I'm getting pretty close to my 400th sanctioned tournament (I'll probably get there by the end of August), and I still look forward to Prereleases as much as I did when I signed up for my first ever event, the Prophecy Prerelease.
I played only one round at the Prophecy Prerelease before realizing that I actually didn't know a lot of the basic rules of Magic: The Gathering.
I dropped after the first round, but spent the rest of the day playing with my Sealed Deck against my similarly clueless friends, and watching in awe as players carefully searched up Rebels and Mercenaries, discarded cards to their Spellshapers, and played spells for free by returning lands to their hands.
Even though I didn't really know how to play the game yet, I had a great time being there. Over the next few months I spent a lot of time studying up about the game in the Magic comprehensive rulebook, the Sideboard magazine and website (the Sideboard was the predecessor to magicthegathering.com), and the now defunct Magic Dojo and Mindripper.
I didn't play much during this time, as the kids who I had gotten into the game with had lost interest soon after the Prophecy Prerelease.
But if the intense wear on my copies of Sideboard magazine was any indicator, it was clear that I wasn't going to go out that easily.
When the Invasion prerelease rolled around I knew I was ready. I woke up bright and early that Saturday morning and played in the very first flight of the weekend (second actually, but being 11, I wasn't in any position to play in the midnight Prerelease, so I'm just going to go ahead and say that I played in the first flight of the weekend).
I had opened a dragon!
And not just any dragon, but Darigaaz, the Igniter. My opponents were sure to tremble at the sight.
Knowing exactly what I had to do, I built a green-red-black deck to support Darigaaz, the Igniter (I shudder to think about how bad my mana base must have been) and got off to a 2-0 start.
I lost my next two matches, and ended the tournament without receiving any prizes. But that didn't matter to me. It didn't matter one bit.
What mattered was that I got to play Magic.
All of my opponents were very nice, and respectful of me, which was a really big deal for a kid who was playing, for reals this time, in his first ever tournament.
Over the next month or so I spent as much time as I could at Neutral Ground, New York, watching people play, listening to people talk, and generally immersing myself in Magic as much as I could. Once I figured I had a pretty good idea about what was going on in the game, I went up to the Neutral Ground store counter and handed (then owner) Brian David-Marshall my chicken-scratch-written blue-white control deck and $150 (which was, obviously, a ton of money for me at the time) and I was ready to play whenever I wanted to.
While I don't think it would have been possible to keep me away from Magic after my first exposure to it, I think that it would have taken me much longer to get into the game if I hadn't had such a good time at the Invasion Prerelease.
Enemy Hybrid Wants to Be Your Friend
I tried to put together a primer for how to properly look at a Shadowmoor / Eventide Sealed pool, but I'm going to wait until I've had a chance to play with the set so I can offer you a more comprehensive guide.
To make the process easier, here is a list of relatively simple things to look out for during deckbuilding.
1. Look for what cards benefit from being played in a two-color pair. A lot of hybrid cards don't actually care what colors your deck is, they just care that you are playing at least one of the colors in their mana cost.
(Sorry to repeat myself so quickly, but I think this point is worth repeating:) A card with only a single hybrid mana in its mana cost can be played very easily if you are playing at least one of the colors in its cost.
A card with two hybrid mana symbols in its mana cost is marginally more difficult to play if you are only playing one of the colors, but that isn't really an issue if the card in question costs four or more. You might run into a little bit of trouble consistently playing your Inkfathom Infiltrator on turn two in your black-green deck, but you probably won't have any trouble playing your Murderous Redcap by turn four or five.
Beyond that, there are cards that actively reward you playing both colors in their cost.
As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, cards with three or more hybrid mana symbols in their mana cost become difficult to play in (most) decks that only sport one of the hybrid colors. That doesn't mean that you should leave your Unmake in the sideboard of your white-blue deck, but it does mean that it probably won't be achieving its full potential, as you won't always be able to play it in a timely fashion.
Don't be afraid to splash hybrid cards that have "gold" abilities if you're playing one of their colors; it is actually just strictly better than splashing an off-color card would be, as you are able to get utility out of your card even if you don't have the splash color to use it to its full effect.
2. Pay special attention to enemy color pairs. From what I've seen so far there seem to be a lot of Eventide cards that explicitly reward players for playing an enemy color pair. If you play an enemy color pair, you will also gain access to the majority of cards in Shadowmoor. Say you are building a green-black deck; you would have access to all of the green, black, red-green, green-white, black-red, and blue-black cards in Shadowmoor as well as all of the black, green, black-green, green-blue, and white-black cards in Eventide.
