The Eventide Prerelease is mere days away now. What does that mean for you? Well, chances are, within reasonable traveling distance of where you are right now, there will be a Prerelease tournament to celebrate the second of the dark, hybrid-oriented sets, following Shadowmoor.
Now for a long time, I never played in a Magic tournament. I started playing during Revised Edition, and my first ever sanctioned tournament didn't happen until the Invasion Prerelease. That is an awful lot of kitchen table Magic, for those of you keeping track. Part of what kept me away was the awkwardness of having to travel somewhere to play, when I could have played at home. Part of it was that I was a little shy of sitting down and playing the game that I love against complete strangers. Part of it was some lingering doubt that I was good enough to be able to compete.
I wish I'd taken the plunge sooner.
Prereleases are about the best introduction to organized Magic play that you could ever hope to find. More than any others, these are the tournaments where the pressure is very much off when it comes to winning big. While there are great prizes up for grabs for thems that do well, at a Prerelease, as soon as you walk through the door and sign up, you are the winner of a whole bunch of packs of a set that isn't even out yet!
This as much as anything tends to mean that the atmosphere at a Prerelease is all set up for everyone to have a good time. Those strangers at the event who you've never talked to, let alone played against? They play Magic by the same rules as everyone else. If ever there was an opportunity to meet people on a social level where there is automatically a shared interest, it is at a Magic tournament. At my first Prerelease I was surprised that each and every round, players would be more than happy to have a bit of a chat about their cards, my cards, how they built their decks, and would even offer to help with making the best of my build. As it turns out this is pretty much the status quo for a Prerelease. It doesn't matter how well you do, just this sort of experience really means that you can't lose. I've lost track of the number of people I've met at assorted Prereleases in the last however many years. While I may go to different ones depending on where I am, the vibe is always the same.
I think that now, the only Prerelease I have missed since Invasion was the Future Sight Prerelease, and that was because I was working as a reporter at Pro Tour–Yokohama. There, my Prerelease was a draft alongside a bunch of R&D members who were as keen to see my reaction to the cards they had made as they were to pick the best ones for their own decks.
The travel is completely worth it.
Now, I'm sure that to a lot of you, this is preaching to the converted. You are already preregistered to a Prerelease somewhere. Good for you. I'm sure that the Eventide events will be winners just like all the others.
If you are a little uncertain of what to expect, though, here are a few pre-Prerelease thoughts to conjure with.
1. Be Prepared for Crowds
In my experience, Prereleases tend to attract more people than virtually any other Magic event in the calendar. It stands to reason, really, with the new set being available to play with for the very first time. This is a great thing, as more people tends to mean more fun. It can also mean pretty busy tournament space though, so I would recommend not bringing everything and the kitchen sink with you. This article should render you prepared for all the festivities. You don't want to be in a busy hall lugging around more than you need to. Lugging and fun don't really mix unless you are a weightlifter. If you are a weightlifter, there's no reason to start intimidating more slight individuals (like myself) with your lifting prowess at a Magic tournament.
2. Get There Early
You remember about all those people? Well, if they all show up at five minutes before the tournament is scheduled to begin, then there is every likelihood of there being big queues. Even worse, there is the possibility that if you become one of those people who is planning on getting to the event just in time, that you will get a little delayed and get there just too late. There's no need to go banging down the door as soon as it opens for the event, but a little forward planning on travel there will pay dividends in the long run. There is no reason to let something like surprising amounts of traffic spoil your day.
3. Bring What You Need to Play
At a Prerelease, one of the big attractions is that you don't need to bring a single card with you; you will be supplied with everything you need to play with. In fact, since this is a Sealed Deck competition, you will positively not be allowed to play with any cards you bring with you in the tournament itself. Save those cards for side games between rounds. What is a good idea to bring with you is a pen and some paper to keep track of life totals, perhaps some sleeves to keep your new cards minty fresh, and something to use as counters or tokens. If Eventide is anything like the rest of the block, you can likely expect the odd counter and creature token over the course of the day.
Most of these things you can get at the tournament venue if needs be. The other important things to bring are a clear head (get enough sleep beforehand!), and as many friends as you can muster that want come along. The more is very much the merrier at Prereleases, and while friends can also be found at the tournament venue more often than not, bringing more of your own is always good for the event itself, and for making the trip itself a little more entertaining.
