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BMoor's Magic The Gathering Deck Garage
Scars of Mirrodin Prerelease Primer
September 23, 2010

Salutations, folks. At this point it should go without saying that everybody in the Magic world is, in one way or another, gearing themselves up for the release of Scars of Mirrodin. Be it by examining their Standard decks and figuring out what to play post-rotation, searching the Internet for preview cards that would go great in your Cube drafts, or organizing a carpool to head down to the prerelease, anybody who self-identifies as a Magic player should be feeling the anticipation in some way, shape, or form. For me, the lead-in to Scars of Mirrodin has seen me prepare in three ways. First, I stop fixing decks until we know the full set list, because I don't want to give advice that will be rendered obsolete by next week. Second, I make plans to be at the prerelease, or the release, or both if I think I can spare the money. And third, I write this article: my own Prerelease Primer.

Just because the bulk of my articles deal with Constructed, 60-card decks, doesn't mean I can't help some of you out there with advice on building a 40-card Limited dynamo. And just because prereleases are usually laid-back, low-K events, doesn't mean you wouldn't enjoy winning a few matches during the day-- especially considering some places give out prizes to the winners. And preparation is what's going to help you do that.

Mind you, preparing for Limited events is a thorny task, since the whole point of Limited, be it Draft or Sealed, is that you don't get to build your deck ahead of time. Each participant is given equal amounts of product, and equal chances of opening any given card, and you have to build your deck on the fly. Prereleases offer even less opportunity to prepare, since there's a good number of you who will never have seen most of these cards, and memorizing the spoiler lists from unofficial sites is not only more work than it's worth, it leaves the potential for error. Your best bet is to develop a system by which you can quickly and efficiently asses your brand-new cards and build a cohesive deck out of them. My plan for this article is to share my own algorithm with you.

Now, prereleases are Sealed format, meaning that when deck construction starts, you will be given six unopened booster packs. For the rest of the day, those six packs are the alpha and the omega, the only cards you have to work with. Hope you open something good!

Your first step, or at least my first step, is to sort by color. Don't even read the cards yet, just make six piles-- one for each color and one for colorless. In most sets, the colorless pile consists of a few artifacts and maybe a colorless land, like Evolving Wilds. In Scars of Mirrodin, with its heavy artifact theme, the colorless pile may be your biggest pile of the six. In a way, this is good news-- if you have enough colorless playables, you don't have to worry as much about the depth of a color you might want to play. You can also play a bit more fast and loose with splashes, secure in the knowledge that if you don't draw the right color of mana, you can still cast a good portion fo your spells off of any color.

Once your cardpool is sorted, look through each pile in turn to determine what your best cards are, and how many you have in each color. This is the part where the well-known mnemonic BREAD comes in. Bombs, Removal, Evasion, Abilities, Dudes. You've probably heard it before, but in case you haven't, the first things you want to identify are your bombs. Bombs are cards that generate an enormous advantage for you when they resolve, and have the potential to win you the game all on their own, in a fairly short time, if your opponent doesn't have an answer to them. There's no real hard definition as to what is a bomb and what isn't, but the general consensus is that you'll know true power when you see it.

From there it gets easier. Removal is any card that caHeavy Arbalestn kill an opponent's creature. Almost all Limited games are won by creature combat, so denying your opponent creatures can be critical. This is especially true in a format like Scars of Mirrodin, which will have a higher-than-average amount of playable Equipment. Even a 1/1 could pick up a greataxe, a shield, and a bracer, and suddenly become a credible threat. Then comes Evasion, creatures that have abilities that make them harder to block, or cards that grant creatures such abilities. Flying creatures have decided more games of Limited than I care to count. Since outright creature kill is fairly rare in Limited, most people depend on combat tricks to lure opponents into an unwise attack or attack into what looks like a hopeless block only to kill the blocker.

The last two letters in the mnemonic, A(bilities) and D(udes) are not universally understood to stand for anything specific. This is because you ideally want to fill your deck with Bombs, Removal, and Evasion. But there's a good chance you won't get enough of those cards, and will have to fill out your deck with the leftovers. As several players have told me and I in turn have told several more, "every card in your deck should either be a creature on your side, or remove a creature on the other guy's side." This is hyperbole, of course, but getting enough creatures is a primary concern. Especially in a set with so much Equipment-- you won't feel good if you get four or five epic swords onto the battlefield only to not draw any creatures. Especially if the other guy is swinging at you every turn for two. ESPECIALLY especially if his 2/2 doesn't have any evasion and you could easily block and kill it with any creature in your deck. Hell, if you wanted to (and had enough creatures and not enough non-creature cards) you could probably go pretty far by just playing nothing but creatures. Sure you'd have no removal, but if you attack often enough your opponent's creature will eventually start dying because he'll be forced to use them to block.

