Why do you play Magic?

The question is simple enough, but I'm sure that there isn't one answer that would be correct for everybody. Even just for me, there are a lot of individual elements that come together to make Magic such a big part of who I am and what I do. For me, the number-one reason that I play is because it's fun. If I'm not having fun playing Magic, then I really don't feel like I have a reason to play.

Conveniently enough, I have a lot of fun playing Magic, which keeps the cycle of fun going and keeps me playing.

Now, I would be lying if I said that every game of Magic I've ever played was fun. Sometimes you find yourself playing with no lands to work with, or in a matchup where you don't stand a chance. You know what, though? Magic is a game with enough variety to it, that these moments are fleeting compared to all the upside. Because it's a TCG, I know that Magic will keep growing and changing, meaning that there will always be little voyages of discovery going on. This variety, along with the element of chance in each individual game, means that Magic will never venture into that dim dark classification of "boring."

The chance in the game keeps my hopes alive when playing against better players than me. Playing against Hall of Famers Nicolai Herzog, Mike Turian, and Jon Finkel, I have found myself thinking "if I can just get lucky here, I could win this." In each case I was wrong, but there is a big difference between having a shot (albeit a slim one, and aided by a little good fortune) and not having one at all. I take solace in the notion that every now and then the stars will align, allowing me to beat the best. On the other side of things, even when I feel like I have a good matchup, or an edge on my opponent, there is still the chance of fate stepping in and upsetting my applecart, which keeps me in the game and enjoying myself.

As much as the cards in Magic can shuffle up into a million different combinations, I view the mass of players out there as another element that keeps Magic fresh for me. When I started playing, it was with a small circle of friends. I had a lot of fun running my red-green deck with Craw Wurms and such into Richie's white-black Pestilence / White Knight deck, and John's complicated counterspell creations. When my network expanded, though, so did my enjoyment of the game. In the same way that opening a booster held the lure of the unexpected, as I started to travel around, going to tournaments and meeting new people, I found that I couldn't rely on knowing what to expect from opponents, either in terms of individual cards or play style.

With Magic 2010 on the horizon, I find myself looking forward to what will be my ninth core set as a player. Things have changed a little since Revised came out, and I would say that I am if anything more excited now than I was back when I first started. Back then, over half a lifetime ago, I had no idea quite how good the release of a new set could be.

Considering that the main reason I play Magic is to have fun, it should come as no surprise that I like Prereleases, as they are about the most fun tournaments around. These were my first tournaments, and I would suggest that they are the ideal event for anyone looking to meet more players and have a good time. In the past I might have described them as a good way to get into tournaments in a fairly low-impact way. While this is completely correct, the more I think about it, the more I'm of the opinion that this is a narrow look at how Prereleases work. The main reason to go to a Prerelease is that they are a fun way to meet more players and play more Magic. That you get new unseen cards, and can play in events to win even more swag, is kind of a bonus.

I will most likely be going to the big London prerelease for my first chance to start casting M10 spells. With lots of players, dealers, artists, and most of all games going on, it should be quite the party. I will get a chance to see old friends, and make some new ones, all while getting the chance to play a lot of the game I love.

That first Prerelease can be quite a daunting prospect for a new player. Travelling any sort of distance to play rather than just getting together with friends sounds like a lot of effort. Depending on how close your Prerelease may be, it could well be a little tricky arranging transport. Trust me, though, when I say that it is worth it. As soon as you have decided to Prerelease things up a bit, I would strongly recommend both using resources like this very web site to find the most local Prerelease to you, and then following up by working out how you are going to get there. Plan out this part (and the getting home again) and everything else will go much smoother!

You will probably want a bag with you for the event, as if nothing else, you will be receiving some new cards that you will want to carry home. What you bring with you is up to you, but I have a few recommendations. Don't fall into the trap that my girlfriend does when we go on holiday. If you pack so much stuff with you that you find carrying your bag around hard work, then you are doing it wrong. Even if trading seems an alluring idea, it should be balanced against the frustration of having to lug around a suitcase full of cards. Equally, try not to fall into the trap that I do when going on holiday. Make sure you have all the essentials with you. For me, these are the details of the tournament: a deck box, sleeves, a pen and paper. These are what I need to be able to play. On top of this I'll have my phone (great for if you suddenly find that you need to call the event site to check on those directions!), and sufficient money to be able to do what I want to do. If doing another draft is going to cost you your bus fare, you should find a casual game to play—make sure you can still get on that bus. Better, just save up enough cash to cover yourself.

