Streets of New Capenna Prerelease Primer

Streets of New Capenna releases is only two weeks, with paper prerelease events happening this weekend at your local game store! Since the set will officially release in paper and on Arena the following weekend, there won’t be any time to digitally practice with the new cards before holding them in the palms of your hands. That being the case, it’s time to dive into some of the strategies and important aspects to know about Streets of New Capenna before cracking your prerelease kit this weekend. Let’s jump right in!

There’s nothing that quite excites me more for Limited Magic than a multicolored-based set. Before going into more details about the cards of the format, it’s worth mentioning lessons that were learned from other tri-colored themed sets, such as Shards of Alara and Khans of Tarkir. While I’m not as familiar with Shards block, having gotten into Magic during Scars of Mirrodin block, I played Khans of Tarkir extensively as both a Sealed and Draft format. Here are a couple of lessons I took away from that set:

  1. Ample Fixing – Khans as a set had multiple dual lands at common and uncommon, as well as wedge-themed mana fixing artifacts. Fixing was crucial to constructing your Limited decks. Five-color strategies were also very common, especially in Sealed. I even remember one of the Draft strategies of the format was to pick up every dual land in pack one, and then just draft every powerful card you saw in packs two and three. While it was possible to construct two-colored decks, you wanted to be three-color the majority of the time, and thus needed to pick up dual lands and other mana-fixing cards during the draft. 
  2. Power Over Speed – Multicolored sets feature a myriad of powerful cards. Since decks tend to be three colors, strategies tend to be a bit slower since the first couple of turns are spent fixing mana. Aggressive strategies tend to also buckle under the pressure of multicolored strategies in these types of Limited formats. While there are “aggressive” three-colored decks, you’re not going to win your games by running over your opponent most of the time. This means you should prioritize cards that will help you out-value your opponent in longer, grindier games. 
  3. Understanding What your Shard is Trying to Accomplish – While you can draft decks that just play every powerful card in your pool, there is merit to drafting and building synergistic decks in these types of formats. If you do end up going in just a three-color strategy, at times you want to be more synergistic if your opponent is playing a slower, but more powerful deck. Learning the set from front to back will help you understand when to pick up key cards during a draft or identify what cards synergize well with each other in a sealed pool. 

The Five Families 

In Streets of New Capenna we get five shard-based factions, the five families of New Capenna. Each family has its own unique mechanic and slew of multi-colored cards. One important thing to note when deckbuilding is that some cards will synergize well with more than one family. For example Obscura (Esper) and Brokers (Bant) have mechanics that deal with giving creatures certain kinds of counters. There are multiple cards in the set that care about creatures having counters of some sort.

Without further ado, let’s meet the five families of Streets of New Capenna!

Obscura (Esper)

Keyword: Connive

Connive is a triggered ability stapled onto various creatures. When you Connive, you draw a card and then discard a card. If you discard a non-land card this way, you put a +1/+1 counter on the creature that Connived. 

Connive is an interesting mechanic that presents a choice to you each instance it triggers. You can either use its ability to discard less-powerful spells or lands in hopes of drawing a more powerful card, or you can discard a spell card to grow the creature that Connived. I think in most instances you’ll be using this ability similar to Blood tokens in Crimson Vow – looting away lands to hit your more powerful spells. However, there are cards that care about being in the graveyard that are prime discard targets for your Connive creatures. Take Maestros Initiate for example. 

Maestros Initiate is actually a Maestros (Grixis) card, but it actually has relevance to cards with Connive. You can discard Maestros Initiate to your Connive creatures to have a flashback spell (more or less) in your graveyard. I also like that Connive can help you push through both mana flood and mana screw, helping you ease out your draws if you’re fearful of falling behind to your opponent. 

Key Fixing:

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Maestros (Grixis)

Keyword: Casualty

Next up is Maestros, and with it comes a puzzling yet seemingly powerful mechanic. Casualty allows you to copy a spell with the keyword, as long as you meet its sacrifice clause. For example, if a spell has Casualty 2, to get another copy of it you have to sacrifice a creature with power 2 or greater.

The first thing to note with this mechanic is that you want to be sacrificing creatures with little to no value to get the copies of your more powerful spells. This effect works great with cards that generate tokens or have enter the battlefield effects.

Take Corrupt Court Official for example. While this card is fairly weak on the surface, you might consider playing cards like this to facilitate your Casualty spells in your deck. Ideally with Casualty you don’t want to be sacrificing real cards that have an impact on the board. With Maestros you want to run your opponent out of resources by copying your spells, so it’s not in your best interest to decrease your board when it’ll put you behind. Corrupt Court Official is the perfect card for Casualty since it takes a card from your opponent and will act as a spell copy on a later turn. I believe this card will play similarly to Virus Beetle from Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty.

