strong Veteran Motorist and Depala, Pilot Exemplar available to it, we might see a fun “knockout out of nowhere”-style deck.
Just two mana to animate any Vehicle is a paltry cost when you consider the upside of attacking with Skysovereign, Consul Flagship and Fleetwheel Cruiser, let alone Aethersphere Harvester and Untethered Express. The red spells provide some redundancy for your battlefield of otherwise-useless artifacts, and we might even be able to squeeze some removal in here too. I hear removal is good.
Oh, and the deck basically cries out for Metalwork Colossus, which I suppose can crew a Vehicle in a pinch. Go ahead and get that mental image going: a Colossus theme deck in Standard. What a world we live in!
Mechanized Production has been getting a lot of buzz. When I cracked a copy on Sunday, there was no way I was not going to try it. I don't know how good it will be in a format with better removal, but it won me all the games in which I cast it. Servos are the obvious choice, since we can reach eight copies even without having to enchant one of them and risk the blowout, but I was able to do this in one game:
I also had it on a Treasure Keeper before it died, but six copies of a 3/3 was enough to get me over the finish line. If Metallurgic Summons can Top 8 a GP, I am pretty sure Mechanized Production can too. Oh, and of course everyone wants to put it on a Clue token, myself included.
Efficiently Beating Down
If you've been reading these articles for a while, you know that I have been a fan of Paradoxical Outcome since it was revealed. I also love the Puresteel Paladin combo deck in Modern, which functions in a similar way.
In that vein, Efficient Construction really impressed me this weekend. It's probably too slow for most decks in Standard, but any deck that wants to play with Paradoxical Outcome is going to be casting a lot of cheap artifacts in one turn. If those spells are also creating Thopters, we get some redundancy over the Grapeshot, Aetherflux Reservoir, or whatever else we are using to win the game. I am slightly concerned that relying on an army (Fleet? Squadron?) of Thopters to survive a turn is somewhat ambitious, but not everyone will be able to wipe our battlefield clean once we go off.
Prerelease events often provide some great stories that could not be told anywhere else. People are more willing to play fun cards or do wacky things, and with new cards often comes a lack of familiarity with the things that can happen. For example, the midnight Prerelease saw one player open Chrome Mox; foil Chandra, Torch of Defiance; and Ajani Unyielding in her six packs. She was...quite happy.
A different kind of value occurred with possibly my favourite card from the set, Renegade Rallier. I was already considering the card for a place in G/W Hatebears in Modern when my good buddy Ryan pointed out that it does not in fact say “target creature card” but rather “target permanent card” on the triggered ability.
On Saturday afternoon, I bore witness to a sequence of plays that made me realize that the Rallier probably has a place in Standard too. I got to see a player cast Felidar Guardian to blink the Rallier, which of course fulfilled its own Revolt condition. Rallier returned Hidden Herbalist, which added the GG necessary to cast Greenwheel Liberator. Not a bad way to spend four mana!
This card was so swingy all weekend. A player in a very bad position cast it, drew four cards, and cast a Fumigate to stabilize with a full hand. The upside of this card is huge, and we even get to refill our hand before casting our free spell. Beware the other end of the spectrum, though, which happened when an opponent cast the Expertise with only an artifact creature on the battlefield. An Appetite for the Unnatural later, and the scoop phase was reached.
That's all we have for this week, folks. After eighteen rounds of Prerelease Magic, I am wiped out but even more excited to try some of these cards in Standard. As always, thanks for stopping by. As you get ready for #SCGCOL where everyone is starting from Level 0, maybe one of these musings will lead you down a winning path. Until next time...Brew On!