CASUAL FRIDAYS #89: Casual Reflections From A Prerelease

Playing at a prerelease is one of the best ways to get ideas for new casual decks. And you don’t have to lose at the event, either.

The Minneapolis Prerelease for Apocalypse was put on by Steve Port and The Legion, which does most of the events in this area. There were about three hundred people there, split into three pods of a hundred. I’ll kill the suspense: I went 5-1-1 and placed fifth in my pod with a deck that I wished (about two minutes after registration) that I had built better by three cards. (I then was on a team that swept an informal team sealed event with sixteen entrants… But I’ll save that for my Sideboard series.)

To give you the casual”meat” of this article, I have to give you some of the dry details about card pool and deck. Bear with me. Here is the deck I ran:

Power Armor

Thornscape Apprentice

Urborg Elf

Quirion Elves

Explosive Growth

Sabertooth Nishoba

Coalition Honor Guard

Benalish Trapper


Obsidian Acolyte

Sunscape Apprentice

Blind Seer

Tower Drake

Vodalian Serpent

Coastal Drake


Living Airship x2



Death Mutation

Zombie Boa

Goham Djinn

Plainly said, I built this deck wrong, and I don’t entirely blame myself. In the first pod, we got a measly 25 minutes to build our deck. At a casual event, with a new card set, I just don’t understand why we were given so little time. (This is my only complaint about how Steve Port ran that day; he and his team represent a well-oiled tournament machine.) I started with a green-blue-black deck, migrated into white, and was slowly pulling out the black when the two-minute warning came. Feeling that I had struck a good balance between the four colors and mana-fixers, I hurriedly wrapped up the deck and divvied up lands. Even though I technically had enough of each land to run my colors (six Forests, five Plains, four Islands, two Swamp), I thankfully had the presence of mind to swap lands so I could sideboard in more blue/green/white.

My near-automatic sideboard for game two in every match:

-1 Death Mutation

-1 Goham Djinn

-1 Zombie Boa

-2 Swamp

+1 Standard Bearer

+1 Barrin’s Unmaking

+1 Temporal Spring

None of the three cards I sided out were bad… At all. Zombie Boa is very nice. (Consider that most people would seriously consider maindecking Phyrexian Reaper, which costs the same and only works on green creatures.) We all know the Djinn is pretty sweet. And the Death Mutation, despite concerns with its eight-mana cost, is definitely playable, and at times amazing given how it drastically changes the board in your favor. But none of these cards belonged in the deck, which should be a blue-white-green control deck with the off chance of a black surprise (see split cards and elves).

Cards that were a bit painful to leave in the sideboard:

WHITE: Benalish Lancer, which wanted more white than I could give; and Degavolver, which is not quite as amazing as the red or green volvers.

GREEN: Verduran Emissary, who was ready if I found someone else with Power Armor; and Lay of the Land, which seems like an inefficient color fixer but probably will get tested by many, many people.

BLUE: Ceta Disciple, which I would have run if I had wanted four color fixers instead of three; and Evasive Action, since in my deck it was strictly superior to Prohibit.

BLACK: Urborg Uprising, five mana for three cards. If I was going to splash black, THIS was the card to splash. I also had a Planar Despair and Phyrexian Gargantua, both with double black in the cost.

Red, frankly, stunk. I got Savage Offensive AND Overload; all I needed for the hat trick from hell was Chaotic Strike. My most powerful mono-red creature was Goblin Ringleader. That’s right, my big red heavy was a two-power GOBLIN.

By the way, the Obsidian Acolyte maindeck was not a mistake. Normally I would not run an Acolyte maindeck; but with the 2/4 Flagbearer in play, the only thing that was going to wreck this deck was black removal. I was also deeply, deeply concerned about the probable prominence of green-black decks.

The deck I built had some beautiful synergies to it. Among the many possibilities:

And on it went. It turned out that I rarely drew I card that I regretted; only the occasional first-game mana screw gave me any frustrating draws.

Each match I played gave me a different lesson to bring back to my casual, multiplayer game. I took down no opponent names, to protect the wicked. Here’s the report with lessons:

ROUND ONE: R/U/W. This was my opponent’s second Sealed Deck event, ever. It is a testament to his deck-building skill that he recognized r/u/w as the right build immediately – Lightning Angel and Desolation Giant certainly helped that choice; but Reckless Assault and many good green creatures were also there to tempt him, and he resisted well. Unfortunately, his deck was fifty cards, which probably cost him game one with me since I had time to recover from a Desolation Giant that I shouldn’t have had.

After game two, when he beat me with a Dodecahedron with a (sideboarded) anti-green and anti-blue enchantment, he asked for my help in reorganizing his deck. I suggested he wait until after game three, and then decide if he WANTED my help!

This is where I decided my own sideboard had to happen, and I took out the black and put in the tempo cards. This worked beautifully; and he decided he did in fact want my deckbuilding help after all.

