Welcome to the Dark Ascension Prerelease Primer!

As you are reading this, there is less than a week to go until your local Prerelease. As I'm writing it, there is quite a bit more time than that. The full set is already viewable, and in just a few short days you will be able to play with the cards for the first time. This is Tim from the past telling you: I'm pretty jealous of you right now. All the secrets are out in terms of what the new cards are, for those of you who want a look. However, there are still a few surprises yet to be revealed, and one of them in this very article. Keep reading to find out the secret of the Dark Ascension Prerelease that promises to make it apocalyptically good fun.

Faith's Shield | Art by Svetlin Velinov

One thing that is no secret is that Prereleases are my (and many people's) favorite tournaments of the year. Preview season is fun and all, but the moment we actually get a chance to play—even if we know a little bit about what is coming—is still the best. For me, new sets are the realization of a whole realm of new opportunities to do cool things with the cards I currently own and to pick up new ones for still more cool things to do. For other players, the Prerelease is a great leveler— at the start, nobody really knows what is going on, so it's the perfect time to show off your skills. Many like Prerelease time because that is when everyone comes out and gets involved, making for something of a Magic party. All told, Prereleases are the rare weekends of the year where I'm actually organized enough to have made concrete plans well ahead of time, so I will be ready to game.

With Dark Ascension, we're returning to Innistrad, and in true horror movie sequel tradition, we will be doing things bigger, badder, and faster, with more special effects and a kickass soundtrack. Given what a rip-roaring success Innistrad has been, I for one am very excited about what Dark Ascension has to offer.

Whether you are playing in London (my stomping ground) or anywhere around the world, there are certain things you can do to be prepared to have the best possible time at your event. While the time zones and languages might be different, everyone will be getting the same number of packs regardless of where they are and will be playing by the same rules. When you register for a Prerelease (and pre-registering is probably a good move, as these events are among the most popular of the calendar year), you are signing up for a Limited event. That means you don't need to bring any cards with you whatsoever, and neither does anyone else—a nice level playing field for all concerned. Each person gets six booster packs: three of Dark Ascension and three of Innistrad. As much as I'm sure many of us would love to have more Dark Ascension, the two sets have been designed to work together, and by having a bit of both, everyone will have decks that play better.

From those six packs we all have to build a deck. Whenever I build a Sealed deck, I always look to play with forty cards (so I draw my best cards as often as possible) and two colors—perhaps with a few cards from a third (so I can be sure that in most games I will be able to actually cast my spells by having the right land). With about seventeen lands and a good mix of costs of spells, I know I'm set to have "real" games of Magic, and not too many where I'm stuck bemoaning an unlucky draw.

In terms of the details of what cards to play, when it comes to the second set in a block I can't help but try to play lots of new cards. Prereleases are a great time to find out what new cards do, and the best way of doing that is to play with them! Don't worry if, after a game or two, you feel like your build is a little off, with one or two cards underperforming... you are allowed to change up your deck after every game, as long as you only use the cards from your six packs. If something is underperforming, just switch it out. At some point, everyone playing will receive a foil Prerelease card—this is one you can play with in events after the Prerelease, but it won't be legal for the event itself. If you open a regular one I would probably try to find a way of playing it... it's pretty sweet!

Right: Receive this exclusive promo version at the Dark Ascension Prereleases this weekend! (While supplies last)

Dark Ascension is building off what came before it in Innistrad. If you've played much with Innistrad you should be familiar with most of the keywords in the set, even if some of the exact cards in it use them in different ways. This very site has a slew of fantastic articles previewing all of these mechanics, but for you loyal people who don't want to look away from this very article, here is a quick recap:

Morbid: I feel it in my fingers; I feel it in my toes. Death is all around us, and so the feeling grows. We've gotten used to the death of a creature being more relevant than normal in Magic with this keyword. Spells with morbid just do so much more on a turn when a creature has died that it is very tempting to wait for when this happens. Sometimes, it's the waiting that gets you. Sometimes, you will sacrifice one of your own team for the greater good of some morbid monstrousness. Wakedancer is fairly unexciting as a 2/2 for three, but as a pair of them, it is quite the reverse. While it might not be worth putting one of your own creatures in danger to trigger the effect, if you can kill off an opposing creature and follow up with Wakedancer, you'll be in great shape.

