The Casual Player’s Guide to Surviving the Onslaught Prerelease

Your last-minute strategy guide for tomorrow’s Big Fun Day. Don’t know what you’re doing? Let The Ferrett walk you through how to build a deck, what sorts of spells to look for, and his initial impressions on the Onslaught environment!

(Note to my readers: The Ferrett has started his very own LiveJournal! As usual, it’s filled with obscene ramblings – I keep StarCity PG-rated, but I myself am a filthy beast. If you’d like to log on and see what’s going on in a weasel’s life, go to LJ and look me up. I won’t give a link, but my user name should be fairly self-evident. Hint: Yes,”the” is included.

(Also, I’ll be in Detroit this weekend for the prerelease, hanging with some old pals of mine. If you see me – remember, I have short hair now, but I’ll be wearing a”Willow and Tara” Buffy T-Shirt – come on up and say hi!)

“I played in a couple of Sealed tourneys, but I got my butt handed to me.”

Good! I can help you with that. (And if you’re saying,”Sealed deck? What’s that?”, then read on, Macduff – you’ll need the help.)

Because Sealed deck play can be tricky if you’re a casual player or not used to a Limited environment – the challenges of picking the correct cards, then building a good deck with it, then playing right with it can be overwhelming for the beginner, and that leads to embarassing finishes. I myself stunk up the joint in my first prerelease (Prophecy)… But I placed ninth out of eighty people in the Planeshift prerelease and won quite a few boxes, so you do get better with practice.

Add this to the fact to Onslaught is lit Prerekely to be one of the most complex Limited sets ever, and you really need the help.

I don’t guarantee you’ll win… But I do guarantee you won’t be ashamed of your finish if you follow my guidelines here. So let’s get started, shall we? Prerelease Preparation

First of all, let’s do some reading. You made a good start by coming here… But now go read former editor Omeed Dariani Sealed primer to get an idea of the issues that come up during Sealed. It’s quick, it’s short, and it gives you a brief overview.

And lastly, but most importantly, bop on over to the fine Mtgnews spoiler list – they’re famous for delivering the goods early – and read about the cards you’ll be looking at tomorrow. There are a lot of people who say that spoilers take away the surprise (and a lot of the fun) of a prerelease, and I agree with them*… But if you want to do well, wasting the precious forty minutes you’ll be given to build your deck reading the fine print on a hundred and five cards is not an efficient use of time.

I’m not saying that you need to memorize everything, but get a rough idea of which cards you consider playable and which are unworthy crap in any environment. Keep in mind that spoilers are never 100% accurate, so there will probably be a few minor discrepancies between the spoiler and the actual card – for example, Urza’s Rage didn’t have the”couldn’t be countered” aspect in the initial Invasion spoilers.

Then bop on over to blisterguy! That wacky New Zealander has written two great articles on the common cards you can expect to see in Onslaught Limited – one article’s on morph creatures, and the other is on combat tricks. He even includes handy-dandy charts that you can print out, if you want… But you can’t refer to them during the game, so do yourself a favor and skim them. (For extra oomph, say”Hmm” while you’re looking at the charts, like the Professor on Gilligan’s island when he’s looking studiously at a pair of coconuts and some dead batteries. It makes you smarter! I swear!)

Finally, if you trade at all at events, check out the amazin’ Nate Heiss article on the hottest cards in Onslaught to see what cards you should be trading for. Nate’s a sharp trader, so listen close.

Even though it’s a more casual environment, you’ll want to bring a pad and pencil to keep track of everyone’s life total. People forget sometimes, and it helps. Put one next to the bed.

Then go to bed early and get some sleep. Rest before the tournament is a good thing.

So Now You’ve Got Your Cards – Now What?

First thing you do is to break them down into seven colors – the five colors, artifacts, and gold cards. Then break those seven piles down into two subpiles – creatures and noncreature spells. Then decide what colors you want to play with.

