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Tolarian Academy – Zombie Jamboree

Hey folks! Welcome to yet another edition of Tolarian Academy, where the days are long and the nights are filled with horrible, horrible monsters. Wait, no, that’s Innistrad, and we at ChannelFireball are getting geared up for the prerelease! If you’re planning on attending a prerelease event this weekend, you’ll want to read on – even if it’s not your first rodeo, you’ll definitely learn something.

What You’ll Want To Bring

One of the best parts of Limited events in Magic is that you don’t have to bring a deck. You just show up with your money or store credit and play! One thing I’ve noticed over my years of judging is that Limited players are, on average, far less prepared for tournaments than Constructed players, at least at a store event level. This whole idea that you don’t need to bring a deck seems to make some people feel like they don’t need to bring anything at all. Those people couldn’t be more wrong. If you’re going to the prerelease this weekend, or if you’re planning on attending any Limited events in the future, here’s what you should bring:

Your DCI Number (if you have one!)

Your DCI Number is your ticket to tournament Magic. Without one, you can’t play in sanctioned events or earn Planeswalker Points toward Pro Tour qualification, Grand Prix byes, or just becoming an Archmage. If you don’t have a DCI number, that’s okay; the tournament staff will be more than happy to provide you with a DCI card and welcome you to the fold. If you do have one, however, bringing it and writing it on the sign-up sheet will save your tournament staff time looking it up, which means more time spent playing Magic for everyone! Personally, I’ve memorized my DCI number because I use it five days a week as a judge for ChannelFireball, but you might not have reached this level of insanity. If not, I recommend either carrying around the card or saving your DCI number as a contact in your phone. (I am not responsible for what happens if you try to call your DCI number.) I know one guy in the Bay Area whose iPhone background is a picture of his DCI card. Whatever works for you.

Pen and paper

This is perhaps your most powerful tool. Well, other than maybe a [card]Balefire Dragon[/card]. Pen and paper are good for so many things! The first and most obvious application of these items is to track your life total. Keeping track of your life total in your head is a bad idea because, well, you might forget! Dice always seem like a good idea at first, especially those nice spin-down dice that come in fat packs, From the Vault, or Premium decks, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen life total dice tip, turn, and outright roll to new numbers because of a passer-by accidentally bumping into the table. Pen and paper avoid these issues while giving you extra information in your arsenal. You can always see your opponent’s life total if you’ve got it written down; you never have to ask your opponent. Furthermore, in the case of a life total dispute, it’s always easier to justify your totals if you have them written down versus if they’re on dice. (“See, I lost one life here to [card]Stromkirk Noble[/card], and then two, and then three, but then I killed it and gained 5 from [card]Hollowhenge Scavenger[/card], so I’m at 19.”)

You can also use your pen and paper to take notes during a match. This can be important for a number of reasons. Let’s say you play [card]Night Terrors[/card] on your opponent to look at his or her hand and exile a card. You now know all of the cards in your opponent’s hand, but after a couple of turns, you might forget. Why take that chance when you can take the extra second to write them down? The worst that happens is that it doesn’t matter. You can also write down important cards, like bombs and removal spells, that your opponent plays in game 1 so you can play around them in games 2 and 3.

Finally, you might need to write down someone’s email address or phone number! I’ve made many friends at tournaments over the years, and without my trusty pen and paper, (or these days, my phone) I wouldn’t be able to contact them again!

Dice
“But Eric,” you say, “you just told me I don’t want to keep track of my life total with dice!” Yep, I did. But before you start to “Rage Against the Levine,” as our video guy, Tim, likes to say, let me remind you that there are other totally legitimate things you can do with dice. The thing that jumps immediately to mind is cards that use counters. There are a full 24 cards in Innistrad that use counters or put counters on other cards – just under 10% of the set! Odds are that you will need to put counters on something over the course of a Limited event, so bring those dice with you. You might also want to use a die to remind you of upkeep effects. Simply place a die on top of your library to remind you that you have things to do before you draw, and you’ll remember those triggered abilities almost without fail! We’ll discuss this more later in the article.

