Keeping Busy

Posted in Serious Fun on September 30, 2008

By Kelly Digges

Kelly Digges has had many roles at Wizards over the years, including creative text writer, R&D editor, website copyeditor, lead website editor, Serious Fun column author, and design/development team member on multiple sets.
Shards of Alara

I had a really full, really fun weekend.

Somewhere in between getting together with some friends Friday night to watch the first U.S. Presidential debate, heading into Seattle to watch my favorite sketch comedy troupe perform at Sketchfest Saturday night, playing in my weekly roleplaying session on Sunday, and, oh yeah, writing an article, I found the time to get in several hours of gunslinging at the Shards of Alara Prerelease Sunday afternoon.

Now, stop me if you've heard this one, but I love Prereleases. They're low-key, they're fun, and they're the first chance to play with the new cards. Unlike some of our writers (like Steve Sadin), I'm not eligible to play in the main event because I'm a Wizards of the Coast employee. Fortunately, that didn't stop me and a number of other Wizards folks from grabbing a Sealed Deck pool, building a deck, and shuffling up against anyone who challenged us.

Part of the reason I enjoy Prereleases so much is that I get to see the new cards in action. It's one thing to glance through the full Visual Spoiler the Monday after; it's quite another to be there and see the new cards in action. There are always a few surprises, and I invariably leave the Prerelease with lots of new ideas for decks churning around in my head.

I'm going to walk you through my Prerelease—a few of the games, decks, plays, and ideas that made it a great weekend for Magic. And, although this is hardly the usual column for it, I've actually got a Magic design story to share as well. Let's get started!

Mana War

I opened up my tournament pack and three booster packs and saw not one but two foil rares: Realm Razer and Stoic Angel. Sweet! Along with a Rhox War Monk, these made me pretty committed to playing both green and white, and figuring things out from there. Sadly, that would leave a Broodmate Dragon on the sidelines, unless I really stretched, but that's okay. It'll end up in a deck at some point, especially considering that one of my other rares was Crucible of Fire.

Broodmate Dragon
Crucible of Fire


Here's the deck I ended up playing:

Kelly's Sealed Deck

Download Arena Decklist

I didn't have a huge exalted army—unlike a deck I'll show you later—but I was really looking forward to seeing it in action. There's just something about the idea of sending my one best creature out to fight that really appeals to me. And if that one creature is enormous and/or has flying or trample, even better!

The Prerelease was bustling with people playing Sealed Deck and Open Dueling, so I figured it wouldn't be long before I'd have someone to play. I set up shop at the gunslinging table, and DCI judge John Carter helpfully provided me with a sign:

Kelly Digges Editor

Blister Beetle

It wasn't long before I was shuffling up against Harrison. He said that his favorite shard was Grixis, and quickly proved it by filling the board with Islands, Swamps, and Mountains. He killed a Sighted-Caste Sorcerer with Blister Beetle, but neither of us really had a lot of action. So we both built up our mana and played more creatures, never quite getting to the point where either of us wanted to attack.

Meanwhile, he and I chatted about my job at Wizards. I told him that while I work on the web site rather than the cards, I have gotten the chance to dabble in Magic design.

After a few turns of buildup, Harrison counted up his mana and said, "Dang, only six." This worried me a little, but I was starting to get an edge in the creature department. No problem, right?

On his next turn, he played a land... and counted up his mana and said, "Dang, only seven."

"Only seven?" I asked. "Oh man, what have you got?"

Harrison just smiled.

On his next turn, he played another land and then started tapping all eight of them, one by one. I wrote in my article two weeks ago about that feeling that something big is coming... yeah, that would be what I felt. Everyone at the table leaned over to see what was coming down....

Kederekt Leviathan

Kederekt Leviathan! Oh man!

So now Harrison had a 5/5. And I had nothing. And if I killed his 5/5... he could bring it back. And I'd have nothing again. And get hit with a 5/5 again.


Oh, and one of the creatures he returned to his hand was Blister Beetle, which then got to kill another Sighted-Caste Sorcerer. Blister Beetle!

