With the Khans of Tarkir Prerelease quickly approaching, today I'd like to discuss the clans and, more importantly, what clan or colors you should choose at the Prerelease this weekend.
The Prerelease Packs for Khans of Tarkir are a little different from anything we've ever seen before. In the past your Prerelease Pack would contain a seeded booster, five booster packs and a promo card of the color or guild you chose. Everyone who chose red, for example, would each receive a red seeded booster and a red promo card, with every red player receiving the same red promo. At the Khans of Tarkir Prerelease, instead of each player getting the same promo for their clan, there are actually eight different promo cards for each clan, and you don't know which one you'll get until you open your pack.
I think this is a great way of doing the Prerelease packs. It makes the decks and games feel more special. In the past, you always knew what bomb rare your opponent had and you could play accordingly. There is also more balance between the Prerelease Packs. I remember the Journey into Nyx Prerelease where everyone wanted to play white because of Dawnbringer Charioteers. There was tons of synergy between its heroic ability and the bestow mechanic of the set, and flying and lifelink were two great abilities for sealed deck anyway. The kicker was it started out on the battlefield with four toughness which meant it could survive most of the common removal spells in the format. It seemed incorrect not to choose white.
Many players at the Journey into Nyx Prerelease felt the same way because white was by far the most popular color at the prerelease. It was really annoying to play against Dawnbringer Charioteers round after round and players even went as far as maindecking weak removal spells like Rage of Purphoros just to have more ways to deal with it. At least my local store ran out of white Prerelease Packs on Friday night at their midnight event so we didn't have to play against it for the rest of the weekend (unless someone opened it from their normal booster packs of course).
The M15 prerelease had a similar problem but instead of having a strictly best color, there was actually an undesirable color in blue. Mercurial Pretender was a terrible prerelease promo and it didn't make any sense to choose blue when you could instead receive a Resolute Archangel, Indulgent Tormentor, or Siege Dragon. My local store again had a Prerelease Pack distribution problem at their M15 Prerelease. By the time the Sunday night event rolled around, they only had blue Prerelease Packs left. Everyone who signed up was forced to choose the blue pack except for those few who preregistered. I bet they didn't even play Mercurial Pretender in their decks.
This new way of doing the Prerelease packs seems much, much better. Now instead of knowing what card to play around, there is a much bigger element of surprise. As of now we don't know what the Prerelease Promos are, which makes it even more exciting. You could actually get anything!
As for the seeded booster pack itself, instead of it containing "mostly cards in your color," this time around the seeded pack will all contain cards of your clan. In the past there was actually a reasonable chance that you weren't able to play the color you chose which was very discouraging to players, especially at a Prerelease. If Timmy's favorite color is green and his green is absolute trash, he isn't going to have a very good Prerelease experience. The Khans seeded booster will also contain manafixing such as the Tri-lands and Banners. It's safe to say that you will have a pretty good chance to actually play the wedge that you choose.
With the packs themselves out of the way, I'm going to evaluate each wedge for sealed play. I'm not going to be discussing rares or mythics because your sealed deck will be mostly composed of commons and uncommons. It goes without saying that if you get a good rare in your colors, you should play it, but you can't win games of sealed deck without solid commons.Abzan
The Abzan mechanic is outlast, which lets you place counters on your creatures at sorcery speed. I don't like the fact that you have to use up your creature on your turn to activate outlast because the creature won't be able to attack or block for that turn. However the longer the game goes, the bigger your creatures will become so if you are forced to take some early damage in order to use outlast, you will likely still come out ahead in the long run.
Abzan also has a subtheme of +1/+1 counters. Many of the Abzan creatures obtain new abilities when they have +1/+1 counters on them. There are lots of combat tricks and spells in green that put counters on creatures and these spells can be either mediocre or insane depending on what "+1/+1 counters matter" creatures you have in play. For example I think that Mer-Ek Nightblade is a fantastic creature for limited. Deathtouch is a strong ability and combining him with cards like Incremental Growth, Ainok Bond-Kin, or Tuskguard Captain, combat will be very annoying for your opponent. Feat of Resistance is another great trick for Abzan. It's cheap and has the ability to two-for-one your opponent depending on what kind of abilities the +1/+1 counter gives.
Overall Abzan seems pretty slow but once it gets going your creatures can become unbeatable. If you choose to play this color, you will want to play cheap creatures from other clans, such as Heir of the Wilds, Smoke Teller, and Temur Charger. Any grizzly bear will do, as you just need something to hold the ground and trade off with your opponent's stuff as you make your outlast creatures bigger every turn.
Abzan is also incredibly mana intensive. You are going to want to activate your creatures' abilities every turn which will prevent you from playing your three-drops on turn three, four-drops on turn four, and so on. It's going to be crucial to hit land drops in order to be able to both cast spells and activate abilities in the same turn, so don't be afraid to play 18 lands in your deck.Jeskai
I've always liked playing UWR in limited. You get to play a deck with lots of powerful flyers in blue and white and the red gives you the removal you need to clear the way. However, the Jeskai clan seems a little weak when compared to traditional UWr limited decks.
Jeskai's ability is prowess. Prowess creatures start off weak but get +1/+1 until end of turn every time you cast a noncreature spell. The problem I have with prowess is the creatures are pretty bad on their own. You rarely want to play a 1/3 for two or a 4/2 for five in your sealed deck. Another problem is in sealed deck the majority of your deck will be creatures, which means that triggering prowess is not even guaranteed to happen!
