started playing Magic in 1994, and it has been a daily part of my life ever since. I have been a player, writer, commentator, store owner, judge, and tournament organizer over the years expecting at ever step along the way to become jaded to the game.
A couple of weeks ago I got my assignment to write the Lorwyn Prerelease Primer and it listed out my preview card along with the other cards that would be previewed during this three week span of time. I eagerly scanned down the list and my jaw thudded to the desk when I clicked to reveal Doran, the Siege Tower. Yeah... that jaded thing? Still not feeling it.
All the same, as someone who has been playing / immersed in Magic for as long as I have it is easy to take the game for granted. This is normally the part of the Primer where I encourage all the more experienced players to skip over the info about all the different formats, how to get a DCI membership card, what to bring with you to the event, and all the stuff that a player new to the Prerelease experience needs to be made aware of. If you could hang on for a couple more paragraphs, I have a small favor to ask of you and then after that I will release you with the magic words that let you ctrl-F down to what is sure to be a nifty common for Limited play.
Attention New Players
Let me start off by explaining the concept of a Prerelease. Select tournament organizers around the world host large scale gatherings where participants have the opportunity to get their hands on the newest set of Magic: The Gathering—in this case Lorwyn—by purchasing entry into a tournament experience. Cards may not be purchased without actually playing with them and the packs don't hit actual retail for another two weeks, at which point they'll be available at your local store.
For newer and kitchen table players the word tournament can be a little offputting, conjuring up images of finned Magic players cutting through the breakers off of Amity Beach. I assure that it is not like that at all, but I will get to that shortly.
I am here to tell you that you can sidestep tournaments altogether at this weekend's Prereleases. You don't need to worry about building a Sealed Deck or about playing against players whose experience is far out of whack with your own. Each tournament organizer will have a limited—but ample—supply of Lorwyn preconstructed decks for Open Dueling. This is a new program designed for new players.
Open Dueling costs $15 to enter, and for that players receive one of five Preconstructed decks. Players will be randomly paired with five other players and upon completion of five matches everyone who participates will receive a foil promo card and one booster pack of Lorwyn. It doesn't matter whether you win or lose... it just matters that you play the game.
This is a great introductory experience for playing Magic in a competitive setting that will provide you with a completely built deck, possibly some new friends, and over the course of five games a pretty good idea about the themes and mechanics of Lorwyn. Hopefully you will also pick up a few play tips along the way that you can take home and share with your friends.
Prerelease veterans, this is where you can help. Players in Open Dueling are encouraged to use their deck to play against players outside of the Open Dueling format as well. If you are in the main event and have a couple of minutes between rounds try and make yourself available for a game or two. And if you do... try and remember something critical you learned while playing Magic and share it. It could be about playing instants at the end of your opponent's turn or the nuances of putting damage on the stack or an introduction to card advantage.
Perhaps it is my background as a tournament organizer and store owner but I have always tried to share something with newer players. I have never regretted it once and I think my local Magic community is all the stronger for it. It is not an entirely unselfish move. You can never have enough drafters and without drafters there can be no drafts. Your mileage may vary but I have always found that adding a player to the local pool makes the community stronger—and the drafting more frequent. You can go look at the preview card now.... Ctrl-F for "A Card You Mite See a Lot Of".
This may not be true at all sites but many tournament organizers are taking the time and space to set up a demo area for players who have not played before. If you are interested in getting a demo of the game you should call your local tournament organizer and check and see what they have planned. In true squeaky wheel mode, I am sure that if you contact the TO and tell them you are looking to learn how to play the game they will make sure that qualified demo personnel are on hand. And once you have taken a demo you can jump right into Open Dueling.
Regardless of whether you opt for Open Dueling or a more traditional tournament experience, prerelease tournaments are the most fun of all the options on the competitive landscape. All of the players start out with the same amount of experience playing with the new cards—ZERO. The focus of the tournament is not as goal-oriented as other tournaments. The crackle in the air—both metaphorically and literally—as everyone opens the new booster packs for the first time is reason enough to attend.
I am reminded of all of the things I like about Magic when players ogle their new cards and crane their necks to see what the person next to them opened. The discussion of potential new decks and the debate over what cards are the most powerful is Magic at its finest. And this is before a single card has even been played.
So what is going to happen when you walk through the door?
Assuming for the moment you are going to play in a Sealed Deck tournament—or flight as they are also known—when you arrive at the location you will pay a tournament entry fee. This fee covers your entry into the tournament and with that you will receive a Lorwyn tournament pack, two Lorwyn booster packs, and a commemorative foil prerelease card (you cannot use this card to build your deck). Don't worry if you don't receive your tournament pack and boosters right away. Tournament organizers will generally wait until everyone is seated and hand out the cards to everyone at the same time.