At the event itself, take a little time to take things in. Often there are a lot of events going on at Prereleases, and a little planning will make sure you hit the bases that you really want to. Chat to other players. See what they think of the new set, if they want to trade, where they've travelled up from, and if they have any thoughts on your deck. Most of what I've learned in Magic has come through the wisdom of others—there is only so much you can divine yourself. More importantly than this, I've made many good friends playing Magic. Everyone is in a good mood on Prerelease day, and it is the place to meet more like-minded people and have a good time. If nothing else, I'd recommend after each round, asking your opponent if you can have a look at their deck, while they look at yours. Often you can get some great advice on other ways of thinking about building decks, as well as getting to see more new cards. People are pretty friendly at Prereleases, and this is a great way to improve your game. Also, if someone asks the same of you, do it! When all the cards are fresh and new, as much as anything I'm just trying to get a feel for what's good or not. Talking to people about their decks is a great way to do that, bringing you up to speed that much faster.

I don't want to dwell too much on the winning and losing in Magic for this article—as I hope is becoming clear, I really don't think that winning need be the number-one decider of whether or not you have a good time at your Prerelease. However, I do have a few tips that will just help make sure that your games feel like real games, with a bit of battling going on from either side of the table.

When you build your deck, you will have a small pile of boosters to work with. From these you will craft your deck for each round that you play. If you don't get the right build the first time, don't worry—at Prereleases, you can change your Sealed Deck between rounds as you see fit. When you first open your packs, I would recommend dividing up your cards by colour. In a format like M10 Sealed, it is quite likely that a few colours will stand out as having the most cards you really want to play. Ideally, you probably want to be playing a 40-card deck, with about 17 lands, most likely in two colours, with a few really good cards from a third colour if you like. That way, your deck will be nice and consistent in its draws, and you will find that you draw that one really powerful card you want to be casting every game all the more often. Cutting down to 40 cards can be a challenge, but it is one that pays off once you start playing.

In terms of working out what cards to play or not, I would strongly advise you to prioritise spells that kill creatures, and follow up by choosing creatures that will in themselves be tricky to deal with. In most circumstances, creatures will be the way you win games, and by being able to attack when your opponent can't, you can be sure to have the upper hand. Flyers are just about the gold standard when it comes to creatures for this sort of event, as they can keep attacking even when the board is quite busy. Prioritise them if you can. You should also try to have a nice mix of mana costs amongst your cards. That way, every turn you should be able to cast things, without having to sit there and watch on as your opponent gets stuck in while you wait to be able to cast anything.

Remember, Prereleases are all about having a good time. If there are cards you want to play, play them! Rule the board with the cards that excite you in your card pool.

Thinking of rules, you might have noticed quite a lot of discussion of late of the changes to the rules with the release of M10. The Prerelease will be the first event to officially run with these new rules, and is a great place to get a good feel for how they work, as there should be plenty of judges at your local event to make sure there is no confusion.

Here to help.

Given that our motto for prereleases is to be prepared though, it would be remiss of me to not quickly run through what you need to know. Conveniently enough, most of the changes make things simpler, so my little crib sheet doesn't need to be a long one. It should cover off everything that you need to know though to be able to make the leap with ease. Even better, the rules on having outside notes around have changed slightly, so feel free to print out this article and have it ready for reference before the tournament or between games. Judges will be around to help too, so if you have any concerns, just consult with them - it is their job to know how these sort of things work (and they love getting asked questions!)

1. Mulligans

Whoever is going first says if they are going to mulligan, then the other player gets to do the same, both players then shuffle their hand into their deck, and draw a new hand with one less card. Any player that took a mulligan has the option to do so again, following the same rules.

Basically, don't wait around on mulligans! Save a little time here, and spend it playing instead!

2. Name Changes

Lots of cards reference the battlefield now. That is the area in front of you where permanents live. "Exile" is the new name for "remove from the game." You have one graveyard and another place for your exiled cards. While they are pretty similar in that they are places that cards go that are "done with," it's important you don't mix them up. Zombies don't mind being in the graveyard too much, but they don't like being exiled. The default place that killed creatures go is the graveyard—cards only go into exile if some effect specifically says they should. Likewise, if a card like Zombify gets cast, it only works on cards in the graveyard.

