Have you heard the news? Morningtide is coming, the second and final set of the popular Lorwyn block. Like many players, you're probably interested in the opportunity to play with these brand new cards as soon as possible. The Prerelease this weekend gives you a chance for exactly that, in addition to being able to talk and play with other like-minded players. The Prerelease is a special series of tournaments and events running throughout this weekend. These tournaments are designed to give the players a chance to pick up the new set before the cards are officially on sale in February. Who wouldn't want to be a part of that? If you're thinking of making the trip, but are unsure how Prereleases and Sealed Deck events work, look no farther. And if you want to get some advance notice of what's going to be a very influential Morningtide card before the weekend, we've got that covered too.
The most common event over a Prerelease weekend is a Sealed Deck event, known as a "flight" or "pod"; four-round tournaments that run throughout the day. It's very common for players to arrive early in the day, play a flight, than do a second event in the afternoon; either another flight, a draft, or a Two-Headed Giant event. Although drafts and two-headed tournaments are plenty of fun, mechanics and tricks for them are beyond the scope of this article. Because Sealed Deck flights are the most popular and common events at Prerelease, and are excellent at getting a player immersed in all the new cardy goodness, the focus of this article will be on Sealed play. However, if you are interested in either Draft or Two-Headed Giant events, there will be plenty of judges and tournament officials walking through the play area that will answer questions you may have about an event. In fact, if you have questions about anything, judges (they wear the special shirts) are a great resource.
Sealed Deck events are so named because you build your deck out of "sealed" product, that is, unopened. After everyone in your event has registered, you will get one Lorwyn tournament pack and three Morningtide boosters to create a deck (Sealed Deck tournaments usually provide only two boosters, but it's the Prerelease!). You have 45 Lorwyn cards, 45 Morningtide cards, and as many basic lands as you want to construct a 40-card minimum deck. You're not restricted to using the basic lands from your tournament pack, which the tournament organizers will usually have you put in the middle of the table to share. The staff will also being handing out foil commemorative Morningtide Prerelease cards. These are unavailable to be included in your final construction, but are very pretty to look at while you're building. After the deck is made, you're ready to go. The tournament staff will pair you up against another player, where you'll battle with brand new Morningtide cards until a winner emerges. You can expect to take some time each round to look at the new cards!
A Note on the 40-Card Minimum
Experienced players advocate sticking as close to the 40 card minimum as possible. 41- or 42-card decks aren't fatal, but the eventual goal shouldbe consistently playing 40-card decks. The reason for this adherence is simple: the smallest possible deck gives you the greatest chance to draw your best cards. It's unlikely that every card in your deck is equal in strength. Adding cards beyond the minimum 40 dilutes your chances of finding the best ones.
This discipline is certainly more difficult at Prereleases. You've got all these shiny new cards to play with; it's no fun having to cull them out of your deck. Besides, what if you decide later that you missed a card you want to play with, or are playing with something that's not working out? It's not a problem. Although tournament rules generally require you to have the same starting configuration before each round (and you should certainly check with a judge before doing so), you always have the option to make any swaps you want between games (including adding more basic lands or even switching to different colors), as long as you end with at least 40 cards. It's quite popular at Prereleases to go visiting with friends after deck construction to compare your build and your unused cards. People love to throw ideas back on forth on different color schemes and valuations. It's a great chance to get other people's opinions and share your own, besides seeing more Morningtide cards of course. Try to stick to 40 now, and you'll have plenty of opportunity to make informed changes later.
Land Count and Mana Curve
Like deck minimums, land count and mana curve are slightly restrictive but necessary aspects to effective Sealed Deck building. Consistently, the most common errors in Sealed Deck are having too few lands or having too burdensome a mana base. These situations stem from the same source as going above the 40-card deck size: people want to play with as many cool cards as they can. A perfectly common motivation, but it adds an unnecessary amount of strain on the deck. Let's look at total land quantities first.
The standard land count for 40-card decks is either 17 or 18 land. While ~43% mana may sound high, you don't have the benefit of a reliable mana curve in Sealed Deck (see below). Mana is required for any deck to function, but sealed decks are particularly mana hungry. In addition, missing land drops is generally fatal. When you're stuck with the power cards in your hand, your opponents are continually playing spells and attacking. It's hard to come back from that kind of disparate opening. Having a lot of land in your deck lets you keep up, and should your opponent stumble, it allows you to take advantage of their falter. Everyone has more fun when each person gets to play their cards. Your opponent is on his or her own, but you can do your part by running enough land.
