Welcome to the Alara Reborn Prerelease primer. For those of you that have experienced previous Prerelease primers, welcome to a version that has just a little more, shall we say, bling. A lot of the information here will be pretty familiar to you, but some of it (I'm looking at you, shiny golden preview card!) should be wholly new. One way or another, I'm unabashed in running you through everything you need to know to have a great Prerelease. For many players, the Prerelease is their very first tournament, and starting things off on the right foot is a sure-fire way to make certain that they keep going long into the future.
A lot of the basics about having a good Prerelease are just that—basic. I get to put on my best authority figure voice and tell you that as miserable as it might seem beforehand, doing a bit of homework and preparation goes a long way. I'm not talking about reading up as much as you can about the new cards before you get there, though this might well help you do better on the day while playing. I'm concerned with making sure that you've thought ahead, and organised all of boring bits before you show up, so that you can focus on having a good time once you are at a Prerelease itself. It can be as easy as 1, 2, 3 if you let it be.
Step 1 – Find a Prerelease
If you're reading this article, then you are already in a good spot. From the magicthegathering.com web site there are links to the locations of all the Prereleases going on all over the globe, plus the store locator feature. Even if you find that you are on holiday for Prerelease weekend, or perhaps away on business, there is a good chance that you'll be able to find a tournament local to where you'll be to get your early fix in. During the Conflux Prerelease in London, there were a few wily players who had stopped by while travelling around the globe. Like finding a restaurant that serves your favourite food while in an unfamiliar country, I like to think that Magic tournaments have quite a homey feel. Regardless of where in the world I am, or who I'm playing with, I know that we share a common interest, and that chances are we'll get on.
For some of you, you'll have the good fortune of a few options as to where to go for your Prerelease experience. Lucky you! Prereleases come in all manner of sizes, and which you prefer is entirely your call. The big Prereleases often have a party feel to them, and are great for getting pickup games and drafts going, simply due to the large number of people. Many have artists there to sign cards, or players ready to "gunsling" in addition to more regular Sealed Deck tournaments. Smaller Prereleases have fewer people, but you can be sure that there will still be plenty of spell-slinging going on. For me, when it comes to choosing where to go, the decision tends to come down to which one has the easiest travel (so that I can be there for longest, and get the most play in), and who will be there, as I treat a Prerelease as a good opportunity to catch up with friends.
Once you know which Prerelease you want to go to, find out exactly where it is, and work out how you are going to get there and how you're going to get home. Many are the players who enter a draft only to find that they miscalculated when they'd have to leave, and gets themselves in hot water. There is no reason to fall afoul of this when you can avoid it with just a little strategic planning. Nothing is worse than playing on a clock that has nothing to do with the tournament itself, as you know you're risking missing your ride.
Step 2 – Pack your Bags
Whether your Prerelease is just down the street or the other side of the world, there are a few things that you are going to want to remember to bring with you. Directions and, if possible, the tournament organiser's phone number are a good start. If you do find yourself running late, a call to the TO is a good last resort plan that might just mean the difference between your squeaking into a tournament and not. If nothing else, the TO is well placed to give you directions if you are lost or similar. Food is also something that I like to have packed ready to go. Nobody can go for a whole day without eating and be in the same state of mind that they were at the start. If you want to play all day, then have your food plan ready, that way you won't get caught out. Many venues have easy access to food vendors, but if you are unsure, bring something with you.
In terms of actual play, the most important thing that I always bring is a couple of pens and a notepad. I don't know what colours of deck I'll be playing (I'm guessing gold!), but I do know that I will have to track life totals during the games I play. I am far too clumsy to start using dice, counters or spin-down things to keep life totals in check, and with a pen and paper, I will be good to go. On top of this, it's surprising the number of random deck ideas, email addresses and similar that I will find myself jotting down once I'm at an event. Having some dice and counters is often a good idea, to work out who goes first in a game, and to deal with things like +1/+1 counters. Torn up pieces of paper look messy, blow around and generally just get in the way. Don't do it. While we're at it, dress comfortably and appropriately for the season. On more than one occasion I've found myself at a tournament looking a mess, or being accosted by air conditioning, and little things like this can (when expanded out to an entire room full of people) turn the mood from a fun and focused one to something of a funk.
I try to have a deck-box or two and sleeves with me for an event, as this way I can keep all my cards neatly together, and not muss them up too much from play. I'm one of those people whose hands sweat, so I can quite easily destroy a deck through lots of shuffling over the course of a day. Even if you aren't such a person, be aware that we are out there, and by having sleeves on your deck you are safe from anything untoward happening to your newest slices of gold.
Some players bring play mats with them, or trades, or music systems, churches, very small rocks, all sorts of things. Obviously you are welcome to bring as much as you like with you to a tournament, but I would recommend that keeping track of a big heavy bag in a busy room can be a bit of a pain over the course of a day. If you know that you are looking to trade for particular things, or indeed that you have some cards you'd like to trade away, then a Prerelease is a great time to do so, but it is by no means required activity. Personally, I now try to have the minimum amount of things with me possible, as I don't want to have to lug much around, and I will freely admit that I have a bad habit of leaving bags at tables at the end of a round. This is a good way to lose your stuff, and I would definitely not recommend that!
Step 3 – Make a Plan for the Day
At a lot of Prereleases, especially the big ones, there is a lot going on, and if you don't work out what it is that you are looking to get out of your Prerelease experience, you might miss out on getting involved with some bits that you would really enjoy. To give you an idea, I was at the London Conflux Prerelease, where there were Sealed Deck flights, drafts, gunslinging tables, deck-doctoring, a Two-Headed Giant tournament, artists doing signings, theme deck duellers, traders, and a raffle going on. That is quite a lot to squeeze in, and even if you showed up early, you might have had trouble fitting in everything.
