I went to the Lorwyn Prerelease on Sunday, down in Santa Clara. I don’t think it was as much fun as other Prereleases I’ve been to, but I’m not sure that’s down to the set itself.
I went on Day Two, which I don’t normally do, and the atmosphere is always different on the second day. Many of the players there have already played with the cards, having been there on Day One, and that sharply reduces the sense of anticipation.
I only played in one flight, the first individual flight of the day. I normally play both individual and team, and that also made a difference to how much I got into it. That, and the fact that Seth was out of town, and we usually go to these events together. Again, because I went on Day Two, fewer of the sfmagic crew were there, another negative.
So I should have gone on Saturday like usual, I suppose.
The set itself is heavily “tribal”, with the tribes being Merfolk, Faeries, Elves, Treefolk, Elementals, Goblins, Kithkin, and (kind of) Changelings. With new rules meaning that non-creature cards can also be tribal, card interactions have another bit of complexity. It also means that there’s another axis besides color that determines the best makeup of decks.
The last major tribal block was Onslaught, from 2002. That was just before I started played seriously again, so I don’t have much experience with that kind of block. Kamigawa block had a number of tribal interactions (Samurai, Spirits, Ninjas, etc.) but that was a subtheme in comparison to how important tribal is in Lorwyn.
My card pool didn’t seem fantastic to me, and I don’t think any of my rares were really amazing. I ended up playing Blue/White, with splashes for removal in Red and Black, with Merfolk being my major Tribe. I had some good interactions there, for example Summon the School, a sorcery that puts 2 Merfolk tokens into play and can be returned from graveyard to hand by tapping 4 untapped Merfolk—plus a lot of Merfolk creatures, including one that draws you a card every time it’s tapped. That was probably the best combo my deck had. I had some good small flying creatures, giving me one of my two win conditions. The other win condition was the quite strange Forced Fruition—a 6-mana Blue Enchantment that reads “Whenever an opponent plays a spell, that player draws seven cards.” I’m not at all convinced by it, but in a stable board position, it’s definitely a shot at winning. The problem is that if your opponent has bombs, or answers to whatever is holding off their creatures, they will draw them, and kill you well before they have zero cards left in their library.
My first match in the format was a terrible, terrible beating. I really had no chance against the deck I played. In both games, I played a few small creatures while my opponent played a couple of small creatures, a card that lets him take the best card in my hand, a bunch of removal to eliminate my creatures, and then a 6/6 monstrosity that I couldn’t block at all. He did that in both games, and later revealed that he had two copies of that monstrosity. Except for the small creatures he played early, which weren’t that good, I felt like I was playing against a highly consistent Constructed deck—not a good feeling when you’re playing Limited.
My next two matches were better. In round two, I got the Merfolk combo going, and overwhelmed my opponent in one game, and then he got horribly mana-screwed. In round three, I had board parity when I played Forced Fruition, and my opponent just couldn’t kill me before running out of cards, in either game.
In round four, my opponent and I drew to guarantee ourselves 2-1-1 records and three packs of Lorwyn. We then played out the match, and he had the better deck. He overwhelmed me with removal and fat creatures in game one, although it was really Final Revels, which lets him kill all creatures with 2 or lower toughness, that did it—hardly any of my creatures had more than 2 toughness, and I think he killed something like five of them with it in game one. Hard to come back from that.
Game two was more interesting, and highlighted how both tribal interactions and paying close attention to the cards are critically important. I had a creature that tapped to either remove all creature types or add all creature types to a creature for a turn. He had a small Elemental that was attacking me, and had fetched a much larger Elemental (10/2 trample…) that used the new “Champion” ability—when you play it, you have to remove an Elemental from the game (or your new Elemental goes bye-bye). I thought he was playing around the trap, but he didn’t see it, and when he eventually tried to add pressure by playing the 10/2 Trampler, I tapped my creature to remove all creature types from the lone Elemental he had in play… bye-bye 10/2 creature. That was good. Then I played Forced Fruition, and things were looking reasonable except for the fact that I was on nine life and all of his creatures appeared to be quite large. Then I missed a chance to win. He still had that small Elemental out, and had the Equipment Deathrender on it. The key here is that if the creature equipped with Deathrender dies, he can put whatever creature he wants from his hand into play. I tried to bounce that creature to his hand (to force him to play it again and draw another seven cards), and in response he targeted it with an instant that kills target non-Elf creature. Really, the play should have been obvious to me, but it wasn’t, and he kills his creature, puts a huge Treefolk into play for free, uses Final Revels again to wipe my board, and kills me with very few cards left in his library. The right play? I still had my creature that manipulated creature types. All I had to do was give his Elemental all creature types in response to his “kill non-elf” card, and it would have been countered, his creature would have been bounced, and he would have had to play a bunch more spells to win—spells that would have decked him due to Forced Fruition. But I missed that interaction, even though it was extremely similar to the play that killed the 10/2 Trampler.
We’d already agreed to draw, but it’s just another reminder that paying attention to all the details is critical in MTG, and that the little things can matter a lot.
I’m not sure how I feel about the set yet. I like the intricacy exemplified by my last game, and I feel as if that kind of thing will be important. On the other hand, I’m not sure how balanced the set is for Sealed, because bomb rares really seemed to matter a lot, in the games I played and the games around me. That does tend to be the impression people have early in a set’s lifespan, though, and perhaps in a few months it will be clear that many solid builds are possible even without bomb rares. Another friend suggested that the imbalance in this set is not the bomb rares, it’s the runs of tribal cards that work together—it’s very hard to control print runs for that, and people who get pools with tons of synergy are going to have considerable advantages.
Then again, that might make it great to draft. Our first draft is tomorrow night, and hopefully we’ll manage to draft both this week and next, as we usually do (but we didn’t do quite as well as usual as a group this time, so it might be a struggle to do both weeks). In any case, a new draft format is always fun—I’ll be sad to see Time Spiral go, since it was an excellent block in just about every way, but that’s how the MTG commercial juggernaut rolls…