[Editor's Note: The original version of this article ran with cards that were included in sample decks and not in M15 sealed product. The sections on those cards have been removed.]
With the full spoiler out and the prerelease on the horizon this weekend, there is no hotter topic in Magic than M15. Nearly every article on every strategy site is looking forward to the release of the new set and examining what new cards might see play across Magic's various constructed formats. While it is all well and good to look forward to the future, it's important not to get too far ahead of ourselves. Sure, it's only one week until the SCG Open Series returns to Baltimore and we'll see M15 in action in both Standard and Legacy for the first time, but it's only one day until the prerelease! Let's get ready for that, shall we?
But before we get down to the details of what cards you want to look for in your sealed deck, I want to comment briefly on another hot subject this week - the Magic Pro Tour Hall of Fame. Ballots went out this week, and there's been a lot of discussion about the candidates online. I was thinking of including my own thoughts in my article this week, but I had a lot to say on the subject, and posted it on my own site. Head over there and let me know what you think.
Anyways - enough stalling. The prerelease is tomorrow! There is no time to waste!
One of the important things to keep in mind is that this is the first core set prerelease that is being run using the model that allows players to choose a color. You'll get a special pack seeded with extra cards of the color of your choice, including a specific rare promo card. For players who are interested in maximizing their chances of winning at their event, the power level of these promo cards is a big deal, since it's as close as you're going to get to a guaranteed bomb rare.
So let's take a look at them, shall we?
I'm going to start with green, since that has been the color I've chosen for every prerelease since it was an option. It certainly hasn't ever been for the sake of the prerelease card, and it certainly won't be this time. On a long enough timeline, I can imagine Phytotitan winning an attrition game, but it does so at such a ponderous pace that it seems unlikely most games will get to that point.
I actually thought the card was a 7/7 when I first saw it and *still* didn't think it was very good, but with just two toughness, there are so many things your opponent can throw in front of it to make it take root and wait until your next upkeep to regrow-tapped, no less-that I'm really unimpressed. Throw a healthy dose of tappers, bounce spells, and exile effects into the mix-not to mention just first strikers-and I feel comfortable saying that this is the worst of the prerelease cards by a fair margin.
This one, on the other hand, is pretty sweet. One of the most difficult parts of playing with copy effects has always been the tension between wanting to play them out to advance your board and wanting to save them for your opponent's best creature. Mercurial Pretender harkens back to the endlessly popular Vesuvian Doppleganger of old by allowing you to change your mind after you've made your choice, even if it requires that you bounce it back to your hand and replay it. You pay a bit of a premium for it - five mana instead of the typical four for Clone - but gain a lot of flexibility for your trouble, along with the ability to save your copy from removal.
Pretender would normally be a good card in sealed deck in general, but it's particularly attractive given the prerelease format. You know with 100% certainty that every opponent you face will have a juicy target for you to copy thanks to the prerelease cards. Granted, you could play against green mages and run into Phytotitan all day and be sad, but at least they typically have more big creatures for you to copy on average than other colors, so maybe it balances out.
Speaking of great creatures to copy-how's a huge flyer with a powerful ability sound? A five-power flier for five mana is a good limited card to begin with, even if its three toughness puts it in range of Lightning Strike and Ulcerate. Its upkeep trigger is never going to get you what you really want out of it, since your opponent gets to choose one of three options, but it's not like any of them are particularly good options. I could see it not being all that incredible against decks with token generators, but in pretty much any other situation, your opponent is going to be in a lot of pain during each of your upkeeps figuring out what to do. So hey-flavor home run!
At first glance, Indulgent Tormentor looks like the best of the prerelease cards by far. Incidentally, it also looks like that at second, third, and fourth glance too. It's actually kind of hard for me to wrap my head around the decision to give green a dopey six casting cost ground creature, blue a clone, and red and white both seven casting cost cards, and yet give black this monster. I've seen stores posting on their Facebook that all of their black boxes for the prerelease were already claimed in pre-reg, so if you want to play with this guy this weekend, you might want to get in touch with your local organizer.
