Prereleases are very exciting events. While I'm on a bit of a break from competitive Magic because of school commitments, there's almost nothing that can keep me away from a Prerelease. Heck, I haven't missed a Prerelease since I showed up at the Prophecy Prerelease looking to get copies of Spore Frog for my mono-green Force of Nature deck. If I got the chance, I was going to try to trade for as many Dawnstriders as I could get my hands on (that's a Fog every turn for you folks keeping score at home), but I didn't feel like I needed to get greedy. I figured as long as I got a playset of Spore Frogs I'd be ready to put some serious hurt on my friends.
Unfortunately for me, one of my friends was lucky enough to open up an Avatar of Woe! This one card forced me to rethink all of my strategies. Before I knew it, I was stocking up on Spitting Earths for my mono-red deck so that I would have a way to kill my friend's menacing Avatar.
While I've definitely grown up a lot since then (and gotten a lot better at Magic), my excitement for Prereleases hasn't wavered one bit. While workload considerations might keep me from attending any Pro Tours this year, or even next year, it would take something very serious to prevent me from playing with the new cards at the earliest moment possible.
Changing the Pace
Zendikar / Worldwake Limited is a very enjoyable format, and I've appreciated the opportunity to play a lot of intense, fast-paced games over the last few months. Zendikar / Zendikar / Worldwake is one of the formats that I look forward to coming back to and redrafting in the coming years. I can't remember any past format that has offered as tempo-based a game-play experience as the one that you can get right now.
But I don't mind admitting that I am looking forward to a change of pace. While it's great to have quick games of Magic, I welcome the opportunity for a different kind of complexity and strategic experience. I honestly can't remember the last time that I got to draft a successful attrition-based black control deck, or a white-blue deck designed to lock up the ground and win in the air.
Fortunately, Rise of the Eldrazi Limited promises to offer something a bit slower than what we've experienced in the past couple of years (maybe longer). This means that it's time to hang up the two-mana 2-power creatures for a little while we look for ways to win slower, longer, and bigger games.
That means building up armies of defenders to burn our opponents out with Vent Sentinel, putting Drake Umbras on our biggest creatures to allow them to soar to victory, using Overgrown Battlements, Joraga Treespeakers, Kozilek's Predators, and whatnot to help us accelerate our mana so we can bust out enormous Eldrazi threats, leveling up Students of Warfare to huge sizes, or simply destroying your opponents' best creatures with well-timed removal spells while we win with a more traditional team of creatures.
Whatever your strategy this weekend, make sure that you can win games that go long, because a lot of them will.
When to Get Big
If you see a Goliath Sphinx in a Zendikar / Zendikar / Worldwake draft, you're looking at something special. You still need to ask yourself whether or not you are willing to forgo the other, cheaper options in the pack in favor of a seven-cost creature. But that doesn't change the fact that an 8/7 flyer would provide a unique (and powerful) function. The fact is it's hard to come by truly game-breaking spells at any cost in Zendikar Limited.
Not so in Rise of the Eldrazi Limited.
If you want to get an expensive, game-breaking monster for your deck, you shouldn't have a problem doing so. At common, Ulamog's Crusher promises to offer a gigantic, hard-to-deal-with threat at the (now) attainable cost of 8 mana. Then there are plenty of even bigger Eldrazi in the uncommon and rare slots (watch out if anyone gets to cast an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn anytime soon!) and a bunch of level up creatures that can grow to enormous power if you invest the time and energy to do so.
Promo version of Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, available at Rise of the Eldrazi prereleases everywhere (While supplies last). Find a prerelease near you.
While you would have to worry about losing before you could cast your Goliath Sphinx, or having it removed / bounced immediately upon entering the battlefield, it was very rare that you would find an 8/7 flier getting outclassed by any single spell. However, you're likely to see quite a few super-sized monsters getting outclassed by even bigger threats during the coming months.
That's because there are so many gigantic, formidable Eldrazi available to drafters.
Because it's going to be relatively easy to come by gigantic monsters—Eldrazi or otherwise—you may not need to pick them as early as you would otherwise. Even if you really want to pick up a good eight-drop (or three), they should be easier to come by than the cards that enable them.
If you have the choice between a good creature for two to five mana—bearing in mind that that might not look like a good two- to five-mana creature in other formats—and a game-breaking creature for seven or more, you will often want to go with the cheaper spell.
If you have a pretty much fully formed deck going into the third pack, and you just need a couple of fatties to fill things out, they'll make their way into your deck. Your neighbors who had spent early picks on giant spells of their own will be struggling to fill out the rest of their decks, leaving you in a prime position to scoop up the monsters that your neighbors can't afford to take.
Leveling Up and Beating Down
It seems to me that level up creatures are going to play quite well, and in many cases will wind up being significantly better than they look.
While I don't need to explain the virtues of Figure of Destiny–type bombs like Kargan Dragonlord or Student of Warfare, or nearly-as-impressive standouts such as Lord of Shatterskull Pass or Transcendent Master, a lot of the less spectacular level up creatures are likely to pull a lot of weight during the coming months.
