Can I let you in on a secret?

I bloody love monster movies.

It is not just for this reason that I'm looking forward to this weekend's Innistrad Prerelease tournaments, but in all honesty, I can't say that it hurts. We've had sinister settings for Magic sets before. The Phyrexians playing nasty with the Mirrans was hardly all sunshine and rainbows. Shadowmoor definitely had a fair amount of creepy. Torment was, by definition really, a dark set. Now, though, we are fast approaching a good old fashioned horror.

New Phyrexia, Shadowmoor, and Torment

Now before I get too much into the blood and guts of how Prereleases work (and don't worry, I will), I want to just address the concerns that some players might have about a set that is aimed at a touch of horror. We all know someone that doesn't like scary movies. For some of us it is our girlfriend or boyfriend. For others of us it is our younger siblings. For others, it is someone like Limited Information author Steve Sadin, whose default response to film suggestions from yours truly is "Too scary!" Just because this set is all about horror does not mean that it has to be scary—in fact, given the fact that we are getting to play the part of the monsters under the bed as much as we are the cowering child inside it, it should be as much fun as jumping out in front of someone (Steve) and saying boo!

First tournaments can be kind of scary too, as they represent the unknown. That's where I can help. By the end of reading this, you should know everything you need to know about how to get the most out of the Prerelease near you, and be able to focus on having a good time.

Part 1: Ghosts / Spirits / Spectres

The hardest thing about ghosts is not really knowing that they are there at all. They can creep up on you, a fleeting image on the edge of your vision. In the dark, they will dance in the shadows all the more. The more you can get to know about ghosts (where they are, what they are doing, and why) the less dangerous they are. Sometimes the ghost is just a child that wants to be reunited with a lost balloon.

Silent Departure | Art by John Avon

Prereleases seem to creep up on me with surprising regularity. I should really know to check my calendar better these days. For me the nightmare would be to miss one, and keeping a keen eye on the wheres and whens means that you won't miss out. Right here on this very site you can find out where your nearest Prerelease lies. From there, I would try to get a little bit more information still. Check on a map where the Prerelease is, and work out how you're going to get there. Get the organiser's phone number and give them a call. You might be able to preregister, to ensure that there is a place available for you. Likewise, if on the day you find yourself running a bit late, you'll be happy to be able to phone ahead and make sure that you don't lose your spot if you don't need to.

Some of the information that is sometimes handy for a Prerelease might seem a little innocuous. Does the venue sell food? If so, how much is it likely to cost? There are some events where it is exactly the right idea to bring a pack lunch, while others might not like you bringing in food at all. It couldn't hurt to ask, right?

In most modern horror movies, cellphones are a problem that needs to be addressed early on, by batteries dying or bad reception or similar. Without this moment in the film, they would represent the most straightforward answer to most problems. Prereleases aren't horror films, though. Keep yours charged and with you, with the numbers you need to solve whatever problems you might face.

Part 2: Laboratory Creations / Stitched-Together Zombies / Frankenstein's Monster

These horrific fusings of dead flesh brought to life are not your common or garden zombies. We'll get on to zombie survival techniques in a later section, but for those monsters nurtured by works of evil genius, it is worth looking to the creators for many of the answers. The weak spots of flesh golems are most likely to reflect the short-sightedness or arrogance of their creators. If in doubt, there is always the option of getting in your own lab and building a bigger solution.

Moan of the Unhallowed | Art by Nils Hamm

One element of the Prerelease that isn't going to change any time soon is the nature of the main tournament itself. A sealed event, it will see each player sitting down equal. In possession of six boosters, they will have just those cards and basic land with which to make a 40-card deck to battle.

Everyone builds decks a little bit differently, and it would be wrong of me to try to stop you from playing the cards you want to play with, but I don't want to leave you unarmed in the face of more experienced players. Here are some principles to begin with.