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Brokers (Bant)

Keyword: Shield Counters

The Brokers get a unique on-board mechanic in the form of Shield counters. Shield counters basically prevent a creature with that counter on it from being destroyed or having a source of damage deal damage to it. However, after avoiding being destroyed or being dealt damage the Shield counter falls off.

Shield counters have some interesting implications and drawbacks. For example, Shield counters help your creatures survive wraths and makes it so your opponent can’t make a favorable trade in combat. On the flipside, Shield counters are also fragile. If you attack with a 3/3 creature that has a Shield counter on it, your opponent could chump block with a 1/1 token, destroying the shield.

Shield is also very powerful with creatures with first strike or effects that grant first strike. Take Disciplined Duelist for example:

Disciplined Duelist is a hard creature to block. If you attack with Duelist and your opponent blocks with a 2/2 and 2/3 creatures, you’d actually get to kill the 2/2 and the 2/3 and Duelist would bounce off of each other. Your opponents’ blocks also become incredibly more difficult if they need to play around combat tricks.

The last thing to know about Brokers is that Shield creatures synergize well with cards that care about counters.

While I’m not the biggest fan of combat tricks in formats like Sealed (where more removal is present), Revelation of Power is a nice way to take advantage of your buffed up creatures, regardless of if you’re in Epser or Bant colors.

As mentioned earlier with Obscura, Metropolis Angel will be a fantastic Sealed card that will allow you bury your opponent in card advantage. This card will pair nicely with the best counter-centric creatures in your pool.

One last note on Shield counters is how they interact with cards like Kill Shot. Kill Shot isn’t the best kind of removal for Sealed for a number of reasons. Kill Shot requires your opponent to be attacking you, which is bad if you’re up against a deck that plays the long game. Kill Shot also can’t destroy Shielded creatures, but it is worth noting that if you block with a creature to remove a Shield counter, you can cast Kill shot in the post-damage step in combat to destroy that creature.

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(Note: I know Majestic Metamorphosis isn’t a removal spell and tricks are worse in Sealed, but I do think Metamorphosis synergizes best with Shield counters)

Riveteers (Jund)

Keyword: Blitz

With the Riveteers we get Blitz, a keyword similar to Dash from the Khans of Tarkir era. Blitz basically means you can cast a creature for its Blitz cost, it gets haste, and then at your end step you sacrifice it and draw a card.

This is definitely a more aggressive mechanic. However, I’m not sure in Sealed you’re going to want to be Blitzing that often. Most of the time you’d rather keep adding to the board instead of trying to get in a few points of direct damage. There are some synergies with Blitz and potential “gravedigger” effects in the format, but I feel like Blitzing is just a way for your opponent to chump block some damage while you take off your turn, not adding to the board state.

Workshop Warchief is a hell of a Thragtusk. However, is it really worth tapping out on six mana to Blitz this card? If you Blitz this on turn six, you use your entire turn to gain three life, draw a card, make a 4/4, and deal five damage (unless this gets chump blocked enough or eaten by something with six toughness). That’s not the worst deal in the world, but I’d much rather be using my Workshop Warchief to block my opponent’s creatures, trade with something, and then get my 4/4. Then that essential card you’re drawing off of Blitzing turns into a removal spell instead in that instance.

With games going longer in Sealed I’m not sure how many times you’ll be able to Blitz to push through the final points of damage. There are a few cute things you can do with some Blitz cards, like when you pair them with effects like Graveyard Shift and Fake Your Own Death.

All in all, I dislike this mechanic because you can out-tempo yourself by giving your opponent control of when to block. I certainly don’t like using my turn to take a turn off adding to the board. I think this mechanic is better suited to pull off in aggressive Draft strategies.

However, Riveteers has some of the best creatures in the format in terms of power and toughness. Riveteers prides itself on controlling large powerful creatures that can overpower your opponents’ boards with a myriad of effects.

Freelance Muscle is a perfect example of a card that can break through Sealed board states. If you have another 4/4 that means you have an eight power attacker coming in every turn. If your opponent has a 3/3 and a 4/4 on their side and you have another 4/4 creature, you actually are greatly advantaged on board with this card. I think most often you’ll be in these colors to maximize your removal and large threats that can push through.

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Cabaretti (Naya)

Keyword: Alliance

Lastly, we have the Cabaretti. With them we get Alliance, which is basically just a fancy way of saying “when a creature enters the battlefield under your control, something happens. Alliance is a creature-based strategy, generating value off multiple creatures entering the battlefield in one turn. This works well with tokens or ways to flicker your creatures that have decent ETB effects.

