Pummeling the Prerelease

Posted in Top Decks on May 9, 2013

By Jacob Van Lunen

Jacob Van Lunen began playing Magic in 1995. He has participated in organized play at every level of competition and was a member of the winning team at Pro Tour San Diego in 2007, thanks to an innovative draft strategy. As a writer, Van Lunen has had more than three hundred Magic strategy pieces published

Welcome back to Perilous Research, DailyMTG.com's exclusive Magic Online column. After almost two agonizing weeks of anxious excitement, we're finally here. The Dragon's Maze Prerelease gets underway today on Magic Online! Today, I'm going to talk about the available formats in the Magic Online Dragon's Maze Prerelease and discuss what I've learned thus far about the DGR (Dragon's Maze-Gatecrash-Return to Ravnica) draft format.

Dragon's Maze Sealed Deck queues and Swiss Drafts will be available at 10 a.m. today, Thursday, May 9, 2013. Guild Marks will be available in the Magic Online store. There are ten Guild Marks, one for each of the guilds. The chosen Guild Mark will dictate what your first guild pack consists of. For example, you'll receive one pack of Golgari goodies from Return to Ravnica if you pick Golgari or a pack of Boros bounty from Gatecrash if you pick Boros. Your second guild pack will be a random guild that shares a color with your chosen guild. Keep in mind that the second guild will never be from the same set as the first guild chosen. For example, I might receive Dimir, Orzhov, Boros, or Simic as my second guild pack if I had used an Azorius Guild Mark to enter the event.

Ascended Lawmage | Art by Ryan Yee

These events will be similar to the Prereleases you played at your local stores. You will play four rounds of Swiss and receive prizes based on your number of match points. I prefer Selesnya, Orzhov, and Rakdos, but you should pick your favorite guild and defend its honor.

Draft queues will also be available. Here's your chance to try any and every strategy you've dreamed up for the newest Limited format! I've been lucky enough to get a few drafts in since Dragon's Maze's release. I'd like to talk a bit about some of my favorite archetypes and discuss my early impression pick orders.

All the Guildgates!

I went into my first DGR draft not sure what to expect. I assumed I would be playing a three-color deck and decided I should be picking fixing reasonably high. I opened Far & Away and, recognizing the card's absurdly high impact, happily took it. The next pack wasn't quite as easy. There were a number of reasonably playable cards, but nothing that I was truly excited to play with, so I ended up just taking an Izzet Guildgate. I found myself sitting with five Guildgates, one Ubul Sar Gatekeepers, and one Far & Away after my first seven picks. I ended up with seven Guildgates by the end of the first pack. I value fixing highly, and I wasn't seeing the kind of card quality that would warrant taking actual cards over fixing. I'm not above playing Cluestones, but I really only want them in decks with more than five things that cost more than four mana, which is rarely the type of deck I end up with. I went into the second pack a bit worried about my number of playables.

I opened One Thousand Lashes and got passed Assemble the Legion. Suddenly, things were coming together for our hero. High Priest of Penance, Executioner's Swing, Grisly Spectacle, Mugging, Ground Assault, another Guildgate, Syndic of Tithes, and a super late Bane Alley Broker all found their way into my deck. Even my later picks were playable creatures. Suddenly, I felt like my deck was unbeatable.

Assemble the Legion
Executioner's Swing

Pack three came around and I got passed exactly what I was looking for. I opened Detention Sphere, got passed Arrest, then Skymark Roc, Archon of the Triumvirate, then two Thoughtflares in a row. I found a few Keyrunes, Ogre Jailbreaker, and two Armory Guards.

My mana wasn't the greatest, but I easily won three quick matches and split the finals of the tournament. I was very happy with the five-color strategy. Taking all the Guildgates and grabbing only the most powerful cards seems like a strategy that I could become a lot more comfortable with.

I repeated this strategy, again splitting the finals, in my third draft of the format. Here's what I have to say about drafting the five color deck:

Guildgates need to be prioritized accordingly!

You need to know your audience. This is going to be difficult to gauge if you're drafting with people you're unfamiliar with. In that case, I would probably err on the side of caution and take Guildgates over everything except truly first-pick-quality cards. Don't worry; you'll get rewarded later on! However, if you're familiar with the people you're drafting with and you're confident you can let a few Guildgates wheel back (i.e., go all the way around the table and make it back to you), then don't be afraid to grab a high-quality playable you know is going to get picked up. Generally speaking, it's going to be wise to grab as many of these as you can without truly harming the chances of having an entirely playable deck.

Dimir Guildgate
Boros Guildgate

Take every bomb you see!

One of the joys of forcing the five-color deck is the ability to take literally every bomb you see. In doing so, you increase the endgame power level of your deck and significantly decrease the power level of all the decks around you. You'll be playing against the same people who are sitting around you at some point. You'll be pretty well positioned against them when their decks have no quality removal and no bombs beyond their first picks.

Be defensive!

You're going to be stumbling around with lands that come into play tapped and draws where you don't have access to all your colors right away. Most defenders and 1/3s for two mana are going to be great additions to your deck that can be picked up as later picks that most players could care less about. Your deck will have a good amount of removal, so it's wise to ignore creatures that are already held at bay by your board and save removal spells for specific cards that might cause you a problem.

