This weekend I attended my fourth prerelease at my local games store, Boards and Swords, for the first paper look at Throne of Eldraine. With the drawn out spoiler seasons and the early access given via Magic: The Gathering Arena, prereleases are no longer the first time you’ll see the cards of a new set but they are an exciting event nonetheless.
In this report I’m going to try and explain how prerelease works, show the deck that I built, and go over the wins and losses of the evening. If you’re already familiar with prereleases and the Sealed format, you can skip straight to my deck.
What happens at a prerelease event?
A prerelease event is run by your friendly local game store and is a casual event designed to let people try out the new set a week before it is formally available. Depending on the set, you’ll be able to buy a few items to take away with you, usually boxes of boosters and planeswalker decks1. You’ll be playing a limited format called “Sealed” which requires you to make a small deck out of a number of booster packs. With this deck you’ll play a number of opponents in best-of-three rounds. Overall, the entire event will likely take 5-6 hours depending on the number of participants.
When you arrive, you’ll sign in and pay your event fee which pays for the packs you are going to use, some packs used as prizes, and the running costs for the store. This fee is typically around £25. You’ll also be asked for, or given, your DCI number which uniquely identifies you and means you can see every single game of paper Magic you’ve ever played and earn Planeswalker Points which can help you get to bigger tournaments. At this point you’ll be able to chat with other players and do any last minute reading on the spoiled cards but eventually everybody will be given a prerelease pack and told that they can start.
Prerelease packs vary by set but for Throne of Eldraine they contain six draft boosters, a foil rare or mythic rare that is stamped with the date of the prerelease, and a spindown die for counting your life. Also available to you will be a pool of basic lands that the store will provide although I prefer to bring my own. You’ll now have 45 minutes or so to build a deck with these pieces before the rounds begin.
A gentle hush will descend only interrupted by the tearing open of boosters, the flicking through of cards, and the occasional murmur of “oh that’s good” or “that’s busted”.
How do I build a sealed deck?
Sealed deck-building is a skill that takes time to develop and is a skill I do not possess. Your deck needs to be a minimum of 40 cards in size and it is very rare you’ll see people go over that limit. The typical composition will be 23 spells (of which most will be creatures) and then 17 lands but this will vary depending on what you draw. All of your cards are classed as your sideboard and you may swap them in and out at any point between games and rounds2.
In terms of choosing what cards to use, the usual process is to look at the rares and mythic rares you have as you’ll typically only have 7 of these available to you3. Hopefully you’ll have a few that are of the same colour or that have some shared mechanic between them that will allow you to go all in on a specific colour or combination. More often than not you have to look through what commons and uncommons you have to decide which is going to be your dominant colour and whether you’re going to attempt to splash for more. Due to the number of cards you have, it is very likely you’ll be picking two colours as a minimum. In every prerelease I’ve attended there has always been one guy who, after much beard stroking, announces to nobody in particular “I think I’m going to have to go five colour”. To this date it has never worked out well for him!
There is a mnemonic called “BREAD” which is designed to help you whittle down what cards you need; in order, you should pick bombs, removal, evasion, aggro, and then duds. There is a huge amount of debate as to how useful this system is and simply having bombs and removal in your deck doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be able to cast them. That said, it’s a good introduction to the sort of things you should be looking for. As an example, a common flyer (which is “evasion”) is likely going to be better for you over time than an expensive mythic rare enchantment that only works for a specific combo. Just because you have a foil mythic rare doesn’t mean you should use it…
A common thing I see at prerelease is a sense of disappointment with the completed deck. “This is never going to win” people say completely forgetting that everybody else is in the same boat; the majority of your deck is going to be commons with likely no synergy between them. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that your deck is terrible because it isn’t like your constructed decks!
Playing with your sealed deck
Once your deck is built, you’ll start playing each of your matches. The number of rounds will depend on the number of attendees – my store usually does four – and you’ll have a limited amount of time to play each round. As players are often seeing cards for the first time and Sealed is a fairly slow format anyway, it is very often the case that players run out of time if they go to three games in a round. If this happens, you’ll be told you can only play a further five turns; if nobody wins in that time, the game is a draw.
At the Throne of Eldraine prerelease, there were a number of games that went on far longer than they should have with one milling deck taking nearly a full hour for just one game!
