The Start of a Saga
The first block I was ever exposed to was Urza's Legacy
(that's Urza's Hammer if you have trouble keeping those Urza sets apart like I do) and my first ever rare was Phyrexian Plaguelord.
One look and I had fallen in love with the villains of the game.
They're like undead techno-organic zealots! Coool!
From that moment on, I was hooked. I wanted to know what dark lore was held in the Phyrexian Scriptures.
I wanted to know who Urza was and why he created a Golem made out of silver. I wanted to know just why
the Sanguine Guard
(which, as far as I could tell, was a robot-zombie with a crying baby face) was so grateful to have his flesh carved! It was the start of a long, fun-filled road…
Nine years later…
is that you? Oh, but where are you going?
I whimpered as that lovable blight dragon was passed, passed again, and passed again into obscurity. If this was going to be the last Regional Prerelease, I wanted to be throwing down mono-Black Phyrexian bombs all day!
Passing sealed packs you open is never fun, but probably necessary for a 3rd set. Luckily, event co-ordinator Mike MacPhee met us half way- having us pass our sealed Scars
packs but allowing us to keep whatever we opened for the new set; the set that brought us all out to Bonsor Rec Center in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, for the New Phyrexia
Before opening my New Phyrexia
packs, but after Skithiryx
had been passed down the line, I was already pretty settled on Black/Red- I’d cracked a fistful of burn and hate in the packs passed to me in the forms of two Galvanic Blasts
as well as both Oxidda Scrapmelter
! Sadly, my only relevant rares were Necrotic Ooze
and Chimeric Mass
, which, while nothing to complain about, were not the game-ending bomb I was looking for. Tunnel Ignus
is a Goblin Piker
in limited and there was no way I was touching the card disadvantage of Semblance Anvil.
I thought, here come the New Phyrexia packs.
We were quickly told that these new packs were look-don’t-touch, at least until product had been dispensed to everyone in our flight. Or perhaps it was that the judges took pleasure in watching a table of gamers squirm for minute after agonizing minute.
The excitement was palpable. The roar of the assembled gamers seemed to dim as we finally got the nod to open the packs, replaced by the hurried crinkling crackle of ripping plastic. Everyone opens their packs a little differently at a pre-release; some like to open them slowly, savouring each common and uncommon in turn, keeping the rare for last to increase the anticipation while some like to take a moment to appreciate that fresh new-card smell. Others, like me, tear into that plastic wrap with their teeth like a wild beast. I have trouble keeping myself from shouting at the cardboard to ‘Show me a mythic!!’ as I rush to the back of the pack where such a possible mythic rare might lurk.
And there she is. Beautiful and terrible. Waiting like an old friend.
‘Welcome back to Phyrexia,’ she says, whispering, ‘we missed
you.’ But then, she would
After a few minutes of fast sorting and deck building my final 40 looked like this:
After quickly realizing that I didn’t have the pool to play Infect, this deck built itself. My first impressions were actually quite humble- I suppose when you play enough Legacy and EDH you just forget how game changing certain cards (like Skinrender
) can be. I went a little long in deck construction, staring at my single Despise
and weighing it against Apostle's Blessing.
In the end I went for the Phy-White combat trick. I’m convinced I made the right call here, but it ended up being largely irrelevant as I never drew Apostle's Blessing
all day. And suddenly it was time. With no time to buy sleeves, I checked my pairing and made my way to the first round.
Taking my seat, I rolled out my battle mat and turned my dice bag upside down, letting my brass polyhedra hit tableside. I was utterly focused. I’d come in first place in my sealed flight for the Mirrodin Besieged
Regional Prerelease months before and I wanted to make a good showing at this one as well.
To me, prereleases are the perfect mix of competition and casual. My goal is still to make the best deck I can and win- both for the personal sense of victory and the promise of prize packs. On the other hand, the cards are new, the mechanics are new, and nobody is going to fault you for asking a rules question. The stakes feel lower than a PTQ or GP, so even the most serious competitive players tend to keep things chill. If you lose? Who cares! Drop out and play a draft! That said, it is still a tournament, and my competitive spirit was hungry for that victorious feeling as I prepared for my first game.
My first opponent for the day turned out to be a very casual and friendly guy. It was obvious that he was there to have fun, period. He noticed that I hadn’t brought sleeves and without missing a beat, he offered me his spare set. His positive attitude set a great precedent for our games.
