By Gavin Verhey
To me, Prereleases are always fun. You get to play with new cards, see new art, and read new flavour text. And, in my opinion, Prereleases of the new block are always the best kind of Prerelease. You get immersed in a new environment with new mechanics and abilities. Goodbye to the code of Bushido. Goodbye to those shifty, shifty souls. Goodbye to Kamigawa..... Say hello to Ravnica!
I couldn't wait for this Prerelease. The set looks fantastic, especially for Limited play. I haven't drafted it yet, but I can imagine that drafting it is very odd compared to what we are all used to in recent sets.
I only had a few practice Sealed runs under my belt when I arrived at the site. Our tournament organizer knew that this was going to be a large Prerelease so he had rented out the same area used for Grand Prix: Seattle! The line to register was well out the door, and way around the curve. Luckily for me, I had pre-registered. I talked to the person who was checking off pre-registerees and then I got directed to my flight area and waited. Within the next half an hour we received our product. Since we were the first flight of the day, we did no registration and just played with the product we received.
I opened my product and here is what I got:
Now, before I continue, I'd really like if you, the reader, could write down at the very least what colors you'd play with this cardpool. I'd be very interested to know, so please post your feedback!
Since it's a brand new block and I haven't played many games with it yet, I consider very few cards unplayable. However, I could immediately dismiss the following cards from my card pool:
- Leave no Trace
- Dromad Purebred
- Gate Hound
- Seismic Spike
- Golgari Germination
- Mnemonic Nexus
- Zephyr Spirit
- Necromantic Thirst
Enchantment/Artifact removal is usually good sideboard material, especially when it only destroys one or the other. Land Destruction is traditionally bad in Limited as well. Gate Hound, Necromantic Thirst, Zephyr Spirit, and Dromad Purebred don't do very much and are way overcosted for what they do. Getting back used cards is nice, but when they get shuffled into your library it isn't usually worth it because putting cards back into your library doesn't affect the game at all, and its even worse when it happens to your opponent as well (Although it is a possible way to combat Dredge decks), which is why Mnemonic Nexus was cut. Mindmoil seems intresting because in the late game it could potentially turn the lands you've been holding into threats, but for a 5 mana enchantment that could screw you up more than do you good and doesn't help you win the game as soon as it hits play probably isn't worth it. Lastly, Golgari Germination is neat, but it doesn't do anything unless one of your creatures dies (which is usually a bad thing) and then all you get is a measly 1/1 token. I'm guessing that it would produce no more then 3-4 tokens a game, and considering it happens over time its not worth the card slot.
Now that the chaff is out of the way, let's take a look at my evaluation of each color in my cardpool:
In the testing I had done before I came to the Prerelease I hadn't used Blue once. I think that Blue is easily the worst color in Ravnica sealed. Of course, that's what everyone said about Kamigawa Block, and it turned out to be a very playable color there. However, with only Halcyon Glaze, Flight of Fancy, Lurking Informant, and possibly Tattered Drake if I played Black being the only Blue cards that I'd actually want to play, I'm pretty sure we can eliminate Blue from our choices.
Black has three solid pieces of removal in the two Disembowels and the Brainspoil. It also has Vigor Mortis, a nice way to get back my creatures. However, the good black creatures are few. The only real playable black creatures are Dimir House-Guard, Golgari Guildmage, Gleancrawler, the Sewerdregs, and maybe Lurking Informant. However, Gleancrawler and Golgari Guildmage lose a lot of power if I don't go Green
Red has a few playable cards, but it doesn't really excite me. Barbarian Riftcutter, both of the Sell-Sword Brutes, and Coalhauler Swine are playable, but they aren't exactly that great either. However, the power level goes up a few notches if I pair it up with White. If I played White along with Red I would get Lightning Helix, Rally the Rightous, and Boros Swiftblade, all very playable cards, and the first two are plain ridiculous in Limited (Heck, in Constructed as well.)
My Green has some strong stuff, but I don't know if it has enough. Fists of Ironwood, Root-Kin Ally, and Elves of Deep Shadow are all playable, and of course so is Gleancrawler and Golgari Guildmage although they lose some potency if Black isn't played.
From what I had learned playing Ravnica Sealed, Veteran Armorer was very good so getting two of them is nice. With Blue pretty much out of the picture, some evasion (Which is very important in this format since there is so little of it) in the form of Courier Hawk and Screeching Griffin would be nice, although the Griffin is an extremely medicore card without Red. Boros Fury-Shield is a nice card if your in red as well.
