This weekend was the Khans of Tarkir Prerelease event, and I grabbed my playmat, dice and sleeves and made my way out to take part.

I’d really missed the midnight pre-releases from the Return to Ravnica block, and I was finally able to attend one again, which I plan on making a habit. I don’t get to play to often, and the prerelease events are fun and flavorful. I’m lucky to have started playing MTG again when I did, because starting with Return to Ravnica, they changed the format and made it much more engaging and dynamic, with choices of colors, Guilds and Factions making the games more immersive and building the excitement for the set to come.

As I had mentioned before, This set is all about the wedges of the game: Three color combinations involving a single color and its two enemy colors. During the Shards block, they had allied combinations: Grixis , Naya , Jund, Bant and Esper. These have now come to mean simply more than the shards from the set, and to encompass any deck of the same colors. We will see if Jeskai , Abzan , Sultai , Mardu ,  and Temur can take the place of the current naming conventions of decks of their shared colors.

I knew I was going to be playing Jeskai at the Two Headed Giant with my brother, so for the midnight pre-release I decided on Mardu. Sealed, which is what the pre-release games are, tends to be fairly slow, with each deck at the mercy of its pool and only able to get off to a quick start if the stars align correctly. Mardu, but the virtue of its colors, is an exceedingly fast deck. With the piles of 2 and 3 drop creatures I expected to get, I was going to be able to get into the guts of an opponent quick and beat them before they could drop their big bad monsters. I was really banking on a few or more creatures with the signature raid ability, though, when I built my deck. My seeded pack, one in which they give you some cards that are guaranteed to be in your colors to ensure you can build a reasonable deck with the colors you chose, contained an Utter End, four raid creatures and a raid spell.

The rest of the packs contained 0, as I had somehow managed not to get a single raid card in my 5 other packs. I did get a pretty solid deck in my colors though, with 7 removal and a stack of 17 swift creatures. I was extremely happy with my deck, though there was a singe card causing me contention. Ponyback Riders. My deck wanted to be fast, to be aggressive, and to come in low. Ponyback Riders was none of that. At a hard cost of 6, it was way above the curve of the casting costs I wanted. Its morph cost was  5, but it was still high for what I felt I needed in the deck. There was going to be so very few times I would be able to cast this spell, even if it did give me 3 1/1 tokens to go along with it. But, it is the Clans signature card. At common, its given a premium spot in limited, and making due with the commons you have is the difference between wins and losses. I hemmed and hawed about what to cut if I was to put it in. Eventually, I just gave in and tossed the damn thing in my deck, repercussions be damned. I did to a ton of smack talk about the card, though.

It proved me wrong.

The format was a three round tournament, where if you won in any given round, you won a booster pack. Fairly simple, exceedingly fun, and limited time. Good all around. I went into my first match, hoping to get a quick win and a pack. My opponent was playing Abzan, and he ground it out as well as Abzan could be expected to, but as the game was starting to stabalize towards him, I managed to pull out a Ponyback Riders, tip the balance in my favor, and put pressure on him. I managed to get him to 8 life, and attack with just a pair of creatures totaling three damage, he feels safe, takes the damage, hoping to push through the next turn for the kill, but I hit him with an Arrow Storm. Man, I love Lava Axe Effects. The second game went much better for me, with his deck short on mana and I managed to get out a pile of creatures quickly. It was a short brutal set, but I took home the win, and the pack.

The second player was someone I’d played before, maybe once or twice, and was a real good sport. He’d decided to take Jeskai, and I felt it was going to be one of those games where we dueled it out a bit, each of us built for aggro. It turns out, though, that he’d built a slower, more controlling Jeskai deck. Once again, the tables were slowly turning on me as he built up an army of dudes to combat mine, and I was left with a sinking board state. Once again, Ponyback riders come to my rescue, allowing me to turn the tide again and get him for game one. Game two I was able to get in and underneath him again, taking my second win for the night!

The last guy I played that night was also a Mardu player, having the same philosophy that if he went underneath the other players, he’d be able to get a fair number of wins in. Turns out, he was right. His deck, both times, had more removal and more creatures show up, and I was just thrumpped. Man, is BloodSoaked Champion good.

My brother also won two games with his Temur deck, and we both headed out of there with a pair of packs. Its so late, I don’t even remember what I pulled!

With that, I made my way home to get some rest, hang out with my family, and get back to business the next day for the main event. Two Headed Giant.

