Kool Runnings: A Pair of Prereleases

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Much has changed since my last pre-release (in 2006, with Coldsnap, brrr), with events switching to the store level (and with me switching to the Magic Online environment). Since I’ve recently broken down and purchased paper (to maintain my Cube experiment), the Avacyn Restored paper prerelease was mighty tempting. It even had an ample supply of +1/+1 counter-generating cards to acquire for said cube! The Helvault promotion sealed the deal, and I made plans to attend an event with some paper-playing friends.

The Paper Prerelease

10:50 PM EST: Starbucks happily charges me $2.11 for a moderately-sized cup of bean ash stewed in scalding-hot water. I hop on the loop and head across town to my destination for the evening’s midnight Avacyn Restored prerelease.

11:30 PM EST: I arrive at the Games To Die For parking lot (after only making one wrong turn en route)!

11:48 PM EST: After pregaming with Mitochondrion’s Archaeaeon (demonic invocations to put me in the anti-angel camp for the event) and the previously obtained coffee, I head into the store to meet friends who’ve joined me for many Grand Prix travels: Nick and Andrew (well, and Bobby, who doesn’t ever do anything fun with us).

12:00 AM EST: Our TO cracks the Helvault and distributes one token, one oversized legend, and one spin-down to players, with the oversized card pick based on order of signup. Only Bruna, Light of Alabaster and Griselbrand are left by the time my 40th- or 50th-something place comes up. I take Bruna as Nick promised me his Griselbrand for my token. (Note: Out of 72 players, everyone got a token, but only the first however-many got dice and oversized cards.)

12:10 AM EST: The Tournament Organizer passes out packs and preregistered players not on record (me!) give our DCI numbers to the lady who would be staying up all night after the TO withdraws to rest. We then could sit anywhere in preparation to build our decks (which obviously means next to friends)! I don’t really like this decision, as it promotes cheating among the unscrupulous players, but it does make the prerelease a lot more fun for geeking-out about opens to friends!

12:25ish AM EST: Deck-building time! I cracked my packs and looked at the rares…

“Not bad” or “mythic madness”? In either case, jackpot! Here’s the full pool:

Click the arrow to download the above sealed pool in .txt format.

At first, I thought I might be able to play Gisela and Tamiyo, but blue-white didn’t feel deep enough. I also looked into black with its massive amount of removal and made a black-white deck splashing Gisela. But green seemed pretty deep with the soulbond selection, so this is where I ended up:

Let me tell you, having to manually sort cards and open packs is exhausting.

1:30 AM EST: Round 1. I had to navigate a slight maze of flesh to find my seat. When I sat down, I was greeted by an enthusiastic (and slightly intoxicated) fellow named Hurley. He had played at the shop prior to moving a few hours away and was back to see friends and get Avacyn Restored cards ASAP. Even with 18 mana sources, I had issues hitting my land drops on the draw. Hurley’s red-white aggro deck came out fast with Falkenrath Exterminator and Call to Serve in two games of our three-game match. “Miraculously,” I had Banishing Stroke both tims, but I lost a creature in the match’s deciding game (and lost the match). Game 3, I stumbled on colors and then total lands, and a myriad of 1/1s (including guys like Stonewright and Cathedral Sanctifier), Goldnight Commander and Kruin Striker, pummeled me into oblivion. I tried my black-white-splash-red list after losing Game 1 and did not like the results. It would be green-white-splash-red for the rest of the night! 0-1

2:40 AM EST: Round 2. You’d be surprised how many people left during or after Round 1; the building was easily navigable after the exodus. I played versus Wade this round; the match was over in about 10 minutes. Wade’s deck didn’t respond well to creatures soulbonded with Druids Familiars (something about mana screw). Sadly, my notes don’t indicate what colors he played. I blame sleep deprivation (but it’s probably just ineptitude). Oh well, my notes do denote I had time for a bathroom break after this round! I give the bathroom experience a 3 of 5 star rating. Clean enough, but still felt like a mop sink room with a pisser in it. 1-1

