Shadows over Innistrad Prerelease Primer

Posted in Feature on March 28, 2016

By Gavin Verhey

When Gavin Verhey was eleven, he dreamt of a job making Magic cards—and now as a Magic designer, he's living his dream! Gavin has been writing about Magic since 2005.

Innistrad's not quite like how we last saw it.

Angels gone mad. Planeswalkers gone rogue. A trail of clues, leading to some much larger mystery...

I think you had better take a look:

It's not all unicorns and rainbows—in fact, it's exactly not unicorns and rainbows—for the good guys. But Innistrad is far from a lost cause. If you can help solve the mystery of Innistrad, there may still be time to stop this madness yet.

There's only one way to research the depths of Innistrad's insanity—and that's to explore it! And what better way than by playing in a Prerelease? You'll get the cards before anybody else, meet several other investigators like yourself, and even stumble upon an exclusive Prerelease puzzle!

But I'm getting ahead of myself. What all should you expect? Read on.

Unravel the Mystery

Even when the world is going insane, Prereleases are still some of the most fun you can have playing Magic.

My first Prerelease was when I was eleven years old—and I was instantly hooked. Fourteen years later, I still get excited to visit the Prerelease!

Prereleases are great because the set is brand new, the footing is fairly equal as everybody plays with the set for the very first time, and you're all just relaxing and exploring the new cards. It's just a lot of fun! Even players who have been playing since the beginning of the game look forward to each Prerelease like it's a new present they can unwrap.

If you're a Sealed Deck veteran, you may want to skip ahead to the next section, where I talk about some of the differences you can expect at your local store for Shadows over Innistrad. But if you're new to this whole Sealed Deck shindig, or maybe are just looking for a few extra pointers, read on!

All right. So let's go over perhaps the most important part: finding a place to play a Prerelease! After all, you can't very well play if you don't know where to go. How might you go about that?

Well, if you don't already have a local shop you frequent, be sure to check out the store locator to find one near you! That store may even offer preregistration. Prereleases are some of the most popular events we put on, so be sure to check and see if the store preregisters. The best time to find out an event is full is decidedly not when you show up and learn you can't play, so be sure to look ahead.

So you've found your store. Excellent!

Now it's time to prepare. Innistrad is somewhere you won't want to walk around unprepared—and you'll need to be ready for whatever comes your way! While you will be building your deck for the event with cards you're given when you get there, there's plenty to do besides just that.

For example, you may still want to bring a Standard or Commander deck to play for fun between rounds, a trade binder, pen and paper to keep track of life, and even a water bottle. Something small to snack on can be a good idea as well, like a granola bar or, if you're a vampire, your goblet of blood. You can expect a Prerelease event to take about four to five hours, so you'll want to make sure you set aside enough time for the entire event.

Okay now, let's see. You have a store and you've gathered everything you might need to prepare for what's happening on Innistrad. You've even read through the recent Magic Story, so you're up to date on Magic lore. And, of course, you've taken a look at the Shadows over Innistrad Card Image Gallery.

You're all set! Now it's time to...

Unravel the Boosters

When you head into the Prerelease and sit down to play, you'll be handed a snazzy new deck box containing everything you need to build your deck. Check it out!

This new form factor for Shadows over Innistrad means you'll have your very own replica deck box of Tamiyo's Journal to carry your cards around in. Keep it safe!

Inside the deck box is also a puzzle for you to work out....But it'd be no fun to spoil that for you now, would it? You'll need to go to the Prerelease and work with your fellow sleuths in the store to figure it out for yourself!

But perhaps most important out of all of this will be the six booster packs that will give you the cards you need to build your deck, plus your shiny bonus Prerelease card (which could be any rare or mythic rare in the set!).

First things first: unravel the mystery...of what's in those booster packs! Then, you'll have a stack of cards.

So, what now?

It's time to build your deck, of course!

Sealed Deck is a little different from normal deck building. You get to build a deck using only the cards in front of you, plus as many basic lands as you'd like. Also, unlike a normal Constructed deck where the minimum deck size is 60, you only have to play 40 cards.

The first thing you're going to want to do is figure out a method to pick which colors you'll be playing. I recommend playing two colors.

Some things that may draw you into specific colors are:

  • A really strong rare you're excited about
  • Plenty of "removal" cards that can deal with your opponent's creatures
  • A lot of playable cards in that color
  • A good "mana curve" in that color—meaning lots of creatures of different costs

Ideally, the colors you pick will have all four, but if two or three of those are true that's plenty good.

Whatever your method, you're going to need to narrow down what you're playing. If you get stuck at the Prerelease, feel free to ask the players around you for help. (You are allowed to do this at a Prerelease—even on Innistrad, it's about fun and learning, after all!) If you get stuck, one fun way to decide here is to pick an Innistrad creature type that fits in a color pair, such as Spirits (white-blue), Zombies (blue-black), Vampires (black-red), Werewolves (red-green), or Humans (green-white), and then build around them!

