Sealed Lorwyn, Lose, or Draw

My initial reaction to seeing Lorwyn’s first preview was utter shock. Planeswalkers make a ton of sense. When I saw Liliana Vess, I figured that Wizards would take the incremental approach with Planeswalkers and keep them as a rare cycle. The new card type’s splashy, flavorful, and powerful, but at the same time it’s something that could potentially overpower the theme of a set. That’s fine with me.

It’s the most exciting time of the year. A brand new big set is fresh from the presses, and everything is new again.

My initial reaction to seeing Lorwyn’s first preview was utter shock. Planeswalkers make a ton of sense. When I saw Liliana Vess, I figured that Wizards would take the incremental approach with Planeswalkers and keep them as a rare cycle. The new card type’s splashy, flavorful, and powerful, but at the same time it’s something that could potentially overpower the theme of a set. That’s fine with me.

Clash is a ton of fun. I don’t mind rolling with punches when the luck turns sour, and when you get Clash to work for you when you were resigned to the regular effect, it’s a really warm, lucky feeling. I’m never against opportunities to set up my draw step, and if I show a trick and keep it, it scares the heck out of most opponents. So I’m perfectly happy with Clash. It has quite a bit of luck involved, but just enough skill to reward technical play by improving draws.

With that said, I went to the prerelease with a rather blank slate, trying not to come to the table with too many preconceptions. Having played a ton of Onslaught limited, I trusted my instincts when it comes to finding the tribe with ideal synergy. But I also knew how badly many players’ game plans could get disrupted by pinpoint removal and trickery. With Sealed, though, you ideally want to play the best strategy possible, even if it’s not the strategy you’re best at playing. Learning to play a different style of game is a vital skill that should be appreciated.

I hate prerelease pools. They’re so flipping big.

Lorwyn Prerelease Cardpool
Eli Kaplan
Test deck on 10-14-2007
Lorwyn Limited

How did I sort the Lorwyn cardboard? I sorted by tribe, with a separate pile for non-affiliated cards of each color. I reviewed the non-affiliated stuff first, to see if there were any crazy spells I craved to play. After that, I ran down each tribe, figured out which would provide solid mainstays and which could get one or two cards plucked for quality assuming the colors work out. I’m still getting a handle on the cards, but I’ll speak out on the cards I feel absolutely must be addressed.

Solid: Neck Snap
Decent: Battle Mastery

Poor: 2 Soaring Hope

Neck Snap is a little pricey for what you want it to do, and it’ll never get rid of that godforsaken Imperious Perfect. I kept turning this card over with Clash and sending it to the bottom, feeling no pain. But it’s perfectly reasonable for what it does. Is it worth splashing? Probably not.

Battle Mastery is on the low end of what I’d call decent. The bounce is relatively limited, but slapping this on a flier and having it chumped leaves you hollow. And there are a few token generators that let people block your fattie time after time again. So I can’t sign onto this card.

Soaring Hope is one of the worst life gain spells in a while. Pollenbright Wings is a far better spell because it allows your basher to get through in the air and get a handful of Saprolings out there. Soaring Hope’s life gain doesn’t do nearly enough to affect the board. If the spell was two mana cheaper, then it’d be playable.

But hey, don’t knock it. For one mana, you’re almost certainly sure to win any Clash!

Solid: Broken Ambitions, Whirlpool Whelm
Decent: Zephyr Net

Broken Ambitions is correctly priced. The Clash effect is quite visceral in its feeling. I am much happier with this counterspell than any other in Lorwyn, purely on the basis that it only asks for one Blue mana. Lorwyn doesn’t have a ton of graveyard interaction, thankfully. Otherwise the milling bit would feel icky.

Whirlpool Whelm is an absolutely fantastic card. On occasion, you get to dock your opponent one card. That’s seriously good tempo. Remember, if you use this to save your own creature, you don’t have to put the card on top of your library even if you do win the Clash.

Faerie decks will despise using Zephyr Net to ruin their opponent’s best guy. The Net cramps their attacking style. Merrow, on the other hand, probably get to sneak their way through with Islandwalk. (Aquitect’s Will goes a long way.) It figures. Why would little, nearly weightless bugs be able to do anything productive with nets?

Solid: Footbottom Feast, Weed Strangle

When there’s five mana involved, I’m far more amenable to a card with double colored mana. Weed Struggle takes a ton of mana, but the potential for picking up life sweetens the pot. The question is how many Black mana sources you’ll want in your maindeck to run this. On this card, my number is five.

Footbottom Feast is not the raw card advantage machine of Tenth Edition’s Recover, but the ability to get four or five of your guys back in the late game makes attrition wars ridiculously easy. Lorwyn’s tribal theme really emphasizes attrition, particularly when facing off against Boggarts. Win the fight. Play Footbottom Feast.

