The Shadows Over Innistrad Prerelease is behind us and we are just a few days away from the official release date of the new set. I hope you all had a chance to participate in a Prerelease event or two because Shadows Over Innistrad (SOI) is amazing. Perhaps my early impressions are overly favourable because I loathed Battle for Zendikar (BFZ) so much, but I feel my instincts for this set are on the mark: Shadows Over Innistrad is going to be tremendous fun.
One of the more fascinating aspects of this set are the sheer number of moving parts – from the mechanical elements of the game down to the story and presentation – working in unison in a truly meaningful way. If I may take a moment to contrast Shadows Over Innistrad with Battle for Zendikar, the story of BFZ was that of the Zendikari fighting alongside the unbelievably poorly named “Gatewatch” superteam of Planeswalkers to vanquish the terrorizing Eldrazi menace rampaging across Zendikar. While BFZ’s premise may have been presented as everyone working together to defeat a common foe, in reality, the entire block felt disjointed and divided into three separate entities each trying to do their own contradicting thing. The Eldrazi mechanics mostly worked parasitically meaning they didn’t really work well with anything else in the set… which is fine. The Eldrazi should feel different and alien. The Zendikari, however, were all over the place. Some were Allies which worked with everything… including the Eldrazi, which doesn’t make any sense at all. Others were… just there? They didn’t really do anything, nor were they Allies, so I guess they didn’t mind the Eldrazi being there? I have no idea. Maybe non-Ally Zendikari simply hate Zendikar. They weren’t overly synergistic with the Eldrazi either, so I’m not really sure why they were there in the first place. Finally, we had The Gatewatch, functioning in their own space to the side by their very nature of being Planeswalkers. For a story and set about teamwork and working together, nothing meshed well nor made any sense.
I’m speaking in broad, generalized terms, of course, but I’m sure you get the idea.
Shadows Over Innistrad is pretty much the exact opposite. There are both obvious and covert synergies between many of the cards and mechanics in a set with a mythology in place that brings rhyme and reason to the improbabilities of certain cards or tribes working together. The madness currently overwhelming the plane of Innistrad gives us a credible reason for why humans would be working side by side with vampires or werewolves or zombies. In fact, in a large majority of the art, the humans are scarier than the actual monsters! Have you seen the art for Rabid Bite?
That human is BITING A WEREWOLF. This is amazing.
As if that weren’t enough, SOI just feels more powerful and more exciting than anything found in BFZ. There were a number of times I would be looking through my sideboard during the Prerelease thinking to myself: “I should be running this card… and I should be running this card too.” The reason for that is a lot of the cards feel like they could be role players in multiple strategies.
Take Vessel of Ephemera, for instance. It can provide attackers, blockers or sacrificial fodder, it can fuel Delirium, it works with cards that care about Spirits, at worst it can be pitched for Madness costs… the list goes on. That’s just one common. Imagine an entire set that has that level of synergy. The major problem of SOI isn’t a lack of options, its problem is having too many!
Since we’re on the subject of powerful cards, let’s talk about a few I was very impressed with because they turned out to be far more powerful than I had initially anticipated and a few that turned out to be a little less so.
I was lucky enough to pull these two cards in my first Prerelease pool and yes, I was able to live the dream once: I flashed in Avacyn at the end of my opponent’s turn to save one of my creatures. During my next main phase, I sacrificed five creatures, transforming Westvale Abbey into Ormendahl, Profane Prince which in turn transformed Archangel Avacyn into Avacyn, the Purifier. It was pretty glorious.
Archangel Avacyn is everything you would expect her to be. She’s a fantastic card when you’re ahead, when you’re at parity and when you’re behind. That being said, she’s not as clear cut a card to play as you would believe her to be. I played against another player with his own Avacyn and I felt there were times he would run her out too soon. She’s strong, but she isn’t unbeatable and well placed removal will send her to the yard. More often then not, I liked holding her back in my hand: If I was already ahead, I didn’t need to use her frivolously and get her killed. If I was behind, she was my insurance to get me back to parity. Knowing she was in my hand ready to fly in at instant speed certainly gave me confidence when making combat decisions. Archangel Avacyn strongly reminded me of the Queen piece in chess: A lot of power that is often best held back until it’s time to strike.
On the other hand, Westvale Abbey is an incredibly difficult card to use in Limited. Simply having it on the board – even if I wasn’t anywhere near activating it – definitely made my opponents play more aggressively and use their removal more liberally.
