Carrie On – How to Outsmart Your Friends at the Prerelease

In Limited, knowledge is the most powerful tool at your disposal. I am often asked what to play at the prereleases—especially now, when you can artificially “pick” a color or a pair of colors to have your pool skewed toward. There is a conception that some colors are stronger than others. What rubbish. Sometimes it can take a while for the strength of a color to be felt, but the team at WotC generally do an awesome job at balancing sets for Limited (let’s ignore the stupidly overpowered blue of M14 shall we?). So, to the question: what should I play at the prerelease to win? Answer: learn the tricks of the set.

The single biggest advantage I can pin down in Limited is to know what tricks your opponent can pull. This allows you to avoid walking into the [card]Giant Growth[/card] when they have a single green mana available. It also allows you to represent tricks that you don’t necessarily have (though this only works against a clever opponent). Walking into a trick can completely turn a game around. Cards that create 2-for-1s can be particular devastating and can turn an otherwise certain victory into defeat. In Theros, [card]Coordinated Assault[/card] has been one of these cards. This card can easily turn trivial attacks or blocks into massacres, especially when heroic triggers get involved. If you can anticipate the trick you can plan for and minimise the damage it can cause to your game.

What do I mean by tricks?

Tricks are instant speed spells that in some way change the outcome of what you were expecting to happen. When stuff happens at sorcery speed, like a creature resolving, it won’t be interrupting something that was going on that moment. It allows you time to reassess. If you were planning to attack next turn, the new creature might be too big a blocker to permit a sensible attack. Or perhaps they killed the unblockable threat you were whittling away with, so now you need to find a new way to win while continuing to hold off their offence.

When someone plays an instant, it is often while you are carrying out your plan. It completely throws what you were doing into chaos. By knowing what someone can do you can minimize the potential impact or mitigate it all together. Hopefully you have become familiar with the tricks of Theros, as those pesky cards will still be wreaking havoc in the forthcoming months, but now there is a whole set of new ones to learn.

I’m going to leave off names, as the most important things to remember are the cost and the effect.

Creature Buffs/Debuffs

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The BB spell will often just be used as a removal spell but, much like [card]Lash of the Whip[/card] from Theros, it can also be used in conjunction with a blocker to take down a much bigger target. I’m unsure whether the -1/-1 effect will be playable but all the others are easily maindeckable. The other thing to note is most of these cards are at common, so you shouldn’t be surprised to see these effects coming from your opponent’s deck if they are in those colours.

Of these, I really like [card]Unravel the Aether[/card]. That is the 1G effect that shuffles an artifact or enchantment into its owners library. This effect does belong to this category. Theros block has a heavy enchantment theme with an increased number of Auras thanks to bestow creatures. [card]Unravel the Aether[/card] can be used to remove an Aura from an attacking creature, allowing you to block favorably and probably netting a sweet 2-for-1 for yourself. I look forward to playing this card and expect it to be maindeckable.

Surprise Blockers/Fewer Attackers/Fewer Blockers

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These are effects that either stop your assault or produce, in some way, an additional unexpected blocker. The effects that rule out your attackers can sometimes just delay the inevitable, but they can also remove blockers from the equation allowing your opponent to alpha strike. The additional blockers (be they new creatures or current ones getting to untap). There are slightly more rares in this category and in general you don’t need to anticipate these as often from your opponent when they are in those colors. But if you have a good attack into 2GGG just be aware of the possibility and have a plan to minimize bloodshed.

Note how the buffs and debuffs were predominantly G, whereas these trickier effects are mostly U. In this way you can anticipate what sort of shenanigans your opponent might pull without necessarily remembering the specifics.

Other Sneaky Effects

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These last 3 don’t fall into any clear group. I’m not even sure the second two should see play, but there will always be those that play them and I could well be wrong about their playability. The first one, however, is an important effect to not get caught out by. [card]Acolyte’s Reward[/card] can easily generate a 2-for-1. For this card to work your opponent needs to have some devotion to white, but even a devotion count of 1 could turn a trade into a suicide mission for your creature. Say I block your 3/3 with my 3/3. If I have devotion to white 1, then I can cast [card]Acolyte’s Reward[/card] targeting my creature. Now 1 of the 3 damage being done to my creature is prevented. Your creature dies while mine lives. Assuming the prevention happens I now get to place that 1 damage wherever I like, be it directly at you or I might get to pick off another one of your creatures. The larger my devotion to white the better value I get from this card. Of all the tricks I’ve covered today this one gives me a slightly evil grin when I think about using it in a game.

That covers the tricks from Born of the Gods that you want to be aware off during your prerelease events. I really like tricks in Magic. You get to unsettle your opponent with them. Even if it’s not too disruptive to a board state, say I just get to use one as a simple removal spell during blocking, it can still rattle your opponent’s mental focus as you just throw a wrench into their game plan. Disrupting someone’s focus can be a powerful way to win.

There are 4 other cards you should be aware of in Born of the Gods. One way you can lose in Limited is to give your opponent more value than they should get when you don’t need to. I’m talking here about sweepers: cards that affect multiple permanents. I’ve played Day of Judgement in Limited. While I also have creatures in my deck, I can time my use of the spell to be most devastating to my opponent. Maybe I’ll go behind or “miss” a land drop to bait them into over-extending onto the board then I just sweep it all away. If you know there are sweepers in a set then you can plan around them:

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Two of these cards are rares, so you shouldn’t see then too often, and the others are sideboard cards but it’s always best to be aware. If you are playing a flier-based deck against a green player, don’t play out another flier after board if your clock is sufficient if it has relatively lower toughness compared to your opponent’s devotion to green. You could just be making their [card]Skyreaping[/card] even better. If you are already winning with a couple of birds then why add more? Equally, if you are a weenie aggro deck winning against a black player, don’t commit more creatures with toughness 2 or less to the board, but feel confident adding a 3/3 to keep the pressure on.

[card]Drown in Sorrow[/card] is an interesting card. Unlike [card]Anger of the Gods[/card], I believe it will see much more Limited play. Anger of the Gods was terrible in Theros as there were only a handful of creatures it didn’t kill, and most of those were higher rarity. It cost double-red mana so you had to be in red to consider playing it. Most of the time it was going to kill more of your creatures than your opponents. Drown in Sorrow kills far fewer of black’s creatures (helped by only hitting 2-toughness creatures) and therefore is a less suicidal card choice. We shall see how it works out.

Anyway that wraps it up for this week. Sorry it wasn’t a Spoiler Spotlight but honestly most of the cards in this set were either already claimed or just not that exciting to me personally for Constructed. I sadly won’t be attending a prerelease this time around, as I’ll be in the middle of relocating. Feel free to tell me what was awesome @onionpixie and I’ll see you next week… assuming I can get the internet to work!

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