Needle Drop is a great spell for those of you who are very, very exact in your board setup. It does have the potential to botch up combat math.

Eh, who am I kidding. I like fire and forget spells. Needle Drop is anything but fire and forget. It’s a fine 23rd card, but it’s just not the sort of thing I like.

Solid: Fertile Ground, Garruk Wildspeaker
Poor: 2 Hunt Down

Aw yeah. Nothing says prerelease good times like getting to play with the newest toys, and here we have a Planeswalker. Garruk’s absolute, no questions asked Hill Giant makes him always playable. If you don’t have to worry about the opponent beating down your doors, setting up for Overrun is a breeze. This isn’t quite as awesome as Chandra in Limited (man, I itch to pull the 10 pointer off with Chandra), but it’s close.

Fertile Ground is much safer than Leaf Gilder and lets Green tribes dip into their other colors easily. I’m not badmouthing Leaf Gilder in any way; any 2/1 for two mana is fine, and tapping for Green mana is superb, but Leaf Gilders get killed and don’t tap for any color of mana. Green has some great men to accelerate to. You can’t say no to it.

Solid: Runed Stalactite, Wanderer’s Twig
Decent: Dolmen Gate

The most important thing about Runed Stalactite is that in Lorwyn, you’re safer outside a club than inside. Holding a Stalactite keeps you safe from Eyeblight’s Ending or Thundercloud Giant, but opens you up to very painful Consuming Bonfires or Boggart Loggers. Lowly pests like Nath’s Buffoon bristle. Give this to the number two most important guy on your board if you’re worried about keeping creatures safe and have cards to protect your guy through toughness. If you don’t have a trick in hand to keep your guy safe, then play this on your most important guy.

When I’m playing with 17 lands, a nice curve, and Wanderer’s Twig, I’ll keep one land hands with the Twig. I’ll always play this in any Sealed deck.

Can you Twig it? I knew that you could.

Dolmen Gate rewards people for attacking and attacking often. This card is easily the best friend of Kithkin, but any very offensive deck will love the Dolmen Gate. I usually prefer playing decks with board control and onboard tricks, winning through evasion, so this card doesn’t sync well with my personal play style. But I respect this card’s brute power.

Now that we’re done with the regular, unaffiliated cards, it’s time for the main event, the whole shebang. It’s time to rank the tribes. I’ll rank the members of each tribe with my own nomenclature. Leaders get us excited to play that guy’s team in large numbers. Followers have reasonable synergy with the rest of their tribe and can be quite valuable in a group effort, but you won’t feel obligated to draft them onto your team when your main interests are elsewhere. Journeymen provide benefit to any player with sympathetic colors. On occasion, they bat for a team they weren’t born into. And then we have our last categories, the lovable Losers. They get the scrapings from the bottom of the barrel. No one loves playing with Losers, but occasionally synergy demands sacrificing individual card quality.

Journeymen: Boggart Loggers, Caterwauling Boggart, Quill-Slinger Boggart, Stinkdrinker Daredevil, Tarfire
Followers: Adder-Staff Boggart, Boggart Shenanigans, Facevaulter
Losers: Boggart Forager

Boggart Loggers have evasion against most decks. Green is easily the most popular color in Lorwyn Sealed, so it’ll usually be unblockable. The ability to take out a Treefolk or Changeling is also awesome. I never saw anyone get good mileage out of torching their opponent’s Forests, even if they could recur the Loggers, but the option is nothing to sniff at.

Quill-Slinger Boggart can usually ping an opponent for two on Changelings, but it’s a little too slow for Kithkin-heavy decks. It’s a paradox.

There’s no powerful recursion here, there’s no great synergy. These Boggarts need to go out and steal some dignity.

Solid: Avian Changeling, Crib Swap
Decent: Ghostly Changeling, Wings of Velis Vel

By definition, Changelings are journeymen. They’re type O, able to lend their talents to any build. Your only constraint is the colors. So I can let myself get away with my usual rating system for this one tribe.

Avian Changeling is completely awesome. Any deck can use a flier, and it’s so easy for the Changeling to turn into a vicious beast if you’ve got the tools.

Early Crib Swaps never go the way you want them to. My opponents kept playing this spell far too early, and my sandbagged fatties kept smashing them afterwards. The spell is definitely better on for late use. Take the lessons from Planar Chaos’s Utopia Vow, and you’ll do well with Crib Swap.

Wings of Velis Vel trashed many of my opponent’s fliers and has saved many guys from removal spells. It’s not as splashable as Nameless Inversion, but it’s still a great trick to have up your sleeves.

Ghostly Changeling is a perfectly reasonable card, but given the high mana demands of this set, I don’t think it’s all that amazing. I certainly wouldn’t draft it in the first four cards of a booster.

