Prerelease weekend! Is there anything better? When I first got back into the game seven years ago, around the time of original Ravnica, I started faithfully attending every Gray Matter (god rest their souls) prerelease event, from when they were at Neutral Ground (I think) to that weird Fight House place to St. Anthony’s on Sullivan Street, in Soho.

Alas, Wizards policy put the kibosh on non-store entities running prereleases, and the NYC area’s few and far between game stores had to pick up the slack. Luckily, not long after Grey Matter’s demise, a new LGS (local game store) opened: the heralded Twenty Sided Store, which just happens to be a five-minute walk from my apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

So for the past couple of years, I’ve been attending prereleases at 20SS. The place is packed—all weekend long—but the crowd is fun, and everyone has a good time. Dig it:

Photo courtesy Matt Jones.

Photo courtesy Matt Jones.

This past weekend I opted for the 3pm sealed prerelease event, followed by the 8pm Two-Headed Giant (aka 2HG), with my longtime partner Christian. (Together, we are the Christian Hunters.) As I’ve said, black/white is my favorite color combo, and Orzhov was my favorite guild last time around in Ravnica—so, of course, Orzhov is the guild I opted for this time.

I cracked my packs, including my guild pack, and saw these rares, in addition to Treasury Thrull, the Orzhov guild’s prerelease promo card: Crypt Ghast, Firemane Avenger, Luminate Primordial (in my guild pack), Gyre Sage, Master Biomancer, and Gruul Ragebeast. Nothing in my five non-guild packs was strong enough to pull me in any direction other than Orzhov, so I stuck with B/W, with a nearly free red splash (off of two Boros Guildgates) for Firemane Avenger and Sunhome Guildmage. Here’s what I sleeved up (creatures in bold, spells in italics)

2X Death’s Approach

Wight of Precinct Six
Basilica Screecher (extort)
Sunhome Guildmage
3X Devour Flesh

Court Street Denizen
2X Slate Street Ruffian
Kingpin’s Pet (extort)

Crypt Ghast (extort)
Firemane Avenger
Knight of Obligation (extort)
Millenial Gargoyle (never once drew or played him)
Holy Mantle

Vizkopa Confessor (extort)
Angelic Edict

Treasury Thrull (extort)

Luminate Primordial

Killing Glare

2X Boros Guildgate
Orzhov Guildgate
7X Plains
6X Swamps

Relevant on-color sideboard cards included 2X Shadow Alley Denizen, Aerial Maneuver, Daring Skyjek, Armored Transport, Razortip Whip, Corpse Blockade, and Executioner’s Swing.

I felt good about my deck. In retrospect, I think I would have rather had the 3/1 Skyjek in there instead of the Wight, who often came down as nothing more than a 2/2 (or even a 1/1), and maybe the Executioner’s Swing instead of one of the Death’s Approaches. But, otherwise, I felt good about my decisions. My deck was pretty aggressive, so leaving the 1/4 Corpse Blockade on the sidelines was the right call.

Round 1
I played Juan from the Bronx, a nice guy who said he came to 20SS for the RTR prerelease and “really liked the atmosphere,” so he game back for Gatecrash. Juan also was on Orzhov—so it was unsurprising that our games were long, grindy affairs. I got out ahead of him in G1 and—even though his Confessor snagged my Primordial (I knew it was coming), I managed to grind him out after a bit of a board stall when he was at three life, and me at 23.


I had seen a ton of removal from Juan in game one, so in game two I boarded out my aura (Holy Mantle) for the Razortip Whip, thinking that if I could achieve the same game state this go-round, the Whip could close it out.

But game two didn’t go much better for Juan. I went T2 Boros Guildmage, successfully played around his Executioner’s Swing, and dropped Firemane Angel on turn four or five. I got there by making hasty 1/1 soldier tokens and Lightning Helix-ing his blockers to death. (Although I missed two +1/+0 activations from my Guildmage, which would have allowed me to win a turn earlier.)

Fun fact: I finished both games against Juan at 19 life.


