DailyMTG.com ringleader and unofficial Wizards Mafioso Trick Jarrett descended from his lofty cloud up on the fourth floor of Wizards headquarters last week with an offer I couldn't refuse: writing about deck building for the Dragon's Maze Prerelease.
Fluxcharger | Art by Willian Murai
Before coming to Wizards, I wrote af lot about Limited, and, as someone who has had the unique opportunity to play plenty of Dragon's Maze Limited already, that puts me in a special situation to write about it. So, we're going to put your normal ReConstructed hijinks on hold for another week. Don't worry, I'll be back next week with the look at new Standard originally planned for this week. And, yes, this means submissions for last week's Modern challenge are open for another week.
So, Dragon's Maze Prerelease Sealed. Let's dive into it!
Three Keys to the Maze
Dragon's Maze is one of the most complex, crazy Limited formats in a while. There are all kinds of differences between it and the past two sets now that all of the guilds are in it. For Sealed at the Dragon's Maze Prerelease, there are three key things you should be keeping in mind.
You've played Return to Ravnica. You've played Gatecrash. But you haven't played anything like this!
Dragon's Maze is (on average) a much slower format. There are cards from the past two sets that are much better now, and it's important to not just automatically dismiss them out of hand.
For example, many pros held the feeling that Dimir was the weakest guild in Gatecrash Limited. The long-game card advantage of cipher and the milling subtheme were commonly perceived to just be too slow for the hyper-aggressive format. It might be easy to use what you learned there to immediately throw your Scatter Arcs and Last Thoughts off to the side.
However, Dragon's Maze is a whole different gaggle of geese! With a cycle of 2/4 Gatekeepers, plenty of mana fixing, and a lot of incentives for slower decks, Dimir's cards rocket up in value. It's important you reevaluate every card you see instead of just using old heuristics—you might find plenty of new and exciting uses for cards you didn't feel were playable before!
Speaking of finding new and exciting uses for cards, the full block puts all ten guild mechanics into play with each other. The sets were designed with a lot of cross-set synergy to set up for when we finally hit Dragon's Maze, and there are a lot of interactions to keep your eye open for.
Cipher pairs well with Azorius's ability to detain blockers, and if you end up with red or green in your deck you can also use bloodrush cards to make blocking cipher creatures a tricky proposition for your opponent. The aggressive team-up of the Boros and Rakdos guilds can quickly put the slower decks on the back foot. Populating helps evolve your Simic creatures faster.
Perhaps even more than the mechanics are individual cards! Sapphire Drake and Crowned Ceratok were pretty good before—but alongside scavenge they become a lot more deadly. Rapid Hybridization moves from mostly a removal spell to a way for you to kick start your populate engine... but you had better watch out for Voidwalk, which can tear your token machine apart! There's a number of things to keep your eye on as you build your deck.
The structure of the Dragon's Maze Prerelease means that you'll end up with the guild of your choice, plus one secret ally. It's designed to set you up perfectly for a solid three-color deck. In many pools, it will be right to just go for those three colors—and even in the ones where it might be right to deviate, you can still get to an 80 or 85% correct deck by doing that.
However, the mana fixing in the full block is ridiculous! Consider this: at bare minimum you are guaranteed six lands that fix your mana. (Either Guildgates or rare dual lands.) On top of all that, you'll often find the Keyrunes for your two guilds in the two guild packs. And with ten common Cluestones in the set, you're likely to open up several of those as well. Combine that with all of the other mana fixing in the block, and the bottom line is you're probably going to be able to make the colors you want if you try.
If you have an awesome bomb rare or removal spell that doesn't fit in your "assigned" colors, don't just throw it to the side—there may be plenty of ways in your card pool to splash it in.
And, of course, there's always the five-color special—but I'll get to that later...
Tithe Drinker | Art by Slawomir Maniak
Okay, so what now? Well, I'm actually going to dive into an actual Dragon's Maze sealed pool and run you through how I'd build it in a couple different ways!
I selected Dimir as my guild of choice and quickly learned that my secret ally was going to be the Golgari! Those rot-dwellers don't make for bad allies, I suppose. A soldier knows another soldier—regardless of if it's a shambling zombie or not.
