My First Prerelease…

Posted in Learning Curve on January 28, 2004

By Brian David-Marshall

Brian David-Marshall is a New York–based game designer who has been involved with Magic since 1994, when he started organizing tournaments and ran a Manhattan game store. Since then, he has been a judge, a player, and one of the longest-tenured columnists on, as he enters his second decade writing for the site. He is also the Pro Tour Historian and one of the commentators for the Pro Tour.

This weekend marked the first time that I was able to play in a Prerelease event in over a year since I began rounding the Learning Curve each week. As each new set was released over the past year I would have the opportunity to either see the full spoiler as I prepared for the preview articles or to opt only to see the cards I was going to be writing about. If that's all there was to it I would always choose the former option but, of course, it's not that simple.

Choosing to see the full spoiler also meant I would not be able to play in the prerelease tournament for that set. Despite enjoying prerelease tournaments I could not resist the inside info and I opted out of the prereleases from Legions on through Mirrodin. I still attended the tournaments although I could not play. I would draft with my friends later on in the day after they won or traded for packs. The early part of the day was spent envying the players who were opening up packs of the new set for the first time.

Writer's dilemma: prereleases or early spoilers?

The envy built up to a point that when the New Year rolled around I did not have an advance look at the Darksteel spoiler. I had my sights set on the New York prerelease this past Saturday. I briefly considered playing in the Midnight prerelease but the frigid New York weather and my warm cozy wife conspired to keep me in until Saturday morning.

I was up bright and reasonably early on Saturday and arrived at the tournament site just before 10 am. There was already a spectrum of flights underway and I signed up for the orange flight that was approaching capacity. In my Prerelease Primer I mentioned that organizers were offering prizes that were along the lines of a box or a large portion of a box but Gray Matter Conventions threw me a curveball this time around.

Rather than wait for a big tournament to fill up they were starting mini-tournaments, or flights, with every thirty-two players that registered. The tournaments would only consist of four rounds with every player with a 4-0, 3-0-1, and 3-1 record receiving prizes. The prizes were 12 packs, 8 packs, and 4 packs based on which record you finished with. In addition, each player ‘won' a pack for participating in the tournament.

I had mixed feelings about the prize payout. On one hand, it meant that you had to wade through one less round than past prereleases. They were giving out more or less the same number of packs as past prereleases but the payout was dispersed over a greater number of players resulting in fewer packs for an undefeated record. This meant it was easier to win prizes and more players would do so under this payout structure. On the other hand, I like to believe I am going to win any tournament I play in so at first it felt as though prizes were being taken away from me.

But, in the end, I decided that I liked the idea of fewer rounds and more players winning prizes than the idea of a larger potential payout. I discussed the structure with a number of the other players and in general the more experienced tournament competitors were more likely to want additional rounds and more concentrated prize payouts. Players with less tournament experience seemed to favor the shorter format and more dispersed payout. Anything that encourages players to come back and try out other tournament formats is a good thing by my count.

When my flight finally started I was pretty excited about the quality of the deck I received. I was fortunate enough to open a pretty exciting Mirrodin Tournament Pack that contained two of the most powerful uncommons the block has to offer for Limited tournament play—Grab the Reins and Crystal Shard. The rest of the cards fell into place in such a way that I was able to play blue-red and utilize both cards.

Darksteel Prerelease Deck

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In case you are wondering how I ended up with two Berserkers, one of them was foil. The last three cards to get cut from my deck were the Sundering Titan, Darksteel Gargoyle, and Darksteel Ingot. There were a few other spells on the fence but I wasn't going to cut any creatures to fit them in. In hindsight I should have probably found a way to include the indestructible flier most likely at the expense of Thoughtcast.

Vedalken Engineer
I would have gladly played with both of them if I had a Vedalken Engineer. The Engineer was one of the stars of the weekend. Players learned to dispatch this guy quickly and I saw him draw Electrostatic Bolts and Terrors throughout the day. It will be interesting to see how highly the Engineer gets picked in the new draft format.

Arcane Spyglass was a card that was the subject of much debate throughout the day. Many players felt it was marginally playable at best while others felt it was a strong card. I was actually surprised to find it in the common slot and definitely fall into the latter camp of players. I was always a big fan of the Cephalid Scout and I think this card will prove to be as much a staple in Mirrodin Limited as the Scout was in its own block.

Round one: Matt Spano

Matt is a local player whose older brother Gregg is an occasional Pro Tour competitor and grizzled PTQ veteran. I know Matt has done well on the JSS circuit but I don't think I have ever seen him play before. In the first game I came out of the gate quickly with a succession of fliers. Neurok Familiar, Neurok Prodigy, and Hoverguard Observer all curved out of my deck on the appropriate turns. Matt was not able to catch up despite getting a recursive Nim Replica going toward the end of the game.

Krark-Clan Stoker
In the second game, Matt's deck went to work and he was able to sacrifice a modular creature each turn with his Krark-Clan Stoker and use the mana to regrow it with his Skeleton Shard. I was back on my heels and despite an active Crystal Shard I never had the wiggle room to do anything but play a guy, block, and return it.

Game three was all about a mistake I always make. I was playing first and was looking at a hand with six lands and one spell—maybe Cobalt Golem. I should have definitely mulliganed the hand but I felt confident that I would draw spells to make the hand good. At the end of the game I still had two lands in hand and seven or eight in play and never drew anything to get me in the game. That is to take nothing away from Matt. He played very well and his deck seemed well built. I am just sore with myself for not shipping back a hand that is probably worse than a one land hand almost all of the time.

