ou're in a house. The lights are off. You flick the switch ineffectually a few times. At least you're locked in. You're safe. The big scary outside world is out there, and you are inside, locked away from the world, in a big... dark... house. You're safe, unless the killer... is... in... the... house...
I should really write these articles during the day. Now when I go to the fridge to get my midnight snack, I'm going to be wondering if it will turn me into a gremlin.
Horror has always been a personal favourite of mine, and now Magic is taking a horror twist. Yes, Gaze of Pain and Pulling Teeth each have their own scary images. Sure, I found Nikko-Onna a little too reminiscent of Japanese horror characters to leave me comfortable. Now, though, after the eternal sunshine of the spotless Lorwyn, Magic has gotten dark. The Dark was pretty dark, but Shadowmoor is The Dark viewed through sunglasses, indoors, at night time. With the lights off.
I couldn't be more excited.
The first chance that we have to see the whole set is the Prerelease coming up this weekend. Like getting to the movies on a preview, this is the occasion where you get to get a jump on the competition by seeing things first, and enjoying the surprises in store before everyone has had their turn. All murky mythos aside, there is no reason for the Shadowmoor Prerelease to be scary at all, even if it is your first tournament. Firstly, Prerelease tournaments are about the best way to make the leap into playing in tournaments, with a fun, friendly atmosphere, and secondly, you have this guide to surviving any and all horrors that Shadowmoor might have waiting in the shadows for you.
Rules for Surviving a Horror Movie
Rule #1 – Bring A Friend
Now, in a real horror movie, having plenty of friends around can sometimes mean having a few warm bodies to throw in the way of the monster / killer / evil bunny rabbit. Just as often though, are the times that sticking together in a group is the best way to stay safe. The daring loner is often a daring goner... especially if they say they are "just going outside to check something."
In a Magic tournament, it's cool if you rock up going lone wolf. As soon as you get there, there will be a whole bunch of like-minded players, along with judges and tournament organisers who should be able to help out all day if you have any problems. However, in my experience, tournaments are never more fun than if you show up with some friends. Bring along whoever you normally play with, and you can all get the scoop on Shadowmoor, and then you can play with your new swag after the tournament too. Having someone with you also makes the travel to and from the tournament that much easier and more entertaining.
Rule #2 – Get Tooled Up
Now, depending on the horror movie, the tools you will need can vary quite a lot. Carrying a cross and holy water about will only work so much of the time. Likewise there are only so many baddies that can be battled with a shotgun.
A torch, or even better, night vision goggles, might well be a good call, along with a good working mobile phone. In fact, I recall having an entertaining discussion with horror movie director Eli Roth, where he bemoaned the fact that in modern horror one of the first things you need to do is come up with a plot point that will stop mobile phones from working. Murdering the youth of today in new and interesting ways has never been harder.
If you are in a real horror movie, bringing the right tools for the job is a must. Leave those Chinese puzzle boxes that open gates to Hell at home, but make sure you have the right incantation to stop whatever gribbly monster might be making the place look untidy. Also, don't watch any video tapes that have been left lying around unexpectedly.
For a Prerelease, it is equally important to have the essentials with you. Again, if you bog yourself down with too much stuff, you will only be carrying around things you don't need, but there are definitely some things that it's a good idea to have.
Pens or pencils – Keeping track of life totals (both yours and your opponents) is the best way to avoid confusion in games, where life counter dice can get knocked, and your abacus can be unclear. Having a spare pen is worth it for when the first one, like that horror movie mobile phone, stops working some time in the first act, when things start getting interesting.
Dice or counters – gone are the days of Fallen Empires where there was a huge collection of different counters that cards could get on them. These days there aren't as many types of counters, but they are pretty common, and all the time you spend foraging about for them at the last minute is not time you are spending having fun. They don't take up much space, so have some with you.
