This is my usual prerelease article! Unfortunately for me, this time I will not get to play the prerelease, since the World Cup held up our product in customs, but hopefully this article will still be helpful to you.
This time around, much to my dismay, you still get to pick a color and get a seeded pack. The contents of the pack are unclear, but you will definitely get the pre-release rare from the color of your choice and a random rare from that color. According to different reports from people who have already opened them, the Souls are the only mythics you can open in those packs. This makes a color having a good concentration of rares particularly important to me, because I don’t want to “waste” my rare slot when there are certain colors that can almost guarantee me a good one.
It’s also important to note that this is all of the same set; therefore, specific synergies are stronger since you are more likely to get multiple copies of the same card than you were in the previous pre-releases. Here it’s key that you do not read this as “must build a Sliver deck”; I don’t think there is enough to support it as there are very few of them and in some cases they aren’t good enough on their own. If you happen to have a Sliver subtheme, sure, but don’t go around adding bad Slivers because you have some already.
The format as a whole seems to full of relatively small creatures; there are many 2/1s, 2/2s, 1/3s, 3/2s, but not that many 4/4s or even 2/4s. This means there will be a lot of trading going on, and having a big creature or two can be very important because they are quite hard to remove in combat. It also looks like most creatures start gaining any sort of significant stat at three mana, and some colors only have a couple cards that they can play before that point. Most blockers will have three toughness and most attackers will have two toughness, meaning that a 2/4 blocker would be ideal, but I don’t think there’s any. A 3/2 on offense is significantly better than a 2/2, though, since there are a lot of 2/3s and you want to be able to trade.
That said, let’s move on to the colors:
White seems to have a “swarm the board” theme, with Triplicate Spirits and Raise the Alarm as commons, and then other convoke cards and ways to pump them. Creatures in White seem to be rather small, concentrating at two power and toughness and almost capping at three, so your main strategy should be to play a lot of them and win by quantity rather than quality.
The pre-release rare, Resolute Archangel, is certainly quite powerful. Seven mana is a lot, but when you can gain over ten life by playing it, it really makes up for that and it’s exactly what you need from a seven drop – it will win you games that no other card will. The issue I have with it is that it doesn’t go very well with White’s main theme of just playing a lot of cheap creatures and pumping them; it isn’t a cheap creature, it doesn’t have Convoke, it doesn’t pump anything. In a control deck it is a very powerful card, but it’s somewhat underwhelming in an aggro deck, and I imagine most White decks are going to be aggressive. I don’t think I’ll ever cut this card from my deck (and it’s certainly going to be great if you choose White but don’t end up with the “regular” White deck), but there are decks I wouldn’t be thrilled to play this in, and opening a second one in your seeded booster is not actually great.
All of those are bombs and any of them will almost definitely be the best card in your deck. Soul of Theros is particularly powerful, since it has the best ability and is conveniently in the best color to abuse it; even if it dies, you still get an Overrun that gives your guys Lifelink! I know Spirit Bonds is good – it seems very hard to beat if you have the time to abuse it – but I don’t know how good. It’s still likely to be the best card in your deck, so I’m grouping it with the bombs, but it’s possible it’s only “very good”. I’m also surprised Avacyn isn’t a mythic, though I guess they had to use their other slot for Ajani.
Mass Calcify will range from bomb to decent, depending on your deck and what you are playing against. I suspect most White decks will be heavy white, which makes this better, but it also means that it’s going to be very bad against around a fifth of the opposition – which is honestly not that bad and just means it’ll be sided out once or twice throughout the tournament.
There are a couple of soldiers in the set, and obviously this gets better the more you have (and the more pump spells you have, so that this can attack into things), but it’s never going to be bad. Creatures are particularly small in this set, so a 2/2 first striker can actually get through on his own a lot of the time, but there is a significant amount of 2/3s blockers as well. Gryff is just a solid three drop that isn’t spectacular but gets the job done.
Unplayable: Return to the Ranks
It would take a VERY specific deck for me to play this card. Perhaps “unplayable” is a bit of a stretch, but I wanted to emphasize that this is much worse than this appears and you shouldn’t play it “even if you have five two-drops”. The issue is that it’s a late-game card, since you need multiple creatures in the graveyard, but if it’s the late game I don’t even want a bunch of 2/2s, so when is it good?
It seems White did very well for its rares; out of nine possible cards you can open, four are excellent, two are good, and only one will not make your deck.
