As part of writing this column, I tend to prioritize common and uncommon cards over rare and mythic rare cards. That's backwards from how many people approach Magic, as the rare and mythic rare cards are often the splashiest, most powerful spells in the set. Here in the land of Limited, we are more interested in overall trends about how a format will go than specific rare cards that we won't see too often.
So occasionally a big Dragon will get overlooked as we dive deep on the latest common removal spell. It happens.
But not in Dragons of Tarkir. Holy smokes, if you are the type of person who enjoys huge lizards with bat wings and scary faces, this set is for you. There are so many Dragons flapping around in the aptly named Dragons of Tarkir, that we'll be seeing them often—even in Limited.
In fact, if you are attending a Prerelease event for Dragons of Tarkir this weekend, you'll be aligning yourself with the clan of one of the new elder dragonlords.
Every time a new set comes out, people send in emails or tweets asking which clan/guild/dragonlord they should choose for their event. I can relate to this, of course. They are simply asking for the path to value, a path I try to walk often. But as I've said in the past, I feel that it's best to align with the dragon clan (in this case) that you enjoy the most. The one that fits your play style. For example, when I went to the Khans of Tarkir Prerelease event, I chose Sultai as my clan.
By the time I arrived, I had been given ample information that Abzan was doing quite well at Prereleases around the world. That's cool, but I was more concerned with diving into the new cards and doing it on my terms than I was with squeaking out a few extra percentage points of value.
The fact is that, usually, each choice is quite reasonable and you'll be fine whatever way you go, even if some choices are slightly better than others. So you may as well let your hair down and have some fun along the way.
We're going to talk a little about the new and returning mechanics for Dragons of Tarkir this week, but before we do, I want to reiterate my stance on Prerelease events in general.
The chief goals for any of us going to a Prerelease is to have fun and to present an open and inviting environment for new players to join our game. I've talked about this in the column before, so I won't go super deep here, but trust me that this goal is best for your own enjoyment as well as being the correct value play. Getting new players into your local ecosystem means that it stays healthy and also that you have new players to play against for a long time to come. It's a win-win situation and should be prioritized at the event.
Okay, let's dive into some of the new mechanics associated with the choices you'll make at the Prerelease.
Dromoka and Kolaghan both feature mechanics from Fate Reforged.
If you align yourself with Dromoka, you'll be using bolster to out-class your opponents.
If you are feeling feisty and pick Kolaghan, you'll be getting your dash on.
Both of these mechanics are unchanged in Dragons of Tarkir. If you want a refresher on how they work, or if Dragons of Tarkir will be your first Prerelease, check out the mechanics overview for Fate Reforged for more information on bolster and dash.
The other three dragonlords have new or returning mechanics, and I want to talk about those before setting you loose on your Prerelease.
For those choosing Ojutai, you'll either be remembering the rebound mechanic from Rise of the Eldrazi or you'll be experiencing it for the first time.
Rebound is pretty straightforward. If a spell has rebound, you basically get to play it a second time for free.
The way this works is that as a spell with rebound resolves and then, instead of going to your graveyard like a normal spell would, it goes into exile. At the beginning of your next upkeep, it goes on the stack. You choose any applicable targets, and after it resolves it goes to your graveyard.
Pretty cool stuff. Let's take a look at a particularly nice rebound spell from Dragons of Tarkir:
Ojutai must use some pretty hardcore mouthwash.
"Freezing" a creature is a nice tempo play that can keep an air force attacking while a big ground creature stays tapped for multiple turn cycles. Getting to do this twice (thanks to rebound) is quite powerful. The basic sequence will be that you'll fire off your Ojutai's Breath at the beginning of your opponent's beginning of combat step, locking down a would-be attacker for not one, but two attack steps. Then, on your upkeep, rebound will happen and you'll get yet another creature tapped down and out of the way.
This should clear the way quite nicely for you to finish off your opponent.
There are a few details to keep in mind with rebound. The most important is that in order for a spell to rebound, it must resolve. If a rebound spell gets countered or all of its targets become invalid, it will simply (and sadly) go right to the graveyard and won't rebound on your next upkeep.
