Monday, April 4, 2016

Shadows Over Innistrad Pre-Release

This past weekend, pre-release tournaments were held for the latest Magic: The Gathering set, Shadows Over Innistrad. I played in one that was sponsored by a small gaming store here in West Michigan.
I played quite a bit of Magic in my college days, buying lots of cards and going to various tournaments and other events. I don't play much any more, though. I've found other games that I like better, both in terms of the gameplay and affordability. I still like to hit the occasional Magic event, though, and pre-release tournaments are my favorite. It's always something new to everyone there, and there's generally plenty of small local events (as opposed to a giant horde of people like you see at PTQs and the like).

I played this time over in Lowell, at an event run by Rookies Sportscards Plus. I like their events: generally no more than 20 people, only about a half-hour drive from home, and they include dinner (pizza) in the entry fee. We had 14 people for this one, and played five rounds. The whole thing ran for about 6.5 hours, which is on the short side for one of these events. The larger ones can span multiple days - the crowds aren't the only reason to avoid the big events!

Shadows Over Innistrad is different from previous sets in two major ways: there are a lot of double-sided cards, and there's a new mechanic called "Investigate". The double-sided cards are kind of a pain, since they have no standard card back and thus can't be shuffled normally in a deck. Either you have to use opaque card sleeves (and pull the card out to flip it as needed) or substitute a special checklist card that represents the real thing. The double-sided cards themselves are interesting, especially the large number of werewolf-themed cards, but both of those options for using them are clunky and annoying. The Investigate mechanic gives the player artifacts called "Clues" that can be used to draw cards. It's not terrible, but it feels like the designers were reaching pretty far afield for something new. I'm fairly sure we won't see much of it once this block is done.

My sealed pack was pretty underwhelming. Creatures were in short supply in my six boosters. Normally I like at least 18 creatures in a 40-card deck, but this time I had 16. To get even that many without using three colors, my only choice was to play red/green. Fortunately my non-creature cards in those colors weren't too bad, including 3 damage spells and 5 ways to pump up my own creatures. I was also fortunate to get Westvale Abbey as my promo card - it won me one game outright when I managed to transform it, and helped in a few others with its token-creation ability.

I ended up going 4-1, in second place. My one loss was in the first round against the eventual tournament winner (he went 5-0), who had a green/white deck that was significantly better than what anyone else was playing. I asked him later, and he didn't lose even one game until the fourth round. Other than that match, my deck performed fairly well, winning most of its games by having just enough spell support to keep a creature or two alive and doing damage.
The store provided some nice support for such a small tournament. Everyone got a couple of packs, plus a few more for the top finishers. There were some miscellaneous supply handouts, too - play mats and such. I ended up with an extra four packs and a new deck storage box. The bigger events have bigger prizes, but I'm happy to trade big prizes for a shorter, more laid-back event.

So, that scratches my itch to play Magic for another few months. I had fun with this event, but I doubt I'll feel like doing it again until the next pre-release comes around.

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