This was the pool I opened up:
Gavin Verhey's Sample Prerelease Pool
1 Launch Party
1 Riot Piker
2 Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch
1 Profit & Loss
1 Murmuring Phantasm
1 Daggerdrome Imp
3 Orzhov Cluestone
2 Jelenn Sphinx
1 Simic Cluestone
1 Chorus of Might
1 Wake the Reflections
1 Zhur-Taa Druid
1 Keymaster Rogue
1 Undercity Plague
1 Ascended Lawmage
2 Maze Rusher
1 Punish the Enemy
1 Contaminated Ground
1 Call of the Nightwing
1 Rakdos Drake
3 Haazda Snare Squa
d 1 Balustrade Spy
1 Goblin Test Pilot
1 Unflinching Courage
1 Death's Approach
1 Warleader's Helix
1 Awe for the Guilds
1 Reap Intellect
1 Skyblinder Staff
1 Spell Rupture
1 Mind Rot
1 Catacomb Slug
1 Sin Collector
1 Golgari Guildgate
1 Dimir Guildgate
2 Bane Alley Blackguard
1 Psychic Strike
2 Beetleform Mage
1 Boros Cluestone
1 Incursion Specialist
1 Simic Guildgate
1 Trestle Troll
1 Sinister Possession
1 Gateway Shade
1 Teysa, Envoy of Ghosts
1 Drown in Filth
2 Maze Glider
1 Golgari Keyrune
2 Maze Behemoth
1 Dimir Cluestone
1 Leyline Phantom
1 Jarad's Orders
1 Riot Control
1 Korozda Monitor
3 Saruli Gatekeepers
1 Boros Guildgate
1 Deathcult Rogue
1 Gatecreeper Vine
2 Rakdos Cluestone
1 Drudge Beetle
1 Feral Animist
1 Rakdos Guildgate
1 Dreg Mangler
1 Kraul Warrior
1 Tithe Drinker
1 Carnage Gladiator
1 Hidden Strings
1 Sluiceway Scorpion
1 Selesnya Guildgate
Now that's quite a bit to take in all at once. Right as you open them, Dragon's Maze sealed pools start off looking like some unicorn barfed in front of you. It's a mess of colors and guilds. So, for your ease of looking everything over, I helped simplify things a little bit. Here's that same sealed pool organized by color and guild:
|Gavin Verhey's Sample Prerelease Pool|
|3 Haazda Snare Squad||2 Maze Glider||2 Bane Alley Blackguard||2 Maze Rusher||3 Saruli Gatekeepers||3 Orzhov Cluestone|
|1 Wake the Reflections||1 Mindstatic||1 Launch Party||1 Riot Piker||2 Phytoburst||2 Rakdos Cluestone|
|1 Riot Control||1 Keymaster Rogue||1 Daggerdrome Imp||1 Punish the Enemy||2 Maze Behemoth||1 Boros Cluestone|
|1 Spell Rupture||1 Undercity Plague||1 Awe for the Guilds||1 Chorus of Might||1 Simic Cluestone|
|1 Skygames||1 Contaminated Ground||1 Korozda Monitor||1 Skyblinder Staff|
|1 Hidden Strings||1 Balustrade Spy||1 Drudge Beetle||1 Golgari Keyrune|
|1 Incursion Specialist||1 Rakdos Drake||1 Kraul Warrior||1 Dimir Cluestone|
|1 Murmuring Phantasm||1 Mind Rot||1 Gatecreeper Vine|
|1 Leyline Phantom||1 Catacomb Slug||1 Archweaver|
|1 Gateway Shade|
|1 Sinister Possession|
|1 Death's Approach|
|2 Jelenn Sphinx||1 Call of the Nightwing||2 Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch||1 Feral Animist||1 Unflinching Courage||1 Deathcult Rogue|
|1 Ascended Lawmage||1 Psychic Strike||1 Carnage Gladiator||1 Zhur-Taa Druid||1 Profit & Loss|
|1 Reap Intellect|
|1 Tithe Drinker||1 Sluiceway Scorpion||2 Beetleform Mage||1 Goblin Test Pilot||1 Warleader's Helix||1 Selesnya Guildgate|
|1 Sin Collector||1 Dreg Mangler||2 Fluxcharger||1 Boros Guildgate|
|1 Teysa, Envoy of Ghosts||1 Jarad's Orders||1 Rakdos Guildgate|
|1 Trestle Troll||1 Simic Guildgate|
|1 Drown in Filth||1 Golgari Guildgate|
|1 Dimir Guildgate|
I'll give you a moment to look all that over and internalize as much of it as you can before I jump forward. When you're ready to proceed, scroll past the artwork below.
Approach #1: Follow Your Allegiance
Feeling more lost than poor Fblthp? That's okay—this Prerelease is fortunately constructed to help make deck building in this mess of a world a synch.
When in doubt, the most reliable thing to do is just to follow the three colors your guild pack is set up to play. (Meaning your chosen guild plus your secret ally.) This is useful for a few reasons. Most of all, it gives you the maximum time to perfect your deck. You can stare at the colors you know you're going to play and figure out the right cuts instead of spending the first half of deck building narrowing down your colors and then frantically selecting the cards to play. (And probably accidentally ending up with Dutiful Thrull in your Selesnya-Simic deck.)
What I'd do in these cases is set everything that doesn't fall within your colors aside, except for any really strong cards or removal spells you might want to splash. Then you can start building pretty easily.
In this case, I'd probably set aside Teysa, Envoy of Ghosts; Punish the Enemy; and Warleader's Helix as possible splashes. From there, I'd look solely at my blue, black, and green cards.
