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The Scars of Mirrodin Prerelease Dilemma

Monday, September 27th – The Prerelease brought a lot of tough decisions – not the least of which was where to play! See the store I played at! Read my evaluations of the new Scars cards! Envy my amazing card-opening skills!

When my multiplayer group fell apart, my wife asked me, “Why don’t you just go down to the local store and find new friends there?”

So the next time I was at my local store, I sent her a picture. She stopped asking.

Going to my local card shop fills me with the same combination of dread and hope that most people get from going to a family reunion. Because you know on some level, it’s always going to be humiliating and uncomfortable, but there’s just enough enjoyment that you feel guilty that you don’t like it more. So you make your excuses and go the bare minimum possible. In my case, the bare minimum for my local store is “Prereleases.”

Problem is, my store’s owner is a
really

nice guy — he’s special ordered things for me, runs a smooth tournament. When I was running twenty minutes late for the tourney I called and he said, “No problem, I’ll hold a seat for you.” He knows all of his customers by name, is happy to recommend things. And the people there are a solid breed of folks who I usually enjoy playing with — competitive without being jerks about it, chatty, enthusiastic.

Playing at the store, however, is like participating in a game of
Hoarders: The LARP

.

I honestly don’t know how the damn place makes money, because you literally can’t walk through the aisles without disturbing a teetering stack of books or old games or Warhammer figs. The “display” cases have been stuffed so full that all of the merchandise is pressed up helplessly against the glass like 1950s college kids
cramming themselves into a phone booth

.

During the M10 Prerelease, I looked up and saw a fat, black spider that had made a foot-long web between two stacks of D&D books. When I went back for the next Prerelease, the spider had died, but its body was still hanging loosely in its web, which had gathered a shaggy patina of dust. (One can only hope that maybe the next spider is a magical spider that writes “TERRIFIC,” though that would imply the presence of a healthy rat who’s chewing pages out of old copies of
Dragon Magazine

for the spider, which I really don’t want to think about.)

I honestly don’t know how they make money, because it’s not like they stop ordering books; there are cases of new RPG books lying about. I’d say eBay, except that I don’t actually ever see them shipping out products. Is the owner crazy rich and just running it out of pocket? Is there some secret way he’s managing to afford all of this incoming product that doesn’t ever seem to actually sell? I don’t know. I wonder whether the mob needs a place to launder money, because this seems ideal.

So in the end, I’m torn: I like the people, so I want to keep them in business — so every time I go, I buy a Champions book on top of my Prerelease fee to keep them going. But playing at the store itself is like having to sleep overnight in the haunted library: wobbly chairs, filth aplenty, a maze of rooms. I really am rooting for them, but every time I go in there, I want to start sorting all the merchandise into three piles and asking, “Now, do you think you’re going to sell this in the next year?”

Lest you think I’m kidding, here are some pictures:

The back room - admittedly a model area

One of the back aisles

The clearest aisle to the back

I can’t play for more than five hours in that place… and even a five-hour layover requires an infusion of new cards to keep me there. I just can’t.

There are other local stores, of course. Yet while I was playing at this one, I heard tales of the players there — stone-cold jerks. There’s a “friendly” EDH tournament with a two-pack prize for each player eliminated, except these three kids keep showing up as a team to kill everyone else and then split the packs in the store. There are FNMs where the regulars don’t talk to you unless you’re in their testing group — I mean they don’t even make
small

talk. They just grunt, beat you in silence, then walk off to report the win.

The folks at the store seem to consider this a mild inconvenience. I consider it a catastrophe. I have little enough spare time in my life as it is; why do I want to spend it in the company of arrogant choads?

So I’m torn. I like Magic, man, but I like it at my house or at a friend’s house, where we I can play in a spot where I’m not worried about being crushed under an avalanche of 3rd Edition D&D supplements. Or eaten by a gigantic spider. But houses, not being a public space, usually don’t have the necessary critical mass to host a thriving group. So it’s a constant issue; I have to go to a local store, but either the players are awful or the environment is.

