Battle for Zendikar Prerelease Primer
There is a deafening pounding just over the horizon.
There are otherworldly screeches coming from all sides.
There is devastation before you.
This is Zendikar. The monstrous Eldrazi are invading. And you must fight them back.
It's time to prepare yourself . . . And what better way to prepare yourself than with the advanced knowledge your local Prerelease provides!
The Prerelease is your first opportunity to play with the brand new cards from Battle for Zendikar! It's a great starting point: Everyone is new to the set and is still learning about which cards they want to play with. It's a whole new fight—and it's time to planeswalk to Zendikar and give it a try!
It All Starts Here
Ever since I started playing, Prereleases have been among some of my favorite tournaments.
When I was eleven, I went to my very first Prerelease—and it was so much fun, I've been coming back ever since. They're great because the set is brand new, the footing is fairly equal as everybody plays with the set for the very first time, and you're all relaxing and having fun exploring the new cards. It's just a lot of fun! Even players who have been playing since the beginning look forward to each Prerelease like it's a new present they can unwrap.
If you're a Sealed Deck veteran, you may want to skip ahead to the next section, where I talk about some of the differences you can expect at your local store for Battle for Zendikar. But if you're new to this whole Sealed Deck shindig, or are maybe just looking for a few extra pointers, then read on!
Let's go over perhaps the most important part: finding a place to play a Prerelease! After all, you can't very well play if you don't know where to go. How might you go about that?
Well, if you don't already have a local shop you frequent, be sure to check out the store locator to find one near you! That store may even offer preregistration. Prereleases are one of the most popular events we put on, so be sure to check and see if the store preregisters. The worst time to find out an event is full is when you show up and learn you can't play, so be sure to look ahead.
All right, so you've found your store—excellent!
Now it's time to prepare. Anything could happen on Zendikar right now—and you'll want to be ready for whatever comes your way! While you will be building your deck for the event with cards you're given when you get there, there's plenty to do beside just that.
For example, you may still want to bring a trade binder, a Standard or Commander deck to play for fun between rounds, pen and paper to keep track of life totals, and even a water bottle plus something small to snack on. (Bonus points if you bring along calamari and pretend you're eating Eldrazi!) You can expect a Prerelease event to take about four to five hours, so you'll want to make sure you set aside enough time for the entire event.
Okay, now, let's see. You have a store and you've gathered everything you might need to visit Zendikar. You've even read through the recent Uncharted Realms, so you're up to date on Magic lore. And, of course, you've taken a look at the Battle for Zendikar Card Image Gallery.
You're all set! Now it's time for. . .
Deck Building on Zendikar
When you head into the Prerelease and sit down to play, you'll be handed a snazzy new deck box containing everything you need to build your deck. Check it out!
There's even a space at the bottom for your 20-sided Spindown die!
Very cool—those Zendikari really do like to make sure everything fits in their travel packs!
Inside this box, you'll find a lot of neat things. But most important to your day are going to be the six Battle for Zendikar booster packs that will give you the cards you need to build your Sealed Deck, plus your shiny bonus Prerelease card (which could be any rare or mythic rare in the set!).
First things first: Unlock the secrets of the Multiverse. By that I mean rip those packs open! Then, you'll have a stack of cards.
So . . . what now?
It's time to build your deck, of course!
Sealed Deck is a little different than normal deck building. You get to build a deck only out of the cards in front of you, plus as many basic lands as you'd like. Also, unlike a normal Constructed deck where the minimum deck size is 60, you only have to play 40 cards.
The first thing you're going to want to do is figure out a method to pick which colors you'll be playing. I recommend playing two colors. This is a little confusing in this set, because some cards have devoid, which means they don't have a color—but for deck building treat them as though they are colored. You will still need colored mana to cast them!
Some things that may draw you into specific colors are:
- A really strong rare you're excited about
- Plenty of "removal" cards that can deal with your opponent's creatures
- A lot of playable cards in that color
- A good "mana curve" in that color—meaning lots of creatures of different costs
Ideally, the colors you pick will have all four of those criteria, but if two or three of those are true that's plenty good.
Art by Eric Deschamps
Whatever your method, you're going to need to narrow down what you're playing. If you get stuck at the Prerelease, take a look at the insert provided inside the Prerelease box for some inspiration, or feel free to ask the players around you for help. (You are allowed to do this at a Prerelease—it's about fun and learning, after all!)
Okay, so you have your colors down. From there, how do you take everything you have and figure out which 22–23 cards you're going to want to put in your deck? Let's go and poke it with a stick.
. . .Or, preferably, lay your creatures out in mana-cost order. This helps you see what creatures you're going to potentially have to cast at each stage of the game. (Don't lay your noncreatures out at this point unless they're cards you are planning to play as soon as you have that much mana—for example, you will generally cast an Undergrowth Scavenger on turn one, but a Titan's Presence usually not.)
