So the prerelease came and went, and for the first time that I can remember, I didn’t get the chance to go. Missing out on that first weekend of fun and being able to learn how some of the cards interact in a setting that is much more forgiving and relaxed is quite the beating. I knew that I couldn’t miss both the prerelease and release events though, so I set in motion of figuring out how and where to attend. Being in Chicago and having never played Magic when I first lived in that area, meant that I was basically relying on hearsay and the internet to find a place to play. Then, something came up that would require a voyage back into the wilds of Colorado, so everything started to fall into place.
I headed up to Fort Collins to get my fill of Magic in, both in official release events, and the “at home” version. After a half-dozen or so drafts and a sealed under my belt, the following are my initial thoughts on the format, both from a strategic perspective, as well as an enjoyment perspective.
These surprised me quite a bit in how they played out and how they were drafted. It did seem a little annoying, having to constantly unsleeve and resleeve these, but in reality, that is only a minor inconvenience. Drafting with this went fine and actually added a little bit of political tension to our drafts. I had one draft in particular, where I first picked a [card]Morkrut Banshee[/card] over [card]Into the Maw of Hell[/card] (which I have concluded is usually wrong) and was then passed an [card]Instigator Gang[/card]. Now at this point, I know that the best card I just passed was red, but there was also a [card]Geistcatcher’s Rig[/card] and an [card]Elder of Laurels[/card] in the pack.
Here is where things go differently from a traditional draft. Traditionally, I have to assume he is going to take the best card in the pack, which is [card]Into the Maw of Hell[/card]. Because of this, I have to weigh how much passing him a red signal and then taking a red card would be. Typically, it is good just to take the card anyway, but it can certainly mean a worse flow of cards come pack 2. Once I had quickly scanned the pack and recognized that [card]Instigator Gang[/card] was in it, and clearly the best card, I made my pick quickly and loudly. I was trying to draw attention to the person on my left that I was taking a Red card, so it might be correct for them to take the Elder or Geistcatcher’s Rig, both of which are very good in their own right. If he wants to make that gamble and still take the Into the Maw of Hell, I am effectively announcing that things will not go as well as he wants them to go.
He ended up taking the [card]Into the Maw of Hell[/card] anyway, as it was the best card, but then he quickly moved out of red once he had confirmed that I was cutting it. I love that this interaction was even available to try to exploit. I don’t think Magic would be better with a political aspect in general, but for a block, it seems like it can be a fun change.
As for the game play itself, there are a lot of directions to take werewolves, and I really like that aspect of them. Most often, they will just be included into random green and red decks and be fine at doing just that. Luckily, most of the werewolves are perfectly acceptable in their original form and the transformed version is almost just a bonus. Beyond that though, you can really begin to exploit their tribal nature.
Cards like [card]Full Moon’s Rise[/card] and [card]Moonmist[/card] may not seem like the most rewarding of tribal spells, but in actuality, they can be really powerful. Here is a deck I drafted using the [card]Moonmist[/card] synergy with my werewolves. This is the same draft that the above scenario regarding [card]Instigator Gang[/card] was from.[deck]1 Reckless Waif
2 Village Ironsmith
2 Tormented Pariah
1 Villagers of Estwald
1 Hanweir Watchkeep
1 Instigator Gang
2 Kessig Wolf
1 Darkthicket Wolf
1 Creepy Doll
1 Elder of Laurels
1 Geistcatcher’s Rig
1 Blazing Torch
1 Make a Wish
2 Curse of the Nightly Hunt
2 Kessig Wolf Run
This list took big advantage of the tribal aspect of the wolves and werewolves I had, which was a lot of fun (even if I did pass a [card]Full Moon’s Rise[/card] early on for a Mulch that I regretted later). The coolest thing about this list is the [card]Curse of the Nightly Hunt[/card] package. With Moonmists, first strikers, and [card]Creepy Doll[/card] all be excellent at turning that card into such a beating. Even without direct synergy, the card still allows you to get in there and race, shutting down tappers etc, which turned out to be insane.
Ruinating the Countryside
One of the things I really wanted to do early on in the format was to experiment with the Blue self-mill strategy. I knew that Blue would not always be doing this, and I knew there would be varying degrees of how far you went into the plan of milling yourself, but I really wanted to see what would happen in a dedicated version of it. Luckily for me, I sat down for my first draft of the weekend and opened my pack only to see a [card]Skaab Ruinator[/card] staring back at me.