Blister Beetle

I got my creatures back down, took some lumps, made some blocks... and finally drew a second Mountain so I could try to kill the thing. I started by hitting it with Resounding Thunder.

Resounding Thunder

Resounding Thunder dealt 3 damage, and Harrison sensed that something was up. "Ohhhh noooo," he said. "You're gonna kill it."

I nodded and played Magma Spray.

Magma Spray

Not only did that deal the final 2 points I needed, but it meant that Kederekt Leviathan would be removed from the game instead of going to the graveyard. And that meant it wouldn't be coming back with unearth to bounce everything again (and, oh yeah, smash me one last time). Phew!

Rhox Charger

It was a close game even after that, and I finally won when I attacked with Rhox Charger (a 4/4, thanks to exalted), then cycled the Resounding Roar I had just drawn to trample over Harrison's only blocker—that same dang Blister Beetle—and win the game.

Resounding Roar

Harrison grinned and shook his head, and we shook hands on a really good, epic game.

"You'd better make an awesome card for me!" he said.

I'll see what I can do, Harrison!

...and in the meantime, I'll see if I can get my hands on a Kederekt Leviathan, because that thing seems like multiplayer material.

One, Two, Many

After seeing how well I'd drawn to finish that game, John Carter helpfully supplied me with a new sign, which read:

Kelly Digges Editor
Notorious Cheater

Hey, what can I say? Sometimes you get the cards, and sometimes the cards get you.

My game against Harrison was probably my most epic game of the weekend, but I played a lot of good Magic. In one game, I faced a mighty turn-four Rafiq of the Many followed by a turn-five Mosstodon...

Rafiq of the Many

...and won.

How? Well, first I killed the wonderfully named Mosstodon with the supremely flavorful Skeletonize.


How cool is that? I roast your creature's flesh off, and then its skeleton comes to fight for me! I'm not 100% sure whether Plant Elephants even have skeletons (yes, Mosstodon is a Plant Elephant!), but never mind that.

The Mosstodon had hit me once before I killed it—for 12—so I was at 8 life, facing down Rafiq of the Many. I was barely holding on, chump-blocking Rafiq every turn, although I did have a Manaplasm that would let me hit hard if I could play any big spells.

...and then I drew Realm Razer.

Realm Razer

Down came the Razer, away went the lands, and in crashed Manaplasm. It was 7/7 thanks to Realm Razer, with another +2/+2 thanks to the exalted abilities of Guardians of Akrasa and Sigiled-Caste Sorcerer.

That took my opponent down to 1 on this weirdly empty board, and although there were no more spells to pump Manaplasm, I ended up with three creatures to his two, and that let me eke out that final point. Phew!

I lost another game to the unlikely but surprisingly effective combo of Onyx Goblet and Filigree Sages, which took 2 life a turn from me until I was dead.

Onyx Goblet
Filigree Sages

Another Esper-based deck nearly got me with Sharding Sphinx. I didn't realize just how ridiculous Sharding Sphinx is, because I misread it—I didn't think the Thopters would make more Thopters. But they do! If you don't have any flying defense, their numbers just keep swelling until dealing with the Sphinx isn't enough. I caught it early, but if I hadn't, my opponent's ever-growing air force would have ended things for me.

Sharding Sphinx

I also won one game entirely on the back of a turn-four Stoic Angel. Stoic Angel is pretty awesome. It swings for 3 every turn (often more—thanks, exalted!), still holds the fort, and keeps creature swarms off your back. If your opponent can kill it, he or she probably will—but at 4 toughness, it's not that easy to kill.

Stoic Angel

I also had great luck this weekend with Kiss of the Amesha. Jumping from 5 life to 12 life and ending up with two new cards just feels great—you were on the ropes, low on life, running out of options... and then along came an angel, and everything seemed fine.

Kiss of the Amesha

Kiss of the Amesha also has easily my favorite art from the set:

Kiss of the Amesha

Decks of the Strong

In addition to some cool plays, I got to see some neat decks this weekend. I played against Wizards web developer Dave Guskin when there weren't any players waiting for us, and he rolled over me with a seemingly endless procession of big, fat fatties—Rockcaster Platoon, Yoked Plowbeast, Rakeclaw Gargantuan, Ridge Rannet—backed up by good Naya acceleration like Steward of Valeron, Druid of the Anima, and Drumhunter.

