It's that time again, when three sets say goodbye, one says hello and we have to look at a very small Standard format once again. This is an exciting time to be playing. We get to look at Standard with new eyes of invention and creativity. No more Bitterblossoms, Commands, or Spectrals. It's time for Zendikar!

I could go into my favorite cards from Zendikar, but that would mean I can't talk about MTGO. Since I eat, sleep, and breathe Magic Online, I just couldn't do that.

Over the many years I've played in release events online, I've learned the most profitable approaches. There is a lot of money to be made on a new set if you follow a tight schedule.

In the first week of releases online, almost everyone is playing Limited, which means it's a great time to be playing in any Limited tournaments. With the amount of people playing, the average level of play skill is at its weakest. It is much easier to have the highest profits during these times. I call these release days "Christmas mornings 2-5."

There are 4 different types of Limited tournaments you should play:

4 Round 16 Player Queues
These tournaments supply the best value for time and convenience. They only take about 2.5 – 3.5 hours to complete and have a very good prize payout: 15 packs for 4-0, 10 for 3-1, and 3 for 2-2. This is a great value for your initial 6 pack and 2 ticket entry fee. It is very easy to at least 3-1 in these pods, netting a profit.

In general, this is where play skill is at its weakest. This makes it easier to 4-0 without any dependency on your Sealed pool.

The way to make this most profitable is to always be playing in 2 of these events when you have the time. After round 1 is finished, start up another Sealed if you are not the last round to finish. I don't have a problem when playing two rounds at a time, but I dislike having to play and build at the same time.

Premier Event Sealed

These tournaments fire at specific times. This means that you have to wait for a specific tournament to fire. I generally like to play on my own schedule during release weekends and these tournaments hinder that. Rounds tend to take longer, with so many more people playing in them, and the overall tournament can take up to 10 hours to complete.

The other problem is that even though the payout is strictly higher (40 packs for first, 30 for second, 15 for third and fourth, and 10 for fifth to eighth), It's more difficult to top 8 consistently and make the profit. The EV is much lower in this tournament then it is in 4-round Swiss tournaments.

64-Man Draft Challenge

This is another premier event held during release week. These tend to fill up hours before the event fires, so you have to sign up about 6 hours in advance. These are two single-elimination drafts, where first place is worth 20 packs. The investment is the same as a draft and the payout can potentially be higher.

If you tend to play 8-4s, the payout is lower until you win the first round of the second draft. To make a higher profit then in an 8-4, you have to make top 4 or better. This is more difficult because the competition tends to be much higher in these events. They are a great way to get to draft twice with only one draft set, but other than that they don't help the overall bankroll.

Draft

This is the last and probably the most-played event during release week. This is where you will find most people spending their tickets. It depends what you want out of the experience to justify your actions.

Are you a rare drafter? I used to not be a rare drafter in the past. Why would I take the three-ticket rare when there is an Overrun for my green deck?

I've changed my thinking since I learned a few tricks from the best MTGO drafter alive. Aceman022 is who I've gone to for years to help me get my Limited game to where it is today. He is known for being frustrated that he couldn't get into another team draft because his top 8 match of the Grand Prix was about to begin. Then he remembered that he could draft between the quarters and semis, so he was happy again.

This is what he says about drafting release events:

"Pick rares slightly higher. Not only are they worth more, they are also unexpected during games. Be aware of the 0.5 - 2 ticket cards in the format. These are under most drafters' radar and you can pick them up late, and even table them.

"Don't assume your good decks will win and your bad decks will lose. It's not worth it to take an on color game-winner (Overrun) over a money card (Jace) because you think it will turn your deck into a winning deck. A single card won't improve your chances of winning very much.

"Similarly, even if you rare-drafted the whole way and have a terrible 4 color, 21 land decks, play it out. Your chances are much higher than you think."

Rare-drafting is essential when trying to make the highest profit during release week. All the cards are worth so much more then they will be in a few weeks, so snatching up a few during a draft can pay for the event. It is easier to win with awkward decks during release week as well, since the overall quality of the players is lower. It is very hard to get behind this mindset if you have never done it before.

There was a problem I had with this kind of draft strategy in the beginning; I would pick and choose when I would take money cards depending on how my deck looked. Don't fall into this trap! It is an all or nothing ordeal. Either you don't take a single card for cash value or you try to take them all. This also tends to be a lot of fun when you draft $30 worth of cards and still win the draft with your very odd-looking deck.

Don't think rare-drafting is a must, however, because it is not for everyone. Rare-drafting is very different from regular drafting. They both have pros and cons. Pure profit is the only motive for the rare-drafter. If your goal is to win every draft, don't pursue this strategy – you will only be disappointed.

Once you start playing in some release events, it's very important to dump all the extra cards you took – any and all commons, uncommons, and rares you have that vendors are buying. It's smart to sell any excess packs you have as well, because singles and packs are at their highest price in the first few weeks after the release.

