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Bruce Gray - October 7, 2015

Casual Encounters – Battle For Zendikar Pre-Release Report and L...

Zendikar Attack

Battle For Zendikar Pre-Release Report and Lessons

by Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters

 

Welcome back folks! I hope everyone had a fun weekend and rocking good time if you were able to hit a game store for the Battle For Zendikar pre-release the last weekend. I managed to get out to one event and had a blast.  The sealed environment was very fun and allowed for lots of interesting decks and combinations that made every game loads of fun.  Today I thought I would recap my event experience for you, the deck I played, and a few insights I picked up from experiencing the Sealed environment first hand.

I always preface these reports by stating that I always play at the Two Headed Giant pre-release event. I find 2HG is my favorite event because I get to experience playing with one of my buddies and just hanging out and playing Magic with a friend.  At the end of the day, the time spent with my friend is more important than actually winning or losing, but we do like to try and do well.  I know that the 2HG format changes card evaluation and it impacts deck construction sizably, but I still enjoy it more than the other pre-release options available to me.  So, I paired with my friend Dave for this pre-release and took a shot at playing Battle for Zendikar.

In the past when we’ve done these events I have rarely had a difficult time building our decks, but this time I found the task of building our decks extremely tricky.  The general card quality was very even and thus making our deck choices tricky as we moved to cut down to our 40 card deck.  Also, we had a multitude of options available to us in each of the colours in terms of strategies:  Ramp, Landfall, Allies, Devoid, Ingest/Processor.  These were all viable options based on our card pool and so picking which strategies, and then which colours supported those strategies, was very difficult.

In the end we opted to build a B/R Devoid deck for Dave.  This was interesting because he initially had envisioned a B/R aggro and beatdown deck, but what happened was more or less a control deck.  Dave had a number of solid blockers including Vile Aggregate and Vestige of Emrakul, strong removal like Complete Disregard and Ruinous Path, and generally a shell that wanted to interact with the opponent in a defensive way.  This was a little strange because normally B/R wants to attack and be aggressive, but Dave was very seriously looking to block, trade resources and slow down the opposition.

On my end I opened a Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and we had some decent white creatures and removal.  However, our Blue was not very strong so I turned my attention to Green. I opted to use Green to ramp into giant Eldrazi creatures thinking that these big fatties would allow us to push through the damage needed to win. So, I started the day with a pretty normal distribution of 2 drops, 3 drops and on up to 6, and then slammed home a couple of 8 drops in the form of Eldrazi Devastator as finishers. However, as I established that I didn’t need to play much in the early game because Dave was on the control gameplan, I sided out more and more of the cheaper stuff (against my better judgement sometimes) and slammed home more and more giant Eldrazi as the event wore on.  I also have to say, my deck suffered from a lack of a Overrun style card to push through damage, so I had to rely on dinky fliers and big beaters to pound through the damage. It wasn’t ideal but I feel like we got there in most games. Here’s a look at my list by the end of the event.

G/W Ramp- BFZ Pre-Release

Round 1- We got paired up against the guys who had been building on the other side of the table and I recognized as being very capable players.  We got behind early, but stabilized around 15 life and started to make progress and chipped away a little at their life total with some fliers.  However, my deck flooded out a little at a very inopportune time and Dave drew nothing very relevant. Meanwhile, our opponents were busy ripping gas off the top of their library and we quickly fell apart. We started off 0-1.

Round 2- A Boyfriend/Girlfriend combo with a reasonable R/W deck and a B/U deck were our next opponents.  I thought we were in huge trouble to start because they quickly had a Sire of Stagnation on board essentially choking us off of more mana.  Fortunately they attacked with it and Sheer Drop took out the Eldrazi that was slowly suffocating us.  Sadly, Mortuary Mire bought the Sire of Stagnation back, but at least we got a little breathing room before we got choked off again.  Dave was seriously hamstrung by this thing, but I was able to continue to cast my creatures that enabled my ramp like Lifespring Druid, Kozilek’s Channeler, and Brood Monitor to play big fatties.  In the end, what won us the game was that we took one activation off the Sire of Stagnation, Dave played his land and then cast Dragonmaster Outcast and then waited.  A few turns later there were entirely too many dragons to be ignored and the game ended with us evening our record at 1-1.

