No matter how much we theorize, guess, and hope, there's nothing quite like getting your hands on the cards from a new set to determine just how powerful they actually are.
Prerelease isn't really a format; the addition of the promo card takes it out of Sealed Deck territory and Limited is not generally a good indicator of power in Constructed. That said, I have had a lot of success recently in taking my findings from Prereleases and translating them to Constructed play.
Even if some of these insights are skewed to Limited, that's still fine. I have always thought that brewing and building decks from a Limited pool are very similar, and especially early in the format I have had an advantage because I am so used to playing with slightly less excellent cards.
Okay, mediocre cards.
All right, all right. I play with bad cards.
Prerelease weekends are my favorite time. Quite apart from being able to play Two-Headed Giant (easily the most fun format around), there's something about the relaxed atmosphere and feelings of awe and discovery that infuse even some of the more hardened Spikes. My travel schedule quite often takes me away from these weekends, but when I am in town, I go all-out. Two days, six flights, very little sleep, and a whole lot of shuffling await. Let's dive in!
Pregame Show: What Am I Hoping to Open?
One of the big things I want to test is just how good the various Deserts can be. Hostile Desert looks to be the best of the bunch, but we need one or two more to be good before we start considering Shefet Monitor as a Standard-playable card.
Ramunap Excavator is another card that I want to try, preferably in the Desert deck, with an eye towards a G/B value strategy. The removal in the Sealed format is obviously not as good as in Standard, but if it cannot survive to make a difference in the Prerelease environment, then it's not going to be good in a Standard with so much powerful removal.
There are also quite a few cards that make U/R Spells a stronger archetype; as that was a deck in a prior season, it might not take much to bring it back to the top tier. The Locust God is one card that I am very keen to try, even if it is likely to take a backseat to Torrential Gearhulk in many decks. Any of the Gods would be bombs to open in Limited, with The Scorpion God likely the best of them. Ironically it is the one I am least excited to play in Constructed, but that might change by the end of the weekend.
And, of course, we want to open Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh, blessed be his name, cursed be his opponents who are but mites before him. The challenge will be finding the right balance between ramp, fixing, and removal in a deck that does not actually play any green.
The best thing about a midnight Prerelease is that everyone else is very tired and wishes they were in bed. The worst part is that you are too. It doesn't dampen my enthusiasm, but good grief am I ready to tap out by Sunday evening!
I ended up with two decks here: U/B Cycling with an end-game of a huge Hour of Eternity and R/G Aggro with four different "you can't block" effects to join my menace and exert creatures. The former was way more fun, but the latter deck was far better. Nothing really stood out, but Sidewinder Naga was relatively impressive.
The first thing that stood out was the power of afflict in general. R/W and R/B Aggro were already powerful strategies in the block, and having afflict as a keyword in Grixis colors has done nothing to dull that. One card that particularly impressed me was Eternal of Harsh Truths, which is probably just short of Constructed playability. Thieving Magpie effects have been reprinted a lot and never quite made it, but I am excited about this one. "Don't block" has become something of a theme of the block, and afflict just continues that plan. And hey, sometimes you get to draw a card! I like drawing cards.
I did see a Wildfire Eternal on the battlefield as well, and although the opponent misplayed against it, it was pretty ridiculous to see three spells cast in one turn when it was unblocked. Just obscene.
I can't possibly talk about afflict without raving about my new favorite card that will probably never see play: Neheb, the Eternal. Good grief was this card amazing. In the most average of scenarios, you have eight mana the turn after you cast it. That's with no other creatures connecting, no afflict triggers, no land drop, no burn spells...it won't take much to be better. My friend Mike, who remains skeptical about the potential of the card in Constructed, was very impressed with the power in Limited at least.
Multiple times, he was able to cast Hieroglyphic Illumination for just U and then cast both spells he drew. I would not be surprised to see something similar in Constructed, to be honest. I am very high on this card.
