An Innistrad Prerelease Primer

With the Prerelease for Magic’s latest expansion right around the corner, I thought I’d share some of my first impressions for limited. I’m not going to go over every card, because I’m sure other authors will do just that next week. Instead, I’m going to give you an overview of the format by highlighting the common tricks, flyers and removal spells likely to show up in your sealed pools.

To begin, I believe Innistrad is significantly slower than Magic 2012, but that’s not to say fast decks won’t exist. A curve starting at five won’t win you many games in this format. There are a couple of issues in play here:

First, we have the Transform mechanic. Werewolves can beat down very hard and fast. A lot of these cards cost four or more, especially at lower rarities, but due to the way packs are constructed, every booster will feature one and players can literally see them coming in draft. A crafty player can use this information to their advantage and assemble a very swift aggro deck.

This means even control decks will often want to choose to play first when given the option and they’ll need a few cheaper spells in their deck to keep the Werewolves at bay.

Secondly, surveying the spoiler, you’ll see few non-Werewolves at two mana or less. I expect the quality ones will be a hotter than usual commodity. Even Walking Corpse, a vanilla 2/2, looks to be a solid playable.

Lastly, there are quite a few high toughness utility creatures that stall the ground. This will drive the games longer than most formats, meaning bombs will come into play more often and the incentive to splash a third color can become quite strong.

As a result, it is imperative to play cards to break stalemates, even if they appear to be somewhat mediocre. I don’t expect [card]Cobbled Wings[/card] will be an early draft pick, but don’t be afraid to slide it into your sealed deck if you’re light on late game solutions.

WHITE

Without having the benefit of actually playing the set, I’m inclined to believe that White is among the strongest colors in Innistrad. It has arguably the best evasion and removal spells at common and it has a good number durdles to hold the ground.

Commons of Note

[card]Abbey Griffin[/card], [card]Chapel Geist[/card], [card]Voiceless Spirit[/card]

[card]Armored Warhorse[/card] has always been a fine creature and the variant in this set has flying. Add to that another 3 mana flyer and a perfectly reasonable 4 drop and you can imagine that a white-based flyer deck is a real possibility.

[card]Rebuke[/card], [card]Smite the Monstrous[/card], [card]Ghostly Possession[/card], [card]Bonds of Faith[/card], [card]Avacynian Priest[/card]

The quality and quantity of White’s removal is somewhat staggering. Even situational removal such as [card]Ghostly Possession[/card] is a perfectly reasonable answer to most bombs, similar to [card]Guard Duty[/card] from Rise of Eldrazi. The others are basically auto-plays in White and fine splash cards in a pinch.

[card]Moment of Heroism[/card], [card]Village Bell-Ringer[/card]

Did I mention White has tricks too? [card]Moment of Heroism[/card] is a great way to smash larger creatures and just the threat of [card]Village Bell-Ringer[/card] will give pause to attacking baddies.

Archetypes

Black/White

As usual, Black/White appears to be a challenging combination to pull off. White and Black both reward a heavy commitment to their respective colors, so playing cards like [card]Victim of Night[/card] in the same deck as [card]Chapel Geist[/card] may prove challenging. If you’re cautious with your mana, Black/White could pay off. One of White’s few weaknesses is dealing with smallish utility creatures.

Blue/White

Blue/White flyers is a fine deck once again in this format. To construct, add 2 cups of White flyers, a few tablespoons of Blue monsters and season with bombs and removal to taste.

Red/White

This deck looks like it can be good, but it takes the right circumstances. Allied colors seem designed to play better than enemy colors in this format, but splashing for a few key cards such as [card]Brimstone Volley[/card] and cheap aggressive creatures is pretty easy.

The real reason to play this color combo is [card]Rally the Peasants[/card]. This card is absurd. Attacking with the team plus Rally the Peasants and then flashing it back should end games on the spot. [card]Rally the Forces[/card] was one of my favorite tricks ever and this card simply puts it to shame.

BLUE

In a surprising change of pace, Blue is likely the most controlling color in Innstrad. Your basic plan should be to hide behind giant enemy crabs [fortess crab], maybe mill yourself a little [armored skraab] and then get in with your giant monsters [stitched drake].

Commons of Note

[card]Moon Heron[/card], [card]Stitched Drake[/card], [card]Claustrophobia[/card]

Blue has a sub theme of wanting stuff in it’s own graveyard, making cards such as [card]Armored Skaab[/card] very attractive. Near the top of the list is [card]Stitched Drake[/card]. It’s both a fast clock and a solid blocker.

Quick aside: Here’s a trick to try at the Prerelease. Step One: tap three mana and pretend to start playing a card. Step Two: look at your graveyard, read the card in your hand and look sheepish. Step Three: untap your lands and jam whatever creature you have in play into the red zone past any and all blockers.

