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.
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.
We very clearly had a few hits in amidst our piles, but we also had a few misses.
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 – 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 – 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.
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.
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.
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 – 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 – 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
Hi folks. We had a huge weekend at PAX. I watched a good deal of the coverage and am firmly convinced that at some point I will need to attend one of these events because it looked super cool. Did you see the GIANT Eldrazi sculpture erected in front of the exhibit hall?! Wow! That was amazing and looked super cool. The most impressive part was the detail on the sculpture…but I won’t go too far into that.
In addition to the World Championship and PAX, we got a massive amount of previews from the set that will be hitting the shelves this fall. That’s right, Battle for Zendikar is just about here and I’m excited. I’m really looking forward to getting a chance to play with all these giant Eldrazi monsters stomping around because it feels amazing to see so many massive creatures. And they all seem to pack some sort of nasty ability! Talk about spoiling us!
The last time we visited Zendikar, during Rise of the Eldrazi, I wasn’t playing and was totally oblivious to these creatures. I have since come to know many of them through things like watching and paying attention to deck lists, reading up on the lore of the plane, and generally paying attention to the happenings in the Magic community. However, I have seen these guys in isolation. I have watched Emrakul get cheated into play with a variety of tricks. I have seen Ulamog in a Modern Masters 2015 draft pack. I have heard about Kozilek and the destruction he can wreak on a board and the massive card advantage you can draw. But I have never seen these three beasts in their own element. I have never faced down the wrath of a horde of voracious Eldrazi and I can hardly wait to get my first real Eldrazi experience now that we are heading back to Zendikar.
While the prospect of facing down the Eldrazi is very appealing, there are a few other things that were spoiled that are bound to be of interest to people. Personally, the most important thing spoiled was the new cycle of dual lands. Initially I read that there were a lot of people who were disappointed that the Enemy Coloured Fetchlands weren’t going to be reprinted, but it seems unusual for WoTC to have all 10 Fetchlands in standard at the same time. So, Fetchlands were out but word got out that a new set of Dual Lands was being released and the speculation exploded. What was revealed Saturday night was a very interesting set of lands.
The lands are allied coloured dual lands. That’s a fair place to start and not the least bit unusual. I hope we see the remaining five enemy coloured lands in the second set, but for the time being we have 5 lands. They also have a drawback of coming into play tapped unless you control 2 basic lands. That is a very reasonable drawback, but I will come back to that. The most interesting feature is that they have 2 land types meaning you can fetch them with a Fetchland. That is exciting because the last time that non-basic lands had two land types was the Ravnica Shocklands, but once again we’ll come back to any comparison with the Shocklands. On the whole, this is pretty exciting cycle of lands and an interesting variant on dual lands in general.
The reaction has been mixed to say the least. The initial place that most people started with was that these lands are inferior versions of the Shocklands. Yes, they share the characteristic of having 2 basic land types on them, but the Shocklands can enter play untapped based on YOUR decision and aren’t conditional to you controling 2 basic lands. So, we can agree that the Shocklands are a notch better, but there is something to be said for NOT having your land hit you for 2 points of life (or 3 if used in conjunction with a Fetchland) that might make these more appealing. That extra 2 or 3 points of damage per land is a very real cost and now having the chance to avoid it is appealing and will give players in Modern reason to pause at least to consider their mana base before sleeving up their deck.
As far as Standard is concerned, these will be nice replacements for the Temples and could be seen in many ways as an upgrade because you can actually fetch them. As nice as the Temples were, you could never fetch them up and that was not optimal. The tradeoff of a Scry in favour of being able to fetch the land is very real, but something that many players will be prepared to make. The new Mulligan rules may prove to be a saving grace to many players because they might be able to get that first turn Scry that they have become accustomed to thanks to the Scry lands. We’ll need to keep an eye on that trend for sure once all the changes come into effect.
The other piece here is that the clause that allows you to have them come into play untapped is conditional and not a choice. This feels like a very balanced option and a way to mitigate the relative power that you can harness by having access to two colours of mana in the same card. In my mind this harkens back to the balancing act that WoTC was trying to get with the “Buddy” lands but with a new twist. In either case, players who are looking to play their lands untapped will find themselves putting more basic lands in their decks and limit the number of colours that they play, while decks that are prepared to pay the price of playing your land tapped may continue to run three or more and play these happily.
