Monday, February 6, 2012

Dark Ascension Prerelease

Dark Ascension Prerelease Report

First, let me apologize for the lack of pictures; the Blogger was being a pill.  

Now, Prerelease!

Saturday brought the fun and excitement of new cards and strategies to the casually competitive environment of a tournament, and I wanted in. I woke up excited and ready to play, and I drove off to my local shop, about a twenty-minute drive from my house. Although my city is rife with places to play, there are none near my home, so even a casual game requires a bit of legwork.

My gas tank beeped at me on the way, signifying a low tank. Darn, I thought, now I’ve gotta spend gas money instead of draft money…these are the things that go through my head.

When I arrived, I found the shop in an unusual state of emptiness. I checked my phone (which serves as my watch as well as a billion other functions), and I was not that early. I trotted back to the judge’s table and asked Chris, our friendly resident judge, and he explained that there were actually multiple Sealed events today, as opposed to the usual side-draft. This might explain the smaller numbers, so I held on hope that my flight would be a big group.

As noon passed, it didn’t get any warmer outside, but the atmosphere had swelled into an excited frenzy of activity within doors. Shortly after noon, the judges called for seating pairings, and we all gathered at our assigned location, eager to rip open some fresh booster packs. My event contained about 55 players, I believe, which is probably the smallest sealed event I’ve been a part of. The smallest was probably Innistrad or Scars of Mirrodin, which were about 70 a piece. The largest prerelease I’ve ever attended was either Coldsnap, Time Spiral or Lorwyn…one of those reached 600 attendees.

Although I’d perhaps played a game or two with the people around me in the past, I didn’t know any of them by name. I struck up some Magic-related conversation with my neighbors, discussing the cards I thought would be strong or weak. As we got our stack of six packs, three each of Innistrad and Dark Ascension, we tore them open and registered them. Some people looked at the new cards as they flipped through them, learning about them for the first time. I continued to chat with my neighbors, but as the judge called to see who had not finished registering, I was one of only a few who raised their hands. I was surprised, as I usually finish quickly. I made a comment to this regard, and someone down the table called out, “well, you haven’t stopped talking since you sat down!” He was right, but Magic has always been a social game for me, and it’s more about the person across from you than the forty or sixty cards you shuffle up. That being said, I’m sure my little pod could have used some peace and quiet.

The pool I opened was marginal; no Sorin or Liliana or any of that business. A nearby player had opened superbly, getting a Devil’s Play, Geist of Saint Traft and some other Limited bombs. I hoped to get that one as we each took our rubber-banded pools and passed them in a randomly assigned direction.

Needless to say, I did not get the awesome Spirit/Devil stack. Rather, I got a pile of sheer refuse. I have played in at least a dozen pre-releases and releases, and I’ve never gotten a pool this bad. I moved to a table by myself to build in privacy.

My pool.  Click for a bitter picture!

Although the picture is a bit small, I had no bombs, very few uncommon staples. My rares were a Call of the Kindred (with no tribal synergy to speak of in the pool), a Thraben Doomsayer without white support outside of two Rebukes, an Unbreathing Horde with exactly three zombies across the entire pool, an awkwardly priced Curse of Bloodletting, a Ludevic’s Test Subject, with about four other blue creatures, and my only two good rares, Stromkirk Noble and Manor Gargoyle. No mythics, no meat, and all slop.

My white was hilarious slim (three creatures) and was decidedly lacking in win conditions and Geist-Honored Monks, so I cut that first. I looked at the blue, and besides a Test Subject, Stitched Drake and a Puppeteer Spirit (Niblis of the Breath), there was nothing else, so I more reluctantly set that aside.

That left a Jund-colored pile. I looked at green and found very little endgame/win conditions so I decided to set it aside despite the presence of some conditionally good cards like Prey Upon and the new Lambholdt Elder who flips into a Curiosity-laden 4/5 Werewolf.

This left Black/Red, but my curve was very screwy and very top-heavy, so with about two minutes left to build, I scrapped the abstractly better black for the more consistent and playable green, going for a black splash for Undying Evil and for the Fires of Undeath flashback. I forewent a Victim of Night, as I thought three black sources would make it too difficult to cast it reliably, or even at all. I was still sleeving my cards as I sat down to my first round of five.