Tokens
I know, I know, I just told you to bring dice, and you’re probably used to using dice as tokens. I’m sure it seems reasonable, especially when there are cards like [card]Army of the Damned[/card] that make gobs of Zombies. There’s one big problem with that, however, and it’s one that I see quite often at Limited events. Dice don’t tap so well. A token that can’t be tapped isn’t a reliable way of recording game information, so make sure you use something else. Obviously, the real tokens from packs are probably the best, but other options include extra sleeves, homemade tokens, or cards from other games – preferably hilarious ones.

Basic land
Sure, your store probably has a box of basic land. I know that Josh Silvestri and I spent a good deal of time yesterday sorting basic lands for the prerelease, and we aren’t even done yet. Think, though, about that awkward, frustrating time when everything is at the basic land bin, obsessively sorting through to get ten Mountains with the same art. Wouldn’t you like to skip that Black Friday-esque insanity? I bet you would. There’s an easy solution – just bring 20 of each basic land with you, and you won’t even have to get up! You can use that extra deckbuilding time to go grab some food or just playtest your deck a little more. Of course, just make sure your basic lands aren’t bent, dirty, or marked in some other way.

Sleeves
Sure, you can buy these at the store on the day of the prerelease, but what if there are 20 people in line and the round is about to start? Worse, what if your local shop somehow runs out of sleeves? Unlikely, yes, but possible as well. Bringing sleeves you already have, much like bringing basic land, will save you time and energy on the day of the event.

Okay! We’ve covered everything you’ll need to bring to the Prerelease or any Limited event. What will you need to know specifically for this Prerelease, though? Read on and find out!

Double-Faced Cards

Double-faced cards are the big twist in Innistrad. As with any big change, seemingly everyone on the internet believes these cards will somehow kill Magic. Realistically, though, some quite intelligent people were involved in the design and development of these cards and the rules that power them. I’ve looked over those rules a number of times, and I see no reason for concern. Level 5 judge Toby Elliott has written a lovely FAQ about double-faced cards here, but I’ll cover the basics just to quell your fears.

The obvious problem that double-faced cards cause is that, well, they don’t have a Magic back. The easiest solution to this problem is to use opaque sleeves on your cards if you end up playing any double-faced cards. This sounds simple, doesn’t it? Any sleeve that isn’t clear is probably opaque by design, right? Sadly, this is not the case. Put a card in a light-colored Ultra-Pro sleeve and look at the back of the card in a well-lit area. You’ll likely be able to see the Magic logo, the white mana dot, and the four dots in the corners of the card. If you can see any of these things, your sleeve isn’t opaque – it’s translucent. You wouldn’t be allowed to use such sleeves when playing double-faced cards.

So, one solution is to buy fully opaque sleeves. The darker Ultra-Pros, the art-backed Ultra-Pros, and KMC sleeves should all fit the bill, to my recollection. I believe most colors of Dragon Shields are also fine, although I don’t use them much myself. But what if you don’t want to buy sleeves? What if you can’t afford much beyond your entry fee? Well, that’s fine! Wizards has cleverly inserted checklist cards into three of every four packs of Innistrad in the place of basic lands. These checklist cards have normal Magic backs, and they look like this on the front:

The idea here is that you can record the double-faced card you’d be playing with on this card by marking one of the bubbles on it. If you want to remember its power and toughness or starting loyalty, you can write that down in the lower right. This way, while the card is in your library or hand, you and your opponent won’t be able to tell it apart from any of your other cards. Once you play the card, however, you will have to swap it with the actual double-faced card that you are playing. Note that it is illegal to simply scrawl “[card]Kruin Outlaw[/card]” on a plains and put it in your deck – you have to use the actual card or an official checklist card.