Round 3- We were paired against a couple of 11 year boys who were there with their father.  Despite being young, they were obviously well prepared and knew what they were doing because they had a pair of solid decks.  One of them resolved a Kiora that was a terrific target for Ruinous Path but not before they got some good value off of it.  Things had started to turn around for us and we were in decent shape until one of them resolved an Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger and his partner cast Goblin War Paint to give it haste.  3 turns later we had no more cards and we lost falling to 1-2.

Round 4- We were paired against another boyfriend/girlfriend combo and things seemed to be pretty routine.  I landed an early Gideon that our opponents needed to respect and bought us some time.  By the time Gideon was killed, I had all the mana I would need and Dave was riding my coat tails.  Once I started to land multiple Eldrazi fatties we had the game stitched up pretty tight.  We rode Eldrazi Devastator to a fairly easy victory and evened the record at 2-2 going into our final round.

Round 5- We played a team with a U/W deck and a R/B deck.  They presented a couple of challenging little cards that nibbled away at our life total, but Dave found answers and we were able to seize the advantage.  We started to put pressure on them with a Malakir Familiar and a Ghostly Sentinel that they just couldn’t answer and they needed to devote resources to dealing with the multiple Eldrazi assault I was mounting yet again.  In the end, 5 damage at a time got the job done and we finished them.  It was hardly an exciting game but I thought we played it as well as we could given the cards we saw and it felt very rewarding as we moved to 3-2 and 6th out of 16 teams.

Hits and Misses

We very clearly had a few hits in amidst our piles, but we also had a few misses.

Hits:

Rolling Thunder

Rolling Thunder – this was just insane.  Flexible removal that scales and can essentially 2 or 3-for-1 your opponent.  The fact that we had a pair of these things felt grungy…but awesome all at the same time.

Brood Monitor

Brood Monitor – this Eldrazi drone was a one card army that plugged up the ground AND ramped me to crazy heights.  Turns out getting 6 power and toughness across 4 bodies is really good.  Like REALLY good.

Dragonmaster Outcast

Dragonmaster Outcast – He might say “1 drop”, but he’s really a 6 mana card.  Once you activate him he is crazy powerful.  Too bad he dies to a stiff breeze, but since he costs 1 mana to play, your opponent is likely spending more mana than you did to deal with such an imminent threat.

Ruin ProcessorEldrazi DevastatorBreaker of Armies

Giant Eldrazi beat sticks:  We didn’t have much in the way of exciting Eldrazi, but we did have a number of the common and uncommon ones that were wildly powerful. Yeah, I liked these guys.

Looming SpiresFertile ThicketMortuary MireSkyline Cascade

Common cycle “spell” lands:  The common cycle of lands was excellent.  We had two Looming Spires, two Fertile Thickets, a Mortuary Mire and a Skyline Cascade and we opted to run them all.  At some point all of them were relevant and really cost us very little as we could just run these for land and use the spell-like ability just for value.

Misses:

Smothering Abomination

Smothering Abomination –  I don’t think this is a bad card, it was just a bad card for us on this day.  Dave was not in a position to truly leverage the Sacrifice ability to draw more cards and a 4/3 for 4 mana wasn’t really the most efficient creature we could find.  I can imagine it being tremendous in a deck full of lots of Eldrazi Scion tokens, but in the B/R deck it just wasn’t very good.

Vile Aggregate

Vile Aggregate – This was a decent role player for us, but in order to make him good I feel like he needs to paired with Green or he is just underwhelming.  You need a bunch of Scion tokens in play in order for this guy to be truly explosive and he just wasn’t the best choice for us.  He did play good D, but was a little lacklustre.  I won’t be actively searching out these guys in any upcoming drafts.

Rot Shambler

Rot Shambler – This 2 mana creature is pretty disappointing.  2 mana for a 1/1 is below rate and you need to work pretty hard to make him good.  However, in this format lots of things exile creatures (not kill them) meaning that you can’t trigger this guy as often as you might like.  Yes, he plays really well in a token deck with lots of Scions, but is otherwise unexciting.