White has the best Paragon, Paragon of New Dawns. The ability is actually quite bad – really, who cares about vigilance? – but the Anthem effect is more likely to be good in White than anywhere else. Of course, there will still be decks where it isn’t good – such as when you don’t have a Triplicate Spirits – but overall I’d assume it’s going to be great. If you can get multiples (say two of each), your deck will be very good. Geist of the Moors is also a pretty good card that will kill people very quickly.
The new “Kird Ape” is also very good, but those are basically gold cards (though this one does have passable body) and they are all extremely good, so I’m just going to say they cancel each other.
White also gets two removal spells, both in the uncommon slot – Constricting Sliver and Devouring Light. Devouring Light should be particularly good at the pre-release because it’s not that easy to see it coming, and playing a turn four Triplicate Spirits and using those three guys to convoke a Divine Verdict is a very powerful play. There is a removal spell at common – Pillar of Light – but I don’t think I actually want to maindeck it in this format, even if two fifths of the decks are guaranteed a target (because of the Red and White rares). If you see something like a Soul, however, by all means bring it in.
As for commons, you get a bunch of vanilla creatures, which is not necessarily a bad thing as long as you have some late game to complement them (such as one of the four bomb rares that you can open). Sanctified Charge is a pretty bad card but seems very important in this format. The new Stoneforge Mystic, Heliod’s Pilgrim, is usually a card I don’t want to play, but it becomes very good if you can find Stab Wound.
Overall White is looking pretty strong; it has the best set of rares by a long shot, a passable pre-release card, and, though its uncommons and commons aren’t particularly powerful in a vacuum, the fact that you get six packs of them (effectively seven or so, since one is going to have more White cards) makes me think that most White decks will be good. You do run the risk of not having enough “enablers” to make the deck work, in which case all your cards are a bit underpowered, but that shouldn’t happen most of the time and, if it does, just play a control deck with any other color.
Blue seems to be split between two decks – an aggressive one and a defensive one. It has cards like Wall of Frost, Dissipate, Divination, Jace’s Ingenuity and Coral Barrier, which form a controllish shell, and then has cards like Amphin Pathmage, Frost Lynx, Welkin Tern and Into the Void, which seem to be very good in aggro decks.
Those cards are so far apart in what they want to do that it’s conceivable that none of them is playable in a different deck, which means you will have to give up on roughly a third of the blue cards that you open most of the time, even if they are good. For this reason, I think Blue is better as a support color – if you pick Blue you will have a lot of blue cards, so you will waste a lot more cards. My recommendation is to not pick it and then just play whatever Blue cards supplement your strategy.
The pre-release rare, Mercurial Pretender, is embarrassingly bad. I’d go as far as say it’s the worst pre-release card we’ve ever had in the history of pre-releases, and I would most definitely not want to play it in my deck. Clone effects are good because they are answers to opposing bombs – your opponent plays a big guy, you play Clone and you also have a big guy. But this only copies your creatures! If I already have a big creature, I don’t need another one, and, if I don’t, this does nothing. Seriously, I’d strongly recommend not playing this even if you do choose blue.
Soul of Ravnica has the worst ability of all Souls by several orders of magnitude, but it has the best body. It’s overall bad in the Souls scale, but even a bad Soul is still a pretty good card – 6/6 flying for 6 is already very good even with no ability. Master of Predicaments is also a very good card on stats alone and has a very relevant ability, so it’s a no-brainer.
Aetherspouts costs a lot of mana, which makes it easy to play around, but, again, it’s the pre-release – a lot of people don’t even know this card exists! It will get worse as time goes on, but it can easily win you the game this weekend.
Polymorphist’s Jest seems very good, but it’s worse than Sudden Spoiling was, and Sudden Spoiling turned out to not be as good as it seemed at first glance (though still very good), which is making me wary of giving it the “very good” ranking. I’d always play it in any deck, however. Chasm Skulker is a bit on the slow end, but can take over the game if it goes really long. If it survives for a turn it becomes a passable creature, and if it survives two turns it’s already way better than any three casting-cost guy you could have, so perhaps it should also be a little bit better than “good”.
The first two cards are late-game cards; Jalira is very expensive but once mana is not an issue she can upgrade all your guys into better ones, and Stormtide Leviathan is very close to eight mana win the game against a lot of decks, which makes him considerably better than the other cards in this tier, but still not a great card. Chief Engineer is a 1/3 for 2, and if you want that, well, go ahead and play it. Mercurial Pretender, as I’ve mentioned, is as close to unplayable as it gets without being actually unplayable.
Blue did not do well with rares. It has two very good ones, three OK ones, and four that I would rather not play. In your seeded pack, there’s almost a fifty percent chance that you will end up not playing your rare, and that’s too much for me.