3:30 AM EST: Round 3. Chris mirror match! Chris was playing blue-black and had more than a few blue soulbonders; he actually had all of them. Okay, okay… I never saw Tandem Lookout, but he did play the other five over the course of our two games. Chris seemed a bit tired, as he missed more than a few EOT mills with Stern Mentor pairs. For being blue, he didn’t have many flyers, and my evasion pecked away after his removal had been used up to seal the deal. Deadeye Navigator was pretty annoying to play against, but luckily, other-Chris blocked a 4/4 with it when he was tapped out and I had Joint Assault. As in most of my games, Druids Familiars played a huge role (pairing with Farbog Explorer this time). 2-1

4:32 AM EST: Round 4. Another Chris mirror match! This time, he was even playing green-white (but without my mythical red splash)! Like most green-white Limited mirrors, our games took forever; large ground stalls occurred, and flyers were prime choices for any removal spells drawn. Game 1 featured two Defangs and an Eaten by Spiders from evil Chris (to deal with my Seraph of Dawn and Archangel, even after a Cloudshift saved one). Eventually, evil Chris broke through our stall with twin Howlgeists; that card is a Blitzkrieg of a beating. Game 2 dragged on for just as long with plenty of removal nullifying my large creatures and some flyers to pressure me and(!!!) twin Nearheath Pilgrims. Luckily, my deck coughed up some Geist Trappers and Druids Familiars to stall until Gisela appeared. The Pilgrim was so very obnoxious to play against. He must’ve gained 20+ life off of them! Time was called as we were shuffling up for Game 3, so the night’s most entertaining match ending in a disappointing draw. Sigh. 2-1-1

5:35 AM EST: At a glorious 2-1-1, I claimed my two prize packs and cracked them, hoping for some +1/+1 counter cards to consider for my cube. Vexing Devil stares back at me… not bad, I guess. I also snatched up a Blessings of Nature, Cathars Crusade and some other lesser cards from my friends’ pools and prizes.

5:45 AM EST: After some final words, I made my way back to the car for the 25-or-so minute drive home. Wow, a lot of people get up early on Saturday morning; the roads were quite busy. Kalmah’s For the Revolution kept my energy up long enough for me to make it to my bed and pass out. Wheeee!

All-in-all, the prerelease was a lot more fun than I expected it to be– even with my admittedly average performance (and excluding my pulls)! It was a bit annoying to have such a slow start time (and a whole freakin’ hour for deck-building!), but each round in the event did end up taking only about an hour. Also, I found keeping track of soulbonds to be a bit annoying when more than four creatures were on the battlefield.

The Online Prerelease

I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was looking forward to this more than the paper prere so that I could spam a playlist, so I’ll get it out of the way now. Here’s what’ll be playing in my headphones as I’m rambling about my donkish play decisions and scrubtastic sealed thoughts: The Red Chord’s Clients, The Ocean’s Precambrian, Pig Destroyer’s Phantom Limb, Tomb’s Path of Totality, Assuck’s Misery Index. Metuuuuuuuul (mostly)!

Anyway, I hope you enjoy my overpriced experience as much as I am sure to enjoy it!

If you’d like to try your own hand at building the Magic Online pool, click here to download the text file.

Whoa, that was quick (to film) and slow (to wait through the rounds). Soulbond seemed a bit strong (and miracle a bit random)…

Comparing Apples to … Grapples?

Well, things were definitely different in the two events. It’s hard to say which was an overall “better” experience, but I am leaning toward the paper prerelease for it feeling fun (and the crap rares feeling slightly more exciting to obtain for cubing purposes). I’ll go through the pros and cons of each event before passing “final” judgment for this comparison (which I probably had a little bias for from the onset).