Flashback: Don't call it a comeback... flashback is among my favorite abilities, and I'm happy to see it remains a pillar of Dark Ascension. Don't be put off by the fact that some flashback spells might seem a little expensive to play from the graveyard... while they sit in there they are just bonus cards in your hand, even if they are a little inefficient to cast. One of my favorites is Fires of Undeath which, while a little pricey by most burn spell standards, does everything I'm looking for. As instant speed removal, it is always right on time, and even if it doesn't get flashed back until late in the game, that 2 points of damage (which can get pointed at players) is often relevant. Something like Tracker's Instincts is also worth a look. Building on the green-blue self-mill plan, this functions a little like Forbidden Alchemy, as long as you're looking for creatures. With undying creatures entering the mix, you really don't want to be running out of gas when it comes to getting creatures on the board.

Werewolves: They're still around and now have extra abilities for opponents to worry about. All the more reason to think carefully about when to cast your low-cost spells—you might need them later to help transform an errant lycanthrope.

Undying: Creatures with this keyword seem like they will be a big factor in many matches. Many of them are efficiently costed before you even worry about them coming back for a second bite, so take a look at them seriously as contenders for your deck. Don't forget that if you put a +1/+1 counter on a creature with undying, it won't come back when it goes to the graveyard, regardless of where the +1/+1 counter came from. Enchantments like Claustrophobia also do a good job of "removing" an offending undying creature without causing all the trouble of it just bouncing back.

Fateful Hour: This seems like a very cool addition to the game, giving various spells more kick if you are getting precariously low on life. In all honesty, I have no idea how I'm going to play these, and am quite excited about simply winging it on the day and finding out. There will definitely be some impressive last-minute comebacks happening, with cards like Break of Day allowing for last-ditch defenses to be game changing.

These are all things you can prepare for with a little forethought, and I would recommend you do so. There is one little extra twist even after all the cards are out there, though—are you ready for a battle for survival, to see who can Command the Night?

The Dark Ascension Prerelease has more surprises than just the new cards (although if that were all there was it would be plenty). In addition to all the new vampires, werewolves, zombies, and spirits roaming Innistrad, a host of these monsters will be unleashed at each and every Prerelease. You might not be one at the start, but by the end, they will be everywhere.

Drogskol Reaver | Art by Vincent Proce

That's right, the fight between the various creatures of the night and the forces of the humans will be amped up at your local Prerelease in a whole new way, thanks to the monster hunts running throughout the main event. Every Prerelease will have some number of people designated as a vampire, werewolf, zombie, or spirit at the start of the event. The exact numbers will vary depending on how big your Prerelease is, but no Prerelease will be entirely safe. Each round, the monsters will be looking to convert more humans to their cause. If at the start of the event you are still a human, then every round you play against a monster (designated by some flashy stickers) you will be fighting to protect your humanity.

Any time a monster defeats a human in a Prerelease match, the monster will convert the human to his or her cause. That means that while there might only be one vampire in the room at the start of Round 1, by Round 2 there could be two, by Round 3 there could be four, and by Round 4 there could be eight—assuming the vampires keep playing against humans and winning. Once you are a monster, your one objective is to win matches against humans to get more people on your team. If a werewolf fights a vampire, or a spirit fights a zombie, nobody is getting converted, though there will still be the same bragging rights and individual prizes for success as normal. At the end of each Prerelease, the remaining humans and the largest tribe or tribles of monsters will be declared winers, but the rewards are up to the organizers as to what prizes are given out.

Depending on the size of your Prerelease, there will be the following numbers of monsters at the start of the day:

Event Size Starting Monster Population
8–22 One of each monster
23–80 Two of each monster
81–167 Three of each monster
168+ Four of each monster

I for one am really hoping that I get to be a monster at some point in the day (ideally a zombie), and that I put together a powerful enough deck to start turning other people to my cause from Round 1 onwards. Ultimately, it's down to the tournament organizers to work out who will be representing for the various monster factions, be it random or by some sort of seeding system. Normally, in these sorts of articles I put together a section on being prepared for the event that includes having the organizer's number if you get lost, a map to the event, a bit of spare cash, and perhaps some trades. This time, my brains have already been consumed with the notion of showing up with a bit of zombie makeup or my old Teen Wolf costume from Halloween in the hope of swaying the chances of my spending the day as a monster.

Undying Evil | Art by Kev Walker

Whether you keep your humanity or not in the events running all over the world this weekend, I really hope you get a chance to play with the new cards and have a blast doing so. By my count, this will be something like my 45th Prerelease tournament. Every one has been awesome. Whether it is your first event, or simply your first time playing with these cards, I hope the Dark Ascension Prerelease is one you make sure to hit up.

Watch out: monsters about!