I gave him some suggestions for his”games two-and-three” deck, and then didn’t see him again… Until round five, when I sat next to him and discovered he won four straight matches after talking with me.”I lose game one with my original deck; and then I win games two and three after switching!”, he claimed; no doubt I will post his testimony on my next instructional video. He finished 5-2, winning packs and making me feel pretty darn good. Of course, he doesn’t win with ANY deck if he’s not a fundamentally good player, so my hat is off to him. Second sealed deck experience, indeed! (I think I went 1-4 when I did my second Sealed Deck two years ago.)

Anyway, the multiplayer lesson from this match: Magic is a social game. If you don’t talk to your opponent during and after the match (and when I mean”talk,” I don’t mean muttering”tap your Shivan Wurm”), you are losing the game.

Matches 1-0, Games 2-1.

ROUND TWO: R/B/W. This was a chatty fellow with an excellent sense of humor and a well-built deck with Kavu and removal. I desperately needed the Coalition Honor Guard against this guy, and got it both games. This was the first match where I really felt the deck demonstrated lockdown potential, by getting out the vaunted trio of Guard, Living Airship, and Power Armor. His deck was light on flyers, and eventually succumbed to the Airship’s relentless pinging.

The multiplayer lesson from this match? I’ll be content if people just don’t use Brass Golem (or whatever that artifact envoy is) in any environment whatsoever. This was the one card I saw in my opponent’s deck that I disagreed with, even though he had heavy Kavu. If you pay six mana for a 2/2, you had better be getting a killer ability, and preferably some dancing girls as well. Putting four good cards on the bottom of your library and seeing your slightly larger Hooded Kavu? Hmmmm…not exactly”A Chorus Line”…

Matches 2-0, Games 4-1.

ROUND THREE: B/G/W. Or at least I think it was. I don’t remember much from this round – my memory gets petulant when I lose – but my opponent was someone I knew distantly from playing at Dreamers, and I had no doubt his skills were high. My four-color build in game one finally came back to haunt me, mainly in the form of a Plague Spitter. I lost game two more quickly, as my deck decided to be funny and continue to color-screw me, even as I removed a color. Funny, funny deck. Ha ha.

The multiplay lesson from this round? Plague Spitter gets a boost from a whole bunch of new useful 1/1s – the disciples, Urborg Elf, Bloodfire Dwarf, etc. As your group starts embracing Apocalypse cards, be ready with a Plague Spitter deck. You’ll nail at least two or three people a game, I wager.

Also, we sat next to a match where I guy was using Fungal Shambler. Tell you what — that bad boy will be pretty nice in multiplayer. This guy’s opponent could barely stop it from nailing him every turn for a two-card swing; think of how easy it will be to find SOMEONE vulnerable, if you’re facing three or four opponents. Hey, it’s basic portfolio theory in action!

My first thoughts on a Shambler deck revolve around the fact that (1) you want it early, (2) you will be attacking with it every turn you can, and (3) you will want to keep back some defense. Oh, also: (4) you’ll want to make something happen with that card swing effect, either because you have more cards or your opponents have less:

4x Fungal Shambler

4x Wind Dancer (c’mon, don’t you want to see that thing shambling up in the air?)

3-4x Wall of Roots

3-4x Wall of Blossoms

3-4x Mystic Snake (you’ll need these to stop the Flametongue Kavu that’s coming out next turn)

3-4x Llanowar Dead

1-2x Avatar of Will

2-3x Veiled Crocodile

2-4x either Doomsday Specter or Crypt Angel (either gets your Snake back!)

1-2x Vizzerdrix. Okay, yes, I’m kidding; 1-2x Masticore (note ability to keep hand replenished)

1x Mind over Matter

Any of the rares are expendable; but just make certain what you get WITH the Shambler is, in fact, BETTER than the Shambler. Otherwise, you’ll just feel silly, even if you do win a lot.

Matches 2-1, Games 4-3

ROUND FOUR. R/U/W. Another Lightning Angel deck, this one captained by a woman who also had the good sense to pack Diversionary Tactics. That enchantment is a bit of a bomb. After winning game one, I felt good in the middle of game two as I halted early damage with a huge creature standoff. (Living Airship – they stop Angels, Dragons, Serpents…Is there anything they CAN’T do?!?) Unfortunately, just as I was starting to turn things around and go on offense, she bounced my Honor Guard and then tapped all of my creatures at the end of my turn to smash me with one last offensive. Ack.

Game two ate seriously into our time, and we only got six turns into game three.

The lesson from this matchup? Diversionary Tactics won’t work well in most multiplayer environments. It will beat on the player to your right, since you’ll have little to lose in tapping her creatures; but if you do it against an opponent early on in the turn cycle, you’ll likely regret it. If you play the Tactics, hope for many creature-light decks! (Note that my group plays the rule that tappers must do their dirty work before attackers are declared, which is consistent with rules for duel. So you have to guess well on who is likely to go after you.)