Paper Event. Cons (first, because that’s how I think!): Traveling sucks, especially when tired. People can be pretty loud. I didn’t read the soulbond FAQ (or the reminder text, apparently) for comprehension and definitely misused this ability (as did my opponents). Miracle in person is awkward when you’re not expecting it. Record-keeping is hard. Miscommunication creates awkward moments. Can’t listen to music while playing. Pros: Everyone I interacted with (including my own surly friends) were in a good mood and polite! The Helvault promotion was cute and exciting (even though a friend spoiled its contents to me)– I would’ve lost bowel control if we had one of the premium ‘vaults! (So cool.) The cards feel valuable in paper for me and my modest cube-based collection. Easier to turn cards opened into dollars to offset the entry cost if desired.

Digital Event. Cons: No real human interaction (possibly a pro? meh, wasn’t as fun as kind human interaction). EV feels lower due to non-chase cards being worth so little. Left a small impression for non-gameplay events. Miracles were awkward to play. Pros (surprisingly, interface-related): Magic Online forces both players to play the game with the correct rules. Deckbuilding is quick and offers myriad handy options. Event allows for multitasking. Can play without pants and not risk indecent exposure laws. Can drink and eat (and drink) while playing.

So how did they size up to each other? Well, you watched the videos (hell, you might not even have read *this*, but I’m betting you’ve watched)! The MTGO event was a bit lackluster. It may have been the lack of a first round, a soulbonded batch of beatings or the (comparatively) bad value opening, but I would’ve preferred to have twice as many paper prereleases this go-around! Trust me, I am shocked, too; I expected to enjoy the digital realm much more. Turns out digital is better for a clean, competitive game but not for enjoyment from non-competitive factors. Paper was just freakin’ fun.

Thanks for reading and watching!

  1. R3G3, why not just banishing stroke one of the deathtouch-card drawing pair, and block the other to get a 2-for-1? Or when he double-blocked your spider?

  2. I started playing paper magic in early 1994 and mtgo right after guildpact came online. I quickly stopped playing paper magic. I have since gone to a few paper tourneys, mostly prereleases, and my experiences have been pretty bad.

    Rampant cheating. Even at prereleases people are cheating and there is really not much you can do about it. I have called people out and made a big scene before though, and would happily do so again. This cannot happen online.

    Horrible judges. At the DKA prerelease i called the judge and he told my rd3 opp that what he was doing was illegal. He then proceeded to not only tell him why it was illegal but to also tell him the optimal legal play (it was about travel preperations). My brother called the judge when he realized his opp was playing a 37 card deck….the judge said to play it out. No game loss, no warning.

    Thieves everywhere.

    And the number one reason I wont play paper anymore…The STENCH. Paper tourneys bring out the unwashed obese, and it smells so bad I cannot be there. This is not just my local store, this is every place I have played at including large tournament halls. Its pathetic that these losers cannot take a shower, and I have no interest in being around someone who makes me gag.

    Plus the competition is much better online.

  3. @Bob
    Suppose for example you target the peddler with banishing stroke. He then just in respons uses tracker to let the peddler fight your blocker. So you traded a blocker and a banishing stroke for one creature.
    However, if you wait until he activates the tracker to have one of his deathtouch guys fight one of your guys, you can then banishing stroke the other guy. The fighting guy then looses deathtouch and dies. So then you do get a 2 for 1.
    Unfortunately, there was no reason for the opponent to do this. He was drawing 3 cards every turn as long as chris does not block, and if he does block that just has the same effect as using tracker withouth having to invest the mana and tapping his tracker. I think Chris should just have blocked either the deathtouch or the card drawing guy as soon as he had the chance.

  4. @ Bob, he was worried about the tracker responding to the banishing stroke with forcing a fight between the target of the banish and one of his (ChrisCools’) creatures. Still, that would have been a 2 for 2 and I would have tried it… and if I wouldn’t have I would have stroked the 5/5 instead of the tracker….

  5. Hi Chris,
    thanks for depicting your experience of both worlds. I definitively agree with you on paper Magic being a lot more fun than online. In fact, I prefer facing my opponents in real life.
    I don’t know about the laws and rules at your place, but we do drink sometimes when playing competitively (in fact, for our PRE we play in a pub xD).


