Okay, I don’t know about everyone else, but I was underwhelmed by Magic: The Gathering’s “Dark Ascension” set. Don’t get me wrong, it was still tremendous fun but I felt that it just didn’t hold up to it’s precursor, “Innistrad,” both in card variety, and uniqueness of play. So with that in mind, the new set “Avacyn Restored” which drops on Friday has some work to do. I knew that I wanted to do a bit better and play longer this time than I have in recent prerelease events so I watched multiple drafts, listened to podcasts, and practiced on my own to be a bit more ready when the new cards got their preview. It paid off as I managed to go 2-2 this time around! I noticed that my last two prerelease reviews lacked a bit in content because they focus on merely what I saw at the events and at PAX I learned that one person’s opinion does not adequately cover a topic. So after a brief scan of my twitter feed, I invited LoadingReadyRun’s Jeremy Petter to help out. While I was playing in my usual midnight tournament at Collectibles Unlimited in Concord, NH, Jer played with a logically bigger crowd at the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo in Alberta, Canada and had some interesting insight to offer.
“There was a dearth of creatures in my pool at the pre-release, and I ended up running super-sketchy Grixis, with the option of boarding into equally sketchy Jund against decks with lots of air support. I’m glad that I had this option, as there are numerous efficient fliers, and many have the 3+ toughness necessary to dodge Pillar of Flame. Bone Splinters was surprisingly good, as its ability to kill basically anything largely outweighed its card disadvantage. I won several games off of Bone Splinters + Unhallowed Pact on my opponent’s ridiculous bomb, which, despite costing me three cards, was still a Control Magic. I would still prefer to have Death Wind, but I think Splinters is playable.
“Guise of Fire and Ghoulflesh also did a lot of work against the many X/1s in the Boros human decks, and I was happy to have them. That deck is decent, but has a hard time getting by cards like Archangel. The most successful version I saw was running the utility land, which is a legitimate beating. Thatcher Revolt can be pretty scary out of Boros, and I’ll be interested to see if it ends up as an archetype staple.
“Homicidal Seclusion snagged me a win or two and sets up some interesting board states when combined with a sac outlet.”
I, on the other hand, was presented with a variety of creatures to choose from but no one colour really seemed significantly more prominent than another and no matter how I built it, I had a problem with flying. Oddly enough, the thorn in my side round one was the very Archangel Jer mentions above. My Green/Red aggro-humans deck was little match for the might of my first opponent’s angel-heavy white deck. I was upset that I didn’t have enough white creatures for Boros and although I pulled Grislebrand, I didn’t have enough black to support him either. My saving grace came in the form of a Moonsilver Spear and the ability to counter flying mobs by pumping out angels right and left even with my weakest of dudes. I was running Cavern of Souls but I found myself more often than not hitting my curve and not needing it. However, I see the Cavern becoming MORE powerful once “Return to Ravnica” drops and rotates into Standard this fall. I was equally impressed by the exploits of Kessig Malcontents. Even if one appears in opening hand, especially in human aggro, I found it advantageous to hang onto it. The card deals damage to an opponent equal to the number of humans on your side of the board. Thinking about cards like Gather the Townsfolk and Increasing Devotion, one Malcontents can EASILY turn the tide of the game and two is just deadly. Suffice it to say, I can see humans being a very popular choice in Friday Night Magic games upcoming despite their frequent lack of toughness (as Jer mentioned, most of them are sitting pretty at 1 and fall easy victim to most forms of removal including Guise of Fire which I, too, was thankful to be running).
Shifting gears for a moment, I’d like to examine the new mechanics. Although black maintains the Undying mechanic introduced in “Dark Ascension” to troubling effect, the other 4/5 colours gain some new, and frankly game changing effects…if they’re done right. Going into the prerelease, I’ll be honest, I was pretty terrified of the cards with the “miracle” ability. After playing a round with them, however, I realized how inconvenient they are to play. I predict that you’ll not be seeing too many miracle-oriented decks for a myriad of reasons. The most prominent being that if you draw it into your opening hand, you’ve no choice but to either a) hard-cast it or b) find a way to put it on the top of your library. As such, miracle is a very cool mechanic and I look forward to seeing more of it in limited but I can’t get a read on how much play it’ll get in constructed. Soulbond, on the other hand, interests me a bit more. Most of the Soulbond bonuses are rather unimpressive but I can tell you that the +1/+1 bonus bestowed upon some of my humans by Trusted Forcemage saved my skin more than once. There are a handful of good soulbond abilities that can really throw the tide of the game and I’m anxiously waiting to see what Soulbond does and how it impacts the game.
Finally, I’d like to touch briefly on the Commander format. The amount of viable commanders in this set is staggering. Between Avacyn, Grislebrand, and the leaders of the various choirs players are presented with some INSANE choices for commanders. I guess that’s why the Helvaults featured at certain prerelease events contained oversized versions of those cards. While I’m not likely to deviate from Tsabo Tavoc as my commander (and frankly the only better Red/Black Vampire deck leader I can think of is Olivia Voldaren), I can see people running angel decks filled with the likes of Avacyn and Akroma. You can’t tell me that they weren’t thinking EDH when they built an 8/8 Flying, Vigilant, Indestructible Angel which grants other permanents indestructibility too. It’ll be interesting to see how EDH evolves to counter this power. Personally, I’m leaning towards a deckfull of blue illusions.
Special thanks to Jeremy Petter for taking time to write such an awesome blurb on his experiences, Mike Boddy for putting on another great tournament, Marshall and Jon of the Limited Resources podcast, and Wizards of the Coast for keeping me coming back for more all these years