At the end of all of the rounds, the scores are totalled up4 and booster packs are awarded. Each game store will do these prizes differently but my one typically gives two boosters to the person that came last, a single booster to the majority of participants, and then an increasing number of boosters for those at the top of the table. People will then generally rip open their packs and start comparing rares before dispersing into the night clutching their buy-a-box promos and wondering if they can get time off from their work or families to attend another event over the weekend.
ELD Pre-Release (Sealed) 40 cards
I was fairly unfortunate in that my rare cards didn’t line up particularly well with the commons I had and I didn’t get a single mythic rare. My promo card was Fae of Wishes // Granted and the other rares I opened were Castle Ardenvale, Midnight Clock, Stolen by the Fae, Piper of the Swarm, Fires of Invention, and Giant Killer // Chop Down.
I probably should have opted for a deck but I had very few commons and uncommons so seemed the better choice. I really wanted to use Fires of Invention so that caused me to go for a splash of red as well. I decided to go for 3 mountains as there were a couple of cards I might have wanted to use around the turn 3-4 mark (such as Steelclaw Lance and Raging Redcap) but realistically I wouldn’t be using cards like Fling until much later. Similarly with , I went for 3 islands as I only needed one blue source to get me either Midnight Clock or Queen of Ice // Rage of Winter and I needed to make sure I was hitting my swamps for what was ultimately very close to a mono deck.
So how did it go?
Round 1 (2-0)
My first game was against a pretty nice knights deck but they suffered with terrible land draw in the first game leading to a number of turns where they couldn’t do anything. I was able to get three rats on the board with Piper of the Swarm early on and use the sacrifice ability to take control of their Clackbridge Troll after the three goats had been created but before their attack did damage to me.
The second game went a lot longer and led to a massive board state where I ended up with six food tokens, three rats, and a full 12 counters on Midnight Clock which let me draw 7 cards. I was able to exile their Clackbridge Troll with Epic Downfall fairly early on thus depriving them of their big bomb card. They were pretty much prevented from attacking me thanks to Revenge of Ravens and chump blocking also wasn’t an option due to Syr Konrad, the Grim. In the end I won by performing the mill feature of Syr Konrad, the Grim five times on my end step; I only needed to do 3 damage but it wasn’t quite enough finding just two creatures out of a possible ten hits. Fortunately I was able to sacrifice one of my own creatures with Witch’s Oven to do the final piece of damage.
Round 2 (1-2)
The second round was against a far more experienced player using a knights deck with a splash of . The first game went fairly long with Revenge of Ravens doing the majority of the heavy lifting in either reducing incoming damage (whilst hurting them) or making them want to pass instead. We were both around five health by the end of the game and they were confident I couldn’t get lethal until I tapped two mountains and used Fling to throw Syr Konrad, the Grim directly at their face.
The second game was over very quickly due to poor land draw on my part, and the third game went even worse as I kept a hand I really should have mulliganed and failed to find the right coloured mana. Whilst I was able to tick up the Midnight Clock again, it wasn’t enough to stop me getting overrun by Murderous Rider // Swift End and Syr Alin, the Lion’s Claw.
Round 3 (0-2)
After a lengthy pause for a mill deck to finish up their game, round 3 started against one of the best players at the LGS. I had a sense of dread as the name was read out as this guy has beaten me at every prerelease and this was reinforced when I realised he had pulled an Oko, Thief of Crowns, Wildborn Preserver, and Feasting Troll King. The games did not last long and I was easily defeated.
Round 4 (0-2)
The final round of the evening was against somebody I didn’t recognise who had allegedly had a fairly bad evening with his Jund () assortment of cards. I was feeling confident. This confidence was misplaced.
In the first game I managed to get to two rats before he destroyed my Piper of the Swarm and then removed my Crashing Drawbridge with an Embereth Shieldbreaker // Battle Display. It wasn’t long until several knights reduced my life total to 0. The second game was far more brutal with my Piper of the Swarm being taken under his control with his own Piper of the Swarm followed by a slow and meticulous capturing of most of my board before a Fierce Witchstalker delivered the coup de grâce.
Overall I finished 19th of 22 although two people left early so I was only one from the bottom in the final results. This was not the top scoring outing I was planning on, especially given my advantage having performed many sealed events on Arena thanks to the Early Access Streamer Event. But that’s the way Sealed goes sometimes; if you think getting mana screwed or flooded in constructed is hard, just imagine that randomness occurring in the picking of your cards!
