Magic the Gathering Prereleases for me are always an awesome and fun experience. I haven’t attended as many as I would like ever since I started playing, only 3 not counting this past weekend, and I have fond memories of all of them. Opening the first packs of a new set, the anticipation of pulling a cool new card, building your sealed deck, figuring out all the synergies you have at hand, and then battling it out against your opponents. More than Drafts, I really enjoy playing Sealed, and the Prereleases are the best time to be playing Sealed I feel.
This past weekend, I was really fortunate to attend two Prereleases after a really long time, not since Fate Reforged Prerelease actually, and I had a ton of fun. I attended the midnight session at the LGS closest to my home since the group meets in my building complex, and then the following day I went to the big LGS about 10 minutes drive-away, and both sessions were great. The anticipation of pulling Zendikar Expeditions, not to mention several of the cool rares and mythics, it was good this time, and it delivered as well, which was certainly great!
Watching the trailer for Battle For Zendikar in anticipation for the Prerelease is a huge boost. Listening to Tori Higginson’s voiceover while watching all the cool card art animations is a great pump, and that’s what I did before both prereleases to get me fully in the mood for the events. Plus the midnight one required that I have some kind of an emotional boost, considering that it was going to be a four-hour event easy, and that’s a bit too late for me.
Either way, attending the first of the prereleases. I went down a bit early to get some Standard and Modern games in until we started with the main event itself. It didn’t quite happen like that however since we all mostly just durdled along, waiting for the product to come in. There had been a bit of a scare earlier in the day since the product shipment was a little hung up, but our TO came through fantastically.
So those are all the pulls from this prerelease. Once we all got our Prerelease packs, and got the go ahead to start cracking, I opened mine, and found that promo Veteran Warleader staring at me. As someone who was really excited to be playing Allies-themed deck in Battle For Zendikar, I was rather underwhelmed by this card because it was simply not too powerful for me, even with the second ability. But, that’s what the Booster Gods gave me, and I was like, let’s see what I open next. Perhaps this was a sign, because then I opened the Munda, Ambush Leader and Angelic Captain in quick succession. I also opened four Ondu Champion and a bunch of other Ally cards such as two Expedition Envoy and Tajuru Stalwart each. Sure, no Zada, Hedron Grinder or Tajuru Warcaller or Lantern Scout, but I had the makings of a good Ally deck, and that’s what I decided to go with. Pulling a Canopy Vista dual helped as well in that it gave me some fixing, and I could always go get it with the Sylvan Scrying I pulled. The sleeved Undergrowth Champion was another pull from the pack itself, and that one really excited me. I loved the card during spoiler season, and getting it into play was a huge bonus (more on that later). The other pulls here are the Grove Rumbler and full-art Forest foils, and a second Undergrowth Champion which I got from my prize pack, which was just amazing. Two amazing mythics in a single prerelease? A first for me.
The games themselves didn’t prove to be what I wanted them to be, but I had fun. My first round was against a friend I sat next to during deck-building, and even helped him build his deck. We were both on Allies, but where I was on Naya colours, he was on straight-up Red with a splash of White. The first game was pretty awesome in that we both had a continuous board presence with creature beatdowns. The clincher was the Akoum Firebird mythic rare that I had asked him to put in the deck no matter what. I just couldn’t deal with fliers myself, and that dang bird came to bite me again and again. I got him down really low, but the Haste on the bird sealed the deal against me. Second match proved to be much faster, and it was also a sort of repeat of the first match. I made some great early inroads, and got him down low, but then he pulled out an Encircling Fissure and the fog sealed the deal on a critical turn for me. It allowed him to stabilize his own board, stonewall me, and then win the match.
First loss of the day. Not too shabby, but I won’t deny either that the cards were so much fun. We both went three turns without really developing our boards in both matches, and the games proved to be very grindy of sorts. If you missed out the early turns, it wasn’t the end of the world, because you could easily bounce back. And I think that a lot of that has to do with the lack of real mana-fixing in this set compared to something like Khans of Tarkir Limited or Fate Reforged Limited, where the mana-fixing was supremely abundant. One thing I learned during this round though was that Munda, Ambush Leader is actually pretty lackluster. Triggering his ability once is fine, if you are hurting for more Allies and have too many spells in hand, but more than that is just a bad proposition. And I triggered him three times in the first match, which also proved to be my undoing.
