Theros Beyond Death Prerelease Primer

Posted in Feature on January 14, 2020

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.

Gods. Heroes. Monsters. And now . . . the Underworld. That can only mean one thing when it comes to Magic planes: we're on Theros!

And it's going to be epic. You may have caught a glimpse of this floating around the internet . . . or in the trailer! And if you haven't seen the trailer for Theros Beyond Death yet, check it out:

I was here at Wizards when we worked on the first Theros set that came out 7 years ago—and so it's really meaningful to me to get to show off another! But you don't have to be a longtime player to enjoy it: whether you played Theros before or are coming to this world inspired by Greek myths for the first time, there's plenty here for you.

And there's no better way to go dive into this world than the Prerelease!

The Prerelease is the time to celebrate and try out the new set before anybody else, sitting down and ripping open those brand-new booster packs with the resolve of a Theros hero. You'll build a deck out of those packs, check out the format, and, of course, have fun along the way!

So, what should you expect? Let's run through it today!

Monstrous Fun

Prereleases are my favorite Magic events of the year.

No matter where in the world I am or what time of year it is, I always try and go check out a local Prerelease. And I'm not alone: tons of Magic players, from seasoned veterans to folks just starting out, do the same! Prereleases are among the most popular events we throw.

Why? Because Prereleases are just some of the most fun you can have playing Magic!

There's nothing quite like it. You get to sit down, pick up some brand-new cards, and figure out how you want to use them at the same time everybody else is. It's an even playing field in a casual environment, where everybody shares all that bubbling energy and excitement around a new Magic set!

I visited my first Prerelease when I was just eleven and instantly fell in love with the event. Nineteen years later, not too much has changed—and Prereleases are better than ever!

Prereleases are great because the set is totally new, the footing is fairly equal as everybody plays with the set for the very first time, and you're all just relaxing and having fun exploring the new cards. It's a lot of fun for old and new players alike!

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 Theros Beyond Death. But if you're new to the wide world of Sealed Deck, or are maybe just looking for a few extra pointers, then 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?

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 plan ahead.

Have you found your store? Excellent!

Now it's time to look ahead and prepare for the event. 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.

Be sure to pack all the supplies you will need for your trip to the world of Theros! 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.

A Prerelease event tends to take about 4–5 hours, so make sure to set aside enough time for the entire event. And you're going to need some fuel with all that battling, so you may want to bring something light to snack on to give you all the aura-life buffs you need. You may want to check with the store as well—they might even sell some food there!

Okay, now, let's see. You have a store selected to journey to, and you've filled your bag with everything you'll need. And, of course, you've taken a look at all the awesome cards in the Theros Beyond Death Card Image Gallery. Perhaps, if you were curious what a tournament might be like, you might have checked out my article conveniently titled "Your First Tournament."

You're all set! Now it's time to actually go and open up some of those cards!

A Hero's Task

Okay. So you're going to sit down and play. What can you expect to get?

Everyone will get a box that looks like this:


Inside, you'll get six Theros Beyond Death boosters . . . plus, a random stamped rare or mythic rare card as your Prerelease foil that could be any rare or mythic rare in the set!

Then, of course, you'll get a couple other goodies—like a spindown life counter to keep track of your life total. Actually, you know what? Let's just crack one open and take a look!

What's Inside

Excellent! You will get a ton of goodies here.

And, of course, front and center are those booster packs. Let's talk about what to do with those next!

First thing's first: crack open 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. You can sometimes "splash" for a third color, but in general, you'll at least want to pick two to be your core.

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.

Worth noting is that Theros Beyond Death has a mechanic called devotion, which rewards you for having a lot of colored mana symbols on your cards. If you're going to play a lot of cards with heavy colored-mana requirements, you may want to skew the lands you choose to favor the color that has more of them. You don't want to end up only having one plains while you have your card that costs two white mana in your hand!

Gray Merchant of Asphodel

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; everyone is there to make sure it's a fun event!)

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

Here's one process that may help!

First, lay your creatures out in mana-cost order. This helps you see what creatures you're going to potentially be able 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 Transcendent Envoy on turn two, whereas Indomitable Will isn't usually a turn-two play.)