Likewise, there is the temptation to pack a sealed deck with the best cards of each color. Again, understandable but impractical. The best sealed decks play two colors, or sometimes two primary colors and a third minor, or "splashed" color. Ideally the splashed color has cards that are easy to play (with only one colored mana in their mana cost), so you only need to dedicate two or three mana sources to them. Are there exceptions to the 17-18 land counts, and the two primary color constructions? Sure, but they're relatively rare. The general rule is that you can cut a land if your deck is full of particularly cheap guys, or you have a few alternate mana sources like Fertile Ground and Springleaf Drum. Keep in mind though that many of those alternate sources require some initial investment of mana to get moving. They're useful, but they don't outright replace lands. Similarly, if you have a lot of mana fixers like the Vivid lands or Elvish Harbinger, you can add more than one splash color. I'd try to stick with two primary colors if possible, but some circumstances allow a player four or even five color decks. Prereleases are for trying new things after all, feel free to experiment.
The mana curve guidelines are a little more ironclad. Your mana curve is your likely order of playing cards (two-mana cards are likely to be played earlier than three-mana cards, for example). The best mana curves "ramp up" in spells, so you have something to do in the early game, mid game, and the late game. For example, a strong mana curve would have a deck playing a card at two mana, three mana, and four mana. Most decks want their spells to look like a bell curve, with the majority of spells at three or four mana, and very few cards that cost 6+. A typical sealed deck's mana curve may look like this:
A good curve is important in Limited for a few reasons. One, having early spells lets you get involved in the game sooner. Again, nothing is more frustrating than having a hand full of expensive fat while your opponent beats you up with little guys. By contrast, having some little guys in the deck lets you beat up your opponent while their hand is clogged with expensive fat, or at the very least block for you. Having a few cheap spells, and especially a lot of three-mana cards, gives you plenty of options to attack or defend as needed.
When I'm building a sealed deck, mana curve is always in the back of my mind. I've had to dismiss colors outright simply because the deck had too many expensive spells or too few. When you're looking to cull cards out of your deck, the real pricey stuff is usually the first to go. Of course there's no need to completely limit yourself, Prereleases are for playing with new toys. If there's a powerful and expensive card you really want to try out, definitely give it a spin. Just make sure you have some cheap spells as well to balance the deck out. A lot of games are won and lost with mana issues. Getting a handle on these concepts will go a long way to ensuring your deck gets to play ball, and you get the opportunity to earn some prizes!
Creatures and Spells
Creatures are the most important cards in a sealed deck. Creatures block for you and, if things are going well, bring damage to your opponent. Although there are other ways to win, and Morningtide supports some of these, by and large victories come from creatures dealing damage to players.
The best creatures in your deck are the ones that are most likely to deal the most damage. That means creatures with high power and/or creatures that are difficult to block. For the first part, two power is generally the lowest power you should look to for creatures, unless they have a utility function like Flamekin Spitfire or Goldmeadow Harrier. Too many one-power creatures will cause you to be outclassed when your opponent starts rolling out the heavy hitters. Although two power is generally acceptable, try to have some higher powered stuff as well. Anything with three or more power generally has an impact on the board. You want your opponent reacting to your cards, and high powered creatures, assuming they cost a reasonable amount, are the way to go. You also want creatures that are difficult to block, a.k.a. evasive. Creatures with flying are the classic example, but tramplers and landwalkers can also qualify. Keep in mind though that if your unblockable creatures are too small to deal much damage, your opponent can just ignore the plinking and keep trying to hit you. The most valuable creatures are those that hit hard and are hard to stop. Any color that has multiple of such creatures should get a hard look during deckbuilding.
Now Lorwyn and Morningtide take the creature decisions a bit farther with tribal implications. A creature's subtypes, like Goblin or Wizard, are often relevant to a variety of cards. Most of these interactions are fairly evident, although the changelings deserve special mention just because they fit into so many strategies. They're often the most useful creatures you can have access to, even if they're not the most powerful. The cards that docare about types are often very powerful when they get rolling. An example is Mark Rosewater's preview card from last week, Leaf-Crowned Elder. This Treefolk has a terrifically powerful effect, but exactly how reliable it is depends on your deck. There are a lot of cards out there like Lightning Crafter who have exceptionally influential sway on the play field, yet depending on some decks, may be very difficult to actually get into play. In the case of Leaf-Crowned Elder, the Treefolk is a big enough body that any Kinship bonuses are gravy. But Lightning Crafter risks being stuck in hand if your deck is short creatures of the appropriate type. No fun. Some players, faced with this situation in deckbuilding, make one of two possible errors. They may play Lightning Crafter in a deck with few Goblins or Shamans and hope to get lucky. Invariably they do get everything working sometimes, but not often enough for any kind of consistency. It's your call of course, but I generally want at a minimum five of the appropriate type(s) before I look at champion cards like that. Here again the changelings function so well. The second, and arguably worse, option with cards like Lightning Crafter is to create consistency, but do so by jamming the deck with all the weakest or clunky cards of the appropriate type. Things go fine if your power rare is drawn regularly and lives to tell the tale, but those are big ifs. In the meantime, you're stuck with an underpowered build. It's just not worth foundering your deck, either by weak creatures or a sketchy mana base, for a single card.
