Twas the night before pre-release, and all through the store, every gamer was gaming and the shop was a-roar!

I invited over my friend Rich Hoaen. We sat down and dove into our first Hour of Devastation prerelease pool. Rich is known as one of the best Limited players of all time, so he seemed like a good person to ask. With countless limited Grand Prix wins under his belt, dozens of Pro Tour appearances, and almost two decades of playing competitive magic, I was eager to see how his mind works when it comes to looking at six booster packs.

We dove in and cracked a pre-release kit. To make our sealed adventure more educational for people preparing for #GPToronto, we decided to ignore the pre-release promo for the pool. This pool had Overwhelming Splendor as its promo, which Rich figured was probably a trap anyways. “If I’m spending 8 mana on something, I really want it to just win the game, outright. This says ‘you probably win the game’, but doesn’t really seal the deal.”

I asked how he starts to break down a sealed pool. “I like to pile my packs out by colour, but also completely removing the non-playables. Get them out of your way, so you don’t get distracted by them,” he said. This left a small pile of cards off to the side that we weren’t really looking at, with a collection of piles sorted by colour. “While sorting, I like to keep an eye out for cards that really make me want to play a particular colour… you don’t always get to play your best cards, but you want to know where they are.”

Rich finds a black rare demon that at first glance looks promising: Apocalypse Demon. “This is probably really good…” Rich reads on and his face turns sour, “This card is bad.. Really bad. Yeah, don’t play this.” I asked Rich if he thinks people misbuild their decks because they are wanting to include their rares. “Yea, if your rares aren’t good, just don’t play them. You don’t need rares to make a good limited deck.”

After cracking a few of the non-basic Deserts that are pretty useful, Rich makes a point, “When sorting my pool, I keep my eyes open for non-basics and other fixing so I can get a feel for how easy it’s going to be to splash an extra colour or two.” We see a bunch of decent fixing start showing up, and then boom: Pride Sovereign.

“This card is certainly good enough, as long as we have two or three white sources in our deck. If we have other good white cards, then we are going to be really happy playing this in a green/white deck. It seems good enough that as long as we have some white sources, we are going to be happy with this in our deck.” Looking through the piles, it becomes obvious that green is strong: Ambuscade, Resilient Khenra, Bitterblade Warrior, Pride Sovereign, and two of the Bitterbow Sharpshooters. “Bitterbow Sharpshooters is a really strong card; I’m excited about playing this. It solves most of the problems green needs solved, as it takes care of most the flyers in the format, and it’s just big.” I make a comparison to Serra Angel, “Yea, its basically as close as green gets to a Serra Angel. I want to cast this on turn five every game.”

From there, we start looking at the other colours. Blue has some decent stuff: “Ominous Sphinx is really good. You can front the cycling without actually having it, which means your opponents never know what to expect. And Air Elemental is always a winner.” The rest of the blue, however, is underwhelming, so we move on. White is completely without excitement, even with the cat pushing us towards it, so it just doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. Red is also lackluster, leaving us only black.

Our black actually looks okay: “Banewhip Punisher is at worst a four mana Doom Blade, and cards like Accursed Horde, Merciless Eternal and Devotee of Strength all are great mana sinks that force your opponents to make bad choices … Being able to give one of your creatures +2/+2 at instant speed is kind of like being able to give all your creatures +2/+2. They can’t block effectively and you get to push them around.”

Rich then starts laying out the curve of the deck. Two drops with two drops, threes with threes and so on. I ask him how important a good curve in limited is. “Very. I won’t play a colour combination if there aren’t a couple of two drops that I’m happy with. These days limited formats are so fast and the game is usually decided in the first three or four turns. If you don’t have a strong start, you’re in trouble.” We end up including a few cards that I’m not super excited about: Ruin Rat and Wretched Camel. “These aren’t great, but any small deathtouch creature is usually strong and a random 2/1 for two that does something when it dies is fine.” I’m not convinced but defer to his wisdom.

Our deck is currently at 41 cards and I suggest just leaving it at that. “Blasphemy. People playing 41 card decks are just lying to themselves. Find the weakest card and cut it.” His brutal honesty cuts like a knife, as I personally have been known to run 42 or 45 card decks. We make a cut: the second copy of Scrounger of Souls. “This card is good, the lifelink really helps you win races, especially when we have so many good green pump spells like Synchronized Strike. But we have a few other five drops and would be happy with just one.”

The full deck looks something like this:

I ask Rich to imagine it’s the end of deck construction at GP Toronto and give me his thoughts on his chances with the deck. “I’m happy with it. I’d rather have this than some other random pool. It’s got strong creatures, some removal, stuff to do early on and a late-game plan as well.” I ask Rich what it’s missing. “I’d really love to see one or two pieces of good, strong removal, just to cut their bombs down when they run them into us, but I’m happy with this overall.”

We crack another pool that is strong in red, white and black. “When building an aggressive deck, you really need to stick to two colours. It’s just too hard when you stumble on mana and can’t put that pressure on early. As aggro, it’s hard to win if you’re not already winning by turns four or five. In the end, the white just couldn’t match the power of the creatures on our black side. We discarded white as the least powerful colour, and were sold on black and red’s powerful creatures and mana fixing.

We decided to shuffle up for a few games. Being a bit of a bull-headed player, I took the red/black deck. Game one an early Wretched Camel and Ruin Rat from Rich kept my Combat Celebrant at bay, and after dropping a few threats, a well placed Banewhip Punisher cleaned up the board enough that Rich was able to beat me down.

Game two I had a clean start that saw Struggle (to Survive) and Doomfall clear the way for my Bloodlust Inciter fueled Gilded Cerodon and Emberhorn Minotaur, which made quick work of Rich.

Game three it was that Wretched Camel and Ruin Rats holding me back and forcing awful trades that ultimately was my demise. Though I tried to claw back in with a well timed Wander in Death, Rich dropped a well placed Synchronized Strike to get his exerted guys back in action and polish me off.

I guess I can’t feel bad losing to Rich Hoaen.

The format is loaded with fun interaction and lots of options. No matter what style of play you enjoy, this sealed format will keep you on edge and pushing for more. Wherever you prerelease this weekend, make sure you get lots of practice in for GP Toronto, which is only 14 days away! Speaking of the GP, Rich has offered to do a few more sealed tutorials on Friday, July 21st at the Enercare Centre, helping people prep for the GP. Come learn from the best! For more info, stay tuned on social media and online at