Well, that’s what I’ve got.  On the whole I really enjoyed my Pre-Release experience and I had a lot of fun.  It also helps that we played reasonably well because winning is more fun than being on the losing end.  However, win or lose, the set is fun and the limited environment is going to be very engaging.  I’m looking forward to getting a few drafts in on MTGO and to just brew random janky decks that pack a few big nasty Eldrazi surprises.

How was your Pre-Release experience?  I would be all ears to hear how other people fared and whether they enjoyed the experience or not.  Hit me up on twitter and let me know about your experience!

Thanks for stopping by and reading.  Have yourself a great MTG day and I’ll talk to you guys next time here at Casual Encounters.

 

By Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters

@bgray8791 on Twitter

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Bruce Gray - September 30, 2015

Casual Encounters – Top 10 Casual Cards from Battle for Zendikar

 

Gideon and Nissa

Top 10 Casual Cards from Battle for Zendikar

by Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters

The anticipation is mounting! In just a few short days we will be getting our first chance to play Battle for Zendikar and I’m pretty excited.  There are some amazing new cards in this set, and some terrific reprints that got some slick new art.  It looks like there are going to be some bonkers new additions to just about every format, including Casual Kitchen Table Magic.  Today I’m going to go through my Top Ten cards to bring to your next Casual Kitchen Table Magic game night and spice things up.  Let’s get down to business.

Sandstone Bridge

10. Common Land Cycle ( Sandstone Bridge, Skyline Cascade, Mortuary Mire, Looming Spires, Fertile Thicket ).  This common land cycle doesn’t look super spicy, but let’s be real, any time you can play a land card and have an effect that is normally created by a spell you have something that is deceptively powerful. There will be loads of decks looking to pick these up to replace just a regular basic land card, and the extra ability is always a solid trick. Now, let’s talk about how to abuse these (i.e. get more than one activation).  In a Kitchen Table world you are constrained only by your card pool and the rules you and your friends have established, so finding fun ways to take advantage of these should be easy.  Let’s start with the “Karoo” lands or “Bounce” lands from Ravnica.  These were reprinted in Modern Masters 2015 making them pretty readily available and an easy way to get more than one activation of these.  Emancipation Angel or Kor Skyfisher, or even Pearl Lake Ancient are also some of my favorites and could easily get you additional activations.  Going a little more in the the history of Magic, Soramaro, First to Dream would be hilarious.

As if just getting the value off these lands wasn’t enough, don’t forget this set is packing Landfall meaning that you are very likely to net all sorts of value off of just playing these lands. That makes these things even more appealing.  The nice part is that you will usually be pleased to see these guys, regardless of what stage of the game you’re in.  Keep your eyes peeled for these small, but significant, additions.

Noyan Dar, Roil Shaper

9. Noyan Dar, Roil Shaper: What isn’t to like about this guy?  He’s a 4/4 for 5 mana which is a pretty reasonable rate to start and you will not feel ashamed to run him out.  His size also makes him surprisingly robust and able to tussle if the need arises.  However, what is truly gross is his ability.  You get free +1/+1 counters on your lands every time you cast an instant or sorcery…and in Blue and White isn’t that what you want to do anyways?  I can well imagine EDH decks premised on this guy or just jammed in there for value.  However, what I think might be truly busted is playing Jeskai and slamming this guy and Zada.  Cast your instant on Zada, copy the spell a bunch of times, make a pile of Elementals, attack for the win…or something like that.  Yes, that is magical Christmas land, but it’s fun to dream.  I’m kind of excited to see this guy and try him out.

Omnath, Locus of Rage

8. Omnath, Locus of Rage:  I don’t know what to do with this guy…but I like the fact that Omnath is getting a reprinting, and this time he’s pissed. I haven’t got a clue how good he will be, or any deck built around him using elementals as a centerpiece, but this guy sure looks unhappy and ready to kick some butt.  All he really asks of you is to play your land and benefit from an army of 5/5 tokens, but that feels a little too simple.  Omnath makes the list because of his unbridled anger…and big scary tokens. For those of you out there with RTR block cards still kicking around, time to dust off those Populate enablers..

