Khans of Tarkir First Impressions

Posted in Limited Information on September 24, 2014

By Marshall Sutcliffe

Marshall came back to Magic after discovering Limited and never looked back. He hosts the Limited Resources podcast and does Grand Prix and Pro Tour video commentary.

And just like that, the Prerelease has come and gone.

For me, Prereleases are a uniquely crazy time. I am so busy with articles and podcasts during the week leading up to the event itself that I often feel like I've been tossed out the back of a pickup truck and am brushing myself off as I walk in the door. The really funny part is that I'm usually quite familiar with the new mechanics of the set, as well as the commons and uncommons, but have to read many of the rares when I open them.

I kind of like it that way, it keeps some of that mystery there for me. It's all too easy to lose that feeling when you do the kind of work I do.

Over the course of the weekend I took notes, and even collected some from friends in an attempt to get a feel for the format, overall. Specifically I was interested in the five clans and how they performed.

I'm going to run down the five clans as a snapshot of what you can expect from each one.

Treasure Cruise | Art by Cynthia Sheppard

Sultai

I chose Sultai for the Prerelease I did on Saturday. (I only got to play in one actual Prerelease, although I attended two and got to draft a few times with prize packs). Even though I am a Temur beef captain at heart (my Commander deck is Animar), I have always had a thing for Sultai. And in Khans of Tarkir I was especially excited for it.

You see I am an...appreciator of value. I live for two-for-ones. I relish every second of drawing a card. Especially extra cards. Or THREE extra cards, as a random example.

Sultai seemed rife with value, so I went for it.

The Sultai deck I made played out how I had hoped it would. I had a bunch of delve cards (three Hooting Mandrills, a Murderous Cut, a Treasure Cruise) and some good delve enablers to boot. I ran a Scout the Borders, but decided against putting Taigam's Scheming in my deck, as it doesn't replace itself and I found that unacceptable.

I got to board the Treasure Cruise multiple times, and what a great ride. It feels like smooth sailing once the ship leaves the dock.

I will admit that I decked myself once, perhaps going a bit too deep. I had the win the next turn (or if I drew a land that turn) but instead I died to a value-splosion of my own making. It was totally worth it.

My favorite play of the day was casting See the Unwritten (with Hooting Mandrills out, no less) getting another Hooting Mandrills and Abomination of Gudul, playing an Island, and then using all the cards in my graveyard to delve out a Treasure Cruise all in the same turn. Pretty sure I could have just left the Prerelease right there and still felt great about it.

Overall, Sultai was great and I would certainly pick it again. It's tricky to play, though, requiring you to plan out your sequences more than usual.

Abzan

Abzan decks did well at the Prerelease I went to. I read on Twitter that it did well in other parts of the world, too.

I can see why. It has a solid curve, strong plays at all stages of the game, and inevitability through the outlast mechanic. One thing I found interesting was getting an outlast "lord" on the battlefield (a lord being one of the outlast creatures that grants an ability to all of your creatures with a +1/+1 counter on them) and then finding a different, instant-speed way to get counters on your other creatures.

Let's face it, taking a turn off to outlast is a clunky affair. You have to use up your mana, take your creature off of blocking duty, and convey all of this to your opponent at sorcery speed.

It's not exactly the smoothest of transactions.

But if you can get, say, an Ainok Bond-Kin on the table, and then get some +1/+1 counters onto another creature at instant speed, things get nasty for the opponent.

The tricky part was finding good ways to get counters distributed without having to outlast.

Feat of Resistance seemed to be the best of the bunch. Not only could it save your creature from removal, it also wins combat a good amount of the time and gets you that critical first +1/+1 counter.

I think we may have the best combat trick in the set right here.

Abzan seemed strong from top to bottom whenever I saw someone piloting it.

Jeskai

Jeskai seems so cool. You get these evasive, tricky creatures that can get bigger, plus a bunch of great tricks to grow them and propel your game plan forward. It just didn't play out that way in the draft I did and in the games I watched at the Prerelease.

The strategy felt fragile.

Don't get me wrong, there was a lot of damage added up over the course of the day by the better prowess creatures like these. But they felt vulnerable and weren't good blockers when things got flipped around. I felt like if my Jeskai Windscout survived, it would do a bunch of damage over the course of the game, but if it didn't, I wouldn't have much of a chance of winning at all.

The build I came up with was quite aggressive, with a low curve and a lot of tricks. I'm wondering now if it would be better to have a slightly more midrange feel to it, where you get random prowess bonuses, but where it's not the primary focus of the deck.

I'll certainly try playing the strategy again, as I had a great time with it when it was firing on all cylinders.

Mardu

I always tell people to just pick their favorite color/guild/clan at the Prerelease. Have some fun with it, express yourself, high-five someone in the process. That kind of thing.

But some people press, and push, and pull until they get an answer about which clan is the "best" choice for the Prerelease. When I was pressed on the question, I told them to play Mardu.

Mardu can punish slow, clunky (perhaps not perfectly built?) Sealed decks like few other clans can. On the surface, it's the most aggressive clan, and it played that way at the Prerelease.

It has a cool Warrior subtheme, as well as a strong token subtheme.

I saw a lot of people get straight-up run over by Mardu decks. My gut tells me that Mardu is the fun police of the format, keeping ludicrous five-color decks in check and making people think twice about that splash.

Honestly, I think it makes the format better overall to have a deck like that, and I'm happy to identify it early.

Mardu, I've got my eye on you.

Temur

Ah yes, those dedicated to the Beef Principle. The principle by which always having the biggest creature on the battlefield makes you the de facto winner of the game. A real Timmy's paradise.

I happen to agree with the Beef Principle in some ways. Often, just making big creatures that have to be dealt with is a great way to win a game of Magic. It may not be flashy like the Jeskai or go deep like the Sultai, but it gets the job done just the same.

One big beefer stood out in particular:

Pine Walker did a lot of work in my Sultai deck, and I saw it wreck some Mardu player as well. The fact that it can be used almost as a removal spell in some cases makes the upside incredibly high for this card. Additionally, it's a perfectly great 5/5 for five mana if hard-cast, and has that great morph flexibility we all know and love.

Overall, Temur underperformed a bit from what I could tell. I think when I get a chance to draft it, I'll probably just keep it simple and go for big creatures. The combat tricks seemed particularly great in Temur, with Awaken the Bear doing a lot of work.

Become Immense was just a game-ender a lot of the time it was resolved. That card is scary because they can cast it for as little as one green mana! It went very well with the big trample creatures from Temur.

The tools seem to be there for the Temur; it's just a matter of finding where and how they fit together.

Overall

It felt like Mardu and Abzan had the strongest showings at the Prerelease, with Sultai and Temur in the middle, and Jeskai pulling up the rear. There is still a lot to learn about how these clans work, and Booster Draft is a whole different world—as we all know.

Hopefully, you won some packs so you can get a draft in with your friends this week sometime.

Until next week!
@Marshall_LR

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