In the Wake of the Prerelease

Posted in The Week That Was on October 2, 2009

By Brian David-Marshall

I spent this past weekend in Columbus, Ohio as a guest of Mike Guptil at the PES Regional Prerelease, which had close to 300 unique players show up for a chance to play in Sealed Deck flights, Two-Headed Giant, and eight-person Booster Draft. They could also try and take a pack off of me at the Champion Challenge station—if someone challenged me to a single game and beat me I had to give them a Zendikar booster pack. Having set up at a handful of these events over the past year, I have learned that 10 hours of playing the same Sealed Deck all day long can be a little mind-numbing so I ended up with four different pools of cards over the weekend—two specifically for gunslinging and two from playing in Sealed Deck flights. I was surprised by how different the decks all turned out, and I had a great time meeting people in Columbus and successfully defending the better part of the box I was set up with on Saturday morning.

Here is the very first deck I built and the cards I left sitting on the bench:

Zendikar Sealed Deck #1

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This was a very strong pool with six highly playable rares. I knew that I was going to play green with the Khalni Heart Expedition, Lotus Cobra, and double Harrow to let me play anything else I wanted. While Halo Hunter is a terrific card and Marsh Casualties is a one-sided Infest, the rest of the black was pretty weak, and I was able to set that color aside. I was tempted to go with the Kor beatdown plan, but I was worried about having to play enough Plains to support the mana costs and also be guaranteed of having green for my manafixing—let's be honest, I just wanted to be able to cast Lotus Cobra on turn two. I kept the red cards that killed things, the Journey to Nowhere that did the same, and some blue fliers to actually finish off my opponent.

Eldrazi Monument turned out to be every bit as insane as I suspected it was from the Visual Spoiler. It is basically a colorless Overrun that almost always wins the game the turn you play it. I ended up with many bogged-down boards full of green creatures throughout the weekend with this deck, and I could always rely on the Monument to provide the final push over the top. I did not get to cast a kicked Rite of Replication on a Turntimber Ranger, but I did create an airforce of Umara Raptors in one game and an impenetrable wall of Vastwood Gorgers in another. The most exciting Rite of Replication play was when I used it on turn three to copy a Lotus Cobra. The next turn I was able to play Vastwood Gorger and kick a Torch Slinger thanks to a Scalding Tarn and Harrow into eleven mana on turn four.

Mold Shambler was an MVP card in this deck. I was surprised by how good this card, which I had assumed to be just a filler card, turned out to be. I was perfectly happy to play it on turn four and trade with a Shatterskull Giant, but it really shone when kicked to take out Equipment, lands, Journey to Nowhere, and even the occasional planeswalker. There were plenty of games where I was able to Cobra out a kicked Shambler on turn four to set an opponent with slow mana development back even further. I did not even need to rely on the Cobra to do it. On multiple occasions this card pool yielded six lands in play on turn three off of Khalni Heart Expedition into Harrow. Vastwood Gorger was fine at any stage of the game but putting it out on turn four had a pretty high correlation with game wins.

Traps were the cards I had the toughest time evaluating and I almost started out with Inferno Trap riding the pine in my sideboard. I was way too focused on the Trap cost of the card and not looking at it as a four-mana instant that does 4 damage to a creature—a card I would auto-include in any Sealed Deck build without the ability to play it on the cheap from time to time. I had plenty of ways to accelerate into fatties, but few were as quick as Baloth Cage Trap on turn two after an opponent played an Expedition map or a piece of Equipment. Again, the card would be perfectly playable in Limited as a Beast Attack or green Neck Snap, but you will have plenty of opportunities to pull the trigger on its Trap cost in this Limited format. I did not play the Cobra Trap, although I would have sideboarded it in many matchups—but gunslinging is a one-game affair. The question I could not answer satisfactorily during my deckbuilding was whether or not I was happy paying six mana—at instant speed—for four tiny token creatures. In hindsight, I might swap it out for one of the Magma Rifts, which my brain seemed to refuse to acknowledge as a sorcery.