Before I go into these matches, let me give this disclaimer. Despite my best intentions of taking notes after the matches to ensure accuracy of reporting, hunger and pick-up games with friends won out, and so these matches are completely from memory. If an opponent from the prerelease reads this, please forgive any inaccuracies as they are unintentional.

Match 1 – Paul (R/G)

I sat down across from Paul, a slender, clean fellow perhaps a couple years my junior. His glasses tipped forward on the bridge of his nose as he peered down at his unsleeved stack of 40 cards. As I unfolded my borrowed World of Warcraft playmat, I glanced at the win/loss slip and gathered his name. We chit-chatted about our decks and after we wished each other luck, we both responded with the modest admission, “well, I’ll need it!”

As Game One played out, I developed my board just a little better than he did. He got flooded and I smacked him to death with some Darkthicket Wolves and a flipped Scorned Villager. Somberwald Dryad was also an allstar, and I curved well enough that she got to contribute four or six points of leafy damage.

Game Two, however, was a closer game. He started to build up land after land and was able to hold off my more anemic assault. Eventually, after he lost some life and creatures, he tapped out for a Ghoultree.

I stared at the frightening 10/10; how was I going to kill that? Before long, it was in the red zone, and I was throwing creatures under the proverbial bus to preserve my vitality, but in two unimpeded turns, he slashed away my life total in two powerful smacks.

Although I didn’t sideboard anything in after Game One, I quickly threw in a Traitorous Blood with the intention of pushing hard then, as he plays out the Ghoultree, I can snatch it for that one crucial turn and win the match.

Sadly, I never saw that or my other answer for that card (Into the Maw of Hell), and the Ghoultree made even quicker work of me. At my concession, he breathed a sigh of relief, seemingly unaware of how critical his Ghoultree was. He was a good player that, despite having a less than optimal draw first game, had the finisher that my deck so desperately needed.


Match 2 – Tony (W/B)

After a session of ruminating and super-shuffling (basically, sitting at an empty table shuffling the life out of my cards), I settled into Round 2. Across from me was Tony, a cheery-smiled, dark-haired guy. He shuffled up a black-sleeved deck, and the conversation was more succinct; we each had a match loss and another loss for either of us would surely keep us out of the prize pool.

We went to battle, and his deck, a black/white concoction of non-token zombies and spirits came back from the afterlife to fight for him. I assembled an army as well, and with a full board, we carefully calculated combat math and raced in a sense. With a final attack, he had me down to single digits. When I returned fire, he attempted to block with his Gravecrawler; I informed him that it cannot block, and he scooped. He looked through what I assumed to be his sideboard as he grumbled playfully (if that makes sense). After a moment, he went up to the judges table and returned with a checklist card. He sat down and we started Game Two.

It took about three turns and a couple spells from Tony before I realized that he was now using an unsleeved pile of cards with Mountains and Islands! He was amused (and probably encouraged) by my lack of observational skill. I tapped out for a Lambholdt Elder, and, with a Geistflame in hand to deal with the opposing Torch Fiend on my next turn, I passed.

He untapped and proceeded to enchant his Goblin Piker with a Furor of the Bitten. Argh, punished for being aggressive! Geistflame wouldn’t do it now, and he bashed for 4. I took it, hoping to draw another answer. I didn’t, and passed to flip my werewolf. On his turn, he played an Artful Dodge and a Spectral Flight, going deep. He bashed for 6 and, when my next turn revealed no answer, I scooped.

Our third game was a lucky one on my end; I curved out and bashed for lethal pretty quickly against a bunch of untapped lands, with Tony peeling mana after mana. He revealed to me that his B/W deck was actually the nuts; A Sorin, Lord of Innistrad stared back at me as he offered it to me to thumb through. And he was right, if it curved out turn four, there was about a steak’s chance in Texas that you’d lose the game.