Somebody has both Hour of Revelation and Bontu's Last Reckoning in their pool. I know this because I just cast Hour of Eternity to put twenty power on the battlefield and he topdecked the second sweeper. Sure, why not?
Adam, an enthusiastic player at the best of times, was waxing lyrical about God-Pharaoh's Gift. I had been looking at it with my friend Charlotte (whose rules question blog should be part of every Magic player's daily reading) as a possible combo deck in Standard. Vessel of Nascency digs us to Gate to the Afterlife while also fulfilling the tutor condition of the Gate. Then we fill the deck with creatures that we really want to make into 4/4 Zombies. I am still hammering out that full list, but I think Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger will be in it. Verdurous Gearhulk seems reasonable too, in that it is entirely unreasonable.
Perhaps the most impressive card of the night was Ammit Eternal. I was concerned that the very high power of the card would not be enough to overcome the drawback and the fact that it can just be blocked, but boy was that not a problem. Turns out it's actually really hard to deal with a 5/5 on turn 3, and even if you can shrink it slightly, it's either going to Abyss-lock you while Bolting you each turn or it's going to smack you for four and go back to a 5/5. In an aggressive R/B deck with more afflict and removal/burn spells, I can honestly see this being a force. Plus, Zombie Crocodile Demon.
Saturday Morning Blues (and Reds)
Setting an alarm probably would have been wise. As it was, I woke up with 40 minutes to get to the LGS, which meant no coffee. Four hours of sleep plus no coffee is a bad equation, friends, let me assure you. This morning's pool once again yielded two decks: U/R Spells with Enigma Drake, five quality removal spells, and some solid defense; and B/W Value with the disgusting combo of Dauntless Aven and Angel of Condemnation. And trust me, it is disgusting.
As good as Eternal of Harsh Truths was last night, I am finding Spellweaver Eternal to be potentially better. The base stats are not that impressive, but in the U/R Spells shell we postulated last night, blocking a prowess creature is already risky. If that risk comes with an additional two-life guarantee, the decision becomes even tougher. Technically afflict is a punisher mechanic, as your opponent gets to choose which option they can handle at that point, but they're losing life either way.
Oh, for crying out loud...the guy sitting next to me has opened an Invocation version of The Locust God. Must be nice.
We had a discussion about New Perspectives (which he also opened) and the potential of replacing Approach of the Second Sun with The Locust God in the combo deck as the finisher of choice. The tokens all have haste, so once you start going off it should not be a problem to create enough tokens to swing for lethal that turn. It solves the fiddly nature of having to cast Approach twice, as well as smoothing out the mana and reducing the reliance on Shadow of the Grave and Vizier of Tumbling Sands. Definitely worth a look.
Having just lost to The Locust God, I am even more convinced that the card is a house. Sharing a color and converted mana cost (and rotation) with Torrential Gearhulk may well be a barrier, but the power level is off the charts. He was playing New Perspectives just to draw three cards, and it killed me. I should probably stop gushing over it, as I am sure you get the idea, but seriously. This card is just wrong.
I may have underrated Mirage Mirror, which is probably a big mistake given the apparent potential of the card. I initially thought that it was too likely to be a blank, but the versatility is very real and it gets better as the battlefield develops. Being able to copy the likes of Glorybringer, Archfiend of Ifnir, or even Samut, Voice of Dissent (I saw all of these happen) is pretty powerful. In Constructed you will almost always have powerful options to copy, but some of the ones that seem best (Sandwurm Convergence for example) are far worse than they should be. And whatever you do, don't copy an animated Gideon. That will end poorly for you.
Afternoon Mill Plans
Tournament number three on the weekend would see me succumbing to the old trap plan: open double Fraying Sanity, play mill. It might even have been a good plan had I opened even one other mill card, but those two on their own are just too slow. I do think mill is viable in Limited now, and Fraying Sanity might just be the Sphinx's Tutelage of this format. "Fumigate to kill four creatures, gain four life, and mill four" is not even hard to achieve, and Fraying Sanity gets better in multiples. I like the possibilities here, especially if people are cycling and sacrificing Deserts.