There’s some hope: when I was there this time, the owner was adding shelves. Shelves are good. And I want to give these nice people my business, I really do – I just think those shelves, no matter how neatly constructed, will just fill up and overflow like the rest of the store. So enough about my problems. Let’s talk about Scars of Mirrodin — first the feel, then the mechanics, then the cards:

The feel of Scars was a little weird because it felt weenie-riffic. Maybe that’s because everyone was trying to make the poison deck work. Maybe it was just my opponents. But when I had a 2/4 on the ground, I felt pretty damn safe against most of the common threats. That made this feel radically different from Zendikar (little guys with huge attack phases) or M11 (lots of big stuff in the air).


Metalcraft

Metalcraft didn’t feel like a “real” mechanic to me, at least not in Sealed. I played it, and it seemed like a fine bonus… But even though I was playing nine artifacts, I never counted on it, and even when I had it, it never really blew me out of the water. Maybe it’s something that will shine in the Draft format, but as it was, I got blown out once by an Ezuri’s Brigade, and that was about it.


Poison


I think they got poison just about right in this set. I was constantly worried about taking the fatal ten, forcing me to make vastly different decisions in blocking… But I didn’t get blown out by it. That may change once The Poison Deck hits the speedier and more refined Draft decks (and I’m sure people tried it this past weekend), but in Sealed, it didn’t seem terribly overpowered. Dangerous, but not overwhelming. I liked the feel.

Part of that is, of course, that while there are a lot of ways to boost power, there aren’t nearly as many ways to boost toughness… so the infect guys come in, they trade, they die. But they’re going to be doing some permanent damage to your defense, which makes it worthwhile.


Proliferate


Again, wasn’t feeling the love. While it’s an awesome mechanic, there just didn’t seem to be enough cards out there to consistently support it, and Contagion Clasp is just too slooooooow. I think it’ll be a favorite in casual games, and some decks will take advantage of it, but it’s a marginal mechanic weighted too heavily in blue and rare cards to really make it in any Limited format.

…Which is good, really. If it got too good, then every game would be: “put three poison counters on you, proliferate, proliferate, GG.” Boring.

Now let’s talk cards:


Asceticism


It seemed like a bomb. And it kind of was, except that it’s a weird card; by the time my opponent drew it, he didn’t have that many creatures, so he burned a turn casting it (during which I just committed more), and then had to spend his mana saving his dudes, and I just swarmed him. It’s a huge mana sink with a potentially nice payoff, but I’m not sure that it’s really worth committing to green for.


Blight Mamba


This is the only poison creature I was really consistently worried about; the regeneration just made it a constant threat, even if it was pinging me. Combine it with some nice equipment, and the Mambas scared the heck out of me.

(I should note, however, that Abuna Acolyte disappointed more than its share of Mamba hopefuls.)


Bonds of Quicksilver


It does exactly what you’d expect, with all of the drawbacks: yes, that guy’s about to smack you, but with luck he’ll only do it once. Hope you can survive the hit?


Carnifex Demon


This was a real house, simply because it seemed with all the little weedy poison guys and Myr, it was essentially a flying Wrath of God. In particular, it just seemed to really smack down the metalcraft decks, which often depended on Myr, and they all went away in one fell swoop.


Chimeric Mass


This was absolutely ridiculous for me throughout the day, enabling early metalcrafting, getting my Glint Hawk Idols in there, and in the end game it turned out to be a huge finisher.

This is one of those great skill-tester cards, because it physically
hurt

me to cast it for one or two counters… But that was often the right play.


Disperse


Incredibly, incredibly useful. I mean, yeah, you’d expect that a bounce spell would be useful in a Limited format… But there were a couple of times when someone was on the bubble of metalcraft, attacking with their big baddies, and I reduced their artifact count to two and completely wrecked them. And let’s not forget nerfing someone’s final poison attack, or even just resetting a planeswalker who’s getting out of hand…


Elspeth Tirel

Yes, I opened her. Yes, I built my deck around her. Yes, I made the Top 8. Yes, when we split the Top 8, I opened a Mox Opal in the packs I won.

Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.

Then again, I heard some people scorning me, saying, “Well, of course he’s in the Top 8 — he opened Elspeth!” And she’s incredibly strong, I won’t deny, except that it’s the usual stupid argument about OMG BOMBS WIN GAMES IT’S NO SKILL DERF DERF DERF. I asked, “What will the game look like the turn before I win?” and realized it would be on Elspeth — so I crammed my deck with as much card drawing as I could, and a lot of defense, and a lot of ways to neutralize people’s assaults. Then I burned early Disperses so I’d be high enough on life when I got to my Elspeth that I could leverage her to dominate.