Round two was against another friend, and this is where I really had to battle for myself. He had a crazy Blue-Black Eldrazi deck that won through attrition of my deck from Ingest. Playing against that deck was a real beater, and I lost the first match in short order because he was packing too much removal, including a Ruinous Path, which is the new Hero’s Downfall. My creatures kept getting outclassed, and the only that stuck for more than a turn was my trusty Undergrowth Champion which survived two combats in all before falling himself. And my mana woes from the previous round continued as well, which didn’t help matters. Match two was easier and I was able to get a one-up on him with a near perfect curve of creatures and abilities. Keeping him off his big Ingest creatures was a huge point in my favour because man, that Benthic Infiltrator and Silent Skimmer are just pure nasty. Match three was more equitable in our creature beatdowns. We traded one-for-one for quite a while until I got the upper hand when he failed to draw a much-needed Island for three turns and was stuck with several Blue-costing cards in his hand. He conceded the game then because I was also ahead quite a bit and my Tajuru Stalwart and Expedition Envoy were doing some serious work. First win of the day. I’ll take it.
And since we had some time in the middle, we played some Modern, my all-proxy Merfolk deck against his Mono-Green Devotion. I got my ass handed to me, which is fine, since the deck itself isn’t tuned properly and I have next to no experience with it, whereas my friend is plenty experienced with his. And it is such an awesome deck too, capable of some immense mana ramp in a short time. Where Modern is concerned, I don’t mind losing at all because the experience is what I value most, and that’s my take from it.
The final round was against my friend who runs the entire group, and this was a round where I took some of my worst beating ever in a Prerelease. He had this really tricked out deck with Ob Nixlis Reignited, Mind Raker, Sire of Stagnation, Altar’s Reap, and some other things. In the first match, I got a really good start and got him down to like 5 or 6 but by then he had managed to stabilize his board with an Ob Nixilis about to go ultimate. From that point on, my creatures got stonewalled, and he had his draw cards/opponent loses life engine going, and he did all his damage to me from just that alone. Ugh. Second match was slightly better, but mana-screw came back to bite me and I faultered from my fourth turn onwards. Then a Sire of Stagnation hit the board and I was done. Both of us actually misread the card itself, thinking that the ability triggered on his lands entering the battlefield, not mine. We only went over it again when we were done with the two matches and he’d won, but eh. It wouldn’t have made a difference either way as far as his engine was concerned. Second loss of the day and that’s it. Following up an Ob Nixilis with a Sire of Stagnation is a huge tempo-play, and I have a feeling that the combination of those cards is going to show up again and again in the new Standard format.
We only did 3 rounds, and overall it was a blast. The unfamiliarity with the cards was a negative for a lot of people, but that’s just how it is on a prerelease. You miss your triggers, you miss interactions, make some bad plays. But everyone I talked to had a great time. 1-2 at a Prerelease seems to be kind of my top performance anyway so that doesn’t bother me. I was excited to win a prize booster anyway, and that excitement become elation when I pulled that second Undergrowth Champion. A good end to my first ever midnight Prerelease!
The second day was so, so much better in terms of my pull. I got to the store on time and again, got to play some Modern, this time against a friend who is also a Level 1 Judge. He was playing some sort of a black-based control deck while I brought out my all-proxy Merfolk deck. This was reminiscent of my final round of the Prerelease from the night before, and that I played against a combo deck that had a solid plan in place, make me discard cards, not be able to attack, and then just win through an engine that drained my life. I generally don’t like playing against such lockout decks because I find them to be very unfair. But it was all good fun anyway, something to do while waiting for the Prerelease deckbuilding to start, so it was okay.
Once we got the packs and got the go ahead to start building, I opened my pack and found a Wasteland Stranger promo staring at me. Remembering how things had gone the night before, I expected to find lots of Eldrazi waiting for me in the boosters, and that’s what happened. I opened my first booster, and got a Void Winnower mythic rare. The second one got me a Cinder Glade dual-land, which was exciting because I want those for the Naya Aggro deck I’m building for the new Standard format. The third one was Ob Nixilis Reignited and my jaw kind of dropped. Two mythics in a single Prerelease and one of them a Planeswalker? Sign me up! Already the best Prerelease ever! But then, I opened the fourth one and found a Breeding Pool foil full-art Zendikar Expedition staring at me. That was when I kind of lost my mind. I really, really wanted to pull a Zendikar Expedition land during the Prerelease, and had my eyes set on a Fetchland, perhaps even a Scalding Tarn. Pulling the Breeding Pool was as great as anything though, because Shocklands are generally fairly expensive, and this one being a blue Shockland was a bonus. It got sold as soon as it could obviously, and I was $150 richer by the end of the Prerelease. Enough to fund a booster box for me, which was bonkers. The fifth booster got me an Akoum Hellkite and the final one gave me a Drowner of Hope. Rather control-centric cards all around, and definitely a sign.
But this time, I wasn’t one for signs. I had pulled some really good Landfall cards this time around, like Scythe Leopard, Makindi Sliderunner, Akoum Stonewaker, Grove Rumbler, Territorial Baloth and others, so that’s the direction I went with, instead of the Eldrazi control route. And I had what I think was a good aggro deck too. I even had a Chasm Guide. However, as per my usual run of luck, I only went 1-2 again, though this time the prize distribution was higher and I lucked out in the end.
