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Silvestri Says – Navigating the Dragon’s Maze Prerelease

1. Dragon’s Maze Speed and Toughness

This Sealed format looks to be sloooooow, thanks to all the [card]Pillarfield Ox[/card] stats and lack of aggressive creatures at common. I knew going in that aiming it at a tri-colored base would make it slower, but all the sample Sealed decks I’ve seen look like they goldfish on turn 7. Let’s go to the numbers and take a closer look.

Power Breakdown

1 Power: 10 (Most are misleading)
2 Power: 29
3 Power: 13
4 Power: 10
5 Power: 4
6+ Power: 5

Toughness Breakdown

1 Toughness: 14
2 Toughness: 16
3 Toughness: 8
4 Toughness: 19
5 Toughness: 10
6+ Toughness: 6


Whole lotta big butts and not a ton of power to work with, though notably a lot of the 1-power guys either bring friends to the party or can switch P/T at some point. Also, while there’s a decent range in the power of the commons, about half the X/4s are placed at common, which will make life really miserable for aggression. Thankfully, only 8 at common are 4 mana or less, so there isn’t a completely absurd number of [card]Pillarfield Ox[/card]en running around.

Adding to this issue is the increased chance of floundering around with mana early, and most of the strong aggressive creatures being uncommon, and I’d be shocked to see an aggressive format emerge at the PR. The guilds most likely are still going to be attached to Rakdos and Boros, however they’ll be hamstrung by being forced to fill out with slower Dragon’s Maze cards.

2. Remember this Format’s Unique Attributes

You’ll pick a guild and have a ‘secret ally.’ Here are the guilds you can be affiliated with:

You’re getting a random second guild, however you’ll be more likely to end up in certain shards than others. For example in Rakdos you’ll be more likely to get RBW as a potential shard. Golgari is BUG and Orzhov is BWG. You really want to aim for guilds that either can’t affiliate themselves with Dimir or ones that come in a strong shard.

So if you want better odds on certain Shards…
Bant: Simic
Naya: Selesnya (And you duck Dimir!)
Borzhov: Rakdos
Junk: Orzhov
etc.

One of the most important things that we’ve learned about the prerelease is that the two guild packs will be the same as they were in their original prerelease, minus the promo! So we now have information about what could potentially be in any given Sealed pool. We also now know the odds of a player having a given rare in their pool and in some cases the uncommon that gives it away.

So if you see someone play an [card]Orzhov Keyrune[/card], you know they have a [card]Merciless Eviction[/card] at their disposal. If your opponent is Boros and slams an [card]Ordruun Veteran[/card], prepare yourself for turn six [card]Aurelia the Warleader[/card]. How do I know this? Some dedicated individuals have put together a helpful Google spreadsheet mapping out nearly all the guild packs.

If you’re someone who wants every edge they can get at a prerelease or just wants to avoid losing to bombs, then the information in that sheet is golden. It also should tell you that it’s very possible for a handful of players to have the nuts with multiple guild bombs ([card]Boros Reckoner[/card] and [card]Mizzium Mortars[/card] in a very strong color combo? GLHF) before they even crack Dragon’s Maze.

Even if you don’t want to study all that, here’s a list of mythics your opponent can have—If you see something else such as a [card]Angel of Serenity[/card] or [card]Armada Wurm[/card], something fishy is going on.

RTR:

[card]Isperia, Supreme Judge[/card] [card]Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord[/card] [card]Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius[/card] [card]Rakdos, Lord of Riots[/card] [card]Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice[/card]

GTC:

[card]Aurelia, the Warleader[/card] [card]Borborygmos Enraged[/card] [card]Lazav, Dimir Mastermind[/card] [card]Obzedat, Ghost Council[/card] [card]Prime Speaker Zegana[/card]

If you see a [card]Slaughterhorn[/card] in the graveyard, guess what card you don’t have to worry about anymore? You cannot get more than a single copy of any RTR or GTC card in your Sealed pool and neither can anyone else. This also means that despite the guild packs, the amount of guild abilities will drop off significantly.

What does this mean for you? It means the players expecting a slow Orzhov deck grinding opponents to death or help from extort to finish a punishing Rakdos draw are in for a rude surprise. Decks will be nowhere near as souped-up as they were in the previous sets and in fact could be some of the weaker decks we see compared to normal RTR block Sealed.