Speaking of traps ... Tempest Owl is an interesting creature. Sure, it is a meager 1/2 flier for two mana, but the kicked ability to tap three target permanents can be a nice insurance policy against combat step traps since you can use Owl to tap three lands. Hopefully you can ace a player you suspect of sitting on a Pitfall Trap or Arrow Volley Trap from being able to devastate you in combat. Of course, the Owl also does a nice job of clearing a path for your attackers as well. I am not sold on the Owl yet but I could definitely have seen myself siding him in multiple matchups had they gone three games.

Of the four Sealed Decks I built this past weekend, this was the most successful at defending packs and posted an 18-4 record on Saturday in one-game matches. Here is the deck I played in the first Sealed Deck tournament on Saturday, which I piloted to a 4-0 record, although it only managed an 11-5 record in gunslinging matches after its strong start.

Zendikar Sealed Deck #2

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This deck only dropped one game throughout four rounds of play. It came out of the gate quickly with a double Lacerator draw in the first game it played and never looked back. It was especially punishing—as was a nearly mono-red deck that I built but cannot find to present here—against decks that spent their early turns playing Expeditions or Equipment. By the time they started getting their creatures on the board they were already low on life and facing down a handful of removal and/or burn. The one card that really surprised me in this deck was Ruinous Minotaur. I included it in the deck assuming it would just trade with attacking fat green creatures, but it presented quite a dilemma for opponents when it attacked. I was happy to trade it for just about any creature and more than happy to get in for 5 damage at the cost of a land. In multiple games I had an opponent take an attack from the Minotuar only to experience remorse as soon as they crossed 5 life off their score pad. When they blocked the next turn I was more than happy to grow back my Minotaur and the previously sacrificed land with Grim Discovery.

With four haste creatures in the deck and consistent mana that did not enter the battlefield tapped—in case you were wondering about the red lands in my sideboard—I was able to keep the pressure on from turn-one Vampires to turn-six Dragons. I found myself sitting back a turn on Goblin Ruinblaster multiple times to kick it and take out a dual land or recently topdecked tapped land that my opponent was eagerly awaiting an untap step for. Goblin Ruinblaster was at the center of one of my favorite plays of the weekend, although I was not involved on either side of it. Player A kicked a Ruinblaster and had his opponent's land lined up in his sights, only to have Player B Harrow it away and force the first player to target his own nonbasic land, which was the only other target on the board.

Playing with this deck was educational and served as a reminder to me about reading the cards. I was quite happy to learn that Marsh Casualties was a one-sided Infest, as I had been perfectly happy to play with it when I assumed it hit both sides of the table. I was also surprised by how often it came up that I played the card unkicked. I was equally unhappy to learn that Magma Rift was a sorcery—especially since I am sure I must have played it at least twice at instant speed. My happiest educational moment was learning that the Hellkite Charger had an additional keyword ability after "flying," as the haste wrapped up a number of games on turn six. If you are heading to a Launch Party this weekend, reading all your cards is highly recommended. It can often result in unexpected winning.

Here is one last card pool for you to ponder—this time without my deck build included. Let me know in the forums—in lieu of a Firestarter—how you would approach the deck. I managed to go 3-1 in the last flight of the weekend on Sunday with these cards to work with:

Zendikar Sealed Pool #3

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    Todd Has His Cake and Eats It Too: Five Questions with Todd Anderson

Todd Anderson is having a very good year. He earned himself a berth on the U.S. National team after besting Brad Nelson in a five-game match for the last spot on the squad. His rating after the event placed him well into the Top 100 players in both Total and Constructed Rating, and he just got married to his girlfriend Kali—who just happens to play Magic competitively—and the couple celebrated their coupling with a cake decorated to look like a Magic card. I caught up with Todd for five questions about his Magic marriage, the card-inspired cake, and his plans for upcoming events.

BDM: I understand that Magic actually played a pivotal role in you and your wife Kali getting together. Can you share that story?

Todd: I returned to our local store after a PTQ Top 8 and saw a girl in the room. She was playing Magic! I went over to talk to her after her game was finished and introduced myself. My friends joke that I "called dibs" on her when I saw her. We talked, she came out for sushi, we became friends, and later started dating. Now we're married.