In retrospect I did make some poor decisions during gameplay and also in the creation of the deck. I didn’t sideboard at all which was definitely a mistake, especially in rounds 2 and 3 where I had answers for those opponents that could have helped. With that said, I did have a few cards I wanted to call out specifically:
- Revenge of Ravens: This mostly passed me by in spoiler season5 but it proved to be the single best card in my deck. Combined with Syr Konrad, the Grim it acted as a perfect deterrent to would-be attackers. There is definite mileage to be had here and I’m curious to see how it would fair in a deck with Bloodthirsty Aerialist.
- Piper of the Swarm: Another great value engine, this would be better with multiples in play or other rats to sacrifice but in the limited environment it was fairly easy to steal things from your opponent (or have them stolen from me in one case).
- Midnight Clock: I put this in on a bit of a lark as I was curious to see if I could trigger it. Turns out I managed to do it in three separate games which was surprising but I guess there isn’t much artifact removal in limited. Of particular note is that it ticks up on each upkeep, not just your own, and that it triggers the ability as soon as the final counter is placed, not on the start of upkeep like Simic Ascendancy. This meant I was able to pay a little to tick it up on my turn and get that card draw fairly quickly.
- Fling: Being able to sacrifice a creature and deal it’s power as damage to any target is incredibly good. I used this a few times, mostly when chump blocking as I was able to prevent damage to me whilst doing damage directly to an opponent’s face.
- Fires of Invention: This was the biggest disappointment of the evening for me as I didn’t get to use it once! I only got it in my hand a single time but then I couldn’t find a single mountain to fuel it. This was a shame as it would have been an incredibly good bomb to have as you effectively get to cast two high-cost spells for free and then use your mana in mana sink abilities.
All in all it was a great event and whilst a number of people complained about the grindiness of the set, there was a general consensus that the flavour and artwork was perfect. There was also a good variety of decks in play which is always nice to see.
The final part of the evening consisted of picking up my pre-orders which this time consisted only of a single booster box. With this set, each 36-booster box comes not only with a promo card (Kenrith, the Returned King who seems more suited to Brawl or Commander) but also with a collector booster which is going to retail for around £25-30. I’m not keen on purchasing any of those boosters at that price but I did buy an additional booster box to do some drafting with a friend next month and to net me that extra collector booster pack.
And boy I’m glad I did! In each collector booster I received a foil Oko, Thief of Crowns; one regular, one borderless.
The regular one is worth around £50 as it is but the borderless one is easily worth over £150 thus comfortably paying for that second box if I decide to sell it6. I’ll be talking about the mechanics of these cards in more detail next week but they certainly made up for the bad luck in the Sealed event!
Other cards in the collector booster included beautiful showcase versions of Oakhame Ranger // Bring Back, Order of Midnight // Alter Fate, Hypnotic Sprite // Mesmeric Glare, and Shepherd of the Flock // Usher to Safety (amongst others) and extended art versions of Piper of the Swarm and Folio of Fancies. I was particularly taken with the extended art cards which looks so much nicer in person. The font alignment issues on the showcase cards also don’t look quite as bad as they do in the digital versions. If I had one negative about the collector boosters, it was that it was fairly disappointing to pull a non-foil common card from one of the brawl decks in there that is worth about £0.02. It’s kind of nice that there is the opportunity to pull cards from the brawl and planeswalker decks but I would have preferred another foil common from the set over those.
In conclusion, the Throne of Eldraine prerelease was a great event and I’d encourage you to go down to your local game store for the prerelease of Theros: Beyond Death when it arrives (or returns) in January. If you have any questions about prerelease events or Throne of Eldraine, just let me know in the comments below or get in touch.
This tends to vary a bit depending on the set but it is usually just these items. 10-pack bundles and individual booster packs are typically not available until the formal set launch a week later. ↩︎
For example, if you find after your first game that you don’t have enough lands or that a particular creature isn’t working out for you, then you can just swap them out for any of the cards you opened in your prerelease pack. I’ve seen some people play game one with a mono-red deck only to switch to a black-green deck for the second game completely changing every card they were playing! ↩︎
One from each pack plus the foil prerelease card. Some people get lucky and draw extra rares in their packs as foils so it is feasible to have 8, 9, or even more rares. ↩︎
I don’t fully understand the scoring system but beating somebody 2-0 will get you more points than a 2-1 win. Going 4-0 on your rounds doesn’t necessarily mean you are going to be 1st if somebody else did it with less games played. ↩︎
Apart from commenting on the terrifying artwork – the perfect depiction of my performance! – and the wonderfully disturbing flavour text. ↩︎