Fi(r)st Impressions

Posted in Serious Fun on April 28, 2009

By Kelly Digges

Greetings from the past!

I suppose I always write you from the past, in a way—since it takes time to put an article up—but it's usually not quite as noticeable. See, you got the chance to experience Alara Reborn for the first time at the Prerelease a few days ago, and the full Visual Spoiler went up on the site yesterday. But I'm writing this from last Thursday, when all of those wonderful things had yet to happen.

I wanted to talk about the Prerelease next Tuesday (or today, from where you're sitting). But Steve Sadin was already bending the schedule a bit so he could talk about the Prerelease, and it's admittedly a little more on-point for him. My suave, charming editor suggested that I hold off on Prerelease coverage for a week, and turn my article in on time for once. I promptly agreed—I'm an editor myself, so I understand these things. Besides, he's very persuasive.

Ho hum, I thought. I'll have to write some boring article instead. But no! To the rescue sprang the Wizards employee Prerelease last Wednesday (or yesterday, for me). There are certain perks to working at the place that makes the cards.

With one Prerelease already under my belt, I've got the chance to show you the new set in action and point out some of the cards I can't wait to try out.


Right before heading down to the Prerelease, I posted about it on our Twitter. In the past, our loyal followers have expressed a certain amount of understandable jealousy when we announce that we're finishing up for the day at 3 p.m. so we can go draft. With that in mind, I decided to poke a bit of fun:

On my way to the Alara Reborn employee Prerelease. Please feel free to curse me for this.

A chorus of good-natured curses followed. A few examples:

blisterguy @dailymtg will do! i hope you open zero fixers! amp;gt;:(
wiefunt @dailymtg Consider yourself to have been cursed at!

Admittedly, I didn't entirely follow that last one, but nonetheless, the intent was clear. A few good wishes and many curses followed me down to the Prerelease. Keep that in mind.

    Double Decker

Let me take a moment to say that the employee Prerelease is a fantastic thing they do for us. And by "they," I mean "him," because it's largely the work of one man, John Grant from Organized Play. It's impressive enough to run a Prerelease with a full crew of judges and support staff. Running one for 50 or more people with just one person? That takes dedication. Thanks, John!

I sat down with a Shards of Alara tournament pack and three Alara Reborn booster packs and eagerly cracked them open. After sorting them out into colors, I quickly realized that in fact I had opened two decks' worth of cards—if indeed I was cursed, it was a curse of abundance.

One deck was a bomb-heavy Naya-splash-black deck with Flameblast Dragon, Titanic Ultimatum, and mana only a mother could love. The other was a heavy Esper deck anchored on Sen Triplets and a bunch of solid artifact interactions. As has become my habit at recent Prereleases, I built them both:


Download Arena Decklist


Download Arena Decklist

Usually when I build two decks I allow for six or eight cards of overlap between them. I could definitely have done that this time—Terminate would have been a great splash / cascade candidate in the Esper deck, for example—but I decided to forgo the hassle of swapping out cards and just build two complete, ready-to-tag-in, 40-card decks.

These two decks couldn't be more different. The Naya deck, with its iffy mana, good removal and creatures, and generous helping of game-winning bombs, is a swing-for-the-fences kind of deck. The Esper deck is much more consistent, with no real standouts besides the Triplets but many, many ways to build up overwhelming pressure. It also has more new cards and all of my cascade, which I was very eager to try out.

I played at least one game with each deck every round, partly to keep things interesting and partly because I really had no idea which of them was stronger. I always warned my opponents when I was switching decks so they didn't make weird sideboarding choices; you, of course, would be under no obligation to do so if you tried a similar deck-switcheroo tactic when sideboarding between games at the Launch Parties this weekend.

    Game On

My first round was a grudge match against fellow columnist, master flavorator, and all-around good guy Doug Beyer.

