This weekend saw the prerelease events for Dragon’s Maze happen across the world. I attended two Sealed events and want to share with you my first impression of the format. Which impressed me, and which flopped.
Once again WotC insisted on doing something weird for a prerelease. Not satisfied with normal Sealed, we got four packs of Dragon’s Maze instead of the correct two, and two of the “guild packs” from the previous two prereleases.
I understand the logic of not doing the tournament-prescribed 2/2/2 split across the block. Players want the maximum chance to try out the new cards. At the same time, I don’t. For smaller sets, the cards are not often designed to work nicely in a standalone Limited environment. RTR and GTC were both supposed to function as independently, so they were tested as such and have a nice balance of creatures, removal, etc. Smaller sets are supposed to complement the larger ones. I’m sure RTR/GTC/DGM was tested, but not this crazy format.
The most common complaint throughout the weekend was that there wasn’t enough removal. This made the set very bomb-centric, as many pools lacked good removal. “Oh you have resolved Teysa… hmm… well then… on to game 3!”
This occurred because 1) DGM packs did not have much hard removal (which is 2/3rds of your pool) and 2) the other packs were a fixed subset of cards from those sets. So while RTR and GTC have more removal in them, if you picked Azorius/Simic you were going to have very little removal from those packs as well. This could leave some pools very short relative to others. Add to this that you are mostly forced into the color combinations of your guild, so you can’t even play the removal you do open.
I didn’t foresee this problem and picked Golgari/Gruul and Orzhov/Selesnya. On day one, I had plenty of removal with red and black in my deck, and useful cards from both guild packs. On day two I still had black, but there was significantly less removal, which did result in several, “oops, there’s a bomb,” games which are frustrating at the best of times.
Release parties may follow the same format, so I have two pieces of advice. First, you should make sure you have at least one guild with traditionally removal-heavy colors. I would particularity recommend black, as that tends to have less conditional removal. Second, you must, even more so than most Sealed formats, save your removal. I was once told that in Legacy, “he who still has a [card]Brainstorm[/card] in hand wins.” If you win without having to use your removal then that’s fine. Always consider whether you have another answer. If your deck is full of X/4 guys and a 3/3 is attacking you, you probably shouldn’t [card]Smite[/card] it just yet. Sealed is often all about removal and bombs, and knowing when to pull the trigger can be the difference between winning and losing, and so is a great place to practice getting it right.
Going back to my point about playing with more of the new packs. I think I would support this theory more if I ever got to play Sealed at any other time. The chances are I will never actually get to play (individual) RTR block Sealed, as I’m not planning to attend any GPs that are running this format and there are never any locally. So it might be a beautiful format—but I will never find out, which is a shame, and a good reason why we should have normal Sealed events at prereleases. Generally I find people I know share this view, but feel free to add your view in the comments.
Now on to how the format actually played. In summary, it was far slower than the previous two sets, allowing you to play much longer games. This makes effects like extort more powerful and [card]Borborygmos Enraged[/card] more playable (I did!). Do look out for the aggro pool though, as the rare good ones were super scary.
Lastly, I would definitely choose to draw first.
Despite the shortage of removal in Dragon’s Maze packs reminding me worryingly of Avacyn Restored, I still had a great time at the prerelease. Why? Because this set is full of value plays. There are 2-for-1s in all kinds of places. Sometimes you have to work to make them happen but that’s what makes them exciting to use. I really enjoy this sort of Magic. Here are some of my favorites from this weekend:
[draft]Opal Lake Gatekeepers
Ubul Sar Gatekeepers[/draft]
Gatekeepers: The black, blue, and white Gatekeepers all provide instant free value while the red and green ones have fine but more ethereal effects (though a sacrifice outlet makes the red one much tastier). I really like these creatures in Limited. Initially I was a bit unexcited, especially about the green one (which were the ones I had access to in my pool). But they all have fine bodies for the cost and if you can delay them (or randomly already have the Gates), then the extra value is really sweet.
[draft]Deputy of Acquittals[/draft]
[card]Deputy of Acquittals[/card] is insane. You can “counter” a removal spell or simply recycle a detain effect. In my case, both happened when I tried to kill an opposing [card]Lavinia of the Tenth[/card]—yeah, that one hurt.
I was unsure how useful [card]Scab-Clan Giant[/card] would be when I opened a copy. How many times would I have to cross my fingers and hope he picked the right fight? Well, you can’t use him as a targeted removal spell, but you can always get lucky. However, on most board states I played him into he would simply kill a guy and I would get a 4/5, which proved a pretty good beater in the format. There was one occasion where my opponent had a creature with protection from red, another that was indestructible, and a 0/5 defender… that was less useful. That was the exception and I would definitely run him again.
[card]Sin Collector[/card] has a sweet little ETB ability on him. Sometimes your opponent reveals bad and terrible sins (like when I revealed [card]Trostani’s Summoner[/card] and [card]Obzedat, Ghost Council[/card]) that you can’t do much about, but more commonly you get some nice value. If not, you at least get free information and a reasonable body for your investment. I didn’t get to play this card, but I was jealous of my opponent’s copies.
Speaking of [card]Trostani’s Summoner[/card], do I really need to point out the value this guy provides? No, no I do not. It was definitely responsible for many of the groans heard around the room this weekend, I can’t believe it’s an uncommon! I need a board: ta-da! I was surprised how often my own copy (and all accompanying tokens) seems to disappear before my untap step ([card]Gaze of Granite[/card] was the best answer, but they are kind enough to leave you your 1/1 for 7). On the other hand, I did get to untap and play [card]Collective Blessing[/card] a few times. It remains to be seen if the draft format can support this seven-drop, but with all the Cluestones kicking around to ramp you there I’m sure it’ll prove viable.
