Fate Reforged brings a very important change to the prereleases, in that you’re going to receive one pack of Khans of Tarkir, four packs of Fate Reforged, and one clan pack. This clan pack will have mixed cards from Khans and Fate Reforged (though I don’t know if the proportion is 50/50) with a guaranteed Fate Reforged rare.
What this means in practical terms is that set two is now much more important than set one. Previously, we had to analyze how well the new cards played with the old cards. Now, that isn't much of a concern because you only have one-and-a-half packs with the old cards. Another detail is that Fate Reforged is a smaller set than Khans, so each card in it is going to show up more.
Mardu decks, for example, had Trumpet Blast and Rush of Battle—now they have War Flare. One might be inclined to think they’ll see half as much of this kind of effect now, since there are half as many cards, but there will be a lot more War Flares in this set than either Trumpet Blasts or Rush of Battles in Khans. That means specific cards in Fate Reforged matter more—because you’ll see them more often. As a result, I’ll focus mostly on the new cards.
Another important change is that Fate Reforged is much less clan focused. Whereas before you had tri-lands and Banners to help your mana, now you only have the duals. Whereas before you had Charms and triple-costed creatures, now you have dual-costed cards and hybrid activations. Whereas before you had morphs that required all three colors, now you have one-colored permanents that require permanents from one color or another to have a bonus effect. Half of those are enchantments and they’re bad anyway.
The takeaway is that unless the clan pack is very skewed toward triple-costed cards from Khans, there will be very little incentive for you to actually be those three specific colors. You could just as easily be Bant or Naya and not give up anything—perhaps splashing for a morph if you happen to open that and have the fixing. You could even be two colors if your mana was bad and it wouldn’t be the worst.
I believe you should be way less locked into your Clan than you were at the previous prerelease. At the Khans prerelease, if someone chose Mardu, they were likely to be Mardu. They would perhaps be Jeskai or Abzan. They would rarely be Sultai and they would certainly never be Bant. In Fate Reforged, if someone chooses Mardu, then they are not actually a favorite to be Mardu (or, rather, it’s more likely than not that the best deck you can build with that pool is not a Mardu deck). So, keep your mind open.
I’m now going to take a look at the set mechanics, and then do a general analysis on the colors and finally the clans:
Manifest will be an incredibly tricky ability to play against, because the card can be anything. Playing against a manifest token is like playing against Prophet of Kruphix—you know that you can get blown out at any time, but what are you supposed to do? You have to run into it, otherwise you’re never going to attack or block, which makes manifest in general quite powerful. At the prerelease, I suspect cards with manifest will be even better than they normally are, because your opponents are going to be worse on average and just the presence of a 2/2 gives them a lot of room to misplay.
When playing with manifest, keep in mind the interaction with bounce spells—if they go back to your hand, you get to cast them as whatever they were originally. Also keep in mind that manifest works very well with creatures that have morph costs that are higher than their casting cost, such as Master of Pearls and Hooded Hydra—with both of those, you can pay two mana and get their morph effects.
Bolster is different from most pump spells we’ve seen because you don’t choose a target. This means they’re worse, because you can’t control them, but it also means they’re better because there’s no way they’re fizzing unless you run out of creatures. Imagine your opponent attacks with a 4/4 and you have two 3/3s—if you have a normal pump, you can block, pump, and get blown out by an instant-speed removal spell. If you have a bolster 2 spell, however, you can freely double-block and play it before damage (or just play it before blockers). You can also be very tricky with unmorphing and other instant-speed pump spells.
The presence of bolster is going to affect combat a lot—the creature with the smallest toughness will always have to be paid extra attention now (so if you’re chump blocking, for example, chump block the 3/3 and not the 3/4). It’s also going to affect the value of evasion—cheap fliers with small toughness are worth more now because there are more ways to pump them. The ability also plays extremely well with outlast bonuses.
Dash seems to be more of a Constructed ability than a Limited one. I wouldn’t expect most Dash cards to actually be dashed unless you really need the effect right now, or you have nothing else to do with the mana. It shouldn’t change much regarding your deck anyway, but be careful to maybe leave an extra blocker out if you’re super low.
Prowess is almost the same—some of the prowess cards are good, some are bad, and you shouldn’t include bad spells because of it unless you have a lot of them, much like you shouldn’t include a card in your deck just because it has prowess. Manifest helps it, however, because it’s often a source of creatures + spells at the same time.
I didn’t do the math, but I have the impression that there are more big vanilla creatures now than there were before. Whereas Khans was a set full of 2/3s and 3/3s, this set seems to be full of 5/2s. This should make it a little bit easier to trigger ferocious, but I don’t think that matters much.
