Any Magic: the Gathering player will tell you that the most exciting time during the year is any weekend before a launch of a new set. This past weekend, the latest set from Wizards of the Coast called Oath of the Gatewatch was previewed to players during Prerelease weekend.
So what exactly is Prerelease, you ask?
Prereleases are Sealed Deck format events, where players are given Prerelease Packs and time to construct a 40-card minimum deck.
Wizards of the Coast sums up what Prerelease is all about: Prereleases provide you with the earliest possible opportunity to play with the newest cards in Magic. Prereleases are enjoyable casual events that encourage fun over competition. You can plan to play all day in multiple events your store runs, or drop by for a single event.
For Oath of the Gatewatch, all players were given a sealed Pre-release kit consisting of 6 booster packs (with 4 packs from the new set, and two from Battle for Zendikar), a randomly-inserted premium foil promo card, a 20-sided dice counter.
I dropped by Dueling Grounds in Toronto to play one of the Saturday Prereleases, along with my girlfriend and a few other buddies.
Dueling Grounds is a great place to play Prerelease events. The players are very friendly, passionate about magic cards, and eager to help new players learn the finer points of the game. The prize pool is also excellent, with the winner or winners earning a booster box for their troubles.
Shortly after we paid for our entries in the tournament, we were seated downstairs and waited until we were given instructions on what to do. Prerelease packs were handed out to every player, and the sound of shrink wrap being torn open could soon be heard across the room. As players sifted through their packs, some shouts could be heard from a lucky few: some very rare cards worth upwards of a couple hundred bucks known as Expeditions were being opened. One player opened a Cascade Bluffs, and another found a Twilight Mire in his kit.
I wasn’t so lucky, but I was fortunate enough to open an Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger from one of my two Battle for Zendikar booster packs. Ulamog is one of my favourite Magic cards, so I was pretty happy to see him when I cracked open my pack.
I also opened a couple of other solid cards from my Oath of the Gatewatch packs, namely a Thought-Knot Seer and a Reality Smasher. Once I had opened all my cards, I noticed an abundance of very playable black and colourless cards, along with a smattering of decent blue spells. With this in mind, I decided to build a blue-black flyers deck focused around ramping up to Reality Smasher and hopefully Ulamog. I was able to use all of my rares in the deck, with the exception of limited-bomb Emeria Shepherd, which I couldn’t justify including in the deck due to her double-white colour requirements.
Once I assembled my deck, I waited to find out who my first round opponent would be. After a few minutes, our pairings were posted, and I ended up getting matched against my girlfriend, Steph! A happy coincidence considering there were about 40 people playing in the event.
Once we started playing, I soon realized my blue-black deck wasn’t as powerful as I hoped, as I wasn’t able to get as many threats out early enough against Steph’s aggressive red-white-black deck. Filling the battlefield up with cheap creatures like Stone Haven Medic, Serene Steward, Malakir Familiar, and Cliffhaven Vampire, Steph was able to generate an early advantage based on life gaining triggers that carried her through the game. A single copy of Isolation Zone (great card!) neutralized my biggest threat (Reality Smasher), and Dragonmaster Outcast finished the job.
After playing against Steph, I decided to switch out my blue cards and try my luck with green instead, adding a couple Eldrazi Scion mana-producing cards to help me ramp up to Ulamog faster.
The decision paid off immediately in Round 2, as I was able to get more creatures on the board against my opponent earlier. Casting an Elemental Uprising on turn 3 helped me generate an early board advantage, and cards like Saddleback Lagac and Havoc Sower were useful mid-game threats.
In game two against my second round opponent, an interesting turn of events happened. After casting a Birthing Hulk on turn seven, I was able to produce two colourless Eldrazi Scion creature tokens that could be sacrificed to add 1 colourless mana to my mana pool each. Once I resolved this creature, I knew I had enough mana to cast Ulamog next turn, which I had in my hand. After attacking with the Birthing Hulk, then passing the turn over to my opponent, I waited and crossed my fingers that I would be able to play Ulamog next turn. The thing about playing Ulamog in a sealed event is that you will win in two turns if he survives long enough to attack twice, because of his second ability, which reads: “Whenever Ulamog attacks, defending player exiles the top twenty cards of his or her library.” This is just a brutal ability when played against an opponent using a 40-card sealed deck.
Naturally, I was eager to play this creature, and once my turn came around, I drew a card, attacked with my Birthing Hulk again, then on my second main phase, tapped for 8 mana, and sacrificed my two Eldrazi Scion creature tokens to produce the remaining two mana I needed to cast Ulamog. Upon casting the card, I took advantage of Ulamog’s first ability, and exiled two target permanents on the battlefield, which I used to get rid of my opponent’s two most dangerous creatures, leaving her with just a single creature for blocking. I then passed my turn over to my opponent, who was on a 1-turn clock before I would be able to defeat her with Ulamog’s ability that causes the defending player to exile the top 20 cards of his or her library.
But then, my opponent smiled, and cast Eldrazi Obligator on her turn. The Obligator has an ability that reads “When you cast Eldrazi Obligator, you may pay 1 generic mana and one colorless mana. If you do, gain control of target creature until end of turn, untap that creature, and it gains haste until end of turn.” What trickery was this? Not only was Ulamog stolen from me, she used the Obligator to attack me with my own creature!
Fortunately, I had a creature that I could use to block Ulamog, so I knew I wouldn’t die from combat damage. But how many cards did I have left in my deck? If I had less than 20 cards, I would lose the game. I started counting. Ten, eleven, twelve. My stack of cards was getting small. Fifteen, sixteen, seventeen. Only a few cards left… would I have enough? Eighteen, nineteen, twenty cards. Leaving me with a single card in my library. What a nail-biter! Just like that, I survived a near-death attack from my own creature, living long enough to attack with Ulamog next turn for the win. One of the most entertaining games of Magic I’ve ever played in my life.
I ended up finishing the tournament with a 2-2 record, which was good enough to make it to the prize pool and earn a booster pack for my troubles.
Meanwhile, Steph finished third overall in the entire tournament, and took home a dozen packs of the new set. Awesome!
The best part of the day was getting to hang out and play Magic with likeminded people. Lots of great discussions on the new set, the overall state of the game, recent card bans (so long, Splinter Twin), and favourite decks to play.
Overall, a fun day was had by all!