Round 2
Prestan, a good guy I’d played against once or twice before at 20SS, was my next opponent. In game one, Prestan was on Boros (I won this one), and in game two he transformatively sideboarded into Dimir. He played a lot of durdly cipher and mill spells in game two—and, although G2 ended with eight cards in my library, my life total was unaffected.

Fun fact: I finished both games against Prestan at 20+ life.

Round 3
I was feeling good about my deck. Next up was Neil, a guy I’d also played against and seen before at the store. In G1 Neil got out a bunch of little black dudes, and then dropped the Dimir promo card, Consuming Aberration, which has power and toughness equal to the number of cards in my graveyard—and, furthermore, mills me every time he plays a spell. This guy was a beating all day. I promptly killed the horror with Killing Glare, but the next turn Neil dropped the other 4/4 horror creature—the one who, upon entering the battlefield, bounces a non-land permanent and forces you to discard—with whom he finished me off.


A somewhat interesting judge call ensued in G2. His promo horror was a 5/5, since I had five cards in my graveyard. I had Killing Glare in hand, which costs XB, and destroys target creature with X or less power. I wanted to know whether, as part of the spell’s resolution, I would put it into my graveyard, thus making his horror a 6/6—and therefore too big to kill if I’d paid five for X.

During the game, I was told by 20SS co-owner Luis that paying five for X would be fine, and that the horror would die. Later on I clarified with Judge Connor. He said that if the spell happened to say, “Deal X damage to target creature,” then five damage would be marked on the horror—but, since state-based actions (which check to see if creatures have enough damage on them to kill them) don’t get checked until after a spell has finished resolving, the horror would then have another card in the graveyard (i.e., Killing Glare), upping its P/T to 6/6—and thus making five damage not enough to kill it.


Furthermore, if I had cast Killing Glare for five, and my opp. had found some way to respond to my spell by milling me, or getting another card into my graveyard—thus, again, upping the horror’s P/T—Killing Glare would have been countered by the game rules, given that its target (i.e., a creature with less than five power) would no longer be legal. So the lesson is: Be careful when you’re targeting Consuming Aberration (or something like it) with Killing Glare—you might want to pay a few extra for X, if you have the mana.

How did G2 end? G2 ended like this: Neil was at five life, and I was at 20. I had a Holy Mantle’d Slate Street Ruffian on my side of the board, and he had, once again, the */* Consuming Aberration. I knocked him down to one life with my Ruffian, and passed the turn. I had Angelic Edict in hand, and knew I could kill his Aberration on his turn with it, giving me the win on the following turn.

Anyone else see the problem here?

On his turn Neil starts using a bunch of mana. His horror was already big, but now it got way, way bigger. (He had and played some other stuff on his side of the table to assist in milling me.) The horror keeps getting bigger—13/13, 16/16, 20+/20+—but not to worry: I have my instant-speed removal spell to kill it during combat.

He’s all tapped out, and swings in. Time to cast Angelic Edict. I look down at my hand, and realize—with horror (get it?)—that Edict is a sorcery. (Of course it is; it’s a functional reprint of Iona’s Judgment.) So I die to a 20+/20+ horror, in one shot. (I’d had nothing to block with, due to, if I remember correctly, intimidate triggers from his Shadow Street Denizen.)


To his credit, Neil was clearly horrified on my behalf; he apologized for the way the game (and the match) ended, and—even though my face was hot with shameful defeat—I waved off (albeit gratefully) his sympathy. Live and learn, right?

What had gone wrong? Well, I’d been thinking, when I drew Edict, “Hey, sweet—Trostani’s Judgment. I got this game.” The lesson: Read the fucking card, and assume nothing. It’s a mistake I’ll never make again, to be sure—at least not with Angelic Edict.

Round 4
The last round of the sealed (we play four rounds at 20SS prereleases) was against Brian, an awesome Magic-playing friend of mine. Christian and I had played before with Brian and his 2HG partner, Stuart, and I was hoping we’d run into them again later on that evening. So it was a nice surprise to get paired up against Brian, who was also on Orzhov, in R4.

We discussed splitting before the round started, but Brian said he prefers just to play it out, which I can totally get behind. Both of these games were really crazy and long, and I forget much of what happened in G1—but, suffice it to say, there were a ton of one-point life changes, and Brian beat me.