While the people sitting next to us bashed giant monsters into each other, Doug and I got off to a slow start. I had taken a mulligan, and we both made a bunch of Saprolings and got very little bashing done. That changed, however ...

... when I landed a Sigiled Behemoth and suited it up with the appropriately named Behemoth Sledge. (I neglected to ask Doug how the behemoths hold the sledge. Perhaps there's a harness involved.) So that's a 7/6 with trample, lifelink, and exalted—and I was drawing an extra card each turn off of Drumhunter, too. BAM! The Behemoth Sledged Sigiled Behemoth, however, was not how I ended the game—that was an unnecessary, stylish Lavalanche for 1.

In our second game, Doug menaced me with a 7/7 Marrow Chomper on turn five. I, now playing my Esper deck, had mulliganed and wasn't sure what I was going to do about that. Then, of course, I topdecked Deny Reality to bounce his Chomper, cascading a creature into play, and he never came back from that.

I had thought my Esper deck might be a little weak, but this game proved me wrong. Nearly all of the cards in the deck either left me up a card or were really hard-to-block creatures, and the result was pretty incredible to pilot.

My next match was against Ramp;D member Steve Warner, who shot off to an early lead in our first game when he played Captured Sunlight and cascaded into Behemoth Sledge. This is only the second time I've ever seen one hit play, but I'm already getting familiar with it. It's a heavy card; it lands with an audible THUNK. Not much later, he played Bloodbraid Elf, cascading into Violent Outburst, cascading into Crystallize for my Marisi's Twinclaws. Whoa!

That was his start, and I was coming off a mulligan. Sounds like a short game, right? And yet it wasn't. Somehow, I managed to hang on and even start bashing back, getting him lower on life than he was comfortable with. He threw down Titanic Ultimatum with two creatures in play to kill my creatures when I had to block and gain a ton of life as well, but it didn't quite kill me—and that gave me an opening.

Into that opening, my own Behemoth Sledge landed with a CLANG. Now the race was on. I clawed (or hammered, or maybe claw-hammered, since I'm pretty sure that's a tool that exists) my way back into the game. When he played Enlisted Wurm (cascading into something I don't recall), I ended up having to block to stay alive, and we both ended up in topdeck mode. I drew my lucky Flameblast Dragon, finally ending the game after dealing him something like 50 damage.

Yeah .... Behemoth Sledge, if I haven't mentioned, is definitely on my list of cards to get into a deck pronto. I like it better than Loxodon Warhammer in the decks that can cast it—the 2 toughness makes a huge difference. Even better, it's an uncommon, so it shouldn't be too hard to track down a couple more. Oh, and note to self—try it with Marisi's Twinclaws.

It's a good thing we weren't doing timed rounds—Steve and I had spent at least half an hour on that one epic game. Our next two games turned out to be pretty short affairs, though, and I was on to my next round with two match wins under my belt.

My next opponent was Ramp;D member Gregory Marques. In our first game, we ended up with one of those ridiculous game states that make you bend over backwards and make choices that would be bizarre under any other circumstances. I didn't snap a picture—my camera was dying—but let me try and recreate it for you.

I had a mulligan and a slow start, and Greg had gotten me down to 1 life with a Colossal Might / Soul's Fire one-two punch. He then played Jund Sojourners. If the Sojourners attacked and hit me, I'd die. But if I blocked and killed them, Greg would ping me with their "goes to graveyard" trigger and I'd die. I did have an Ethercaste Knight I could throw under the wheels, but that would only work once, and Greg was clearly going to attack with Jund Sojourners every turn.

I drew Sen Triplets, but Greg was already playing off the top, so it didn't do much. All I snagged was a Kathari Bomber—but if I attacked with it, blocked with it, or otherwise allowed it to die, he'd be able to unearth it and kill me. So I had to keep that alive too.

The final piece of the puzzle was Etherium Astrolabe. That let me block with an artifact creature, then sacrifice my blocker before it could deal damage. The Sojourners would still be blocked, but it wouldn't die.