But what if you forget what your Kruin Outlaw (or for that matter, [card]Terror of Kruin Pass[/card]) does? Are you out of luck, since you can’t use notes from outside the match? Luckily, no! You can look at your double-faced cards any time in order to reference what they do. You don’t have to show them to your opponent, so if you want to hide the actual card behind your deck box or something similar and look at it on occasion, that’s fine. (If your opponent is hiding a double-faced card from you while they reference it, don’t try to sneak a peek – you could be disqualified!)

So, we’ve covered pretty well how these will work in Constructed and Sealed Deck … but what about draft? Don’t these cause huge issues in draft as far as signaling goes and whatnot? It’s not as bad as some might make it seem. It’s just a bit different is all. Each pack will contain a double-faced card, so everyone will be revealing some amount of information. You’ll likely be able to see the double-faced cards of others around you, but make sure you don’t put any extra effort into looking around. To paraphrase Toby’s FAQ, the difference between “looking to see what double-faced card is in my opponent’s pack” and “looking at all the cards in my opponent’s pack” is fairly slim, and since looking at their other cards is considered cheating and will get you disqualified, it’s not a line you want to toe. You can feel free to reveal the double-faced cards in your packs to others in the draft, but stay in your seat and don’t try to ask players questions or go to great lengths to figure out what they have.

So what happens when I draft a double-faced card? Can I hide it under my other cards? The answer to this question has actually changed since the initial announcement. The final answer to this question is an emphatic no. You have to put your pick on top of your pile. Feel free to leave either side of the card face up. Other cards you pick have to remain face down as normal. When you look at your cards during the review periods between packs, you can feel free to reorganize them as you see fit.

One weird quirk that might come up during drafts is that two players might be waiting to make their picks based on whether or not the other player picks their double-faced card. In a timed draft, like at a Pro Tour or Grand Prix, this will never be a problem, but at a store event, it might. In the event that it does, the player who passing to the other player most closely must pick first. For example, if we’e passing left, I’m making a pick, and you’re two seats to my right and also making a pick, then if we get into a standstill, then you’ve got to make your pick first. If we’re equidistant from one another, then the player in the lower-numbered seat must pick first.

Let’s talk for a moment about these cards during gameplay. A good number of the double-faced cards are Werewolves. All of the Werewolves, on their normal face, have the following triggered ability:

“At the beginning of each upkeep, if no spells were cast last turn, transform [this.]”

Their opposite faces, where they are in their Werewolf forms, all have this triggered ability:

“At the beginning of each upkeep, if a player cast two or more spells last turn, transform [this.]”

This means that you’ll need to keep track of how many spells get cast each turn and remember that during your upkeep so that all Werewolves – yours and your opponents – are properly transformed at all times. Remember earlier when I mentioned that putting a die or other small item on the top of your library was a good way to remember your upkeep effects? Werewolves are the prime example of the need for this in Innistrad Limited. You can also use dice to keep track of how many spells each player casts each turn, if you feel the need to do so.

Now that we’ve covered the intricacies of double-faced cards, let’s move on to some rulings on specific cards. I’ve gotten a lot of questions about Innistrad cards in the last few weeks, so I’m sure you have a few too. You might not know this, but before every prerelease, around the time that Wizards releases the full Visual Spoiler, they also release an FAQ talking about the mechanics and rules in the new set. This FAQ also covers many common questions about individual cards in the set. If you’d like to take a look at that, you can check it out here. I’ll take you through some of the most common questions myself now!

Q: I have [card]Back from the Brink[/card] in play and [card]Maga, Traitor to Mortals[/card] in my graveyard. My opponent is at 7 life, and I can produce 7BBB. Can I use Back from the Brink, exile Maga, pay 7BBB, and make a 7/7 Maga, killing my opponent?