The Blue paragon has the best ability on a vacuum, but is not as good as the White one for pumping your creatures. Into the Void and Illusory Angel are premier uncommon cards for an aggro deck, whereas Wall of Frost and Jace’s Ingenuity should be good for control, but aren’t spectacular.
There are some pretty good cards here – Whelkin Tern, Divination, Research Assistant, Frost Lynx, Peel from Reality, Amphin Pathmage, Aeronaut Tinkerer, Nimbus of the Isles, those are all very decent, which forms a very deep pool of commons. Those cards are also not as “one-sided” as the uncommons – with perhaps the exception of Welkin Tern and Divination, they are still fine even if you don’t play them in the archetype they shine in. If there are good base blue decks, they will be made on the strength and depth of its commons.
Overall I’d say Blue is bad pick; it has above-average commons, but it has bad rares, bad pre-release card, and is not cohesive enough, with half the cards doing something completely different from the other half. I’d stay away from Blue this pre-release, because I didn’t sign up to a sealed event to play with commons, but you can still have a good Blue deck if you do choose it.
Black is like Blue in the sense that it has “two decks”, but the difference is that the same cards can be good in both archetypes. A card like Stab Wound can be a removal/kill condition or it can be the way to deal the last points of damage; a card like Xathrid Slyblade can be a great attacker or a great defender; a card like Ulcerate can kill a cheap attacker or a cheap blocker, and so on.
I think the Black pre-release rare, Indulgent Tormentor, is the best of the five. It’s not insane or anything, since they get to choose what they do, but rares this time around are much worse than they usually are, so it’s probably the winner in this competition. If it’s not the best rare, it’s certainly in the top two (along with the Red one), and I think both of them are significantly ahead of the others.
It’s more of an aggressive card, since it has aggressive stats and if you’re aggressive you can punish them for whichever choice they make (whereas if you’re control they can often take three damage with impunity, at least for a turn or two), which is not ideal since Black seems to be on the slow end of the spectrum, but it’s not that big of a deal.
Bomb: Soul of Innistrad
Soul of Innistrad has the worst of all the static abilities (really, Deathtouch on a 6/6?), and its ability is not great while its in play, but it’s still good. In the super late game, its activated ability from the graveyard is the most game-breaking (or second most), and having this card in your deck should guarantee that you win games that go very long, but as a card that is going to stay in play it’s the worst of the five.
The first two cards are both solid, with Sadist being better than Ob Nixilis. I’d never expect to use the “shuffle” ability, but it’s still a fine 6-drop. Indulgent Tormentor is a little bit better than “good”, and while I wouldn’t consider it a bomb – I mean, compare it to something like Avacyn – it’s still very likely going to be the best card in your deck.
This is very bad if you have a normal deck, but if I had a lot of Zombies I would consider it. There are five in the set – two uncommon and three common – but one of them is Black Cat, which I don’t want to play, and the other is Nightfire Giant, which I don’t want to discard. Still, this is playable in the right deck.
Well that was easy. In Garruk’s Wake is a passable sideboard card for that VERY specific matchup, I suppose, but, really, don’t play it, nine mana is way too much.
Black also did not do well regarding rares; it has (arguably) the best pre-release rare, but a full four of its eight rares are almost unplayable, and the ones that are playable just aren’t that game-breaking.
For Uncommons, there are a couple gems; Stab Wound and Ulcerate are both very good, Xathrid Slyblade, Necrogen Scudder and Gravedigger are also very solid. The Paragon is also quite good, since Deathtouch is one of the best abilities to give to your bad guys (hence why it costs three times as more as any other Paragon).
For Commons, black seems like it did OK. Rotfeaster Maggot seems like the best Thraben Purebloods in history, as its body is very big for the format and the life gain ability is relevant. Removing creatures is also potentially good, as every color has a Soul, Black has multiple Gravedigger effects and every Green deck is guaranteed to have a good target for you, because of the pre-release rare. Flesh to Dust and Covenant of Blood are good removal spells, and Accursed Spirit, Carrion Crow, Shadowcloak Vampire and Child of Night are solid creatures. Festergloom is probably the best sideboard card in the format, being capable of destroying many of White’s best cards that depend on having many creatures in play.
Overall Black seems like a balanced color that goes well with any style of deck and any other color, but that is not super powerful at doing anything. It has decent creatures, decent removal, and the best pre-release rare, but no other great rares that you can open. It’s also a bit on the slower side, letting you grind to the late game with Deathtouch guys and reanimation spells.