I think that these lands are being unfairly criticized by some members of the community. I think people are looking for a direct and obvious upgrade to the Shocklands that can migrate over to Modern. Looking at these, I don’t feel like that was ever the intent, but I will not be surprised to see some people opt to play some number of copies of these in their Modern decks. No, these lands have been designed to be played in Standard and they fit in nicely. Just as we lose the Temples we get a balanced, interesting, and fun land mechanic that will undoubtedly shake up the sequencing of your land. If they happen to move to Modern, all the better, but for the time being Standard is a good starting point.
The other major preview was for a new Planeswalker. In the upcoming set we will be seeing Gideon, Ally of Zendikar as the newest incarnation of our friend Gideon and he’s pretty sweet. I like that they have retained his ability to become a powerful creature that is difficult to kill, but his other two abilities are extremely relevant and a significant departure for Gideon. His 0 ability has him make a 2/2 Knight token, which is pretty significant. This is a new ability for Gideon, and making a 2/2 Knight is pretty awesome. However, the most interesting thing is the ultimate ability that allows you to IMMEDIATELY remove all the counters from him and for him to become an Anthem effect. In many aggressive decks Anthem effects are extremely powerful and I’m fairly certain that this will not change. The Zendikar Allies are going to love it. Plus, this version of Gideon looks to play quite well with the Kytheon/Gideon transform card from Magic Origins further adding to the appeal. There is no doubt that this card will be one to watch and might be a defining card once Battle for Zendikar arrives. I’m a big fan and can’t wait to see what happens with this new addition to the Planeswalker club.
One of the things that I am always on the look for are some hidden gems that you can use around the kitchen table to really spice up your casual games and to perhaps get a leg up on your friends. Sure, you could play all the hottest cards from the newest Standard legal set, but right now, as we approach rotation, you could find yourself some very budget friendly gems that could really add some appeal to your games.
Planeswalkers are a fun way to add a new dimension to your game and there are a couple out there that right now that are good value and can pack a pretty good punch. Jace, Architect of Thought and Kiora, the Crashing Wave represent strong cards that you can add to your decks and are extremely affordable right now. Both of these are hovering around $4 a card right here on Three Kings Loot and would be great value. Sure, these may not be the best cards ever printed, but they pack strong abilities, can win you a game if left unchecked, and can certainly be a big distraction if your opponents are intent on taking care of them. If you don’t believe me that they are good value, take a look at some other Planeswalkers that have recently been printed but rarely see eternal play. Tamiyo is about $19 a card. Domri and Ral Zarek are around $7. Garruk, Apex Predator weighs in at $8. Clearly, these two look to be a little on the inexpensive side right now and with Kiora rotating out shortly you could likely scoop her up quite cheaply.
A creature that has been supplanted by the mighty Siege Rhino has been the Reaper of the Wilds and at a mere $0.30 a card this solid 4/5 for 4 mana would be an addition to many a deck. Besides being a very sizeable body, Reaper packs 3 abilities! This one has clearly been forgotten about, but your kitchen table would be an ideal location for some revitalization.
After a brief foray into a Pro-Tour Chromanticore has largely vanished despite the fact that it is a super fun card that packs way too many abilities…and at less than $1.50 would be steal.
Herald of Torment has never really received much love, but I for one think that this little beauty is well worth the pick up. The casting cost is about right, the Bestow is very powerful, Black devotion LOVES this guy and he costs a mere $0.30. C’mon. If you rock Black around the kitchen table this guy needs to be one of your dudes.
We had been missing a genuine wrath effect for Black until we hit Khans block and got Crux of Fate and followed up with Languish in Magic Origins. However, for your Casual game, don’t forget Extinguish All Hope. In most environments this is good as any wrath you will ever need and while it does cost a little more Mana it’s also $0.25 meaning you could pick up some of these and still have pocket money left over to buy yourself a coffee . What’s even better, if you build your deck right to abuse this, this could become a beautiful one-sided wrath and really make your opponents curse you and your janky (but hilarious) 6 mana wrath spell.
That’s all for tonight folks, but thanks for stopping in. I’m super excited to see more of the Battle for Zendikar spoilers and glimpse the landscape of Magic for the upcoming autumn. Thanks, and have a great MTG day.