Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Return to Ravnica Prerelease Report: Rak and Roll

It’s good to be home.

This past weekend was the Prerelease for one of the most anticipated sets in Magic’s 20 year history, and it did not disappoint. 

My local shop was prepared for an influx of players, each ready to choose their guild and sling cards reflecting their flavor and playstyle.  BluegrassMagic’s midnight release was by far their largest, and although I didn’t attend that one, I attended the afternoon prerelease the following day.  

When I arrived at the shop, it was decidedly emptier than I expected.  The afternoon event barely fired, in fact, as we came up with seventeen players.  A couple dozen had played that morning, and several were returning for another shot. Regardless of the size, it was still a Prerelease, and I was excited.

I had internally debated furiously over the past week which guild I would choose.  Selesnya was the best, in my opinion, with Azorius coming up second, and Rakdos holding the middle spot.  The possibility of the other two crossed my mind briefly, but I just couldn’t bet on success as well.  Selesnya is not my playstyle, and Azorius only slightly more so.  With just a few minutes before closing signups, I scribbled my first choice.

I went with my gut, and my gut was hungry for blood and carnage, apparently.  Should have eaten something.

We received our table assignments for deck creation, and we all hurriedly took our seats.  Usually, Prereleases involve passing rubber-banded bundles of six packs down the table as their distributed, but today, we each would get a self-contained box designating our guild that held all the cards we’d use, including the guild-aligned pack.

Chad, the judge for our little event, called out each guild.  Azorius was first, and nearly half of the flight’s hands shot up.  Selesnya followed, claiming about another third.  Golgari and Izzet each had a couple loyal guildsmen, but Rakdos had only one member.

I cheered, pleased to be the only person in my guild.  I am most comfortable alone in the realm of Magic, preferring unique, non-mainstream ideas over popular, or even better, decks and strategies.  I am a hipster when it comes to Magic, frankly.  So, if choosing Rakdos leads you to believe anything, I like blood-flavored Pabst.  It could be worse.  I could be a law-citing pencil pusher or one in an innumerable, frilly, group-hug conclave.  Yeah, Rakdos was the right choice.

As I cracked open my packs, I furiously piled cards by color, grateful for the omission of registration, a time hog and decidedly…bureaucratic.  As I opened my packs, I saw black card after red card after black card.  I was pretty excited, as I saw some removal and on-curve creatures go by.  I saved my guild pack for last, and it was a doozie.  Removal and unleash creatures galore, and in the back of a pack, beside my prerelease rare, was this guy.

Look at him.  He gives ZERO craps.
And so, in my seat, I was like…

My deck built itself.  Although I was nervous playing all the unleash creatures, I remembered that I could choose to not unleash them.  I didn’t need to splash a third color (something I had pretty much counted on), and I even had enough good green/white to have a full Selesnya deck post-board if this deck turned out to be a lemon.  I had the opportunity to move into Jund or Grixis (with an appropriate Guildgate for each!), but with nothing more exciting than a Sluiceway Scorpion or an Izzet Staticaster on either side, I stuck to my dichromatic guns.

Here’s the list I played and a shot of it in its malicious majesty.

Creatures (15)

1 Rakdos Cackler
1 Daggerdrome Imp
1 Rakdos Shred-Freak
1 Grim Roustabout
1 Rix Maadi Guildmage
1 Ash Zealot
2 Dead Reveler
1 Lobber Crew
1 Splatter Thug
1 Rakdos, Lord of Riots
1 Slum Reaper
1 Spawn of Rix Maadi
1 Carnival Hellsteed (Prerelease Rare)
1 Minotaur Aggressor

Spells (8)

1 Defiant Glee
1 Street Spasm
1 Mind Rot
1 Underworld Connection
1 Annihilating Fire
1 Auger Spree
1 Goblin Rally
1 Explosive Impact

Lands (17)

8 Swamp
8 Mountain
1 Rakdos Guildgate

I even had some extra on-color spells and creatures, and some saw post-board use.

1 Drainpipe Vermin
1 Defiant Glee (yeah, another one)
1 Cremate
1 Dark Revenant
1 Perilous Shadow
1 Shrieking Affliction
1 Tavern Swindler
1 Terrus Wurm
1 Gore-House Chainwalker

As fast as this deck was, I still liked 17 lands to smooth out the balance between colors and to hit my big plays (like Rakdos, Explosive Impact and the Hellsteed.)