There is skill. I don’t often have it, but Elspeth isn’t a Golden Ticket, folks. (And I should remind you that at one point, I opened some of the most powerful rares in the format and still 2-3 dropped. If it was all about the bomb rares, we wouldn’t keep seeing the same dang people at the top tables….)


Ghalma’s Warden


I don’t think I ever achieved metalcraft on this guy. I don’t think I ever cared. 2/4 was enough to lock up a lot of the ground.


Grasp of Darkness


You know sometimes when you see a removal spell, and you play with it, and it turns out it’s not nearly as good as you thought it was going to be?

Yeah, well, sometimes it turns out it’s just as good.


Horizon Spellbomb


Of all the new Spellbombs, this one seemed to be the most consistently useful. I
always

want to get land out of my deck. I’m not always possessed by a need to get a generic 1/1, or exile cards, or grant a guy evasion for a turn. As such, this was the Spellbomb that really seemed to make decks tick.


Myrsmith


I wanted to like this one. But I played with her in my deck all day in the hopes of enabling metalcraft, and I wound up flinging her in front of attackers more often than not. She’s great just because she’s low on the curve, but I was often too busy casting my most powerful artifacts possible for the turn rather than casting lesser artifacts and getting a 1/1.


Neurok Replica


The bounce effect didn’t come in that handy — but much like Ghalma’s Warden, the 1/4 body held the ground quite nicely.


Painsmith


The most surprising card of the day. I’d only skimmed it, and I thought that it was like Kiln Fiend, only it got the bonus. No, it spreads it around quite nicely, thankyouverymuch. Which meant that when I faced it and had three poison critters coming at me, it made for a plethora of ugly blocks. I really think this one’s going to be key in some drafting strategies; even as a four-mana guy, he can just take a normal board and make it crazy.


Perilous Myr


This was my secret sideboard option against all those crazy infect players because this kept them honest. They wanted to swarm me with infect critters, all of which were 1/1s or 2/2s… And they could come in, hit me once, and I’d block the 1/1 and kill their 2/2. Sure, I had some poison on me now, but their board was empty by turn 4, giving me time to rebuild. This was way better than I’d thought it’d be.


Putrefax


…Okay, you hit me once. Now what?

I got smacked by this by two different opponents. For the guy who had poison, I gang-blocked like I would any other creature. For the guy who didn’t have poison, I took the hit, and it went away. I mean, the haste can surprise people, but I was on the lookout all day for the ‘Fax — as a five-mana “trick,” it’s reasonably easy.


Razor Hippogriff

Sanctum Gargoyle was truly key in a lot of Shards drafts: recurring threats and setting up crazy loops. The Hippogriff won’t let you loop, but it
does

get you a nice boost of life and your best artifact back… And 3/3 in the air, barring crazy rares, seems almost unstoppable in this format. Yeah, it’s harder to cast, but on a number of occasions I went from “nearly out of gas and not enough ways to punch through” to “here’s an evasion creature and my best card ready for the next round.”


Riddlesmith


People complained about my Elspeth Tirel. They should have complained about this. The reason I kept finding my Elspeth is because I drew at least four cards a game any time this came down, and it let me cycle through ridiculously fast. We all know Merfolk Looter is good, yet somehow people didn’t
catch on that a free Merfolk Looter that can often chain in the late game (cast an artifact, draw into another artifact, draw into a third) is
ludicrous

.

This was my best card all day. I was never disappointed to draw it; sometimes it whiffed because I failed to get one of my nine artifacts, but once I did, I usually started coming online quite quickly.


Sylvok Replica

The best Replica, s’far as I’m concerned. This one really, really hurt when it was recurred.


Tel-Jilad Fallen


I didn’t play against this, but many of the people I spoke to did. They swore by it. This and a pump effect of some sort ended games
quite

quickly against many decks, they said. I believe them.

Okay, well, that’s about it for cards. So let me ask you my usual questions:

  • What’s the card that performed far better than you thought it would, and why?
  • What’s the card that performed far worse than you thought it would, and why?

Signing off
The Ferrett
[email protected]StarCityGames.com
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