Are you ready to battle?
Who doesn’t love casting 10/10 monsters that destroy worlds? Whether you’re on a mission to win every SCG Open Series event for the next eighteen months or
you just love to show your playgroup the cool nine-drop you just pulled, Battle for Zendikar has something for everyone in Magic. Forty, sixty,
and one-hundred card decks will all find lots to offer in the new set.
Today, let’s start with the forty-card variety. With Battle for Zendikar comes the promise of a Prerelease, and I hope you were able to attend one
near you. For me, I feel incomplete when I miss one; for the last ten years of playing Magic, I’ve striven to attend four a year, and on the times where I
can’t attend, I feel a hole in my heart. Exploring the exciting, nascent Limited environment with old and new friends is one of my favorite ways to spend a
Saturday, and this time, I had the privilege of attending a fantastic one.
When I walked into my local shop at a minute after four on Saturday afternoon, the whole place was in chaos as the owner announced that he had 140 entrants
but only a little over 100 Prerelease kits available. After it all shook down, he had to turn more than a dozen away despite his best efforts. I’m not sure
whether it was the Expedition Lands (“Christopher Columbus lands,” as our shopowner calls them,) or the enticing Sealed deckbuilding that drew people in
scores, but this would be one of the largest Prereleases I’d been to in years.
After claiming my coveted Prerelease pool, I took my seat and cracked my packs alongside a graduate school friend who’d just missed the cut on the waiting
list. Here’s a shot of the pool with the highlights.
As with most Sealed events, I pile out the rares and uncommons to begin recruiting the heavy hitters. In this pool, I had Ugin’s Insight, Ruinous Path,
Smothering Abomination, Akoum Hellkite, Brood Butcher, Conduit of Ruin, and Smoldering Marsh was my promotional card. No real money in here, unfortunately,
and my Expedition set sail without me, too.
My uncommons were incidental removal here and there, with a couple Scion-producing creatures. With two green and black cards, each worthy of a slot in any
deck that can cast them, I decided that the strong removal package, Eldrazi Scion subtheme, and lategame pressure made that color combination the most
appealing. Red had a lot of aggressive creatures, blue had some conditional spells, and white was pretty consistent but low-powered. Without much fixing to
splash a third color and no real need to, I sleeved up just green and black as the pairings for round one were called.
- 1 Giant Mantis
- 1 Territorial Baloth
- 1 Dominator Drone
- 1 Brood Butcher
- 1 Smothering Abomination
- 1 Catacomb Sifter
- 1 Conduit of Ruin
- 1 Snapping Gnarlid
- 1 Bane of Bala Ged
- 1 Brood Monitor
- 1 Sludge Crawler
As a sidenote and/or as you all likely saw, this Prerelease pool came in a nice cardboard deck box with a divider, making for a great little souvenir for
Round 1 – Gary (B/R)
Gary, who sat down ready to battle with his headphones in, shuffled up and presented his deck. In game 1, we traded blows for a bit while Retreat to
Kazandu kept me alive. Eventually, I stuck Bane of Bala Ged, which survived long enough to attack, exile his lands, and remove his ability to get back in
the game. After a mulligan in game 2, I was bested at every turn by Gary’s Demon’s Grasp, Touch of the Void, and every other removal spell you can think
of. I was smashed.
In game 3, I curved out after he mulliganed down, even hitting a turn 4 Grip of Desolation, banishing his Valakut Invoker and a land. This cleared the way
for combat, and I started beating down hard. After getting his fourth land into play and not finding the answer, he extended the hand.
Grip of Desolation seems unfair with Eldrazi Scions.
Round 2 – Keith #1 (U/B)
Yes, I played two Keiths on Saturday. Keith #1 was ready to fight for the win, but his low-cost ingest deck never seemed to get off the ground in either
game, seemingly through no fault of his own and mana troubles. After two games where I barely took any damage, my cheap creatures ended up doing a lot of
the work, with Catacomb Sifter scrying for a bunch. Ruinous Path awakened a Swamp that game, but that’s about all I remember. Sorry, Keith.
Round 3 – Josh (Sultai)
Josh was vaguely familiar to me; I rarely forget a face or a name, but his puzzled me. In game 1, despite a Retreat to Kazandu on time, I never got in the
red zone after a mulligan to six. Game 2, he flooded out instead, giving me a tidy win off an aggressive start and both Retreats widening the life gap. The
final game was a nailbiter. With me at six life and him at five, he untapped for his turn. I had four Eldrazi Scions, three of which had a +1/+1 counter, a
Catacomb Sifter, and a Territorial Baloth. During his first main phase, he cast Sire of Stagnation, leaving one Island untapped. He attacked with an
Eldrazi Devastator, forcing me to block. I did so with the minimum necessary, taking five and going to one life. With my two scry triggers, I looked at the
top of my library at a Forest. I went into the tank, considering what in the world he could cast for one blue mana. A landfall trigger would pump my
Baloth, but the Sire would likely block it anyway. It would also trigger the Retreat to Kazandu I had in play, and although the lifegain would be
irrelevant as I’d be dead on the crack back no matter what, I’d get another +1/+1 counter. If I played the land, he would get to draw two cards, getting
him closer to something that might interfere with my plan. Still deep in the tank, I set the hidden Forest back on top of my library and let the other scry
trigger resolve and fizzle. I untapped, played my +1/+1 counter and attacked with everything. I couldn’t remember if the set had a Hydrosurge effect that
would prevent the lethal swing, but lucky for me, I dodged the water cannon. Even with his best block, he’d be taking seven damage and, with no spell to
stop me, he extended the hand.
