This last weekend was the Magic Online Community Cup. I was lucky enough to cover this special event, and it didn't disappoint. There were stipulation Cube drafts, the Ironroot Chef Challenge, and even good old Vintage Masters drafts.
But one really cool part of the weekend came after the event itself was finished. The Community Team (who won, by the way) got to do a Khans of Tarkir pre-Prerelease Sealed Deck event on Magic Online! And I got to commentate the whole thing, including the deck-building portion. While it may have been a bit hectic covering a format I've never played before, with cards I had barely seen, I made sure to take the opportunity to take notes on your behalf.
Warden of the Eye | Art by Howard Lyon
The Khans of Tarkir Prerelease is this weekend, after all, and I am going to pass what I learned from that event to you. I figure getting one small step ahead of the competition can't hurt, right?
Before we get into my recommendations, I'd like to take a minute to remind you that the Prerelease offers many things, but chief among them is a chance for new players to discover our great game. As a Nuts & Bolts Spike, I love winning, but not at the cost of turning away a new player from a great experience. So play your best game this weekend, but remember that the priority is to have fun.
Which brings me to another item. I often get asked which guild, clan, color, or whatever to pick for the Prerelease. I think the expectation is that since I'm competitive, I will have thought out what the most powerful option is and would be taking that. This isn't the case. I usually just pick whatever I feel like playing that day, and if I play multiple events, I'll pick different options each time.
This best helps me prepare for writing this column, doing the podcast, and giving advice in general. It's also just more enjoyable for me to pick something I like to play. There is plenty of time left for squeezing every drop of value out of the format (and that is my plan, make no mistake).
Let's get down to business.
First things first: mana fixing.
Khans of Tarkir is a set based around groupings of three colors, called "wedges" (or clans, if you live on Tarkir itself). Since Limited decks are usually two colors, special consideration needs to be made to facilitate a three-color deck. As it turns out, Wizards R&D has given us plenty of tools to fix our mana; it's just up to us to figure out the best way to implement it.
Here are the main sources of mana fixing in Khans of Tarkir:
The Banners are all colorless, common, and playable. There were some dissenting opinions on the coverage team regarding how many Banners you should play in Sealed Deck. Randy Buehler was of the opinion that you could play three or even more Banners in your deck. Brian David-Marshall wasn't as big of a fan, preferring to play one or even just skipping them altogether. My stance was that I would play up to two in my deck, but would be happier with just one.
The argument for Banners is that they are relatively free to play in your deck. They are colorless, quite useful once on the battlefield (they both fix your colors of mana and ramp your mana), and even when they outlive their usefulness you can just cash them in for a card.
The flip side of that argument is that they don't affect the board the turn you cast them, are clunky to get a card out of (six mana, three of it being specific colors), and just aren't needed given the land-based fixing available in the set (more on that in a bit).
In Draft, I could see not wanting to run any of them in some decks, but in Sealed I think it's going to be correct to run one or two most of the time.
The "Refuge" Cycle
There are a full ten of these lands in Khans of Tarkir. That's right, every single two-color combination is represented, taking a huge load off the mana-fixing issue. This "refuge" cycle (named after the lands from Zendikar block) is printed at common and will be everywhere in both Booster Draft and Sealed Deck.
I would play essentially as many of these as I opened, provided they were on-color for my deck. I would not play one of these simply because it gained me a life, however. Entering the battlefield tapped can be a harsh downside, and while I'll tolerate it for color-fixing purposes, I won't for minimal lifegain.
Sandsteppe Citadel, Mystic Monastery, Opulent Palace, Nomad Outpost, Frontier Bivouac
These are also similar to another cycle, printed in Shards of Alara, and they are just important here as they were there. Lands that produce a full three colors of mana are hard to come by and carry a lot of value. You should play all of the on-clan tri-lands you open. They are uncommon, unlike the previous two examples, so you won't see them quite as often.
Don't forget that it's totally fine to play one of these even if you can only use two of the three colors. Mana fixing is mana fixing and you'll take it where you can get it.
All of this mana-fixing talk brings us to my next main subject for this article: morphs.
One of the primary functions of morphs in this set is mana fixing. I know that doesn't sound right, as most morphs don't fix mana at all, but being able to simply cast a creature on turn three regardless of the colors of mana you have is an important feature of the format.
If you haven't played a lot with morphs before, I want to issue some reminders here to make your day go a little smoother. Once you get used to morphs, I'm confident you'll love them.
Be careful when you cast them, block with them, and attack with them to not show your opponent which morph lies underneath.
The way each person physically handles his or her Magic cards is something of a unique identifier. I swear there are players I can name simply by the way they shuffle their cards. (This also comes from being in the commentary booth for a few years). We just get used to the way we play our cards. Morphs may demand a little adjustment to this habit.
When you cast a morph, you should flip it upside down, and lay it flat on the play surface before sliding it over to where it will live. When you attack or block, be very careful not to flip it upwards! It's trivially easy to reveal it on accident and doing so will make your morph a lot worse.
My suggestion is to sit across from a friend, and just try it out a few times before the Prerelease starts. It's not difficult, but it's something that you'll have to consciously think about for the first few times.
Next item: put them in order.
It is your responsibility to line up the morphs you have cast such that your opponent knows at all times which was cast first, second, third, and so on. This can be important during the course of the game, so it's best to get a system down you are comfortable with and stick to it. I simply go from left to right, and make sure they stay that way no matter what.
Also, it will be important to reveal face-down morphs to your opponent when you are required to.
You must show your face-down morphs to your opponent whenever the morph changes any zone (goes back to your hand, goes to the graveyard, gets exiled, gets put back on top of your library, etc.). You also must show your opponent all of your face-down morphs when the games end, whether you win or not.
This is a simple check and balance against people attempting shenaniganery by playing their Forests face down or whatever. Just remember it's your responsibility to show your opponent the morphs when this happens. Be gentle about reminding them to show you their morphs as well. You don't want to be accusatory at this stage while people are still getting used to the new mechanics.
Play Eighteen Lands
All this talk of mana fixing and morphs reminds me that Khans of Tarkir is looking like a turn-three format. Most formats have a specific turn that is the most important turn of the game. Fast formats generally skew toward turn two, while slower formats can creep up beyond turn three.
Any format with morphs is a turn-three format. When you add Banners to the list of important, colorless cards to play on turn three, it gets even more clear.
You simply cannot afford to miss your third land drop in this format. Don't tempt fate, play eighteen lands to give yourself the best chance of doing so. You will usually have places to spend your mana later in the game anyway. Turning morphs face up and cashing in Banners are just two examples.
I know I said it before, but make sure your priority is fun, inclusivity, and learning, at the Prerelease. Pick the clan that you think is the sweetest, try out your weird rares that you don't quite understand yet, and go deep.
I know I will, right after I get done with this Treasure Cruise...
Until next week!