The Brothers Grimm made an appearance again, and if you’d forgotten, let me remind you: We were terrible last time. This time, though, we were prepared. We chose our styles and our guilds, and were ready to roll. We’d talked about both playing super-fast decks that would be able to take advantage of the slow buildup of the opponents again. I took Jeskai, because I love the color combinations, and my brother chose Mardu for the speed and violence. I was really, really looking to get some cool prowess combinations going off, but it just wasn’t to be, as between our two boxes: My seeded pack and the 10 extra packs we’d opened, we managed to pull just 7 Prowess cards. Man, I was bitter, especially because it felt that my brother got a huge pile of Raid cards. Still, I had enough cards to make a good Jeskai deck, and make it really aggressive. I had 9 removal and 10 creatures, most of which flew, and my brother had some 20 creatures, all of which were cheap and effective.

What I’d have given just for one…

Our first matchup was against, it seemed to me, another pair of brothers, though much younger. What is crucial here is that Two Headed Giant is not a best of three format, its a single game, with everything hinging on how that one game is able to progress. We’d learned last time and made sure that we had enough mana, and mulliganed anything that seemed even remotely fishy. There was no reason to keep a bad hand with only one game. I won’t say we beat the other team easily, but it wasn’t a particular challenge, either. Both decks they made were in the traditional “battlecruiser” style that just stalled the first couple turns until they had enough mana out to start firing off their big spells and fatty bombs. Thankfully, between the spells, flyers, and raid creatures were were able to set up a slew of really advantageous positions and make sure they stayed on the backfoot. We went up 1-0

Our second matchup brought us against a pair of players that knew what they were doing, and though I kept us in the game, my brother managed to flood out with lands. We put up a valiant fight, but with only one player, it was extremely hard to overcome their decks.

The third match was against a person I’d played a few times before, and his teammate, who I’d seen around but never played against. While they were fine to play against, they bickered like an old married couple over every action! I admit, my brother and I would confer about certain actions, but each game (except this one) took around half the time in the round. They’d mentioned that they had gone to time every single game so far, and ours was no different. Add to that, at least in my brain, that we made a single, terrible mistake in the game that sealed our fate, and it expanded the magnitude. we had 29 life, and they had 9. We were at a significant advantage, and we knew it. We had a large pile of creatures on the table, and though theirs were larger, we could get through with a few. I had 2 flyers, and they had one big one, who we’d let through the turn before. We could, we calculated, get some 7 points of damage through and really put our feet on their necks. We attacked with everything we had.

Into the arms of a firestorm. Three spells and the blocks we expected later, and our team was gutted. what little there was left was just sitting there, waiting to be crushed under the bootheels of the army that was coming across the table in but a single turn. at that point we could have scooped, but we figured we’d play it out to the end, and man it was aggravating. It happens, we took our second loss of the night, dropping to 1-2 and got ready to face our last opponents, hoping to at least break even.

Sadly, we knew the people playing, and they were exhausted. They both were running on lack of sleep, and we were able to overrun them extremely quickly both from awesome draws on our side and tiredness on theirs. We even had enough time to swap decks between games, and beat them with their own decks!

I enjoyed both experiences, and unsurprisingly the Mardu deck felt more powerful. It was fast, it was unrelenting, and it was able to slide in under most opponents guards. The colors work really well together as an aggressive style of play, building on blacks power for a price, reds headlong abandon, and whites simple weenies. They all three, as well, have very powerful removal, often the best in the game, and this was no exception. Arrow Storm, Throttle, Kill Shot and Murderous Cut all live side by side in the same deck. it was a pretty heady rush.

However, the games with my brother were much more fun that the games I ran earlier that day. Besides having someone to talk to and confer with, the Prowess deck was just much more fun to play. I love combat, combat tricks, flashy spells and cool creatures, and Jeskai allowed me to do that all day. I love to keep people guessing when they play me, and though I am undeniably aggressive, I do so much love to cast those interesting spells that are blowouts once every other time. I’m a risk taker, and I don’t like durdling around with my decks, especially draft and sealed. It was great to be playing a deck that really exemplified my style, and I think I am going to have to look at adding a little more white to my decks

Honestly, Prerelease sealed deck is one of my favorite versions of any game to play. Its right up there with Draft and Warmachine,easily above Infinity and Malifaux. If you get a chance, if you enjoyed MTG once before or haven’t played it in a long time give the next prerelease a shot! Its a time travel block, and I’ll be there, playing along!