Disclaimer: Attempt only on experienced players with a working knowledge of the set. There’s no point bluffing a novice.

Archetypes

Blue/Red

The ideal Blue/Red deck will attack with aggressive Red guys and punish them with big Blue men in the midgame. I don’t think the plan is terrible, but like most enemy color combos in Innistrad, won’t come together all that often.

Blue/Black

Blue/Black should be able to put together a saucy control number, GhoulRaising Zombies, gaining card advantage and whatnot until you draw your bombs and eliminate them. It’s a rock solid plan, but that’s not all U/B can do.

The most awesome Blue/Black deck is mill. I think it’s a 100% legit draft deck, at least until everyone catches on. The best part of the archetype is that you want cards that are mediocre to unplayable in most decks.

Keep in mind this is a gimmick deck and as such it really wants multiples of certain cards. On average, an 8 man draft will open close to 3 of each common. For that reason I’d suggest avoiding this in smaller 3v3 money drafts.

Ideally, you want to start with solid Blue/Black control cards and then transition to mill if you notice enough key cards in your first 4 or 5 packs. Then pick the mill cards highly and hope the cards you want table. If they do, you want to aggressively draft mill for the rest of the draft.

That being said, if you suspect the mill deck is being assembled, don’t be afraid to hate draft or take sideboard cards over marginal playables.

Important Cards

[card]Curse of the Bloody Tomb[/card]

[card]Dream Twist[/card]

Without around five of these your deck is bound to be terrible.

Less Important Mill Cards

[card]Selholf Occoltist[/card]

[card]Ghoulcaller’s Bell[/card]

These cards alone won’t make your deck but they can certainly put you over the top.

Sweet Support Cards

[card]Think Twice[/card]

[card]Forbidden Alchemy[/card]

[card]Armored Skaab[/card]

Counterspells

[card]Silent Departure[/card]

[card]Rotting Fensnake[/card]

[card]Manor Skelton[/card]

[card]Typhoid Rats[/card]

[card]Sensory Deprivation[/card] (not actually unplayable!)

These cards go up in value once you’ve committed to mill. They either slow enemy forces down or help you get to your key cards. Since you don’t plan on winning the game with damage, cheap defensive and tempo cards go up much higher in pick order than normal.

Stand-out Uncommons

[card]Civilzed Scholar[/card]

[card]Cellar Door[/card]

[card]Tempanation Blade[/card] (if you have enough durdles, obviously)

[card]Bitterheart Witch[/card] (if you have enough Curse of the Bloodly Tombs, naturally)

[card]Runic Repetition[/card] (if you have enough [card]Dream Twists[/card], clearly)

These obviously wont show up every draft, but they certainly won’t hurt.

If anyone has any luck with this deck this weekend let me know in the comments!

Quick aside #2: All the time I see people take a card at random out of a pack, on the grounds that they won’t maindeck any of them. This is bad for a number of reasons. Firstly, not all unplayables are created equal. Just because YOU won’t play any of them doesn’t mean that nobody will. Consider if a card is niche, bad or actually unplayable. Second, consider your sideboard. [card]Urgent Exorcism[/card] will likely come in against some decks (like the mill deck!) whereas [card]Stony Silence[/card] will probably warm the bench longer than Curtis Painter.

BLACK

Black’s shtick seems to be a jack-of-all-trades, and master of none. It has some card advantage, some removal and some aggressive creatures. The role of Black would seem to be to support the color you pair it with.

Commons of Note

[card]Dead Weight[/card], [card]Vampire Interloper[/card], [card]Victim of Night[/card]

These are all pretty straightforward cards. The most interesting is [card]Victim of Night[/card]. At first blush it would appear as if it can’t kill much of anything, but in actuality, most of the Vampires and Zombies are on the small side, so it’s not such a big deal as long as you kill the Werewolves in response to their Transform triggers.

Archetypes

Red/Black

Red/Black looks like one of the more aggressive color pairings. Picking up Vampires for [card]Vampric Fury[/card] and quick Werewolves seems like a solid way to best slower control decks. Also important are cards with reach like [card]Bump in the Night[/card] to finish off any opponent who begins to stabilize.

Green/Black

Green/Black seems like it would prefer to build up a larger attack force and then overwhelm the enemy. Cards like [card]Prey Upon[/card], [card]Skeletal Grimace [/card] and [card]Festerhide Boar[/card] may allow you to punch in. Although it seems like it will be extremely hard to come back once the board has stalled without some kind of bomb.

RED

Red really wants to be aggressive in this set. Most of the niche commons such as [card]Nightbird’s Clutches and [/card]Traitorous Blood[/card] should be available late in draft, allowing you to focus on drafting 2 and 3 drops.