BDM: Apparently Kali can hold her own when it comes to Magic and has a handful of strong finishes. Can you fill us in on her accomplishments?

Todd: She does fairly well at most Magic tournaments she enters—generally X-2 or X-3—but her notable finishes are Top 4 at States this past year, as well as a PTQ Top 8 last year during Lorwyn / Shadowmoor Block Constructed.

BDM: Tell us about the cake!

Todd: The cake was chocolate-based, double layered, with a perfect picture of the back of a Magic card on it. The artist who made the cake even had the marbling on the corners of the card, as well as every detail right on the coloring and wording. It was delicious!

BDM: Did you guys honeymoon in Zendikar for the Prerelease, or did post-wedding plans interfere?

Todd: We had already planned a honeymoon cruise to Cozumel, Mexico, but we got back too late on the Saturday of the Prerelease. However, we did get to do a Zendikar draft on Sunday!

BDM: How goes your Worlds preparation, and are you qualified for / playing in Austin?

Todd: We still don't know what the formats will look like, so we haven't put too much work into it yet. When the time comes I'll probably drive down to Florida and spend a few days with Adam and Gindy for testing.

I'm qualified for Austin and have already booked my plane ticket. I've been testing a lot with friends lately but we have still not conclusively decided upon a deck. However, we have a good idea of what the format will shape up to be. None of us live close to each other, so testing has been rather difficult, but we still plan on having the best deck and tech in the room.

    WPN Spotlight: Enter the Toyman

This month the WPN spotlight shines on Chris Hummel who owns and operates two stores in Wisconsin under the Toyman Collectibles, Comics amp; Games banner in Wisconsin. His Kaukauna, WI location is about to celebrate its eighth anniversary and a location in Menasha, WI is about to kick off its third year of operation. Thanks in no small part to being able to run Prerelease events, Magic is doing better than ever in his shops.

"My players no longer need to drive three hours or more to get a chance to see the set early," said Hummel, who just hosted Zendikar events that exceeded his attendance numbers from previous sets. "Not only does it save them on gas, it honestly makes the local stores look good to be able to host these tournaments on a local level."

While there was increased demand for Zendikar all over the world this past weekend Chris feels that recent changes he made to his marketing efforts also had an impact on his spike in attendance (no word on how the Johnnies or Timmies heard about the event).

"I have been using the [point of sale posters] on a regular basis for years to advertise my events. I even have an event calendar that I display at my store," said Chris of marketing efforts for older events. "Yet, I would have a multitude of players say they 'didn't know' when a tournament had run and wished they knew. I would simply toss my hands in the air and wonder why. I believe that my largest Prerelease event was around 22 players to this point.

"I started up a Facebook account for my store about two months ago," he continued. "I thought that it would give me the opportunity to let my casual players know when events are. I have spent a few minutes every day on Facebook to create upcoming events and share them with my friends amp; fans—reminding them that the big weekend was approaching. Toyman Collectibles seated 36 players for the Zendikar Prerelease. We had 20 people play in a Two-Headed Giant that followed after that. We also held an Intro Pack 'open' tournament during the Prerelease. Normally, I only get 6-10 people interested in doing this tournament. My only mistake was not ordering enough Intro Packs, as we sold out of the 10 spots for the open tournament ... an hour before it was to even start. The Facebook advertising gave me the opportunity to get my players excited about the event. It was literally in their face on a daily basis—when and where they could get their Zendikar product."

Excitement for Magic increases at Toyman Collectables with each new set, and Zendikar was no different.

"The most obvious card that every player is talking about is the mythic rare Lotus Cobra!" said Chris of the buzz for singles from the new set. "The [fetch lands] always spark widespread interest. As a side note, the 'Buy a Box' Program seems to have peaked a lot of interest in my stores. The free Day of Judgment has them all excited to buy boxes."

Players coming to either of Chris's locations—or to just about any WPN location this weekend—will have a chance to convert that excitement to Day of Judgment promos when the new set goes on sale. They can also get their hands on the Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle promo card by taking part in this weekend's events.

"We have our Worldwide Launch Parties happening at both my locations," said Chris. "October 3rd at 11 a.m. in Menasha and 5 p.m. in Kaukauna."

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