Knight of Cliffhaven is an excellent aggressive creature in a format where aggression isn't necessarily an advisable strategy. While a generic "bear" might not be a good card in its generic form for Rise of the Eldrazi Limited, throwing some extra options onto a 2/2 for two can go a long ways towards making it not only playable, but actively enticing.
Having decently sized aggressive creatures is a valuable asset, even in slower formats where they are not actively good. If your opponent stumbles on mana, you want to be able to punish him or her. If you simply spend a bunch of early turns building up your mana or your defender army instead of actively punishing your land-stalled opponent, you will likely have an advantage, but your opponent will also likely have the opportunity to crawl his or her way back into the game.
If you are beating your land-stalled opponent down, however, it can become nearly impossible for him or her to get back into the game. That is, if he or she even survives long enough to draw the lands to start casting spells.
So if you can get any extra reason to play an aggressive creature, you should be looking to pounce on it. And Knight of Cliffhaven certainly offers you extra incentives over simply being a glorified Glory Seeker.
What starts out as a decent-sized—though likely to be quickly outclassed—2/2 can turn into a 2/3 flier as soon as you find some spare mana. While five mana might seem like a large total investment for a 2/3 flier, you have to remember that two plus three is a lot better than five, or even three plus two. There are plenty of times where you won't have anything else worthwhile to do on your second turn, and in that case being able to cast a 2/2 is a pretty attractive option. If you don't have any worthwhile plays for your third turn, you could simply level it up right then and there and bash your opponent in the air. If Knight of Cliffhaven instead cost three to cast and two to level up, you would have many fewer convenient opportunities to size it up early, as turns four and beyond should generally put more stringent demands on your mana in the slower Rise of the Eldrazi format. Even better, if the game stalls out and you come into a bunch of mana you will be able to make your Knight of Cliffhaven a more than formidable 4/4 flier with vigilance.
I definitely look forward to seeing the level up cards in action. When you're at the Prerelease this weekend, you probably shouldn't spend too much energy on leveling up your creatures if you have other attractive options available. You don't want to spend three or four turns growing a gigantic monster only to see your whole plan crumble to pieces when your opponent has a single removal or bounce spell.
The totem armor Auras are very interesting cards to me. I've always had a soft spot for Auras. Elder Mastery was one of my favorite cards from Shards of Alara block, and I've definitely cast Celestial Mantle and Savage Silhouette more than most. Heck, I can't even count the number of times that I've put Nimbus Wings and Goblin War Paints in my Zendikar draft decks (there are few openings more exciting than putting a Goblin War Paint on a Vampire Lacerator).
Boar Umbra brings back memories of Elephant Guide, but it's actually much better than its Odyssey block relative in most situations. You can still put it on your Knight of Cliffhaven and start attacking for 5 on turn three. Not only that, but later in the game, if you put Boar Umbra on a creature which is formidable on its lonesome, you will be able to put your opponent into a world of hurt, trying to figure out a way to deal with it when it has +3/+3 and then again when it comes back!
Drake Umbra should be one of the best of the bunch for Limited play. From what I've seen so far (and that's admittedly not a whole lot of the set), it seems like a lot of games are going to come down to evasion, and there are few better ways to go to the air than turning a Hill Giant into a dragon!
Don't underestimate the Umbras this weekend. They should turn out to be some of the better cards in the set.
Tricks to Watch Out For
I am very excited about the idea of casting Prey's Vengeance (from the Visual Spoiler in the Rise of the Eldrazi product section. While Rise of the Eldrazi promises to be a slower Limited format than what we've grown accustomed to over the last few months, that doesn't mean that races won't happen. If you are off to a quick start with Knight of Cliffhaven and friends, you should be able to continue pummeling through your opponent's defenses if you have some well timed Prey's Vengeances. Not only will it allow you to win an important combat, it'll also allow you to punch through for 4+ damage with a creature that would likely otherwise be outclassed.
Try not to fall victim to Prey's Vengeance, and hopefully you will be able to catch your opponents completely off guard with this powerful, aggressive trick.
If you are able to make it to a Prerelease this weekend (and I hope you all can), please come back to the forums to post all of your Sealed pools, final deck lists, fun plays, tough decisions, cool travel stories or anything else worth mentioning about your Magical weekend. I'll be sure to take a closer look at some of the more interesting pools / game-play questions during the coming weeks.
Mark Tedin and a few of the 192 cards he's illustrated.
As for myself, I'll be in Montreal this Saturday taking on all challengers at the Spellkeeper Events Prerelease. Spellkeeper Events will also be bringing in a guest artist, Mark Tedin, for the day. If you happen to be in or around Montreal on Saturday, you should definitely drop by and say hi! For more information about the event, check out www.spellkeeper.com.
And if you're looking for how to find the Prerelease closest to you, you're in luck! Just type your information into the Prerelease locator, and it will show you all of your local options.