Okay, now *this* is a flavor home run. Shows up and smashes down your walls, and then flies over and melts everyone who can no longer duck for cover. There are actually quite a few walls in this set-one in each color-so the ability is more than just flavor. Blowing down a Wall of Frost or Wall of Limbs is no joke. The former can help get your ground creatures through, while the latter may just save your life.
Siege Dragon is certainly a big game-ending bomb, but it's important to remember that it costs seven mana, so it's allowed to be. While M15 doesn't seem like a blazingly fast set, it doesn't look especially slow either, which means seven is a lot of mana to spend on anything.
I'm kind of tempted to pick red for this event, not only because I want a sweet dragon to play with, but the idea of actually hitting opposing walls with it and quoting the three little pigs sounds like too much fun. "And I huffed…and I puffed…and I blew the walls down!"
For the player who absolutely, positively wants to be able to crawl back into a game in which they're losing horribly, white is the color for you! This is actually the kind of card I love to play with at a prerelease. I'm usually spellslinging at most prereleases I go to, which means that beyond anything else, I'm looking to play fun games that involve exciting, memorable moments. What's more exciting than teetering on the brink of death and coming back to win?
Even outside of its ability to generate great stories, Resolute Archangel does seem like a powerful card. Your life total is a valuable resource in a game of Magic, and you have a whole lot more of it to work with when you have Archangel on your side. There are actually a surprisingly low number of cards that actually allow you to proactively pay life in the set-only Cruel Sadist and Shadowcloak Vampire in black. But at least the ability to reset your life to twenty makes it a lot easier to pick your poison when you're facing down an Indulgent Tormentor, and it certainly makes otherwise close damage races a whole lot more comfortable.
Outside of the pre-release cards themselves, the most important cards to keep in mind are the commons. These are the cards you're going to encounter the most, both in your own packs and in the decks of your opponents. You're going to want to be aware of what to look out for on either side of the table.
Here are the most important commons are from each color:
Historically, evasion has been excellent in core set limited. Bladetusk Boar was great in M14, and this is the color shifted version. It's worth noting that if black is especially popular in the prerelease that Accursed Spirit's value goes way down, so I wouldn't get too excited if you open a grip of these in a room that ran out of black boxes.
This is the pretty standard expensive black core set removal spell. While it's not something I imagine I'd want a ton of in draft, it's likely to be a sealed deck all-star.
Initially, I thought Gravedigger was a common because it showed up in my Gatherer search for M15 and common, but that's because it was previously common in almost every appearance. This is the graveyard recursion common for black in M15 instead. There seems to be a mini-graveyard theme shared between green and black, and this plays very well with cards like Satyr Wayfinder and Necromancer's Assistant since they both fill your graveyard and give you bodies to help pay with Convoke.
Overall black's commons seem very average, which may make up a bit for the power level of the prerelease card. I certainly thought they were better when it looked like Gravedigger and Stab Wound were both commons because they showed up in my Gatherer search!
From a first look, my guess is that Peel from Reality is the best blue common. The number of tricks you can pull off with Peel and enters-the-battlefield triggers is huge, to say nothing of the tempo swings you can manage when you Peel your own creature in response to a removal spell and get to bounce your opponent's best guy too. Be very, very careful when your opponent has 1U up, and always keep in mind what it would mean if your opponent has Peel in that spot.
This card makes me think blue is going to be a tempo color in this format rather than control. This is basically Kor Hookmaster revisited, and that was a very powerful card in aggressive strategies. I expect this will be too.
I'm sensing a theme. A cheap flier that can't block is exactly what a tempo deck is looking for to keep a clock on.
This seems much better for applying pressure when you're attacking rather than defending you when you're being attacked since it can't be used to stop a combat trick to save a blocker. Another indication that blue is likely to be an aggressive color in this set.
A strong stalemate breaker, I expect Pathmage will be responsible for a lot of game wins at the prerelease this weekend. Yet further evidence that blue should be attacking.
