Wizards has been doing great things lately with Magic Online. Sure there are still a lot of bugs and issues technically speaking, and the interface is not great, but there’s leagues! Have you played in a league? They’re amazing. So amazing in fact that Wizards replaced the traditional prerelease sealed queues with a league! So to test drive the new tech we coughed up $30 and hopped into a Shadows over Innistrad prerelease league.

The League of Shadows

I did some quick research by reading Carrie’s primer on the SOI limited environment. Fast format? Check. Avoid linear strategies? Check. Try to open Voldaren Duelist and Burn From Within? Check and checkmate. Here’s the pool I opened.


Oh hey, it’s Burn From Within and Voldaren Duelist! I guess having two Flameblade Angels and one Markov Dreadnight helps round things out. I would have liked a Lightning Axe, it was one of my favorite limited cards in Time Spiral, but I guess I can’t complain.

The white and green in the pool didn’t feel especially deep. I spent a lot of time toying with the idea of a blue/green delirium deck to go with my three copies of Moldrag Scavenger. Delirium would turn it into a 3/4 for two mana which is not a bad idea. Ultimately though I didn’t feel I had enough discard outlets in that deck to make it work consistently, and Carrie said linear strategies in this format would only work if they had the kind of consistency that Affinity has in Modern (that may not be exactly what she said but it’s how I interpreted it).

So I settled on a black/red jam-all-my-best-cards-into-a-pile deck and hit PLAY.

BR Vampires

In round one I got slaughted by a green/white deck full of quick, aggressive humans. In game one I mis-clicked my way through skipping my third land-drop and fell too far behind. Thanks Obama. In game two I got butchered by double Thalia’s Lieutenant (fun fact: after watching the first season of Sleepy Hollow I now mentally pronounce that word as “lef-tenant”). At least it was all over quickly. Now for the best part about pre-release leagues: editing your deck between rounds!

I decided that Vessel of Volatility as not good and swapped it out for Senseless Rage. It turns out that card isn’t as bad in an aggressive deck, and I also used it occasionally to play stellar defense with Farbog Revenant. I also took out Accursed Witch, which felt too slow, and replaced it with Hound of the Farbogs which may come down a turn later but it can hit much harder. Finally I cut Howlpack Wolf for Dance With Devils because that seemed good against small creature hordes.

I hit PLAY again and was whisked away to round two where I faced an Abzan deck which didn’t have enough gas to keep up with Markov Dreadnight, pitch Fiery Temper, take a trip to Value City, attack for lethal in the air. Next up was an opponent with The Gitrog Monster. I didn’t see the hypno-toad until late in game two. My opponent got mana-flooded in both games. The chat window was a lot of LOL and STUPID SHUFFLER from my opponent. At one point I made the mistake of engaging and innocuously asked my opponent how many lands they were playing. They replied with “PLEASE DONT TEACH ME HOW TO PLAY.” It turns out the answer to my question was 21 and this was supposedly to make up for The Gitrog Monster‘s land-eating penchant.

Here’s another fun fact about Magic Online: Despite all of the bugs and inefficiencies, the worst part of Magic Online is that you have to play anonymous idiots across the internet who have absolutely no care for human life and just want to see the world burn in a way that only Heath Ledger can relate to.

I took a break from Magic to help my wife hang some framed photos on the wall. This is the next best part of the new prerelease format, and leagues in general. I could walk away. I could think about my life away from Magic. It was rejuvenating. She asked me how long the tournament would take to play. I said a few hours. Seriously? Yeah, but I have until Wednesday to do it. She was confused, fairly, and I explained the nature of leagues. It’s a sweet deal.


Round four was a mirror match against another black/red deck sporting Burn From Within. In game one I had to draw all three of my rare flying bombs to win the game. They were packing a ton of removal spells. Is it responsible to play around Murderous Compulsion? I don’t think it is. At least, when you’re playing an aggressive deck it isn’t. Just go for it and force them to play the Compulsion. If you’re not aggressive though, that card can be a huge blowout. I won game two when my opponent kept two swamps in their opening hand and never drew a third land.

Mulligans are tough in this format, but that’s true of almost all formats. Two-land hands are the worst, especially on the play with an aggressive deck. I understand keeping them, but you have to have some kind of action that doesn’t depend on drawing a land in the first three turns. It isn’t the fault of the MTGO shuffler, it’s just reality.


Sigarda is the real deal. And my opponent also had the green mythic that returns a ton of cards from your graveyard to your hand (this isn’t good enough to warrant looking up the name, but it happened nonetheless). I guess it’s hard to beat two mythic rares. I got crushed in game one. My dreams of finishing 4-1 and getting enough play points to join another event and enough packs to draft were quickly falling apart. I brought the Accursed Witch back in because she’s good in long games, which this seemed to be.

It wasn’t meant to be. My opponent had all the removal spells and I stalled on three lands for a bit, giving them too much time to develop their board. I made a lot of one-for-one creature trades which in hindsight I should not have done. I played defense with an aggressive deck and it cost me the match. I got enough play points to do something like a flashback draft or a Legacy Cube draft, and one pack of SOI. All-in-all I approve of the new prerelease format. The casual nature of it made it highly enjoyable.

Oh, and SOI limited isn’t too bad either.

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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