Activating Westvale Abbey in Sealed was very hard to do. I can see him being much more powerful in Draft or Constructed formats where you have more control over deck building and can take advantage of sacrificing creatures or building up your board with tokens. In Sealed, getting 5 creatures on the board isn’t easy. Using five mana just to get a 1/1 token was a tough pill to swallow. Sacrificing my board and hoping my opponent didn’t have a way to interact with Ormendahl was agonizing. I realized early on that transforming him against anyone running Blue was usually the wrong thing to do: Just the Wind was everywhere. Sending my entire board to the graveyard only to have Ormendahl return to my hand didn’t seem like the wisest of actions. If you could build a Draft or Constructed deck that could take advantage of powerful leave the battlefield effects when your creatures died or had a means of generating a large number of tokens you wouldn’t mind sacrificing, I could see how Westvale Abbey could be an absolutely crushing card. In my case, however, it was more often a land than it was a game-ender.
Where did this card come from? Who okayed this card? Because this card is insane.
Auras are usually frowned upon by the majority of Magic players because they often lead to potential 2-for-1s, i.e. enchanting your creature with an Aura followed by your opponent casting a removal spell targeting your enchanted creature. Your opponent only used one card (their removal spell) to get rid of two of yours (your creature and the aura). Gryff’s Boon completely disregards this weakness because it keeps coming back whenever you want it to. What makes it even more insane is that it doesn’t return to your hand like you would expect it to, it goes right onto the battlefield attached to whichever creature you’d like to turn into an immediate threat. Anything and everything in your deck has the potential to be stronger and fly. Short of exiling the enchantment, you’re never going to get rid of this thing. I had two players simply crush me with this card because I had very few ways to interact with it. Let me tell you, turning Inspiring Captains into 4/3 fliers can be backbreaking.
When this card was first spoiled, I though it was okay. I wasn’t certain how detrimental giving your opponent cards would be. My strategy, if it were to be played against me, was to either A) outrace my opponent with damage or B) get my hand size down using discard outlets if I needed to. Turns out, I was correct in my assumption that it wasn’t as good against aggro/Madness decks, but I was wrong about it being easy to get my hand-size down to a manageable number if I needed too. If your deck lacks methods to discard cards and you’re running a control deck, you’re essentially racing against inevitability. You’re being punished for doing what a control deck loves to do – draw cards. In retrospect, I feel I should have somehow sided into a more aggressive deck with a lower curve to beat this card; playing my control deck against it was an exercise in futility.
I still don’t think this card is amazing, but I’m definitely giving it a bit more credit then I initially gave it.
My first impressions of Shadows Over Innistrad have been overwhelmingly positive and I can’t wait until Friday when we’ll finally get a chance to draft it for the first time. I’m very excited to see if SOI Draft is as rich and nuanced as it appears to be from its Sealed environment. If you’re in the Montreal area, Three Kings Loot will be hosting SOI drafts all day on Friday starting at noon, followed by a 6:30 Sealed event. If you’re interested in playing with the new set all day, you should absolutely swing by and check it out. As always, if you liked this article or have any questions, feel free to leave a comment in the Comments section below!
JP Vazquez – Optimum Jank
Culminating one of the best spoiler seasons in recent memory, Wizards has finally unveiled the complete set for Shadows Over Innistrad (SOI), which can be found here. The set looks absolutely phenomenal. Powerful cards at all rarity levels and flavour that’s off the charts. I have a feeling this will be one of the most bought, most talked about sets since the original Innistrad.
As always, with the arrival of a new set comes a new season of events, starting with this weekend’s Shadows Over Innistrad Prerelease! What is a Prerelease? It’s an event that allows players to jump into the new set one weekend before its official launch date. You’ll be able to purchase, play with and take home cards from SOI before anyone who hasn’t attended a Prerelease event. For that one glorious week, you get to be the object of envy and ire of all your Magic-playing friends who didn’t go to a Prerelease as you brazenly brandish your sweet new loot in their faces. MOO HOO HA HA!
Ahem… I mean… provided that gloating’s your thing, of course.
Before you can let that power get to your head, though, you’ll have to attend a Shadows Over Innistrad Prerelease event at your friendly Local Game Store (LGS)! You can sign up for a Prerelease event in-store or even online (provided your store has a website which allows you to do so). Smaller stores may have a limited number of spaces available, so you’ll want to sign up as early as possible if you want to take part in an event.
Prereleases are fun, exciting, and much more casual than almost any other Magic tournaments. There will predictably be some more competitive players that will have laboured over the card gallery prior to arriving hoping for that competitive edge, but those players will fortunately be in the minority. Most players at a Prerelease will be reading the cards for the first time at the event and discovering the set the same way you are: By playing at the Shadows over Innistrad Prerelease.
Everyone will be reading everyone else’s cards, everyone will inevitably be making mistakes, and everyone will be helping each other out as they navigate this return to Innistrad. If you’ve ever wrestled with the desire to dive into a more competitive environment but were unsure of when or how to start, I cannot recommend Prereleases any more than I already am. You should absolutely attend one.