With Blue pretty much eliminated, that means we can't play Consult the Necrosages or Perplex so those get taken out of the picture as well. Lurking Informant is okay but not great so if I play Black its a possible consideration.
Both Gleancrawler and Vulturous Zombie are very nice cards to have, and Golgari Guildmage seems very good as well. Woodwraith Strangler seems medicore, but playable. Dark Heart of the Wood doesn't seem that great personally.
Seeds of Strength and Guardian of Vitu-Ghazi are both very appealing with the former being a really good combat trick and the latter being a great late game creature. Privileged Position looks like a really neat card to make it so your guys can't be stopped by removal or any worrisome abilities, but if your opponent isn't planning to do any of those anyways it seems like it could just be a waste of a card.
Rally the Righteous, Lightning Helix, and Boros Swiftblade are all very good cards. The only problem is that the other Red cards are pretty bad.
Now I just have to figure out what works best. It's usually hard enough, and it gets even trickier with the addition of multicolored cards and guilds. As I see it, here are the combinations I could play:
Red doesn't provide much on its own, but with white you get to use Lightning Helix and Rally the Righteous, along with Boros Swiftblade. In White's monocolored cards you also get both of the Veteran Armorers and some evasion in Courier Hawk and Screeching Griffin. You also get three solid pieces of removal in black as well as Dimir House-Guard and possibly Vigor Mortis if the double cost can be managed. Unfortunately, Gleancrawler probably can't be played because it would require triple Black.
See above for the descriptions for Red and White. In Green you get Root-Kin Ally and maybe Elves of Deep Shadow but not much else. Also, since you don't have Black anymore, your only removal is Lightning Helix. Removal is always critical, especially in Prereleases, because you don't want someone's bomb to wreck you.
In Black you get solid removal and some evasion in the House-Guard, but the B/G combination also allows you to use Vulturous Zombie, not to mention Gleancrawler without worrying about color issues. Golgari Guildmage is also to its full power.
While Black and Green's cards are good, Red cards without White are pretty much the dregs. I think I can pretty much eliminate this color combination because it's inferior to B/W/G.
So what color combinations out of those are the best? Well, I think I can safely eliminate B/G/R. R/W/G is the next to be eliminated due to the lack of removal. Now its time to weigh my options, B/W/G VS R/W/B.
The good news is that both of these possible combinations use two of the same colors. The third color is the only variable. When it comes down to one color versus the other I like to evaluate them in two areas: What each color gives me and what the mana curve would look like with each color.
So, we're looking at Red. What does Red provide me with? Red provides me with Barbarian Riftcutter, two Sell-Sword Brutes, Coalhauler Swine, and possibly a War-Torch Goblin. Since I'm in White, it also gives me Rally the Righteous, Lightning Helix, and Boros Swiftblade. As a side note, I have a Boros Signet and a Boros Garrison I could play with White/Red as well.
What does Green provide me with? I get only Elves of Deep Shadow, Root-Kin Ally, and Fists of Ironwood from mono Green, but teamed up with White it lets me play Seeds of Strength and Guardian of Vitu-Ghazi. Since I'm also teamed up with Black, I get Gleancrawler's and Golgari Guildmage's full power, along with the ability to use Vulturous Zombie and Woodwraith Strangler. I also have a Selensnya Signet to keep in mind as well.
Overall, Green provides me with a little more in my opinion, as I get some big creatures and a combat trick, but I want to line them up with my mana curve next.
The deck's mana curve with Green (not counting Artifacts):
1CC: Elves of Deep Shadow
2CC: Courier Hawk, Veteran Armorer, Veteran Armorer, Lurking Informant, Fists of Ironwood, Golgari Guildmage, Seeds of Strength
4CC: Dimir House-Guard, Vigor Mortis, Strands of Undeath, Screeching Griffin, Woodwraith Strangler
5CC: Vulturous Zombie, Brainspoil, Sewerdreg, Sewerdreg
Variable: Guardian of Vitu-Ghazi (Probally about 6ish), Root-Kin Ally (Probally about 4-5ish), Disembowel, Disembowel
Hmm, not a bad curve. There isn't a single card in the three drop spot, but otherwise, it looks pretty good.