Similarly, if your rebound spell resolves the first time but doesn't have a legal target when it comes time to cast it off the rebound, it will just stay exiled forever.
Another reminder: You aren't technically allowed to put the rebound card on top of your library as a reminder to rebound it on your upkeep. You may, however, use a dice, pen, or something else. I recommend doing this every time.
Next up is my personal favorite (and my first choice for the Prerelease) dragonlord: Silumgar. Dragonlord Silumgar is not a nice dragon. He has many demands of his subjects, up to and including their own lives.
Harsh, I know.
But! He rewards you for your sacrifice. And when I say sacrifice, I mean it. The new ability is called exploit, and it asks that you sacrifice a creature when a creature with exploit enters the battlefield.
You'll notice I said "asks" and not "demands" in the previous sentence.
That's because exploit is optional. You may sacrifice a creature when the exploit creature enters the battlefield. If you do, you get a bonus of some sort. If you don't, well you just get the creature you cast.
Let's look at an exploit creature that caught my eye right away:
As you may know, my favorite Magic card ever is Man-o'-War. I think I have a copy of every printed version of the card sitting on my desk. (My favorite, for the record, is the Portal version.) When new sets come out, I eagerly look to see if this will finally be the set that I get Man-o'-War back. We've come darn close in the past, and we've even seen some real competition for the best Jellyfish ever.
Sidisi's Faithful doesn't really fit in that camp as it only costs one mana. No, this card is much different than your typical "bounce creature." At 0/4, its stats leave a bit to be desired. It's a decent blocker and a terrible attacker.
The cool part about this card is that it can function almost like a one-mana bounce spell at sorcery speed. This is because you are allowed to sacrifice the creature with exploit to itself if you want. You can also sacrifice any other creature you control, but since an 0/4 body isn't always great, I anticipate we'll sacrifice the Faithful to itself somewhat often.
You'll want to keep your eye out for creatures with "when this dies" effects, or creatures that have outlived their usefulness on the battlefield, as those are the best ones to exploit. You'll also want to always remember that you don't have to exploit. There will be times where it's better to just cast a creature and move on—although I anticipate they will be rare.
Atarka is our last dragonlord to cover, and this clan gets an interesting mechanic called formidable.
Formidable is one of those mechanics that cares about a certain requirement being met before it does anything. In this case, formidable is all about how much power all of your creatures have combined. The magic number is 8 for formidable. If you add up the power for all creatures you control, and it's 8 or more, you are officially formidable.
We'll get into the details of that in minute, but first let's look an example:
And you thought you had a rough day. Apparently bears are viewed as snacks to the Atarka. This Dragon-Scarred Bear is the snack that got away.
The first thing you'll notice about formidable is that the creature itself helps add to that total. In this case, the Dragon-Scarred Bear is representing over one-third of the necessary power to get formidable going. Once you do, the Bear gets pretty good, too. Utilizing the threat of an activation, you can attack freely into similarly sized creatures with this Bear and it basically won't ever get blocked.
If you find yourself on the defensive, you'll be able to block and regenerate, possibly even killing opposing creatures in the process.
There are two main details to know about formidable.
For activated abilities like the one on Dragon-Scarred Bear, you can only activate the ability if you have formidable. BUT, if you do activate the ability, and then lose formidable before it resolves, the ability will still happen. This is important. In the case of the Bear, if your opponent goes to kill your 4/4 creature, for example, and take you off of formidable, and you wish to put a regeneration shield on your Bear, you'll need to do it before your 4/4 dies.
For triggered abilities, it's different. If you have a triggered ability that relies on formidable, it won't trigger unless you have formidable. Then when it goes to resolve, it will check again to make sure you still have formidable. If you don't, the ability won't happen. If you still do have formidable, then it will happen.
I'm choosing Silumgar for sure. If I end up doing multiple events I'll probably branch out in order to try to learn as much about the new cards and format as I can.
I'm greatly looking forward to this Prerelease weekend, and I hope you are too!