Two New Blocks

Posted in The Week That Was on October 5, 2007

By Brian David-Marshall

Brian David-Marshall is a New York–based game designer who has been involved with Magic since 1994, when he started organizing tournaments and ran a Manhattan game store. Since then, he has been a judge, a player, and one of the longest-tenured columnists on, as he enters his second decade writing for the site. He is also the Pro Tour Historian and one of the commentators for the Pro Tour.

LorwynI always look forward to the release of new Magic set but never more so than when it is the first peek at a brand new block. There are new cards, mechanics, theories and decks but more than anything the release of a new set means I actually get to play some Magic and write about it, as opposed to watching from the sidelines. Playing Magic held additional meaning for me at this past weekend's Lorwyn Prerelease beyond being the first opportunity for players to get a look at the new cards. It marked my last chance to play Magic in the building Neutral Ground—the store I founded in 1995—has occupied since 1997.

After the Sunday Prerelease Neutral Ground closed its doors at 122 West 26th Street and did not reopen on Monday. Never fear though, they are merely taking two weeks off to finish the work on their snazzy new ground-floor location at 15 West 37th Street (I guess Magic wasn't the only thing getting a new block this fall). Neutral Ground originally opened on the ninth floor of a building around the corner from the 26th street location. We were not sure if a store built around having tons of space to play games would be successful and hedged our bets against the steep New York real estate prices by climbing nine stories above street level.


Did the Prerelease whet your Lorwyn appetite? Are boggarts, flamekin, and faeries haunting your dreams? Thankfully the Release Events are only a week away. Click on the links below to find a store near you running Release Events on October 12-14:
When New York's Magic community followed us upstairs (sometimes literally when the world's scariest elevator was not working), we knew that we had something special on our hands. Within a couple of years we moved to an even bigger space, which is where the store has remained even after changing ownership six years back. Neutral Ground will reopen in time for the Lorwyn Release Events taking place next weekend, finally in a store-front location with just as much play space—if not more—as the previous location.

I know from the virtual bag of mail that greets me after each Prerelease Primer that many of you find it difficult to travel to the large Prerelease tournaments. Release Events are the nutritional equivalent if you can manage to wait until the product goes on sale. Stores all over the world hold these events and there is almost certainly one within a reasonable distance from where you live. If you have not played with Lorwyn cards yet I urge you to head to your local in store tournament next weekend. Go here to find a complete list of stores holding Release Events.

With some practical experience under my belt, I can even give you a look at two different card pools and talk a little bit about some essential tricks and tribes you will want to be on top of for those tournaments. Here is the Sealed Deck I built, along with the cards I did not play from my first tournament on the weekend.


Sealed Deck #1

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Two things were clear to me when I looked at this pool. The first was that with two Tarfire and two Lash Out and Brion Stoutarm—the violent half-brother of the Loxodon Hierarch—I would be playing red and at least splashing white. The other was that I had no idea as to how to correctly build this deck. White did not look strong enough to complement the red removal. Had I pulled a card pool with the more aggressive Kithkin cards, they would have given me a perfect excuse to try to stay within two colors.

Tarfire and Lash OutIt was one of the first options I considered since white offered additional removal with Neck Snap and Oblivion Ring but I did not like the deck when I laid it out. I was relying on two Kithkin Greathearts as my early game without many cheap giants or changelings to turn them on and no Kithkin tribal cards. I did have enough mana fixing—the Twig, the Grotto, and the Vivid Meadow—that it allowed me to splash the white cards I wanted to play without having to play the ones that I did not.

Red and white were sorted out but I remained torn about whether to play green or black as my second color—and I am still conflicted as to what the right answer is. I ended up playing the black because of the Tarfire engine it gave me (granted, it was only a two-cylinder model but I am a sucker for the synergy). The Boggart Harbinger allowed me to find a Tarfire while the Boggart Birth Rite could act as a third copy by returning the goblin instant from the graveyard. There were also the Hornet Harassers that played well with the Stoutarm and Eyeblight's Ending playing the role of Terror.

In hindsight I could have easily played green with little trade off. I thought there were only seven green cards that I wanted to have maindeck—2 Seedguide Ash, Cloudcrown Oak, Rootgrapple, Bog-Strider Ash, Leaf Gilder, and the bombtastic Epic Proportions—but I would have easily added Spring Cleaning to the list as I think I will always run enchantment removal in this format if for nothing else than Oblivion Ring. One Oakgnarl Warrior would have rounded out that color and would have provided a nice suite of beef for Brion to show off his throwing arm with. Leaf Gilder would have offset some of the higher casting costs, as would flinging a Seedguide Ash.

The big downside to the swap was giving up Eyeblight's Ending for a spell that cannot kill a creature in Rootgrapple, but with the Vivid land and Twig I may have been able to splash the fourth color or bring it in for games two and three if needed. There was no denying that I ended up playing with a substandard suite of creatures in black and although I was able to kill almost everything my round-one opponent threw at me when we settled in to play off the top of our decks...everything in his deck towered over the creatures on top of my library. Of course making Vigor on turn five in two of the three games did not hurt matters at all for him.

