Sometimes you crack open your prerelease pack and hit the jackpot. As I cracked my packs and marveled at the great rares and mythics, I stopped mid-build to snap a picture:


This should be fun! I’m always eager to test the new blue and black rares. I already know what Nahiri, the Harbinger can do in limited. The prerelease is a time for discovery. I decided to go deep like a fiend:

Zombie Spells

Creatures (12)
Thraben Gargoyle
Graf Rats
Ingenious Skaab
Exultant Cultist
Niblis of Frost
Drownyard Explorers
Silent Observer
Haunted Dead
Midnight Scavengers
Docent of Perfection
Elder Deep-Fiend
Vexing Scuttler

Spells (10)
Liliana, the Last Hope
Drag Under
Fortune’s Favor
Essence Flux
Shamble Back
Borrowed Malevolence
Jace’s Scrutiny
Nagging Thoughts
Lands (18)

Sideboard (14)
Vampire Cutthroat
Field Creeper
Wicker Witch
Laboratory Brute
Gavony Unhallowed
Thraben Foulbloods
Weirded Vampire
Vampire Noble
Grotesque Mutation
Take Inventory
Turn Aside
Lunar Force
Haunted Cloak

Eminence grise Kadar Brock proclaimed this the most “me” deck ever. As usual, he nailed it. (Aside: Niblis of Frost should be Kadar’s new Team Draft League avatar!) It could use another removal spell or a counterspell, but I can’t be too greedy. The deck is everything I want to do in sealed: play powerful threats and get them back after you kill them, while digging through your deck for more.

Staring down at two bomb rare blue spells-matter cards, I decided to try to exploit that. Nimbus of Frost and Docent of Perfection are stone cold killers. You don’t really need to do much to make them good, but the blue-black control archetype tends to play more spells and a smaller number of support creatures to bridge the gap until its bombs take over. Another hard removal spell would have been nice, as I noted above, but I was able to fashion a reasonable deck anyway.

When trying to exploit spell-matters strategies in limited, it is important to find spells that make creature tokens. It’s the same principle as why bestow made enchantment-matter decks work in Theros block: you need to fill creature slots while also advancing your non-creature theme. Shamble Back therefore seemed like a worthy inclusion. I found it solid for following up Docent of Perfection on turn six to guarantee value, while also being a solid blocker and life boost in normal circumstances. Graveyard recursion and lifegain are underrated aspects of sealed strategy, so Shamble Back also happens to operate on those subtle axes. I could see it becoming a more useful card with Eldritch Moon added to the environment.

Graf Rats and Midnight Scavengers were a sweet combo. I could have played more cheap creatures to give the scavengers more utility. I did lose one game where I drew it on turn ten and had no cheap creatures in my yard, but it wouldn’t have made any difference there anyway. I won every game where they melded into Chittering Host, although not always in that attack phase. I expect both cards to be solid in the format, and melding to be a significant draw toward picking up copies of both.

Graf Rats is a subtly powerful card. Most players underestimate how powerful it is to trade off early creatures in limited to manage the board. The big reason two drops are so good is that you can always trade them off early if the situation warrants. Even the bombiest small creatures will sometimes be best used as a Shock. It’s very hard to learn when to value trading early over a powerful late game—newer players almost always overprotect their two drops. Graf Rats gets rid of all that confusion. You want to trade it off, then get it back with Midnight Scavengers! The mechanic pushes you directly to the correct line of play. I hope it helps teach many limited players the value of trading early and recurring value later.

Two sideboard cards really stood out for me:  Turn Aside and Vampire Cutthroat. I kinda mocked Turn Aside in the Hipsters spoiler review, but it turns out there are a lot of super-powered spells that happen to target a permanent of yours. Here are ones I faced in the prerelease: Avacyn’s Judgment, Spreading Flames, and Dark Salvation. I wouldn’t run Turn Aside in my main deck, but when you face removal-heavy decks or specific powerful targeted spells that can provide multiple cards of value, you will want Turn Aside.

Vampire Cutthroat is the bees knees against aggressive decks. It’s hard to block and provides a slow stream of life. If you sit down planning to attack early and often, a turn one cutthroat on the other side is going to make you cringe. I don’t think it does enough to justify being a main deck card in general limited strategies, but when defensive speed and life gain are important elements of a match, you can’t do much better than this one drop.

In the end, I was impressed with what blue-black spells control could do, even without a ton of premium removal. Rancid Rats would have been a great addition as well. Big ground creatures were the most effective line of attack against my deck. Zombies finally have a critical mass of graveyard recursion. Vexing Scuttler is key because it supports full recursion where the zombie effects focus on creature cards. Getting back one Murder or Welcome to the Fold ends games. Now you can feel safer dumping your deck into your graveyard and being able to draw any of the cards you need.

I’m excited to play more decks like this, even if I don’t get so luck in the rare slots. A new sealed PPTQ season begins this weekend!

Carrie O’Hara is Editor-in-Chief of Hipsters of the Coast.

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