Battle for Zendikar Pre-release Experience

I played at the Battle for Zendikar pre-release weekend. It’s been some time since I’ve had time and energy to attend a pre-release so I was glad to go. I’m particularly looking forward to the gorgeous full art lands. I played a sealed pre-release event; the first of the weekend where nobody else really knows the cards.

The pre-release back was a random foil rare promo card, a life counter, six boosters and a deck box. There is no seeded booster. The deck had a little hollow in the bottom that holds the life counter. All the lands in the deck are full art lands. There are also special expedition lands – but I was not lucky enough to get one. My foil promo card was Smothering Abomination, but I did not have the supporting cards to play him.

I was quite tired and concerned about my alertness so I wanted a deck that didn’t leave me too many difficult decisions. Normally the go to colour for easy decks is green, but this time my green had mostly defensive cards and some ramp with only one or two of the Ally cards. I elected to go for an aggressive Boros (Red-White) Allies deck. I figured that the local meta would have enough people would try to play the big Eldrazi creatures. Here’s what I played.

1x Kitesail Scout
2x Reckless Cohort
2x Kozilek’s Sentinel
1x Kor Castigator
2x Makindi Patrol
1x Makindi Sliderunner
1x Firemantle Mage
1x Ondu Champion
1x Belligerent Whiptail
1x Ondu Greathorn
1x Vestige of Emrakul
1x Resolute Blademaster
1x Ghostly Sentinel
1x Ulamog’s Despoiler
1x Angel of Renewal
3x Gideon’s Reproach
1x Encircircling Fissure
1x Touch of the Void
1x Turn Against

8x Plains
8x Mountains

That’s nine ally cards in total and some with awesome Rally abilities. I kept the mana curve low and focused on cheap creatures and cheap removal; in the mid-game my ideal play would be to drop a land for a landfall trigger, drop a cheap ally and have two mana left open to Reproach a blocker. This is a deck that would win by aggression and forcing the opponent to make unprofitable blocks before they could stabilise their board. The strategy needs to get enough board presence to swarm around any big blockers mid-game and win before going into a late game. But, it delays the late game by forcing the opponent to play defensively and thus delay their ramp.

Certain creatures did not synergise well in the deck except they kept the curve low; Kitesail Scout and the Kozilek’s Sentinels. I originally had an extra land and Vestige of Emrakul, but dropped these after losing the first match in order to lower my curve. I had an Evolving Wilds in my pool but did not play it – aggro decks cannot afford the turn it takes to mana fix. My pool also contained a Quarantine Field but this was also too expensive to play. I ran Encircling Fissure instead of Sheer Drop because a Fog effect is more useful when swarming and I had enough removal with the Gideon’s Rebukes. The Turn Against was for an Act of Treason effect – also useful for mid-game swarming. I never expected to have the mana where the awaken abilities would become relevant.

My first match was against a person playing a better version of my deck. I lost 2-nil, some of it unlucky draws, the rest due to poorer deck quality. I had faith my deck about as good as I could make from my pool and so tweaked it only a little after this match; removing a land and lowering the curve.

The second match I won 2-1. I had an unwritten rule that I should mulligan any hand of 7 or 6 cards that did not put two creatures on the board by the end of turn three. The new mulligan rule made mulligans more bearable - I mulliganed the most in this match, but I think I mulliganed at least once in every match. My opponent switched decks after his first loss. I appreciated the sense of fun that brought to the match though I doubt a six booster pool would have the card quality to support two forty card decks without some overlap between them.

The third match I won 2-nil. My deck played out perfectly and the rally triggers stacked up for some brutal combinations, especially with the one or two landfall creatures getting their buffs in the same turn. This guy played a sixty card deck evenly balanced around three colours. There is not many six booster sealed pools that have the card quality to support sixty card deck. Typically you might go two colours with a third colour splash for something particularly good – but three colours will need some serious mana fixing. He did get colour screwed in one game. Still, pre-release is a good time to mess about and try something you otherwise wouldn’t normally do. I suspect he might have tried to provide support for Converge cards.

The flight contained five matches but I had only time to attend three so I dropped after the third match. That was enough to win a participation prize of one booster pack. I don’t think I ever played a six drop and I won one game with only three mana. Since my games were relatively quick I also had time for some friendly games between rounds. The deck smashed face there too against slower decks.

The rally ability is amazing once some board presence has built up. I ran nine ally cards in total and five of them grant abilities to others. My opponents remarked that Makindi Patrol’s Vigilance ability seemed very unfair. Firemantle Mage granting Menace was great for swarming around defenders in the mid-game. The amount of damage that a Resolute Blademaster granting double-strike can cause is insane – especially if there are cheap beasts on the battlefield that have been pumped that turn by a landfall trigger. The most brutal combo was Resolute Blademaster and Ondu Champion giving double strike and trample to my team, though Firemantle Mage and Resolute Blademaster giving Menace and Double-strike won a game for me too.

I wasn’t lucky enough to get an expedition land, but it was still a fun day of magic.