Delve remains an awkward ability in the sense that the first delve card is usually quite good, but the fourth delve card is very bad. You will play the good delve cards if you have them, and if you don’t you’ll play the bad delve cards on the strength of them being your only delve card, but you’ll never play both the good and the bad ones and you’ll certainly never base your deck around delve.
Rares and Mythics: White has quite a good collection here. Of the 7 possible opens, only one is actually bad (Rally the Ancestors). In fact, it seems to be a common theme that white always has excellent rares. I can’t remember a set I’ve reviewed where this hasn’t been the case.
Uncommons: Lightform is extremely good and definitely one of the top uncommons in the set. Valorous Stance is going to be at least a decent card in any deck (and could be extremely good depending on what you’re playing against—it’s also splashable), and some of the other uncommons are overall very solid (Lotus-Eye Mystics, Elite Scaleguard and Channel Harm).
Commons: Sandsteppe Outcast is likely the best white common, and it’s quite a good one at that—this format doesn’t punish 2/1s very much, as they still likely trade with their 3-drop, so I imagine the flier is going to be the preferred mode the great majority of the time, but I could see using the +1/+1 counter if you want a specific trade or if you have outlast synergy. It is true that ground guys get outclassed super quickly in the late game, but you have a flier to make up for that. 1/1 fliers are surprisingly good in this format, enabling both bolster and raid and dealing the last points of damage.
The rest of the commons aren’t outstanding but many of them are very solid, like Soul Summons and Sandblast.
Overall, white seems to be an aggressive color that can still play control if your pool dictates that, which is a very good quality to have.
Rares and Mythics: Blue does quite well in this department, since it has four outstanding options (Shu Yun, Supplant Form, Torrent Elemental, and Sage-Eye Avengers). Jeskai Infiltrator is a solid card, and Monastery Siege isn’t that bad either, so only Temporal Trespass is truly disappointing.
Uncommons: Cloudform and Mistfire Adept are fantastic, and Rite of Undoing is much better than it seems because of how well it works with manifest, allowing you to pick up an important spell you might have put face down. The rest is somewhat mediocre.
Commons: Aven Surveyor is quite good, and I’d recommend you bounce their creature the majority of the time. Lotus Path Djinn is also a very solid card that can be playable in any style of deck, and Write Into Being is a decent three-drop that has a lot of potential upside by letting you dig into something good late.
Blue seems quite good in this set, and much like white, it’s predominantly aggressive, but is capable of playing a controlling game.
Rares and Mythics: Ghastly Conscription is bad, but every other black rare ranges from good to very good.
Uncommons: The black uncommons are mostly bad. Orc Sureshot, Noxious Dragon, Merciless Executioner, Battle Brawler, and Qarsi High Priest are fine, but that leaves five uncommons I would rather not play in my deck. White, for example, has zero very bad uncommons, and its good ones are better than black’s good ones.
Commons: The black commons are also bad. Reach of Shadows and Douse in Gloom are probably its two best commons, and Douse isn’t even very exciting, though it does kill morphs and manifest. Reach is very splashable, though, which is good for this kind of Sealed where multiple people play four to five colors.
Overall black seems to have awesome rares and be incredibly weak in every other regard—there is nothing it does well.
Rares and Mythics: All the red rares are “fine,” but I don’t think any one of them is a fantastic bomb. Mob Rule is quite a bit better in Sealed than in Draft, but you should still think of it as mostly double Threaten rather than Insurrection.
Uncommons: Pyrotechnics and Wild Slash are awesome, the rest range from mediocre to OK. I’m very excited about Wild Slash in particular, because it offers a tempo swing that we had not seen in this format yet—the ability to kill a morph and play your own morph when you’re on the draw.
Commons: Goblin Heelcutter is good in aggressive decks, and Bathe in Dragonfire should be good in every deck. Other than that, there isn’t much, as a surprising amount of them are below-the-curve vanilla guys that you would really prefer not to play.
Red seems to have gotten the short end of the stick here. It's similar to black in the sense that the card quality is super low, but the rares are worse than black’s rares. In return, your bad cards aren’t as bad—they’re just all “meh.”
Rares and Mythics: Green has a couple of very powerful rares—Warden of the First Tree, Whisperwood Elemental, and Temur War Shaman are excellent, and Wildcall, Yasova, and Sandsteppe Mastodon aren’t bad either. Frontier Siege is the only truly bad one.
Uncommons: Temur Sabertooth is insane, as either part of it (becoming indestructible or the ability to bounce your own creatures at will) attached to an already powerful body would already be quite a good card on its own. Other than him, Abzan Beastmaster is going to be good most of the time, and the rest are very mediocre.