Meanwhile, Magic developer Nate Heiss did my last preview card proud, with his Sealed Deck featuring not one but two Titanic Ultimatums.

Titanic Ultimatum
Titanic Ultimatum

The deck I got the best look at was my friend Laura's. Although she had mana troubles when the two of us played, she went 3-1 in the Prerelease main event.

Laura's Sealed Deck

Download Arena Decklist

What's not to like about this deck? She's got a little bit of fat and a good amount of removal, and I've gotta love the greedy double splash of one Mountain and one Swamp for Branching Bolt and the cycling cost on Resounding Wave—especially because it's backed up by two of the common fetchlands.

But most of all, I love the exalted chain she sets up.

Akrasan Squire
Court Archers

Jhessian Infiltrator—Bant's sneakiest Rogue—always gets in there (and it's definitely going to sneak into my Momir Vig, Simic Visionary EDH deck). With just one or two creatures with exalted on the table, the Infiltrator becomes impossible to ignore. Rhox Charger and Court Archers are just really good. And Akrasan Squire is always a great start.

Jhessian Infiltrator

I also really like the Hindering Light in there, because every once in a while it's just going to save your bacon in spectacular fashion (if they have bacon on Bant—I'll have to check on that).

Hindering Light

Hindering Light is special to me for another reason. You see, when a set is in development at Wizards, sometimes cards are removed for various reasons. The development team sends out an email to people at the company who've expressed interest in card design. During Shards of Alara development, there was a "hole" for a common spell, and I submitted the design that eventually became Hindering Light.

Now, Laura didn't know that when she put it in her deck, and she still didn't know it when it saved her bacon. She was playing against gunslinger and Magic Online developer Lee Sharpe when he played a nasty Branching Bolt aimed at one creature with flying and one without.

Branching Bolt

Laura was going to lose two creatures to one spell... and instead she tapped two lands, countered Branching Bolt with Hindering Light, and drew a card.

When she excitedly told me the story, I said, "You know I designed that card, right?"

"No!" she said, then grinned. "Thanks!"

The other card in Laura's deck that really catches my eye is Qasali Ambusher. When she played against me at the gunslinging table, at one point she was at 8 life with one blocker. I killed her blocker with Skeletonize, swung with my two 2/2s and 3/3, and said, "I win!"

She said, "Not so fast!" and slammed down Qasali Ambusher, eating one of my 2/2s and staying alive for another turn. She still lost the game, but my faith in attacking an empty board will never be quite the same.

Qasali Ambusher

Suddenly, no attacking 2/2 is safe! If there's a Plains and a Forest across the table—tapped or untapped, doesn't matter—you've got to think twice about whether you can count on getting through. And if the Plains and the Forest are untapped, you could be walking into a Qasali Ambusher and a Giant Growth / Resounding Roar / etc. A 5/6 with reach out of nowhere is a prospect that'll give even a Dragon pause.

I can't wait to spring an ambush of my own. What a neat card!

Flow of Ideas

I left the Prerelease with tons of deck ideas bubbling up. I'll want to get some of these cards into my existing decks, of course. And I'll certainly want to build some three-color decks for awesome cards like Broodmate Dragon and Stoic Angel. Esper makes me want to look very carefully through my old artifacts, especially in Mirrodin block. I really want to see how awesome exalted can be if you pack a deck to the gills with it. And meanwhile, I'm thinking about teaming all these Naya gargantua—that's creature type Beast, mind you—with some of the tribal Beasts from Onslaught block.

Looks like I'm going to have a busy week!

Shards of Alara Launch Parties are this weekend, October 3-5, at stores worldwide, and you won’t want to miss them. Get your chance to buy Shards of Alara cards as soon as they go on sale, play the new set with your friends, and get a foil, alternate-art Ajani Vengeant promo card!

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