I played one more round with the deck and it performed well but I dropped to play in another flight that was getting underway.

Darksteel Prerelease Deck

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Savage Beating
Savage Beating is probably the most aptly named Magic card ever printed. It was nothing short of ridiculous all afternoon. Paying the entwine cost was nice but often unnecessary. Merely giving my fliers and unblocked creature double strike was more then enough to ice the game—untapping them and sending them in again would have just been gaudy.

As far as the rest of the deck… I was sorely tempted to try out Eater of Days but everyone seemed to have even more cheap artifact destruction than I saw in all Mirrodin Limited. I resisted my temptations and left him in the board. One card that I definitely overlooked was the Thunderstaff. It is useful on both offense and defense and I watched it win many games in other people's decks whether it was softening the blows of a Neurok Spy or acting as a mini-Leonin Sun Standard.

I cannot say enough about the Grimclaw Bats. A number of players left these guys out of their decks despite playing black. They are amazing and dominated many a game on the day. I paid as much as six life in a turn for them—once at the cost of an additional point via a Talisman and I never regretted it.

Pulse of the Forge
I did regret not playing my foil Pulse of the Forge. I hate to play burn spells that don't take out a critter but in my deck this card would have been a nice fit. Because I was playing a slow deck that would probably take a little bit of a beating before stabilizing I would have been able to take advantage of the card more than once. It also works nicely with the Grimclaw Bats and the Promise of Power. In hindsight I would have played it over… well, I still honestly don't know what I would have cut for it. That was one of the reasons I left it in my board. I could not bear to lose a creature and the alternative was to give up a removal spell. I already had one Irradiate sitting on the bench and I would have felt foolish sitting Terror, Consume Spirit, or Barter in Blood alongside it.

I was pretty disappointed with the Vulshok War Boar despite getting him out on the third turn in one game. I think either the Arcbound Hybrid, Oxidda Golem, or Auriok Siege Sled would have made a better addition to the deck.

Round one: Dmitry Kasakov

In game one against Dmitry almost all of the damage I took early on was from pumping my own Grimclaw Bats. In game two I made a 4/4 Promise of Power token and I was able to finish Dmitry off with Savage Beating.

Round two: Greg Schmidt

Greg Terrored my third turn War Boar but I had the Bats out early again and I ate up both of our life totals in large chunks. Greg mulliganed in the second game and I compounded it by playing a Chittering Rats. Consume Spirit and Essence Drain cleared the way for another Savage Beating.

Round three: Michael Arkipov

If I won this round I would be 3-0 and able to draw with my fourth round opponent into a quarter of a box of Darksteel and still have time to play in a draft with some friends before meeting my wife and another couple for dinner. I have to admit that I was pretty happy to see my opponent present a fifty-six card deck and we talked a little about how he should have tried to get closer to forty cards. He explained that he was pretty new to the game and couldn't figure out which cards to cut.

Michael played an Oblivion Stone on turn three or four of the first game but he had no real pressure and not many cards in hand when he played it. It did not matter though as my deck delivered one of its three artifact destruction spells before he could activate the Stone.

In game two Michael opened up with a Leonin Elder and followed it with a turn three Emissary of Hope. I had a somewhat slow draw and Michael was quickly up to thirty-nine life by the time I killed the flier. He still had the Leonin Elder and later played a foil one as well. He used the time afforded him by the extra life to play a Darksteel Gargoyle and a Darksteel Forge. The Forge negated two artifact destruction spells in my hand for the rest of the game.

I had to draw all but one card in my deck with Serum Tank and an entwined Promise of Power in order to beat him. The second to last card in my deck was the Savage Beating and I had to entwine it. Because his artifact creatures were indestructible that was only enough to almost kill him. I still needed to polish him off with a large Consume Spirit.

I drew the next round with my opponent and took my nine packs to go find a draft. Unfortunately I had to leave by the time the draft got going but I had a great time nonetheless and can't wait until later in the week when I will get a chance to try out Darksteel in the draft format with friends.

I was surprised by how many people were playing with Surestrike Trident. The card does not seem very exciting to me as far as equipment in this set. I had it in my first sealed deck until I realized that it only does damage to players. Even coupled with first strike it was not enough for me to pump four mana into each turn. I can see the card being very powerful in the last act of a long game but who wants to draw this early?

Leonin Bola on the other hand was very powerful and I saw many players ignore the common equipment despite the fact that it turns any creature into a tapper. It is cheap and easy to move around. It will definitely be an excellent complement to the Leonin Den-Guard.

Speaking of powerful, The Sword of Light and Shadow and the Sword of Fire and Ice were all that they were cracked up to be. I was lucky enough to not have to face either one all weekend but I was near games that were dominated by each on Saturday. I am glad to see that these guys are rare and not have to worry about them popping up constantly like the accursed Loxodon Warhammer.

All in all I had a great time and can't wait for more opportunities to play more with the new set. I also have yet to play with a green or white card post-Darksteel and I am curious to see what those colors have under the hood. In the meantime we've got a new theme week coming up and you can bet I'll be playing as much as possible with the new cards along the way. See you then!

Brian may be reached at

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