Details of the event – it doesn't matter if you print it out, or just scribble down the details with the pen that you remembered to bring. Knowing where your tournament is and having the contact details of the tournament organiser is always a good call. If your car breaks down on the way, and you're going to be late (it has happened to me), you can call ahead and perhaps still be registered okay. You can avoid going to the wrong place, and having to walk for 4 miles to where you are meant to be (it has happened to me). If you wake up late and can't remember when registration closes, you won't need to sprint to your local game store unnecessarily (that one I avoided... as I remembered to keep my local game store's number on speed-dial). Having a map to the tournament is pretty much as good as having a map out of the scary forest. Don't leave home without it.
Trades – If you want to trade, having your cards ready, sorted, and ideally in a binder is a very good idea for a Prerelease. In my experience these tournaments, more than any other, are a great place to trade if you wish to. If you don't want to trade, leave the binder at home. It will only weigh you down and confuse people who do want to exchange some cards to improve their collections. Show up with an idea of what you are looking for, and how much you value your cards. If you find a trade that looks good to you, go for it! If you can't come to a trade for the cards you want, don't worry, there will be plenty of time to get the cards you want later. Don't let yourself feel that just because everyone else is trading, you should be doing so too. Also, if you are unsure as to whether a trade is a good one, having a friend with you (see point 1) is a great way of making sure that you don't come to regret trading away that powerhouse card later.
Rule #3 – Find Out How to Kill the Monster
If you're fighting a zombie, you're going to have a really hard time of it if you don't go for the head. If you do go for the head and it keeps on coming, you're in a lot of trouble regardless. Vampires have a whole catalogue of weaknesses, so make the most and use them where you can. A little preparation goes a long way in a horror movie. You're going to lose enough time falling over while being chased that you have to make it up somewhere.
The Shadowmoor Prerelease will be Sealed Deck, with one tournament pack, and either two or three Shadowmoor boosters, depending on your tournament organizer. This much will be the same for everyone. Most of the cards (excepting those previewed) will be new to everyone in the room. Again, here everyone is on the same level. You could get lucky, and open an amazing collection of cards, with some really powerful numbers that will knock spots of everyone in the room. Luck will only get you so far though. Here are my top tips for building a Sealed Deck pool in more or less any format, which should give you a good start for tackling the tough task of creating a deck from brand new cards within a limited time frame.
- You want to be making a deck that has 40 cards in, maybe 41 cards at a push. This is so that you have the best chance possible of drawing your most powerful cards each turn. This means you are probably going to have to leave out some fun-looking cards from your deck. Don't sweat it... you can always play them in a deck later.
- Most games of Sealed Deck are decided by creatures, or by people having trouble with mana. My general rule of thumb for 40 card decks is having about 17 lands, 17 creatures, and 6 non-creature spells. To make doubly sure that I don't have issues with mana, I try to keep my decks down to two colours, with only the most powerful cards from a third colour making the cut as a "splash." Given all the hybrid mana symbols in Shadowmoor—which can be paid with mana of either of their colors—this should be easier than ever.
- If most games are won and lost by creatures, then it is a good idea to have a plan against them. For this reason, the two most powerful things to have in your Sealed Deck are ways of killing creatures, and ways of getting your creatures to attack through, even if your opponent has a bunch of them out. Spells that kill one creature are definitely worth considering. Spells that can kill more than one creature, either in one go (Wrath of God) or over time (Avatar of Woe), are the sorts of things that should tell you that you want to play their colour. When it comes to evasion abilities, flying is normally the gold standard, though trample, protection from a colour or two, landwalk, and trample are also all strong contenders.
Lastly, check the Shadowmoor Product Page for the official Shadowmoor Rules Primer that went live Monday morning. That way you'll know ahead of time all the new themes and keywords that will be jumping out at you this weekend.
Rule #4 – Have a Big Twist at the End
It turns out that all the main characters have been vampire barbarian ghost killers the whole time, apart from the creepy guy, who was trying to help you all along. The weapon you needed was inside you all along. Also, if you are looking for a way to win a fight, a giant exoskeleton is a really sweet way to start. A giant exoskeleton and a bigger boat.