 

Its been an extremely long time since I played magic, and longer than that since I drafted. Thankfully, this seems poised to change here soon, with the onset of Khans of Tarkir, the newest MTG set to be release in just a few weeks. It seems to be that October is the best time for me to be able to sit down and think about drafting and MTG in general.

one of the things I’ve always enjoyed about Magic is how the colors interact. From the very first set I picked up Blue and Red were enemies and White and Green were allies. It was an ingrained portion of the game, and I really don’t remember trying to force a pair of colors to work together if they were not allies. Fast forward to the first time I came back to Magic from hiatus with the invasion block, and this color-alliance was the focus of the game. Invasion and Planeshift worked within the standard confines and dealt in friendly pairs, but when Apocolypse dropped, it turned my world on its head. Cards like Suffocating Blast and Mystic Snake, Flowstone Charger and Consume strength encouraged building decks that I’d never conceived of before, and it stoked my love of enemy color pairs that has flourished since then. Getting back into the game for Return to Ravnica was icing on that cake, with enemy and ally pairs being put together to form the guilds I had missed the first time around.

What had also happened was that MTG design had gotten crisper and more focused. That which I had originally decried as a loss of storyline – the moving on from the Weatherlight Saga – had creates a greater canvas with which to create original and cool stories, like Ravnica. I had also missed the extremely insane Shards block, where the allied color “shards” were prominently featured: Shards being the allied colors of a central color, ie Black-Blue-Red is a shard centering on black. It had left open the design space, simply by existing, of “enemy shards” or wedges as they came to be known. Instead of the multicolor focus being on the allies of a given color, they would instead be on the enemy colors. This has given us Khans of Tarkir, a set that focuses on five tribes fighting against each other for the control of an entire world.

The Inevitable Azban

Abzan

The Brilliant Jaskai

Jeskai

The Inevitable Sultai

Sultai

The Relentless Mardu

Mardu

The Powerful Temur

Temur

Each of these clans evokes an aspect of the long dead dragons, killed by the clans a thousand years ago, as seen on their symbols: Endurance (scale), cunning (eye), ruthlessness (claw), speed (wings) and savagery (claw).

What I find most interesting about these color sets is that the design decided not to center each of the clans thematically around the off color, but around whatever seemed right, the first color in the clans list. This seems to be to get them around having to really design some strange cards, but it throws me off at first.

In addition to the interaction of the colors through the wedges, the set also has six mechanics, which is a hefty amount. One, morph, is carried across all the clans and is meant to, in a manner, portray the aspect of the dragons. This interesting, returning mechanic allows some very cool attacking and blocking games that will be extremely fun to use on the table.

 I originally really dug the Raid Mechanic, as it encourages an extremely aggressive play style to be well rewarded, and I am nothing if not aggressive. It also comes in my favorite three color wedge: Red-White-Black. It has the best removal, the swiftest of creatures and the sacrifice for power theme of Black, so whats not to love!

But Somewhere in Wizards deep, deep dungeons, someone knew that I was about to abandon my beloved Izzet(Blue-Red) so they made Prowess, and man, do I really like it. I’m not a typical drafter, because I enjoy playing spells and doing neat things instead of just turning creatures sideways and winning. Don’t get me wrong, its a fantastic way to win, but I enjoy casting spells way, way more. I’ll genenraly draft 10 spells and 14 creatures instead of the 18+ creatures many decks enjoy. Izzets Overload and the preponderance of Scry and Heroic in both blue and red in Theros really fueled that play style, and I feel that Prowess can do the same in Khans. Thankfully, it also opens me up to Temur and their giant, huge creatures, but they just aren’t the same feeling as casting crazy spells to pump my whole boat and send them flying at my enemy. I’d ideally like to pull something like Dragon Style Twins or Howl of the Horde out of red, Sage of the Inward Eye and Narset could just flat out enable bonkers size attacks. I just see a ton of cool ways to enable, boost and take a Jeskai deck to the top.

Hopefully, my brother and I will be able to play in the Two Headed Giant tournament out here and do decently well, unlike last time. while its always good fun to get to game with my brother its always going to be more fun if we crush the enemy beneath our boot heals. The Preview week is still carrying on over at DailyMTG, so there are plenty more cards to see yet before the Pre-release the weekend of the 19-21st.