Red is, as always, an aggressive color, but I think it has a lot more depth to it than it did in some of the previous sets; it no longer has to go “all-in” on killing them quickly, as its creatures have high power and can trade with most defenders, so you don’t get brickwalled by a 2/3. There are also a lot of good removal spells in Red that should kill most creatures, since, again, creatures in this set are rather small.
The pre-release card, Siege Dragon, has the most raw power of them all but also costs seven. As far as seven drops go, it’s better than the White card, which would place it first or second in my list of rares this time around. Normally Red is not interested in seven-drops, but this red seems to be a bit “bigger” and “slower” than it used to be, so you will be playing a game of Magic in which you will eventually get to seven mana (as opposed to having lost already if you can’t kill them before you hit seven). It’s important to note that Generator Servant is a common, and it combos extremely well with this rare, since a turn five haste-attack from this Dragon is very likely to win the game, and with effectively seven Red packs it’s very easy to get one or two of them. When you are playing against Red, be careful of Generator Servants into five mana!
The second best Soul; Relevant body, relevant ability in play and in the graveyard. It’s not insane if they kill it, but it’s still very good. In some other formats, Hoarding Dragon would merely be a “good” card, but we don’t have uncommons like Serra Angel and Air Elemental anymore, and 4/4 is huge. The set also has plenty of artifacts, and the card is very good if you can get something out of it even when it dies.
Those cards are radically different but I feel like you’d always be happy to have them. Burning Anger is potentially game-winning, and if you are patient you will get at least a two for two. Goblin Kaboomist is at least a one for one, but is going to be better than that at least 50% of the time (in fact, it averages two mines per Goblin Kaboomist). Goblin Rabblemaster is effectively a 3/2 for 3 on attack, which is already OK, but it can take over a game if you have one or two removal spells, killing them before they’ve realized what has happened.
Kurkash is certainly not “bad” and you would play him, but he looks like a common, not a rare; he’s enough worse than the previous cards that I feel like he doesn’t deserve to be in the same category as them. Aggressive Mining is a fine card in the very late game, but it’s the kind of card I’d have to play with to see. If I open it in my pre-release and my deck remotely supports it, I am playing it because that’s what the pre-release is for, but it might just be bad.
Unplayable: Crucible of Fire.
No, it doesn’t matter how many dragons you have.
Overall Red seems to be average in rares, with some great ones and some OK ones, but only one truly bad one. It has either the second or second best promo and complements it with a common to make what is probably the best combo in the format.
Red’s uncommons are pretty good; it has what is arguably the best one in the set – Cone of Flame – and some of the ones you can’t go wrong with, like Heat Ray and Stoke the Flames. Its Paragon is a little like the White one in that its ability isn’t fantastic but the +1/+1 is, since Red is still a creature-based color.
Red also has what is likely to be the best common in Lightning Strike (which will kill most five drops in this format), as well as another clear winner in Inferno Fist. That brings it to five first-pickable removal spells at common and uncommon alone, on top of the slightly worse but still very playable Blastfire Bolt, which is probably a record.
On top of that, Red finally has good creatures! Krenko’s Enforcer is a solid creature that gets in for the last points of damage, and Goblin Roughrider, Generator Servant, Thundering Giant and Scrapyard Mongrel are all par for the course in casting cost, and some of them quite a bit bigger than the average creature in this format. More importantly, a lot of them have three power, which means they can get past most blockers. Generator Servant, again, makes your pre-release rare significantly better.
Overall Red seems to be very good; it has OK rares, good promo, lots of quality removal and very solid creatures at all points in the curve. There are some rares I would not like to open, but only one is truly awful, and I think the fact that the color as a whole seems to be so good makes me not worry too much about that.
Green has again embraced the role of having the “big creatures”, with most of the 4/4s or bigger in the format being in this color.
The prerelease rare is very puzzling. It’s powerful against some slow, grindy decks, but it’s sooo slow. If you are on defense, 7/2 is not the best blocker around, and then it takes a whole other turn to block again. If you are on the offense, it attacks on turn seven, trades with a bear, comes back on turn eight and attacks again on turn nine; it’s only going to be good if the game goes very long or if they don’t have small blockers. I would play with it, because I have no idea how good it is, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t a maindeck card.
The green Soul is worse than the two very good souls (Red and White) but still very good, since it’s an excellent blocker that gives you some gradual advantage. If it dies, the 3/3 is unlikely to do much for you, but it’s still a nice plus.