Gates are going to be crucial in this deck since there are three Saruli Gatekeepers, and they also give me the ability to play the splash cards I want. After laying the deck out, it became apparent that my core was actually going to be Golgari with just a splash of Dimir. From there, deck building was actually pretty easy! There were a few tricky last few cuts, but it wasn't that bad overall. Note that I'm playing Mind Rot main deck—remember, this format is a lot slower than the past couple sets. Mind Rot is a pretty solid card in a format like this!
If you went this route, your deck might end up looking something like this. While it's technically a five-color deck, really it's just Dimir-Golgari-Simic splashing three powerful off-color cards.
Exava, the Blood Witch | Art by Aleksi Briclot
Approach #2: Switch Your Allegiance
There will be some sealed pools where it is correct to split off from the colors they were supposed to guide you toward. This is one card pool where it's definitely worth at least exploring some other options!
While the deck above is all right, there may be even stronger possibilities available in the pool! It's hard to not be drawn to the crazy two copies of Exava sitting on the sidelines. As a 4/4 first striker with haste that grants your other creatures with counters haste, she could easily headline an aggressive deck. And it looks like there's probably enough there to support her!
This kind of strategy is a good reminder that even though Dragon's Maze looks to slow down the format, there's still plenty of room for an aggressive deck. It's important to keep both avenues in mind for the Prerelease. If you have a strong aggressive card pool, it may be worth going that route just because you'll run over anybody who stumbles on mana—or even some players who have good mana but spend the first several turns needing to develop it.
If you start with Rakdos as a base for this deck, using Exava, unleash creatures, and some removal spells as headlining cards, the other two colors I'd look at pairing with for a third color are white and green. Green has a few more playables thanks to the Golgari guild pack, but white gives you Warleader's Helix, Teysa, and three copies of Haazda Snare Squad to help push your creatures past blockers.
Out of the two options, I like the BRG Jund (or, on Ravnica, Rakdos-Golgari-Gruul) deck a little more just because it has more base playables, so you don't have to stretch as much to cards like Awe for the Guilds or Cluestones to round out the deck. The mana on this deck is a little rougher than I'd like—ideally I'd really want another Guildgate—but I would prefer to not play Cluestones here if I can avoid it. (In an aggressive deck, three mana accelerants are not my ideal cards.) Fortunately, Gatecreeper Vine helps pick up some of the slack. I'd build it something like this:
Teysa, Envoy of Ghosts | Art by Karla Ortiz
Approach #3: Align with Everybody
The third approach to this sealed pool is to just go nuts and play your mana fixing alongside the best cards in your pool. I love playing five-color decks in this Sealed format just because you basically always have enough mana fixing to support them—it's really more a matter of if there are enough strong spells to direct you toward five colors or not.
A key toward the five-color decks is to try and find a group of base colors that contains the spells you want to be casting early on, and then splash the strong spells in the other colors. The easiest way to do this is to lay out the cards you want to play with, and then look at how many of them you're going to want to be casting early. You will also want to look at how many cards of that color in total appeal to you. For example, there aren't that many red cards I want to play in a five-color deck here, so I wouldn't need to support that as heavily. Conversely, there are a lot of green and black cards I'm interested in casting early on, so I want to play more of those and then skew my mana to help ensure I can cast them.
Now, with that said, that also doesn't mean this is going to be a rehash of the first build. That version just splashed for three cards—this one is going to be willing to strain its mana a little more to play all of the best cards in the card pool.
There's definitely a reasonable five-color deck in this pool. Although it's probably not the direction I would ultimately go, because the card power level isn't quite high enough to offset the risk of stumbling, it's certainly going to be a fun experience with plenty of power in some draws.
If I were to try jamming all five colors together, I would look at something like this:
Navigating the Maze
There are a lot of ways you could take a sealed deck like this. How would you build it? Post in the forums with how you would end up making this deck—I'd love to see your sealed builds!
If you're looking to build decks larger than forty, consider submitting to the Modern deck-building challenge for my article two weeks from now! As I mentioned earlier, it's the same as last week—but here's all of the information as a reminder:
Format: Modern (including Dragon's Maze!)
Restrictions: Send in a Modern deck built around your favorite Dragon's Maze card so far!
Deadline: Sunday, April 28, at 6 p.m. Pacific Time
Submit all decklists by clicking on "respond via email" below. Please submit decklists using the following template. (You do not need to adhere to the specific numbers below, but it's just how a general decklist should look when laid out.)
4 Other Spell
4 Other Spell
I hope you have all found this look at Dragon's Maze helpful for the Prerelease this weekend! If you happen to be at The Gaming Pit in Duluth, Georgia, this weekend, you'll see me there. I'm looking forward to playing some Dragon's Maze Limited with actual cards that have artwork instead of our internal facsimiles!
I'll be back next week with a look at the brand-new Standard format. (Seriously, this time.) In the meantime, if you have any thoughts on this article, feel free to post in the forums or send me a tweet.
Have fun at your Prereleases this weekend! I hope you enjoy helping your guild run through the Implicit Maze—may the odds be ever in your favor.