I would encourage everyone to play in at least one Sealed flight at a Prerelease. These are the big focus of events, for which you receive your promotional foil Prerelease card. Here everyone receives the same amount of boosters (3 Shards of Alara and 3 Alara Reborn in this case), builds a deck, and play with it over the course of a number of rounds. Over those rounds you can get a feel for which cards are better or worse than you may have first thought, and change up your deck as you see fit. Often opponents will provide their feedback on how they might have built using the card pool you received. These experiences are both fun and great for helping you get better at the game. The good thing about Sealed Deck is that you don't need to know a whole lot about the cards going into it—perfect for a Prerelease.
There will likely also be drafts going on, which are massively fun, but if you are having a tough time keeping up with all the new cards in your Sealed Deck pool, you might find drafts difficult. The allure of draft is that you get to see a lot of cards very fast, and can start really pushing to play with the mechanics you like best by picking those higher. This is enough to make them very popular among many players, and Prereleases can be a fun place to try them out.
In London, Two-Headed Giant remains a crowd pleaser when people are getting a first look at the new set. Many teams come along specially for this, enjoying being able to play every round sat next to a buddy. There are also those that pick up a partner at the event itself. For Conflux, one player was fortunate enough to arrive without a partner, and find themselves paired up with former World Champion Julien Nuijten! While this is pretty unusual, there is always the potential for less experienced players to sit alongside much more experienced ones and have a good game with 2HG, which can be fun for both players.
Regardless of whether you are dueling all day, or playing a quick flight before diving into trading, there is much to do at any Prerelease, so it makes sense to work out your priorities and play to your strengths.
The Play's the Thing
And so we come on to actually tapping lands and casting spells. Alara Reborn is a set which is pretty special simply due to its glistening outlook on things. When you open your packs, looking at the borders will not be quite the same, making sorting your cards out a little different. There is still an indication of colour beyond just the mana symbols—check out the colours on the frames of the picture and text box.
I would recommend splitting cards into the colour combinations that they fall into. While there is a little help for stretching your mana base, it is important that you don't start thinking automatically about playing all five colours. Gold cards are powerful, but with this power comes additional potential for mana issues. At the point you pick out the cards for your deck, I would recommend focusing on two or three colours with your best cards in. You might end up dipping outside them, but by being a little more focused, you will find that your draws are that much more consistent, and you don't get faced with the nightmare scenario of lots of cards in hand that you just can't cast.
Conveniently, you have more working in your favour than just discipline to get playable draws in this new, reborn version of Alara. We've seen cycling throughout the block, and with the final version in the mix, there is a variation on it that has a lot of potential to ensure that you can be drawing smoothly and easily into action every game.
Cycling is one of those abilities that even before talk of Astral Slide and Lighning Rift is an absolute winner. It might seem that ditching a card in your hand for a random one from the top of your deck is a little chancy, but it does wonders for ensuring that you draw your best spells and have the mana to play them.
This is the first time that we've seen hybrid mana on cycling, and barring the temporal anomalies of Street Wraith and Edge of Autumn, that makes this card the easiest card to cycle we've ever seen. With access to either blue or white mana, it can be discarded at instant speed to be replaced by the top card of your deck. Given that I have run Angelsong and Savage Hunger in decks basically to cycle with at the cost of , this is an exciting start for my preview card.
So part one seems pretty interesting. We have a cycling card with a bargain-basement cycling cost. Crucially, in a set full of gold cards, suddenly there are things that we can do for just one mana (one of the areas that seemed a little up in the air when first we heard about the approaching gold rush). How does the rest stack up, though? Check it out.
Glassdust Hulk is exactly the kind of hulk that I want on my side. Is it incredible? It definitely has potential to be. Unsurprisingly, given the set it's in, Glassdust Hulk will occasionally be tricky to cast, due to its double colour requirement. If anything this only makes its cycling better, as it is really quite tough for its to be a wholly dead card languishing in your hand.
When the Hulk does decide to smash, though, it's pretty good at it. 3/4 for five mana is a perfectly serviceable size for a monster outside of green, and before we start thinking about tricks or exalted, the Hulk is able to rumble with many of the best in the format. Once I have access to the mana to cast it, I think that most of the time I'm going to want to be hitting the red zone with this artifact creature, which plays nice with any other Esper goodies I might have.
Glassdust Hulk is actually more or less the perfect marriage between Esper and Bant, both playing off the artifact themes of Esper and providing a perfect attacker for exalted. Having played quite a bit of Constructed Bant, I can say that unblockability is the gold standard (pun very much intended) for Bant, above flying or trample for just making sure that your lone attacker is worth it.
When I'm building a Sealed Deck, I am really looking for a consistent deck with a clear path to victory. This normally includes some amount of removal for creatures, and creatures with evasion, as that is typically the way that Sealed Deck is won. Glassdust Hulk will always be making my draws better, either by being a hefty threat that is very capable of breaking down a creature stall, or by simply getting me one step closer to drawing that one card I need to just win the game.
As the Prerelease itself edges ever closer, I urge you to find a local event and do everything you can to make it down. Whether you are shooting for gold in one of the flights or drafting the night away, they are one of the high-points of the Magic calendar for everyone from first-timers to pros.
Have fun and be lucky. At the Prerelease, the first is more or less guaranteed.
Bonus: Planeswalker's Primer Videos
To make sure you're up to speed on the new themes and rules before the Prerelease, check out these videos: