Okay, everyone who made it out to a Zendikar Prerelease this past weekend, raise your hand! Now put them down, because I can't see them. As I write this, I have no way of knowing how many of you made the trek and explored the treasures of Zendikar.
I do, however, know for a fact that at least some of you made the trek, because I chatted with lots of readers at the Regional Prerelease in Seattle. As usual, myself and other Wizards folks were there at the Champion Challenge, taking on any would-be spellslingers with a one-pack bounty on our heads. And as usual, I played a lot of great games with a lot of great gamers and packed my brain with deck ideas and pet cards from Magic's latest set.
- The Deck
So first off, let's talk about the deck I was using. It was an ordinary Sealed Deck—no shenanigans, I promise—but that's not to say it didn't have some exciting stuff.
Grappling Hook turns just about any creature into a combat monster that gets to pick its battles. The two pieces of common Equipment are both awesome if you're hoping to hitch a ride with Zendikar's landfall theme. The Scope is cool if you already have a lot of landfall and are looking for more ways to trigger it; the Gear is fun if you have lots of ways to trigger landfall (including, you know, lands). And if you're building a landfall deck, why not both? I had the first but no so much the second, so I ended up playing two Explorer's Scopes and leaving my Adventuring Gear at home. How did double Scope treat me? I'll get there.
But I'm guessing the Equipment isn't the first thing you noticed about that deck. If you're like me, the first thing that caught your eye in there is OB NIXILIS, THE FALLEN.
I saw him and knew I had to play black. This guy is crazy. Just ... crazy. How crazy? I'll get there too, possibly around the same time I get to Explorer's Scope. Seriously, though. Crazy.
While Ob was obviously the king of my landfall cards, I have to give a shout-out to Grazing Gladehart. It's not much of a threat, and nobody I played against ever tried to kill one ... until it had already gained me 8 or 10 life. Maybe people will catch on, and this generous Antelope will reach the status that Essence Warden and Soul Warden held as "must die" life-gain engines. 'Til then, I'll happily slurp up the life boost.
What were my opponents killing instead of Grazing Gladehart? Oran-Rief Survivalist. This happened two or three times—somebody with a Disfigure or a Burst Lightning deliberated between the two 2/2s before deciding to take out the Survivalist. I found this totally bewildering. See, in my deck, Oran-Rief Survivalist was no different from Runeclaw Bear—just a 2/2 dork who can do what 2/2s do. Why kill that when they could kill the Gladehart and stem the flow of life?
A little later I found myself across the table from Oran-Rief Survivalist and other Allies and caught myself doing the exact same thing—Allies must die! That's when I realized a funny thing about Allies. I can see my hand. I know what's in my deck. I've got a pretty good idea whether that Survivalist is going to jump up out of Shock range and start bashing. My opponents, though, had no way of knowing. Any of the +1/+1 counter "fighter" Allies are terrifying from across the table, because you have no idea whether it's going to stay tiny or suddenly blossom into a combat monster.
I did see the Allies do their full-on thing a couple of times. On one occasion it was Highland Berserker into Tajuru Archer into Kazuul Warlord, the über-fighter who beefs up all your Allies. On another, I faced down Murasa Pyromancer and double
Once I finished happily thumbing through my cards and building my deck, I got to the business of actually playing. I had my Zendikar Sealed Deck and the Planechase planes, but several of my cohorts were cleverer. They brought Standard decks, including some with Zendikar cards, as well as several Elder Dragon Highlander decks. Somehow, I never remember to do this. I was especially bummed this time, because Jaime Jones—illustrator of such legendary luminaries as Progenitus and Uril, the Miststalker—was sitting ten feet away from me, and I'd forgotten to bring anything with me to have signed. He did sign a foil Nissa's Chosen for me, though, which is gorgeous.
Most of my games are a blur, as they often are. I got in some Two-Headed Giant alongside my co-worker Jay Schneider, heard a few stories about Serious Fun preview card Lorthos, the Tidemaker winning 2HG games, and triggered a Baloth Cage Trap when I cast my fourth piece of Equipment that game. I faced down two Grazing Gladeharts with my own two Grazing Gladeharts in a game where the life totals went up instead of down. I had a great time in general.
A couple of games stand out particularly in my mind, one because of my spectacular play and one because of someone else's.
My big moment came against Bryce, who was visiting Seattle from Los Angeles. Bryce and I played several times over the course of the day. I played Ob Nixilis, the Fallen and killed him with it every time.
The most spectacular of these games started innocently enough with a turn-one Explorer's Scope. After that came a Surrakar Marauder, who's a perfect creature to take up the Scope. I was pretty happy ... then, on my third turn, I topdecked my second Explorer's Scope. Now things were getting interesting. I played a land (Surrakar Marauder gains intimidate), cast the second Scope, equipped both Scopes, and swung.
So, double Explorer's Scope is a little funny. Both abilities trigger, then resolve one at a time. If your top card isn't a land (and you don't have a Merfolk Looter or something to draw a card in between the two reveals), both of them see the same card, and you get nothing. But if that top card is a land, your second peek could show you another card ... and, even better, maybe give you a second land.
I attacked with the Surrakar Marauder, triggering both Scopes. I flipped over the first card ... Land. Awesome. I flipped over the second card ... Land! I ended my third turn with five tapped lands on the battlefield, and Bryce shook his head in disbelief. In retrospect, though, the unbelievable part was yet to come.
You see, unbeknownst to Bryce, I had a couple of cards in my hand that made starting turn four with five lands a really, really good thing for me. I had a sixth land. And I had Ob Nixilis. Waiting.
Down came Ob Nixilis, down came the land—Bryce lost 3 life, and I had a 6/6. On turn four!