Sealed play is built on creatures, backed by enough tricks to force the creatures through – so you want to have a lot of creatures and a couple of tricks to protect or enhance them. As a general rule, you’ll want to go with 16 creatures, 16 lands, 8 tricks. That’s your deck. You stick to it. You will be tempted to create a sixty-card monstrosity, but I can tell you that you will lose. Badly. Trust me.

(And if you promise not to get all confused and puppydog-eyed, I’ll throw out some Secret Advanced Strategy for you: I tell beginners to use the”sixteen/sixteen/eight” rule because it’s an easy ration to remember. It’s not a bad way to build a deck per se… But most Onslaught block Sealed decks are have a mana curve that looked like a cliff. When I build my Sealed deck tomorrow, I’ll be doing it with 16 creatures/7 tricks/17 lands, or even 15 creatures/7 tricks/18 lands. If you can remember, you might wanna use the 16/7/17 rule instead, but it’s not nearly as symmetrical.)

Picking Your Sixteen Creatures:

The creatures should be a mix of small and large creatures. As a rule, large creatures serve better on defense than offense, since a 6/6 behemoth can usually be chump-blocked but nobody wants to run into it. Creatures that tap (like the Whipcorder) or deal damage to attackers (like Gravel Slinger or Catapult Squad) count as defense.

Your offense will consist of creatures with evasion: Flying, unblockability, trample, critters that can tap to do damage, et cetera. In other words, creatures that either will be strong enough to break through your opponent’s defense or creatures that can sail above it.

Generally, you’ll have one color that has creatures that are strong on offense and another that’s tight on defense. Make the core of your deck from those two; you really want to stay in two colors in Onslaught Limited if you can.

Now, Onslaught has a huge”tribal” theme, with plenty of effects that benefit from having a lot of the same kind of creature: The more Soldiers you have in play, for example, the better Catapult Squad will work. The numbers suggest, however, that most people will not open up enough of the same type of creature in a Sealed deck for them to be effective. Sure, if you have seven Beasts, throw in a Thunder of Hooves… But don’t build a deck that focuses around Skirk Fire Marshal when you have only six goblins. It’s better to have a more consistent deck than to create a deck that’s full of cards that do nothing if you don’t have a cleric in play.

One nice thing about Onslaught, however, is that it rectifies a problem that a lot of players have with Sealed decks: They don’t have fifteen good creatures in the colors they want to play with. It is not a bad strategy, if you need just one or two more creatures in an otherwise solid deck, to fill it out with a couple of morphed creatures that you can’t morph.

For example, if you have a blue/white deck that needs just one more guy to make it worthwhile, throw in a Boneknitter, which morphs for 2B. You’ll never be able to morph it, of course, but it’s still a solid 2/2 for three mana… And your opponent, not knowing what lies underneath that Magic backing, may panic and waste some removal on it.

Keep an eye on your mana curve: Onslaught is filled with a lot of very large and very pricey creatures – which are great when they do hit the board, but by the time you get Visara the Dreadful out, the little guys may have smashed you down to one or two life. Again, however, remember that morphed creatures serve a double-duty; they’re three mana, and they’re whatever creature they become when you turn them over.

Try not to make a deck top-heavy (all expensive creatures) or weenie-riffic. Look for early two or three-mana blockers to defend yourself with until you can get your more-expensive offense in gear. In fact, many pros make a point of building a deck with a mostly low-cost cards in order to rush their opponent.

Picking The Remaining Eight:

The remaining spells should fall into one of two categories: Tricks to save your creatures, and removal to get rid of your opponent’s creatures.

Tricks to save your creatures are usually instants that will save your guys from destruction. Take Meddle, for example: For one colorless and a blue, you can that a spell that’s targeting a single creature and redirect it to a creature of your choice. This is a great trick with a lot of flexibility:

  • You can save your own creature in response to someone targeting it with a kill spell.

  • You can save your own creature in response to someone targeting it with a kill spell, and kill theirs in the process.

  • You can hijack your opponent’s Improvised Armor, giving one of your creatures +2/+5.