I held on like that for turns and turns, getting through for damage where I could and eventually wearing him down to 6 life and staying alive at the cost of nearly all my creatures. He was finally able to kill his own Kathari Bomber, but I had played Tower Gargoyle to block when he unearthed it and still had another blocker for the Sojourners. When he had Resounding Roar for the Bomber to kill my Gargoyle, all I needed to keep this going was a creature—alas, my luck had finally run out.

As an aside: Sen Triplets didn't do a whole lot that game, but it proved its worth the next day in a pick-up game against Editor in Chief Scott Johns. I managed to catch him with a Sigiled Behemoth and the Forest to play it both in hand, and that swing pretty much decided the game right there. Not to mention that I knew every card he drew and he couldn't save any tricks to use on my turn. The Triplets are powerful. I'll definitely be putting them in a deck.

Greg's deck was super-aggressive, and our second game once again started with a mulligan and a slow start from me and nothing but early pressure from him. When I played Sigiled Behemoth, though, I thought I had stabilized.

Then he cast Slave of Bolas, walloped me down to 4 with (in part) my own Sigiled Behemoth, and happily tossed it into my graveyard. Wow, Slave of Bolas is a beating!

When I played down Jungle Weaver, I finally had stabilized, and even managed to get an attack in with the 5/6 before playing down my own trump card, Flameblast Dragon.

Which is when—I can scarcely stand to type this—Greg topdecked his secondSlave of Bolas, stole my Flameblast Dragon, and killed me with it (3 damage from its attack trigger, and another 5 from its big, dragony body). He made sure to put it in my graveyard before I packed up my cards. Just for posterity, you understand.

John Grant was so impressed by this topdeck (and possibly also by my reaction; I may have leapt out of my chair and shouted a little) that he awarded Greg a bonus pack of Alara Reborn.

The first one gets you, but it's the second one that really gets you.

I can't wait to bust out Slave of Bolas at the multiplayer table. Steal something huge like Darksteel Colossus or Thraximundar from Dave, smack Laura upside the head with it, and toss it in the graveyard—and never you mind if it's indestructible, thank you very much.

    The Albatross

So, remember earlier in the story when dozens of Twitter followers cursed me?

I don't know if you noticed—I didn't at first—I mulliganed in every game I played that night. Not a single one of my seven-card opening hands was good enough to keep. It's almost like I was ... cursed.

Note to self: do not anger the Twitterites.


While I was busy starting with fives and sixes, I saw some ridiculous things happen in games near me. I saw one player, facing a potentially lethal attack, use Bituminous Blast to nix one attacker, cascading into ...

... Terminate, to kill another attacker! Nice.

Elsewhere, I saw a Nemesis of Reason hit the table, only to be answered by a foil Thraximundar. The player with the Nemesis was able to keep the board stocked with enough creatures that he was able to mill his opponent out before Thraximundar ate the Nemesis of Reason and killed him.

But perhaps my favorite story came when designer Ken Nagle landed Maelstrom Nexus. The Nexus will almost never trigger the turn you play it, since your first spell has come and gone (unless you cheated it into play), but Ken untapped the next turn and played Carrion Thrash—or, to reduce it to the relevant elements for this exercise, A Spell That Cost Five—and cascaded, which is rapidly becoming one of my favorite moments in any Alara Reborn Limited game.

Cascade into Rafiq of the Many, win? I love it.

    Tales from the Front

So that was my Prerelease, or at least my first one. By the time you read this, I'll have gotten a second one in, gunslinging against readers much like you (or actually you, in some cases), no doubt accumulating even more epic tales.

Did you make it to a Prerelease? If so, what awesome moments and cool plays did you see? If not, what cards from the spoiler are tickling your Timmy sense? Let me know—and if you haven't slaked your thirst (or missed your chance), Launch Parties start on Thursday in stores all over the world. Have fun!

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