Whatever your method, now you have your colors down. From there, how do you take everything you have and figure out which 22 to 23 cards you're going to want to put in your deck?

Innistrad has many nocturnal terrors—but you don't need to lose sleep anymore over this one: there's a process to help out with that!

First, lay your creatures out in mana-cost order. This helps you see which creatures you're going to potentially have to cast at each part of the game. (Don't lay your noncreatures out at this point unless they're cards you are planning to play as soon as you have that much mana—for example, you will generally cast a Despise on turn one, but Eerie Interlude isn't usually a turn-three priority.)

A good "mana curve" of creatures is crucial to a successful Sealed Deck. You don't want to have a ton of cards at any single spot in the curve. It's important for you to be able to have a good mix so you can play your cheap spells in the early game and your expensive spells in the late game. As a very general rule for Limited, I would look to play something like this:

  • 1 mana: 0–2 creatures
  • 2 mana: 4–6 creatures
  • 3 mana: 3–5 creatures
  • 4 mana: 4 creatures
  • 5 mana: 3 creatures
  • 6-plus mana: 1–2 creatures

That's far from hard and fast, but it's a good place to start. Cull your creatures down to these numbers by choosing your favorites.

Now that you have your core creature base figured out, it's time to add in spells! Pick your favorites among your colors to bring your deck to 22 or 23 cards, and then you're good to go from the spell side.

The spells you're going to want the most are what are called "removal spells"—these are the spells that permanently neutralize your opponent's creatures by either dealing damage, keeping them tapped, or just straight-up destroying them. Sealed Deck Magic is all about creatures, so you'll want to play most of the cards in your colors that can get rid of your opponent's creatures.

Interested in more tips? Here are a few more things to keep in mind for deck building:

  • You can play more than 40 cards, but you really should stick to 40 if you can. Every card you play past 40 just means it's that much less likely you're going to draw that awesome rare you put in your deck!
  • The land ratio you're looking at should be about 17 lands to 23 nonlands. This isn't right 100% of the time, but most Limited decks end up looking like this, and, in general, it's what I would want to have.
  • Play a mix of cheap-to-cast and expensive-to-cast cards. If you have all cheap, small creatures, then a single big creature can shut you down. Likewise, if you have all expensive, large creatures, you risk getting run over first. Stick to a mix that focuses on the two-, three-, four-, and five-casting-cost creatures. More games of Sealed Deck are won by casting a creature every turn starting on turn two or three than any other way.
  • Evasion is important! Often, Sealed Deck games will get into stalls where both players have a lot of creatures and neither player can attack very well. Creatures with abilities like flying ensure that you can break through these creature stalls.

If you want to dive really deep into Sealed, here are a few articles you can check out to learn even more:

Two-Headed Giant

Some stores also support a version of Sealed Deck called Two-Headed Giant (often abbreviated "2HG"), where two players team up against other pairs of players. Each pair gets two Prerelease boxes from which the players build their decks. Your local store's tournament organizer can tell you more. Contact them for details. (And you can read more about Two-Headed Giant here!)

Open Dueling

If the idea of spending a day playing a tournament is a little too much, or if you have less time and just want to experience the excitement of Shadows over Innistrad on your own time, you can get involved in Open Dueling.

In this side event, you get a ready-to-play 60-card Intro Pack and use it to do battle against others participating in Open Dueling, including players participating in the main tournament who are between rounds! This is a great way to dip your toe into the water if you aren't sure the Prerelease is something you want to do or if you can't commit five hours to a Prerelease event. You can just play games in Open Dueling at your own leisure. Plus, it's fun!

Solving Mechanical Mysteries

From creatures that have abilities on both sides of the card to instants that create Clue tokens, Shadows over Innistrad has a bunch of wild mechanics running around! You should definitely check out the mechanics article to get a full sense of what's going on—or, for a shorter, bite-sized version, check out these videos that cover them in depth:

The End of the Trail

So, what's going on with Innistrad? Well, that's for you to find out! And somehow, I think you'd best do it sooner rather than later, sleuth.

Before fading off into the Innistrad night, I will point out once more that all of the cards in the set can be seen over in the Card Image Gallery. Study up and prepare yourself!

That does it on my end. May these tips serve you well out there on your hunt! If you have any thoughts, questions, or generally witty remarks, feel free to send them my way! You can always reach me by sending me a tweet or asking me a question on my Tumblr.

Have a good Prerelease—oh, and do take care to not let the Vampires bite, will you?

Gavin

@GavinVerhey

GavInsight

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