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! I’m back once again and this time I’m looking at something a little different. Usually I look at some casual cards or decks that you can use to help make your next night of kitchen table Magic more fun. However, today I’m going to look at some of the story behind the game. Most specifically, I am going to be looking at the story for the very next set we’ll be seeing in a few weeks. That’s right, we’ll be looking at the story for Battle for Zendikar.
I really enjoyed the stories chronicling the trials on Tarkir and the characters that we met. I have to admit, I got far more invested in the block and the cards as a result of being aware of the story behind the characters, and the same thing is starting to happen again with Battle for Zendikar. I have a far better idea of the characters, the setting, and the plight of Zendikar facing down the Eldrazi.
I won’t go into the stories posted on the WoTC website for Uncharted Realms in too much detail because that is something you can do on your own time. However, it is enough to say that the stories are very interesting, well written, and well worth the read. However, what I take from the stories is a growing understanding of the mindset of the main players in the set and why they do some of the things they do on their cards.
Perhaps the most intriguing personality that we meet through these stories is Gideon. He’s a focal point in the story and you can clearly see how conflicted he is. For starters, with an eye towards the Origins story we saw back in the summer, we can clearly see that Gideon feels beholden to others and seeks to protect them at all costs, perhaps as a response to the deaths of friends back on Theros. He obviously feels compelled to stay on Zendikar and protect the people and lead the battle against the Eldrazi regardless of how fruitless it seems at times. What I find most interesting is that he is clearly at odds with his own abilities as a leader. Gideon is doubtless the most powerful warrior in and amongst the collected group of refugees that we encounter and could flex his powers and seize control of the war effort, but is clearly deferring to the General of the Zendikari. He is even prepared to defer to the General’s second in command while the General is injured and bedridden. His own internal sense of order and respect for the chain of command prevents him from seizing the mantle of leadership. The fact that he would be willing to play “second fiddle” is a fascinating internal dilemma and a role I doubt many of us could play in our own lives . Other planeswalkers would be totally prepared to just seize the leadership, but it takes the General, on his deathbed, anointing Gideon as the new leader of the Zendikari before he truly accepts what seems fairly obvious to the reader. In my eyes this makes Gideon extremely interesting because he has a tragic flaw despite all his powers. He seems to be unable to do whatever it takes to win. Yes, he wants to win. He is extremely powerful. But, he is still constrained by the rules and norms that govern how people co-exist instead of seizing what it is he needs to achieve his ultimate victory. This makes him a quintessential “white” planeswalker, in every sense of the word, and one that you can sense is likely doomed to fail. Oh, poor tragic White planeswalkers. I hope they don’t kill him off the way Elspeth was!
Conversely, we meet an updated version of Drana in this new Zendikar story and immediately can see the difference between her and Gideon. Where Gideon is constrained by his code of honour and right and wrong, Drana has created a Brigade of Children and uses young children in the battle against the Eldrazi. The juxtaposition of Gideon and Drana is intriguing and one that can’t be ignored. However, as much as part of you wants to hate Drana for using the Children in the upcoming battle, you can’t help but admire her to some degree because she is so fiercely protective of her band of refugees and refuses to let them be abandoned and slaughtered. Clearly, she too has her own “code”, but it is somewhat more flexible in its interpretation than Gideon’s.
The second interesting thing with Drana is her experience with the Eldrazi sire. She tears open the sire and starts to feed on the heart of the beast and draws on the energy and life force of the creature. As part of this experience she encounters what can only be described as the “consciousness” of the Eldrazi and their ceaseless drive to consume and devour. The Eldrazi tries to corrupt her, but is unable to do so, but in the battle of wills between the two there are even initial signs that Drana is changing. Clearly the Eldrazi have the ability to corrupt people and physically change them, and change them very quickly! That is terrifying! However, Drana re-asserts her dominance over the exchange and draws upon the power of the Eldrazi to power her. This immense influx of power gives her the ability to rejuvenate her forces and lead the rout of the Eldrazi. This ties in directly to her new card where she grants other attacking creatures a +1/+1 counter if she deals combat damage to a player. That makes her new version an amazing flavour “win” on top of being an extremely powerful card. It is always very engaging when the abilities on the cards match the abilities of the characters in the stories.
The third thing that starts to appear is that Drana’s experience with the Eldrazi and the ancient consciousness of the Eldrazi creatures is that she becomes aware that there are other worlds apart from Zendikar. That spark, the realization that there are worlds out there that she could travel to and new powers to achieve, is clearly enticing to her and serves as a potential impetus to see her become a Planeswalker of her own in the next set or in a future period. Much like there were allusions to Narset becoming a planeswalker, it would appear as if Drana is being set up for a similar trajectory. That is very cool and I hope it comes to fruition becomes she seems like a very intriguing character. I just wonder if she would retain her truly “black” demeanor or if she would follow in the lines of Sorin and become a “black and white” planeswalker. Only time will tell on this matter. However, it is the “how” she ascends to become a planeswalker that is truly interesting. I can only guess that since she consumed the life force of the Eldrazi sire, a powerful and immense Eldrazi creature, and achieved unparalleled power that she will want to attempt to consume a larger and more powerful Eldrazi in her attempt to become a planeswalker. This means we could see Drana confront Ulamog or one of the other Titans in an effort to propel herself to the abilities of a planeswalker. Wouldn’t THAT be a story.
There are a few other really interesting things that I am noticing because they mesh together with the story so very well. For starters, the Ally mechanic of Rally feels like it is truly an effort to assemble the collected might of the Allies to defeat the Eldrazi. Together they are greater than the sum of their parts and Rally brings that all together in an interesting and relevant way.
While the mechanic for the Allies is interesting, I feel like the Ingest mechanic on many of the Eldrazi is a terrific flavour addition to the set. To me, Ingest is a terrific way of showing how ravenous the Eldrazi are. They are prepared to not only do damage to you, but are able to attack one of your other sources of power: your deck. Once your source of power has been consumed and all your cards have been exiled you are beaten AND they have used your own “life force” and knowledge against you. Nothing seems more insidious and pervasive as slowly having your deck stripped away from you as you are consumed. You start to run out of weapons and ways to defeat the Eldrazi as your spells are slowly removed and exiled, much like the refugees of Zendikar are running out of time and tools to be able to defeat the oncoming horde. No, Ingest seems to be a very playable mechanic, but is also one that captures the essence of the Eldrazi remarkably well and also mirrors the relative sense of panic that the increasingly cornered Zendikari must feel as they run out of safe havens.
I really feel like the flavour and story line for this particular set is tremendous. It seems like it is true to the original Zendikar block that makes established players reminisce about our previous visit to Zendikar. However, it provides enough new twists and turns that newer players won’t feel out of place or like they are missing part of the story. We have engaging and interesting characters and intriguing possibilities for them as we move forward. And we have relevant mechanics that really seem to represent the various factions of the story and attempt to have them play out in our cards in a way that makes them feel fun, but more importantly feel “right”.
I can’t wait for Battle for Zendikar to be released because the combination of a powerful story, powerful cards, and strong and flavourful mechanics that have so much appeal. I hope all of you are having amazing pre-releases and we lucky enough to pull an Expedition !!! We have less than a week until the big day and then…Bring on the Battle!
Thanks for taking the time to stop in and have a read. Until next time, have a great MTG day.
By Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters
@bgray8791 on Twitter