Keys to Winning Your Next Prerelease

Every prerelease, I am reminded of the information gap between the Pros and the average players. The difference in execution and results are enormous, and it’s a matter of minor details. This article is meant to quickly give you the Pro information you need to win your next prerelease.

Last weekend, I played Battle for Zendikar Sealed. I found the format enjoyable—it reminded me ofZendikar mixed with Rise of the Eldrazi, two of my favorite sets coming together in a new form. I had good opens and I played this deck:

Deck List

My entire tournament report goes like this—it was 3 rounds, I won all 6 games with an average start of 2 more cards than the opponent. I lost every die roll and my opponent chose to play first every time. I mulliganed 0 times, and my opponents mulliganed 7 times. So, on average, I was ahead by more than 2 cards after the first turn.

Whatever happens from there really isn’t that important, because a 2-card advantage is hard to lose with in Sealed. Yes, this was a small sample size, but it’s been a consistent and obvious pattern over many prereleases. Usually I get to show some people to draw first, but this time I didn’t get the chance, so I’m writing this article.

1. Draw First!

Draw first in Sealed. This is what the Pros do.You wouldn’t necessarily know this without playing against Pros, but now you know. Here’s a quote from the most successful tournament Magic player of all time, Kai Budde:

“I am fairly sure that no one else on PT level has said ‘I am going to draw first’ as often as I have and that isn’t just Sealed Deck. I do that a lot in Draft and even Constructed matches. Drawing the extra card is something that I value more than most people, also because it gives me some sort of mulligan protection as you can keep way more hands if you get to draw an 8th card during your first turn.”

Why draw first? Extra cards matter more in slower formats like Sealed. In Constructed, everyone’s decks are finely tuned and you are at risk of falling behind and losing early. But in Sealed you’re at risk of running out of steam and the player with the most cards at the end is more likely to win the game. Do like the Pros and give yourself a one-card starting advantage.

2. Don’t Mulligan!

Can your opening hand cast even one spell? Keep it! Is it perfect? Doesn’t matter, you draw one new card every turn. Mulliganing is at best perfect minus one, and it’s usually much worse than that. Cards matter. Give yourself more cards. It doesn’t matter if you can’t use everything now, because later you will unlock those cards and will have them instead of not having them. Take a drink of another Kai Budde quote:

“I for one am not a huge fan of going down to six cards and I don’t mean that as in ‘I prefer to always draw good hands.’ I frequently keep six lands and a mediocre spell/creature on the play.”

My prerelease opponents have been mulliganing on average once per game, while I mulligan an average 10% of the time (maybe less). I’m playing with a super unfair advantage. What is going on here?

3. Craft a Deck that Doesn’t Mulligan! (Play 18 Lands)

Part of not mulliganing means crafting a deck that doesn’t mulligan. How do we do this? Play good mana! Keep it to 2 colors and splash a third only if you have awesome nonbasic lands. This simple strategy will let you keep most of your hands.

This also means playing 18 lands. Playing 18 is the standard for Pros in Sealed, and sometimes in draft too. Kai Budde once again really pioneered this, usually playing 18 in Sealed and frequently playing 18 in draft while winning five individual Pro Tour titles. Here’s one instance.

Kai’s reasoning: “I think we just like to cast our spells more than everyone else does.” My reason? I think I like to keep more hands than everyone else does. Play extra lands, see lands in your opening hand, keep, and you already have advantage against the field.

4. Plan for a Surplus

If we’re going to play extra lands it means an increased risk of mana surplus or “flood.” This is easy to remedy by playing cards that are useful at higher mana costs. This can mean a few big fatties in the deck, but also means playing cards with flexible mana costs. Things that are useful earlier or later, depending on your mana situation. These are available in almost every Limited format. Look for them and put them in your deck.

In my prerelease, I packed plenty of landfall creatures to benefit from extra lands, as well as Pathway Arrows, Lumbering Falls, and flexible awaken spells like Clutch of Currents and Coastal Discovery.

Cards like these are useful in the early game but get better and better the more lands you draw. They play well with 18 lands and play well with those 6-land hands that Kai Budde likes to keep. Jam your deck full of these flexible-cost spells.

5. Win Your Next Prerelease

In summary, take note of what the Pros do, make a few minor adjustments, and take a massive lead on the field. Draw first, build a deck that keeps everything, keep, and ride your 1-2 card advantage to victory. Follow this recipe and you have the keys to winning your next prerelease. Enjoy.

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