Solid: Guile, Mulldrifter, Shriekmaw
Decent: Mournwhelk, Wispmare, Inner-Flare Acolyte, Glarewielder, 2 Consuming Bonfire
Poor: Dawnfluke

Here’s the other tribe where my system breaks down. With Evoke, most Elementals end up playing like spells more often than not. The flamekin themselves are little and punchy and revolve around activated abilities, but they’re too small for my tastes. The non-Red Elementals don’t really interact with the Flamekin all that much, but come bundled with awesome abilities.

Guile’s evasion ability is the least effective of any of the Incarnations. And its ability to hijack countered spells is nowhere near as relevant as Purity’s or Hostility’s rules text. I don’t care. Guile’s an absolutely vicious beater that is almost certainly guaranteed to get card advantage without any other help.

In Japan, Guile’s best friend is Nash, not Charlie.

Consuming Bonfire’s a fine burn spell, but one needs to take care with this spell. If your opponent has Amoeboid Changeling and a Treefolk with five or more toughness in play, don’t play this until the Changeling’s tapped. My opponent learned this the hard way at the prerelease party today.

Glarewielder is horrid on the stats, but a fine supplement to a Giant deck or possibly a splash for a deck that is short on ways to get through.

This tribe simply can’t be played en masse due to the mana, but has a lot to offer other colors.

Leaders: Lys Alana Scarblade, Lys Alana Huntmaster
Journeymen: Eyeblight’s Ending, Leaf Gilder, Moonglove Winnower
Followers: 2 Elvish Branchbender
Losers: Elvish Eulogist, Scarred Vinebreeder

Elves really, really like sticking together, so it’s really hard to call otherwise crappy 1/1s losers. But I abhor playing 1/1s simply for synergy effects.

Moonglove Winnower is awesome. The best way to look at Winnower is as a four mana Seal of Doom that attacks periodically. It just can’t kill fliers. Don’t draft it early, however.

If we play Scarblade and Huntmaster together, we have discrete yet copious amounts of kill. But the combo is fragile. A single Lash Out will ruin your day. You absolutely need to get the Huntmaster on the table before the Branchbenders make any real impact. There’s synergy here, but it’s not quite good enough to be a winning strategy.

Journeymen: Dreamspoiler Witches, Sentinels of Glen Elendra
Followers: Scion of Oona, Spellstutter Sprite, Nightshade Stinger
Losers: Faerie Trickery

The local people in Nagoya got wise to Sentinels of Glen Elendra really quickly. I’ve taken advantage of this bluff more than once.

Complain at me in the forums if you like, but I don’t like hard counters that cost two Blue mana in Limited. Unless it has an alternate casting cost or draws you a card, I can’t play it. So I won’t ever play Faerie Trickery. The tempo in this format is too tight to play it anyway.

With only five real cards, Faeries are easily written off as a support tribe.

Journeymen: Cloudgoat Ranger, Hillcomber Giant
Followers: Lowland Oaf
Losers: Giant’s Ire

Want to know what the wrecking crew looks like? Look no further than Cloudgoat Ranger. Six power for five mana, coupled with flying? This card has definitely got Constructed potential. It’s obviously better with Ajani, but Garruk will gladly share the court with the Ranger. This is the best White uncommon, and possibly better than Shriekmaw. That puts the Cloudgoat Ranger in lofty territory. We’re talking about fair comparisons to Dragons here.

Yeah, Hillcomber Giant’s evasion isn’t entirely reliable. Sealed players often splash Mountains for removal, so the likelihood of the Giant getting through is better thank you think. Hill Giant efficient stats make this card surprisingly good. I can’t believe I got these in a twelfth draft pick today.

Giants are always too behind on tempo to make Giant’s Ire work the way you want it to.

Journeymen: Kithkin Greatheart, Plover Knights, Kithkin Mourncaller, Surge of Thoughtweft
Follower: Cenn’s Heir
Loser: Goldmeadow Dodger

Surge of Thoughtweft has made many of my removal spells go awry. I’ve been playing and using my Moonglove Extracts on my turn to keep bad combat math scenarios, and time and time again the Extracts keep getting blocked by Surge of Thoughtweft.

There just aren’t that many fliers in Lorwyn right now, and it takes a lot of Faeries to fight off Plover Knight. The only combat trick that ruins Plover Knight’s day is Wings of Velis Vel.

Leader: Summon the School
Journeymen: Silvergill Douser, Merrow Harbinger, Veteran of the Depths
Follower: Inkfathom Divers, 2 Silvergill Adept, Streambed Aquitects, 2 Aquitect’s Will, Merrow Commerce
Loser: Wellgabber Apothecary

We’ve got 12 Merfolk cards here. That’s more than enough for us to reliably play Silvergill Adepts on turn 2. If we play Merfolk, I can’t see a scenario where we don’t search for Summon the School with the Harbinger.