So anyway, that's what you need to include in your deck. Sorting your cards by color allows you to quickly see which colors have the most cards that rank highly enough for you to play, and thus which colors you should play. Some of your colors will undoubtedly be "deeper"-- have more playables-- than others. This can create a conflict where you open an incredibly powerful card in a certain color, but the rest of the cards in that color aren't strong enough for said color to be a major portion of your deck. That scenario happened to me at the M11 Release event. My six booster packs gave me a Chandra Nalaar and a Liliana Vess, but black and red didn't have much else going for them besides a few good kill spells. I played black/red anyway, hoping I could use my kill cards to hold the opponent's armies off long enough to draw one of my planeswalkers and grind them down with it. It didn't work out that way. Meanwhile, the white cards in that pool had several more quality creatures, including several fliers, and some good combat tricks. If I had played white as my main color, I probably would have done much better and may still have gotten to play one or the other of my lovely lady planeswalkers, but I was seduced by the high-risk/high-reward scenario and lost. Don't make this same mistake.

Fortunately, you may not have to. As I said above, Scars of Mirrodin will have more colorless cards than most sets do, which means a good portion of your deck may be colorless. If that is the case, then you won't need as many playable cards in a given color to consider playing that color.

The next thing you need to look out for is cards that may potentially have a lot of power, if you can successfully build your deck in a way to maximize that power. A good example would be Surreal Memoir from Rise of the Eldrazi. Getting two instants back from your graveyard canbe huge in letting you deliver that one big push in the late game, when you and your opponent have already used up your tricks. It's practically "draw two cards" in red. But only if you have enough instants-- if you only have two or three instant spells in your deck-- a fairly common occurrence in Limited-- Surreal Memoir won't be enough to help you.

In Scars of Mirrodin, this will probably make itself most apparent in the Metalcraft, Infect, and Proliferate mechanics. Metalcraft straight-up tells you you need three artifacts in play to make it work. This probably won't be too hard to do, but do take a note of how many metalcraft cards you're including and how many artifacts.

Infect is a little trickier. But remember, a creature with infect will ALWAYS deal damage in the form of either -1/-1 counters or poison counters-- they can't deal normal damage. So, if your opponent is at 1 life, and you topdeck a 3/3 with infect and swing, your opponent will gain three poison counters... and still be at one life, and not lose unless you already put seven or more poison counters on him previously. If that 3/3 with infect is your only way of doling out poison counters, any damage it deals to opponents "won't count" unless it somehow manages to get in for a total of 10 all by itself. Therefore, you'll want to include either a good amount of infect creatures, or none at all. If all you have is a single infect creature, that creature is basically only good as a blocker, to deal -1/-1 damage to any incoming attackers and shrink them. And since reading "infect" as "defender" is almost always a serious drawback, you're not going to want to run a creatrue like that.

Proliferate is in a similar boat. If you have cards that proliferate, you're going to want a good supply of cards that put counters on permanents or players. Any creature with infect raises proliferate's stock, but so do artifacts with charge counters, of which there are plenty. Planeswalkers also benefit greatly from proliferate, but there are few enough of them (and each one is a bomb anyway) that planeswalkers likely won't factor into your decision to include proliferate cards unless you're very lucky.

In a way, the problems I described earlier with having enough playable cards in a certain color are just another form of this. Just as Surreal Memoir is only worth using if you have enough instants, a card with a heavy color commitment like Cyclops Gladiator is only worth using if you have enough red cards in your deck to warrant a sizable proportion of your lands being Mountains; otherwise you won't be able to draw enough red mana sources to cast the Gladiator until it's too late for it to do any good. In short, you have to remember that you're not picking out the best 22 or 23 cards in your pool, you're building a deck and the cards you put in it need to work with each other accordingly.

Of course, I could go on and on about Limited theorycrafting and speculation on the new set, but if my articles had a word count limit I'd surely have hit it by now. And what I've said pretty much covers everythign I wanted to in this article, so I'll wrap it up here. Just remember the most important thing about prereleases-- their main goal is for you to get your first taste of playing with the new cards in an environment that's fairly casual and friendly but still just competitive enough to warrant that little adrenaline kick that comes with winning. If you plan to go to one, have a great time, try and meet some new people, and of course, good luck!







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