The second set in Shards block.
To me, each set has its own appeal. For me, the release of the first (big) set of every block is very exciting. You get to play an entirely new format. New cards, a boatload of new mechanics, new deck types. It's literally a different world. But that doesn't mean that the second and third sets are any less exciting.
I enjoyed Shards Limited, but I can already tell that I'm going to enjoy Shards / Conflux more. One of the things that I love about multiple-set Limited formats is that you have a greater ability to create your own deck types that other people wouldn't even consider.
Back in Shadowmoor / Shadowmoor / Eventide I used to love drafting mono-blue or near mono-blue decks, which was a preference that few people shared. Rewind a little bit further to Shadowmoor / Shadowmoor / Shadowmoor and there weren't any decks that I felt I could call my own.
I'm not sure what decks I'm going to gravitate towards in Shards / Conflux Limited, but I know that I'm going to have a lot of fun finding out.
Last weekend I was gunslinging at Gray Matter Conventions' New York City Prerelease. Being asked to gunsling was pretty much the only thing short of an emergency or the chance to star in an action movie that could have kept me from playing in a Prerelease flight.
So, while I didn't get to play in any Prerelease flights, I got to battle people with my Sealed Deck all day.
Steve's Prerelease Sealed Pool
And this is how I built it.
Sometimes when you're playing in a Prerelease Sealed (which gives you six packs to build from instead of the usual five) you have an overwhelming amount of good cards spread pretty evenly across four or five colors. It can be particularly tough to get your build right at a Prerelease because you have to evaluate many of your cards on the spot.
Fortunately for me, I had a lot of good cards concentrated in green and enough good mana-fixing to support almost all of my bombs and removal. Unfortunately, I let the fact that about 20 of my cards were easy inclusions encourage me to get lazy on the last couple of cards.
It was a little bit difficult for me to cut my Where Ancients Tread (and its buddy Incurable Ogre), as it is absolutely devastating in Sealed games, which tend to be noticeably slower than Draft games. However, I was worried that many of the six-pack Sealed decks that I would be facing would be too fast for me to be able to play Where Ancients Tread profitably.
I think leaving my Where Ancients Tread on the sidelines was the right choice as my deck already had a very good end game and mostly risked losing by stumbling on plays.
In hindsight, I'm pretty sure it was wrong for me to cut the Agony Warp. When I was playing I regularly got all 5 colors into play by the midgame. Wither Exploding Borders, Noble Hierarch, Fiery Fall, Armillary Sphere, Grixis Panorama, and Rupture Spire, as well as my Swamp and my Island, I had eight blue or black sources, which is more than enough to support a spell.
If I could rebuild this deck I would cut a Gluttonous Slime for the Agony Warp. Remember, just because you only have a single Island and a single Swamp, that doesn't mean you can't support an Agony Warp.
I can't even begin to tell you how good it feels to be able to play a five-color deck with zero Obelisks. Oftentimes when I play an Obelisk, I can immediately feel myself falling behind in the game. It's still worth it a lot of the time because I would fall even further behind if I were simply passing my turns looking at a handful of spells that I can't cast because I don't have the right mana for them.
Manaforce Mace is pretty ridiculous. Yes you have to pump a bunch of mana into it, but this piece of equipment is more than worth it, especially if you have an Armillary Sphere to help you get full value out of it.
Kranioceros turned out to be noticeably better than I expected it would. On defense it can immediately trade with almost any attacker and on offense it is particularly hard to kill. If you wait a turn to start blocking with it, there are few creatures that can get past two activations from a Kranioceros. A 5/8 is pretty big.
My favorite card from my Sealed, though it certainly wasn't the best one, was definitely Exploding Borders.
I love Exploding Borders. I'm a big fan of racing, so Lava Axe type cards have always been right up my alley. Combine a Lava Axe effect with any other sort of ability and you've got me hook, line and sinker. If I had to make a prediction right now, I'd guess that Exploding Borders will be my most drafted card from Conflux (though Aven Squire and Absorb Vis are also very likely candidates).
I was very happy with this pool and it served me well all day. It had good removal, good creatures, a good curve, and good mana. There's basically nothing else that I could reasonably ask for from a Sealed pool.