Matches 2-1-1, Games 5-4-1.

So I’m starting to lose a little faith in my wonderful creation, since even the sideboard was having difficulty against good decks with good players.

ROUND FIVE. G/B/U. My opponent loses game one since he is late to the party. Game two, he shows the new classic green-black beatdown in the form of Llanowar Dead, Ebony Treefolk, and Penumbra Wurm. Oh, and Desolation Angel (he had saclands for white mana, and surprised the hell out of me). Game three, I show him the new classic white-blue-green lockdown in the form of Vodalian Serpent, Coalition Honor Guard, Living Airship, and Benalish Trapper. Power Armor hits the table, and the Airship starts swinging for five.

This match’s lesson comes in the form of Penumbra creatures, which I’m fairly certain I will be blabbing about for some time to come, now. There’s going to be a good deck that manages to play well with the color change. After all, I had the reverse situation on my opponent, when I had an Obsidian Acolyte out and happily played Malice on the”first” Wurm, so that I could deal with a black version. What might a color-play Penumbra deck look like? Here’s what I’d start with:

4x various Penumbra Creatures

3x Ascendant Evincar

4x Bad Moon

2-4x Kavu Chameleon

4x Revive (may as well color-play green, too!)

Matches 3-1-1, Games 7-5-1.

ROUND SIX. G/W/U/B. Yes, a near-mirror match! Unfortunately for my opponent, while he had flagbearers like my deck, and also lots of cool tappers and flyers, he did NOT have Living Airship, nor Power Armor. Those cards spelled the difference.

One notable play from game one: I still had black in my deck, so I was holding Death Mutation. It turns out the one creature that I absolutely cannot deal with at the moment is his Stormscape Apprentice – not because it is tapping my block-ready flyer (since it can only tap my Honor Guard), but because it’s pinging me, and I’m sitting at about eight life. So I spend eight mana to kill, and I mean REALLY kill, that Stormscape Apprentice, and get a lone saproling for my trouble.

It was a less-than-stellar data point in my evaluation of Death Mutation… But I still think the card is fine in a more appropriate black-green deck.

The multiplayer lesson from this match was how darn cool Blind Seer is really getting. Apocalypse packs even more color-play spells, and the Seer’s power is growing steadily in all environments. Spells from Death Grasp to Spiritmonger will become staples at an awful lot of multiplayer tables. Blind Seer can help you cope with all of them, both by lending support to an Acolyte or simply protecting a creature with innate anti-color abilities.

In other words, the Absolute GraceBlind Seer decks we all thought of as Invasion came out should be even more powerful now.

Matches 4-1-1, Games 9-5-1.

ROUND SEVEN. G/B. Here, in the last round, at one of the top seats, I ran into a pure G/B machine that had taken its owner to 5-1 already. In game one, I learned why: I watched three successive creatures come out in the first three turns and beat me to about ten life before I could even get a defense up. Before I felt completely comfortable, I was down to five life. As I started to turn the tide against him, sending the Living Airships tentatively across to poke at his life total, I got too greedy and decided I could leave less blockers back than he had creatures, since I could block all but a 1/1. Unfortunately, he held an Explosive Growth… And I should have known better.

In game two, I didn’t take the early damage, and it showed. I could be more aggressive, and once Obsidian Acolyte and Coalition Honor Guard were both on the board, he started to squirm. Blind Seer and Living Airship soon joined the party…And then Power Armor. On to game three.

Game three was quite the creature showdown: he got out some early beats, and I was starting to have that bad first-game feeling. I think he underutilized a Zombie Boa for a turn or two – he must have been afraid I was going to block in an unchosen color when it first hit the table, and then after I got Blind Seer out it didn’t matter – but he did slice me down to one life before I had pretty good control of the board. Sabertooth Nishoba did a startlingly good impression of a creature with protection from green and black instead of red and blue! Both of us were topdecking at that point, so neither of us can claim fantastic strategy. I can just claim good sense in siding in both Barrin’s Unmaking and Temporal Spring, which helped keep him down long enough for me to finish the job with – no fair guessing! – Living Airship and Power Armor.

The lesson from this match, and every other one, is that Living Airship is a pretty damn decent common card. It approaches bomb status in Limited formats; in multiplayer, it is simply a decent blue creature that will regenerate, which is rare enough to be valuable in many decks. Blue-green will see plenty of casual play already because of Gaea’s Skyfolk and Mystic Snake; the Living Airship gives that deck the resilience befitting a blue creature deck.

Matches 5-1-1, Games 11-6-1.

COMING SOON: I’ve been thinking about the Whirlpool dynamic, and how it might fit a group game. Also, I may start a new”deck diary,” since I will be building Apocalypse decks very soon!


Anthony Alongi

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