But I wasn't ready to celebrate yet. I was still holding my breath. I still had a Surrakar Marauder with intimidate and two Explorer's Scopes ready to attack. I swung in and made my first flip ... Land! Bryce lost another 3, Ob hit 9/9! Second flip ... come on ... LAND!
I ended my turn four with Bryce at 7, eight lands on the battlefield to his three, and Ob Nixilis at a very healthy 12/12 ready to attack the next turn.
It won't happen every time. I wouldn't really even want it to. But when it does happen? Wow, what a rush!
My other really memorable game was against Mark, a Serious Fun reader, who told me about his play group's high-powered Free-for-All games and their recent experiments with Planechase.
Mark's white-black deck didn't seem to be doing much. He went on the Sunspring Expedition to gain 8 life, and sent my Vastwood Gorger on a Journey to Nowhere. I pointed out how unfair it is that everyone else gets to go on trips to fun places like the Sunspring and Khalni Heart, but my Vastwood Gorger had to take a crummy Journey to Nowhere. Let that be a lesson to you—always bring a map! Or a Disenchant, at least.
Mark had a Kazandu Blademaster with Spidersilk Net that held off my army for many turns. My Giant Scorpion picked up a Grappling Hook, which let it force the Blademaster to block it and die to deathtouch. But Mark had Soul Stair Expedition to get it back, so it still slowed me down. Meanwhile, he still had no real action, just laying land after land after land.
Eventually, I started to overwhelm his defenses. Grazing Gladehart gained me a ton of life, ensuring that even if Mark did turn things around, he'd have a long climb. It was a very well-equipped Gladehart too, packing two Explorer's Scopes and a Blazing Torch. I was quite amused to have an Antelope with a scope, and even more amused when I realized that equipping it with Grappling Hook strongly implied that it was an Antelope with a scope and a rope. (But could I rhyme Blazing Torch? Nope.)
This was all taking a really long time, and my heavy artillery (mostly Ob Nixilis) hadn't shown up yet, but at last, it looked like I was getting somewhere. Mark just kept playing lands.
Then he tapped ten mana.
Ten. What costs ten mana? If my quick scan of the spoiler is correct, there's only one card in the set that costs exactly ten.
It was a Sadistic Sacrament. Kicked. I was speechless.
Fifteen cards, gone! I handed Mark my deck, and he thumbed through it, putting all the nonlands in a pile. He ended up exiling all twelve of my remaining spells plus three lands, leaving me with a library consisting of five lands. Obviously, that play's a little better in the world of 40-card decks, but if you've got the mana, ripping fifteen relevant cards out of someone's deck seems pretty great.
If I was going to win, I had to do it with the cards I already had on the table, and I was going to have to do it in the next five turns. On the plus side, I was going to make landfall every turn—but my only landfall creature was a Grazing Gladehart, and life was emphatically not the problem.
Fortunately for me, Mark really was out of gas, and I was able to win the game with 38 life and three cards in my library. Mark then showed me his hand: two lands and a wonderfully greedy Archive Trap.
I asked if he was running any sources of blue mana, and he said no—the Trap was just there to be cast for in the likely event that an opponent searched his or her library for something. My deck, really unusual for a green deck at this Prerelease, had zero ways to do that, so the Trap was a dead card. But just about every other deck I saw shuffled its library at least once, with a fetch land, a Harrow, a Kor Cartographer, something, so he actually had a good shot of trapping any given opponent.
To recap: Mark looked at his pool, saw Sadistic Sacrament and Archive Trap, and built a white-black deck that aimed to stall the game until it could mill someone out. I absolutely love it. I expect to see Archive Trap, and possibly also its little buddy Hedron Crab, in some 60-card mill decks.
- The Gang's All Here
There was one other thing that really struck me about this Prerelease, and it had nothing to do with the cards. Throughout the day, I saw numerous people I'd played with or seen at previous Prereleases, and we got to play games and swap stories.
There were two people who stopped by to say hi whom I'd met at the Conflux Prerelease—Robert, who bagged my Inkwell Leviathan with Telemin Performance, and Kevin, whose Flameblast Dragon and Hellkite Overlord were trumped by my Progenitus in a truly epic finish. Kevin had done very well in Sealed Deck and was opening all the cards he wanted from his boosters—a fine day indeed. Robert stopped by after beating my friend Laura in the last round of a draft.
Also in attendance was Dustin, who I played at the Alara Reborn Prerelease in another awesome game, with a 14/14 Goblin token and a 24/24 Retaliator Griffin trading haymakers as I finally, finally got my Behemoth Sledge / Cradle of Vitality / Mayael's Aria combo going. It was great to see Dustin again—and I finally got to give him the booster pack that he'd definitely earned that game, even if he didn't beat me in the end.
There were lots of other people there who I'd played before at Prereleases or other local events (nonsanctioned, of course). Also in attendance were some old friends I know from other contexts but hadn't seen in a while, and it's great to be back in touch with them.
My previous Prereleases all felt a little ... anonymous. A little intimidating, even for somebody on the official side. But now I've been going to Prereleases in the same place for long enough that it feels familiar, and I look forward to saying hi to folks at the next Prerelease, and the next, and the next. (And if I've played you before and didn't recognize you, I apologize! Don't hesitate to remind me—I've got a terrible memory for names, but if you tell me about our game, there's a good chance I'll remember it.)
Beyond the set, beyond the cards, beyond the games and the stories, I had a great time just catching up with good people. And if Zendikar's taught me anything, it's that when you're venturing out into the unknown, it's good to have a few buddies to watch your back.
If you made it out to a Zendikar Prerelease, head to the thread and share your stories. What were the big plays and great moments? What cards caught your eye? Let me know!