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Top Tips for Prerelease Success - Oliver Shapiro (5/19/2010)

It's probably happened to you. You opened your tournament and booster packs at that Pre-Release, examined your cards, and made your selections. Confidant that your deck should make a good showing, a number of things nevertheless seemed to go wrong as the play and matches progressed. Were those problems flaws in your deck, or did they crop up because you didn't take the preparatory steps you should have?

Let's take a look.

FIRST RULE: Know the cards you have in play, and the cards in your hand

If you've been following rumor sites, looking at card previews, and generally being as much of a nerd as the rest of us, then you'll be a leg up on at least a third of the playing field. (Such pre-knowledge will, of course, help you during your deck construction as well.) Whether you have this prior knowledge or not, though, take as much time reading and studying the cards as you need. Spend as much time on this as the judge's patience and your opponent's blood pressure will allow, because incomplete understanding of the cards can have all sorts of unexpected backlashes.

An excellent example of this happened to me at the Coldsnap Pre-Release. During one round, my opponent and I had each won a game and were in the third, and tie-breaking, game. I was playing a Green and Black deck, and had a Ronom Hulk
Ronom Hulk
Ronom HulkSet: Coldsnap
Cost:
5
Color:
Green
Type:
Creature
Sub Type:
Beast
Rarity:
C
Number:
119
Artist:
Zoltan Boros & Gabor Szikszai
Power:
5
Toughness:
6
Text:
Protection from snow Cumulative upkeep 1 (At the beginning of your upkeep, put an age counter on this permanent, then sacrifice it unless you pay its upkeep cost for each age counter on it.)
(Protection from Snow) on the table, with two age counters on it. I'd already been able to deal him 10 damage as his blockers were all Snow creatures, when he cast a R2VsaWQgShackles
Shackles
ShacklesSet: Exodus
Cost:
3
Color:
White
Type:
Enchant Creature
Rarity:
C
Number:
18
Artist:
Heather Hudson
Text:
Enchanted creature does not untap during its controller's untap phase.W: Return Shackles to owner's hand.
on it.

Yes, now that we're past that moment and have had a chance to live with the Coldsnap cards for a while, we all know that that's an illegal move (R2VsaWQgShackles
Shackles
ShacklesSet: Exodus
Cost:
3
Color:
White
Type:
Enchant Creature
Rarity:
C
Number:
18
Artist:
Heather Hudson
Text:
Enchanted creature does not untap during its controller's untap phase.W: Return Shackles to owner's hand.
is a Snow Enchantment). But neither of us noticed this right away. When I finally awoke to the situation a couple of turns later, I pointed it out to the other guy and he expressed (feigned? Maybe, but I'll never know for sure) surprise at that as well.

Unsure how to proceed, we called a judge. After evaluating the situation, he simply had the other guy bury the Shackles
Shackles
ShacklesSet: Exodus
Cost:
3
Color:
White
Type:
Enchant Creature
Rarity:
C
Number:
18
Artist:
Heather Hudson
Text:
Enchanted creature does not untap during its controller's untap phase.W: Return Shackles to owner's hand.
, and allowed game play to proceed from that point. But it was too late for me, as his forces had been able to rally in the face of the incorrectly - but effectively - shackled Hulk, and he was able to take the game... and the match. If I'd caught the error right away, my Hulk could have swung in for the remaining 10 points of damage to him during those intervening turns, and the match would have been mine.

As it was, I went 2-2 for that flight. In the parallel universe where I caught the error right away, I won the game and the match, and went 3-1 for the flight, thereby increasing my DCI standings and earning me another five bonus booster packs. None of this happened in my home cosmos.

SECOND RULE: Know the cards your opponent has in play

It's just as important to know the cards that the other guy has put on the table. And that includes, of course, all permanents, including his or her non-basic lands. I've been victim to more than one critical land-mediated effect that I hadn't seen coming, simply because I was too focused on the other permanents. But it is at least as important to be aware of what his creatures, artifacts and enchantments can and cannot do.

