I am ready. Ready for the new-set smell of freshly cracked packs that can only be experienced at a Prerelease. I will be at Neutral Ground in New York this Saturday trying to hold my own alongside Jon Finkel and Steve O'Mahoney-Schwartz as the first inductees into the Neutral Ground Hall of Fame. The three of us will be competing in a Sealed Deck tournament against thirteen invitation-only players at 12 noon, hoping not to embarrass ourselves with the new cards. As such, I have spent quite a lot of time poring over the Shards of Alara
In addition to all the cards that have been previewed over the past three weeks here at magicthegathering.com there are images of all the cards that have been spoiled in magazines, other websites, podcasts, and videos. It is a tantalizing array of cards from what looks to be a powerful, colorful, and exciting set.
I have made no secret of my love for Ajani Vengeant, writing about it in a previous column. For Limited this card will lock down an attacker each turn, build up counters, and then kill any strays—or an opponent if the timing is right. It is sure to be a Limited powerhouse but my eye is on this card for Constructed.
Since it is the Prerelease promotional card I will be playing in as many events as I can this weekend in an attempt to get a playset of the foiled alternate art version for Constructed. My red-white land destruction deck loses Avalanche Riders when Time Spiral block rotates out but will try to replace it with the red-white planeswalker. I don't know if the deck is going to be competitive but it certainly takes great joy in playing against decks with abundant non-basic lands.
Tezzeret the Seeker is a card that I, and basically everyone else in the known universe, have been building around. With artifact lands its first ability is basically the same as Garruk and if you consider mana generating artifacts that make more than one mana it could get downright silly. In older formats it can simply plop a Lotus Bloom or Seat of the Synod into play at no loyalty cost. If you happen to play Vintage and use it to fetch a Time Vault it can shine at its Tinker-y best. But how good will this card be this weekend if you happen to open one in your Sealed Deck card pool?
I don't know. Did you also open any Courier's Capsules or Executioner's Capsules? It seems pretty spicy to be able to get either of those cards and just put them into play. Of course you could always opt to go on the offensive and simply redeem your Tezzeret for a 4/4 flier like Tower Gargoyle. If you already have some artifact creatures in play you can also just untap them after attacking and if your opponent can't deal with your planeswalker that turn send all your Capsules, smaller artifact creatures, mana artifacts, and anything else that is weirdly an artifact in this block, into the red zone as Naya-sized monsters.
I will be pretty happy to see either of these two planewalkers in my card pool come Saturday as well as some Esper-colored Capsules. Executioner's Capsule is one of a couple of cards on the Visual Spoiler that should have an impact on the Extended format in Berlin...
Trinket Mage may no longer be digging up Sensei's Divining Top but Executioner's Capsule seems like a fine card to pair with everyone's favorite blue Gray Ogre—especially when you consider that you can recur the Capsule every turn with Academy Ruins.
Of the cards previewed in Game Japan one in particular leapt out at me as something to watch out for this Saturday as well as out of the sideboard of Zoo decks in Berlin. Checking to see if your tapped out opponent has a Plains and a Forest is certainly going to take some getting used to but once you have your attacker eaten by a Qasali Ambusher you will likely get into that habit quite swiftly. In a sideboarded Extended Zoo mirror I could easily see any first turn fetch land giving a Isamaru, Hound of Konda or Figure of Destiny reason to pause before treading into the red zone.
As much as I am looking forward to playing with planeswalkers I don't think there is any card I am hoping to play with as much as Caldera Hellion. I remember doing a mini-master tournament with some friends at the Urza's Saga Prerelease and scooping up all the prizes on the broad shoulders of a Crater Hellion. While its Caldera cousin only deals three it does put your threats on the board to a good and tasty use before Firespouting everything else and leaves what will often be a 5/5 to mop up the rest of the game.
Of course that won't quite do the job of dispatching a Woolly Thoctar or anything else with four toughness or greater. In light of an entire shard populated by fatties—and random fatties in nearby shards like Rhox War Monk and Tower Gargoyle—I will be making many of my Sealed Deck color decisions based on my ability to deal with a creature that has more than three toughness. Looking through the Visual Spoiler there seems to be a fair amount of damage dealing that will take care of the three-toughness crowd with Branching Bolt, and Resounding Thunder stepping up to the task of Hill Giant removal. I am going to be looking for something—anything—that can overcome at least a Durkwood Boars-sized obstacle.
Playing around unearth is definitely another adjustment players will need to make this weekend. While it is going to be dead sexy—emphasis on dead—to unearth rares like Hell's Thunder or Sedraxis Specter there is a common that I am most concerned about my opponents having this weekend. Imagine a racing situation where both players are trading damage back and forth.
Now imagine that you have drawn a Viscera Dragger. Certainly it will be right in many situations to simply play the card and bog down the board or trade it for a creature in the red zone. But being able to cycle it to go one card deeper into your deck and then unearth it could be an even better play for the same four mana if that unaccounted-for 3 points of damage is the difference in the race.
You don't even need to do it that turn. You can cycle at the end of your opponent's turn, untap, use some of your mana for a removal spell, and then pay two to unearth your 3/3. I am super excited about this card from a 40-card perspective and even more excited to see additional cycling throughout the set. I mentioned Resounding Thunder earlier as a way to deal 3 but the temptation to hold onto that card until you hit the appropriate mix of eight mana is going to be very strong—and with good reason. Dealing six points of uncounterable damage at instant speed while drawing a card is an alluring thought but don't let it distract you from killing a creature before things get out of hand.
Gustrider Exuberant is a fine example of a card you should absolutely kill if your opponent happens to put it in harm's way before using it for an aerial alpha strike. The 1/2 seems like a fine finisher that can also be used—reluctantly—to nibble away at your opponent in the early game. There is certainly a case to be made for pecking away in the air one point at a time but I suspect that I will prefer to hold it back if I can meet Naya's trademark power requirement with the rest of my deck.
I really like all three cards that got spoiled at the fittingly named Cartes de Combate—but what is not to like about the third card? A hasty dragon that is at worst a 4/4 for six mana but has the potential to be game ending almost regardless of your opponent's life total is a cornerstone of any Sealed Deck. I don't know how often you got to play with Devouring Greed or Devouring Rage in the Limited formats of Kamigawa block but I assure you they would have been even better if they came strapped on the chassis of a hasty 4/4 flier.
I want to close with one more deck based on a spoiled Shards card. Again...I don't know how good it is but it is certainly something I want to explore more as the rest of the artifacts in this set are revealed. While Affinity decks have been historically very fast they have rarely been able to muster their Myr Enforcers on the first turn. Salvage Titan is a card that has first turn written all over it when you consider artifact lands and the abundant zero casting cost artifacts in Extended. In fact, you could even manage to play the Titan on the first turn while completely frustrating your opponent's ability to deal with it—not that first turn 6/4 monsters are that easy to deal with in the first place.
The problem with this deck is reliably finding the cards you want for the first turn but the exciting part is an opening where you play an artifact land, imprint something on Chrome Mox, play Welding Jar, play Erayo, and then sacrifice three artifacts to play a Salvage Titan with a flipped Erayo countering the first spell your opponent wants to play each turn.
- Firestarter: Have a Great Weekend, and Good Luck!
What cards and combos have you excited about the new set? What will you be trading for this weekend at the Prerelease or next weekend at the Launch Parties? Head to the forums and share your plans for the weekend.
Don't miss your first chance to play with Shards of Alara cards at the worldwide Prereleases this weekend (September 27 and 28)! And get your first opportunity to buy Shards of Alara at worldwide Launch Parties October 3, 4, and 5!