Round 3 – Mark (W/U/R)

Before my third matchup, I looked through my pile again and decided that the green was underwhelming enough that it may be better to play the higher power cards and only two colors at the sacrifice of curve and aggression. The green was quickly outclassed, while the red and black might actually kill them. Curve and value are irrelevant if you can’t do that.

Mark, a fellow I recall playing several years ago in a Lorwyn Block Prerelease (Eventide, maybe), greeted me with a blank, focused face. Mark, a gentleman perhaps in his late thirties, wore a purple “Morningtide” shirt and a ball cap, and I can’t help but say he physically reminds me of a skinny, clean-shaven Burt Reynolds, if that helps you get an image. I almost brought this up to him, but figured it errant and inappropriate to a stranger. Mark, if you ever read this…you look like Burt Reynolds.

I shuffled up my newly-formed stack and we each went for it. I had a fairly slow start, but so did he. I got in a few points of damage, but he shrugged each time, content to take two here, and one there. My Hanweir Watchkeep threatened to get in there against his small-bodied spirits and humans, so he played Dungeon Geists to imprison it. He started to bash in, taking off three-point chunks of life a turn. He played a Silverclaw Griffin to press his advantage and passed the turn. On the backstep, I peeled a Blood Feud, surely an answer to this mess! I cast it, bidding his Griffin and Geists fight each other. The Saving Grasp in his graveyard, however, saved his Geist, allowing him to replay it and tap something else on my turn. A major misplay on my part, but with it being my only real option, I’m not sure I would have won anyway.

Game Two, he got a slow start, and so did I. I boarded in the Treason-style Traitorous Blood and boarded out the Blood Feud and hoped to get aggressive. He had enough early business to stop my Diregraf Ghoul and Stromkirk Noble nonsense, and after hitting his seventh land, he quickly tapped out for Elbrus, the Binding Blade.

Oh snap! Where was that Torch Fiend?

He threw it on some of the Townsfolk he had Gathered earlier, and each turn I threw a Geistflame or a Fires of Undeath at his tokens in desperation, preventing the blade from flipping. Finally I got a stable blocker out. But Mark was prepared; a Claustaphobia shackled him, and one of the Townsfolk got in, flipping the Blade into a massive 13/13 Demon that was about as inevitable as the next Land Before Time movie. On my turn, I failed to pull the Traitorous Blood, and I could not ironically pull the demon Into the Maw of Hell, either.


Now somewhat deflated, I hustled across the street to Dairy Queen and obtained some comfort food, as I’m pretty sure that’s all Dairy Queen serves. I enjoyed my greasy cheeseburger, chicken wrap (with dressing that I didn’t ask for) and some tasty fries. My stomach gurgled in appreciation. It was already 4:30 PM (!), and all I’d had that day was a cinnamon cookie that my wonderful wife brought me from dinner with her friend the previous night.

I came back to the shop and plopped down at an empty table, debating whether Blood Feud was worth it with so much disruption that could defuse a six-mana sorcery that required two opposing creatures to be out. Behind me, a space battle board game raged behind me. I eventually did cut the Feud in favor of Death’s Caress, a less conditional, possibly beneficial removal spell. I judge spells like Death’s Caress alongside clunky but necessary Limited removal spells like Brainspoil. I encouraged myself, realizing that even if my deck had been in its red-green incarnation, I probably wouldn’t have won against Mark either. I swallowed my pride and shuffled up as round 4 pairings scrolled on the projector.

Round 4 – Charles (B/U)

I met my first monster of the day in Charles, and by that, I mean he was chosen to play a monster in the prerelease to convert other poor saps to his undead lifestyle, err, deathstyle. He was a Zombie, but not in his person. He was an animated mustachioed fellow, happy to engage in my gratuitous small talk. We shuffled up and kept our hands, though he kept his starting seven somewhat reluctantly.

Game One began, and I got a solid, aggressive start from Diregraf Ghoul and other assorted dudes. He got a mess of Swamps, but never the second Island he needed to get into the game. The game was already over when I cut his deck.