By the same token, if you open up a Demigod of Revenge, or some other powerful Shadowmoor card(s) that would tilt you heavily towards an allied color pair, then shouldn't be worried that you will have difficulty getting enough playables, because you will be able to play the majority of cards from Eventide.
3. Figure out what colors you won't be playing early in deck building. If you do this, you will have a lot more time to look at builds that actually have potential.
4. Look at Sealed Decks with one heavy base color and two splash colors. When I was building Shadowmoor Sealed Decks, I would say that fully half of the Sealed Decks that I built featured one base color and two splash colors. The other half of the decks that I built were more traditional two-color builds, or two colors plus small splashes.
5. Experiment! When you are at the Prerelease, it will be your first chance to play with the new cards.
And it will be everyone else's.
Don't be afraid to try new things when you are at the Prerelease, if it turns out that you are "wrong," then no worries. You tried something new and it didn't work out.
But if you hit the nail on the head with something, then you will be miles ahead of the competition in that area.
The Visual Spoiler Is Awesome
If you've been keeping up with the Eventide Visual Spoiler on the Minisite, then you are probably already familiar with most of the Eventide cards I mentioned above, if not, do yourself a favor and take a peek at what the Visual Spoiler has to offer.
I think that the Visual Spoiler is one of the most useful tools for understanding and getting a feel for a Limited format. I check it daily in the weeks leading up to the Prerelease, and as soon as Prerelease weekend ends, when the entire set is visible, I spend a few hours studying all of the cards in the set.
I even check in on the Visual Spoiler after I am reasonably familiar with the set to look for interesting interactions and to check how many good cards there are at each rarity for each color. Sure this can all be done by looking at text files of the cards using a search engine such as Gatherer (which has tons of interesting uses, but I don't want to go off on a tangent from my tangent), but, for me at least, that just doesn't have the same effect as getting to actually see the cards.
Earlier I mentioned one card, Gwyllion Hedge-Mage, that you haven't seen yet.
You might be asking yourself, "Why haven't I seen it yet? Is Steve just making things up to throw us off?"
Well the reason why you haven't seen it yet is pretty simple: it's my preview card for the week. Want to see it? Then click
This is one of a cycle of five Hedge-Mages. So, how do they work exactly?
- Each of the Hedge-Mage's triggered abilities has an "intervening 'if' clause." That means (1) the ability won't trigger at all unless you control two or more lands of the appropriate land type when the Hedge-Mage comes into play, and (2) the ability will do nothing if you don't control two or more lands of the appropriate land type by the time it resolves.
- Each of the Hedge-Mage's triggered abilities look at your lands individually. This means that if you control two Scrublands, both of Gwyllion Hedge-Mage's abilities will trigger.
- Both abilities trigger at the same time. You can put them on the stack in any order.
One other thing to keep in mind is that all Hedge-Mage abilities are optional. You choose whether to use them when they resolve. If an ability has a target, you must choose a target even if you don't plan to use the ability.
Now Gwyllion Hedge-Mage is a good card. It's not amazing, but it's quite good.
If cards like Ashenmoor Gouger have taught us anything, it's that a card doesn't have to be amazing to shake up our play considerably.
If you get a Gwyllion Hedge-Mage, then you are going to have a choice to make. Am I going to try to regularly activate both of its abilities? Am I going to only worry about one of its abilities? Am I going to try to regularly activate one of its abilities, and get the other one some of the time? Am I not going to worry about either of its abilities, perhaps by playing a blue deck that splashes a little bit of white and black?
Pretty much all of those options are respectable except for the last one.
Sure sometimes you will need to splash a Hedge-Mage because you are strapped for cards, but you should always try to have at least six lands of one of the Hedge-Mage's colors in order to get good use out of it. Preferably, you would like to have eight or more of a single land type to reliably get good use out of your Hedge-Mage, but things aren't always that easy.
Another thing to pay careful attention to when playing Hedge-Mages is whether or not you want to wait to play them in order to get additional value. Say it's turn three and you have one Plains and two Swamps. If you have a different three-drop (or even two-drop) to play, then you will probably wait on your Gwyllion Hedge-Mage. But if you don't have any other plays to make, then what will you do?
There's no easy answer to these questions. But if I can offer you up one piece of advice, it's this: try not to be too greedy with your Hedge-Mages. If you are under pressure, make a blocker. One of the worst things that you can do when you have powerful cards is to die with a bunch of them in your hand.
Have Fun at the Prerelease!
I'll have a more in-depth guide to building Shadowmoor / Eventide Sealed Decks when I feel like I know enough that I won't be accidentally steering you wrong. But, when you are at the Prerelease, do me a favor and take the time to look at as many different builds as possible. Sure, this is no simple task, as it will be your first exposure to many of the cards that you will be playing with, but if you look hard enough, you'll probably find a build you like.