There’s not really much to say on this mechanic, other than the fact that you’ll want to be conscious of the amount of creatures or token generators in your deck to reliably trigger some of your better Alliance cards. Again, in Sealed you’re going to be way less focused on building around a certain mechanic than just playing your best cards. Even Social Climber isn’t that enticing of a card. A 3/2 for three mana is certainly not that impactful in creature decks, and the life gain won’t benefit you if you’re aggressive. Funny enough Social Climber seems more like a midrange/control card that would be better in a Bant or 4-5-color deck.

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Cards to Look Out For

These are cards that are pretty obviously good cards, they just do enough on principle to make them auto-inclusions:

Briefcase is obviously more viable in five-color, but I like that it’s two mana for a 1/1 and treasure token at worst, especially when you have a hugely impactful multicolor spell waiting in your hand. Brokers Initiate is just a great blocker at all times that becomes a better attacker later on. Echo Inspector and Inspiring Overseer are likely some of the best commons in the set. Sewer Crocodile looks surprsingly good in decks that play the long game, it’s important to note there are some cards that care about having “psuedo-threshold”:

With games going longer in sealed I’m more than happy to play any of these cards – they’re all terrific for their mana cost. Infiltrator is a powerful threat that is beating most creatures in the air, Snooping Newsie is a pretty snazzy two-drop that can attack well later on in the game and swing life totals in your favor, and Tainted Indulgence is great way to filter away some lands in return for some powerful spells – also love that it’s an instant for the bluff factor!

Cards to Avoid

There are a couple of cards I’d try and steer clear from when deckbuilding:

Not to go into too much detail here, but these are all cards that won’t end up making a huge impact in any of your decks, especially if you’re playing 3+ colors. Gold cards can look enticing no matter what they do, but in Sealed these cards won’t get the bang for your buck. Especially avoid Lagrella. If you exile your opponent’s creature you put yourself open to getting blown out by any removal spell – you’ve been warned!

Know your Sealed Heuristics

No matter what family you choose for your prerelease it’s important not to forget the basics of how to approach Sealed. Sealed as a format is overall less about building around a certain color pair or archetype and more about playing the 23 best cards in your pool. Unlike in Draft where you can pick cards based on synergy, Sealed gives you a pool of 84 cards total. With 84 cards are your disposal you shouldn’t have an issue finding the best 23 cards from it.

That being said, most of the times you actually end up as three colors in Sealed. In tri-color formats, like I mentioned earlier, you’re going to end up five-color a large portion of the time, due to the power of the cards in your pool and the ample fixing. With so many common dual lands and other forms of fixing you’re going to be able to facilitate four or five color strategies.

Sealed is more about playing late-game powerful cards and two-for-one exchanges, so one and two-drop creatures are usually pretty un-impactful. With tri-colored formats being slower on principle, you should highly consider building your pool as more than three colors. Prerelease is a special event with the seeded packs meaning the majority of cards in your pool will be of a certain family. However, your fixing should provide you a way to play the overall best cards in your pool, regardless of mana cost.

Conclusion

Prerelease should first and foremost be a fun event. Have fun picking your favorite shard color combination and making references to The Godfather all weekend. If I did have to rank the families based on which I thought would win the most games I’d rank them like this (1 being best, 5 being worst):

  1. Obscura
  2. Maestros
  3. Brokers
  4. Riveteers
  5. Cabaretti

The reason for this ranking is solely based off what colors are traditionally the best to have in Sealed. Black gives you the best removal, Blue has disruption and card draw, and Green provides fixing. White and Red don’t provide as many cards on average that are as bomb-y or have baked in two-for-ones, and are usually much better colors to draft around. White and Red can be fine support colors for Black or Blue-based decks though. Also, I’m a control mage at heart, so Obscura is just going to be my #1 on principle.

I also owe a lot of my knowledge of this format to @Darkest_MAJ. Darkest Mage aka Michael Jacob is my favorite Sealed player that I’ve learned my most valuable Limited skills from. If you aren’t following him on Twitter or Twitch please do. He does an in-depth Sealed analysis at the beginning of each set on Twitch which is highly informative if you want to have a leg-up in your knowledge of the set.

Streets of New Capenna is shaping up to be one wild ride of a format. I’m looking forward to seeing if I can pull off five-color piles similar to my decks from the Khans-era. It’ll also be nice to play a new set in paper without ever having a chance to play with the cards prior. So suit up, put on your best fit and get out to your local game store for some Streets of New Capenna action! Capeesh?

Until next time!

@roman_fusco