Instead what you end up with is a whole lot of decks that want to eke out value and try to either grind each other out or make an unbeatable threat. So in that scenario evasion, evolve, populate, extort, and mill all get a bit better than they were previously. Basically any mechanic toward breaking stalemates and not committing to attacks all the time. What does this weaken? Unleash, detain, and battalion all take a hit if the aggressive decks have to slow down significantly.

Oh, and one other note for this section. It is nearly impossible to win with Maze’s End, so if you see anyone do it, odds are something shady is happening. Here’s a good write-up on it.

3. Cards that Stand Out

So, not a lot of excitement in the commons and in fact the single-colored cards largely all share basic types. All the Gatekeepers are playable, most of them have a solid flyer and some sort of removal or trick. There are very few straight unplayables à la [card]Predator’s Rapport[/card], and and the quality looks like it’ll mesh well for Draft.

Removal-wise we see a huge downgrade. The common removal isn’t just expensive, most of it is very conditional or outright bad:

[draft]Drown in Filth
Fatal Fumes
Hidden Strings
Lyev Decree
Morgue Burst
Mutant’s Prey
Punish the Enemy
Runner’s Bane[/draft]

Not a lot going on here, not even [card]Executioner’s Swing[/card] or [card]Death’s Approach[/card]-level stuff. Let’s take a look at uncommons and see if removal is just in a bad place:

Far // Away
[card]Blast of Genius[/card] Turn // Burn
Profit // Loss
[card]Putrefy[/card] [card]Warleader’s Helix[/card] [card]Warped Physique[/card]

All the uncommon removal ranges from good to very good you say? Well at least now I know that I should cherish any good removal I get my hands on. Speaking of uncommons—I’d list the best of them, but there’s a pretty big jump in power and playability.

You see this most in the split cards. Not only are almost all the split cards playable, but fuse makes them legitimate value cards. Throw in all the solid removal options, and top it off with many of the best threats in Dragon’s Maze. Uncommons are the place to be.

As far as rares and mythics go, none of them strike me as supremely unbalanced like [card]Pack Rat[/card] and [card]Mizzium Mortars[/card]. With that said, there’s plenty of strong plays to go around regardless of color. [card]Varolz, the Scar-Striped[/card] seems nearly unbeatable in a 18-19 creature deck with any kind of curve. [card]Advent of the Wurm[/card] will almost assuredly eat one creature and then stick around as a giant 5/5 for four mana. [card]Aetherling[/card] strikes me as an amazing finisher that’s near impossible to kill, but worse at defense than [card]Morphling[/card] Classic since flyers get past him.

4. General Tips

Don’t get hung up on trying to have an aggressive curve this time around. There’s plenty of good defensive creatures to go around and not a lot of ways to really grind value until the 5cc and above range.

A lot of the more potent Dragon’s Maze cards at common and rare actually start very high up. I’m looking at a lot of Battlecruiser Magic going on and a lot of [card]Hill Giant[/card]s and [card]Pillarfield Ox[/card]en holding down the fort until that happens. I have a feeling a lot of people are going to feel very outclassed by huge creatures coming out of the woodwork.

Cluestones will depend heavily on how strong your mana is and the speed of the format. Obelisks weren’t the greatest, and those could make 3 colors. Of course, being able to cycle them off in the late-game is something we haven’t had available, and with so few ways to draw cards they seem reasonable. My gut instinct is that I’ll be maxing out on Cluestones in most guild/Sealed pools, however you need to be wary of playing too many mana sources and flooding out.

Most of the combat tricks in DGM are horrific and aren’t worth worrying about. This is a huge change from Gatecrash and even RTR. You won’t be knocking down nearly as many walls, and combat is a lot safer and more straightforward for both parties involved. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure [card]Deputy of Acquittals[/card] and [card]Hussar Patrol[/card] are going to get people for the next 2 months. Flash creatures not only exist—in the Deputy’s case it can easily make sorcery-speed removal and bloodrush pumps pointless. It only gets more embarrassing if a creature such as a Gatekeeper gets bounced.

If you want to play [card]Goblin Test Pilot[/card], please have the appropriate dice ready and be aware that he can shoot himself.

That’s all I’ve got for the prerelease. Good luck to all those attending, and maybe I’ll even get to play in one. Though considering ChannelFireball had the biggest GTC prerelease around, I might be too busy!

Credits:
Thanks goes out to Brine for the spreadsheet, ersatz_cats for pointing out Maze’s End near-impossible win, jakebaker for a bunch of good guild information, and the many people who contributed to the spreadsheet/basic guild facts.

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