Game two was even more insane. The life totals literally occupy three columns on my life-total sheet. But here’s what it came down to, and here’s why I love Limited:

Brian was at 14 life, and I was at two. He had out two extort guys—the Basilica Guard and, I think, Syndic of Tithes—whereas I had out a couple few dudes, including the Boros Guildmage and three extort guys, including Crypt Ghast (so I definitely had enough mana). I was making 1/1s with my Guildmage, but Brian was threatening lethal on the next turn.

As I said, Brian was at 14 life and I was at two. On his turn, he cast Midnight Recovery to return Smog Elemental (the 3/3 flier for 4BB, which gives all your opponent’s fliers -1/-1) to his hand. The game had gone on forever, so Brian had more than enough mana to, on his next turn, cast Smog Elemental and double extort, finishing me off.

I also had a ton of mana, but unfortunately the only non-land card in my hand was Smite. I desperately needed extort triggers to stay alive. I realized that my only chance was to swing in with my team, hope Brian blocked somebody, and Smite my own guy—thus giving myself 3X extort triggers. So I swung in with at least four guys, including two 1/1 hasty soldiers, threatening nine damage (including Guildmage pumps) if Brian declined to block anyone. Brian mulled over whether or not to block—nine is a lot of damage, especially when both guys are on Orzhov/extort—and ended up putting his 1/4 in front of one of my solider tokens.

I then happily Smote my own guy, paid three extra mana for extort, and went back up to five life. That one play managed to keep me in the game, and a few turns later I was able to swarm out Brian with pumped-up 1/1 soldiers. Limited!


Time was very close to getting called, though, so instead of going to G3, Brian and I just decided to split at this point. We each got four packs, and I ended the sealed at 2-1-1.

Great set, great fun, great prerelease—despite my Angelic Edict misplay. I felt like I redeemed myself with the Smite play.

My MVPs were: my metric fuck-ton of removal (although Death’s Approach didn’t kill something quite as often as I would have liked); Basilica Screecher for a cheap extort guy, plus incidental damage in the air; Kingpin’s Pet, for a solid flying body and, of course, extort; and, oddly enough, the Slate Street Ruffians, who are merely 2/2s for three mana, but seemed to do work. I was also really, really happy for the essentially free Boros splash, with two powerful R/W cards. And the Holy Mantle was really strong whenever I managed to stick it.

I played against Orzhov twice, Boros/Dimir once, and Dimir once—so I didn’t get a feel for how playing against the more aggro guilds would go with Orzhov. Somehow I imagine that I wouldn’t be ending games at nearly as high a life total as I did most of the day.

Two-Headed Giant
As for the 2HG—the Christian Hunters 3-0’d with ease, and I added six more packs of Gatecrash to my pile (with another six for Christian). I went Orzhov, and Christian went Dimir—and we basically both ended up going extort, me with a red splash (for Aurelia’s Fury) and Christian with a blue and green splash (for Master Biomancer).

Here’s the only thing you need to know: Literally all 16 of the creatures in my deck had extort. We also opened two extra Treasury Thrulls, to go with the one from the guild pact; Merciless Eviction; and, well—Aurelia’s Fury. At the last minute I audibled into playing 18 lands—I really wanted to maximize extort—and we basically drained each of our opponent teams without breaking a sweat. It was not uncommon to drain our opposing team for four or six for several turns in a row.

To be honest, I felt kind of bad about it. We beat super-nice and stylish guys Brandon and Chester so fast in R2 that we had plenty of time to play another game (which, to their credit, they did win; although, minus a misplay from Christian RE: where he put his Death’s Approach—thinking it counted all cards in its owner’s graveyard, rather than just creature cards—I think we would have won this game as well).

In the final round we played Good Buddies Brian and Stuart (not their team name, but hey) and, though we got behind the eight-ball a bit due to Stuart’s ever-growing Consuming Aberration (that guy again!), a timely Ogre Slumlord on Christian’s side of the table put a stop to the horror’s attacks. The Slumlord is really sick—any (non-token) thing that dies turns into a deathtouch rat? In any deck without unblockable guys or evasion, he basically freezes the game up entirely—which he did for us, allowing extort to do its work and finish them off.