Spells get cast now instead of being played. You pay the mana cost and cast the spell. Easy. Lands still get played, and activated abilities get activated. Hopefully this should make it super-double-clear that you can't use a Cancel on a land, or indeed to stop Prodigal Pyromancer from tapping to deal 1 damage.

3. Token Ownership

This is a fiddly one, so I won't spend too much time on it. Basically, if the game ever needs to know who owns a token, it will now be the player who controlled the token when it entered the battlefield rather than the player who controlled the effect that made the token. This almost never matters, and it's very unlikely you'll need to worry about it.

4. No Mana Burn

If, for whatever reason, you end up with more mana in your mana pool than you can spend, there is no penalty any more. Mana disappears at the end of each phase and step with no negative effects. You could cast Seething Song to get RRRRR, and the mana would be around for long enough to cast Lightning Bolt (R) and Ball Lightning (RRR) all in your main phase. If you don't have anything else to spend mana on, that remaining mana would just go away at the end of your main phase, with no penalty. Be careful on your steps, though. Mana will drain away fast, and you can't keep it between steps—if someone casts Twiddle on one of your lands during your upkeep, you can tap it in response, but you'll need to use the mana right away; you won't be able to draw your card for the turn and then use the mana on that, as moving to your draw step drains your mana pool.

5. Combat!

The big one, but it really need not be complicated. I'm going to run through this one in a little detail, as it is the change most likely to come up for you at the prerelease. I'll try to keep it engaging, and ramp up the difficulty so that the only surprises you need to worry about are the combat tricks your opponent might be holding.

The steps

A. Declare Attackers

This works exactly as before. Attack with the creatures you want to attack with, and if your naughty opponent has a planeswalker or two, be sure to make it clear who you are attacking.

B. Declare Blockers

This decision works as it always has too for the person on defence. Your creatures can block as you wish. You can block each attacker with as many or as few creatures as your board allows, taking into account things like flying and protection. Once you have declared blockers, if you have double-blocked any creatures, then the attacker gets to line up the blockers to indicate the order in which he is going to deal damage to them. Think of it like Bruce Lee on the attack. A mob of rent-a-thugs try to get in his way, and Bruce carefully works out, as he's charging in, who his main targets are.

C. Declare Blockers – Combat Tricks

This isn't exactly a step as such, but during the declare blockers step after blockers have been declared is the last time to use any effects to that are going to affect combat, making it a good time for effects. If both players pass at this point then damage will just resolve, and that will be the end of that. Some of the sorts of effects that you will want to remember here are setting up regeneration shields (it will be too late if you do it any later!), using any sacrifice effects, or casting spells that in some way will alter what happens next. This is one of the fun bits of combat, where you can turn the tables on unprepared opponents.

D. Combat Damage

All creatures still in combat will deal combat damage at this point. If any creatures have first strike or double strike, there will be two combat damage steps, as before, and players get a chance to cast spells and activate abilities after first strike damage is dealt but before regular damage was. Once each combat damage step begins, the cleverness is out of the way, and creatures get to bash on one another. In one-on-one fights, this is easy. When there are multiple blockers, it gets a little more complicated.

Remember when Bruce Lee set up his line of rent-a-thugs? They are still in that line, and regardless of what tricks might have been pulled, he will work his way along the line, taking out as many as he can. An attacker has to assign lethal damage to kill the first creature in line, then it gets to do the same to the next, and so on, until it has used all power or killed all its blockers. Now, if creature #1 in the line has already taken 3 damage from a spell, and has a toughness of 4, even just 1 damage will be lethal. Lethal damage only compares amount of damage taken so far against toughness, so even if something like protection or regeneration means that it won't actually kill a creature, you still need to do that much damage to it before you can move on through the line. You can always deal more than lethal damage to a creature if you want—useful if you know already that some of the damage is going to be prevented. All the damage is dealt at once (barring first strike or double strike).

It sounds a little complicated, but in practice, this process really isn't too hard. Let's try out a few examples. I have a 3/3 Beast token, and my opponent has three 1/1 Insect tokens. I attack (A), my opponent blocks with all his Insects (B), we both pass without tricks (C), and deal our damage (D). When the dust settles, everything dies—the Beast has taken 3 damage, and the Insects have each taken 1.