The deck's mana curve with Red (not counting Artifacts):
1CC: War-Torch Goblin
2CC: Courier Hawk, Veteran Armorer, Veteran Armorer, Lurking Informant, Sell-Sword Brute, Sell-Sword Brute, Lightning Helix, Boros Swiftblade
3CC: Rally the Righteous
4CC: Dimir House-Guard, Vigor Mortis, Strands of Undeath, Screeching Griffin
5CC: Barbarian Riftcutter, Brainspoil, Sewerdreg, Sewerdreg
6CC: Coalhauler Swine
Variable: Disembowel, Disembowel
Red buffs up the two drop slot some, but it doesn't fix the 3 drop hole. Vulturous Zombie is much better then Barbarian Riftcutter at 5CC and Gleancrawler is much better then Coalhauler Swine at 6CC, so I think that W/G/B wins by a good margin over R/W/B. Now on to actual deckbuilding!
The next step I take is finding the cards that I'm almost sure will make it into the deck and set them aside as the foundation of the deck. Since it's a new block and cards that seem good may not be, I have to be careful what I put here, but regardless there are some cards which are hands down going to make my deck. They are:
Seeds of Strength
2 Veteran Armorer
A quick explanation of my choices: Gleancrawler is a very nice fattie; Vulturous Zombie is not only a 3/3 flyer, but has a very relevant ability; Golgari Guildmage is a 2/2 for two and in the late game his abilities can be game swinging; Seeds of Strength is a fantastic combat trick; Vigor Mortis is a reanimation spell with a small boost; Disembowel and Brainspoil are pieces of critical removal; Veteran Armorer is very good as a 2/2 for two whose ability can actually be very important.
These are all of the cards that I'm considering playing:
Strands of Undeath
Elves of Deep Shadow
Fists of Ironwood
Guardian of Vitu-Ghazi
Those including my foundation of the deck equals 28 cards. If I play Elves of Deep Shadow and at least one Signet I can get away with 16 lands, which means I only need to cut 4 cards. The first card to get cut is Privileged Position. It seems like a fine card, but if your opponents not going to mess you up anyway past turn five it doesn't really accomplish much. I can imagine some situations where your opponent is holding onto removal and they play this and foil all of his dastardly plans, but I think more often then not I'd rather have another card. The next card to go is Lurking Informant. In theory in the late game you could assure that your opponent doesn't get anything good or fix your draws to make sure you get threats, but my two drop slot already has some solid creatures and I don't really know if this guy is necessary.
It's always good to have plenty of threats at Prereleases because it's always important that don't draw into lands or late game mana producers (Like Signets) when you want creatures. Thus I think two Signets have to go. Although the Boros one is half on color and it could randomly let me activate Screeching Griffin's ability, I think I'll go with the on-color Selesnya Signet instead. Now, in a deck like this, mana is crucial. Thus, having the correct mana base is very important and is the difference between a turn two Veteran Armorer and not playing anything until turn 4. My deck is base Black more then anything so I want to make sure I can hit the double-cost cards. With 16 lands I can't afford to run more then 6 Swamps though. I add 6 Forests and 4 Plains to round out the final 10 land spots, but then I take a quick relook over my card pool (I always do this after I built my deck to make sure there's nothing I've missed) and I find Svogthos. Svogthos seems fairly solid so I cut a Plains for it. Between both of my Terrarions and my Signet and with nothing double costed I figured that I would have had enough white. That brings my decklist to:
Pairings get put up soon afterward. I find my seat, and we shuffle up and start!
Most of my opponents' names I've forgotten. Sorry guys. Anyway, I'm on the draw with Forest, Swamp, Terrarion, and Veteran Armorer, along with two Disembowels for removal and a Dimir House-Guard so I'm good. He leads off with lands and I bust out a turn two Armorer which gets Disemboweled by him. He keeps playing lands and I finally get a Svogthos for a land after many turns, but I can't play anything with it. Now get this. I get stuck on three lands until he hits 8 mana. Then he plays Sisters of Stone Death. And I had three lands. I finally drew a fourth land and a Woodwraith Strangler, but it was irrelevant by that point and I lost that one big time. Game two I play a turn one Elves of Deep Shadow followed by a turn two Terrarion and attack. I miss my third land drop again and he plays a Necroplasm. It's looking pretty bad and it only gets worse from there on out as Necroplasm knocks off my Elves and I can't mount much of a defense. Eventually I'm at 1 and he's at 19. I have a Woodwraith Strangler in play and I manage to play a Veteran Armorer and a Fists of the Ironwood to get two blockers. He attacks with 3 creatures and I knock off all of his creatures with the exception of Necroplasm which dies at end of turn. However, I'm just left with a Veteran Armorer in play. I attack and play out a swampwalking Sewerdreg. He dredges Necroplasm, milling Devouring Light and Sisters of Stone Death! I have removal for the Necroplasm and believe it or not, I eventually turn around a game that was at one point 19 to 1 and win. Game three reminded me a lot of game one, just with the tables turned. He got stuck on three lands and didn't do much while I played lots of creatures including a early Guardian of Vitu-Ghazi. I managed to pull out a match that many would see as unsalvagable. It just goes to show you that all of those strategy articles that try to burn into your head that it's only the last point of damage that matters were actually right.
