This past weekend I played in a Khans of Tarkir prerelease and it did not disappoint. I tried to play Abzan but it was so popular I had to choose something else, so I went with Sultai. The deckbuilding process was pretty intimidating with so many different powerful cards in so many colors. Traditionally in Sealed Deck you want to play two colors and possibly splash a third but here it seemed like I was locked into three with the possibility of splashing a forth. I got pretty lucky in the sense that my deck was relatively simple to build, I just put all the cards I wanted to play on the table and I had an adequate amount of mana fixing for each. I went with this build:

This deck was amazing and I went 4-0 without much trouble. Easily my best card was Rakshasa Deathdealer. He was a cheap play that could come down before my opponent had the opportunity to develop his board with a morph and he won any fight in combat. He played very well with my two copies of Savage Punch and besides just being cheap and big he was a welcome draw at any point in the game. I was happy to have it on turn two or turn twenty and when he was drawn on turn twenty he ended the game very quickly. I expect Rakshasa Deathdealer to be one of the best rares in the set for draft.

Embodiment of Spring was a card I was excited to play with. It reminded me of the good old days with Diligent Farmhand or Sakura-Tribe Elder. I had two major issues with this card with the first being that my own mana base couldn’t support it all that well, I had seven sources of blue mana but six came into play tapped. This wasn’t the end of the world, as I often played a turn 1 comes-into-play tapped-land followed by Embodiment of Spring and another tapped land, but given the way my deck was configured I could never cast him turn one and activate him turn two where this card would be at its maximum effectiveness. Right off the bat I eliminated the best use of the card but then as the day went on I realized you have to TAP it to use it. There’s also less value in ramping from two mana to four when the format revolves around morph creatures. Ultimately I played Embodiment of Spring in my deck because I was solidly three colors and thought I could use the fixing but I also liked that this card produced mana and put a card in my graveyard for my high-end delve cards. He under-performed all day but I imagine he’s passable but unexciting in a base blue/green deck.

Smoke Teller was overall quite weak as well, the only time his ability would have been relevant at all I just forgot to use it. Which is funny but also it just didn’t come up very often. I wanted more cheap plays but a 2/2 for two isn’t all that great in a morph format, it loses its ability to affect the board more quickly than it would in other formats and it’s a bad late-game topdeck. I would have been much happier if I have just played Archers’ Parapet. One advantage Smoke Teller has over Archers’ Parapet is you can trade off with a creature in the early game and put a card in your graveyard for delve which is small but relevant, Archers’ Parapet gets cast and it stays in play all game.

Abomination of Gudul is clearly a great card but I thought it would be even better and honestly I wouldn’t classify it as a card that would pull me into Sultai, and instead I would view it as a solid role-player for anyone who is already BUG. A sizable flying creature with a loot ability looks great but in the games it never played out like I would have hoped, needing three different colors of mana to cast on turn six, or to invest your third and fifth turns into it seemed a bit too pricey. I’m not saying it’s a bad card but I am saying my initial impression was that it would be better than it is.

Woolly Loxodon, on the other hand, was absurd for me. I think moving forward all green draft or Sealed Decks want to play at least one of these. I think any green deck is thrilled to play the first one and the second or third is worthy of consideration. I liked it because my deck had so many morphs that did so many different things, so having one that was huge meant I could always attack in a way where my opponent would get blown out some percentage of the time. Also the early game will always be spent playing morphs, so when you get to turn six being able to pay six mana for a 6/7 “haste” was excellent. Woolly Loxodon was also a great card to have when I drew Savage Punch.

Hooting Mandrills was really strong for me in many different scenarios. He was almost always the biggest creature on the table and affordable under almost any circumstances. I cast him for one mana multiple times on the day with special thanks to Scout the Borders. One mana for a 4/4 trample is very, very good. Once again I liked it quite a lot with Savage Punch.