[card]Blood Scrivener[/card] has been a hot topic since its spoiler article. Is it playable in Constructed? I don’t think so, however it is awesome in Sealed. Use him early to beat or defend and late to find your bombs or removal before your opponent does. I had to be careful not to amass lands in my hand in case I drew him, but I really like having a copy in my deck. It also combines well with Cluestones. Draw two, play a land and a spell, sacrifice a Cluestone, draw two more, get ahead. Value anyone? Emptying your hand can be dangerous in Limited, though less so than in Constructed, and I really enjoyed this card in the late game.
[card]Armed // Dangerous[/card] can generate all of the value ever. Either you make a terrifying creature that, at worst, trades with most if not all of your opponents board state (guess where one lot of my Trostani tokens went?) or you distract said board state with that little thing while some horrendously huge bomb swings in for the kill. This card was obviously going to be great in Limited and yes, yes it is.
[draft]Haunter of Nightveil[/draft]
Remember how good [card]One-Eyed Scarecrow[/card] was? Well, imagine if it affected all of your opponent’s creatures, not just fliers. Now imagine if it was a 3/4 and could attack. You see why I think [card]Haunter of Nightveil[/card] is a little bit good. A 3/4 is a pretty reasonable body, especially if you are making everything on the other side slightly less powerful. Yes, it costs more than the Scarecrow and has more colors, but I rate this card really highly in Sealed, try playing against one if you aren’t sure why.
I said earlier that the format is slower now, which makes extort more powerful. Well I played a pretty slow deck at the Sunday event and while I was lacking in extort, I found that [card]Hired Torturer[/card] was a nice way to slowly chip away at my opponent. If you read the whole effect, rather than stopping after 2 life like most people, there’s this whole bonus bit about your opponent revealing a card at random from their hand.
This effect is not especially valuable on its own. But, like incidental life gain, extra information about your opponent’s hand can prove valuable. If you find a removal spell in there, then you can hold off on your game-winning bomb until you force your opponent to use it on something less exotic. I discovered a [card]Skylasher[/card] on one occasion that saved my [card]Basilica Screecher[/card] from certain doom. Plus, a 2/3 for 3 certainly helps with getting to the late game.
The scariest common creature I found this weekend was [card]Viashino Firstblade[/card]. He’s a hasty 4/4 for 3. In the aggressive decks, that is huge, especially as it can generate surprise battalion. Even if it’s just him coming in, you basically have to take it, as most creatures have 3 or 4 toughness. I did not like it when my opponent cast this guy, ever. I just wish I could have played my copies. This card will be a priority in draft for the aggressive decks.
Things I Didn’t Like
There were far too many Cluestones. Most people had 5 in their pools, some people had 9! Most decks played 0 to 2 which means many dead cards. In the “normal” Sealed environment this won’t be a problem, but I didn’t like the number of dead cards it gave you. On the flip side I built a sweet ramp deck with four, and used them to power out Teysa or Borborygmos, or cantripped them to find said bombs. On Sunday, I cut the two I was running after a couple of rounds, as I didn’t need the acceleration and the cantrip was too slow. If you don’t always want to play them in your deck (even when on color), then averaging 1.5 copies per pack is too much.
[card]Battering Krasis[/card] was surprisingly bad. He just didn’t have an impact on many games. Simic was an awkward guild in Gatecrash Sealed but definitely did better in draft were you could sculpt you deck to grow your creatures. Perhaps [card]Battering Krasis[/card] will shine in draft but he really did not impress me this weekend.
[draft]Gruul War Chant[/draft]
[card]Gruul War Chant[/card] looked to me like it would be a cool effect but just didn’t do it for me. I think it was the near absence of decent aggro decks where I think it will really prove a powerful force, so again a card to look out for in draft.
[card]Phytoburst[/card] is a sorcery. That is all.
[draft]Sire of Insanity[/draft]
I can’t really say if [card]Sire of Insanity[/card] impressed me or not this weekend. My friend had a copy and found it almost impossible to play with. Timing it so that you didn’t end up worse off than you opponent is surprisingly hard. I saw one get killed by [card]Homing Lightning[/card] with the trigger on the stack (how rude!), but I also saw one hit the table opposite a slightly mana-screwed opponent, which will end most games quickly. I’d like to hear your impressions in the comments if you had one to play with this weekend.
Some Last Thoughts
2. [card]Turn // Burn[/card] is premium removal, though it can’t kill Hydras and other creatures with two or more +1/+1 counters.
3. [card]Morgue Burst[/card] is a good card in decks with [card]Grisly Salvage[/card] effects and a fun sideboard card against [card]Grisly Spectacle[/card] decks that mill your Borborygmos.
4. [card]Renounce the Guilds[/card] is surprisingly playable.
5. [card]Toil // Trouble[/card] is a nice versatile card, though most of the time it’s just [card]Sign in Blood[/card]—but who doesn’t like those in Limited?
6. In shocking news: [card]Armadillo Cloak[/card] is good in Limited.
Phew, I think I have covered everything I wanted to. I hope you have picked up some useful pointers for the your release party this weekend. I am really liking this set and it seems to really suit my Limited play style, so I’m looking forward to getting my teeth into some draft soon. Until next week say hi @onionpixie on Twitter.
(Correction, 4/30/2013, 11:58 p.m.: This article originally stated that a creature with three counters would survive a fused Turn // Burn. A creature with two counters will also survive. Click here to jump to the section.)