This weekend the world was introduced to Khans of Tarkir. Khans is the latest Magic expansion and kicks off the final three-set block for the foreseeable future. The set revolves around the three-colored wedges of the game, personified by five clans battling for supremacy of Tarkir. I was able to make it to my local gaming store for two events this weekend. I played a three-round event at Midnight on Friday and finished 3-0. On Sunday afternoon I finished 2-2 in a four-round event. In both cases I played an aggressive Mardu deck with Warrior synergies. Here are my thoughts on the all-around prerelease experience.

The Khans of Tarkir Prerelease Experience

The Good

The flavor of this set is phenomenal. All weekend everyone was referring to their decks and strategies as Abzan, Mardu, Temur, Sultai, and Jeskai. The card mechanics and artwork led to very flavorful deck construction. Each of the clans is meant to embody one aspect of the ancient, extinct dragons. Personally, I played Mardu, the clan of speed. This was a very accurate description. The Mardu decks work fast and they are aggressive in a way that is very reminiscent of Boros strategies. The other four clans similarly played to their strengths.

This was a very effective way to add flavor to deck-building at a prerelease. Players could relate to a clan and actually derive a strategy from it. While the Ravnica guilds are very flavorful, they didn’t all translate into unique limited strategies. Khans of Tarkir, on the other hand, has flavor translate into the game very effectively.

Another good part of the prerelease was the change to the clan seed packs. In the past, the seeded packs for prereleases have been horribly unbalanced. This was because there was only one rare per color for each seed pack. If you picked the black seed pack you knew what you were getting. Now, it was random among eight different rares and mythic rares from the clan of your choice. This meant you didn’t know what you were getting and didn’t know what you were playing against. The result was a much more interesting decision for clan selection.

The Bad

Unfortunately, clan selection was still horribly skewed in one direction. Two of the clans were clearly in higher demand. Mardu and Abzan made up over 70% of the matches I played, and the majority of my friends were playing one or the other. The reasoning was simple enough. Mardu and Abzan had the best aggressive creature decks to build. At least, this was the perception. Furthermore, having access to black and white meant having access to some of the format’s best removal spells. After that you simply had to pick whether or not you wanted to play a quick aggressive deck (Mardu) by adding red, or a long-game heavy creature deck (Abzan) by adding green.

Temur was a close third and provided a lot of Abzan’s raw power in red and green. Adding blue provided a bit of tempo to the deck with a few unblockable creatures, some bounce effects, and some card advantage. Jeskai and Sultai, on the other hand, were a distant fourth and fifth place. Even though these clans had access to some very powerful cards, players were underwhelmed by the overall strategies of these clans. Which brings us to…

The Ugly

Prowess and Delve are very, very difficult to build around in a sealed deck format. The former is incredibly frustrating because you generally have a limited number of non-creature spells in your deck. Typically, as the common strategies go, you play 15 creatures to accompany seven or eight non-creatures. Now, Jeskai has a benefit of having a few cards which are non-creature spells but put creature tokens into play. Unfortunately these are mostly at uncommon. This makes a lot of the Jeskai “build-around-me” cards difficult to enable. Jeskai Ascendancy, for example, can be very powerful, but only with enough non-creature spells to go around.

The same is even more true of Delve, which people seemed to be avoiding like the plague this weekend. There are plenty of ways to enable Delve, but is the mechanic worthwhile? Outside of a few bombs, the answer quite frankly was no. Unless you had the synergy to build around it, Delve was an incredibly risky mechanic to choose. Dumping too many cards into your graveyard to enable delve often meant that you were either running the risk of decking yourself, or avoiding building up board state.

The fact that Sultai and Jeskai were highly underrepresented is not good, but shouldn’t take away from the fact that there was no longer one dominant color being selected at the prerelease. Overall I feel that the prerelease experience was a success and addressed a few of the main issues of recent prereleases. The problems mostly remain in the balancing of the game mechanics. I expect that drafting the set will be tremendous fun, but if you play sealed deck, expect to see a lot of Mardu and Abzan.

Pro Tour Update

World Magic Cup Teams!

Normally I would use this space to update you on the Top 25 Rankings. However, those were once again stagnant due to the lack of a Grand Prix or Pro Tour tournament. Instead, the final World Magic Cup qualifiers were held last weekend and the national teams have been announced! Congrats to everyone who will be representing their nation this year.

The Quick Hits

  • Danny Brown reviews the use of game clocks in Magic Online, Hearthstone, and SolForge [Quiet Speculation]
  • Shawn Massak learns some valuable lessons about playing Magic by watching D2: The Mighty Ducks [Ensnaring Cambridge]
  • Nassim Ketita is on the bandwagon of teaching Magic players new games and wants you all to learn Netrunner [Gathering Magic]
  • John Dale Beety reviews the flavor of Khans of Tarkir [Star City Games]
  • Heather Lafferty returns to writing with a new edition of Twenty Tweets taking a look at the midnight prerelease this past weekend [Twenty Tweets]

Wallpaper of the Week

Sorin is one of the more fascinating planeswalkers. He is undeniably ancient, though not as old as Nicol Bolas. He was partly responsible for imprisoning the Eldrazi hundreds of years ago on Zendikar. Now, he finds himself on Tarkir, a solemn visitor to the graveyard of mighty dragons, perhaps including Ugin, the powerful dragon who helped seal the Eldrazi, and perhaps currently haunts Sarkhan Vol. Either way, this vampire-slash-planeswalker makes for one amazing wallpaper.

Grade: A

The Week Ahead

Next week is release weekend for Khans of Tarkir. The latest and greatest in wedge technology will become Standard legal. We’ll officially say goodbye to the Return to Ravnica block and Magic 2014. Perhaps most interestingly, the Onslaught cycle of fetch lands will become Modern legal for the first time in the format’s history. It will be an exciting week for constructed Magic. Personally I’ll be traveling for the weekend so I won’t be getting in on any of the new action. In the meantime, stay tuned next week for an announcement on what I’ve been working on since the conclusion of Modern Hero.

What We Learned is a weekly feature here at Hipsters of the Coast written by former amateur Magic Player Rich Stein, who came really close to making day two of a Grand Prix on several occasions. Each week we will take a look at the past seven days of major events, big news items, and community happenings so that you can keep up-to-date on all the latest and greatest Magic: the Gathering community news.

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