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 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
  • 2 mana: 4–6
  • 3 mana: 3–5
  • 4 mana: 2–4
  • 5 mana 1–3
  • 6+ mana: 0–2

Mana Curve

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.

If you want to learn more about mana curves, you can also check out my article on how to build a mana curve by clicking here.

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 possible. 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 seventeen 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. If you have all large, expensive 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.
  • Unlike most Magic formats, sealed tends to be a little slower. If your deck is on the slow side, choosing to draw (go second) rather than play (go first) can be reasonable to give you that extra card.

Booster Fun

Starting with the last set, Throne of Eldraine, we debuted our new "booster fun" initiative, putting alternate, tricked-out versions of specific cards into packs. And with Theros Beyond Death, we're continuing that initiative—with all of them tied into the theme of enchantments!

First of all, every single booster pack has a sweet "Nyx" basic land in them, inspired by enchantments. Take a look at these beauties:



But that's just the beginning. Up next, are the Demigods and Gods in the set—which have "constellation" versions of themselves:

Booster Fun Heliod, Sun-CrownedBooster Fun Anex, Hardened in the Forge

Additionally, the planeswalkers in the set can also be opened in a special borderless version:

Elspeth, Sun's NemesisBooster Fun Elspeth, Sun's Nemesis

They're really breathtaking. Or . . . enchanting, perhaps? Either way, you can find these in booster packs—and the borderless cards continue in the Collector Boosters! They'll look like this:

Nyxbloom Ancient

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. (If you've had a chance to try out the Battlebond set from 2018, you may already be familiar!)

How does it work?

Well, the simple version is this: you and your teammate work together to build two 40-card decks. Then, you play against another pair of players in a one-game match.

How does this kind of multiplayer play out? It's simple: all of your creatures and lands are separate, but you each share the same 30-point life total and take your turns simultaneously—plus you can block for each other too! To do the best you can, you'll need to work together to overcome the opposition.

Curious to learn more about how 2HG works and some of the intricacies of play? Be sure to check out the page all about it by clicking here.

Open Dueling

If the idea of spending a day playing a tournament doesn't fit into how you prefer to play Magic, or if you have less time and just want to battle as you're available, you can get involved in Open Dueling!

You get a ready-to-play 60-card Planeswalker deck 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 5 hours to a Prerelease event. You can just play games in Open Dueling at your own leisure. It's fun!

Ask your local store about Open Dueling at the Prerelease, and prepare to battle!

Pandora's Booster Box

. . . But, you know, if opening Pandora's Box was a good thing.

If you haven't been to a Prerelease, something relatively new as of last year is the ability to actually pick up a booster box at the Prerelease!

That's right: if you preorder your booster box ahead of time, you can actually buy your box and bring it home (or crack it all open there!) right away. Contact your local store for more details.

When you do this with Theros Beyond Death, of course, you'll receive your buy-a-box promo card. It's Athreos!

Athreos, Shroud-Veiled

Additionally, you'll receive a foil full-art Nyx land! Perfect for slotting right into your favorite Commander deck. These are both while supplies last, so reach out to your store and ask.

Similarly, you can buy Planeswalker decks on Prerelease day as well! Open dueling or no—feel free to pick up a deck and get to battling!

The Mechanics of Theros

Theros Beyond Death has a few new mechanics to cover. I've mentioned Devotion already, but for a more in-depth look, check out these mechanic videos (or the faq) which will hopefully answer all the questions you have:

A Land of Enchantment

It's so great to get to take a look at Theros again. This gorgeous world full of stories is once again ready for exploration—and I can't wait for you to dig into it at the Prerelease!

So check in with your local store about the details on theirs, prepare yourself by looking through the Card Image Gallery, and get ready to have fun!

Have any thoughts or questions on top of that? Please let me know! I'm always happy to hear from you. You can reach me by sending a tweet, messaging me on Instagram, asking a question on my Tumblr, or even emailing me. See below for the addresses!

Have a great—and safe—time in Theros!

Instagram: GavinVerhey
Tumblr: GavInsight
Twitter: @GavinVerhey

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