For the Dragons of Tarkir prerelease, you’re going to choose one of the Dragonlords’ broods to align with—GW, UW, UB, BR, RG. You’re then going to get four regular packs of Dragons of Tarkir, one regular pack of Fate Reforged, and one seeded pack that only has cards in the two colors of your Dragonlord. You also get one rather cool looking die.
Since you get five normal packs and there is no consistent promo that everyone gets in addition to their rare, it’s by no means mandatory that you play the color combination you chose, but if you can manage to do that then your deck will likely be better. If you get some good mono-colored cards in that pack, then you can play a different two-color combination, and you can always splash the third color if you want to. You should go to the prerelease looking to play the combination you chose, but keep an open mind because it’s possible that the best build is a different color combination. Also keep in mind that it’s perfectly valid to play a non-dragonlord combination such as UG or RW. Outside of rare cards, there is no incentive to keep to a “clan.”
There is only one pack of Fate Reforged, so I’m not going to focus much on that—instead I’ll just analyze the Dragons of Tarkir cards. I’m going to talk about the mechanics of the set first, and then we’ll analyze each color for its commons and uncommons. Once I analyze the combinations, then I’ll talk about the rares in each of them, since you are guaranteed to get one in your seeded pack (though I don’t know exactly if they can all show up, since that hasn’t been announced yet). I’m not going to go through the rares that cannot show up in the seeded pack because they are unlikely to matter much.
- There are a lot of good 2-drops at common. Every color has them. Green has two (three if you want to block), black has three, red has two, blue has two, and white has four. In fact, there are so many playable 2-drops that I think it’ll be easy to fall into the trap of playing too many of them. Even if you have a very fast Sealed deck, it’s still a Sealed deck, not a Constructed deck. Some Draft decks can get away with 10 2-drops, but that’s a strategy that’s very likely to be bad in Sealed, since they will get outclassed late in the game and you’ll be stuck drawing those 2-drops. It’s also worth noting that this abundance of 2-drops makes megamorph cards worse than they would be in Khans of Tarkir, so don’t go around playing three off-color morphs in your deck either.
- There are a lot of fliers in this set. Cards that interact favorably with them become better than normal, such as Pinion Feast or Return to the Earth from Fate Reforged. If you’re a slow deck, you need a way to not lose to fliers.
- Decks should have more late-game than normal because megamorph lets you play big guys without the fear they will clog your hand in the early game. This is the same as it was with morphs.
- There is a good amount of removal, but it’s still not very easy to kill a big guy—a card like Dromoka is virtually immune to everything except for Pacifism.
Megamorph is very similar to morph in the sense that a card with megamorph is very rarely going to be straight-up bad. At worst you play it as a 2/2 for 3 and add some mystery to the board. The presence of megamorph makes it easier to splash, and it also means you’re less likely to be short on 3-drops. It also lets you play more late-game cards, because you know you can just play them on turn three if you need to.
Bolster – White/Green
Since you don’t have the “outlast lords” you had in Khans, there’s less synergy with the ability. The set also has a plethora of combat tricks in multiple colors, which makes instant-speed bolster a bit less valuable.
Dash – Black/Red
Dash is a good ability to get for free, but it’s not worth paying much for. If you would play a card without dash and it happens to have dash, then great, but you’re not going to play a card with bad stats just because of dash, most of the time.
Rebound – White/Blue
Imported from Rise of the Eldrazi, rebound is a powerful keyword, since you get to play the spell twice, so it’s usually found in situational cards with conservative power level. The great majority of these cards are aggressive.
Formidable – Red/Green
I already messed up the names ferocious and monstrous, and now they’ve added formidable to the mix, which I’m sure will make things even more confusing for me. It’s win-more in some spots, but 8 power is not that much in Limited, and the effects are also quite good for board stalls, which happen to be the exact kind of situation where you would have 8 power but still lose the game. It’s also interesting that, unlike ferocious, formidable appears mostly on creatures, most of which have high power and contribute themselves to formidable, so it’s not as hard to trigger as it might initially appear to be. It’s also worth noting that a lot of the formidable abilities read “activate this ability only if you control 8 power,” which means they can’t blow you out with instant-speed removal.
Exploit – Blue/Black
The new UB Keyword works much better as a prerelease mechanic than delve ever did. Beforehand, every clan had a keyword that was basically a bonus—you would play cards that were good without the mechanic and it was basically all upside. With delve, cards had to cost more, which meant that they were quite bad if you couldn’t utilize the cost reduction. The new UB mechanic looks like just a good bonus, which I like.
Exploit is a very powerful and versatile mechanic which effectively gives every creature three modes: creature, spell (since you can sacrifice itself), and both. There are a couple cards from Fate Reforged that seem perfect with exploit (such as Jeskai Sage and Sultai Emissary), but even if you don’t have those you’re very likely to find a small dude lying around in a Limited game regardless.
White seems to be very aggressive, as has been the case in the last couple sets. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible to play a defensive white deck—it’s certainly doable—but most white cards are better if you are aggressive, so that should be your default. There are some defensive cards—Territorial Roc, Student of Ojutai, Sandstorm Charger—but there is a distinct lack of late-game here, so you run the risk of stalling the board and having nothing to stall for. If you play a defensive white deck, then your late-game has to either come from a lot of bombs or from a different color.