A good "mana curve" of creatures is crucial to a successful Sealed Deck. You don't want to have a ton of cards at any single spot in the curve. It's important for you to have a good mix so you can play your cheap spells in the early game and your expensive spells in the late game. As a general rule for Limited, I would look to play something like this:
- One mana: 0–2 creatures.
- Two mana: 4–6 creatures.
- Three mana: 3–5 creatures.
- Four mana: 4 creatures.
- Five mana: 3 creatures.
- Six+ mana: 1–2 creatures.
That's far from hard and fast, but it's a good place to start. Cull your creatures down to these numbers by choosing your favorites.
Now that you have your core creature base figured out, it's time to add in spells! Pick your favorites among your colors to bring your deck to 22 or 23 cards, and then you're good to go from the spell side!
The spells you're going to want the most are what are called "removal spells"—these are the spells that permanently neutralize your opponent's creatures, either by damage, keeping them tapped, or just straight-up destroying them. Sealed Deck Magic is all about creatures, so you'll want to play most of the cards in your colors that can get rid of opponent's creatures.
Interested in more tips? Here are a few more things to keep in mind for deck building:
- You can play more than 40 cards, but you really should stick to 40 if you can. Every card you include over 40 just means it's that much less likely you're going to draw that awesome rare you put in your deck!
- The land ratio you're looking at should be about 17 lands to 23 nonlands. This isn't right 100% of the time, but most Limited decks end up looking like this and, in general, it's what I would want to have. In Battle for Zendikar in particular, if you have a lot of landfall or lands with special abilities, you may want to consider playing 18 lands.
- Play a mix of cheap-to-cast and expensive-to-cast cards. If you have all cheap, small creatures, then a single big creature can shut you down. But if you have only large, expensive creatures, you risk getting run over before you can cast them. Stick to a mix that focuses on the two-, three-, four-, and five-casting cost creatures. More games of Sealed Deck are won by casting a creature every turn from turn two or three onward than any other way.
- Evasion is important! Often, Sealed Deck games will get into stalls where both players have a lot of creatures and neither player can attack very well. Creatures with abilities like flying ensure that you can break through these stalls.
If you want to dive really deep into Sealed, here are a few articles you can check out to learn even more:
- "Sealed Deck"
- "How I Break Down My Sealed Pool"
- "Prerelease Prerogatives"
- "Sealed Deck Reality Check"
- Nate Price's Price of Progress series
- The original "Prerelease Primer"
Some stores also support a version of Sealed Deck called Two-Headed Giant (often abbreviated "2HG"), where two players team up against other pairs of players. Each pair gets two Prerelease boxes from which the players build their decks. Your tournament organizer can tell you more about 2HG if your store supports it.
If the idea of spending a day playing a tournament is a little too much, or if you have less time and just want to experience some low-key games with Battle for Zendikar, you can get involved in Open Dueling.
In this side event. You get a ready-to-play 60-card Intro Pack and use it to do battle against others participating in Open Dueling, including players participating in the main tournament who are between rounds! This is a great way to dip your toe into the water if you aren't sure the Prerelease is something you want to do or if you can't commit five hours to a Prerelease event. You can just play games in Open Dueling at your own leisure. Plus, it's fun!
Treasures of Zendikar
In addition to all of those neat regular cards and the special, date-stamped rare or mythic rare Prerelease promo you found inside your box, you received a couple other cool things as well!
You'll walk away with this nice 20-sided Spindown die:
And you'll also get this marvelous introduction to Zendikar—that also features crucial deck building information! Check it out in all of its glory:
As mentioned earlier, this insert will be there to help you during deck building if you need any on-the-spot advice. You should be good to go!
The Many Mechanics of Zendikar
Battle for Zendikar is chock-full of mechanics! Head on over to the "Mechanics of Battle for Zendikar" article to learn all the juicy details.
Enter the Battle
Whether you've been to Zendikar before or this if your first time here, welcome! This is an innovative set with a ton of room to explore, and many synergies you can really only find by playing with the cards.
With all of the Eldrazi around, one thing's for certain: This Prerelease is going to be full of things you wouldn't expect!
. . .Of course, it doesn't hurt to have as much of a leg up on your opposition as possible. Before heading out into the wilds, I'll mention the full Card Image Gallery one more time. It has all of the cards in the set ready for your viewing pleasure, so you can start to get an idea of what you might want to do.
That wraps things up from my end—now it's up to you to head to your local Prerelease and put this knowledge to use fighting the Eldrazi!
If you have any questions at all about the Prerelease or what you should expect, feel free to send a tweet my way or ask me a question on my Tumblr. I'll be sure to take a look and help you out as much as I can!
Have fun this weekend. May your time on Zendikar be glorious!