You can't wear a giant exoskeleton to your local Shadowmoor Prerelease. I mean, you could, but you might have trouble getting through the door. Shuffling could also be a problem. All in all it is probably a terrible idea. I do not endorse it.
One thing I do endorse, though, is playing the following trick should you open it, as a great way to finish off monsters (and in turn opponents) with a little help from your team:
***New Keyword Ability: Conspire***
Conspire is an ability that appears on instant and sorcery cards. It lets your creatures team up to create one extra copy of a spell.
The official rules for conspire are as follows:
502.78a Conspire is a keyword that represents two abilities. The first is a static ability that functions while the spell is on the stack. The second is a triggered ability that functions while the spell is on the stack. "Conspire" means "As an additional cost to play this spell, you may tap two untapped creatures you control that each share a color with it" and "When you play this spell, if its conspire cost was paid, copy it. If the spell has any targets, you may choose new targets for the copy." Paying a spell's conspire cost follows the rules for paying additional costs in rules 409.1b and 409.1f-h.
502.78b If a spell has multiple instances of conspire, each is paid separately and triggers based on its own payment, not any other instance of conspire.
If you choose to pay a conspire cost of a multicolored spell, the two creatures you tap don't need to share a color with each other. Each one just needs to share a color with the spell that has conspire.
You may pay a spell's conspire cost only once. (If a spell has multiple instances of conspire, you may pay each conspire cost only once.)
A copy created with conspire will have a conspire ability itself. However, since that copy wasn't played, its conspire ability won't trigger. You won't get another copy.
The copy you create with conspire is separate from the original spell. If either one of them is countered, the other remains on the stack.
If conspire's triggered ability is countered (by the ScourgeTM spell Stifle, for example), no copy will be created. The original spell will be unaffected.
is a world full of scary things, and Æthertow lets you send away your opponents scary things while letting your own scary things get all freaky naughty on your opponent. At its most basic, this hybrid instant will let you put one attacking or blocking creature on top of its owner's deck. If this is all it does, it is pretty good.
Any "bounce" spell can be pretty solid in Limited. It won't work quite the same as a removal spell, because that monster is coming back, but it will buy you time. Time to make some attacks. Time to draw the extra land you need to cast your big spell. Time to win the game. Æthertow is somewhat reminiscent of Time Ebb, and goes one better. It doesn't just bounce a creature to a player's hand... it puts it right on top of their deck. In terms of buying time, this is like a bounce spell that when played on one of your opponent's creatures reads "your opponent skips their draw step."
When you start playing tricks with conspire on this card, things rapidly get out of hand (much like Steve Sadin's recent preview card, Burn Trail). Imagine your opponent attacks with four creatures, into your two. They are looking to lose a creature to your blocks, but will force through some damage in a tight race. You block with your creatures, then play Æthertow with conspire, tapping your two creatures (as long as each creature is either blue or white, mind!). You put your opponent's other two creatures on top of their deck.
Suddenly you are ahead on the board and able to attack with your team safe in the knowledge of what is coming from your opponent for the next two turns. Two turns is a long time in Magic. Casting Plow Under is a huge tempo play, where you put a pair of lands on top of your opponent's deck. Æthertow is similar, only it gets rid of threats. If your opponent is desperately looking for an answer when they are behind in a game, Æthertow can pretty much seal things, by setting up more attacks from you and denying your opponent any chance at drawing that answer that they have in their deck.
Given that Æthertow is a hybrid card with conspire, it's really easy to be able to tap two creatures that share a colour with it. If you had a green-white creature and a blue-black creature, that would be cool. If you had two blue creatures, that works too. This is a trick that wants you to play it. It wants to ruin the dreams of your opponents. This might be the meanest blue-white card ever. And in Shadowmoor it's okay to be mean. Don't be mean to your opponents by telling them their hair makes them look like Chewbacca in a wind tunnel. Be mean to them by playing Æthertow, and attacking for the win.
Whether it's tow or no, the Shadowmoor Prerelease this weekend is looking like a winner. Shadowmoor wants to get you. I say, let it.