Commons of Note

[card]Brimstone Volley[/card], [card]Geistflame[/card], [card]Harvest Pyre[/card]

Most of Red’s commons are fairly middling save [card]Brimstone Volley[/card], which could be the best common in the set. Triggering Morbid should be straightforward for most decks and 5 damage is enough to take down almost everything except for some rare bombs. You should consider taking it whenever you see it regardless of your colors. Splashing single Red with [card]Traveler’s Amulet[/card] and [card]Shimmering Grotto[/card] in the set shouldn’t be too much of a challenge.

Archetypes

Green/Red

I imagine Green/Red will be much like Green/Black, but faster and more effective in most cases. Your best bet is to get in when you can early and use Red’s spells to punch in for damage on a key turn to steal the game.

GREEN

At first glance Green looks like a bit of an underdog in this format, but don’t rule it out. Green’s best bet may be to play a steady stream of large creatures and Werewolves leading up to large attacks backed up by tricks to take down enemy forces. Green also features the finest mana fixing in the format. Don’t be afraid to reach into other colors for removal and bombs when appropriate.

Commons of Note

[card]Ambush Viper[/card], [card]Prey Upon[/card], [card]Spidery Grasp[/card]

Although Green lacks traditional removal, [card]Ambush Viper[/card] [link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SX8LLjRBHzs], [card]Spidery Grasp[/card] and [card]Prey Upon[/card] can certainly get the job done. Despite the risk of a two-for-one the latter two stave off bombs and evasion creatures.

[card]Ranger’s Guile[/card], [card]Orchid Spirit[/card]

[card]Ranger’s Guile[/card] functions similar to a counterspell, while [card]Orchid Spirit[/card] is about as close as Green gets to a flyer. While neither are anything to write home about, I doubt you’ll be terribly disappointed to have either in your 40.

COLORLESS

Commons of Note

[card]Blazing Torch[/card]

[card]Blazing Torch[/card] returns from Zendikar and is more common than ever! For those who have never played it, it’s basically a finicky Shock, which is perfectly fine.

COMMON MISTAKES AT PRERELEASES

Before I go, here are a few common mistakes I see at Prereleases in general:

If You’re Behind, Play to Win.

Chump blocking often prolongs the game, but rarely brings you closer to winning. Consider your outs in a situation and play as to maximize them. Often people lose winnable games by leading an endless stream of creatures to slaughter when they could have safely taken a hit and team blocked the following turn.

If You’re Ahead, Play Not To Lose.

Don’t give opponents extra time to draw outs, but also don’t play into their out. If you can afford to, think about what could be in there are deck and work around it.

An M12 Example: You have a [card]Griffin Sentinel[/card] poking away at them and all they have is a [card]Runeclaw Bear[/card] looking rather foolish. They’ve had a card in hand for a couple of turns and lots of untapped Forests and Islands with just 7 life. You have seven lands with [card]Cancel[/card] in hand and you draw a [card]Frost Titan[/card]. What’s the play?

It’s not Frost Titan! You are winning this game, albeit slowly. They are compelled to make the first move, or they will die. That last card in hand could be anything: a fattie, a counterspell, a [card]Mind Control[/card] or just a land. It doesn’t matter. If they just have lands, they die. If they are forced to play the fattie or a removal spell you’ll counter it and they die.

Why tempt fate? You no longer have bad draws. If you draw a big creature, then you have a sweet follow-up to your Titan. If you draw a removal spell, then you won’t be forced to counter most creatures. And if you draw land, you just get closer to dropping your Titan with counter magic up.

Use Your Creatures Effectively

If there is a 0% chance you’ll block and it’s safe to attack, do so! People won’t play around a trick you clearly don’t have. IE. A trick that would have been awesome last turn that you didn’t play. So don’t bluff.

Don’t get too Fancy

There is both a [card]Force Spike[/card] and a [card]Mind Rot[/card] variant in this set. Avoid running out extra lands unless you have a plan for them, but don’t worry about empting your hand if it means you can play around something.

I’ve seen games where a player is clearly land flooded, but refuses to play additional lands, because he will lose ‘bluff value’. Inevitably he will topdeck a draw spell and be unable to play a sweet creature he draws into, while three lands sit idle in his hand.

Represent Cards

It’s always a good idea to represent cards, even if you don’t have them in hand. If you are going to leave a single land untapped anyway,s why not make it a Forest instead of an Island? If you make a show of purposely leaving the Forest up your opponent might play around [card]Ranger’s Guile[/card]. Worst case, he doesn’t, but even then you haven’t lost anything.

If you have any questions, comments or awesome Prerelease stories be sure to hit me up in the comments below or message me on Twitter (@SeanMTG). If you’re going to be in Calgary this weekend for the Prerelease be sure to swing by Phoenix Comics and say hi.

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