Little Things Matter

Posted in Building on a Budget on September 16, 2009

By Jacob Van Lunen

Jacob Van Lunen began playing Magic in 1995. He has participated in organized play at every level of competition and was a member of the winning team at Pro Tour San Diego in 2007, thanks to an innovative draft strategy. As a writer, Van Lunen has had more than three hundred Magic strategy pieces published

Welcome to the second week of Zendikar previews here on Preview season has always been one of the most exciting times for me. I play a good amount of casual Magic, and I've always loved going online to see new cards one or two at a time. I feel like this process gives me a lot more insight than just seeing the set as a whole. For example, had Alara Reborn been spoiled all at once, I would have never seen the interaction between Bloom Tender and the Borderposts. In fact, I doubt I would have ever seen potential in the Borderposts at all.

I feel like this is a very important practice for aspiring deck builders when reading a spoiler for a new set. I like to read no more than ten new cards in a sitting. Then I wait at least a day before looking at any more. The time I spend daydreaming in class about those ten cards gives me a very firm understanding of each card's purpose and where it might fit in a given deck. I suggest the same strategy if you're looking to step up your Limited game; the only difference is that you should remember the rarity of each of the cards. This gives you a huge edge in Limited.

I've been lucky enough to write a few preview columns on this site now. At this time last year I previewed Arcane Sanctum and the other trilands. I talked about their superiority to the Invasion counterparts and I talked about blurring the line of playable color combinations. Before Alara Reborn was released I previewed the Borderposts. I remember first seeing them and being a bit frustrated.

"These are almost exactly the same as the cards I just previewed," I thought. "They just make one less color." I put a lot of thought into that column and eventually came up with an interesting way to abuse their two-coloredness: Bloom Tender.

You can all imagine how I felt when I looked at my email and saw my newest preview cards, three members of a five-card cycle:

These cards are good, and I know a lot of my friends will be picking up the foil versions for their Elder Dragon Highlander decks. I really like the simplicity and elegance of cards like this. These lands make two colors, but they come into play tapped. That seems fine; people have won Pro Tours with lands like that. Then there's the added bonus of gaining 1 life when these lands come into play. At first I was a bit underwhelmed, but then I remembered a few decks I've talked about over the last month and I realized how good these cards can be.

I thought for another day or two and started realizing just how much that 1 point can do in racing situations. If you look at a modern red deck, you'll notice that all of their spells except Lightning Bolt do an even amount of damage. Having to do 21 points instead of 20 points becomes pretty important if your opponent draws two Lightning Bolts or none at all. With the power level of things like Baneslayer Angel, it seems like decks in the new Standard will have to play a lot of removal. This means that many games could come down to one person swinging a bunch of times with a 2/2 or 4/4 until the other person is dead and gone. The Refuges change the clock by a full turn in this type of situation. That extra turn of back-and-forth will assuredly help you if your deck has more card draw than your opponent's.

I'm sure a lot of you thought of Sanguine Bond. When I first saw these cards, I had a feeling that was probably the best place for them. Unfortunately, the Johnny-riffic enchantment doesn't pair very well with many blue or red cards. I feel like the best of these lands will probably be Akoum Refuge.

Sanguine Bond

I've talked a lot about Earthquake since Nationals. Tony Triceps brought a red deck to my friend Chris Lachmann's house one day and just wrecked us. Lachmann jumped on the Earthquake bandwagon and posted a very respectable finish at Nats. I feel like Earthquake only gets better with the release of the new set. With landfall creatures looking as strong as they do, you can expect to kill things that are (in actuality) a lot scarier than their power and toughness might lead you to believe. There will probably be 1/1s that are actually 5/5s (with a fetch land) and various other obnoxiously huge things that are quite small on your turn. Remember how good Wake Thrasher became with the Magic 2010 rules changes? Well, imagine a sea full of Wake Thrashers at Friday Night Magic. That my friend, is a sea that I would like to cast Earthquake in. Earthquake may damage both players, but I'm not too worried about it. I'll have enough card advantage, and I'll have offset my life total with my Refuge lands. Lets look at a list:

Black-Red Quake

Download Arena Decklist

This list really takes advantage of the extra little boost of life given to us by the Refuge land. Chris and his following have always played four copies of Sign in Blood and Earthquake in their red-black deck, but the Refuge makes it a lot less painful. I'm sure you'll be impressed with with how nicely the new land fits.

Another thing that probably looks exciting here is the inclusion of Lavaball Trap. This rare trap was previewed last week by Lotus Noir and has remained pretty under the radar. People refuse to give it credit where credit is due. A lot of people don't understand just how easy it is for your opponent put two lands onto the battlefield in a turn. Cracking a fetch land the turn you play it fulfills the trap requirement all by itself. If your deck has Path to Exile, you can really make your opponents writhe in their seats as they decide whether or not to search for a basic land.

