The Dragon’s Maze pre-release weekend was one of the weirdest series of events I’ve ever played. And I’m not making a pun about playing Melek, Izzet Paragon in my deck on Saturday. Winning decks didn’t make sense, players did strange things, and cards appeared and disappeared from packs.
Follow me through the Implicit Maze that is my local game store (LGS) pre-release, as I highlight the four most puzzling aspects of my weekend.
1. A Real life Mana Flood
I know I’ve often said that I’m getting too old for midnight pre-release events, and that they usually end up making me regret my life for a week as I slowly readjust my sleep schedule back to adulthood. But this time I was semi-forced to stay up all night/weekend due to a softball game scheduled for Sunday that would prevent me from playing in two PR events if I didn’t do Friday night. In the end, I was happy I did it, not only because I won some packs by hitting top 8 (which is a strange thing by itself), but because this set and the guild-based sealed format was really, really fun to play.
For the midnight Friday event I chose Orzhov, and was paired with the “secret ally” Selesnya. I started the event off with a terribly inconsistent 4-color janky-ness deck with 43 cards, but I’ll talk more about my awful deckbuilding in a minute. My opponent crushed me in game 1 of the first round, and started to lay down the early smack on my life total in game 2 when something unexpected happened. I would call it a Miracle given the trend the match was taking, but it was actually something terrible for my opponent in real life and wasn’t anything to be happy about – my opponent received a phone call that his basement was flooding and he had to leave immediately to stop it.
I felt bad that my opponent was having to rush out of a tournament in the first round to stop gushing water from covering his basement and everything in it, but I was still given the match win. Sometimes we’re reminded that we all have lives outside of Magic, and it’s more than Girlfriend/Mother/Etc. Aggro that can take us away from our favorite sport.
My deck was horrible – I was given a free shot of actual play to realize this – so I switched it up before Round 2 and ended up 3-1 to make Top 8 and win 13 packs of Dragon’s Maze. What a strange (and terrible) way to win a match, but at least I was able to use the win and finish strong.
2. Four Color Janky-Ness
As I said before I had a Orzhov/Selesnya guild pool for the Friday night event. I opened all the bonkers Populate cards in the Selesnya guild pack, with Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice to tie the room together. The Orzhov pack was mostly crap aside from Gift of Orzhova and Alms Beast, so it looked like my deck’s base would be the good ‘ole Selesnya plan of making tokens and Populating them. I had plenty of the latter part of the plan – cards like Rootborn Defenses and Druid’s Deliverance – but after sorting through all of the cards I realized sadly that the best token creature I could make was a tiny 2/2 knight off of my three Sunspire Gatekeepers (with only three total on-color Gates). 2/2 creatures are no good in a format with common 2/4 dudes in every color. Okay, new plan.
Fortunately, my Dragon’s Maze packs were good to me in other guilds than the ones I picked, gifting me FOUR Viashino Firstblade, a card that basically is a Flame Javelin that sticks around for more fun as a 2/2. I also had one of my favorite cards in the set, Warleader’s Helix (and foil to boot!), but that was entirely all of the playable Boros and red cards in the pool.
I had plenty of playable white cards from the Orzhov and Selesnya packs, so it was easy to make white my base color. However, all of my color-fixing cards (including all 8 of my Cluestones and all but 2 of my gates) were black-based, so unless I could scrounge up more than 2 playable black cards I wasn’t going to have the main connecting color to make those any good. I had a pair of Deputy of Acquittals, which gave longer game to my army of Firstblades, and it was really hard to not play the new Armadillo Cloak, Unflinching Courage (especially with 2 Selesnya Guildgate), so I threw them all in the deck’s first version.
Since I had green and blue in the deck already, I figured I should also play Krasis Incubation and a Species Gorger, and suddenly I had a 4 color random janky-ness deck with 43 cards. It was really hard to decide what cards made the cut with so few playables in any particular color set and so few on-color mana-fixing cards.
After the smashing I took in round 1, I thought hard about which cards were actually as good as they seemed during deckbuilding (and consulted with some friends who were much better limited deckbuilders). It was crazy not to play Alms Beast at just a one black mana splash, especially with all the black-based Cluestones (and Orzhov Guildgate), so that came in along with Varolz, the Scar-Striped. The Deputy of Acquittals, Incubator and Gorger package wasn’t strong enough to justify a 5th color splash, and was simply not as good as the black splash. I could just play Alms Beast and win a few turns thereafter, versus using a Deputy to bounce creatures and replay them in a much longer game strategy.
