I went to my very first Magic the Gathering pre-release event on Saturday, and it was pretty dang awesome, let me tell you! It was also my first ever competitive Magic event, so I was more than a little wary going in, but I managed to get through the day…
First of all, for the uninitiated, Wizards of the Coast holds pre-release events across the world the weekend before a new set goes on sale. It’s a very casual Sealed-Deck tournament, where you get six packs and a foil rare, and basically get to build a deck from the cards you pull from those packs, then play a number of games. Before the set goes on sale, this is the only way you can get your hands on the new packs, but given that the packs aren’t actually legal in any deck until the set is released, I think the main draw here is getting to play with the cards a week early. I’d been telling myself I wanted to try this format since getting into Magic a year ago, but for whatever reason kept missing out. In fact, my first proper experience with the game was walking into my local store on Origins pre-release day, so I suppose there’s a nice kind of synergy there!
So anyway. Prior to the event, I’d done quite a bit of extensive research on trying to find out what cards are in the new set, and I’d tried to commit some of the main archetypes and rules to memory, though I was a bit nervous about the competitive aspect, and the fact that all these people were somewhat veterans, and most of that research went out of my mind when I arrived! At least my usual gaming buddy Tony showed up – he’d been vacillating over coming, but since he’s now got weekends off, he came along, and so it was fun to have at least someone I knew there (besides the store manager!)
Anyway. Got my pre-release pack, and I’d made sure to bring sleeves, a playmat and dice, so I was ready to go from 10.30. I opened up all of my packs and sorted them by colour without really paying attention to anything I was getting, but had hoped prior to the event to draft black/red vampires, as I think it would be the archetype I would be most comfortable with. I also had an idea of what I didn’t want to play – blue/white spirits. Well, whaddaya know happened… urgh! I’d thought I might have enough to get black and red going, which would let me use my promo Stromkirk Occultist, but none of the cards I’d pulled would really work together, and I thought it would be a risk to try to force it. Looking through the rest of it, I didn’t have enough blue to get blue/black zombies, and in desperation it came to me: I had enough good cards that would work together in blue and white to get a mostly-flying deck going on. Urgh!
After that trauma was dealt with, and the deck was sleeved, I tried a couple of first-turn-hands and I thought it looked reliable enough. But the first round went awfully. I was up against a black-green horrible thing that kept getting The Gitrog Monster out. I managed to play a Spontaneous Mutation on it that reduced its power by 8, but still lost due to the amount of zombies and stuff that were coming at me. Second game was a similar story, so it wasn’t the best of starts, but I’d now seen a lot of my deck and, while I knew what it wanted to do when I put it together, I think I understood it much better having played it twice, so it was a useful start, even though I was down 0-1.
Second game was against a white/green monster of a deck. There were humans and werewolves, but the reason it was monstrous was because it must have had at least 60 cards in there. Anyway, my second opponent was much more chatty and, in talking with him over the game, I relaxed into the whole thing, which I think made me feel much better about being there. The first game was over pretty quickly as I was attacking with my fliers while he had nothing to block; Stitchwing Skaab and Niblis of Dusk for 5 damage each turn, which was good but I kinda wish I’d been able to play with more of the new Eldritch Moon cards. There were a couple of mis-plays, but I managed to win, which totally surprised me! The second game of this match was going really well for me, as he was mana-screwed for most of the game, so I kept attacking unopposed, but then everything came crashing down with one of the green werewolves that transformed – I don’t remember which one, but it was something horrible that was equipped with stuff that made it pretty scary! However, by the time this thing came up, my opponent was at one life, so I blocked the wolf with Geist of the Lonely Vigil (equipped with a Cathar’s Shield), and buffed it with Strength of Arms, which allowed me to create a 1/1 Human Soldier token that I used to attack on my next turn to defeat him. It was pretty epic in those final moments! I felt curiously guilty for winning, but at least things were going in my favour at last! 1-1, time for round three.