  6. About soulbond:
    I think the reason that the soulbond mechanic is undercosted in limited is that otherwise it would be unplayable in constructed. The mechanic is very weak to instant removal, which constructed has a lot of and this set next to nothing. The problem is that they chose to put soulbond in a set with almost no ways to blow it out. There is peel from reality, bone splinters and the black -x-x spell, but otherwise druids familiar is just 6 power and 6 toughness for 4 mana.
    I liked the videos. Thanks for being one of the first to put up an avacyn restored vid!

  7. At least this format is a lot more bearable to watch than it is to play.

  8. You got Tibalt, Gisela, and foil Tamiyo in 6 packs? I hate you. I opened a box, saw none of those cards, and only two reasonable mythics =/.

  9. Also, grave exchange is decent, barter in blood is excellent, and dark imposter is a insane bomb. You really, really should have been WB.

  10. @Cseraph:
    Black offers 3 more cards that don’t do anything until turn six in a deck that is already top heavy, and not enough ways to stop an aggressive opponent. I think the BW option gets destroyed by any aggressive curve, unless you have t4 barter in blood. Green has some powerfull cards to, and the 3 p/t boosting soulbonders pair up very well with the palladin. I certainly would play green, and maybe board into black against slow decks.

  11. Huh? You kept the pool you opened? I haven’t been to a paper pre-release in over a decade, but even back then we had a checklist and had to register our pools, then we moved to another seat and that new seat was the pool you kept/built.

  12. @bob/joost/carrotus- Hindsight, agree with Joost here. I wish I wouldve blocked the deathtouch guy immediately. I killed the tracker because it would’ve allowed the larger guys to have free reign against my larger creatures (but I was kind of tilted at that point and my guest was distracting).

    @420gabriel- The midnight prerelease wasn’t as gross as my last GP. I guess midnight being close to the wake-up time for many players means more showering? ;P The MTGO interface is much nicer than face-to-face play, but the excitement of the prere definitely wasn’t there for me digitally.

    @almightgnat- I’m non-scalding hot for it. :)

    @cseraph- nice pulls, eh? Got a Vexing Devil and Moonmist Griffin in my 2(!!!) prize packs for 2-1-1. I tried the white-black splash red deck in paper and didn’t care for the decreased threat density (and how awkward Barter is if you draw it out of order).

    @randomscrub- it was pretty “exciting” to play, but it didn’t feel fun. :P

    @sam- i like it as a sb card, but prefer joint assault. one day, though, i might actually try playing it (and have a real opinion)!

  13. Dark Impostor unplayable? Marrow Bats ‘yuk’? Does this guy even play magic?

  14. On Soulbond: I actually think this is a great mechanic in draft, yet dumb in sealed. This feels like a format that just doesn’t translate well to sealed in general. The rares/soulbond cards are to powerful considering you are so unlikely to have sufficient removal to deal with them. In draft you can race the bombs, or prioritize bounce and removal.

    On Miracle: IRL its a little awkward but not too bad, haven’t played online yet. With the exception of Bonfire and Entreat(awful cards for limited, although I like them for constructed) I like the design of the miracle cards. Its often correct to just draw them without revealing them, which helps offset the number of miracle blowouts. Setting up a board state where drawing a miracle is blowout feels really satisfying.

    Online Vs IRL: Put me in the online camp.(except for overpriced prerelease events) I’ll play IRL on occasion, but I hate how easy it is to cheat given the poor rules enforcement at most events. On the other hand I do like that I get to take advantage of making live reads and exploiting the inferior skills of my opps.(card values and prize structure also makes IRL higher EV), but those advantages just can’t offset the clean interface, convenience, and better competition of MTGO.(I know I just said I liked the inferior skills of IRL competition, but that’s for EV reasons, not enjoyment reasons)

  15. I’m just going to say this. I just heard you call “Dark Imposter” a utility creature. I think you need to re-read the card.