Four color janky-ness deck 2.0 was much more consistent, and I pounded some faces in with Alms Beast enchanted with Gift of Orzhova or Unflinching Courage, making that addition a good change. Dragon’s Maze sealed pools seemed generally difficult to build, given the intense multicolored nature of the block. It reminds me of Shards of Alara block sealed with the all-multicolored set Alara Reborn, but that set was designed around a choice of 3 color sets from the start, where Ravnica is a two-color combo world. The cards in Shards block directed a player into a particular three color set (like Jund or Esper), where Dragon’s Maze guild pack sealed made players think harder about how they were getting their 3rd (and often 4th) color into their decks in a consistent manner. I would hate to have attended this PR as a new player due to the color complexity (I hear newer and more casual players complain about multicolored cards all the time), but I had a great time.
3. Wizards of the Coasting Through Card Sorter Problems
For those of you who didn’t get a chance to bust open packs last weekend, each player was given a sealed pool made up of 4 Dragon’s Maze packs, a Return to Ravnica guild pack, and a Gatecrash guild pack (you chose the guild and you’d get a secret guild from the other set that matched one of the colors of your chosen guild). The guild packs were basically the same thing we had at the RtR and GTC PRs, each with a specific list of possible contents (which you can find on MythicSpoiler.com). Each pack was supposed to contain one rare, 3 uncommons, and 10 commons, just like a regular booster pack.
However, there were rampant reports of guild packs that missing rares, having more than one particular common or uncommon, or containing two rares! There was a player at the Sunday event here that had two rares in his Gruul guild pack (he showed the tournament organizer immediately so there was no evidence of cheating). I bet it was awesome to crack a double rare pack, but I wonder if players who opened a zero-rare pack were given a different sealed pool or compensated in any way for essentially getting the shaft from Wizards.
There was also a report that Wizards had (intentionally or accidentally, who knows) stuck a card from the upcoming Modern Masters set into a Dragon Maze pack. A picture of an Aether Spellbomb with the Modern Master set logo was posted on the MTGSalvation forums Saturday afternoon. This isn’t the first time cards from a future set have been found in pre-release packs, and let us never forget the Zendikar “treasure hunt” pre-release when Wizards stuffed Power Nine, original Dual Lands, and other crazy valuable old cards into packs of Zendikar (I never actually saw first-hand one of these “treasures” opened, so I still find it hard to believe it actually happened).
4. Sometimes Things Just Come Together
As I said earlier, I originally hadn’t planned to play on Sunday because of a scheduled softball game. However, when I woke up at 11am on Sunday, I saw that it was pouring rain and didn’t look like it was going to let up before game time. So I hustled back to my LGS and jumped into the third PR event of the weekend. It’s not generally strange that it rains in Michigan, especially in April, but it was particularly weird that it was the only day in a string of six on Weather.com where it wasn’t going to be 75 degrees and sunny. Clearly the weather controllers wanted me to play Magic instead of softball.
I picked Gruul since I hadn’t played any aggro or stompy guilds yet (Saturday was Izzet with Simic, with Niv-Mizzet helping me fly over my competition to a 4-1-1 finish, and sadly I did not open any Goblin Test Pilots), and opened the most consistently bonkers sealed pool that I had ever seen, thanks much to the Rakdos secret ally pairing tossing in some key red cards. I didn’t even have to think twice about splashing a third color, the green and red cards came together naturally.
I went 4-0-2 without blinking. I lost one game in the four non-draw matches (to an equally stompy and fast boros/rakdos deck which came down to “On the Play, On the Win”) and enjoyed a fantastic best-of-seven fun match against my insanely-awesome Simic opponent from the round 5 draw (I won 4-3). It was really fun playing a Gore-House Chainwalker or Disciple of the Old Ways on turn 2, then attacking and Bloodrushing several times for 9-12 damage on turn 3. I thought Madcap Skills (or Mad Skillz) was great, but move over for Gruul War Chant – all your guys get Mad Skillz! I’m absolutely awful at drafting, but that card seems like an easy early pick.
What a great deck to fall into my lap at an event I wasn’t even planning to play! I ended up in the Top 8 of all three PR events, something that is weird because I rarely do this well at limited events, especially pre-releases. It’s been a good few weeks for Team Bad Magic Player – heck, one of our guys (Zach) won a box of Dragon’s Maze as a door prize on Saturday! I had a ton of fun, won some packs, and had a nice break before the Standard season really heats up.
Hope everyone has a good time at their next FNM cracking open the full Return to Ravnica block! I’m not really into drafting, but I’ll be taking on some more standard tournaments in the upcoming weeks, so be sure to follow me on Twitter to get updates on how I’m doing. I tweet a lot more than I write, so get on there!