He might not have been the most experienced player (he made a few obvious mistakes) but his deck was even more insane than mine, making all three of our games highly contested. Battling through his Carnifex Demon
and Nim Deathmantle
was scary, especially late-game when our rock-paper-scissors style of Threat vs. Removal settled us into top-deck mode. Luckily, late in game two, my Blind Zealot
forced the block while my opponent was tapped out, allowing me to Artillerize
with Iron Myr
to take the bomb Demon out of the game. It was a brutal 3-1 scenario in my opponent’s favour, but the next few turns saw me getting to 7 mana, and a windmill slamming of Sheoldred
onto the table!
Alright! If I can beat Black/Green Infect, I can beat anybody!
The match went 2-1 for me.
Overall standing: 1-0-0!
One of the best parts of big pre-releases was the sheer number of players in attendance, most of whom weren’t regulars at my local store. Conventions like Comicon and PAX have proven that there is just something about these big events that make the entire day feel special and I felt Regional Prereleases captured that feeling too. The prerelease was a feeling of large scale kinship that can still be described in a series of single priceless moments: when a player I’d never met before complimented me on my solid metal dice, or the shared excitement of a Karn Liberated being opened at the same table as me, or when a stranger sat down with his collection and offered to trade. It was moments like those that made this game special. It is moments like those that I will miss the most.
My second match was against a very good player sporting a Blue/Black midrange deck.
Game one he revealed a Chancellor of the Spires,
milling me for 7 and reminding me that this game needed to end fast. After several turns of cat and mouse, playing minor threats to fish out removal, I cut the crap and smugly laid down my all-star, Sheoldred. Easy win right? He was going to concede right? Not so fast. After a bit of thought, he tapped down Sheoldred with a Tumble Magnet
and I started sweating. He turned four lands sideways and shows me Postmortem Lunge
—it turned out that his Blind Zealot
was only mostly dead.
The Zealot leaped from the graveyard, into the redzone, and splattered through Sheoldred like a bullet through a rotten tomato. Of course this is the time my deck decided I needed lands! I passed turn after turn, filling my hand with Swamps, enduring Sphinx beatdown until game over.
Game two saw me getting Shrine of Infinite Rage
out second turn, which ticked gleefully upwards as I burned off his weenies with Galvanic Blasts. His deck sputtered and died that game, as he played land after land but nowhere near the level of removal needed to play control effectively. I kept the pressure on until my angry Karn statue exploded for nine to the dome and secured me the win!
Game three, that trixy Phyrexian Sphinx revealed itself again, drawing slightly less concern from me this time as my own sneaky Praetor was already sitting comfortably in my opening seven! My Shrine was promptly countered when I tried to resolve it (Lesson learned from last game). He got out his Chancellor, but his deck had run out of gas. As he stalled out I played Sheoldred. Although he made it difficult for me to stick my Praetor by bouncing her a few times, he ultimately drew no permanent solutions, forcing the concession. In a bomb vs. bomb war, you don’t get much better than the big black spider-lady.
Another 2-1 for me.
Overall at 2-0-0!!
I know that I was lucky to have Sheoldred show up with such consistency. I’m sure I don’t need to tell anyone that she’s an auto-include for limited. Once played, this super bomb is Dwarf-reliable. Seriously folks, if you need a magic card to drive you to the airport on time, all it will cost you is 5BB.
I’d love to tell you a grand story about my epic win in round 3. Sadly, my opponent was horribly mana-screwed two games in a row. He barely put a scratch on me. He was an emotional monolith though, given the beating he took. He gave a small shrug as he scooped in game two. “It happens… Well, time to draft!” he said eagerly, checking off the [drop] box on our scoring sheet.
A fast 2-0 match result.
The staff was plagued with computer troubles for my flight, and the wait between rounds was really starting to drag. Luckily, I was able to busy myself with a few pickup casual games with the new cards I had opened, replenish with a well deserved smoothie, and make a few trades with roving binder-carriers. I normally don’t like going anywhere with my trade-binder, as I’ve kept every unused rare I’ve ever got since Urza’s
in the same war-torn book. I don’t haul out twenty pounds of shiny cardboard for any old Friday Night Magic
, but for an event like this, I’ll make an exception. The plus side to my hoarding is that I have a mix of junky EDH/Commander cards mixed in with Legacy staples and the odd Standard chase-rare. During trades, a smart-phone is an indispensable tool for quick net access into card prices. Trades just feel more fun when you know you aren’t getting ripped off, and your fellow trader knows the same.
Me: ‘Hey is this foil Stoneforge
Me: ‘Hey it’s worth about 35 bucks right now, wow.’
Him: *Sheepishly removes it from his binder.* ‘I better hold on to it’
The end result was a warm attitude and a few throw-ins for the subsequent trades we made. I’ve seen some people make some pretty shady deals at events before, but it just isn’t worth it. With prices available on the net, players will eventually realize who trades fair and who to walk on past.