You see how it goes.

Tricks generally have to be instants to work well, since you have to have surprise value. But they’re what generally win you the game.

Removal is getting rid of creatures. Generally we’re talking direct-damage spells, enchantments that give minuses to creatures, or just plain burial effects – but don’t overlook effects that neutralize creatures, like the old’ standby Pacifism. These don’t have to be instants, because all that matters is that some creature can no longer hurt your guys.

(Removal can sometimes take on strange forms – like Dirge of Dread or Wave of Indifference, which stops all your opponent’s creatures from blocking for a round. But if they can’t block when you come in for that final attack, then you’ve effectively removed that creature and won the game. Bonus.)

If you get a reusable source of removal, that can be a gamebreaker… But there aren’t many of them in Onslaught. See also: Embermage Goblin, Lavamancer’s Skill, and so on.

Also keep in mind that effects with drawbacks are very powerful in Limited. No one ever used Magma Burst (where you can sac two lands and pay 3R to do three damage to two targets) into a winning Type II deck… But people will gladly blow two land to destroy two creatures in Sealed, and they did quite frequently in Invasion Block. The threats are inconsistent enough in Sealed that any threat or defense can work despite significant drawbacks, so don’t poo-pooh the wrong cards.

What About Enchantment And Artifact Removal?

Like the past two blocks, there really aren’t many great enchantments in Onslaught… But the ones that do show up are gamebreakers. You’ll probably want to keep those things out of the main deck, and wait and see whether your opponent has any good enchantments and then sideboard a few in.

As for artifacts, there are practically no real powerful ones in Onslaught. So generally, it’s not worth it to play with artifact removal until you’ve seen your opponent whip out some sort of gamebreaking artifact.

(However, if I see you open Akroma’s Vengeance and not play it because it destroys enchantments, I’ma smack you.)

Okay, So I’ve Got A Bunch Of Piles Of Stuff — How Do I Build This Deck?

Sealed is all about creature combat – so as a rule, you’ll want to go with a deck that is creature-heavy with 16 creatures, 16 lands, and 8″tricks.” In Onslaught, generally you’ll have to build a deck with two colors in it.

This is where even big pros like Michelle Bush get confused – choosing between all of those lovely colors can be gruesome!

What Doesn’t Work?

Big Decks. Don’t go a card beyond forty. It will be like slicing off your left arm, I know, but find the space to remove those extra ten cards. Your deck will be better for it.

Prevention Decks. Onslaught has some ridiculous damage prevention cards, and you’d be a fool not to play with some of the more powerful ones if you crack ’em. But don’t forget: “Not losing” isn’t winning. The all-cleric deck doesn’t really have a way of winning – and unless you have some big, powerful creature that can punch through for the game win, don’t go overboard on the”Ha ha! You can’t hurt me!” effects.

The lesson is, only play with cards that will help you win. If they can’t hurt your opponent or save your butt from your opponent’s thrashings, leave it out.

Creature-Light Decks. The good players will swarm you unless you really have a lot of removal to back it up – and considering that Onslaught is very removal-light, you probably don’t. As stated, you can use morph cards to round out your selection.

Heavy Counterspells. My initial mistake. I had four counters in my deck, and nothing to do once something hit the table. Don’t rely on counters to stop the big threats, because you might not have them when you need it.

Lots of Enchantments. Unless you have enough creatures to enchant, or said enchantments serve as tricks or removal, they’re dead weight.

Heavy Card-Drawing. My other mistake. I forgot that unless I had something good to draw into, I was pretty helpless. Onslaught has a lot of”rearrange the top four cards of your library” effects; unless you have some killer card that you must get to in order to win the game, these effects aren’t as impressive as they look.

(I might play with Spy Network, though, just to see how it works.)

Lifegain. You’re not playing multiplayer, here. See also,”prevention decks.”