Catacomb Sifter

7. Catacomb Sifter:  This guy is among my favorite cards in the set and the art is insane.  That is spectacular art!  The colours and contrast really stand out and makes this thing look super frightening.  But enough about the art.  This 3 mana creature packs 3/4 worth of power and toughness across 2 bodies which is a very good rate.  I know I play casually, but I also really like efficient creatures…they help me get to the much less efficient but fun part of my deck!  This is exactly the sort of thing I want to do. However, there is still more.  This packs the Scry 1 ability that Reaper of the Wilds packs just because…umm…value?  This is a very strong card and I can’t wait to get my hands on some of these guys and ride the Value Train.

Halimar Tidecaller

6. Halimar Tidecaller:  How is this NOT a rare?  Can you just imagine pairing this with Noyan Dar and making FLYING land creatures?  Wow. And you even get to bring another relevant spell out of your graveyard to replay and get yet ANOTHER land creature.  Sure, it is a bit of a build around, but if you can successfully build around it this looks amazing!  For a paltry 3 mana this feels as if it has been pushed to try and push an elemental theme…and I’m taking the bait!  I can almost taste the Elemental Deck…Brews to come!

Defiant Bloodlord

5. Defiant Bloodlord: Ok folks, this makes the list because you now have Sanguine Bond attached to a 4/5  flying body. This gives those janky “life gain” decks you  see around the Kitchen table yet another win condition and NOW it gets to attack too!  I’m just dreaming of casting this and Feed the Clan to maximum effect.  The interaction between this and Gray Merchant of Asphodel seems like it could be potent too. All in all, there will be lots of ways to abuse this around the Kitchen Table so you had better buckle down.

Felidar Sovereign

4. Felidar Sovereign:  Felidar Sovereign is yet another example of the power of alternate win conditions.  This guy is a reprint from the original Zendikar block and became a staple in EDH decks all over the place as an alternative win condition.  The issue WAS that Felidar was a $10-12 card that essentially exclusively saw play in Casual formats.  By getting a reprint players will be getting a shot to grab this guy at a much more affordable $2 price point.  Enjoy the savings Casual players, this one is for you.

Kiora, Master of the Depths

3. Kiora, Master of Depths:  Kiora made this list because her ultimate is nutty. Three 8/8 octopus tokens PLUS they get to fight your opponent’s creatures?  Whatever…you win the game if you get this Emblem online.  If you can look me in the eye and honestly tell me that you aren’t interested in doing that then you’re lying to yourself.

Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger

2. Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger: If the Eldrazi somehow didn’t make this list then I wouldn’t be doing my job.  What’s NOT to like?  It’s big, splashy, hard to kill, wrecks the game instantly, can be played in virtually every deck and looks to be about the best thing you can do with 10 mana. Also, because this version of Ulamog doesn’t come with the “feel bad” Annihilator mechanic your buddies around the kitchen table are more apt to agree to let you play it.  Yeah, Ulamog is a thing and makes our list.

Zada, Hedron Grinder

1. Zada, Hedron Grinder:  Zada is getting lots of buzz and with good cause because her ability is just outright insane.  Any time you can copy spells you have a strong effect.  Zada will let you copy them multiple times for FREE! Magic players love the word FREE and so Johnnies around the world are setting up to break this.  I’ve heard lots of players talk about casting Titan’s Strength or Become Immense on Zada and then pumping your team to significant effect, but I was going somewhere completely different.  I was going to aim for Feat of Resistance and essentially allow your team to get protection from…oh…everything…and crash in for the win.  But things at the Kitchen table can get better!  Ranger’s Guile protects ALL your stuff.  Rootborn Defenses fights off Board wipes.  Retraction Helix allows you to turn all your creatures into Unsummon spells! Really, the possibilities are endless and this is why so many people are excited about Zada.  There really isn’t much doubt, Zada is the real winner for the Casual Magic crowd.

Well, there we have our top ten cards for Casual Magic.  I’m sure there are a few spicy things that I left off the list, but I have to draw the line somewhere.  If you have something you think should be added to the list, send me a tweet and let me know.  I’d love to hear what has got other people excited!

Thanks for taking the time to stop in and have a visit and have yourself a great MTG day!

 

By Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters

@bgray8791 on Twitter

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