Once again I had a second, much better deck in an aggressive-leaning R/B Zombie deck with Lord of the Accursed and Accursed Horde. I discovered the fun little interaction between Supernatural Stamina and Banewhip Punisher, enabling you to kill something and return the Punisher to put a counter on something else. Also, Trueheart Twins is still a very, very good card.
I keep hearing tales about Champion of Wits being great. I had hopes for it in Constructed, as a Careful Study with upside and a body attached for 2U is probably just fine in Standard. Turns out it is still very good in Limited, though the eternalize cost may be too steep for the Draft environment. Churning through your library in the early- and the late-game can be very solid. I have yet to play with it, but people who have love it.
In case you were in doubt, Ifnir Deadlands is as-advertised levels of good. Uncounterable removal that costs you some fraction of a card is very powerful, and this is reusable if you build correctly. The cost might scare some people away, especially in tandem with the life cost to get black mana, but that's a red herring.
Overwhelming Splendor questions: 4
Overwhelming Splendor questions that resulted in blank looks from the player after a detailed explanation of how layers work: 4
Mirage Mirrors that were put into a graveyard because of poor copy choices: 3
People playing Defeats in the maindeck because they didn't see the color restriction: 7
As much as I love some of these designs, they make for very complex situations that even the average Level 1 Judge will be hard-pressed to answer. Definitely not friendly to the more casual player who attends Prereleases only. That said, I managed to beat both Sandwurm Convergence and Overwhelming Splendor today.
If at any point we get something in Standard that tutors for or reanimates enchantments at a reasonable cost, that is a seriously potent one-two punch that will win games, hands down.
The Scarab God is great. This is not a surprise, of course, but it just fits so well in any deck that can cast it! I would happily splash it in a B/W Zombie deck, for example, and reuse any of the enters-the-battlefield effects on some of the smaller creatures in U/B.
The upkeep trigger is pure value in comparison to the activated ability, but it is still an integral part of the card. Oh, and it's a lot of fun to boot.
Pride Sovereign has been so-so. If you can untap it to activate every turn (or more than once per turn), it gets out of control in a hurry. Similarly, in a dedicated Cat deck (a sentence I never expected to utter), the activated ability becomes less important and you just have a giant creature with which to beat people. I sadly cannot see Cat tribal being good enough (even in Modern, where we can Collected Company into some of the better ones) to make a high-level impact, but please do take it to FNM. I'll have a couple of lists next week for you to purr-fect and take for a spin.
The Torment cycle was a lot better than I expected. Torment of Venom is almost certainly just a Limited card, and Torment of Scarabs is slightly better but still not likely to make the cut for Constructed. Now, Torment of Hailfire...well. I was incredibly impressed with the absolute mess it could make of any game state with even a modest value of X. Following up an Hour of Promise or even a Gift of Paradise with a Torment is just brutal, especially if you have been able to remove a creature or two. It's a Mind Twist or a sickeningly powerful Fireball, and although the opponent gets to choose the exact combination of discard, sacrifice, and life loss, you are still going to end up well ahead of the game. Heaven forbid your Torment of Hailfire is fueled by a Neheb, the Worthy connection.
And Now to Rest...
Deadlines being what they are, you're missing out on six further rounds of experiences from my Prerelease extravaganza. With that said, I am happy with the variety of cards I got to look at, win with, and lose to over the course of four events. As complex and dark as this set is, I actually quiet enjoyed the way most of the games played out. There is a lot of room for experimentation built into the set, and finding some of those synergies will be the most fun part of the next few weeks. I am almost tempted to change my Week One deck from G/W Ramp to U/R Spells, just based on the fun I had with that deck this weekend.
That's all we have for this week, folks. As always, thanks for stopping by. The lists are starting to form now that I have my hands on some cards, and the sharing starts next week. I cannot wait! Until next time...Brew On!