When you pay your entry fee you will be asked for your name and your DCI number. The DCI is the governing body for organized Magic and to play in a DCI-sanctioned event you must have a unique number that they assign to you. They are free to obtain and all you will have to do is fill out a card with your pertinent information. If you already have a DCI number but you don't remember it, don't worry. The organizer should be able to find it for you from the DCI database. Your DCI number is used to track your performance in Magic tournaments and lets you know how you are doing compared against every player in the world, in your country, or in your state. For more info about the DCI and specific tournament floor rules you should visit the DCI homepage.
You have paid your entry fee and are registered for the tournament. Your foil prerelease card is tucked in your binder awaiting the day's best trade offer, you are seated and the cards are being handed out. Time to build a deck. Once you have been given the cards you will be playing with you will have an announced amount of time to construct a 40-card minimum deck. The tournament organizer will provide you with additional basic lands to build your deck if you need them. Some organizers will collect all of the basic lands and then redistribute them based on what each player needs to build his or her deck.
A couple of quick pointers about Sealed Deck construction:
Try, try, try to stick to a 40-card minimum. You don't need to play with all of your cards and some are better left unplayed. The closer you can keep the deck to the minimum size the more likely you will be to draw the best and most exciting cards in your deck.
Play at least 17 lands in that 40-card deck. If you play more cards you will need to play more land.
Try to play two colors if you can. It is perfectly reasonable to "splash" a third color as long as the mana requirements are not too intense. Splashing black for a card with only one black mana symbol is fine. Splashing black for one with three black mana symbols is not.
Remember to keep tribal themes in mind when building your deck. Aaron Forsythe and his crew are not going to come up with a tribally themed set without building a lot of synergy into it. Try and exploit those synergies.
All of the cards you do not use in your deck are considered your "sideboard." You don't have to worry about playing with an answer for every question in your main deck. You will be playing best two out of three and will have the opportunity to sideboard (meaning swap in different cards) for the last two games.
Try and include some removal in your deck—cards that kill opposing creatures. A good starting formula for a Sealed Deck event is 17 land, 17 creatures, and 6 spells. There appear to be a lot of creatures with comes-into-play abilities—just look at Frank's preview card from last Wednesday—that can be played like spells. If you have enough of these creatures you may want to adjust your numbers accordingly.
A Card You Mite See a Lot Of...
While you this may not be as flashy as the Cloudthresher, my preview card is a solid common creature that could help you steal a victory.
A 2/1 flash flier is a welcome addition to any blue deck but when you get to do something tricky on top of it.... Pestermite can untap one of your creatures to give you two blockers where your opponent sees neither of them coming or it can tap a key blocker at the end of your opponent's turn to provide the necessary opening to squeak out a win with an all out attack. You can even use this during your opponent's upkeep to tap a land and leave them lagging behind the mana curve for a turn.
Now that you have built your deck it is time to start playing. Prerelease tournaments are run using a modified "Swiss" system. This means that there are a set number of rounds announced for the tournament and you can play in every round regardless of your record until the tournament is over. Most tournaments will have a posted prize schedule before the tournament starts. It may say that everyone with a specific record or better will win prizes at the end of the tournament. Usually, two losses will knock you out of range of prizes but you can find out before the tournament starts. Once you possess this information you will be able to make a decision about whether or not you want to continue playing based on the likelihood of winning prizes. Prizes are always additional Lorwyn boosters.
Back in the old days Tournament Organizers ran one ginormous tournament that went on all day. Nowadays events are run with many smaller flights held throughout the weekend. Under these circumstances you can sign up for more than one event. It also means you can sign up and try out different formats. Lorwyn Two-Headed Giant is sure to be a popular option at many events, and booster drafts are always a great opportunity to play with the new cards.
Be sure to check the web site of your local Tournament Organizer for more details about the events they are running. They may even have some cool perks specific to your area. For example, in Boston players will receive an exclusive Lorwyn playmat when they sign up for their second flight. There are usually a variety of card dealers at these events looking to buy and sell cards. Some events even have signings by Magic artists. For example, I know that Zoltan Boros, Gabor Sziksai, and Randy Gallegos will be appearing at some of the Star City Games events in Virginia. Trading is rarely better than on prerelease day. You should have no trouble keeping yourself occupied in between rounds.
If you cannot get to a Prerelease don't fret. Release Events will be following close on their heels at thousands of game stores around the globe. But if you can get yourself to a Prerelease I heartily encourage you to try your hand at Open Dueling, Sealed Deck tournaments, Two-Headed Giant, and/or Booster Draft with Magic's newest set weeks before it goes on sale. And if you have any questions about how the new cards work, check out the Rules Primer, which will appear on the Lorwyn product page Monday morning.
I know I will be drafting in New York on Saturday—and on Sunday too, wife willing. If you are at the Neutral Ground event come over and say hello. If you are in the Open Dueling event lets try and play a game or two. I have a couple of tricks I want to show you.