I start off with an Elves of Deep Shadow and a Veteran Armorer while he plays a Thundersong Trumpeter. I play a Screeching Griffin and he plays a Goblin Spelunkers. Next turn I give Screeching Griffin Fists of Ironwood and then play Root-Kin Ally. He plays a Viashino Fangtail, but I overwhelm him with a Gleancrawler next turn while he doesn't play anything more. Game two he draws first. I have turn two Courier Hawk and attack for one on turn 3 while he has Skyknight Legionnaire on his turn three. Luckily, I have Seeds of Strength to knock it off while playing a House-Guard on my own turn. He plays a Viashino Fangtail while I have a Elves of Deep Shadow and a Root-Kin Ally. I play a Guardian of Vitu-Ghazi and although he plays a few more creatures, I destroy them with a Disembowel and a Brainspoil and I win soon afterwards.
He plays a turn one Torpid Moloch with no turn two play. I play a turn two Veteran Armorer. He Galvanic Arcs my Armorer while I play a Golgari Guildmage. He plays a Goblin Fire Fiend and unhappily passes the turn. I play a Screeching Griffin and then a Vultorous Zombie while he plays a Sunhome Enforcer. Enforcer attacks into my Zombie and and Griffin and he Fire Fiends my Griffin forgetting that the Zombie gets a counter. He can't pump up the Enforcer to be large enough but he pumps it once to gain 3 life before it dies. After that, my 5/5 Vulture and a newly created Gleancrawler take care of him quickly. Game two I hit a turn one Elves and a turn two Guildmage while he plays two Torpid Molochs. He plays a Veteran Armorer of his own while I land a Screeching Griffin, but Galvanic Arc on his Armorer knocks it off. I Disembowel his Armorer and then Brainspoil his Sunhome Enforcer. I shift my Elves into a Screeching Griffin but it meets a Lightning Helix. Neither of us play much for the next few turns, but I do add a counter to Golgari Guildmage each turn until I eventually have 10 lands in play so I give it two counters a turn. I know he eventually got larger then a 10/10. Finally, after we both drew land after land, I got a Sewerdreg and then a Gleancrawler and that was game.
It just keeps growing and growing....
Round 4: Chris Larson
I drew this round. Normally I wouldn't draw so easily, but I had seen Chris's deck from earlier and I knew it contained not one but TWO Plague Boilers, Hunted Troll, Primordial Sage, and a lot of very good dredge cards.
Over the day, I played some more matches with my Sealed to really get a feel for my deck and what I should have changed in construction. Here are my opinions on the cards that I played in my deck:
Svogthos the Restless Tomb: I only activated it a handful of times. However, when I did activate it, it was late in the game and it was usually a 5/5 or more. I think that this is a fine card for decks that have access to Black and Green, but I don't think it's an automatic inclusion if your mana base is stretched thin, and I don't know if I'd ever play it if I was in more than three colors.
Brainspoil: It's basically a five mana removal spell. Its drawback of only hitting creatures that aren't enchanted isn't really relevant and never was a problem for me. However, its benefit of being Transmutable I never used either, even with a great 5 mana card, Vulturous Zombie, in my deck.
Dimir House-Guard: This guy's solid. He has pseudo evasion and regeneration which comes in handy now and then. He even has Transmute, although I haven't Transmuted in Limited once. At least one copy of this guy should always make your maindeck.
Disembowel: Instant speed removal is nice. If you're going to use it in the early turns it's not that great because you have to have one more mana then them to destroy their latest creature, and it's particurally bad on the draw until turn 5 or so. It's also bad against cards with Convoke. Nevertheless, Instant speed removal is nice, and this should always make the cut for your maindeck.
Sewerdreg: Remember Sokenzan Brusier? Well, Sewerdreg is basically that but a little better. Black is going to be played a lot in this format, making one maindeckable, although I probally wouldn't play two again like I did at the Prerelease. His ability is also randomly helpful against annoying Dredge cards.
Strands of Undeath: Before the Prerelease I thought it was a strong choice for your 23rd or 24th card. After the Prerelease, I believe it to be a weak choice for your 23rd or 24th card. It's not awful, and can be particularly devastating if they have two or fewer cards in your hand, but often making your good creature regenerate isn't that handy and it just sits in your hand most of the time making itself only occasionally useful. If you don't have any better cards to play I'd play it, but I'd play something medicore like a Sewerdreg over it if I had one.
