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Magic The Gathering Pre-Release


Planning for Pre-Release Weekend.

A guide for new Magic the Gathering (MtG) Players.

A new expansion for MtG will soon be hitting the shelves. Theros: Beyond Death is scheduled for released on 24 January. This means that a Pre-Release Weekend is imminent!

New expansions often attract the attention of new players. A Pre-Release Weekend event is a great place to jump in and try the game. With that in mind, I thought it timely to produce a guide to help new players prepare for their first Pre-Release event. So let's dive in.

What is Pre-Release Weekend?

It's a chance to see and play with brand new cards a week before they are officially released.

Pre-Release Weekends are a staple on the annual calendar of Wizards of the Coast (WotC) sanctioned events. They are sealed events. This means that players will each be given several unopened booster packs from which they will build a deck. Only cards opened at the event can be used.

This makes Pre-Release Weekend a great way for new players to explore the game. They will acquire new cards whilst competing in friendly, informal tournaments.

What do I need to attend?

A Duellists' Convocation International (DCI) number is required. A DCI number is a personal identifier used when entering any sanctioned WotC event. Event organisers will help new players register for a DCI number on the day. If you've already registered but cannot locate your DCI number, event organisers will be able to assist you.

Everything needed to play will be provided in a Pre-Release Pack (explained below). However, it is recommended that players take a supply of card sleeves and some dice. Dice are commonly used to denote changes to a creatures attack or defence attributes or other game effects.

Players should also check that they understand the basic rules of MtG game play. Support will be available during the event, but understanding the basics will make it a more enjoyable experience.

There are numerous resources of information online, for players of all experience levels. A good place to start is the official MtG Site, magic.wizards.com.

The Event

On arrival, players will need to register with a Judge. Judges will be in attendance to run the tournament and support players throughout the event. If a player is unclear on any aspect of the event, at any time, they should speak to a Judge.

Once registration is complete and the tournament rules have been explained, players will each receive 1 sealed Pre-Release Pack. The pack will contain 6, 15 card booster packs, a 20-sided spin down die and a guide to deck building.

Deck Building

The packs have been distributed and the Judges have informed players how long they have to construct a deck. This tends to be roughly 40 minutes, and can be daunting to new players. Fear not, there are strategies to help!

Many of the new cards are shared online in the weeks leading up to a Pre-Release Weekend. Players can review these cards in advance to work out what to look for.

Pre-reading aside, a deck still needs to be constructed. For a sealed event, players will need to construct a 40-card deck. Players can construct larger decks, but it is recommended to stick to 40 cards where possible. Larger decks will likely play slower and less consistently.

The typical split of a 40-card deck is 17-18 land (mana), 15-18 creatures and 5-8 other spells (This information is available in the Pre-Release Pack).

My approach is to start by dividing cards by colour and then again by type. Whilst sorting, I will be looking for synergies between cards and evaluating them for usefulness. To evaluate a card, I consider B.R.E.A.D. Yum.

B.R.E.A.D is a strategy well known by MtG players as a method for assessing cards when deck building. It is an acronym for: Bombs, Removal, Evasion, Aggro and Dirt.

Bombs are cards that will have a major affect on the game. They are cards an opponent must respond to, or they'll likely lose the game.

Removal refers to cards that remove an opponent's creatures or spells. Anything that nullifies or removes an opponent's card  would fall into this category.

Evasion refers to creatures with abilities that get around an opponent's defences. Abilities such as Flying or Protection fall into this category. It will also include spells that cannot be countered.

Aggro cards are going to be creatures and spells that fill out the deck, and play quickly and aggressively. Look for cards with varying Mana costs to heighten the odds of having a card to play each turn. This is a reference to Mana Curve, which will be covered later.

Dirt refers to cards that aren't worth consideration. The Mana cost may be too high for the benefit, or the benefit itself isn't particularly advantageous.

Evaluating cards in this way will help identify which colours to run in a deck. For a sealed event it is recommended to stick with two colours.

That's it for card evaluation and ratio between land (mana), creatures and other spells. Another factor to keep in mind is Mana Curve.

I mentioned it earlier when explaining Aggro cards and would recommend players read up on it for a detailed explanation. A reference table is included in the Pre-Release Pack so all I'll say here is: Add cards of varying mana costs to your deck. The aim is to be in a position to play a card each turn. A typical mana curve for a 40-card deck looks like this:

Mana Cost 1 2 3 4 5 6+
No. of cards in deck 0-2 6-8 6-8 3-5 2-4 1-3


Put all that together and you should find yourself with a playable deck.

For a sealed event, any cards not used in your deck will form your sideboard. Players can switch cards in and out of their deck between rounds. The entire deck can be swapped out if desired!

Wrapping Up

If you are a new player, I hope you found this guide helpful. I've played magic for the best part of twenty years and really enjoy teaching it to new players. Don't let a lack of experience put you off attending a Pre-Release Weekend event. Not only are they a good way to pick up new cards, they will also help you improve your game. Plus, you'll get to meet other magic players.

Don't be afraid to ask other player for tips and advice! Most will be happy to offer guidance.

Key points to remember when deck building:

- Stick to 40 cards with a ratio of 17-18 mana, 15-18 creatures and 5-8 other spells.

- Evaluate cards with B.R.E.A.D (Bombs, Removal, Evasion, Aggro, Dirt).

- Build a deck with two colours using cards of varying mana costs.

If you would like to attend a Pre-Release event but are unsure where to find one, try the store locator on magic.wizards.com.

For players located close to Norwich, Zatu games will be running four events at their board game cafe in Bowthorpe:

Two on Friday 17 January: 15:00 - 18:00 and 18:30 - 21:30.

Two on Saturday 18 January: 15:00 - 18:00 and 18:30 - 21:30.