I love bargains, and Inkfathom Divers is definitely a bargain.

With up to three islandwalkers, the Aquitect’s Wills are absolutely necessary to keep the offense going.

We’ve got the sheer number to base a deck around the Merrow. The card draw is absolutely fantastic and keeps the resources coming. The pool is just not right to abuse Merrow Commerce, though. Merfolk look like a possible winner.

Leader: Doran, the Siege Tower
Journeymen: Cloudcrown Oak, Bog-Strider Ash, Oaken Brawler, Seedguide Ash, Lignify
Follower: Battlewand Oak, Black Poplar Shaman

I like fatties, and Treefolk are reasonably costed fatties. They’re strong platforms for creature fights. The individual card quality is high enough to be playable.

Bog-Strider Ash’s ability to gain life against Boggarts is incredibly relevant. Good Boggart decks have lots of recursion, and Bog-Strider Ash’s life gain makes a lot of that hard work so much punching the air.

With all the mana fixing we’ve got, it seems like Doran can be played with some degree of regularity on turn 3. A 5/5 on turn 3? With two Vivid lands, it’s quite doable. The other Treefolk get big power boosts when he hits the table. On the other hand, Lignified opponent creatures hit back hard with Doran in play.

This is the deck I came up with.

1: Runed Stalactite, Wanderer’s Twig
2: Leaf Gilder, Fertile Ground
3: Avian Changeling, Battlewood Oak, Black Poplar Shaman, Doran, the Siege Tower, Wispmare, Crib Swap, Eyeblight’s Ending, Footbottom Feast
4: Bog-Strider Ash, Cloudcrown Oak, Hillcomber Giant, Lys Alana Huntmaster, Moonglove Winnower, Oaken Brawler, Garruk Wildspeaker, Neck Snap
5: Cloudgoat Ranger, Plover Knights, Seedguide Ash, Shriekmaw

1 Vivid Meadow
1 Vivid Marsh
4 Plains
3 Swamp
7 Forest

I went with the bigger creatures and evasion. Four point and click removal spells, recursion, and high quality creatures make for a solid deck. The acceleration is absolutely essential for this deck to make up for the weak early game.

This concoction didn’t drop me a game. I plowed over players time and time again with a solid mix of Treefolk. A vicious Boggart deck in Round 1 kept trading time and time again, using the obnoxious Boggart Loggers several times. He had quite a lot of removal. But he burned through his most precious resources in trading, and a Footbottom Feast setting up all my awesome trump creatures for another go brought him a scoop. Game 2 involved a ridiculously huge line of Treefolk showing up and he didn’t draw any of his synergy cards.

I remember winning my second match quite handily through Cloudgoat Ranger in both games. Playing big burly wood for defense, then smashing through the air with a flying Giant worked well against a bunch of sketchy Elves.

I smashed a guy in the third round in a beatdown that wasn’t even funny. I started off game 1 with Garruk Wildspeaker on turn 3. That helped me crank out a Cloudgoat Ranger on turn 4 with four counters on Garruk. With all those guys, it seemed fine enough for an Overrun next turn. My opponent stopped the reindeer games with Eyeblight’s Ending on the Giant.

What does a guy do? He draws Footbottom Feast and taps eight mana to replay the Cloudgoat Ranger. Seven tramplers with Overrun are certainly better than four.

Planeswalkers are ridiculous in Limited.

The last match involved a Kithkin on Treefolk fight. Battlewood Oak shut down his early offense, and Doran smashed the other guy into extra smooth salsa. Black Poplar Shaman was particularly handy in this match, making my opponent’s blocking miserable. I played it a little safe, and Neck Snap helped slow down the flying offense.

It didn’t seem fair when I managed to sneak a turn 3 Doran, turn 4 Garruk opening in the second game. Cloudgoat Ranger showed up and worked his magic. The other guy made a few Kithkin and Ajani, but the Treefolk were just too big to stop.

Taking a lesson away from going 8-0 in games isn’t easy. After all, everything went well. Why criticize success?

It turns out that success should be criticized. In retrospect, I could have done a better job and played Lignify. Lignify answers Wren’s Run Packmaster and Imperious Perfect. I stand by my decision not to run Weed Strangle. Two Black mana is too much to ask for, even with all the fixing we’ve got.

Would a Blue/White build have worked? Possibly. We’d have lots of flying and efficient creatures. I really wanted to try Blue/White, but I couldn’t say no to the Planeswalker.

Moreso than recent sets, Lorwyn Sealed will reward scrupulous deckbuilders who can find the best tradeoff between individual card quality and synergy in paving their road to victory. The advertising hype of tribal skews most people towards synergy. But sometimes, you have to disregard the hype.

As always, leave comments in the forums.

Eli Kaplan
turboeli on Magic Online