What happens if we throw in a trick or two? I still attack (A), my opponent still blocks (B), but now I have a Lightning Bolt to kill off one Insect (C). By the time we get to damage (D), one thing has changed—now my Beast deals 1 damage to Insect #1, and 2 damage to Insect #2. Beasty boy kills off both Insects, and only takes 2 damage back, surviving the fight. Note that the extra point of damage still doesn't carry over to the player, because the Beast doesn't have trample; it just counts as overkill on Insect #2.

Let's switch things up a bit. Now I have a much more exciting Djinn of Wishes. My opponent has a 2/2 flyer and a 2/3 flyer. When I attack, if she double-blocks, no matter how I order them, I will only be able to kill one of her creatures, and my Djinn will die. Probably not a great position to be in. I need a trick. This time around, though, I'm a white-blue deck, not known for its direct damage potential. That doesn't mean I can't be tricky, though. Check out this new instant in M10:


White has its own way of dishing things out. White is vengeful. If white sees you stepping out of line, it will give you a good reason to start playing fair again. Harm's Way is a good old-fashioned damage redirection spell. You could cast it before combat, to deter a creature from blocking entirely, but it wouldn't feel like much of a trick then. By waiting until later, you can lure blockers in, and make them pay. For example, in the above set of attacks, I could order the 2/3 ahead of the 2/2, and then play Harm's Way, choosing the 2/2 as both the target and the source. Suddenly that 2/2 flyer was doing damage for my team, hitting itself instead of my Djinn. Once we got to the damage step, suddenly the 2/2 flyer was doing damage for my team dealing 2 to itself instead of to my Djinn. Djinn of Wishes could deal 3 to the 2/3 flyer (lethal damage) and 1 to the 2/2, but since the 2/2 is already going to die, I'll have it deal all 4 to the 2/3. Meanwhile my Djinn would only take 2 from the 2/3, not nearly enough to kill it.

Harm's Way itself is valuable outside the combat step too. It can turn opponent's burn spells into burn spells of your own. Saving your own creature while killing your opponent's all for one card is a pretty sweet deal, especially at the bargain-basement cost of just one white mana. It can also be a handy way of killing creatures that are too scared to get into combat. Let's imagine that in my Djinn example, my opponent had only blocked with her 2/3 (to stay alive at 4 life, maybe), keeping back her 2/2 to attack back with. Harm's Way here could kill off the 2/2 flyer by redirecting the damage from the 2/3 onto it. White Lightning indeed!

6. Deathtouch and Lifelink

The deathtouch and lifelink keywords have changed, and you might find yourself staring down the barrel of either at the Prerelease.

Deathtouch still means your dudes can kill with just a single point of damage, but it gets a little complicated when a deathtouch guy is blocked by multiple creatures. In practice, it is unlikely to come up a lot, simply because multi-blocking a creature with deathtouch is a good way to lose a lot of creatures. Deathtouch creatures are sneaky. They still line up creatures to fight, but they only need to cause a scratch to kill. They can divide their damage however they want, ignoring the order the blockers are in. If a creature with regeneration blocks one with deathtouch, they just need one regeneration shield to survive the fight.

Lifelink works slightly differently now too. Firstly, it doesn't get better if you have multiple instances on the same creature. Much the same way that having multiple instances of flying doesn't do much, multiple instances of lifelink don't let you gain extra life. The upside, though, is that lifelink now happens the exact same time that damage does. So if you are at a precarious 1 life, and are attacked with two 2/2 creatures, block one with a 3/3 lifelink creature, and take 2 damage from the other, you won't die! You'll continue to precariously teeter on the brink, as the life gain from your 3/3 happens at exactly the same time as you are taking damage. I fully expect this to lead to some exciting conclusions to games with M10 in the mix.

If it sounds like there is a lot to remember for your Prerelease, don't worry. We've made a handy 23K PDF summarizing the changes, suitable for printing out on one double-sided piece of paper.

And of course, every event will be packed with a whole bunch of people looking to have a good time, who will be happy to help. If you remember to have fun, the rest will all work out just fine.

Enjoy M10, and your Prerelease—I know I will!