Vigor Mortis: This card looks really good on the outside, when really its just a glorified Zombify. Now, I'm not saying it's bad by any means; it should certainly make your deck if you're in Black, but it isn't a bomb or an amazing uncommon like Putrefy.
Gleancrawler: A 6/6 trampler for 6 is obviously very playable. Its second ability is a nice touch, but it doesn't trigger as often as you would think. But in any case, if you're in G/B you should play this guy no questions asked, and if you can support triple Black or triple Green in a deck without the other color, play it.
Golgari Guildmage: This card was the real surprise for me. As a 2/2 for two that can be played in Green or Black it's already playable, but its abilities are amazing, although (surprisingly) moreso the Green one than the Black one. Being able to make all of your creatures larger and larger permanently is great, and it also turns your unspectacular one or two drop that you draw on turn 10 into the big creature you just lost. This guy is great and I would always play him if I'm in Black or Green, and especially if I'm in both.
Vulturous Zombie: While his ability doesn't actually trigger as often as it seems, at worst he is a 3/3 flier for 5 which is good in this format because it lacks evasion. Of course, kill off a few creatures and have them play a few irrelevant spells and suddenly it's huge.
Woodwraith Strangler: This guy really isn't very spectacular. He's 4 mana (of two different colors no less) for a 2/2 whose ability isn't that great because black/green wants to have creatures in its graveyard for effects that are much better than this. If you really need creatures or a good 23rd or 34th card you can play him, but he was a 4 mana 2/2 for me all day.
Elves of Deep Shadow: It's a one mana mana producer. Its a playable card with value that rises if you're playing Black, and it should usually make your maindeck if you're in Green.
Fists of Ironwood: This card actually isn't as good as I thought it would be. Believe it or not, the trample that it gave my creatures never did anything, so most of the time it was a bad Raise the Alarm. However, with Convoke around it's certainly playable, but I probably wouldn't play more than one.
Root-Kin Ally: This card is playable, but not amazing, although it will usually make your maindeck. You can usually power it out turn 4-5 with convoke, and if you have lots of creatures (Saprolings maybe?) it can become a huge attacker. He works much better when you're on defense then when you're on offense because you can block and then tap creatures that blocked to make him larger.
Guardian of Vitu-Ghazi: While he's great when he comes into play, he costs a ton even with convoke. However, in some decks with better Saproling production than mine he could come into play early and be amazing. In my deck he was good when I played him; the vigilance and 7 toughness was really nice, but often he didn't hit the table until late.
Seeds of Strength: While some may look at as a overcosted Giant Growth, the ability to split up the +1/+1s is nice and can save an attacker while pulling through an extra damage or two by pumping another attacker. This should make your maindeck if you're in White and Green.
Courier Hawk: This creature is solid. He's kind of like Araba Mothrider, and the Mothrider was certainly playable. The fact that there's a lack of evasion in this set and the fact that he has vigilance so he can attack and then be used to convoke is handy. I expect him to come around late in drafts so don't be afraid to pick up some and play them if your in white, although I wouldn't ideally play any more then two.
Screeching Griffin: Four for a 2/2 flier is hardly impressive, but its certainly better then Rootwraith Strangler. The fact that the format lacks evasion makes this guy playable if you don't have red. However, if you do have red, this Griffin is a very strong inclusion as he's a 2/2 unblockable almost always.
Veteran Armorer: Its a 2/2 for two, and it also has a very relevant ability. The extra bonus was helpful several times throughout the day. If you're playing white, you should be playing every copy of this guy that you can.
Selesnya Signet: The Signets are much like the Talismans in Mirrodin block. On-color ones are usually playable, but just don't overload on them because while mana acceleration and fixing is nice, drawing threats is critical as well. If you don't have any on-color ones you can probally play an off color one.
Terrarion: This card is very good. It fixes your mana so you can play your turn two/three drop without worrying about color problems, and it also draws you a card so it replaces itself. You should be playing as many Terrarions as you have in your card pool.
I had a great time at the Prerelease, and I like this set a lot. I can't wait to start playing with it on a regular basis. I hope that you enjoyed this article and what I wrote can help you in future tournaments.
Image provider: Iloveatogs
Article Name: Tanner Verhey
Head Judge of the Flight: Jack A Griffin Junior
Tournament Coordinator of the Pre-Release: Tim Shields