White has a lot of aggressive creatures in the common slot, including multiple 2-drops (four, to be precise, and three that are good for aggressive decks). Sandcrafter Mage is the perfect complement to a 2-drop start, Misthoof Kirin is a good aggressive flier, and Pacifism has always been one of the top commons in every set it’s been in, and I see no reason for it to be different (if anything it’s better, because Dragons). There are also two common combat tricks with rebound that you can use to win a combat and then cash some extra damage the following turn. The problem with white is that everyone is going to have good 2-drops, so what could potentially be a big advantage is actually not that relevant, at which point I’m not sure exactly what white brings.
White’s uncommons are incredibly underpowered compared to what we’re used to. There are a lot of playables, but there’s nothing outstanding. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s no white uncommon that’s better than Pacifism, though Strongarm Monk seems to be very good in the right deck. Great Teacher’s Decree is awesome if you’re racing, but they will know it’s coming, so they can just block in a way that it doesn’t wreck them much next turn.
Blue is focused on either aggro or control, which is a characteristic that blue has had for the past couple sets. That is good, since you can mix and match it with anything, but also bad because you can just get the wrong half of the cards. If you pair it with white, you want aggro. If you pair it with black, you want either (black is like blue because RB is aggressive and UB is control, but you can pair aggressive halves on both U and B and get an aggressive UB deck). A card like Ojutai’s Breath is excellent if you’re killing them, but it’s a worse version of Crippling Chill if you’re trying to block, whereas a card like Monastery Loremaster is much better if you expect the game to go long. If you play blue, then you must understand what type of deck you have, and then you probably shouldn’t play the cards that belong in the other deck.
Blue has plenty of decent commons, with the best one likely being Zephyr Scribe, especially in Sealed where Looters are so good. After the Scribe there is a huge drop-off in quality, but the filler is solid—Ojutai Interceptor, Monastery Loremaster, Ojutai’s Breath, Anticipate, and Palace Familiar are all fine. The Familiar is especially good with exploit as well.
Blue has some pretty good uncommons. Void Squall and Gudul Lurker are great for aggressive decks, Sight from Sight is good for control decks, and Silumgar Sorcerer and Silumgar Spell-Eater are great in any deck.
Black is a bit like blue. You have aggressive cards and you have control cards. It is, however, much more flexible. Where blue cards range from pretty good to horrible depending on your style of deck, the black cards are rarely going to be bad regardless of where you put them. If you pair it with red, then it’ll most likely be aggressive, and with blue you have either option.
Flatten is very solid removal, even killing most Dragons in the set, and Vulturous Aven is just a very good card. Black has two common 2-drops with abilities, as well as another common situational removal in Defeat. It also has two combat tricks and a 2/2 flier with dash, so I think it’s done pretty well in the commons department.
Here we get some more aggressive cards, and some more removal. Minister of Pain is a very powerful card against the right person (though it would have been much better in the previous block), and Rakshasa Gravecaller is a great 5-drop that could add 6 power and 9 toughness to the board if you exploit a 1/1. Death Wind is the same useful card it’s always been—not spectacular but you’re not cutting it.
Red remains a very aggressive and one-dimensional color. It’s very rare that you have a slow deck that’s base-red—you’re either trying to kill them as quickly as possible or just splashing for removal.
Red has awesome commons! There are three good removal spells at common: Twin Bolt, Sarkhan’s Rage, and Tail Slash. Twin Bolt is great and the fact that it’s an instant provides a huge tempo swing if you can kill their 3-drop on the draw. Sarkhan’s Rage in particular impresses me, because Lava Axe is a situationally awesome card that wins a lot of games but that you often can’t afford to play because it does nothing, while Sarkhan’s Rage has all that huge upside without any of the downside, since it can just kill a creature if you want it to. There aren’t a lot of creatures at common, but most of them aren’t bad—Hardened Berserker is fantastic (3/2 for 3 with a very good ability!), Sabertooth Outrider is very hard to block if you have formidable, Kolaghan Aspirant and Dragon Fodder are fine 2-drops, and Summit Prowler is the same as it always was.
Green is still about having solid creatures at all points of the curve. There are a lot of pump spells here, but there isn’t one that is fantastic. There is a 5-color ramp subtheme, with Sheltered Aerie and Explosive Vegetation at common and uncommon respectively, but you’ll probably know when that theme is good.
Green’s commons are pretty good, though there are more unplayables here than in most other colors. Epic Confrontation is good removal and much better than Savage Punch ever was, since it can kill things early in the game, and Atarka Beastbreaker and Guardian Shield-Bearer are both solid 2-drops with late-game applications, which is more than you can ask of most 2-drops. Stampeding Elk Herd is also a pretty good 5-drop and Aerie Bowmasters is incredible, especially in a format with this many fliers.
