- SCARS OF MIRRODIN PRE-RELEASE PRIMER - by Richard Coates (Views: 543)Wednesday 22nd September 2010
An Introduction to Sealed Deck
Seven years ago, almost to the day, I sat down at my first prerelease, aged 12, unsure what to expect from Mirrodin. To my delight, I had the best time at the pre-release, beating some of the better players in my area, and finally getting to play with One Dozen Eyes, which I was confident was going to be a tournament staple. Sadly, One Dozen Eyes did not turn out to be the format crusher I hoped, but Mirrodin was an excellent set, and the prerelease was the best way for me to find that out. If you’ve never been to a prerelease before, you are certainly missing out, and the best prereleases are the September ones, when the big set is fresh and new to everyone. You’re in luck too, because if Scars of Mirrodin is anything like its older brother, it’ll be a blast to play. You’ll also get a special commemorative card in the form of a foil Wurmcoil Engine, as if you needed more encouragement, and while you can’t use this foil in your deck, it’s always nice to have in your collection, and could turn out to be great trade fodder! If you’re lucky enough to open one in your packs, even better, as that one can be played (and I recommend that you do, a 6/6 with Lifelink and Deathtouch is going to win a lot of games).
After signing up, you’ll receive your brand-new cards in the form of six Scars of Mirrodin boosters, and this is where the fun really begins. Your aim now is to build a deck of at least 40 cards with the cards that you open, along with as many basic lands as you desire. The cards that you open but don’t use in your main deck count as part of the sideboard, which we’ll cover later. Sealed deck is Magic at its most basic – the playing field is level but diverse, and there are lots of small ways to gain edges. The first way to gain an edge is in the deckbuilding. To start, I always like to give every card a quick glance, so that I know what it does, and then sort the cards by colour. The next thing to do is often the hardest, which is sorting the best and worst cards into their own piles within each colour. Since the set is new, you’ll have to use some judgement for this bit. Needless to say, this is far too subtle an art for me to be able to give you a breakdown of exactly how to do this, but I can give you a number of pointers.
The Hows and Whys of card evaluation
Your best cards are removal (cards which deal with opponents’ creatures) and ‘bombs’, which are big splashy cards, often rare, that will win you the game, like dragons or the Wurmcoil Engine I mentioned above. This is because sealed deck is all about creatures – no one is able to build clever combo decks, because their card pool will be too diverse, so people have to win through attacking. If you can stop your opponent doing that by destroying their creatures, and having better creatures yourself, you’ll probably win.
Other things to look out for are cards that will give you ‘card advantage’ over your opponent. Skinrender, for example, will deal with one of your opponent’s creatures, and give you a creature of your own, for the cost of only one card, so it’s like two cards in one, and therefore very powerful. Evasion abilities, like flying or intimidate are also powerful, as it means that your creatures can break through a stalemate with your opponent, which can happen a lot when people are playing a lot of creatures. Don’t play a bad creature just because it has evasion (like Chimney Imp, from the original Mirrodin), but do remember that evasion is really powerful.
Worse cards come in many shapes and sizes, but generally things that have little effect on the battlefield (like Demon’s Horn), have high mana costs for small effects (like Beast Hunt) or leave yourself open to your opponent being able to deal with two of your cards for just one of his (like Holy Strength) will probably not make your deck. If you’re unsure about a card, try it out – that’s what the prerelease is for! The cards that are neither your best nor your worst we’ll call ‘playable’, since you’re happy to have them in your deck, but they don’t actively make you want to play that colour.
Once you’ve done that for each colour, look at which colour has the most ‘good’ cards and work out whether it is good enough to support a whole deck. The colour with the most high-quality cards will probably form the basis of your deck, as long as the rest of the cards in that colour aren’t totally terrible. However, you might find that Red, for example, has a huge dragon and a tasty burn spell, but nothing else playable, and so using Red as your base colour would not be advisable. You need a colour to have 9 or 10 playable cards for it to be one of your main colours, but if you only have one or two good cards in a colour (like an angel, or a good removal spell), keep it in mind, as you may be able to play a little bit of another colour (called a splash) with your other main colours.
You really want to keep your colour requirements reasonable, as you need to be able to cast your spells to win, but that shouldn’t come at the expense of the power of your deck. Very few sealed pools allow for straight 2-colour decks, although with the amount of artifacts in Scars of Mirrodin, that might be more normal in this format. Playing more than three is a recipe for disaster, though, and I would strongly discourage it. Playing slightly weaker cards (like a Runeclaw Bear instead of an Ajani’s Pridemate) in order to play fewer colours is almost always the right option.