Third match was against another of these veteran-types, another green/white deck with humans that I was kinda nervous going up against, if I’m honest! I mean, my opponent just knew what he was doing, and it really put me off balance! I lost the first game really quickly, so was thinking my time was over and I was about to just get stomped. However, game two saw him mana-screwed, I think he only drew three lands all game. It felt pretty dirty, but I won! So we were drawn, and went into game three again with me feeling like I was about to be wrecked, but again, he got mana-screwed and I won! I couldn’t quite believe it! The worrying thing for me, however, is that he was getting really angry with his deck and I didn’t quite know how to handle it. I mean, it’s only a game, right? So I just played and hoped to be as graceful as I could. Luckily, Tony was sat behind me, so we could kinda talk after the game and compare notes etc, but I was really uncomfortably aware of the fact that this guy was still sat there, chundering away to himself and shuffling and re-shuffling increasingly angry, drawing practice hands and then shaking his head again. Urgh!
At this point, I’d played seven games of Magic with a deck that I wasn’t exactly happy with – I mean, blue/white spirits is not my ideal deck. So I was actually thinking I might just toddle off at that point, leaving with my record at 2-1 and thinking that the experience was much more important than actually winning anything, but there was only one more round, so I just went back into the fray!
My last opponent was someone I’d met earlier after he had played Tony, and he was another fairly chatty guy, so it was a good way to end the day. Unfortunately, I also knew him to be really good, so I wasn’t expecting to win. He was playing a very fast red/white deck, with a mix of humans and werewolves, though I thought it interesting that his white creatures were similar to mine, so it sometimes felt like a mirror match situation, when each of our Steadfast Cathars were attacking, equipped with Cathar’s Shields. I was more interested in his deck, however, because I think he was the only person in the tournament who had pulled both parts of a meld pair and was playing them! Unfortunately, both games we played did not see either half – and also unfortunately, I lost both games! However, I was so excited to see some new cards, I convinced him to play a third, more casual game with the deck, just in the hope of seeing the two cards come together! Unfortunately, neither Hanweir Battlements nor Hanweir Garrison came into play in all of the three games, so that was disappointing!
Overall, it was really fun. I think the experience of making a Sealed Deck and then playing with it was good, though more than a little daunting, especially the thought of playing all those folks who knew what they were doing! I missed a few things, but I felt pretty good about being able to help other folks, especially with the new rules! Definitely had a community vibe to the whole thing. I wasn’t entirely happy with the deck I had, as I was playing colours that I wasn’t entirely comfortable with. My actual pool was pretty bad, as I said, but I’ve heard a lot of folks around the store saying similar things – not sure whether they’re trying to save face, but yeah, I felt somewhat better knowing I wasn’t the only one!
So yeah, I went 2-2 all told, and placed 11th out of the 20 competitors at the game. Which was just so amazing, because I’d thought I was going to come dead last! Tony placed 18th, only winning the last of his four matches, but we both got to come away with two boosters each! I opened them later, and they also had nothing of interest in there, but I plan to go over all of the cards in the coming days so that I can try to make more sense of them now that they’re in hand!
It was also really cool to get to talk with some folks who play Magic with a lot more regularity than myself. The second guy I played is very casual like me, and we got to talking about the types of decks etc, and he told me people actually play paper Pauper at the store! I was so excited for that, I’ve since built a Pauper Mardu deck in the hope of trying it out sometime! Commander is also really popular there, and I spent the best part of Sunday putting together a black-white Ayli lifegain deck that I really hope I can try out soon.
Anyway – the moment you’ve all been waiting for: it’s my deck!
Niblis of Dusk
Lamplighter of Selhoff
Geist of the Lonely Vigil
Guardian of Pilgrims
Thraben Standard Bearer
Strength of Arms
Cathar’s Shield (2)
So there you have it! The thought I had with this deck was to have lots of little people out to run interference, and basically wear my opponent down. I’m not used to playing these kinds of decks, as I tend to have better little people in my black/red decks, but these things can’t be helped I guess! I had a few of the new cards as well, which was fun, though time and again it was the Shadows over Innistrad zombies who were providing a good deal of the action for me.
I’m pretty pleased with how the day went, anyway, so let’s see if I get down to the Kaladesh pre-release coming in September!