  • Play with 40 cards—preferably no more, and definitely no less. Everyone will have a few cards that are among the best in their card pool that they want to draw. The best way to make sure that you do draw them is to have as few cards in your deck as you can. Because 40 cards is the minimum you are allowed, you generally want to play that many.
  • Try to be only two colours, with maybe a small amount of a third colour. I find it miserable to not be able to cast my spells, and for this reason, I try to make sure that in sealed events, I have decks where casting spells is easy. This means not having too many different colours going on unless I have a lot of clever ways to make different colours of mana. When it comes to lands, I aim at 17 lands for most decks. This lets me play a mix of costs from 1 to 7 without too many worries.
  • Creatures win games. With a few unusual exceptions, creature combat damage will be the primary route to victory for most Sealed Decks. With this in mind, the most important things to think about when picking which cards to play and which to leave on the bench tend to relate to creatures.
    • Does this card kill my opponent's creatures?
    • How easy is this creature for my opponent to block and/or kill?
    If a creature is going to be able to get through for a lot of damage (for example, by having flying), then chances are I'm more likely to want to play it. If a spell kills creatures, then I'm more likely to want to play it. If you are playing cards that don't impact creatures in any way, then they need to be doing something pretty awesome. (For reference, drawing cards is pretty awesome most of the time.
  • Be flexible. At a Prerelease you are allowed to change your deck using the cards from your original six boosters as much as you want between games. You don't need to change it back after each match; you just need to make sure you have a legal 40-card deck for each game. Because of this, there is plenty of room to experiment. Don't be afraid to try out a few things if you find that your first build isn't working. Likewise, don't be afraid to ask for help from other players between matches in how to better build your deck. It's a great way to learn and to meet new people.

Part 3: Werewolves

With werewolves, people get a little too hung up on trying to kill them with silver. Werewolves are massive, great embodiments of rage. They flip out at anything. Keep your head. Keep calm. There are ways to fight them, and silver is just one of the options open to you. Did you ever think to just wait until it isn't a full moon anymore? ...Feel a little silly now? You should.

Moonmist | Art by Ryan Yee

Now it's time to talk new mechanics, and I really want to focus on the double-faced cards for a second. These are new to all of us, so I think they warrant a little special attention. You will have some in your card pool—one per pack—and you will see them on the other side of the table too.

The first thing to note about double-faced cards is what they mean for building your deck. If you are going to be playing with your cards in sleeves, make sure that your sleeves are not at all see-through on the back. You don't want your opponent to be able to see when there is a werewolf coming, now do you?

If you aren't playing with card sleeves, you'll need to use one of the checklist cards inserted in most packs of Innistrad to represent each double-faced card you're playing. (You can't have unsleeved double-faced cards actually in your deck at the start of the game. If you could, then when shuffling it would just be a bit of a farce!) The reference card shows all the mana costs and names of double-faced cards. For each double-faced card you're playing, just mark off which one the reference card represents. In the bottom right-hand corner I would also make a note of the power/toughness (or loyalty!) of the card, so that you have the most important info available to you when the reference card is in your hand.

As soon as you cast a double-faced card, it's time to sub in the real version of the card in all its glory. Alas, you can't just use the reference cards as what you want without the real card—you need to be able to transform as necessary!

Double-Faced Card Rules

Once double-faced cards are on the battlefield, the rules around them are largely on the cards themselves. Some of the double-facers only transform once, and that is it, while others are forever changing face. Werewolves in particular are always going back and forth. All the Werewolves on the battlefield transform at the same time, but every double-faced card enters the battlefield front face up—so you might have "sunny side up" Werewolves on the battlefield against "dark side" Werewolves for a while, until a turn comes along when they all end up one way or the other again.

The final thing to think about for double-faced cards is how they work in Draft. Here I like to think back to that Unglued classic, Infernal Spawn of Evil. You see, in a regular booster, it is hard to avoid spotting a double-faced card when looking at card backs. Put simply, these cards have no backs! To take that into account, the rules have changed a little around drafting. If you see the backs of other drafters' cards, that is fine. That means that the eagle-eyed out there might get a sense of who is drafting a lot of double-facers. Think of this as a horrific premonition of what is to come, if you will.

Now, a wily drafter might be able to obscure their cards while making picks. That isn't necessarily a bad idea, and it is allowed. I wouldn't get too precious about this though, especially at the Prerelease. It is a tool to help you see what colours other drafters might be in, but so are other signals in packs. And bear in mind that you're still not allowed to look at—or show other drafters!—the fronts of the regular single-sided cards in the draft.

Double-Faced Card Rules

Exclusive Innistrad Prerelease card available while supplies last.

Drafting is a lot of fun, and something I try to make time for at every Prerelease, alongside the sealed deck, and potentially a spot of trading.