The first round was real fun. My RG Landfall deck against a WR Allies deck. There was a lot of resource exchange in all three matches of the round. I had a really good aggro deck that could double up as a grindy deck, and my opponent had the same because he happened to have the lynchpin Lantern Scout. That was a card that I just couldn’t beat. It came up early in the first match and in the third match right at the end. It was unbeatable for me. My removal didn’t coincide well with it, and I also made some misplays that affected the outcome. Round three it all came down to whether he had an Ally in the turn before I crashed in for absolutely lethal, and it turned out that he did. I was out of gas, he stabilized with the Lantern Scout and won the round. It was down to the wire, and was one of the most exciting games of Magic I’ve played to date. First loss of the day.
My second round was against one of the other Level 1 Judges in our community, and here I got absolutely blasted to smithereens. He was on some sort of Eldrazi midrange deck, and he had all the beats to really grind me out with card advantage and superior board presence. Ingest hit me for critical damage again and again, and it didn’t help that I was both color-screwed and mana-screwed in both games. I just never got to go off with any of my cards, and that sucked. But man, the power of the Eldrazi in Limited really made itself felt. You really have to answer cards like Dominator Drone, Benthic Infiltrator, Silent Skimmer, Mist Intruder and others, or you are going to really fall behind. Second loss of the day.
My final round was against a relatively new player, someone I had actually sat next to during deck-building. She was on an Eldrazi deck as well, and I think that out of all the six rounds of Prerelease I played this past weekend, this was the best, even counting that first round of this event. Our first match lasted a long time, and I’m talking like 30 minutes of play time, at the least. We both had a really slow start and our top decks weren’t that good either. But there were indeed some critical turns such as when she Ingested me for a Forest I really needed to cast my grip-full of green cards, or when I bluff-attacked with a pair of Lavastep Raider, or when she cast a Swell of Growth to protect a creature in combat but I took it out anyway with a Sure Strike. I won the first match, and then we got started on our second really quickly since we were running out of the allotted time. This time we both had a good explosive start but ran out of gas in short order. We were stuck to casting one spell a turn for like the longest time, until there happened a critical moment when I crashed in with a Lavastep Raider unbuffed but mana-ready and a Grove Rumbler with five lands in play, one of which was a Blighted Woodland and another land I had put down that turn. Both creatures got chumped but the Grove Rumbler struck for gold when I cashed the Blighted Woodland for two more Landfall triggers. 9/9 Grove Rumbler, that was a Prerelease moment. There had been several moments such as this throughout the Prerelease games in the weekend, and I was really happy that I got to do this in particular.
Unfortunately, the match went to extra turns and we were unable to finish the round itself. We ended with 1-0 in my favour, but it had been one hell of a match and I had a lot of fun playing because despite all my mistakes in the matches, I was able to improve my general play performance, and didn’t make the same mistakes I had made earlier in the day or the night before.
The final score for me was 1-2, as I’ve already mentioned, and it was a decent enough wrap up for the entire experience. I got 4 prize packs, which I was really excited for, and though my 2 Magic Origins boosters didn’t yield anything useful, the first Battle For Zendikar booster I opened netted me a Kiora, Master of the Depths and the second one the decently playable Exert Influence. Talk about lucking out!
2 Planeswalkers in the same day? I’ve only ever pulled a total of 2 Planeswalkers before, and I doubled that count in a single 4-hour event!
Overall, taking both Prereleases into account, one thing has been very clear to me. Battle For Zendikar Limited is a hell of a lot of fun. At least the Sealed portion of Limited is. There are all sorts of fun interactions to be hand, and a mix of strategies, such as mixing Allies with Landfall or Eldrazi with Landfall or what have you, it is all doable. There is a good amount of overlap for everything, and even Converge is a good ability. Those Tajuru Stalwart I mentioned, I was casting them for full effect in my respective colours all the time. Sure, it isn’t so good in a 2-colour deck for Limited, but it still does a lot of work because it can help you stabilize against the random small creatures running around.
Oh and the Kytheon, Hero of Akros, the Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh and the Archangel of Tithes are what I got from trades with another friend who is a foils collector. Really pumped for these three cards, especially Kytheon since I really want to build a deck with him and this gives me a second copy.
Huge props to everyone I played against and all the TOs involved in both events, as well as the Judges and Rules Advisors and everyone. It was a sweet, sweet experience, and easily the most fun I’ve had at a Prerelease ever. I got some good games in, pulled lots of awesome cards, and made bank with some of those cards as well. I can’t wait to get on with another Sealed event at some point, or a Draft. I’m thinking that Battle For Zendikar Draft is going to be a really interesting experience, very different from either Fate Reforged or Dragons of Tarkir Drafts, which is all I’ve done to date.