I keep mentioning Savage Punch and why it’s good with big creatures but I feel it is important thing to say. If you build your deck to play all your best/favorite cards and then just put in two Savage Punch at the end it’s going to be much worse than if you build your deck while being mindful that the card is only strong if you’re using it on a small creature. My deck, on the surface, is a BUG control shell with card draw, removal, and solid creatures. A card like Savage Punch or something like Prey Upon or Time to Feed are usually at their strongest in red/green decks where you know you’ll have fat creatures and they’re usually quite bad in controlling builds. I was fine to put them in this control deck as I felt they were too powerful not to play and all I had to do was be a little careful about which creatures I played. In the four rounds I played it was one of my best cards because I was always careful to have and protect one of my big guys: Woolly Loxodon, Hooting Mandrills, Rakshasa Deathdealer, Sultai Flayer, or Thousand Winds.

Thousand Winds was great of course, anyone who plays even a small amount of draft or Sealed can see that. The only informative thing I could say about the card was that way more often than not I would be casting it as a Mahamoti Djinn than I would be trying to morph it and get tricksy.

Debilitating Injury was amazing for me and I fully expect it to become one of the best if not the actual best common in the set. When everyone spends three mana for a 2/2 having a card that can trade for cheaper than the card you kill cost is huge. That’s not even mentioning when you get to play two spells in a turn—one of the best ways to win in Limited. I also really like that Debilitating Injury is safe. If my opponent has a morph with Island, Swamp, Plains, Forest, Mountain untapped I can just cast Debilitating Injury and it will either die or whatever it morphs into will be substantially weakened and I’ll have perfect information moving forward.

Sultai Ascendancy was the promo rare I got in my wedge pack and although it was not a high impact play, when I cast it in games where I sat around with it in play for a few turns I always won. It fueled my delve cards and ensured I would never topdeck a card I did not want. I would be hard pressed to pass this card pack 1 pick 1 in a draft and although I wouldn’t think of it as a bomb rare I would pick it highly and try to draft a Sultai deck as a result. Final verdict: great card.

Bitter Revelation is an odd mix between Foresee and Read the Bones but with the upside of fueling delve. I like this card. It was actually really neat to cast it and see so many cards and be able to make a simple decision on which delve cards to go all-in on and which to ignore. My deck had Treasure Cruise and Dead Drop which each played out as Ancestral Recall and Reckless Spite as long as I was cognizant of the fact that I wanted to put cards in my graveyard. All it takes is a small amount of effort to turn a mediocre card into an awesome card.

I had Death Frenzy but I never drew it. I was excited to put it in my deck and I remember how good Infest was in Onslaught the origional morph format. Of course that card has the advantage of only costing three mana making it better against the morph creatures but in a format of all 2/2 creatures I would always play a card like Death Frenzy. I’ve also seen multiple cards that create tokens and there’s some nice playable two drops. I think the life gain is relevant and black/green control decks really want this card.

I’m a big fan of both morph and delve and how the format makes you rethink all the basics since getting a small edge on either front can decide a game. Knowing when you bluff attack with your morphs or knowing when to slow down are all things that reward preparation. I’ve said I like delve and that’s because it reminds me of convoke, it’s an ability that they put on cards to mitigate mana-screw and reward thoughtful deckbuilding choice. If I put cards in my deck that go to the graveyard at little cost to me then my Treasure Cruise will cost less and less and the more I make those choices the better these cards get. In a naturally-played game of Magic, Treasure Cruise may cost six or five mana, making it fine but unexciting—but with a little work it costs U to cast.

I felt like I learned a ton about the cards from Sealed and I have a stronger grasp on how to evaluate each one. Magic is a pretty amazing game and it’s really cool for me to play with the new cards and have wildly changing opinions after each game I play. I like to think about what makes Hooting Mandrills good and what makes Embodiment of Spring bad. If you have any tips about the new cards I’d love to hear them and as always thanks for reading.

Owen Turtenwald
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