Lastly, you'll want to make sure you know the rules for the new keywords and mechanics. You can download the Rules Primer on the Eventide Product Information Page.
4. Build a Good Sealed Deck
Ultimately, the Prerelease tournament will involve you making a deck using the cards from one Shadowmoor tournament pack and three Eventide booster packs. No more, no less. There will be a little bit of time limit on this, though there should work out to be plenty of time to carefully read through all of your cards and work out which look like winners. Without knowing all the cards beforehand, it might well be a little tricky, but here are a few rules of thumb that should serve well.
Play about 40 cards.
This ensures that you have the best chance of drawing the best cards as often as possible. You aren't allowed less than 40, and if you play with a lot more then pretty rapidly your draws can end up somewhat erratic.
Play 17 or 18 lands.
The most frustrating way to lose a game of Magic is without enough land to play the spells you want to play. In a 40-card deck, 17 to 18 lands should be a good mix to be able to play some spells and get to work.
Watch those mana costs!
Shadowmoor gave us our first glimpse of hybrid in a big way, and Eventide looks set to follow it up with enemy-colored hybrid mana combinations. Getting the mana right is one of the trickiest bits about Sealed Deck. If you try to focus on one or two colours, with just a few of the most powerful cards from a third, then ultimately you have the best chance of being able to play the spells you want to play.
Play bombs, removal and evasive creatures.
Assuming that both players draw a good mix of lands and spells, there are a few key ways to win the game in Sealed Deck. They tend to be having good creatures that can attack and are difficult to block (e.g. flyers and landwalkers), along with some way of removing nasty threats of a similar sort being played by your opponent. On top of that, there are what are referred to as bombs. Often these are game-dominating creatures, or removal effects that can, on their own, deal with multiple threats from your opponent. If you find that in you Shadowmoor tournament pack, you open Oona, Queen of the Fae, or Incremental Blight, then it is probably a good idea to try to find a way to play them, as the power level of these spells can win a game without a great deal of backup.
Thinking of bombs, I should probably mention my preview card for the day. Yes, in addition to being able to wax lyrical about all the good times at a Prerelease, I get to give you another card to look out for on the weekend.
This card is a common "trick," which I would not be at all surprised to see being played quite a bit at the weekend. Being able to deal with many of your opponent's cards with just one of your own puts you in great shape to be able to pull out an otherwise tight game, and that is exactly what my preview card does.
This common combat trick is one that, if well-timed, can leave opponents reeling and wondering what hit them.
Fire at Will is a very neat melding of red's desire to burn away all that opposes it and white's firm challenge for control of the attack step. While it can be played in a deck that only runs one of these two colours, it is at its best if you can play it fairly easily, which will likely mean playing both colours or waiting until late in the game to play it.
The power of Fire at Will comes in its flexibility. A fair proportion of the time, it will be a straight up one-for-one removal spell for one of your opponent's creatures. At doing this it is completely fine, and if it was simply a 3-point burn spell it would likely make the cut during deck construction. Where things get really interesting, though, is when you can effectively split the damage it deals between a few creatures, and suddenly change the face of the board.
A quick note on the rules about dividing damage. You have 3 damage to deal with Fire at Will, and if you are dividing it up, you need at least one target, and a maximum of three. You have to divide damage neatly—that is to say at least 1 damage to each target, and no sneaky fractions. You declare how much damage you are dealing and where all of it is going on the declaration of the spell.
With that out of the way, how can you best wreak havoc with your fire? 3 points of burn is enough to make a small army scared, but you might need a little help to really get full value out of it. As Fire at Will only works in the attack step, think of it as a combat trick that can get you extra points of power in a number of attacks or blocks, and you can potentially start taking down armies that were otherwise unassailable. It's especially back-breaking when combined with first strike, a keyword mechanic that white and red share.
Fire at Will is obviously powerful on defence, but is also quite a scary prospect on offence, as you can use it to allow you to make otherwise risky attacks in relative safety. Attack with the team, knowing that you have a versatile backup plan against most every type of blocking.
Fire at Will is exactly the type of trick that I like. If your opponent can see it coming, that won't necessarily stop it from making life complicated, and if they can't, those three shots can be devastating.
Take your shot at the Prerelease this weekend. You won't regret it.