The newest magic set releases on Arena in
three two days. But I’m an impatient motherfucker, and that’s too long to wait to play with the new cards. So I decided to do something I haven’t in years:
I went to a physical pre-release in person. (I looked it up, it’s been at least 7 years!)
Generally speaking, it was a fun event, and decent use of a Saturday, but it did get me thinking about things. This article will be divided into two-ish parts: actually playing in the event, and general thoughts about the game of Magic.
The Actual Event – Sealed Brothers’ War
The event was a sealed event, which means you get 6 boosters, you crack them open, and then you build a deck. Or if you’re me, you get six boosters, pull the rares out, look at their price on TCG Player, get sad, and then try to see how many of them you can stuff into your color pie.
Anyway, onto building the deck. My deck building strategy and thoughts went something like this:
- Wow, these are a lot of big artifact creatures.
- I have no real green ramp or powerstone ramp to support any of these.
- Shit, that means I’m going to get thrashed if games go long.
- I guess I can’t let games go long. Time to break out Ol’ Faithful.
Ol’ Faithful is my limited format strategy for when I don’t have another strategy and it works surprisingly well at the start of new sets:
Just go black/red and try to stab your opponent to death before they can do anything clever.Fritz’s Ol’ Faithful
With this incredible strategy in mind, I built my deck. The end result was this list right here. If you like visual deck lists, here it is over on AetherHub.
2 Clay Revenant 1 Disfigure 1 Gnawing Vermin 1 Soul-Guide Lantern 1 Go for the Throat 2 Scrapwork Mutt 1 Thran Power Suit 1 Thran Vigil 1 Key to the City 1 Dwarven Forge-Chanter 1 Thraxodemon 1 Mishra's Domination 1 Gixian Skullflayer 1 Junkyard Genius 1 Quietus Spike 1 Giant Cindermaw 1 Excavation Explosion 1 Gixian Puppeteer 1 Ravenous Gigamole 1 Sibling Rivalry 2 Goring Warplow 1 Mishra's Foundry 7 Swamp 8 Mountain
Ed Note: This is a recreation based off of what I remember playing. More on why that’s the case later, but I’m highly confident this is accurate. It’s missing maybe 1 card, tops.
So, the end result is aggro black/red. There’s a bit of unearth with Scrapwork Mutt, and some graveyard synergy with Thran Vigil and Clay Revenant. Most importantly, everything in this list is a 4-drop or under. (The Goring Warplow can be played un-prototyped, but 75% of the time, I’d say it came in on turn two. )
So, how did I do playing Magic for the first time at a pre-release for the first time in 7 years? In sealed, a format I don’t even play digitally?
Well, I went 4-0. I won every single match.
That said, at least half of the games in those matches were decided by these two cards:
While my memory isn’t perfect, my opponents were as follows:
- White/blue long game with life gain + Teferi Temporal Pilgrim
- Red/blue combat tricks/prowess/flyers
- Green/white ramp into stompy boys
- Green/white/red control into big boys
It’s also worth noting these matches are in order. My prediction that folks would go for ramp into big things was correct. But those decks that could ramp into big stompy things did quite well, as I faced the two ramp decks when I was 2-0 and 3-0 respectively.
So, here are my thoughts on Brothers’ War sealed after a single event, in a nutshell.
- Ramp is good, but surprisingly hard to get. I think draft will allow for much easier power stone generation. Even actively trying to get power stones, I only had two cards in my deck that made them.
- There was a weirdly low amount of artifact removal. Across my 11 games, Key to the City never got removed, and Quietus Spike got removed maybe once. Creature removal, sure. Small tier burn, also sure. But there’s not a lot of hard artifact removal. Once those big prototype creatures get out, they are going to stick around.
- On the subject of the prototype mechanic! I think it’s very good. A 2 drop 1/1 deathtouch that can also be a 5/4 deathtouch is some serious value. Those were the only prototype cards I ran in my deck, but some of my losses were to just things like 8/8s for 8. Go For The Throat doesn’t work on artifacts.
Of course, there’s one more big one, and that’s Retro Artifacts.
