The Casual Player’s Guide To Surviving The Ravnica Prerelease

If you’ve never been to a prerelease, here’s what it’s like: You have this big pile of cards in front of you. In half an hour, you have to make a deck out of them. Today I’m going to take the least experienced among you and try to instruct you how to take your “pile” and turn it into a deck that can win.

If you’ve never been to a prerelease, here’s what it’s like: You have this big pile of cards in front of you. In half an hour, you have to make a deck out of them.

Ideally, you’d like not to make just a deck, but “a deck that wins sometimes.” You’re probably not the sort of arrogant wiener who will sulk all the way home if he doesn’t go undefeated all day… But it’s hard to enjoy a day where every game ends in a crushing defeat.

You don’t need to be Mister Unbeatable, but you don’t want to be the Chicago Cubs, either. You’d like to win some.

Yet Sealed deck play can be tricky if you’re 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 embarrassing finishes. I won’t guarantee you’ll win if you follow my guidelines… But I do guarantee you’ll have some darned close games, and probably a couple of notches in the “win” column.

So let’s get started, shall we?

Prerelease Preparation

First of all, you’re going to have to do some reading. Okay, you’re already reading this, but I mean more reading.

Bop on over to the unofficial spoiler list and meet the cards you’ll be opening on Saturday. Now, personally, I hate reading spoilers, but they’re a necessary Prerelease evil; you barely have enough time to build a competent deck when you do know the cards. If you’re spending your time scanning the fine print on seventy-five different completely fresh slips of cardboard, you’re going to make a poor deck and lose the whole day though.

When you’re reading the spoiler, get an idea of which cards you consider bombworthy, and which commons that are above the cut. (If you don’t know, don’t worry – I’ll help you figure out what’s good and what’s not later.) If you remember the powerful cards, then you’ll know instantly when the cards in a given color are above-average, saving you some critical time.

But 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, and Peter Jahn read an older spoiler and missed the fact that a card didn’t say “Flying creatures can’t attack you” instead of “Flying. Creatures can’t attack you.”

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. And, hint hint, a shower.

You’ve Got Your Cards – Now What?

First thing you do is to break them down into ten colors – yes, ten. I assume you have heard that Ravnica is the multi-color set? You’re going to organize your cards like this, so make some elbow room:











This will help you decide what colors you want to play with. Flip through each stack of colors; anything good there? Figure out which colors have the goods (as defined below) and which ones don’t, then put the bad colors away as soon as possible. Time’s a factor, Lois!

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. The general rule is to play with 16 creatures, 16 lands, and 8 tricks.

(…Or not. The actual general rule is to play with 16 creatures, 6-7 tricks, and 17-18 land. And if you can remember that, then you’ll be ahead of the game. But as a novice, the 16/16/8 rule will give you a fairly solid deck, if one that’s prone to more manascrew than it might be.)

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 creatures or otherwise lock them down count as defense.

Your offense will consist of creatures with evasion: Flying, fear, 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; even though this is The Multicolor Block OMG, you really want to stay in two colors if you can, splashing into a third color only for the most powerful cards. (The design of the block almost guarantees you will be playing three colors, of course, but three colors spread in an even ratio almost guarantees manascrew.) [6-6-6 is the manabase of death, even in formats like this one. – Knut]

Keep an eye on your mana curve: Like all recent blocks, Ravnica 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 that Excruciator or Razia, Boros Archangel out, you may have been smashed down to one or two life by smaller and more efficient creatures. They’re not as impressive, but tiny, efficient creatures like Veteran Armorer and Roofstalker Wight are going to be your bread and butter. Look for early two or three-mana blockers to start the offense (or defend yourself with) until you can get your more-expensive offense in gear.

Now, there are two mistakes that beginning players almost inevitably make:

“It’s A Slow Game.”

I’ve been editor now through five blocks, and every time people say the same thing when a set is released: “The tempo in this block will be slower.” Which is a way of saying that “We’ll be playing five-mana creatures, on average.” But that almost never happens. Draft play in particular has always been dominated by the mana costs one through three, and though in truth the mana curve has jumped a bit over the years it’s never as slow as people think it will be.

Truth is, decks like efficiency. The faster you can come out of the gates, the more likely you are to win. Build your deck around a quick blitz of four-mana-and-under cards with a few high-cast bombs to seal the deal, and you’ll do well. Heed Martin Dingler words.