Not only was this draft a keep what you pick draft, meaning I had just calmly paid for my entry fee, but Ruinator was the perfect incentive to try out the mill strategy. Of course, if the cards weren’t coming, then there was nothing I could do about it, and I would draft accordingly. But when my 2nd pick yielded a [card]Forbidden Alchemy[/card] over nothing, and my third pick saw a [card]Deranged Assistant[/card], I knew things were going to work out well. Here was my final list:[deck]3 Deranged Assistant
3 Selhoff Occultist
1 Armored Skaab
1 Civilized Scholar
1 Murder of Crows
1 Forbidden Alchemy
1 Stitcher’s Apprentice
1 Skaab Ruinator
1 Skaab Goliath
1 Stitched Drake
1 Spider Spawning
1 Bloodline Keeper
1 Galvanic Juggernaut
1 Morkrut Banshee
1 Sever the Bloodline
1 Blazing Torch
1 Dead Weight
1 Shimmering Grotto
Relevant cards I am not playing include
[card]Corpse Lunge[/card] [card]Lantern Spirit[/card] [card]Silent Departure[/card] [card]Altar’s Reap[/card]
Of course, the list was not perfect, as I would have rather had a pair of [card]Armored Skaab[/card]s and another graveyard synergy card instead of the [card]Selhoff Occultist[/card]s, but they ended up being fine. I decided to only run 16 lands as I had 3 [card]Deranged Assistant[/card]s and I wanted to maximize my creature count for the Ruinator and [card]Spider Spawning[/card] but could not find the heart to cut anymore of that removal. I was already cutting [card]Corpse Lunge[/card], as most of my guys were 1 power and it actively hurt the win conditions in my deck, but cutting [card]Claustrophobia[/card] or [card]Blazing Torch[/card] just seemed bad. One change I should have made was to add an additional Swamp I think instead of an Island, but it worked out well enough.
I ran the [card]Galvanic Juggernaut[/card] both because I wanted to try him out, and because I figured he would be the best possible turn 3 play off of a [card]Deranged Assistant[/card] whereas the [card]Lantern Spirit[/card] would be fine, but nothing special. Two Looters and a [card]Shimmering Grotto[/card] helped to make sure [card]Spider Spawning[/card] would not get stuck in my hand, but there did come a game where I cast it and flashed it back on back to back turns for 9 each, which definitely won me the game, so there is always that.
Assessing your deck with every pick was very important for this deck, as there are so many good cards that come but you need to figure out just where you are at with you various departments There are enablers, finishers, removal, synergy, and defensive cards that all go up and down in pick orders depending on what you are lacking. For example, I took [card]Deranged Assistant[/card] over a [card]Stitched Drake[/card] pretty easily at one point and never thought twice about it, even though [card]Stitched Drake[/card] is a better card in the abstract. Of course, getting passed bomb rares like [card]Bloodline Keeper[/card] in pack three never hurts an already good deck, right?
So it turns out, Morbid is a difficult ability to grasp as far as power level is concerned. Some of the effects for various Morbid creatures and or spells are just insane, where as others are nice bonuses, but not worth working for if it does not come naturally. I have basically lumped Morbid into three different camps as far as ease of acquiring the bonus
-Morbid abilities that trigger while the creature is in play.
-Instants with Morbid.
-Enters the battlefield triggers and sorceries with Morbid.
The easiest way to trigger your Morbid is with creatures that get the bonus while they sit in play. Things like [card]Galvanic Juggernaut[/card] or [card]Reaper from the Abyss[/card] are not only good as is, they also see every time a creature dies, regardless of how much mana you have available or when it happens. This makes them a little easier to trigger and is by far the most reliable form of the mechanic.
Instants with Morbid, specifically [card]Brimstone Volley[/card], is similar to the above class of creatures, in that it can see Morbid happen anytime, but it does require you to have 3 mana open to get said bonus. This is easy to see Morbid, but not so ideal for finding a time where you want to be casting this and Morbid has occurred.
The sorcery speed Morbid triggers though, like those that have enters the battlefield clauses or [card]Caravan Vigil[/card], are much more difficult to pull off. In fact, unless you have a deck set to capitalize on the ability, with things like [card]Stitcher’s Apprentice[/card], you may very well never find an opportune time to get the trigger off while having the mana to cast your creature. Things like [card]Festerhide Boar[/card] are easier to pull off, as just having an aggressive curve allows for a trade opportunity that plops this down as a beastly 5/5 trample, but something like [card]Morkrut Banshee[/card] is much more difficult to successfully pull off in a timely fashion. I have almost come to the conclusion that unless you specifically built your deck with Morbid in mind, casting a Banshee at the first possible moment that value is available is correct, even if the creature is not that impressive or threatening. The 4/4 body will appreciate it anyway.
Flashing for a 3rd Color
Anyone that knows me knows that I love a good splash. It is a difficult thing to resist at times, the ability to substantially increase the power of your deck at the risk of making it less consistent. Fast formats, like Zendikar and M12, really punish this mentality and do not lend themselves well toward splashes as they are so aggressive, that a mana stumble will almost assuredly cost you a game. Slower formats though, like Rise of the Eldrazi or Ravnica, push the game longer, allowing your mana to more naturally fix itself and reward you for more powerful spells that have a bigger impact on the game, rather than just cheap and fast ones.
Innistrad looks to be the latter of the two, hinting that games will go longer on average. Beyond just wanting to splash powerful spells though, taking advantage of flashback is a huge thing. In that mill list from above, I splashed a [card]Spider Spawning[/card] in a very minimal way due to the pair of Looters that could dump it into the yard. Had I not had those though, playing my [card]Traveler’s Amulet[/card] in the main deck and a Forest would have been almost essential. That is fine as you are not as likely to get overcome while you sit with your solitary card of color 3 or 4 in hand though.
Of course, the set has only been out for a week or so now, so I hardly can claim to have my finger on the pulse of everything. I am sure over the next few weeks that a few of my opinions will change and that I will learn more about the format that I never even considered to look into. So far, the set looks like it has a lot of play to it and mimics something like Rise of the Eldrazi in style and substance, which should prove to make for a fun environment for the next few months, if not longer. As always, thanks for reading, and feel free to share your experiences or opinions in the comments below!