Green has a bunch of good uncommons. Scaleguard Sentinels is huge if you can cast it with the bonus and will still beat all other 2-drops if you can’t, and Salt Road Quartermasters is one of the best 3-drops in the set. Ainok Survivalist is definitely maindeckable and could be awesome against random Sieges, or cards like Pacifism and Sight of the Scalelords.
If you play GW, then you’re likely very aggressive with a ton of combat tricks. This is not a bad strategy, but it’s very one-dimensional, and it makes the green cards with formidable a little bit worse since a lot of your guys are small. If you don’t overwhelm them with a superior board in the early game, then GW has very few tools to win the late game, since it doesn’t necessarily have big guys or ways to get through.
These are rares with the GW watermark. They haven’t announced anything about it, so I’m assuming that every watermarked rare can show up in the seeded pack and that the Dragonlord is the only mythic you can get, which is consistent with previous prereleases. If I’m wrong in this regard, I apologize, but right now there is no way for me to know and WOTC won’t talk about it, so this is the best I can do.
The GW rares are pretty great and overall work very well with the archetype you want. Dromoka is obviously an insane bomb, but all of the Dragonlords are fantastic, so I don’t think this is a very relevant factor.
UW is also an aggressive color combination and I think it’s better than GW because blue can actually win the late-game due to having more fliers and some unblockable effects. Blue also has the weakest 2-drops and very good megamorphers, which go well with white’s 2-drops. If you have good late-game from blue, then you can use your controlling white cards and build UW Control, though I can’t imagine that is going to be very common.
(Though both are less “good” than their GW counterparts.)
(Myth Realized is highly deck-dependent.)
Well, those rares are just awful. Other than the two great ones, nothing here is actually exciting.
UB has the potential to be aggressive or defensive, but you could just get a mismatched pairing in which case your deck will be bad. Black also has good 2-drops that complement blue’s megamorphs quite well, and even your aggressive UB deck is likely to have a decent late-game compared to its white counterpart.
The UB rares are insane! If you get a UB pack, there is no way you’re going to have a bad rare, and you’re very likely to get something very good.
Black/red is aggressive and does that very well. Both colors have a very good amount of removal at common and uncommon, though you might have some issues killing some big creatures (e.g. a big Dragon). Both colors also have aggressively-costed dash creatures, so they can kill the opponent very quickly if they stumble.
Black/red’s rares are also very good, though the “good” ones are slightly less good than the UB ones (I’m always going to play Zurgo in my BR deck, but I’m not going to be thrilled to open it). There are a lot of haste guys, fliers, and ways to end the game here.
RG is also aggressive and pairs the removal from red with the good creatures and pump spells from green. In previous sets, RG was almost always trying to mise a win with bad creatures, pump spells, and Barrage of Boulders, but this doesn’t have to be the case anymore since the cheap creatures are actually good and the removal doesn’t require 4 power to work.
RG also does well for itself with rares, though not as well as the black clans.
Ranking the Broods
I think white is the worst color in this set by a significant amount (sorry Pacifism, you’re good but the rest of the team is dragging you down). GW’s game plan seems to be what RG’s was in the previous set—play 2-drops and pump spells. The problem is that this plan is a lot worse when everyone has 2-drops, which is going to be the case now. This combination can certainly win the game, but I think it has the most trouble in the late game and it’s not good enough early to make sure you don’t get there.
It’s no surprise that the other white clan is the next choice, since I do think white is quite bad. UW has a much better game plan than GW, but on top of the cards being mediocre its choice of rares is pretty abysmal compared to anyone else, and that’s huge in Sealed.
There’s a big gap here in my mind—I think the three non-white clans are all great choices and very close in power level. I’ll choose an order because that’s what the article is about, but I honestly believe they’re very close.
Individually speaking, I’d say that red and black are the two best colors in the set. The only “problem” is that both those colors have the same upside—removal. You don’t even need this much early removal. In fact, you can’t even play all of it. It’s very unlikely that you’ll play three of Twin Bolt and Defeat, for example. The black guys also have low power, which doesn’t work very well with red’s formidable cards. So, while I am pretty sure I want either black or red in my deck (and choosing this option almost guarantees you’ll have at least one), I don’t think I necessarily have to be BR (though it will still be good if you are).
The rares in the UB seeded pack are the best by far, and the commons and uncommons are good too. You can be aggressive or control, and blue has some card drawing and late-game stuff that pairs well with black’s removal spells, which in turn has 2-drops for blue’s late-game cards. You also get maximum benefit from exploit-based cards, since you can run stuff like Youthful Scholar to trigger them.
The rares in this combination aren’t as good, but I believe those colors complement each other better than black and red do, since you get removal spells and good creatures. Both red and green have powerful creatures to trigger formidable, and both benefit from it. If you play RG, I think you can build a super-fast aggro deck with pump spells, or a slightly slower version with cheap removal and some big midrange guys, and both should work pretty well.
So, that’s it! For those who are very lazy and only come here for a “pick order,” here’s the TL;DR:
5 – Dromoka
4 – Ojutai
3 – Kolaghan
2 – Silumgar
1 – Atarka
(I think the last three are super close in power level.)
Good luck at your prerelease!