“Don’t Hurt Me.”

The most influential Magic essay I ever read was not published on StarCityGames.com. It was shown to me at a PTQ, as written by a genius called Mike Braniff who won a lot of local tourneys. Here is the article, in its entirety:

“i’m on offense. all the time. i don’t ‘do the math.’ i don’t calculate

what i have to do and in how many turns. i just attack until the game is

over. oh, for Christ’s sake, it’s so simple. opponent–> oh,oh, i’m gating

my ravenous rats back to my hand. who frickin’ cares?! you got two of my

cards with your 1/1 dork. well, IIIII – attack! and my creatures are better

than 1/1s. and i am hurting you. and i’m winning. and you’re messing

around with a rat! AND I’M ATTACKING AGAIN!!!!! if my creature is a 2/2 and the opponent’s is a 2/2, i attack! i just know my creatures are better

than yours. let’s keep the board clear. so block. or don’t, take the damage. that works too. turn the piece of sideways!!! AAAAAUUUUGGHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!! ATTACK!”

Heartfelt, no? But he has a good point; if you have the slightest advantage, you should be pressing it with attacks, not giving your opponent time to recover. Too many players play as if their win condition is “I keep all of my creatures safe,” not “I kill my opponent.”

With mechanics like Convoke and cards like Flame Fusillade out there, you don’t want them to have a lot of creatures. Keep up the pressure.

Picking The Remaining Eight:

The remaining spells should fall into one of two categories: Tricks to save your creatures (Wojek Siren, Bathe in Light), and removal to get rid of your opponent’s creatures (Last Gasp and Lightning Helix, which just caused me to hand Mike Flores a Kleenex). Tricks generally have to be instants to work well, since you have to have surprise value, but reusable tricks attached to creatures are generally solid gold in the format.

Removal is getting rid of creatures. Generally we’re talking direct-damage spells (the ugly Char), destroy effects (Disembowel), or effects that bounce creatures for long enough for you to sail in for the win (Peel from Reality) – but don’t overlook effects that neutralize creatures, too. These don’t have to be instants, because all that matters is that some creature can no longer hurt your guys.

Mass removal is gold: Anything that can destroy multiple creatures at once is valuable. There’s very little of that in this block, but that just makes it more valuable, nu?

Also, don’t overlook Falter effects like Incite Hysteria. It doesn’t seem like removal, but if they can’t block when you come in for that final attack, then you’ve effectively removed those creatures and won the game. Bonus.

If you get a reusable source of removal (usually attached to a creature), that can be a gamebreaker, and Ravnica has a few of them, even if they are expensive.

Also keep in mind that effects with drawbacks are very powerful in Limited. No one ever used Magma Burst in a winning Standard deck… But people will gladly blow two land to destroy two creatures in Sealed, and they did quite frequently in Invasion Block. If you’re used to Constructed, where you choose your cards, you’re going to have to get used to the lower power levels.

What About Enchantment And Artifact Removal?

The jury’s still out on this one, but in most blocks the answer has been “Don’t bother” (with the exception of Mirrodin Block, where artifact removal doubled as creature removal). Most people will be playing with creatures and tricks just like you, so the chances of finding a good target for a maindecked Leave No Trace are slim. Keep it in mind for Game 2 if you see something worthwhile, though.

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. Never forget: “Not losing” isn’t winning. 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. Also see: Lifegain.

Creature-Light Decks. The all-counterspell deck seems like a good idea, but you’ll still spend the majority of your time in critter battles. Don’t try anything funny unless you know the format very well… which, since you’re reading this article, you don’t.

One-Card Decks. 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, Autochthon Wurm is very large, but unless you have other cards to help you survive until you can cast it, you might lose. It may well be that, painful as it is, you need to leave your huge, flashy bomb behind and play colors with a more solid makeup.

What Happens If I Just Can’t Decide?

Words of wisdom from Sheldon Menery:

“If all else fails, take your Green and Red critters and go for the beatdown.” [Though in terms of Ravnica, it might be Red and White that form the best beatdown. – Knut]

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. Don’t be afraid to call someone over; this does not make you a jerk. It makes you someone who wants to know how things work, which is admirable and a fine thing.

The guy who’s complaining? Now he’s a jerk.

The Ferrett

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The Here Edits This Here Site Here Guy