Fellow Bag of Loot contributor Kyle A Massa wrote an article on Monday with some useful Prerelease advice to keep in mind should you decide to attend one. I would highly recommend checking out his article before continuing here.
In addition to Kyle’s tips, here are a few things I have found to work for me. These tricks have aided me for most Limited events: From Prereleases to FNM Drafts to Grand Prix. Keep in mind, you don’t have to do any of these, but I’ve certainly found that doing a few – if not all – of them make events much more enjoyable and much less stressful.
I’ve gotten into the habit of bringing my own Basic lands to Limited events which are already sleeved and ready to go. Bringing your own Basics allows you to forgo joining the mad rush at the land station which often resembles a travelling tour group at an All You Can Eat buffet.
Almost every LGS will have a land station with Basic lands ready for players but believe it or not, I’ve been to a few that didn’t. I’ve also been to LGSs that ran out of a certain land type. One of the reasons stores will run out of Basic lands is that people often forget to return them at the end of an event. Those stores have to refill the land station and sometimes they simply run out of Basics (unless players donate lands to them). Not only does bringing your own Basics help your LGS, not needing to return your Basics at the end of the event is one less thing you’ll have to remember to do before leaving.
Having your Basics pre-sleeved also cuts down on sleeving time and allows you more time to read your new cards during deck building. I often see newer players frantically sleeving their decks during the first five minutes of round one because they took the entire allotment of time during deck-building to read all their cards, build their deck, and figure out their mana base. With your Basics pre-sleeved, you only need to sleeve 22-23 cards instead of 40 and it makes an enormous difference.
Having your own Basics can be a form of personal expression as well. I know a number of players love their full art Basic lands. You can sleeve those and play with them at the Prerelease! Personally, I’ve been using foil Basics as my go-to Limited Basics. Inevitably, I’ll end up playing someone who asks: “Are your Basics foil?” Why, yes, yes they are. Thank you for noticing.
As a rule of thumb, I carry 12 of each Basic which means 60 in total. I keep them in their own dedicated deckbox. While there have been times when I’ve needed more than 12 of one particular type of Basic land, those times have been few and far between.
I’ve been to Prerelease events with anywhere between 4 to 6 rounds plus the time it takes for deck building, (which is usually anywhere between 30-45 minutes). Roughly speaking, you’re looking at a 4-5 hour event. Some stores will hold up to six Prerelease events over the weekend. I’ve done six event marathon weekends before: They’re very tough… Especially if you forget to eat.
Some LGSs have in-store eateries you can purchase food from. Most don’t, so be sure to bring snacks with you or, at the very least, make sure you know where you can purchase food nearby. It is very easy to forget to eat when you’ve been concentrating on Magic for a few hours and getting lost in friendly discussions of new cards. Making sure you’re well fed is not only healthier, but will keep you fresh which will allow you to play better. Keep this in mind if you’re thinking of doing multiple Prerelease events, especially if those events are on the same day.
I would also highly recommend bringing water with you to keep yourself hydrated. Make sure your water bottle is distinctive enough to be easily identifiable in case you misplace it at the event. A good water bottle should be easy to carry and must be resealable. The last thing you want is to accidentally pour water all over your brand new cards or worse, the cards of those sitting around you.
Attending multiple prerelease events is a blast until they end and the adrenaline that’s been pushing you through the day comes crashing down. You will have been challenging yourself with complex lines of play and multiple convoluted calculations over numerous lengthy matches. When all is said and done, you will be exhausted.
With this in mind, try to make sure you’re well-rested before attending events. If you want to challenge yourself by participating in multiple events, that’s fine, but understand what you’re getting yourself into. You’re looking at somewhere between 8 to 10 hours of Magic per day.
Remember that you don’t have to do all the events. Nor do you have to finish all the events. After two losses, your chances to win prizes decreases tremendously, so if you’re tired and need to drop to get some rest, no one will fault you for it. I’ve seen players push themselves too hard to marathon through events and those players end up getting sick. Even worse, they’re miserable through the Prerelease, which is the exact opposite outcome you’re hoping for when attending.
Know yourself and your limits. If you’re getting to a point where you’re not having fun, don’t be afraid to turn it in for the day.
Those first few days playing with a new set is incredible and getting the chance to do so with a bunch of like-minded players is exhilarating. If you happen to be in the Montreal area, this is your friendly reminder that Three Kings Loot will be hosting their own Shadows over Innistrad Prerelease events this weekend! If you’re interested in attending one (or more!), you can preregister at the store or online here. As always, if you liked this article or have any questions, feel free to leave a comment in the Comments section below! I wish you all a wonderful Prerelease!
JP Vazquez – Optimum Jank