‘More cards!’ I demanded. And so, with all the extra time I thought I had, I signed my girlfriend and I up for the Two-Headed-Giant sealed. And it was during deck construction that I started to hear my name being called sternly by the Judges. It turned out my round had started ten minutes ago. (oops).
It had always been my intention to offer a split to my last opponent, but now I had kept the man waiting. I offered him the deal.
“Look, I’m sorry I made you wait, but lets just split the prize!”
“Are you sure you don’t get a match loss for being late?”
“This aint the PTQ, man. Now, I’d much rather play 2HG, but if I have to I will
drop out to beat you.”
“. . .”
“And you can have the extra pack…!”
So we decided that, after a hard fought battle, he beat me 2-1. We met up later to split our packs. Normally my competitive spirit will not allow me to concede a win to anyone, but hey, it was a prerelease and I was there to have a good time. My thirst for competition had been sated.
Final Sealed Record: 3-0-1 (sort of…)
Overall Impressions of New Phyrexia
Wizards has obviously tried to make Infect less parasitic with cards like Mycosynth Fiend
but mixing infect creatures with a traditional aggro strategy is still risky business. By the end of several games that day I found myself hovering at 5-6 poison counters and at 8-10 life left. In all my games the advantage of attacking my enemies in a cohesive aggro assault far outweighed any bonuses from coming at them from a dual Infect/Aggro angle.
A few new cards that really surprised me with their power level were Artillerize
and Shrine of Burning Rage.
The former is a decent piece of removal in a pinch, but mostly read ‘3R, if your opponent is at 5 or less life you win the game.’ Its brutality as a finisher can not be easily dismissed in limited—a format where players will now have to play even more
cautiously against Red. The latter card was a late addition to my deck, and I ended up dropping Gremlin Mine
for it. After the game in which the shrine got to 9 (!) counters, I never doubted it again.
A third card that will sure to be become a sleeper hit is Praetor's Grasp.
Artifacts are plentiful enough in the format to ensure a hit most of the time, but other applications include snatching their bomb before they can draw it or my personal favourite for 2HG: playing their own Exsanguinate
in limited is an aggro-player’s wet dream, my friends. I predict that Red mixed with either White or Black will make for the best non-infect decks just as they did pre-NPH,
except now they will be showing up with greater frequency and actually be able to compete with the terror that is Infect. Black/Red was as lethal as ever, with an overabundance of removal plus an exceptional number of creatures packing their own heat. Between Skinrender, Oxidda Scrapmelter, Blind Zealot, and Pith Driller, two-for-ones became a matter of course. I specifically loved sending Pith Driller
to snipe mana Myr and low toughness infect creatures and then having it stick around to roadblock my board.
The biggest change to limited came in the form of Phyrexian mana. Paying life not only reduces curves, it allows for off-colour abilities that will completely surprise an unwary player. The main result of all this life-payment is that limited becomes a brutal, high risk high reward game. It also has the added bonus of making infect less powerful—who cares if you are paying life if your opponent is focused on infecting you to death? Pay all the life you can! Just watch out for Artillerize!
The End of an Era
This prerelease was a memorable day. It was the evolution of playing my favourite card game with a few of close friends nearly ten years ago, to playing with hundreds of complete strangers and still having an absolute blast with those wicked robot zombies, the Phyrexians.
The day ended bitter sweetly, however, as head Judge and event organizer MacPhee took the stage and announced in a shaky voice the news that many already knew: that this would be the last prerelease of its kind. Wizards of the Coast has abolished Regional Prereleases and hopes that local stores will be able to pick up the slack. I truly believe that this was a bad decision. The opportunity to interact with new players outside my local store is one of the best reasons to show up to a prerelease. Having the option for a big prerelease makes the day special- different from my weekly Friday Night Magic
or kitchen table routines. Additionally, the size and number of our gaming stores here in Vancouver simply can’t support the same numbers that a rented venue can. This means that prereleases will potentially have to turn people away. Wizard’s decision is stifling the growth of the game instead of supporting it and I am very disappointed. A mood of melancholy set in after MacPhee’s announcement and lingered even after his parting gift of chocolate cake, perhaps because we all realized it actually was a parting.
Still, had I been asked how I wanted my last Regional Prerelease to go, I wouldn’t have changed anything. I wanted to interact with new people, make sweet trades, play awesome Magic
, be surrounded by friends, oh, have the set somehow involve Phyrexia- and that is exactly what I got. I hope that Wizards realizes their mistake and that future players get the same chances I have had to play at a Regional Prereleases but if they don’t, I could not have asked for a better way to end this saga.
Till next time,