I think Retro Artifacts might be the most impactful cards of the set, by a wide margin. This is in part because of the incredible value I got out of Quietus Spike and Key to the City, but I was also on the receiving end of some of them. I lost a game to Psychosis Crawler, and almost lost a second to it as well. Platinum Angel won a game I wasn’t in. Someone else won a game off Millstone of all things, and another person took a similar win with Keening Stone. I had a Chromatic Lantern dropped on me on turn three, which didn’t feel great. (See the aforementioned lack of artifact removal.)
Retro Artifacts aren’t broken, but they’re powerful. Maybe they’re more impactful in sealed than draft, where there’s only 3 packs worth compared the 6 you get in sealed. But in any case, they did a lot of work. Not just in my game, but other folks’ games as well.
So. Those are my thoughts on the set. If you don’t care about a random dude on the internet’s opinions and thoughts about Magic on the whole, you can skip this next bit. Otherwise, read on.
Selling All My Cards
I really like playing TCG’s. I think this might be evident from the fact that I have an entire YouTube channel that’s mostly Magic. Or the fact that I’m a Pokemon Professor. Or the fact that I’m writing a multi-paragraph article about attending a pre-release.
I do not like how collecting cards feels. There’s a post or two in this, and how I reached this conclusion, but it’s irrelevant for the purpose of this conversation. All you need to know is that I love playing Magic and I also have the goal of never obtaining another physical Magic card.
This presents a problem when you want to play in a physical pre-release, which costs money, and gives you cards in exchange. So upon arriving, I set out to try to find someone to buy my cards.
There wasn’t anyone interested in paying for what I’d get sight unseen, which was a bit of a bummer. They would get anything I’d opened, if they gave me the $31.88 it cost to enter. This was both kind of reasonable, and also annoying as hell. I did not want these cards. I did not want to keep them, and I did not want to throw them out.
Things got worse on the whole “Not paying for the event” goal when I actually opened my packs. While there was a chance I could open something big worth selling, I opened jack shit. The single mythic was worth $8. Everything else was a trash rare worth maybe a $1. This was across 6 packs.
However, as the event went on, and I ended up going 4-0, things got a bit better. The prizes were 1 Set Booster per win, so I ended up getting four set boosters, and selling all the cards I opened to my last opponent for $35. To recap, this was six opened draft boosters, and four unopened set boosters. Cost to enter was $31.88, and the bus was $1.70. End result: net profit of $1.42 for five hours of playing Magic.
Anyway, if anyone from WoTC is listening, here’s my terrible opinion I’d like you to hear: that’s garbage. I came second place overall in the event (because I had slightly worse tiebreakers than the other 4-0 player) and walked away $1.42 and 5 arena packs. You can do whatever you want to try to make opening booster packs exciting, but your players are only going to care about how much they can exchange those cards for other things they actually want. In my case, that was cash. In other folks’ cases, that was cards for their commander decks.
You know, the format people actually play.
Overall Thoughts and Wrap-Up
So, after doing my first event in 7 years, would I do another one? Frankly, I’m leaning towards no, even though I like Magic. If someone else invited me to play, and covered my entry fee, I might be inclined to say yes. But for someone in my position who doesn’t care about obtaining physical cards, and just wants to play the game, the 5+ hours of time it took to just BARELY cover my entry after pretty much wining the event was too much.
If I took the money I spent on playing in a physical event, and spent in on Arena, just straight, I could get 5000 gems. That’s 25 booster packs, or 3 drafts, or 2 Sealed Events and 10 packs, MINIMUM. And I could likely play those events in under two hours each, and they’d likely pay out in a way that I could actually then enter MORE events in Arena.
And it’s not like Magic works like Pokémon, where I could enter (or run) an event, and then trade my physical cards I don’t want for pack codes. You can only use one pre-release code per account, disappointingly enough.
So in conclusion: I probably wouldn’t go to another physical prerelease. Magic: Arena and Magic as a physical card game are two competing ecosystems instead of a single synergistic one, and they’re both expensive.
But I did make a $1.42.
If you’re interested in more of my terrible takes on Magic, or want watch me play, may suggest following me on Twitter? Or alternately, if that site burns to the ground in the next week, just subscribe on YouTube.
Authors Note: I have a lot of other thoughts about the state of physical Magic events, but they’re complex, and after consultation, I’ve opted to remove them from this writeup. They may come back in a separate writeup. They may vanish into the air. I hope it’s not the second one.