If it’s a choice between an Armored Cancrix and a Mitotic Slime, on the other hand, ‘splashing’ for just the Slime in Green by playing one or two Forests might be the better option, as it’s much more powerful, and only needs a single green mana to cast. Splashing is best done with cards that are good in the late game, since by the time you draw your land of that colour (like your one Forest), you really want the splashed card to have an impact. Trying to splash something like an Ezuri’s Brigade is probably a bad idea, though, as it needs two green mana to play, which means that it will often be stranded in your hand. Trying to splash Kuldotha Phoenix is just silly because you will basically never be able to cast it if you draw it, and you’d be better off making sure that you don’t have a Mountain when you’d rather it was a second Swamp for your Skinrender.
The Creature Feature
While building your deck, it’s important to check that you’re playing a reasonable number of creatures (usually 15 is about right). I’ve built decks that look amazing in terms of card quality at first glance, but fall down quickly because they don’t have enough creatures. This is especially true if you’re playing combat ‘tricks’ like Giant Growth, which are useless without a solid number of creatures. It’s also important to check those all-important numbers – the power and toughness. A 2/2 for 4-mana is rarely good enough without a powerful ability, but a 3/3 for 4-mana is good in most sealed decks, and you should also consider how good a creature is going to be if you draw it late in the game. While a Norwood Ranger seems great on turn 1, it will do little to help you if you draw it on turn 20. On the other hand, a Carapace Forger will probably be good whenever you draw it, as long as you have a decent number of artifacts.
Lands and ‘Curve’
The next thing to do is cut your non-land cards down to 22 or 23 cards, to make room for land. You’ll generally need to play around 17 or 18 lands in your deck in order to get the right mix of land and spells. With this in mind, you should also try and have a spread of casting costs. Having lots of expensive wurms and dragons in your hand isn’t going to help you against a swarm of goblins and vampires on the battlefield, so try and balance your casting costs accordingly. Having this distribution of mana costs is what is known as having a good ‘mana curve’. A good way to do this is to lay all of the cards in your potential deck out by casting cost, to make sure that your deck isn’t too ‘top-heavy’.
Now it’s time to add your lands, and this too takes some practice. If you’re playing just two main colours, something close to an even split is probably going to be correct, but with more complicated decks, a more subtle approach might be needed. A good way to do this is to count up all of the coloured mana ‘pips’ on your cards (so Runeclaw Bear gets 1, but Garruk’s Companion gets 2), divide by two, and add that many lands, making up the rest of the numbers in a similar ratio. If you’re playing a splash, remember to account for that, as well as things that require activations (such as on creatures like Kalitas, Bloodchief of Ghet, which needs BB to play, but BBB to activate). You should also take it into account whether any of your creatures (like the cycle of Myrs in Scars of Mirrodin) can produce colours of mana, as this will often mean that you need less of that particular land.
You should be ready to battle now, with your 40-card deck and the rest of your new cards forming your sideboard. The pairings will be released and you begin battling. One of the best things about a prerelease is that you can change your deck in between rounds, which you can’t do at any other type of tournament, so try asking other players for help if you need it. Did you misread a card? Have you seen someone else do something cool with a card you’d cut? No problem, just switch it into the deck after your game and try it out. Make sure you stick to 40 cards though, as you don’t want to lower the chances of you drawing your best cards! While you should be looking at how to improve your deck overall, pay special attention to anything you might be able to sideboard in against each specific opponent – do you have a card that is particularly good against the colours they’re playing (such as Combust or Celestial Purge)? Are they playing lots of artifacts, so you need more artifact removal? Are they planning to win with one big spell, like a Planeswalker, so you need an answer to that, like Stoic Rebuttal? Any of these things could tip the balance of the game in your favour if you sideboard correctly, so pay attention!
If I were to condense all of this advice into some golden rules, they would be these:
1. Play 40 cards, no more, or you weaken your chances of drawing your best creatures and spells. 2. Play 17 or 18 land, to make sure you hit all of your land drops and can cast your new cards. 3. Don’t play more than 2 colours (3 at an absolute limit). 4. Play a good creature over a good spell – creatures win games 5. Try and keep a good mana curve, with most of your creatures at 2, 3 and 4 casting costs.
…and if you need an easy way to remember which of cards are going to be the most powerful, here is an age-old acronym for power level, highest power to lowest:
B is for bombs – big powerful creatures and spells R is for removal – cards that destroy your opponent’s creatures E is for evasion – cards that fly or are unblockable A is for advantage – cards that provide you with the effect of more than one card, like Skinrender D is for dudes – solid creatures that will allow you to beat down
Good luck at the prerelease – if you come to play at the one in Leeds on Sunday, come over and say hi!
Richard Coates ‘It’s good to have land.’
- Stephen - September 23, 2010, 01:46Good article! Thorough, simple, and has some good examples for each thing.