Really, Really Expensive Spells. I never built up the eight mana to play the Avatar of Woe that I got in the first prerelease, since I always got killed before I built up the mana to pay for it – learn my lesson. Yes, Silvos, Rogue Elemental is very potent, but you can’t count on getting the three colorless mana and three forests you need to play it. It may well be that, painful as it is, you need to leave it aside unless it’s in a deck that would play green anyway. Then again, having a power card like that is a real signal to go into heavy green.

One-Card Decks. Onslaught is filled with”bomb rares” – single cards that can swing the entire tempo of the game and turn a loss into a win. However, remember that your bomb is but one card out of forty. If your cards support Silvos, absolutely! Throw him in! But if the rest of your green kind of sucks because you have no other big creatures, you’ll probably do better to leave him behind in the sideboard.

(Yes, it’s like chiseling your arm off with a greasy spork. I know. I’ve opened two Reya, Dawnbringers in the same deck, and didn’t play white. But I wanted to.)

What Happens If I Just Can’t Decide?

Words of wisdom from Sheldon Menery, local Sealed guy and judge:

“If all else fails, take your green and red critters and go for the beatdown.”

You May Forget This, But I’ll Tell You Anyway – Advanced Strategy And Play Tips For Sealed:

Beware Of The Creatures.

Onslaught is very removal-light and creature-heavy; most of your creatures will have to be gotten rid of through combat. Whereas in earlier formats you could throw a critter or two away carelessly, play a little more cautiously here.

Hold Your Spot Removal.

A lot of novice players will just blast away at anything that comes out – and they’ll be really sorry when that Voice of the Woods comes a’knockin’. As my friend Jeff”Jivin’ Wit’ Jermaine Jackson” Moeller says,”Sometimes you have to get beat down for a while early in Sealed deck in favor of getting your creatures out.”

The Burn Is Decent, Though.

Don’t get too low on life, though. The prevalence of cheap damage pull out wins. I’d try to hover above four, if possible.

Don’t Overextend.

Don’t just put everything out because you can. Hold some creatures back unless you really need them out. Onslaught doesn’t have a lot of answers to large creatures, but there are multiple global removal spells that wipe out the little guys, many of them commons or uncommons – there is a strong chance that everything might get wiped away in the course of the game, so only commit totally when you’re sure you can win.

For God’s Sake, Ask.

There are a lot of new cards, and nobody’s really sure how they all interact yet – except the judges. If all of the judges are like the magnificent Sheldon (who runs a fine tourney), you have nothing to fear. Don’t be afraid to call someone over.

Two things you really need to be aware of, though, are the fact that morph doesn’t use the stack and that your opponent has to show you his morph cards at the end of the game.

One, morphing doesn’t use the stack. That means that if you target a morphed creature with a Shock, you can’t do it”in response” to his morphing it. If the guy has the mana to demorphasize it, there is no way to kill or affect his creature before it goes active. It’s a benefit and a shame that Wizards did it this way; I know they wanted to make sure that morphed creatures would get played, but it will confuse a lot of people. If you’re in trouble, as I said, call a judge.

Two, some judges I’ve spoken too are very concerned about the potential for cheating with morphed creatures;”It’s too easy,” they say. Their concern is that someone draw a forest and plays it as a morph. He defends for one or two turns – until that bastard cheater draws a morph. He yawns, puts his cards down, does the switch, and nobody’s the wiser.

I could do that. And I’m not that bright.

So remember; the prereleases are fun, but a jerk will find a way to jerk it up in any environment. When the game is over or a morphed card leaves play, your opponent has to show you what it was. It’s in the rules. Even if it’s the end of game one, you can still see what he had; it may help you to sideboard for the next game.

And keep your eye on your opponent when he morphs. Got me?

Sometimes You Eat the Bear, Sometimes the Bear Eats You.

There is a large luck element to Sealed, and occasionally you’ll just get a deck where, as Sean McKeown puts it,”God hates you.” Don’t get discouraged.

The Ferrett

[email protected]

The Here Edits This Here Site Here Guy

* – I have to read them. I’m an editor. God, I hate you people.**

** – Just kidding.