Hornet Queen is expensive but game-breaking; seven mana is a lot, but it gives you five deathtouch blockers, so it does a great job of stabilizing. If they don’t have attackers, you get six power worth of fliers, any of which trades for any blocker, which is a very good deal.
Genesis Hydra is a good but expensive card; I’d say that, in general, the earliest you want to cast this is a 4/4; at 2/2 you’re incredibly unlikely to hit, and at 3/3 I think you have to get pretty lucky. I’d rather wait to seven mana, and then I see it as roughly a seven mana 5/5 + 3/3, which is OK, but it has the added flexibility of being able to be cast by less if you’re in a rough spot, or by more if you’re flooded; in those games where you get to eight or nine mana, it’s going to be very powerful.
Yisan has a fine body and the ability could, eventually, take over the late game. Not spectacular but solid. Hornet’s Nest seems like a pain to play against; they can never attack with a one-power creature again, and if they attack with something like a 3/3 you can either cash it in for three deathtouch blockers (which is very good for 3 mana) or wait to hold off their more powerful attackers. It is bad against a deck with a lot of fliers, but, other than that and Black removal, there isn’t much they can do to play around it, they have to attack at some point (and it even “dodges” Red removal since it’s any damage, not just combat).
Those cards are very situational. Kalonian Twingrove is good if you are heavy Green, but I wouldn’t play it with less than nine forests (though if you can have two 4/4s it’s already great, so I think it’s better than the other cards in this tier). Chord is is good, but it requires a target to be great (such as a Soul), at which point I’d happily play it.
Life’s Legacy is just not great of a card, and one I’d rather not play
Green’s rares are OK; you have over fifty percent chance to open something that you’ll be happy to play, though only two are truly great.
Green’s uncommons seem all right; the Paragon is good, since you have guys worth giving trample to, and Ancient Silverback is gigantic and unkillable. Overwhelm is weird, since you want more guys to attack but then it costs a lot of mana (and it doesn’t give things trample), and Feral Incarnation is similarly weird because it stops you from trading, so you need guys that block and survive (i.e. if they have a 2/2 you need a 1/3, not a 2/2). Green’s uncommons also give it two blockers – the Deathtouch Sliver and Wall of Mulch – which fill a much-needed two drop hole in its curve.
Green has several commons which seem ahead of the curve to me. Netcaster Spider seems great, and Invasive Species is relatively bigger than other three mana guys. Charging Rhino blocks anything and will often be a two for one, and Living Totem seems insane to me, since it can make a 2/3 bigger than the entire format, and would be very good even if it didn’t have Convoke. Elvish Mystic is, again, a premier common that will let you skip from your worst turn (2) to your best (3). Hunt the Weak isn’t exciting, but it’s still a removal spell that leaves a bigger guy behind.
Siege Wurm used to be a great card back when Selesnya was a thing, but I think it’s worse this time around, because Green is more about big guys and less about a swarm.
Green overall seems pretty good to me, since it’s a format of small guys and its guys are just a little bit bigger. It lacks some early action, but creatures happen to be bigger on the toughness side of the spectrum, so you can recover from the early inaction relatively easily if you draw the right cards, and then if you draw Elvish Mystic you just beat everyone.
As for artifacts, they shouldn’t influence your color selection much, but keep in mind that they can help filling holes in your strategy – Bronze Sable is a fine two drop that blocks the Black and the Red intimidate guy, and Will-Forged Golem is bigger than most creatures in the format, so if you are lacking late game you can get it from there.
In the end, this is my color order:
5th – Blue
4th – Black
3rd – Green
2nd – White
1st – Red
I think Red is the clear winner. It has a great promo, and a lot of good commons and uncommons – both creatures and removal spells. If you want to win the prerelease, I think Red is significantly better than any other color.
After Red, I think the colors are very close and honestly any order could be right, so I would just choose based on what you feel more comfortable with. I chose White second because of the strength of its rares, where it arguably beats every other color combined. Then Green, because I think size is important in this format, and it has the best sized creatures. If Green had a “real” promo, it might have been better than White.
Black is the worst color, I think, but its promo is so much better than the blue one that I assume it’s worth it. Blue comes last because its promo is awful, its rares are bad, and its commons and uncommons, though quite good, are split between aggressive and controllish archetypes. I think you are more likely to play with Blue as a second color, since it can complement any strategy really well if you get the right cards, but I don’t want to risk being unable to play my chosen color as a main color and with Blue that’s definitely a possibility since many of its good cards aren’t playable in a specific archetype.
I hope you’ve enjoyed it, see you next week!