Finally, you've got "other stuff." Creatures are important, but tricks and removal to clear the way or stop the bleeding are critical as well. Removal is the best of this stuff, but cards that return creatures to their owner's hand, or combat tricks, are fine too. Combat tricks are the cards that, as you would expect, are ideal in combat situations. Fistful of Force is a popular Lorwyn combat trick for example; it's good for keeping your creature alive or having a guy deal lots of trample damage. While these spells can be powerful and splashy, creatures really are your bread-and-butter cards in Sealed Deck. There are no hard rules on the subject, but generally your nonland cards should be at least two-thirds creatures, with the remaining reserved for growth effects, countermagic, removal, etc. Of course those numbers get a little skewed with cards that are both creatures and tricks. Morningtide offers a number of such creatures, like today's preview card. It's a goodie.
Reinforce: Official Rules
Reinforce is an activated ability you can play from your hand. The official rules for reinforce are as follows:
502.77a Reinforce is an activated ability that functions only while the card with reinforce is in a player's hand. "Reinforce N--[cost]" means "[Cost], Discard this card: Put N +1/+1 counters on target creature."
*Reinforce is an activated ability you can play any time you could play an instant as long as the card with reinforce is in your hand. Let's go over this one piece by piece. 2W is cheap enough to fit nicely in the three mana curve slot. The single white mana means it won't be too arduous to play, and it's even eligible for a splash. Two power is perfectly reasonable, and the flying means Bombardier qualifies as a genuine threat to your opponent's wellbeing. Kithkin and Soldier are both heavily supported types in Lorwyn and Morningtide. While Burrenton Bombardier doesn't require any special tribal interactions, it can certainly benefit from them. But the real gift here is that extra bit of text: "Reinforce." Reinforce is the latest in a long line of abilities that lets you trade in a creature for a nice effect. In the case of two permanent +1/+1 counters, a very nice effect.
Your most common scenario is going to be using reinforce to keep a creature alive (and better) while your opponent's creature perishes. There will also be plenty of times where you're just a few damage short, and the reinforce gets a creature as big as it needs to be for the finishing blow. Sometimes you'll want a large creature for repeated attacking. Although Auras often aren't worth Sealed Deck inclusion, reinforce creatures almost always are. You get all the benefits of Auras with little of the liability, and at instant speed no less. And with reinforce spread across green, red, and white, your opponent is going to be wondering just how big your creature is going to get. Of course feel free to attack with your creatures sometimes even when you don't have a reinforce card in hand. Odds are your opponent will still take the damage anyway. But if you try that move this weekend, make sure your opponent has seen reinforce cards first! Are you getting excited?
Although reinforce functions primarily as an incredibly effective combat trick, there are some more...specialized applications available. For example:
Burrenton Bombardier + Oona's Blackguard = Extra damage with a speedy Specter's Shroud bonus.
Burrenton Bombadier + Kinsbaile Borderguard = More damage and more Kithkin. Raise the Alarm indeed!
You can find your local Prerelease location here (and watch the Magic Arcana slot for an even better way to find a Prerelease near you). All you need to do is show up, and if you haven't yet, register with the DCI for your personal DCI number. It's completely free to sign up, and you get some cool rewards for being a tourney going player. Again, the judges or tournament staff will be happy to set you up if you have any questions. In the meantime make sure to check out the Morningtide downloadable rules primer, a great resource that walks you through the set's mechanics using specific cards as examples. It's a great way to learn more about the set while also finding out in advance the kinds of rules interactions you'll want to be aware of.
Are you fired up to play? This is the event for to immerse yourself in the innovative world of Morningtide, while meeting new people and enjoying a relaxed atmosphere. If you're headed to the Seattle Prerelease, be sure to stop by the gunslinging table and say hi. You'll have the chance to meet a lot of the Wizards of the Coast R&D members who worked on Morningtide and Lorwyn, and they'll be happy to play you a game or two of sealed deck. Score a win against these professionals and you may get an extra booster of Morningtide for your own! Hope to see you there.