When I was opening my pool, I opened up my Shards of Alara packs first, and I was very concerned that the only fixing that I opened were a Grixis Panorama and an Obelisk of Bant. How could I possibly play all of the colorful goodies that I was sure to open in Conflux?
It turned out that wasn't going to be an issue because the mana-fixing in Conflux is excellent. I thought the fixing in Shards was good, but it's even better now. That means that it's going to be much easier to splash those bombs, those removal spells, and those solid tricolored creatures.
Armillary Sphere and Rupture Spire are both commons that can singlehandedly fix all of your mana woes. Grixis Illusionist isn't great, but it can certainly get the job done. The basic land cyclers are all very impressive as mana-fixers, but what's even more impressive about them is that it's physically painful to cycle most of them because their effects are so good.
Kaleidostone is particularly good in decks that are only splashing one or two cards, or in decks that are attempting to play a five-color card like Maelstrom Archangel or a "double splash" such as Magister Sphinx in a base black-red deck.
One of the biggest effects that the improved mana fixing in Conflux should have on your drafts is that the three-colored cards from Shards of Alara are much better than they used to be. There were times when I was drafting Shards / Shards / Shards and I would open a pack with something as good as a Naya Charm and I would seriously consider taking a less powerful card over it so I wouldn't have to worry about the mana considerations.
Just last week I explained why I would take a Tidehollow Strix over a Sprouting Thrinax in a triple Shards draft. Seven days and one set later, I wouldn't even consider making that pick.
Keep in mind that signaling changes dramatically when splashes are easier and there are very different deck types. So, if you're doing a draft soon and it looks like say Naya is open, that doesn't necessarily mean it is.
Some Get Better
Some cards, like the tricolored cards from Shards, get better because there are more cards that specifically complement them. Other cards get better because the cards there are fewer copies of the cards that specifically wreck them floating around. For example, Cloudheath Drake is better in Shards / Shards / Conflux than it was in Shards / Shards / Shards because there are fewer Branching Bolts. Still other cards get better because there are more cards/deck types that they are specifically good against.
One card that I believe will jump significantly in value is Deft Duelist. Not only are there more good exalted cards, there are also a lot more playable 2-toughness creatures, such as Zombie Outlander, that Deft Duelist can completely lock out of combat.
One of my favorite parts about my first exposure to a new set is that I get just as much experience playing with some of the rares as I do playing with some of the commons. This will of course change by the end of the week, but for now I've played just as many games with Noble Hierarch as I have with Fiery Fall.
I got absolutely wrecked in one of my matches by Master Transmuter. My opponent was playing a very good Esper deck, and he already had me on the ropes when he dropped a Master Transmuter. He used it to bounce and replay his Sanctum Gargoyle, which returned Courier's Capsule every turn. A couple of turns of this went by until I finally drew a removal spell for the Master Transmuter, but by that point the damage had already been done, and I lost a couple of turns later.
Meglonoth was pretty amazing for me. At first glance I knew that Meglonoth would be good, but I didn't really think much of it. Bull Ceredon is Meglonoth's closest contemporary from Shards and it is very good, and I figured Meglonoth would be slightly better.
Then I played it and my jaw dropped. Not only is Meglonoth pretty big for its cost, it immediately stops your opponent from getting into any sort of ground race. I don't think I lost a single game all day where I played Meglonoth and my opponent didn't immediately kill it. I certainly didn't lose any of the games where I put a Manaforce Mace on it and made it an 11/11!
I know that it's kind of obvious, but Martial Coup is one of the best Limited cards that I've seen in a long time. I was playing a game where my opponent did literally nothing but ramp his mana for the first five turns. My opponent didn't mulligan and he had all five colors of mana, so I knew something was up. I was hoping that he had a bunch of removal for little guys and maybe a bomb creature (which I would have been able to kill with one of the removal spells in my hand). Of course, that wasn't the case and he Wrathed my board and made five little dudes. I tried my best to get back into the game, but the damage was more than done. Not only did my opponent have noticeably more spells left over than I did, he still had those five tokens!
Needless to say, I lost that game.
I hope that everyone who was able to make it out to the Prerelease had a great time. This is a very fun Sealed format, so even if you haven't gotten a chance to check out the set yet, you should try to make your way to one of the Launch Parties.
(Oh and don't worry, bonus exercises will be back next week.)