One final note about extort: Especially in 2HG—and even in one-on-one when you can get multiple triggers in a single turn—the mechanic feels really weird. Your opponent(s) keep attacking, and it seems like they ought to be ahead in the race—but then you look down at your life-total sheet and, somehow, their life total keeps going down, and yours either goes up or stays the same. I think the combined life swing, rather than what they lose or what you gain taken separately, really makes the difference, and makes extort doubly powerful.

My record for the day: 5-1-1, winning 10 packs of Gatecrash.

Before we go, I wanted to turn it over quickly to a couple of other Hipsters of the Coast writers, who kindly offered their early “props and slops” on the format. I hope to see some of you at the sealed release event this Sunday morning at 20SS!

Li Xu
Guilds played and W/L records: Gruul (2-2), Boros (3-0-1)
Best cards (common/uncommon): Mugging, Madcap Skills, Hellraiser Goblin
Best cards (rare/mythic): Rubblebelt Raiders
Best cards played against me: Aetherize is such a blowout in 2HG when your whole plan is to get in free damage with Frontline Medic and Battalion. Extort is also really powerful as expected, though I’m not sure it’ll be as oppressive in a traditional game.

Jess Stirba
Guilds played and W/L record: Orzhov/RUG (I had two decks); 1-3
Weird or cool rules interactions: Guardian of the Gateless and Holy Mantle; extort off a ciphered spell
Bombiest bomb: Clan Defiance is nuts, as is an unanswered Simic Manipulator.
MVPs: Shamblesharks!
Suckiest card: Scab-Clan Charger. It doesn’t have reach, and its bloodrush was rarely worth it for me since there wasn’t a ton of blocking going on.
Surprise underperformer: Immortal Servitude. It was my guild rare and I wanted it to be good, but it wasn’t in Limited.
Suprise overperformer: Both the Boros and Orzhov common two-mana removal spells/combat tricks were pretty bananas, and I didn’t think much of either of them initially.

Matt Jones
Guilds played and W/L record: Boros (2-2), Gruul (3-1), Orzhov/Dimir (2HG; 1-2)
Weird or cool rules interactions: Realizing that Legion Loyalist also gives your attacking creatures trample when you cast it, attack, and trigger Battalion, when actually you were only looking to first-strike one’s opponent, force blocks, and wipe their board—and instead win the game in one swing for one mana. (This isn’t a rule.)
Bombiest bomb: I played a zero-bombs deck in each of the three prerelease events. Biggest non-bomb bomb was the Gruul guild card due to its bloodrush, and my Legion Loyalist goblin smasher guy. I did not like my 2HG deck one bit. Kadar and I made a tremendous error in selecting the guilds we did. Dimir is a pile of shit. In the 3pm prerelease someone played the “exile all creatures” card but otherwise I wasn’t on the receiving end of any bombs.
MVPs: Legion Loyalist, Disciple of the Old Ways, Scab-Clan Charger (almost always due to it’s inexpensive bloodrush ability), Skarrg Goliath (won me a game), Clan Defiance (had it in two flights and it was always awesome)
Suckiest card: Smite in 2HG. Smite was a piece of useless warmed-up shit.
Surprises: I read/looked at almost no spoilers outside of Skarrg Guildmage, so I had almost no expectations other than hoping to smash as much face as possible. I didn’t get to play Skarrg Guildmage. Gatecrash seems pretty awesome in Limited and doesn’t seem to have much application in Standard/etc.

Zac Clark
Guilds played: Gruul (1-3), Dimir (2-2)
Best cards (common/uncommon): Hands of Binding/Madcap Skills
Best cards (rare/mythic): Whispering Madness
Best cards played against me: Act of Treason. Just as I was stabilizing, it pushed through the rest of the damage in each of my losses to Boros.

23/17 is a Hipsters of the Coast column focused on Limited play—primarily draft and sealed, but also cubing, 2HG, and anything else we can come up with. The name refers to the “Golden Ratio” of a Limited deck: 23 spells and 17 lands.

Don't Miss Out!

Sign up for the Hipsters Newsletter for weekly updates.