The forces of supply and demand is at their peak during a release online. Many people want to play Limited, which drives up the cost of packs and makes them worth more in the classifieds than at the shops. Singles also cost more than they should because people have not opened enough product.

Even though not as many people are getting into Constructed during this time, demand will continue to outstrip supply for several days.

This means selling all of your cards is important right away when the prices are still high. After a few weeks of people playing Limited, prices tend to drop dramatically.

This is also true with packs. Once there is a surplus of packs in the market, the price on them will go down. People who horded packs will see their overall worth online drop without even knowing it right away. The market works very fast. You go to sleep when a pack is with worth 4.5 and when you wake up the next day they are only worth 4 or 3.8. Getting rid of everything extra is very important!

The other way to make a small fortune during release week involves Contructed. I talked about SSB last week and how it is a great way to get started with Magic Online, but this is not the case during release weeks.

It is a great time to play Standard because the metagame online is much like the one people have played since the "true" release of the set. The metagame involves a lot of decks that pros have talked about and decks that have won big tournaments. This is a great time to start grinding out a really good deck.

Most people playing Standard at this time are trying out new things and testing new archetypes. This is when you get to prey on them with more aggressive strategies. Whenever a format is new off line, the most aggressive decks tend to do the best right away. This is very true online as well, even though the format isn't technically new anymore.

My goal during this time is different from most people: win as many packs as possible. Then I take those packs and sell them right away. I tend to grind a lot because it is the best money-making time online.

I find the most aggressive strategy that tries to end the game as fast as possible with very little interaction. Then I play in as many 8-mans at the same time as I can. It can be very grueling, but the format is not as complex as it is right now in Standard. I don't think I could get away with playing two games at the same time in current Standard and play them both to the best of my ability.

I don't know what that deck will be yet without seeing Zendikar, but I'm guessing it will have [card]Bloodbraid Elf[/card] in it.

There are other ways to approach the release weekends, obviously. I'm just putting out the most profitable method. Although I lose out on some of the more fun experiences I could have otherwise, I would rather take a break from perfecting my game and spend it making the cash monies.

RUN, COWARDLY FISHIES

Scott Barrentine (AthosTheMusketeer on MTGO) not only won the Dallas 5K, but then 8-0'd the PTQ the next day before dropping. He piloted fish for two days to great finishes.

He also is competing to win POY Classic on Magic Online. What deck is he using in that format? Obviously he pilots the Fishies. I talked to him for a while about the 5K and the upcoming 5K he is going play.

Here's his list:

Fishies

This is what he had to say:

"I have always played Merfolk because the aggro-control strategy usually follows the game plan that makes the most sense to me. Lay guys, leave counter mana up once you have board advantage, and always look ahead to dealing 20 points of damage.

"The advantage of Merfolk over other Cryptic Command decks relatively aggro-controllish decks like Fae, Grixis control, and U/W variations is the intensely powerful synergy of the creature base, and of course the hugely important lords: Merrow Reejerey and Sygg, River Guide (Merfolk Sovereign intentionally not mentioned).

"Most games tend to play out the same way: every merfolk is either a Time Walk because they used a removal spell on it and thus usually cannot lay many threats, or board presence. Only a few of the power cards need to be played for Merfolk to be have enough of a board presence to overwhelm bigger, less synergistic creatures - and if Merfolk is behind on board it might not matter because that means the opponent hasn't been using removal spells and are thus prime to be Cryptic Commanded out of the game.

"Untapping with six lands and a Sygg, River Guide in play probably has a better win percentage than turn-two Bitterblossom. All decks tend to run out of removal spells before Merfolk runs out of power creatures, especially with Reveillark against Bituminous Blast decks.

"For those who might choose to run Merfolk, I don't recommend picking up the deck and playing it unless you're the kind of person who can do that. The game plan is very linear and frequently uncomplicated, but the board synergy and working yourself into a position to win the game usually requires very tight play, excepting of course the wonderful Merfolk combo nut-draws that deliver free game wins throughout the day.

"The decklist is very tight, as I came to two cards off Thaler's maindeck (2 Harm's Way instead of 2 Reveillark) and I certainly used every sideboard card both days. Sideboarding is relatively easy. Usually Harm's Way, Reveillark, Sage's Dousing, and Stonybrook Banneret get pulled for the appropriate hate cards. I can never cut Sleep from my sideboard because I can't stand losing to Kithkin/Elfball diehards and those matchups seem tough without it. Four Forge-Tenders is necessary for the red matchup. Glen Elendra Archmage has been helpful shoring up all the Cruel Ultimatum matches and Meddling Mage is just a superb card against many more 'powerful' strategies, coming in against any deck that has enough maindeck cards you don't want to see and always banning the scariest card for you (okay, okay - Fallout. But sometimes other cards. Maelstrom Pulse is incredibly powerful against good Merfolk draws)."

Thanks again for all your support and I hope to see you all online when Zendikar releases!

Brad Nelson
FFfreaK on MTGO
Mastersshake@yahoo.com