Concordia Pegasus
Clinging Anemones


After playing with all of them, I can say that I like every one of the Gatekeepers. Ubul Sar Gatekeepers are the strongest of the bunch, but I wouldn't be upset about playing any of them. I had reservations about Saruli Gatekeepers, but now I value it much higher than I previously would have. Gaining 7 life is extremely relevant when your deck is trying to be defensive, bomby, and removal-heavy.

Into the Air!

I went into my second DGR draft with the intention of drafting another five-color mess. I opened Ascended Lawmage, got passed another Ascended Lawmage, got passed Far & Away, and found myself with three Dimir Guildgates and one Orzhov Guildgate after the majority of the first pack. Wind Drakes came around late and I had the beginnings of a good evasion deck.

Ascended Lawmage
Wind Drake

I found some removal, a few Basilica Screechers, and another Guildgate in the second pack. I picked up two super-late Shadow Slices that seemed to have a lot of synergy with my deck.

Pack three was gangbusters for me. I picked up Soulsworn Spirit, Stab Wound, Lyev Skyknight, Skymark Roc, Tower Drake, New Prahv Guildmage, and a whole bunch of tricks like Dramatic Rescue.

My deck was very strong and, despite losing in the first round due to some unfortunate draws, I would happily draft the archetype again.

Values have changed!

This is true for all color combinations, but blue-black cards seem to have the deepest changes in the new format. Cards like Bane Alley Broker were a bit slow in triple-Gatecrash drafts, but in DGR the card has enough time to make a huge impact on the game. Crosstown Courier used to be a lackluster two-drop, but now it can increase the relevance of cards like Death's Approach. Shadow Slice was always good in the Deathcult Rogue/Fliers decks of Gatecrash, but the huge number of flying/unblockable creatures that get thrown into the mix in DGM turn it into a very scary clock that's going to be difficult for most players to combat.

Bane Alley Broker
Deathcult Rogue


I'm beating a dead horse at this point, but even if you're not in a five-color concoction it's still going to be important to pick up a lot of mana fixing. It can be difficult to support three colors if you don't have any Guildgates. Generally speaking, if you're consistently being passed strong cards in a specific color combination then it's probably right to eschew Guildgates and pick them up in later packs when you have a solid grasp on your deck's makeup.

Stay aggressive!

A pile of strong, playable 2/4s commons being thrown into a format does a lot to slow it down. The white-blue-black evasion decks are able to stay aggressive and dodge most of the heat. Keep the heat turned up on your opponent and clear the way for your evasive guys with removal spells when you have the chance. You want to get your opponent dead as quickly as possible before he or she take over the game with a bomb or long-term source of card/board advantage.

Fatty Boom Boom Time!

I haven't had a chance to draft this last archetype yet, but I'm sure its viable and I am excited to see what I can do with this today on Magic Online. The blue-red-green deck seems like it has one of the best overall game plans available and I'm looking forward to drafting it until my fingers are callous and bloody.

Why blue-red-green? Well, pack one gives us a very reasonable menagerie of cards and a lot of strong mana fixing. Zhur-Taa Druid is perfect for this type of deck and you'll be pleasantly surprised with how well the card plays in this type of strategy. We want to pick up as many huge monsters and as much ramp as we can get in the first two packs. It shouldn't be too difficult either. Both Gruul and Simic give us some decently sized creatures that do a lot of work toward stalling the board. Return to Ravnica gives us access to Teleportal, Chemister's Trick, and Blustersquall—cards that are sure to work overtime in a deck like this. Making an opponent all-out attack with a debuff or tapping your opponent's entire team will almost always result in victory for a deck full of fatties. I'm looking forward to getting inventive with large monsters in the coming months.

Zhur-Taa Druid

Patience is a virtue!

Sure, that Chemister's Trick is REALLY good in your deck, but why not take that Izzet Charm, Slime Molding, or Splatter Thug? The Chemister's Trick will likely table back to you and it's important to keep your card quality high even if you're playing a deck with a strong gimmick like this one. Still, it's important to value Blustersquall and Chemister's Trick higher than you might have previously. Teleportal is one of those cards that you take over literally anything else short of Jace, Architect of Thought; Cyclonic Rift; or Mizzium Mortars in a deck like this.

Set em up; knock em down!

It's important that we stabilize the board if we're playing a deck like this. We should take as many free shots as we can to whittle down our opponents' life totals and put them in a spot where we can one-shot them with one of our big spells. However, it's not worth trading damage when we're the deck that has the trump card. Just take free shots and always block instead of attacking when the option presents itself.


I hope you all enjoyed this journey through the newest Limited format. The next week on Magic Online will be an excellent opportunity to test your chops against the best players in the world. Most players competing in the Pro Tour will be grinding Magic Online drafts over the next seven days in an effort to hone their skills for Pro Tour Dragon's Maze. Drafting online this week will be a great chance to play against the best in the world. Next week, we'll start looking at the effect that Dragon's Maze will have on Magic Online's Constructed events. May you open reasonably, draft well, and play better! Good Luck!

Knowledge is power!


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