I had a great time at the Khans of Tarkir prerelease this last weekend. Prerelease tournaments have been the Magic: the Gathering tournament I most consistently attend.
I don’t always want to travel for Grand Prix and I’m rarely qualified for the Pro Tours. Weekly tournaments have always been a bit much for me but a casual binge weekend a couple times a year is a nice escape.
I think my first prerelease was Invasion in 2000, but I remember having a 1997 Tempest prerelase Dirtcowl Wurm in my old binder for some time. You could say I’ve been around.
I remember the Cascade Games prereleases had ludicrous prize support—a quick 4-0 could flip packs for a free-roll extra prerelease and some cash in the pocket. Winning was good.
Not that prereleases need to be super competitive… but winning means more packs of the new cards and losing feels bad. So today we’re talking about my Khans prerelease and how you can take down your next prerelease.
My Khans Prerelease – Sultai Sealed
I had a blast at the Nugames Arcata prerelease (3-1) and the Lost Coast Wizards/Crush prerelease (5-0).
Honestly, I would prefer to have gone 9-0, but 8-1 was a nice finish. I was happy that my strategy worked. I had a lot of edges from various decisions that are pretty easy to understand once you know about them.
So I picked Sultai both times hoping to get to play with Villainous Wealth.
I was disappointed in the rares and was told that Sultai was a relatively unpopular choice as a result. But I was not disappointed in the Sultai clan itself.
In particular I was very pleased with Abomination of Gudul. This gold common seemed miles better than the other clan creatures.
In Sealed Deck this thing is a house. It’s a big flier, it filters through cards, and it has flexible costs at 3, 5, and 6 mana.
I felt like I could win any long game because of these. That’s normally the feeling you get from a rare, not from a common, but here it was.
Now, before we get to the deck list itself, let’s talk about a few of the principles that went into it.
Starting Point: Build Around the Cheap Creatures
Opening a bunch of new cards is extremely confusing. Especially if they’re all gold and it’s hard to sort them into colors. Where am I supposed to start?
Normally you would pull out the rares but in this set the rares are all gold and all over the place. So you would pull out the fixing and see what you can splash. But this doesn’t build you a deck. This finds your few best cards.
Instead, the actual starting point I used was 1- and 2-mana creatures. I did not color sort my pool. I took a look at which 2 colors offered the deepest options and cut everything else.
There were a couple factors that went into this. First, I know that the early game will be important, especially if my plan is to draw first. I need to build on a curve with 2-drops so I can be ready to take the lead or stabilize against a rush.
By picking 2 colors only we can start by building a 2-color mana base. That will give us a consistent early game.
I also chose to build around the cheap drops because I knew that I would have a ton of options at 3 mana. There would be tons of morphs and Banners and if we don’t plan ahead we’re going to get clogged on 3-drops.
Let’s take a look specifically at the 5-0 pool.
This was a Sultai pool, but there were a lot of early options in white, red, and black.
Finally, we come to black and green which gave me a deep combination of flexible early drops that would be useful in longer games.
While Chief of the Edge, Mardu Hateblade, and Jeskai Elder would be nice, I was determined to keep my base mana to 2 colors. Splitting between only 2 colors stacks the luck in our favor to not get screwed.
So this is our starting point: 6-8 early drop creatures. Next up, let’s check the mana base.
I was lucky to open an amazing mana base the second time around. A good mana base means not necessarily more consistent mana in this format but it means you can splash more rares and hard removal.
For this pool I was gifted with 3 uncommon tri-lands in Opulent Palace, Frontier Bivouac, and Sandsteppe Citadel.
I got 7 basic duals in 1 Dismal Backwater, 1 Tranquil Cove, 1 Jungle Hollow, 2 Rugged highlands, 2 Wind-Scarrred Crag.
I got 1 rare delve enabler in Polluted Delta.
With these 11 nonbasic lands I knew that I could splash not just a 4th color but a 5th color as well.
I was okay with giving up a little bit of time in the early game because these life gain lands would help keep me alive.
The only Banners in the pool were 2 Sultai Banner.
I went with 19 mana (17 lands 2 Banners) and 20 mana (17 lands and 3 Banners) in the other.
I prefer an extra banner to the 18th land because the 18th land is almost always a basic, whereas a banner is 3 colors and can be cycled. These cards were fantastic for me and my opponents but I was OK with only playing 2-3.
Splash the Hard Removal
While bombs are important I felt it would be more important to remove my opponent’s bombs. With my Abominations of Gudul I was confident in my ability to win a longer game so I wanted to make sure I could take control.
Most Sealed pools have a ton of removal and the question is what kind of removal to run. I wanted to only splash the HARD removal. The kind of removal that will actually clean up a bomb for sure.
I found plenty of conditional removal in my pool:
Black removal in Debilitating Injury that I would play because it was on color with my early drops.
But none of these would remove a terrifyingly large monster so they weren’t for me.
Three is plenty to kill bomb rares but it also means I would have to be very sparing with them. If I can only kill 3 creatures total ever I can’t waste a single spell. Random mid-game threats would have to live.
After all, you don’t need to remove every creature to win a game of Sealed—just the key ones.