Commons: The green commons are all bad. Hunt the Weak is decent but not spectacular, though it is a good followup to a turn 3 morph to kill their morph, and Whisperer of the Wilds is also OK. After this, we have a vanilla 5/4 and not much more. It is conceivable to have a deck where, despite having access to every green common in the set you will play absolutely none.
Fate Reforged seems to represent a reversal for green, which is usually known for its strong, solid commons and for its bad rares—most green cards are 6s or 7s, but rarely 1s or 10s. This time, green is very hit or miss, as it has awesome rares and uncommons and some awful uncommons and commons.
In this set, each clan has one rare (a Dragon) and one gold common, and that’s it. Even those are only double-colored, so they can be played in more than one color combination. The Dragons are all good, though the ones that cost five (Kolaghan and Dromoka) are significantly better.
As for the commons, I think they’re OK. Grim Contest is a better Pit Fight in most Abzan decks, Harsh Sustenance could kill people out of nowhere, and War Flare is the Trumpet Blast that blockers have always wanted. Though these cards are good, they aren’t good enough to drive me towards a particular clan.
Overall, Fate Reforged seems to rely less on specific clans and more on colors. I believe every color is “bad,” but there is a gap between the two good colors (white and blue) and the three bad ones (red, green, and black), at least as far as commons and uncommons are concerned (red would come third, black fourth, and green fifth). This will reflect strongly in the clan choices, because I want the ones that maximize my chance to be either of those. Thankfully Jund is not a clan, or it would be by far the worst in Fate Reforged.
This is the order I would rank the clans:
5 - Sultai
Sultai was the worst clan in Khans of Tarkir, and I don’t think anything changed with Fate Reforged. The biggest problem still persists—there is no reward for being Sultai. It’s possible to build a good BUG deck, but it’ll hardly be a “Sultai deck.”
If you do choose Sultai, I think you have to go for a controlling deck, much like in Khans. Do not focus too much on delve—in my experience, “delve decks” do not work. Instead, try to build a decent defensive deck with a couple fliers and/or bombs to win the late game.
4 - Mardu
I felt like I overrated Mardu last time, and it’s only gotten worse. In draft, Mardu is awesome, but in Sealed it’s hard to get a good aggressive deck, and Mardu decks are very one-dimensional. If they aren’t aggressive, they are usually bad.
Mardu was relied a lot on the strength of its early game, and now a lot of it is gone—you lose Ainok Bond-Kin, the two gold Warriors, Mardu Skullhunter, Hordechief, Leaping Master, and also the very important Ponyback Brigade and Raiders' Spoils.
In the end, I’d prefer going with a clan that offers me more possibilities rather than just mindless aggression.
3 - Abzan
I felt like Abzan was the strongest clan back in Khans, but that was mostly because outlast was a very powerful Sealed ability. Now there are only one-and-a-half packs of outlast, and even though bolster works with the outlast cards from Khans, there is very little to reward you for having counters in Fate Reforged. As a result, I feel like an Abzan deck would strongly depend on opening good Khans cards, because having cards like Abzan Falconer and Ainok Bond-Kin will make your deck much better. This will translate to some Abzan decks being awesome, and some being very bad.
I like Temur because I think a bad Temur deck is better than a bad Mardu or Abzan deck (and probably better than a good Sultai deck). Temur’s cards are very replaceable—it doesn’t have any specific cards it really needs, it just wants some dudes, some bounce and some removal. Arrow Storm was replaced by Bathe in Dragonfire and Pyrotechnics, which is a downgrade for Mardu but an upgrade for you, since the deck was usually base UG. Green remains the worst color in Fate Reforged, but Temur can make use of random big dudes and acceleration, so it’s not so bad.
1 - Jeskai
I think Jeskai is the best option because, individually, its colors are just better (they’re 1, 2, and 3 for me. There’s no other clan that even gets 1 and 2). Even if you don’t end up Jeskai, choosing it will give you the highest chance to play with the best commons and uncommons from Fate Reforged, in whichever combination you end up.
As a clan, I feel that Jeskai also improved because you got both better spells (Pressure Point is better than Defiant Strike, for example) and better prowess guys. Unlike Abzan, you don’t need anything specific from the first set—you can have your prowess guys from there and your spells from here, or the opposite. All the manifest cards also help you achieve a critical mass of spells without lacking a lot of creatures, which was a problem some Jeskai decks had. Overall, I feel like Jeskai was a big winner on all fronts, and almost everyone else actually lost, so I think it’s number one.
So, that’s it. The TL;DR is:
6 - Do not focus much on your clan—explore different color combinations.
5 - Sultai
4 - Mardu
3 - Abzan
2 - Temur
1 - Jeskai
I hope you’ve enjoyed it, good luck at your prerelease!