Zendikar Rising Prerelease Primer

Posted in Feature on September 15, 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.

It's time for an adventure!

We've returned to one of the most popular worlds in all of Magic: Zendikar.

It's a world of wild mana, plucky adventurers, and treasures for those daring enough to uncover them.

If you've been to Zendikar before, this is a return to the feel of original Zendikar—no Eldrazi to be found. And if you've never been to Zendikar before, don't worry—this is an excellent time to dive in!

And what's the best way to take that leap of faith? The Prerelease of course!

The Prerelease is your first chance at getting your hands on the new cards. What can you expect, and how can you participate?

If you'd prefer watching to reading, you can find me walking through a lot of this here:

Otherwise, keep on reading. Here we go!

Hopping into Zendikar

Prereleases have always been my favorite Magic events of the year.

Prereleases are events where it's your first chance to try out the new set—and to me, the heart and soul of the Prerelease experience is the energy of getting those cards and playing with them for the first time. And even if you're just doing that at home, you'll still be doing it with so many other people around the world as part of the global experience and conversation. Thanks to the internet, we're all connected!

The Prerelease of a set is 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 just get to relax and have 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 what you can expect for Zendikar Rising. But if you're new to the world of Sealed Deck, or are maybe just looking for a few extra pointers, read on!

All right. So, let's go over perhaps the most important part: finding product for your Prerelease! After all, you can't very well play if you don't know where to get the supplies you need.

Well, you'll need to get in touch with a store. 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. Be sure to plan ahead.

While traditionally Prereleases are run as an in-store event, because of the COVID-19 virus, players can pick up Prerelease packs and take them home as a special exception! In fact, we recommend it. In different areas of the world, different rules and restrictions may apply to what can be open—so please take appropriate precautions, be aware of government-level requests, and do only what you feel comfortable with.

And if you're not able to get to a local store for any reason, you can still play on Magic: The Gathering Arena! They will have Sealed events available, and the play experience is still the same, great Magic. It's an excellent time to try out MTG Arena if you haven't already.

Okay now, let's see. You have a store selected, and you've taken a look at all the awesome cards in the Zendikar Rising Card Image Gallery.

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

Preparing to Rise

Okay. So let's say you've ended up with a Prerelease pack in your hands. What can you expect to get?

Your Prerelease pack will look like this:

Prerelease Pack

Inside, you'll get six Zendikar Rising 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 open a Prerelease pack and take a look!

Everything you get inside

Excellent! Lots of cool stuff for your adventure there.

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

First things 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 need 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 and about 23 spells. (Though that gets a little tricky in Zendikar Rising, as I'll explain shortly.) You can sometimes "splash" for a third color, but in general, you'll 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.

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 an Expedition Healer on turn two, whereas Disenchant 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.

One wrinkle to all of this are the modal double-faced cards in Zendikar Rising. Some of these are cards that are a land on one side and a nonland on the other. For example:

Tangled FlorahedronTangled Vale

How should you count them? Lands? Creatures? Something else?

Well, it does depend on the card exactly, but I normally count them as a land since you can always play them as one. However, I usually want to make sure to play 18 lands when I'm playing at least one, and if I'm playing more than three, I'm very conscious about how many of my lands will begin entering the battlefield tapped. In general, playing more lands in this format can be great because of landfall, so playing 18 lands as a base is reasonable.

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 17 or 18 lands to 23 or 22 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. This can get tricky in Zendikar Rising, so be sure to check out my aside above.
  • 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-mana 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.

Fantastic Treasures

Starting with Throne of Eldraine, we debuted our new "booster fun" initiative, putting alternate, tricked-out versions of specific cards into packs. This continues into Zendikar Rising as well!

There's a special frame that can appear on landfall cards in the set, and each of these has alternate art to boot! Inspired by travel posters and showing off a cool, unique appearance, they look like this:

Lotus CobraRuin Crab

And speaking of the power of lands, some of the marquee lands in the set are the six modal double-faced lands. We made special full-art versions of these for you that you can open as well! Check them out:

Branchloft Pathway
Boulderloft Pathway
Brightclimb Pathway
Grimclimb Pathway
Clearwater Pathway
Murkwater Pathway
Cragcrown Pathway
Timbercrown Pathway
Needleverge Pathway
Pillarverge Pathway
Riverglide Pathway
Lavaglide Pathway

Just stunning!

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

Borderless Jace, Mirror MageBorderless Nahiri, Heir of the AncientsBorderless Nissa of Shadowed Boughs

You can find all of these in booster packs!

Additionally, the extended-art cards continue in the Collector Boosters! They'll look like this:

Extended-art Archpriest of IonaExtended-art Drana, the Last Bloodchief

And finally, none of this would be complete without mentioning the reprint lands that you can get in special Expedition frames as a Box Topper and in Collector Boosters. Each Expedition Box Topper contains 1 of 30 of the most exciting lands from the history of Magic—and yes, you can find all ten fetch lands as well. Just check out the gorgeous treatment on the enemy color cycle:

Marsh FlatsScalding TarnVerdant Catacombs

Arid MesaMisty Rainforest

So yeah, Zendikar Rising is jam-packed with goodness and eye-popping variations.

If you're curious on anything else about these cards and the variations, check out Mike Turian's article about Collecting Zendikar Rising.

Magic from a Distance

Depending on where in the world you are, playing Magic in a store may be a problem right now due to COVID-19. So, if you get product to bring home and aren't able to play in a store, what should you do?

Well, of course there's Magic: The Gathering Arena and Magic Online, both of which let you play the set from a safe distance. But one other thing you could try is playing over a phone or a webcam!

Growing up, me and a friend would play Magic over phone calls. As you can imagine, that was a hassle: trying to remember all the cards was a nightmare, and it would be even harder for a Prerelease!

But now we live in a much different age—an age where webcams are readily available, everywhere from laptops to your cell phone!

Depending on the setup you and your friends have, there are many ways to do this. Check out my article on playing Magic over webcam for all kinds of tips on setting it up—and with places like Discord, Google Hangouts, and Spelltable.com, it's easier than ever to get a webcam game going.

Taking the Loot

While you're at your store to pick up Prerelease packs, you can also buy other things—like booster boxes! Be sure to call ahead to preorder one, and while supplies last, you should be able to pick one up.

Orah, Skyclave Hierophant Buy-a-Box Promo

Zendikar Rising also has two Commander decks! Be sure to talk with your store about these as well.

ZNR Commander Decks

The Mechanics of Zendikar Rising

Zendikar Rising has plenty going on—from old favorites like landfall to newcomers like party! Want a rundown? Here you go!

Onward to Adventure!

This is our third visit to Zendikar—and I'm so excited to be back to traditional Zendikar. With the tribal wrinkles of party, a new twist on lands, and lots of really fantastic-looking cards (among much more), Zendikar Rising has all the markings of one of the best sets we've ever made.

I truly hope you enjoy this one. It's going to be incredible!

If you have any questions at all, feel free to hit me up on Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, or you can even send me an email at BeyondBasicsMagic@gmail.com. I'd be happy to hear from you!

I hope you've enjoyed Zendikar Rising previews, and whenever you play with the set, have fun!

Gavin
Email: BeyondBasicsMagic@gmail.com
Instagram: GavinVerhey
TikTok: @GavinVerhey
Tumblr: GavInsight
Twitter: @GavinVerhey
YouTube: Good Morning Magic

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