Let's go back to that Coldsnap tournament. In another match, my adversary's setup included a Boreal Centaur
Boreal Centaur
Boreal CentaurSet: Coldsnap
Cost:
2
Color:
Green
Type:
Creature
Sub Type:
Snow Creature - Centaur Warrior
Rarity:
C
Number:
104
Artist:
Marcelo Vignali
Power:
2
Toughness:
2
Text:
oSi: Boreal Centaur gets +1 +1 until end of turn. Play this ability only once each turn. (oSi can be paid with one mana from a snow permanent.)
. I had as part of my tableau two Aurochs
Aurochs
AurochsSet: Fifth Edition
Cost:
4
Color:
Green
Type:
Creature
Sub Type:
Aurochs
Rarity:
C
Artist:
Steve White
Power:
2
Toughness:
3
Text:
Trample If Aurochs attacks, it gets +1/+0 until end of turn for each other Aurochs that attacks.
: a Bull Aurochs
Bull Aurochs
Bull AurochsSet: Coldsnap
Cost:
2
Color:
Green
Type:
Creature
Sub Type:
Aurochs
Rarity:
C
Number:
107
Artist:
Kev Walker
Power:
2
Toughness:
1
Text:
Trample Whenever Bull Aurochs attacks, it gets +1 +0 until end of turn for each other attacking Aurochs.
and an Aurochs Herd
Aurochs Herd
Aurochs HerdSet: Coldsnap
Cost:
6
Color:
Green
Type:
Creature
Sub Type:
Aurochs
Rarity:
C
Number:
103
Artist:
Darrell Riche
Power:
4
Toughness:
4
Text:
Trample When Aurochs Herd comes into play, you may search your library for an Aurochs card, reveal it, and put it into your hand. If you do, shuffle your library. Whenever Aurochs Herd attacks, it gets +1 +0 until end of turn for each other attacking Aurochs.
. I declared an attack with both of them. He selected his Centaur as a blocker against my Bull, and - as I'd anticipated - tapped a Snow land to pump his Centaur. I'd been prepared to swap my Bull for his Centaur, but then he did something unexpected. He tapped another Snow land, trying to boost the Centaur yet again.

I gently pointed out to him a critical phrase in his Centaur's text box: ´´Play this ability only once each turn.´´ He put a chagrined look on his face, untapped the second Snow land, and we buried the two combatants.

As it turned out, he went on to win the match, but the point of the story is that another illegal move came close to being perpetrated, and it was only my familiarity with his Centaur that prevented it.

Although many, probably most, Magic players have a high level of integrity, you cannot count on that in the chaotic and often-confused atmosphere that is characteristic of Pre-Release tournaments. Additionally, the presence of prize packages hanging in the balance panders to the greed in many of us, making it that much less likely that your opponent will point out your mistakes to you. And that helps me to segue to my next point.

THIRD RULE: Bring a pen and paper, and keep track of all scores

The first half-dozen or so tournaments I attended, I did what I see so many others do. I brought 20-sided dice, and used one or more as spin-down life counters.

Bad move. We all know that if one person moving past the back of your chair makes a misstep and bumps into the table, then those dice will jump and land on the wrong number. Maybe your opponent will believe you when you say ´´I was at 18 life,´´ and maybe he won't. If the scores are recorded on paper, such clumsiness will have no effect.

The other great advantage is that you need not depend on anybody or anything to know what the scores are. In fact, there have been at least a few occasions when my opponent actually asked me what his life total was, and even seemed satisfied when I told him. (Maybe they were just checking on my honesty.)

What about the dialing lifescore-keepers? Better than dice but not as good as pen and paper. Better, because they are also immune to tabletop disturbances, but inferior to paper because the dial-ups do not show a history of the score progression. If there are any disputes over how the score got to be where it is, pen and paper are the only means of reviewing the entire history. (Once in a great while you may even see a player making short notes next to the score columns at each change in score, to help address such a dispute.)

FOURTH RULE: Bring plenty of counters/tokens

I think I have lent out counters to at least one person in every single tournament I have ever attended, and as often as not that has included my opponent. It has also included matches where I didn't even need any for myself.

Having these ready and available serves a number of purposes. Besides the obvious benefit of having them when you need them, it gives you a psychological boost, because by appearing - and being - prepared, you exude an air of experience and readiness, pigeonholing you as somebody who knows what he's doing. It also lets you dedicate more of your mental resources to the game state, rather then being distracted by ´´what the heck should I use to represent these new 1/1 Saproling
Saproling
SaprolingSet: Phyrexia vs. The Coalition
Cost:
0
Color:
Colorless
Type:
Creature
Sub Type:
Saproling
Rarity:
C
Number:
3
Artist:
Warren Mahy
Power:
1
Toughness:
1
s?´´

I use a container filled with clear glass beads I purchased at a plant store. They were much less expensive than any I would pick up at a gaming store, but there are plenty of options - a bunch of pennies, sunflower seeds... I saw one guy with a bunch of really cheap Magic commons and lands cut up into uniform squares, and he was using those. Use whatever you like, but bring them - and use them.

Although all of these rules can be useful for any Magic tournament, they are especially applicable at Pre-Releases because of the informal and chaotic atmosphere that usually surrounds them, which is fed by most of the attendees' lack of familiarity with the cards. Follow these guidelines, and you can concentrate on the deck-building and the game play. Let those other guys worry about that other stuff.

Oliver Shapiro has been playing Magic: The Gathering since 1996, and dabbling in local and Pre-Release tournaments for the past few years. According to him, ´´I am not the best competitor you'll meet, although my DCI ranking is in the top half of the world, national and state rankings... making me stare at only about 60,000 players standing between me and global Magic dominance.´´


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