Overall, blue doesn't look great to me overall, but it does have some powerful tempo cards. My inclination is that it will be a great support color for aggressive decks with a creature base from another color.
I don't think this is one of the best cards, but it's an important one to be aware of because Convoke can allow a tapped out opponent to play this card on defense. Be cautious attacking into untapped red creatures in a situation where this could blow you out.
This is an interesting card that combines aggression with decent removal. Red actually has a number of cheap enchantments that double as spell effects, and this seems to be the best of them.
The staple burn spell of the set. Almost certainly the best red common and likely one of the best commons overall.
It's worth noting that this is the best looter in the set, since the blue version has a massive activation cost. Card selection is always valuable in core set limited unless the format is incredibly fast.
Llanowar Elves and friends have long been at the heart of green core set draft strategies, and by the looks of it this set is no different. This is likely the best green common in the set, and decks with multiples will vastly outperform decks with one or none.
This is the best Fog we've seen, since it actually just lets your entire team eat their entire team in combat and generally saves your life from lethal attacks as well. Three mana is a lot, but this seems like the sort of card that is A) worth keeping in mind when you're playing against a green deck, and B) worth playing at least one copy of if you're said green deck. Lots of blowout potential here.
This is a great combat trick that can cause even more blowouts than Crowd's Favor. Playing around it every time your opponent has an untapped green creature is going to be realllllly fun I bet.
Green's traditional weakness in core set limited is always fliers, and this guy is a great answer because it is cheaper than Giant Spider was and better against bigger creatures. Keep an eye out for this guy to defend you in the air.
Three of the four pre-release cards have flying, and one of the two that doesn't is a clone in a color with the most fliers. I'd happily maindeck this card at my prerelease and you should too.
Green looks fine, but unexciting to me. I like the Spider a lot, and the Ambush is a nice trick that can allow to alpha strikes and put your opponent in a lose-lose situation-block and lose their creatures, or try to race and die to the Fog. Lots of big dopey creatures that seem largely interchangeable, but that's what green is all about in core sets, right?
I'm having trouble evaluating white because it has a lot of interlocking pieces for different themes and less basic effects than the typical core set. This is part of a minor Aura theme that seems to be going on (that would appear to pair well with red and cards like Inferno Fist). There's no Pacifism-only Oppressive Rays-so this guy isn't as powerful as he might be in most core sets, but he still seems decent.
Spirits seems like the best of the token-themed cards at common. Six mana is a lot, but Convoke helps bring that down, especially with cards like Raise the Alarm to help. This is no Spectral Procession, but it can play like it in long games since it ultimately has the same token output.
At first I thought both this and Inspired Charge were in the set at common and was very confused, but then I realized that the latter card is only in the pre-con decks and not in booster packs. Even with the extra mana cost, the first strike bonus from this one probably would make it win out in the end. This is basically a finisher for aggressive white decks, especially those with a lot of tokens, and it's worth keeping in mind before you just decide not to block an incoming swarm.
A three casting cost instant Exile effect is pretty powerful, but with Giant Spider gone it's much less exciting than it might have been in previous core sets. Right now it looks like this card is really only good against green fatty decks and not much else, so I wouldn't get too excited about it as a "removal spell"-though it's still probably worth running. Awkwardly (or thankfully, depending on your perspective), it doesn't hit Phytotitan, and also manages to miss the Tormentor, so it's only really good against a couple of the pre-release cards.
Overall, white is the color that I feel like I have the worst handle on. My instincts tell me some kind of token strategy is likely going to be the best direction to take the color, but it's really hard to say how well Triplicate Spirits will play without getting a chance to see it in action.
That's what this weekend is all about though, right? Trying the new cards for the first time? I know I'm looking forward to it!
What do you think? Do you agree with my assessment of the pre-release cards' power level? Are my initial evaluations of the commons off the mark? Let me know what you think before you head to your own pre-release based on your instincts, and how those instincts measure up with reality when you actually get your hands on the cards.
Good luck this weekend and have fun. I know I will!