I quickly threw the Selesnya deck together too, but I didn’t land or sleeve it.  I sleeved my Rakdos deck in the last moments of deckbuilding and went to my first round seat.

Round 1 – Matthew (Selesnya)

In the first round, I played Matthew, a frequent opponent for me at the shop.  Small talk aside, we started up.  I got a nice turn two Grim Roustabout and shouted “IT’S UNLEASHED” in a menacing voice (one of our Rakdos achievements.)  He couldn’t assemble many tokens, so I continued to plug away at him for a few turns.  After seeing four (!) colors of mana on his side, he resolved Isperia, Supreme Judge.  Normally, she’s big trouble, but I had significant board advantage, which in most Limited formats is more important than card advantage.  I bashed with the whole crew, giving him several cards.  He had to block with Isperia and sat precariously low.  If none of his cards wiped the board, the Mind Spring was irrelevant.  In game 2, we traded blows for a while, staying fairly even.  He got a Centaur token and, in swinging with my Defiantly Gleeful Daggerdrome Imp, he cast Sundering Growth on the enchantment, and that’s where I made my mistake.  I should have cast my Street Spasm to kill his one Centaur and prevent the populate from going off.  I didn’t, and he had two fearsome dudes on his team.  A couple turns later, he cast Collective Blessing, the anthem to squash all anthems.  With most of my guys unable to contend with even a 1/1 (now 4/4) Bird, I was done for, being forced to throw the King underneath a measly 6/6 Centaur Token.  He never created a Centaur in another way, but a pair of populate resolutions put me firmly behind. 

By the time we started game 3, we had about 2 minutes left.  I shuffled as fast as I could.  He did so more slowly, admittedly, and I got a slow start, making a Spawn of Rix Maadi my first creature.  Once time ran out and we were on our five-turn clock, I had a fairly surprising army of a Rix Maadi Guildmage, A Daggerdrome Imp and a Dead Reveler alongside my Spawn.  I Defiant Glee’d the Spawn and swung, but he had Druid’s Deliverance to buy him that precious turn.  He did very little on turn 4, and as I untapped, I drew an Auger Spree.  With him at 18, I swung with everything against his Gatekeeper Vine.  I had 14 power on the board, and after giving the Spawn trample to edge his Plant, I cast the Spree on the Spawn, dealing a total of 16 damage with combat.  I ticked him down one more with Rix Maadi’s ability and got him to 1.

Blasted Fog.


I was very frustrated with that draw, as another turn would obviously have done it, and I kicked myself about the Street Spasm misplay from game 2.  Still, it wasn’t a loss, so if I won my last three rounds, I’d have a shot at the top.  With 17 of us, one and possibly even two (though unlikely) players could go undefeated.  With that being time, I simply moved up the table to fight my next opponent.

Round 2 – Barry (Azorius)

Barry is a highly skilled Standard player that often hangs around the shop playtesting or playing some Mental Magic.  He and I had played before in Limited formats too, and they are always good, close games where I’d come out on top more often than not. 

In game 1, I got an aggressive start with a Roustabout into a Splatter Thug into a Deviant Glee, but he smashed my Thug with an Avenging Arrow, putting a stop to the quickly spiraling clock.  He held on long enough to get a flight crew ready and, with an on-time detainer, he smashed me for 12 damage exactly for lethal.  In game two, I got an equally speedy start but I was able to overwhelm his crew more quickly, highlighted by an on-time Rakdos.  Game three was much more heavily in my favor, as he whiffed on land and I was rumbling for near double-digits a turn.


I’d squeaked by Barry, and that gave me a big boost of confidence.  Two more matches, and both would need to be wins. 

Round 3 – Tim (Izzet)

As I checked for my pairing, I noticed the startling amount of draws on the sheet.  Between rounds, I had watched some pretty clogged board states, so maybe Selesnya had a tough time winning in the mirror, or maybe just winning outright.

Tim was a familiar opponent, as we’d played in Limited bouts before.  I held hope as I saw his Izzet box, hoping to outrace his burn.  For game one, however, I was wrong.  He got an on-curve Goblin Electromancer followed by a Guttersnipe and a lot of burn.  His on-time Hypersonic Dragon left me red and blue.  His deck was beautifully synergetic, opting to aim burn at my face more often than at my creatures, and Guttersnipe perfectly complemented that.