Splash the Best Rares
There is a power level difference between commons and uncommons, and uncommons and rares. Most of the time rares are just better. They’re bigger for the same cost and they have crazy abilities. So usually it is a good idea to pay special attention to playing the rares.
For this pool my rares were:
Ghostfire Blade has got to be the best all-around Limited card in the set. It fits into any deck as a super pushed equipment that is easy on the mana in the early, mid, and late game.
Ashcloud Phoenix is an enticing option, but I felt the morph cost didn’t make up for the difficulty of achieving RR. I also didn’t want to be taking 2 damage to the face that often.
Finally we had our clan rare Rakshasa Vizier, who I decided to cut as well. While I was planning on playing some delve I wasn’t playing a delve deck. I didn’t want hard to cast 5-mana 4/4s in my deck that would occasionally grow massive. No thanks.
Fill in the Curve
At this point we have our early game, some late-game bombs, and mana, but we need to fill in the curve.
Morph cards are great not because of power so much as versatility—we can cast them on any kind of mana, and we can decide how much we want to pay for them.
Note that I chose to play each of these over our clan rare Rakshasa Vizier because they offer more flexibility.
Win the Long Game
With the deck almost complete I had doubts about ability to win the long game against some of the bomb-laden decks.
We only have the 3 hard removal spells and we might need to draw 2 in order to win some games.
I turned to Treasure Cruise. I was pleased to play not just one, but two of these.
This card really overperformed for me. I usually didn’t have a problem taking a turn to cast it and going up so many extra cards made it hard to lose.
Let’s take a look at the finished deck:
Overall I was very happy with this deck. Three tri-lands puts it in the top 10% for me already and there is nothing the deck is really missing. It has good mana, good early drops, good mid-game drops, finishers, and hard removal.
Draw First – Keep 7
Draw first in Sealed!
I was allowed to draw first every single game over 9 rounds which is pretty shocking. Getting extra cards is responsible for so many wins in Sealed Deck. Many games are decided when resolving mulligans and one player goes up 2-3 extra cards.
Very few games will end in a blitz and a properly constructed deck can hold the game until the extra card comes into play.
The consensus is that the die roll is about who is going to play first or second, but I feel it is really about who is going to draw first or second.
If you are one of those play-first people you might as well be announcing “draw second” because that’s what you’re doing.
Now that we know extra cards are good let’s talk about keeping seven.
I only mulliganed in one game over 9 rounds and I immediately lost and regretted it. But my opponents seemed to mulligan about a third of the time.
This is a pretty staggering difference that might come down to the mulligan decision-making or might come down to deckbuilding.
First, the mulligan decisions. In Sealed, we generally have time to work our way out of slow or awkward starts by drawing a card every turn. A quick 6 isn’t a guaranteed fix and might present an even worse hand.
But the true matter may be deckbuilding. A properly constructed deck is going to have a higher percentage of keepable hands. A weaker deck will produce more unkeepable hands.
It may come down to mana. After all, I imagine most of my opponents had early drops in 3 colors, while I only had early drops in 2 colors. I played 19-20 mana when I imagine most of my opponents played less. It’s possible the mulligans themselves weren’t wrong decisions, but rather the result of deckbuilding choices.
So basically, construct your deck properly so that you can keep 7 almost every time. And then start the game by drawing an extra card. This will win you tons of games in Sealed before they even start.
How the Games Went
I drew first every single game which meant I played second every single game. With 10 comes-into-play-tapped lands I was often playing on the back foot to start.
With all the life gain and quality early drops I was able to stabilize most boards and transition into a mid-game of morphs and Banner ramp.
Things pretty much went by that script as I won most games but there were a few interesting matches.
I had a game where I was pulling ahead in the air but could not find an answer to Zurgo Helmsmasher. I had to chump block over and over while squeaking out the last few points of damage. On the final turn my attack was altered by a Deflecting Palm and the game ended in a draw. We played a 4-game match.
The other most interesting match was my finals match against a crazy powerful Abzan deck. The deck had all the best uncommon outlast creatures and 2 copies of High Sentinels of Arashin.
After losing the first game I decided I had to bring in all 3 copies of Bring Low in exchange for 3 of my early drops. Over the next 2 games I was able to kill 4 copies of the High Sentinels to take home 5-0.
I went 9/9 in handshakes over the weekend. A flawless result.
My strategy is to be humble in victory, graceful in defeat. If my opponent is unhappy about losing I let them vent. If my opponent defeated me, I try to give them props.
I try not to ascribe value results to the match—a match can not be “good” or “bad,” as generally a match is only “good” to the winner and “bad” to the loser. Sure, there are some exceptionally interactive and long matchups but I try not to tell my opponents it was good when they lost.
Instead I congratulate my winning opponent with a handshake, and I thank a losing opponent for playing with a handshake. This is a recipe for success.
Winning Your Next Prerelease
If you made it this far, awesome. I hope you were entertained and feel more prepared to take down your next prerelease.
While every new set is different, the Pro principles have remained the same for years—play 18+ mana, draw first, build around 2 colors, and splash as allowed.
Thanks to everyone for the games and good luck next time around!