A: That won’t work. Back from the Brink simply asks you to pay the mana cost of the card you’re exiling – you’re not actually casting the card from your graveyard. Check out rule 107.3f, which is part of the rules about X:

107.3f. If a card in any zone other than the stack has an {X} in its mana cost, the value of {X} is treated as 0, even if the value of X is defined somewhere within its text.

Since the card is in exile, rather than on the stack, X is, by definition, zero. You can feel free to pay BBB and exile Maga in order to create a 0/0 Maga token, if for some reason that helps you.

Q: Let’s say I control a [card]Bloodline Keeper[/card] and four other Vampires. I use Bloodline Keeper’s second ability, attempting to turn it into [card]Lord of Lineage[/card]. In response, my opponent casts [card]Brimstone Volley[/card] on my Bloodline Keeper. No creatures have died this turn. If I respond to the Volley by activating Bloodline Keeper’s second ability again, what happens?

A: Well, the top item on the stack is Bloodline Keeper’s ability. When that resolves, it’ll transform into Lord of Lineage. After that, Brimstone Volley will resolve, dealing three damage to your 5/5 Lord of Lineage. The last item on the stack is another instance of Bloodline Keeper’s ability, which wants you to transform Bloodline Keeper. What this will actually do is transform Lord of Lineage back into Bloodline Keeper. Refer to this wonderful quote from the Comprehensive Rules:

201.4. Text that refers to the object it’s on by name means just that particular object and not any other objects with that name, regardless of any name changes caused by game effects.

So, since Lord of Lineage is the same object as the Bloodline Keeper it used to be, it transforms back into Bloodline Keeper. It’s a 3/3 with three damage on it, so when state-based actions are checked, it will die. Next time that happens, you might as well just keeper the way she was. (If Bloodline Keeper is a man, disregard this pun.)

Q: I use [card]Garruk Relentless[/card]’s 0-loyalty ability to have him deal 3 damage to a 2/2. As a result, he takes 2 damage and transforms. Now that he’s [card]Garruk, the Veil-Cursed[/card], can I use one of his abilities again?

A: Nope! Even though Garruk has transformed, he’s still the same object – he’s the same physical card, and he hasn’t changed zones – so you won’t be able to use another ability on him.

Q: My opponent controls [card]Gideon Jura[/card], and last turn, he used Gideon’s +2 ability. I attack his [card]Gideon with Geist of Saint Traft[/card], and I put a 4/4 flying Angel token onto the battlefield attacking. My opponent is at 4, and I’d really just like to win the game. Does that Angel have to be attacking Gideon?

A: Win away, my friend. That Angel never actually “attacked” – it was simply put onto the battlefield attacking. When that happens, you choose whether it’s attacking Gideon or your opponent, as you’ll see here:

508.4. If a creature is put onto the battlefield attacking, its controller chooses which defending player or which planeswalker a defending player controls it’s attacking as it enters the battlefield (unless the effect that put it onto the battlefield specifies what it’s attacking). Such creatures are “attacking” but, for the purposes of trigger events and effects, they never “attacked.”

So, in this case, you can just have the Angel enter the battlefield attacking your opponent. Wham! Ghosts!

Q: Can I activate [card]Heretic’s Punishment[/card] if I have two or fewer cards in my library? If so, what happens?

A: Heretic’s Punishment will do as much as it can. That is to say, it will put as many cards as it can into your graveyard (two, one, or zero) and it will do damage equal to the highest converted mana cost among those cards. (Or not, if it’s zero.)

Q: How awesome is [card]Mirror-Mad Phantasm[/card]?

A: So awesome. I plan to activate it in Commander a bunch, and when I do, I will go “aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah” while I mill myself.

Okay! That’s what I’ve got for today. I’m sure I’ll gather up lots of exciting questions at the prerelease and bring them to you next time. Come back for our next edition. Which will exist. I promise!

-Eric “Raging” Levine
Level 3 Judge
Psychatrog on Twitter and MTGO
ericlevine AT channelfireball DOT com

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