Game Two was much more interesting. I had a fairly similar start, running out Diregraf Ghoul and getting in there. I ran out of gas fairly quickly, however, and he played down a Soul Seizer, the creature-turned-Mind Control. As I had approximately zero flyers in my deck outside of Manor Gargoyle, I knew that my flipped Tormented Pariah was going to betray me. Sure enough it did, and with no enchantment removal and the only unsavory option being to kill my own creature on an otherwise empty board on my side of the table, I scooped.

Nervous at the thought of losing a third match, I knuckled down for game three, boarding in the Traitorous Blood to seize his Soul Seizer. In retrospect, my deck wasn’t tempo/aggro enough to merit maindecking the Traitorous Blood, but I subbed it in just about every game. Regardless, I didn’t draw it the entire tournament.

For game three, I got perhaps the best draw all day, getting a Stromkirk Noble into a Torch Fiend into a Markov Patrician. It was not long before I had bashed in the zombie with his own brethren.


I was feeling much better. If I could just win the last one, I could leave 3-2 and I might just squeak in on the prizes, which extended to Top 16.

Round 5 – James (B/R)

My final opponent was James, a self-proclaimed “flamboyant” man who was probably my equivalent in years. I asked his record at the beginning of the match, and we were both 2-2. I made the asinine comment that one of us would finish the tournament positive and the other would leave negative. A sharp fellow with a strong wit, he replied, “Well, I always hope to leave positive.”

The first game was a solid one for me, getting a Diregraf Ghoul out on the draw and getting sideways with multiple guys in a hurry. We traded blows, me with my Falkenrath Torturer and he with his pair of flipped Chosen of Markovs. The board state became pretty close. Finally, the Manor Gargoyle reared its stony, pertinent head off the top of my deck. I slammed that and, despite being able to occasionally protect their summoner, his creatures came to naught and I got through with the game.

The following game brought out Stromkirk Noble and he started getting angry. I got aggressive, trading creatures; I landed the Manor Gargoyle and, though constantly fearing the Tragic Slip and getting a little greedy in one combat, he never recovered. I smashed with the Gargoyle, bringing him to two on his antique “Duelist” life counter. I showed him Geistflame with enough mana to flash it back, and he graciously resigned.


A good-spirited gent, we shook and I turned in the slip for the last round, content with a 3-2 finish. It is true I have done better, but I’ve done worse, so I was pleased. Manor Gargoyle and Geistflame were definitely the cards of the day, playing crucial defensive and offensive roles throughout the day. The sealed pool I had was pretty loose from what I can tell, but that being the case, I’m still confident I built as best as I could. I feel confident that also, if I had played the Black/Red deck the whole time, I could have won the first match (Typhoid Rats and Victim of Night tend to kill big, non-trampling dudes) and possibly the second. That kind of conjecture is fruitless though, as another matchup surely could have defeated the junk in my Rakdos trunk.

Surprising underperformers existed too. My Undying Evil, a splash in my first brew, did little for me, mostly being a reactive trick that I would rather have been something else. My Markov Patrician never gained me a drop of life, and Stromkirk Captain only saw play once; he was the main reason I could get behind B/R without splashing, as he’s a solid fighter in a format where most small fighters aren’t solid.

At the end of the day, despite my lackluster pool, I did OK. Out of 56 players at the start, I finished 19th, just outside the money. Other 3-2 records did win, but their opponents were stronger, and so they matched upwards. After the tournament, I played a couple other people with my sealed deck and did quite well, including the nice fellow who got the pool with the Geist of Saint Traft and Devil’s Play (which I eventually traded my Call of the Kindred for). Satisfied, I packed up my trusty backpack of cards, slid on my Georgetown College hoodie and headed out.


The day ended well, and I have some rising opinions about this format in comparison to other Limited Formats and Innistrad Limited. Although I think Dark Ascension added good aggro cards like Stranglethorn Geist and other undying creatures that reward you for trading in the red zone, I still think the format is fairly slow. Although I’m usually a fan of faster Limited formats, I do look forward to giving this one a try. Coming up, I’ll give some more lists of cards I dig for Timmy and Spike reasons, and I’ll tell you about my Cube.

Until next time, don’t forget to untap!

- Matt

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