    Here I’ll copy and paste it for you, it reads, “I win games in limited”

    Not building a black/white deck with that many bombs makes me sad. You had a really great control deck there.

  16. @Warren Yeah dark imposter isn’t a utility creature, it is a Visara variant. More expensive to activate, but faster to get online, and a grey ogre if you actually need that.

    @Joost With barter *and* terminus, you’re going to see one of your wraths most games. Green unquestionably offers a more aggressive set of openings, that just roll over some opponents, and that is sweet, particularly in an average to bad pool.

    But this isn’t an average pool – this pool is incredible. Black offers the possibility of wrath blowouts most game 1s, and combined with white easily answers any bomb your opponents may have short of Tamiyo. In sealed I rate not being dead to any of the many opposing bombs that could exist much more highly than having strong openers.

    In this particular format, there’s also the fact that most of the miracles are very powerful on creature heavy boards, while not interacting favourably with opposing removal.

    TL:DR Green wins faster but Black wins more, IMO.

  17. Quite a lot of players have called AVR the worst limited format ever. After seeing these and other matches, I am inclined to agree, even after the hot pile of mess that was Dark Ascension. The past year has seen a lot of stinkers, from Miracle (so awkward online it defies belief) and Soulbond (no removal means no drawback, no drawback kills the thrill of a potential blowout) in this set, DFCs (sure getting a Bloodline Keeper every so often was fun, but not at all worth ruining the draft process and forcing players to use sleeves), and the discombobulated infect/metalcraft of Scars block.

    Sad to say it, but the most fun I’ve had drafting magic this past year has been online retro drafts like Ravnica and Future Sight. Playing these sets makes you realize how unbalanced the game has become. M12 was decent, but now that everyone goes hyper aggro it is too draw dependent. It feels like Hasbro is designing cards to make ten year olds go “Ooh!”, at the cost of the draft experience. Of course, ten year olds (like Maro) prefer big creatures and hexproof to removal and counterspells. The result is formats with little to no interactivity, essentially a more complicated game of War. Control and even midrange to an extent are losing their viability in the wake of unstoppable aggro hordes.

    All this makes me look forward to Return to Ravnica with an unfortunate sense of dread. Ravnica was the freaking bee’s knees, but I can’t see WotC not botching the return, especially after the mediocrity of Scars of Mirrodin. It will break my heart if I find an Azorius without sweet counterspells or have to play against a Simic Sky Swallower with hexproof and lifelink.

  18. @Chris – For your paper pool: I play Timberland over Archangel their every time there. You already have 2 6s and a 7. Your pool was pretty bonkers and the ‘Bears’ and Nightshade add a lot of value to early bodies for you.

    Regarding the format: I don’t understand they hate for it at all. Some games are bomb oriented, and losing to a miracle off the top sucks – but top deck losses always suck. Many games in this format seem like they have lots of back and forth in them and I feel like I am rewarded for correct using my resources (and punished when I blow it) and thats how I like it. In contract to DII where it seems like I constantly lost to non-interactive niche decks just because I couldn’t draw the answers I had (and went out of my way to draft!). This doesn’t mean people who don’t like the format are wrong, just that I don’t understand them ;)

    @Merfolk Shooter – I do agree about Rav Revisited. I’m looking for ward to that with mixed anticipation and dread.

  19. Hey Chris, grats on the good sealed opens. I’ve been running well in RL with mulitple Tamaiyo’s, Foil Snapcaster last month, foil Entreat the Angles last week. Good times. There’s no question that RL PreRe is infi more fun than MODO. It’s not even close. However, there are sour pusses out there that don’t actually like “fun” and would rather play magic and surf porn. However, actually talking to real people and hanging out with your friends in real life, imo, is just much better.

    As far as Avacyn is concerned, I’m not a fan and I’m normally a total homer for WotC. I only play Limited and again, IMO, this set is just not very fun. The blowout potential of Soulbond is absurd because true removal is very limited. Oh well, it’s only for a couple more months. Back to Ravnica this fall! GP Philly is going to be Sealed!! :D

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