For anyone who has ever considered learning to play Magic: The Gathering (MTG), there are few ways that are better than to attend a prerelease.
Every year, Wizards of the Coast releases at least two or three expansions to its 25-year-old collectible card game and sponsors events both online and in person at game stores across the globe. These events are designed to show players how to use the new mechanics that are being introduced into the set, give them players to play against, learn how to build their own deck, and then begin their collection with 90 cards for a discount over the regular cost per booster pack.
The most recent prerelease was for Guilds of Ravnica (GRN), a set whose cards and story line are a reference to a plane of existence that was introduced in 2005 and continues an epic battle against the elder dragon planeswalker known as Nicol Bolas. The plane of Ravnica and its bicolor-coded guilds were very popular when they were first introduced, and so it was no surprise to either me or fellow Twin Cities Geek contributor Michael Lee to see many people attending the events at both Dreamers Vault in Minneapolis and Lodestone Coffee and Games in Minnetonka on September 29, 2018.
Michael chose to go to Lodestone for his first event at noon because in addition to it being a game store, it’s also a coffee shop. Dreamers Vault has been my friendly local game store since I moved to south Minneapolis three years ago, which is why I was there at 9:00 a.m. Both of us felt very welcomed by the tournament organizers and all of the events we were in ran smoothly. They were even able to accommodate my mobility issues at Dreamers Vault by ensuring that I had a fixed seat for the tournament, so I didn’t have to constantly move tables or stand around to wait for my next game.
I was also very pleased to note that there were more than a handful of female-presenting players there on that Saturday, as when I was there in April for the Dominaria midnight prerelease, I believe there were only two or three. So far, that seems to tell me that the regular players who attend midnight prereleases at Dreamers Vault are going to be predominantly male. There were a few women at Michael’s initial prereleases at Lodestone, as well, including the women of Good Luck High Five (formerly Magic: The Amateuring), but it did become even more male dominated as the night went on. Lodestone has also accommodated accessibility needs for its events and has visibly appeared to be LGBTQA+ friendly and have nonwhite players in its events.
For GRN, the guilds that were prominently featured were Boros (with white and red spells), Dimir (blue and black), Golgari (black and green), Izzet (blue and red), and Selesnya (white and green). At the prerelease, players were given prerelease packs that contained five packs of regular booster cards and one pack of cards specifically themed to the guild of their choice, with which you would build a deck with at least 40 cards in it. Between both of us, we played all five guilds over the course of five events (three for Michael, two for me). Here are our initial impressions.
Michael chose the Golgari for his first sealed pool, and I ended up making one with the rest of the cards from my first pool. While he ended up liking his deck the least out of the three events he played, I loved my first Golgari deck the most. The new Undergrowth mechanic, which gives certain creatures and spells bonus effects based on the number of creature cards in your graveyard, rewards folks who use their initial low-powered creatures to block damage from your opponent. Michael only won the last round of four in this event; he thinks that Undergrowth is the most difficult mechanic to make use of. The all-star in my initial Golgari deck was Izoni, Thousand-Eyed, and during one between-rounds game, I managed to use it to great effect to create 8 2/2 Insect tokens, which swarmed all over my opponent. As a Tammy player who likes to use effects and overwhelm people with large creatures or multiples of creatures, that felt so satisfying.
The Izzet guild was my choice for my first prerelease, and Michael’s for his second. Both of us were huge fans of the Jump-start mechanic, where you can play either an Instant or a Sorcery from your graveyard for its same mana cost if you discard one card from your hand. For some reason, the deck I built started out strong by winning me my first game and my first round, but it faltered as I went through the rest of my first prerelease. Michael did better with his Izzet deck because he found it to be a mechanic that taught you more about the game and what makes one more card useful than the other one. In particular, he found the card Direct Current to be surprisingly effective. When you first see the card, you might think it weaker than other direct damage spells due to its casting cost, but the Jump-start mechanic made it valuable. Also, Expansion // Explosion gave him a win because he was able to force his opponent to draw the rest of their cards.
Michael ended his prerelease day with the Dimir guild, while I only splashed my decks with cards from the guild. The reason why Dimir was Michael’s favorite of the guilds was that the longer he played, the more comfortable he felt with the cards and mechanics. His win–loss record was the strongest with his Dimir deck, but we both agree that there are many great cards in Dimir, like Dimir Informant. Their mechanic for this expansion is Surveil, where you can both reorder the top of your library so you can draw the cards you need for your next turn or place them in your graveyard. Combined with the Undergrowth mechanic, one could make a really powerful Sultai (blue, black, and green) deck.
I chose Selesnya for my second prerelease pool, but I wound up feeling very underwhelmed with it. Convoke is a returning mechanic from the very first Ravnica: City of Guilds set, where you can tap a creature already on your side of the battlefield to pay for one colorless mana of a different creature with the word “Convoke” on it. However, because I didn’t play in the Magic 2015 Core Set prerelease, I ended up not using the cards I put into my Abzan (green, white, and black) deck to their best effect. Michael chose not to do anything with his Selesnya cards, which in the long run might have been a good idea.
Overall, even though I lost more games than I won, I am fairly proud of how I built my decks and how I played out my spells. Thanks to my experiences playing MTG Arena, I felt more confident in plays I was making and was only a little tilted out after my third round of the second prerelease without a single game win. Conversely, Michael had a great day overall because the longer he played, the more he won.
Both of us agree that Guilds of Ravnica is a fun set, and if you’re interested in going to a prerelease for the next set (Ravnica Allegiance on January 25, 2019), both Lodestone and Dreamers Vault are great locations to open up your prerelease packs.
For more of our thoughts on Guilds of Ravnica and to see some of the cards in action, you can watch the video below.