If you choose Jeskai as your clan, don't be surprised if most of your deck consists of cards from other clans or cards with no affiliation. The Jeskai commons and uncommons just seem weak when compared to the other clans. Of course there are some strong multicolored cards in Jeskai, but they are mostly rare and mythic. Your prerelease deck will consist of mostly commons and you really can't bank on choosing Jeskai and opening multiple strong rares in your colors.Mardu
Mardu on the other hand seems very strong for sealed deck. It's the format's aggressive strategy and if you get a strong pool you will be able to really punish opponents for playing slow manabases. The Mardu mechanic is raid and I think it's an awesome and fun mechanic. In general you are always going to attack before playing other creatures so your raid cards have a high chance of triggering. Whenever you trigger raid you will get tons of value out of your creatures.
When playing Mardu, it's important to have as many early creatures as possible so that you always have creatures to attack with to trigger your raid. One creature I really like in this clan is Mardu Hateblade. It's a one-drop but it's not a creature that your opponent will want to block because of deathtouch. You can freely attack with it and if you get through, great, and if the creature becomes blocked, you can just spend one black mana to trade. Either way you will still be able to trigger raid. Spells that make token creatures like Take Up Arms and Hordeling Outburst are also really good in this archetype. You're not going to mind chump attacking with a token if it means your raid cards will trigger.
I'm really impressed with the Mardu cards in the set. We have a mini-Flametongue Kavu in Mardu Heart-Piercer and a pseudo Burning Tree Emissary in Mardu Warshrieker (which is also a manafixer). The raid cards all seem very strong and combined with all of the Falter and Threaten effects, Mardu is by far the most aggressive clan.Sultai
Sultai seems like a very fun clan to play. The main strategy of Sultai is using the graveyard as a resource. You play spells such as Taigam's Scheming, Scout the Borders, and Bitter Revelation to fill up your graveyard in order to either Reanimate things or power out your delve cards quickly. The delve cards are all slightly overcosted if you hard cast them but are amazing if you cast them at their cheapest possible cost, so if you choose to play Sultai at the Prerelease you're going to want to play as many delve enablers as you can get.
The Sultai clan is all about card advantage. This clan has the most cards that actually draw you extra cards. Spells like these work very well with delve because the more cards you have access to, the more cards have the potential to hit your graveyard.
The Sultai clan also has a sub-theme of sacrificing creatures. There are a few cards that trigger whenever a creature with toughness four or greater dies, so you're going to want to look for cheap creatures with high toughness such as Sidisi's Pet and Sultai Flayer. Sacrificing creatures will of course fill up your graveyard even more for delve, so play as many of those as possible as well.
Playing delve cards in your deck means that you will have a lot of excess mana late in the game. You can spend one mana on a creature like Hooting Mandrills, a few more mana on Murderous Cut, and still have mana open for a Counterspell, a combat trick, or to pay a morph cost. Sultai allows you to cheat on mana and therefore you can play more expensive removal spells and tricks. Temur
The Temur clan is pretty ferocious, both in its powerful creatures and its set mechanic. Temur rewards you for playing gigantic creatures, so if you like to beat down with big things, this is the clan for you. RUG has always been a tempo-oriented color combination in limited and in Khans of Tarkir it's no different. Temur gives you access to cheap threats, combat tricks, burn, and bounce spells, as well as giant creatures to finish your opponent off.
My favorite card in this clan (possibly even my favorite limited card in the set) is definitely Icefeather Aven. It's pretty much the perfect morph card. You can cast it for two which gives you a 2/2 evasive creature, or you can morph it later on to gain some valuable tempo. Plus, the art on that card is hilarious. What is that crow looking for?
Temur creatures are huge and undercosted compared to creatures in other clans. Pine Walker is a pretty efficient 5/5 with a useful ability and Woolly Loxodon has an incredibly cheap morph cost. Between the giant creatures and all of the creature pump in the set, it won't be hard to meet the requirements for ferocious.
The Temur clan also has a one shot combo kill that's bound to happen this weekend. The funny thing about it is both cards come from other clans. It involves a rare from the Jeskai clan, Dragon-Style Twins, and an uncommon from Sultai, Become Immense. When you cast Become Immense on the Twins, prowess will trigger making it a 4/4. Become Immense will make it a 10/10 which is twenty points of combat damage when you factor in double strike. It's definitely something to be aware of so if your opponent is playing Temur and has a Dragon Style Twins in play, you probably don't want to let it hit you.Splashing a 4th Color
I'm sure that many of you will be tempted to play a fourth or even fifth color at the prerelease. My word of advice is only splash if you have the fixing for it. If you are playing Mardu and want to splash a green card, I'd do it if you have some combination of Blossoming Sands, Rugged Highlands, or Sandsteppe Citadel in your pool, but I'd never play a basic forest. You are already playing a three color deck that likely contains a few multicolored cards, and drawing that forest is going to hurt you more often than not. I would avoid the splash if possible, but I'm not against it. I know how tempting it can be. Remember that the more lands you have that come into play tapped, the slower your deck will become, and you don't want to get run over by an opponent with a fast, consistent aggro deck.
Here is my ranking for the Khans of Tarkir clans:
1. Mardu2. Temur3. Sultai4. Abzan5. Jeskai
I think it's great that we don't know what our prerelease promos will be and it actually makes evaluating and ranking the clans much harder. There is no right or wrong choice this weekend and you should play whatever clan suits your playstyle best. Good luck at the Khans of Tarkir Prerelease and may you open lots of fetchlands!
Melissa DeTora@MelissaDeTora on twitterwww.facebook.com/melissa.detora on Facebook