Game two was a little more fortunate in my favor.  His flurry of burn had caused me to side out my Minotaur Aggressor, and the Drainpipe Vermin filled in nicely.  I squeaked some advantage out and was able to smash in against a fairly empty board.  I made four Goblins with Goblin Rally, which sealed the deal.  The final game was a white-knuckle one.  I sat at a precariously low life total, hoping he didn’t have the Dragon to just flat kill me (my deck is pretty short on flyers.)  I needed one more mana to cast my stop gate Explosive Impact, but it was hiding, and every draw step I gave him dug him deeper into his deck.  Thankfully, he did not hit it and I rumbled through for victory.


By far the most intense match, I was pretty harried throughout the last two games.  I held on and got just a shade luckier.

Round 4 – John (Selesnya)

John, a recent acquaintance at the game shop, is very polite and pleasantly conversational; a perfect opponent for a chatterbox like me.  As we began the battle, I got a modest start but didn’t mean much opposition on the other side of the table.  He ran into my Mind Rot, which kept him on the topdeck against my aggressive dudes.  He made some self-admitted mistakes and I was able to keep his only populate target, an X/X Ooze, off the board.  In game 2, he kept a low-land hand and didn’t hit some for several turns.  Although I didn’t get a blazing start, Cremating his Sluiceway Scorpion kept him off relevant plays for a couple turns and I was able to seal up game 2 as quickly as game 1.


This was just a four round tournament with only 17 (though I suppose it could have been 5 rounds, as there is the possibility of two undefeated players in a pool sized from 17-32).  Regardless, I was the only 3-0-1, so I came in second behind the only 4-0.  Not too shabs!  I ended up with 8 packs, a healthy prize for such a small group, and, after cracking them later, they turned out to contain two Hallowed Fountains and a foil Worldspine Wurm!

Rakdos was definitely the right choice for this tournament.  It’s one of my favorite color combos in Limited anyway, and it really showed its muster at the Prerelease.  I was also very lucky to get a nice, strong pool.  Not bonkers, or anything, but a solid pool nonetheless.  On my choice about Selesnya being the best guild, I still believe it is (and that I just got a nice pool), but I will say that in the real world of fifty-minute rounds, Selesnya needs to be sure it has a trampling or flying win condition to push past mobs of chump blockers.  I think its real spot as top guild will appear in Draft.

Although my deck had several key players, Rakdos himself was by far the MVP, followed closely by his Guildmage.  Casting Rakdos on time was rarely a problem, and it was most often mana constrictions (which were already as smooth as could be), not damage, that prevented casting him.  The Guildmage made combat nearly impossible on a table full of mana, and it synergized well with the pair of Defiant Glees by marginalizing even strong blocking options.  There were other very strong cards, like Slum Reaper, Underworld Connection, and the pair of Dead Revelers.  The Reaper was often just a 3B Cruel Edict, as I’d choose to sack him in favor of pushing through more on-board damage.  Also, in a world of detaining and enchantment-based removal, he’s an actual two-for-one a lot of times.  Underworld Connection, although no Phyrexian Arena, still offered unparalleled draw power.  If you are in black, take this card and play it.  A life is not that big a thing to lose, either.  The Dead Revelers were awesome on-time threats and/or relevant blockers.  Three toughness is a huge boon on three easy-to-cast mana.

The underperformers were unexpected but they usually cost too much to be relevant that often.  The Hellsteed was only cast offensively once, and Street Spasm was just a removal spell.  It never hit more than one thing.  Goblin Rally was never relevant, nor was Explosive Impact, which I don’t believe I ever actually cast over 11 games.  

All in all, I’m pleased with the build, and I’ll probably be quicker to move into Rakdos than any other guild during RTR drafts.  Although some of the decks I played had more power, none of them had the consistency (I was the only two-color deck I saw) that Rakdos provides.  On-curve, aggressive creatures will just outrace all but the most braced defenses. 

I had a great time at the Prerelease and I look forward to the next opportunity to play some Sealed.  This post is meant to be shorter, as I’ll be posting our top 10 underrated RTR cards for Constructed, the Cunderstructed cards of RTR in a few days!  I hope you’ll join me for that, and until then, don’t forget to untap!

- Matt H

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