Part 4: Vampires

Vampires can be dangerous, but by and large it is worth bearing in mind that your average vampire is eminently reasonable. They have a clear set of priorities, and as long as you aren't the most attractive snack on the menu, it can work out just fine to try to work with vampires, as well as against them. I've not had a lot of success with weapons against vampires. Stakes require more accuracy than you might think, and crucifixes, well, they aren't really my style. Play it straight with vampires, and you should do just fine.

Vampire Interloper | Art by James Ryman

It might seem a little harsh to look at traders like vampires—because it really is a little harsh. Trading is a big part of the game, and the best way to end up with a collection of cards that you can have the most fun with. The Prerelease is a great place to do some trading, because there are plenty of people there, and many of them will have brought lots of cards to trade with, and there will be new cards that lots of people want.

The trick to trading is knowing what you want. I'm a little more free and easy in terms of trading cards than some people. If I give you something you want, for something that I want, and we both think we've got a good deal, then that's good enough for me. I suppose that fifteen or so years of playing help with that. If you do decide that you want to do some trading at your local Prerelease, and are worried about how that might go, then bear in mind a couple of things, and you should have a fine time of it.

  1. If you don't like the look of a trade, you can always just leave it.
  2. If you are ever unsure as to whether a trade is a fair one or not, you can always ask for an outside opinion. I know that some people will talk to official card dealers at events, or to players not involved. Some will look up the cards involved with a smart phone. One way or another, if you need another opinion, getting one is not hard.

I will definitely be doing some trading at my local Prerelease, and most of it will probably involve me trying to get some of the sweet new Innistrad cards. I like the idea of building a new Commander deck with lots of Zombies in it, and now seems like just the right time to pick some up. If you're going to be in London, I'll happily trade well for the right monsters.

Part 5: Humans

These are the ones you really want to watch out for. Humans can be tricksy. They are unpredictable, which makes them plenty of fun. Some of them fight the monsters with you, while some of them might be on the monsters' side. Take a look in a mirror. Right there could be your best friend or your worst enemy.

Fiend Hunter | Art by Wayne Reynolds

The people are the main reason that Prereleases are the best tournaments of the year for me. If it was just playing a lot of Magic, I'd be pretty happy, but these days for me Prereleases are as much about catching up with friends as anything to do with playing cards. A Prerelease was my first Magic tournament, and for most players it is an event that they simply won't miss. That means that there are always lots of good people at Prerelease events, and with good people come good times. When I first started playing in tournaments, the people I'd meet would largely be those I'd been paired with, or those I'd traded with. These days, though, I know that at a Prerelease I will always have plenty of hanging out potential too, and even when the card playing is done, the good times will continue to roll.

The Final Chapter: Weapons of Choice

I could write a whole book about the best weapons to deal with different monsters. The problem with that book though, is that it would be heavy enough that by the time you carry it around, you wouldn't have any room to carry the weapons themselves. By the time you'd looked up what you might need, it could just be too late.

There isn't one weapon that works for every monster, but there is one that definitely works for a lot of them: Fire.

I know that plenty of you have been waiting for just your next glimpse of a new card. That is part of the appeal of a Prerelease, right, seeing the new cards? Well, here's one that you will likely want to play should you be lucky enough to open it. In a scary world full of surprises, this one will hopefully not be making you jump so much as your opponent.

You've already seen the morbid keyword mechanic on some creatures, but here it is working on a spell instead. Brimstone Volley is a fine example of a morbid card that is all upside. If you need to burn out a smaller creature (or an opponent close to death), then you don't need to wait on the morbid ability. If the morbid ability weren't there, it would be a perfectly fine card for any red Limited deck. Where things get really exciting, though, is if you do get a chance to deal the full 5 damage.

Brimstone Volley | Art by Eytan Zana

The potential of a Brimstone Volley to hit quite as hard as it can gives a good incentive to hold it back in readiness for a big turn, but I can see myself casting it at all stages of the game. In the early game, I might just need to kill a creature with it. Where it gets more exciting is later, where casting it after combat it could easily mean the morbid condition has been met. I love the idea of swinging with my team, getting in a good amount of damage, and then making the most of the fact that my opponent blocked and killed one of my creatures by finishing them off with a 5-point burn spell to the head. The later in the game it gets, the better the chance that opponents simply can't play around that kind of firepower. The alternative of not blocking is not a fun one at all.

Sounds like horrifically good fun to me.

I hope that you have a whale of a time at your local Prerelease the weekend after next. I shall be playing in London. If you are there, don't hesitate to say hello, if you are elsewhere, don't hesitate to have a blast. I will.