In the second round my deck performed perfectly, but with lethal damage on the stack in Game 2, I conceded to my opponent so I could drop and play in the Two-Headed Giant event with Scott McCord.

Brian's Deck

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Scott's Deck

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Planeswalker (1)
1 Jace Beleren
Sorcery (2)
2 Ponder
Instant (1)
1 Familiar's Ruse
Enchantment (1)
1 Militia's Pride
Land (17)
6 Island 9 Plains 1 Mountain 1 Vivid Creek
Other (1)
1 Aethersnipe
Tribal instant (3)
1 Surge of Thoughtweft 2 Tarfire
40 Cards

Cards We Didn't Use

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Once again we see the flexibility of the mana in Lorwyn Sealed. Scott was easily able to splash the two Tarfires with a Twig and a Vivid land to smooth things out. Scott is a known blue mage and there was no way I could keep him from playing the blue deck which came complete with two Ponder, which allowed him to play seventeen lands as opposed to his traditional adherence to eighteen.


Drowner of Secrets
I was pretty upset when we opened our pool and did not find Drowner of Secrets. Milling—a.k.a. depleting a player's deck of cards—has to be the baseline best strategy in Two-Headed Giant coming out of the gates. We did have the Planeswalker Jace Beleren which would have complemented that plan nicely—and can actually be a decking-driven win condition in Limited all on its own—but we just did not have the key uncommon to turn all our merfolk into finned millstones.

We decided to approach our decks from a beatdown perspective with each of us having a lot of aggressive early creatures, some combat tricks, and as much removal as we could pack into the two decks. Scott's beatdown was largely Kithkin while mine was of the Elven variety with Treefolk providing cover fire.

Scott and I had a hard time agreeing on whether or not to play the two copies of Lignify but I was adamant about including it in our decks due the synergy it had with Thorntooth Witch. With the Witch in play each Lignify was capable of nullifying two creatures since it is a tribal enchantment for Treefolk. Scott had some valid concern about giving our opponents an 0/4 blocker when we were attacking with small men but we had enough flying and landwalk that we were finally able to agree on playing both copies.

One card that I wish I had played was Footbottom Feast, which would have allowed me to not only get back key swampwalkers but to get multiple uses out of my Mournwhelks which were in the deck strictly as Unnerves. One of the last cards to go into Scott's deck was the Silvergill Douser and it turned out to be his MVP, allowing us to control the red zone whenever he was in play.

The tournament was only three rounds long and we swept through our first two rounds before drawing with Asher Hecht's team in the finals. Asher is part of our local draft community and with the draw both teams ended up winning 12 packs of the new set. With our prize packs in our grubby mitts it was time to draft. I don't have any of my draft decks still intact to present to you but I will discuss some of the picks that I have developed card crushes on in the early going—shockingly they are all red/blue.


Smokebraider: This is my Gemhide Sliver for this block. I have already first-picked this guy—in second and third packs—on multiple occasions after snapping up Aethersnipes, Mulldrifters, and late pick Faultgrinders. I have drafted blue/red Elementals more than other color/tribe combinations so far and I am really happy with it. Smokebraider allows your turn-three Mulldrifter to stick around, powers out fourth-turn Aethersnipes, and eats a land enchanted with Fertile Ground on turn five with the Faultgrinder. If you remember how good the Vedalken Engineer was in Mirrodin block draft, you begin to get a picture of the nuttiness this guy is capable of in Lowryn Limited.

Familiar's Ruse: Quentin Martin compared Aethersnipe to Vedalken Dismisser in his column this week and I agree with that assessment. If the 'snipe is the Dismisser, then Familiar's Ruse is the Peel from Reality. You just have to accept that you will rarely use this card on turn two. When you use it mid- to late-game to return a Mulldrifter ... or better yet a ground stall-breaking Glarewielder ... you will see what I mean.

Heat Shimmer: I have had at least one copy of this card in every draft I have done so far and was surprised to finally learn that it is actually a rare. I just assumed it was an uncommon from the frequency with which I have had it. Not that I am complaining mind you, this card does everything from killing legends to completely throwing off combat math with a hasty Shriekmaw token. This card probably won't come up for you as often as it has for me over the past few days, but when you have a chance to play with it you should take advantage.

Inner-Flame Acolyte: As you can see from some of the Elemental creatures mentioned in the Smokebraider section, the elemental deck can have some pricy guys that won't see play early if you don't have the smoker. The Acolyte is basically a 4/2 haste for three mana that sometimes gives a bonus to a well-positioned evasion creature instead. When you are keeping an eye on your mana curve, keep the other one peeled for this efficient little beater.

Firestarter: Fix This Deck!

How would you have built my first Sealed Deck card pool? Would you have opted for the green over the more synergistic black cards? Would you have tried to go red-white or something else entirely? Head to the forums and share your take on this deck. Feel free to share your experiences, card pools, and draft strategies from this past weekend as well!

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