Round 4 – Tyler Winn (Sultai)
Tyler is one of our resident Spikes, claiming SCG Open Top 8s and wins with ease, his most recent Top 8 occuring two weeks ago in Milwaukee with Jeskai.
Yep, here would be my first loss.
In game 1, he played lots of small creatures and a Pathway Arrows. I hesitated to play all of my Eldrazi Scion spells, as I thought Pathway Arrows tapped
for free, but it requires two mana both to equip and to tap. Once I figured that out, I deployed my creatures more aggressively. Retreat to Hagra
slowly drained him, but neither of us was hitting terribly hard. He had a couple Eldrazi Scions, and so did I, and he had an Oran-Rief Invoker with more
than enough mana to activate its intimidating ability. He attacked me, and I blocked, ready to pummel it with the Complete Disregard in my hand. After the
trade, I attacked into what I feared was certain death, but I ended up having a better attack than him than I feared, as he only drew his smaller creatures
In game 2, we traded back and forth again. Concerned about countermagic, I stuck my Bane of Bala Ged at a time where we both had a lot of tapped lands and
not many creatures. With Grip of Desolation in my hand, I attacked the following turn. He exiled two lands and double blocked the Eldrazi. I revealed the
Grip to hit his biggest blocker and a land, and he conceded.
Did not expect that.
Round 5 – Alex (Mardu)
Alex was polite and, so far at least, very successful in today’s event. We sat at table one, one of about half a dozen undefeated players. One of us was
about to take a tumble.
In game 1, we traded card for card as I attempted to eliminate his small, early threats as best as I could. We punched each other with Dominator Drones and
Retreat to Hagra triggers until finally, we were both out of steam. While I was just drawing lands, Alex drew an Akoum Hellkite. Unanswered, I withered
into a heap.
Game 2 was a little more one-sided. We had exchanges sure, but I wasn’t removing any of his creatures, really. We were both sideways the whole game. As I
attacked with my Giant Mantis with Earthen Arms counters, he played an Angelic Captain. I attacked again, hoping to win the race, when he jammed Resolute
Blademaster, giving his whole squad double strike. My heart sunk; he turned the whole team sideways. I took twelve from the Angel and a Pilgrim’s Eye, and
I desparately blocked with the rest of my team to keep from dying. After not drawing the nonexistant card that would have saved me, I scooped.
Still in it.
Round 6 – Keith #2 (B/W)
Keith #2 was perhaps one of the polite Magic players I’d ever played against. This was his very first Sealed event, and I think he was doing pretty well.
In game 1, I didn’t have a spell until turn 4 while his Drana’s Emissary sucked the life from me turn after turn. Even after I took it down, though, he had
too many creatures for me to stop. Game 2 was a blow out on my side. He kicked himself for keeping a low land hand, and, on this rare occassion, I
legitimately curved out. Game 3 saw a Territorial Baloth present the biggest problem for his relatively small team of Allies and Scions. Retreat to Hagra
kept me near twenty life and, after casting Grip of Desolation on his last blocker, I brought in the army for the win.
A 5-1 record was good enough for Top 8; our shop’s main Prerelease awards $1000 spread across the Top 8. In an unprecedented move, all eight of us quickly
agreed to a split, $125 each. It was nearly midnight and some people, including most of the shop’s faithful employees, had been there for the midnight
release the day before, so everyone was happy to take their cash and skedaddle.
I love building and brewing, but Limited is still near and dear to my heart!
The main thing I learned from this Sealed format is that spells under three mana do not matter. I only had three spells in my deck that were under
three mana, and they were purely filler. I played nineteen lands (down from twenty at one point), and I did find that my three-drop spells were great, and
everything else up was outstanding. 2/1s and 1/3s? Not important. Combat tricks? Often irrelevant. This format is very sorcery-heavy (that is, not a ton of
powerful instant removal, flash, or above-average combat tricks), so you can pretty much enter combat with abandon. Take care of business in the first main
phase if you need to; there’s little downside.
I also learned that, no matter how low your curve, you play an Eldrazi. I’m pretty sure aggressive decks are almost never the right way to go in Sealed
right now, both given the number of Eldrazi Scions that can road block you and due to the lack of decent, low-cost removal, no matter how conditional.
Unlike our last visit to Zendikar (I should say, the first set of Zendikar), the format is slow but not grindy. Old-fashioned combat is king, with
only a few truly blowout combat tricks available to any given color.
I’m hoping to get down to Atlanta for the Grand Prix hosted by StarCityGames.com in the middle of November. It’ll be this same format, and I can’t wait.
Not only are GPs one of the most fun tournaments in the season, but this format in particular is a rewarding, well-balanced format where you’re just as
likely to win with a bulky, common 5/5 as you are an earth-shattering mythic rare. It’s all in the cards!
Before that, though, I’ll be off to the SCG Open Series in Indianapolis this week. I’ve been brewing furiously to find the right colors, spells, and
creatures to have a great time and maybe, just maybe, get a glimpse at day two, cash, and glory!
Get any sick pulls this weekend? Double-Expedition land or quad Ulamogs for you, or was it more of a six copies of Altar’s Reap kind of weekend?