Lavaball Trap may not be the best card once your opponents know you have it in your deck, but that's part of the fun with the new trap cards. I wanted to include the card just to see how it played. Like you, I don't have Lavaball Traps yet, but I imagine the first game I play with the card will be an absolute blowout. I can see my opponent's face when I Lavaball Trap after they pop a fetch land. However, I'm not really sure how often I'd get people with it after the first game. Sideboards and traps seem like a very interesting concept.

I feel like mind games (actual mind games, not Mind Games) put the trap mechanic in a very interesting place. You can just side out your trap cards in games two and three and have your opponent play around something that isn't there. You can leave in the trap cards and have your opponent assume that you've sided them out and just get blown out again. Or you can be super sneaky and have your trap cards in your sideboard and randomly bring them in when you feel your opponent is being careless. Just the presence of these cards in a metagame will affect the way we play the game. It doesn't matter if 80% of people never play them. The 20% who do play them will force people to adjust their play accordingly. I feel like this mechanic adds a lot of fun factor to the game I know and love. Kudos to R&D.

Back to the Refuges. We can all safely assume that Wizards has decided that the Invasion tap lands are not good enough anymore. We may have fond memories of Coastal Tower and Shivan Oasis, but the time has come when lands just need to be better. Creatures have gotten stronger, spells have always been insane, and lands just sat in this awkward place of necessity. Cards like this really make you think about what the line of playability is.

With lands it's very hard to tell. If the new Standard features lots of two-colored decks, then these lands will be quite powerful. If decks try to stay in shard form (three allied colors), then people will probably just play trilands. I'm especially excited about these cards because they make my job a lot easier.

Building on a Budget has often suffered through awful mana bases. Over the past year Wizards has made what I believe to be a very concious effort to bring reasonable multicolored mana bases to the masses that don't have access to rare dual lands. Budget deck builders have a lot of different options as they venture into the world of deck building now. This is clearly a huge plus for the whole Magic community.

The Zendikar Prerelease is fast approaching and I cannot remember being this excited about a new set. I can guarantee I'll be waiting for the first flight in New York or Philadelphia. Cracking packs of a brand new set is always one of the most exciting times for Magic. I know I'm probably beating a dead horse here, but I can't begin to express how important Prereleases are to the development of a new Magic player.

You learn how to build a Sealed pool.

I can't stress the importance of this enough. The only way to get better at Sealed Deck is to open and build a lot of pools. You can know what the best cards are and know all the tricks in a format, but the spoils of war usually go to those who are more prepared. Building Sealed pools is a fun exercise that helps your deck building and card evaluation skill. The best part about Sealed at a prerelease is that most Prereleases let you change your deck in between rounds. If you have friends who are a bit more experienced than you, then you should sit down and have a talk with them: "Want to see my deck?" They'll usually just fan through your cards and nod before handing it back to you, but you shouldn't let the conversation end there. The only reason I play as well as I do today is because I was constantly pestering Chris Lachmann and Gerard Fabiano at every Prerelease event. Show them the rest of your pool and ask what they would have done differently. Ask them why they would make each change—it's important to understand a train of thought so you can attempt to replicate it in your own way as you develop as a player.

You get more confortable in a tournament setting.

My friend Brad Nelson is a big believer in this. He has been dominating Magic Online for a few years, but real-life tournaments were new and daunting to him. Going to Prereleases is a good way to get used to checking pairings and finding your seat. That may seem like a pretty obvious an easy thing, but it takes some getting used to. Prereleases also train us to maintain a proper game state. When we play casually with our friends we oftentimes forget life totals or miss triggers on various cards. While these things aren't really that big of a deal, they can negatively affect our experience with the game when they lead to disagreements. When you sit down with a pad of paper you're obligated to maintain a proper game state. The environment is relaxed enough that judges won't be throwing around warnings for players that mess something up. If you have a question just call a judge and they'll be happy to walk you through whatever you are unsure about. Prereleases give us a chance to understand the situations we're unsure about.

You make friends.

I talk about this one a lot. Prereleases are great places to make new friends. I've met some of my best friends at prereleases and I'm sure I will continue to meet great people at every event I go to. Make sure you're a gracious loser and a humble winner and you'll be sure to make lots friends. Find out where people play FNM. It might be worth it to drive an extra fifteen minutes if there are a bunch of people that you enjoy the company of at a certain game store.

I hope you all enjoyed this week's column, and I hope you'll head to a Prerelease near you. I'm happy Wizards has decided to continue to print powerful lands that aren't rares. It makes the game a much less daunting investment for new and returning players. Remember, make plans for the Prerelease early and make sure you show up extra early this time—this set is going to be highly sought after.

Happy brewing!

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