25 Sep 2014

About Khans and Clans

So I did the pre-release for Khans of Tarkir.

Khans of Tarkir by Wizards of the Coast
For those not in the know a pre-release consists of buy a pre-release pack and playing a seal deck format of Magic the Gathering. The pack comes with five booster packs and a seeded booster pack. The booster packs are the normal boosters that will come out the following week when the set comes out. The seeded booster is a booster pack that comes with specific promo card and the rest of its contents favor you’re pack selection, all coming from the new set.

Example: I got the Blue M15 pre-release event. I got five M15 boosters and a seeded booster. It had quite a few blue cards loaded in along with my fancy blue promo card, all of which were from the M15 set.

The event pack also comes with a colour specific spin down life counter, a fancy d20 that has the numbers in order. Some extra swag and a little info sheet or book on the set or the rules. M15 had a large format Garruk planeswalker card that allowed one player to play Garruk versus someone’s deck. It’s a neat little extra that makes the purchase of the pre-release pack that much more special.
So you have these six boosters (five plus the one seeded booster). You open the packs and make a 40 card deck with in in about 30 mins. So you look through your pool of cards, build a deck of 21-24 cards. You top up the rest with mana. Then you go play with that deck. You do have the option to swap cards out between rounds. You play and adjust as needed, but you’re only able to pick through the cards from your pre-release pack.

This demands more than being able to play well. It also forces a player to quickly build a deck with limited resources. There are times, a player will get a great pack and have excellent cards but if they are unable to build around that fantastic pool of cards they may fail even if they can play a great game.

So pre-release is pretty neat. If you’ve played a few games and you know the rules, playing a pre-release event or even a draft (another fancy format where you build you deck in store) will show you the breadth of play in Magic and it teaches you lessons about the game you may not have ever picked up on before.

So where did Khans go wrong and where did they go right?

A few things were problematic with the Khans pre-release:

Tailgate party for the Pre-Release!
Only a Canadian would do this.
Awesome way to diffuse the
disappointment at the LGS.
Supply – I’m not sure if this is a distributor issue or a LGS (Local Game Store) issue, but there was nowhere near enough supply in pre-release packs and presale of the intro packs. If you played Abzan or Mardu by Sunday you were SOL – they were all sold out, pick another clan. We played a whole Two-Headed giant with only three clans represented and a bit of another as it sold out during registration. Not cool.

Promo Cards – I love my promo cards. It’s a little shallow of me, but when I have the option of a single card and it’s promo version of the card, I pick up the promo version especially if it’s for my Commander deck. I love me my Commander games and it’s a place to show off my collection – if I can call it that, of Magic cards. The foils look pretty and since I’ll only be able to have one in my deck, the extra fifty cents or dollar seems trivial.

The promo cards in the past have been an event alternative foil art with the date stamped of the lead card in the intro pack. You picked up the red M15 intro pack and you’ll get a foil Siege Dragon – looks very fancy. If you showed up to the pre-release, you’ll get a Siege Dragon in your seeded booster. It will be foil, it will have a gold stamp date on it , and it will have different art from the Intro pack. Thanks for coming out.

In Khans it is different. They have 40 random cards that will be stamped. 40 cards across five clans means your promo card is one of seven cards. Some will be better than others. Also in the past you were able to expect at least one creature card to build around. Great for new player or those with minimal experience on the Seal Deck format. Too bad this was not the case with Khans of Tarkir.

This pre-release felt very much in favor for the non-casual players. As a casual player I don’t expect to win, I’m there having fun and learning new tricks. This time me and Dawn Seeker were beaten down hard. Unless I studied, was very experienced with the format, and I had pulled a good pool… our chances we nearer to fuck all. 

Our only win was because one of the opponents drew shit all in land. He literally drew and played his forth land on his turn before we finished them off. Out of six games, we had one win – not because we rocked but because they got buggered. We had one close game where we dropped them to 1 life and they got a lucky mill (where you force players to discard cards from their deck) with Altar of the Brood because he drew a land and was finally able to play that last card – a creature in his hand. That mean we each milled two cards and I only had two left in my library (if a player cannot draw a card in their draw step – they lose the game). Brilliant match and greta fun to fall on the sword I love so much. Our second great game was when we played Wolf and his lady, it was close but they ran us down.

Our other THREE games were kind of one sided… lame. One sided is even ok, because I can learn about that match – but three games of one sided play with the major lesson across the board was: ‘You didn’t study before the event or pull well from your boosters’ - Ouch. If I would have brought my wife to event I would not have blamed her, if she would have been frustrated and quit after a few games… which is not fun for anyone.

Limited meta – Now thinking big, the Khans release has some great cards… kinda. They are great cards if everyone plays three colour decks. So standard play (where you play with cards only from the recent sets) will be really neat as players play some fancy three colour cards. Outside of the majority of cards, I see very few of the new cards getting into the Commander meta – where folks play mono (as per the new Commander 2014 release in November) or dual colour (as per the Ravnica and Theros blocks). I see a few play triple colour and only then will some of the fancier Khan cards will show up. I just don’t see the longevity of the set outside of standard. I’m also seeing from my point of view some holes in the various clans of the set where some are very obviously stronger than others. I hope this gets fixed come the next two releases when they start showing more of that time travel flavour of the block.

A few things where Khans did well at the pre-release:

Three Colour – As much as I dislike three colour decks and I feel I’ll see many of those cards die out of the regular meta I play in, I learned a lot about three colour decks. I also became much more comfortable with the three colour deck building. I am looking in the future to make a three colour deck or two to see what I can come up with and many of the Khan cards will make it worth my time… I hope. I should have fun with it, where in the past, unless the three colour deck was pre-constructed ala Commander 2013 – I get miffed and say fuck three colour.

Neat Mechanics – With two old mechanics returning – Delve and Morph, and four new machanics – Prowess, Fury, Raid and Outlast really round out a slew of new play options.  Hit the links to see what they each do.

Ashcloud Phoenix
by Wizards of the Coast
I can see Battalion and Raid getting paired up with a Red/Blue instant deck tapping into the creatures with Prowess. Fury will show up a bit with the odd green deck outside of standard. Outlast is an odd duck – when you got nothing to do juice up, otherwise there are better ways to give a +1/+1 to a creature that is more efficient. Morph is only handy when you have a reason to Morph. Delve is so far the more used ability but I see a few deck styles avoiding it instead, but those that do use it will find the effects interesting when they are willing to pay the cost from their graveyard.

Some really cool new cards – From what I say at the pre-release the new Ashcloud Phoenix is awesome – seriously awesome. Red is not my favorite colour. Only Phoenixes and Minotaurs are creatures born of Red that I like. Dragons are so-so for me. Whenever a new Phoenix comes out, I always get excited to see if this will be my year of the Phoenix. Ashcloud Phoenix is fucking awesome and a great use of the Morph ability. 

Altar of the Brood is another card that is on my short shopping list due to my love of milling. Some of the blue commons are a bit more pricey but many come with ‘Draw a Card’ on top of the rest of its effects. I also like both of the new Assassins. I’ve been playing with idea of an Assassin/Rogue deck for about a year and the new assassins from M15 and Khans have really buffed up that Creature type.

Final Words

Khans has some neat stuff but it took a lot more effort to figure that out, this is not a set for new players. Some of the tricks are pretty slick but they are missing the breadth of cards that have these new abilities to take full advantage of them outside of standard. I hope the block gets better with the next set.