So I wanted to offer some thoughts about my experiences this prerelease weekend. Unfortunately, I did not save any of my pools for further analysis and I’m at work at the moment so I don’t have exact decklists with me but I’ll sum up my overall experience and thoughts about the Amonket prerelease. I had terrible luck with most of my card pools (at least in terms of opening cool/exciting rares) so my opinions may sound a bit salty at times. Fair warning!
I played in a total of 4 prerelease events. The first was the midnight prerelease event which, at my LGS, is fairly casual and has a skins-style payout (one pack per win, 3 rounds). I had also played Standard FNM that night and played in our store’s Standard Season Top 8. I had terrible luck all night leading up to the prerelease (getting crushed left and right for a variety of reasons) so I hoped that maybe my luck would turn around when I opened my prerelease packs.
That hope was foolish. I excitedly tore into my Amonkhet prerelease box (which I really liked the design of, by the way – the sliding mechanic inside where the packs were stored was very tomb-like in my mind) and found a Cascading Cataracts staring back at me as my promo card. Now I am a person who is never terribly excited to open rare lands in Sealed (although at least most of the rare lands in this set have cycling) but this land is a particularly large disappointment. It’s basically useless unless for some reason you try to push 5-color in Sealed or (I suppose) if land destruction is popular (why?).
Alright, well, plenty of people get disappointing promos so I set it aside and open my first pack. My first rare is a… Cascading Cataracts. Really? I’m a bit frustrated at this point but, you know, variance is a part of many aspects of Magic so I accept that this is a bad start. My second pack contains a Pyramid of the Pantheon which is another color-fixing card that requires you to overpay (at least the first three times) to get colors right. Great. I sigh and open pack three. My rare is another Cascading Cataracts. At this point I’m seriously considering dropping and going home so I don’t just act like a salty opponent in all my matches. I’m actually getting upset writing about it. My fourth pack is another Pyramid of the Pantheon. My last two packs had non-mana-fixing cards (finally) and one was Dusk//Dawn. I show my pool to a few friends who get frustrated on my behalf and I end up building a Black/White small-creatures deck and go 2-1 because of some favorable pairings (against newer players). I take my two packs and go home.
The next day I come back to the shop for our more competitive prerelease event (it’s full rounds, cut to top 8 for a draft – payouts only to top 8 players). I open my pool and my promo is a Channeler Initiate. Much more exciting than last night – if I’m going to get mana fixing in my Sealed pool this is how I want to get it. I can’t exactly remember the rest of my packs except to mention that I opened two Combat Celebrants and a Glorious End with a number of other good exert creatures. I included a few of the one-drop red creatures that tap to give target creature haste and spent the day tilting opponents by (unintentionally) letting myself get to very low life and playing defense and then surprising them with 20+ damage before they ever got to do anything again. Having 3 creatures on board and then dropping a hasted Combat Celebrant is usually game over if you just act helpless – even if it wasn’t quite lethal my opponents would often try to crack back for lethal only to have their turn ended as soon as they finished tapping their attackers. Glorious End is a dangerous card but in Sealed it actually worked quite well as you can often bait out overly ambitious attacks that are “sure” to end the game…unless the turn ends before combat does.
On Sunday morning my LGS does a very casual brunch + prerelease event. It’s only two rounds and you get one pack per win + 1 pack for playing (and there’s brunch foods!). My promo was an Archfiend of Ifnir and I opened 2 Decimator Beetles and 3 Crocodiles of the Crossing. I built a slow, but aggressive deck and felt good…until I played my round one opponent who, in all 3 games, played Bontu the Glorified on turn 3 and their own Archfiend on turn 5 while I never found a second swamp in any of our games. Oh well. My second opponent was a kid who was so new that he had put his entire prerelease pool into his deck with some lands. I tried to offer advice but he seemed uninterested and so the match was sad. We played a few more games later for fun while I tried to gently offer advice on why it’s good to play less cards. Hopefully he keeps coming back to play as our store has a lot of players (adults and kids alike) who are not only skilled but very willing to help teach.
The last event was a Two-Headed Giant event that I played in with one of the kids who plays at the store. We built a UW deck with a lot of flyers, embalm creatures, and token boosts (as well as Oketra the True) and a Jund deck with plenty of removal and aggressive creatures. We went 2-1 (3 rounds, payout only to 3-0 and 2-1 teams). Our loss was to a team that had opened 2 Liliana, Death’s Majesty as well as Approach of the Second Sun (which is how we lost).
Overall I found this sealed environment to be somewhat fun but I do think Approach’s alternate win condition is a little too good for how slow this format feels overall (plenty of chances to stall the board) especially in two-headed giant. I found that most of my pools had VERY limited removal options and, in many cases, an opponent dropping one of the gods or a bomb creature often meant the game was over (even if it took a few turns to truly end). Maybe my pools were just light on removal but it seems like board stalls will be pretty common and you’ll just wait to see who draws into their “finisher” first. Hopefully I’m wrong and drafting will actually be fun. I don’t draft often, but I’ll give it a few tries at least.
Next time I’ll talk about my UW Control list that uses Approach of the Second Sun as a win condition. I have a lot more testing to do but I can confirm that it’s at least fun, even if it can’t hang with Saheeli and Mardu which, after today’s ban announcement (or lack thereof, for Standard) seem like they’ll be sticking around for now.