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Lessons from the Dominaria Prerelease

I played in three Dominaria prereleases, and will share the sealed pools, the decks I built, and the lessons I learned from the first two pools in this article.

First Prerelease

This is my sealed pool from the first event (including both promo cards).

Lands (3)

2 Cabal Stronghold
Memorial to Folly

Artifact (9)

Aesthir Glider
2 Bloodtallow Candle
Guardians of Koilos
Jhoira's Familiar
Jousting Lance
Navigator's Compass
Sparring Construct
Thran Temporal Gateway

White (14)

Benalish Honor Guard
Gideon's Reproach
Healing Grace
2 Invoke the Divine
Knight of New Benalia
Sanctum Spirit
Serra Angel
3 Tragic Poet
Triumph of Gerrard
Urza's Ruinous Blast

Blue (15)

Academy Journeymage
Blink of an Eye
Cloudreader Sphinx
Curator's Ward
Karn's Temporal Sundering
3 Opt
Precognition Field
Sage of Lat-Nam
Slinn Voda, the Rising Deep
Tetsuko Umezawa, Fugitive
Tolarian Scholar

Black (16)

Cabal Paladin
Caligo Skin-Witch
Cast Down
Deathbloom Thallid
Demonic Vigor
2 Feral Abomination
Fungal Infection
Josu Vess, Lich Knight
Knight of Malice
Stronghold Confessor
Thallid Omnivore
Urgoros, the Empty One
2 Vicious Offering
Windgrace Acolyte

Red (15)

Bloodstone Goblin
Fiery Intervention
Frenzied Rage
Ghitu Chronicler
3 Ghitu Journeymage
Goblin Barrage
Keldon Warcaller
Run Amok
Shivan Fire
Skirk Prospector
Valduk, Keeper of the Flame
Warlord's Fury

Green (11)

2 Baloth Gorger
Corrosive Ooze
Fungal Plots
2 Gaea's Protector
Llanowar Elves
Llanowar Envoy
Llanowar Scout
Spore Swarm
Yavimaya Sapherd

Multicolor (3)

Raff Capashen, Ship's Mage
Rona, Disciple of Gix
Shanna, Sisay's Legacy

I built a Blue/Black deck from this pool. I contemplated splashing White for Raff Capashen, Ship's Mage, Urza's Ruinous Blast, and perhaps Gideon's Reproach, but decided against it because I only had 4 legendary permanents. Here's the deck I built:

I went 2-1-1 with this deck, beating a Green/Blue deck and a Black/Red/White deck with its own Josu Vess in the first two rounds, then losing to a White/Black deck with Karn, Scion of Urza, Rite of Belzenlok, and Torgaar, Famine Incarnate (the latter two synergize quite well with each other). The last round was against a Black/Red aggro deck with at least two Ghitu Lavarunners, Siege-Gang Commander, and another Torgaar. He took the first game and I won the second with two minutes on the clock, so the last game was a draw.

Card advantage seems plentiful in this format. Precognition Field was the best card in the deck. The trio of Opts helped find it, and once it was on the battlefield, any subsequent Opts on the top of the deck drew a free card for just one blue mana. While not as good as Precognition Field, Rona, Disciple of Gix often got me an extra card. The uncommon spell lands are also a great way to gain some card advantage. In one game where my opponent and I both manaflooded and had no creatures on the board, I was able to use Memorial to Folly to get Rona, Disciple of Gix back from my graveyard, use it to exile Guardians of Koilos from my graveyard and then play it, returning Rona to my hand. On my next turn, I replayed Rona and exiled Tetsuko Umezawa, Fugitive from my graveyard and then replayed that. (Note: Guardians of Koilos does not return a historic card from your graveyard to your hand, it lets you return a historic permanent you control from the battlefield to your hand. I made that mistake the first time I played the card, and I had three opponents make that same mistake over the course of the weekend, so I figured it was worth pointing out.)

Cheap removal and plentiful card advantage mean that sealed decks are slower than in many recent blocks. However, my opponents all chose to play first whenever they had the choice. One of my opponents suggested that it's because the power level of the cards is so high nowadays that you don't want to fall behind in developing your board position.

Since the format is slower, mana sinks are important in this format, especially since most sealed decks require running more than the usual 16-17 lands. Kicker is a great mana sink, as are cards like Precognition Field and Rona, Disciple of Gix.

Second Prerelease

Here's my sealed pool in the second prerelease event I played in (again including both promo cards):

Lands (1)

Memorial to Unity

Artifacts (13)

Aesthir Glider
2 Bloodtallow Candle
Jhoira's Familiar
Jousting Lance
Pardic Wanderer
Shield of the Realm
Skittering Surveyor
2 Thran Temporal Gateway
Urza's Tome
2 Voltaic Servant

White (11)

Call the Cavalry
D'Avenant Trapper
Evra, Halcyon Witness
Excavation Elephant
Gideon's Reproach
Knight of New Benalia
Kwende, Pride of Femeref
Mesa Unicorn
2 Sergeant-at-Arms
Serra Disciple

Blue (13)

Academy Drake
2 Befuddle
Blink of an Eye
Cloudreader Sphinx
2 Cold-Water Snapper
2 Divination
Karn's Temporal Sundering
The Mirari Conjecture
Time of Ice

Black (17)

Cabal Evangel
Deathbloom Thallid
Demonic Vigor
Drudge Sentinel
2 Eviscerate
Feral Abomination
Knight of Malice
Lingering Phantom
Rat Colony
Stronghold Confessor
2 Thallid Omnivore
Thallid Soothsayer
Vicious Offering
Windgrace Acolyte

Red (16)

Bloodstone Goblin
Champion of the Flame
Fervent Strike
Fiery Intervention
Fight with Fire
The Flame of Keld
Ghitu Lavarunner
Keldon Warcaller
Orcish Vandal
2 Rampaging Cyclops
2 Run Amok
Seismic Shift
Skirk Prospector
Valduk, Keeper of the Flame

Green (12)

Ancient Animus
2 Arbor Armament
Corrosive Ooze
Krosan Druid
Mammoth Spider
Multani, Yavimaya's Avatar
Pierce the Sky
Saproling Migration
Sporecrown Thallid
Verdant Force
Wild Onslaught

Multicolor (3)

Garna, the Bloodflame
Jodah, Archmage Eternal
Tiana, Ship's Caretaker

I built a Black/Red aggro deck from this pool:

I won only two of the eight games I played with this deck, and didn't win a single match. Some of the games were closer than others, and I might have drawn my first match (against a Black/Green deck) if my opponent hadn't played Sylvan Awakening on turn four of extra turns. After that, I lost two games to a Green/White deck, and then lost in three games to another Green/White deck before dropping.

My sense from this admittedly small sample size is that aggro doesn't seem very good in Dominaria sealed. A good aggro deck needs several two- and three-drops, but Black and Red both have one- or two-mana commons that kill almost all the two-drops in the format. On the flip side, there're relatively few playable common or uncommon burn spells that target players: Black has none, while Red has only Radiating Lightning at common, and Wizard's Lightning, Fight with Fire, and Goblin Barrage at uncommon (with the latter two needing to be kicked to damage players). Aggro not being particularly good means that sealed deck games often run long, and Black/Green decks are especially good at stalling the ground with Deathbloom Thallid and Yavimaya Sapherd. Consequently, more games are decided by unanswered bombs, and so I should have built a deck that played more of my bombs, such as Multani, Yavimaya's Avatar and Verdant Force.

Observations on individual cards:

  • I played both Rampaging Cyclops in my pool because I expected my opponents would be trying to trade with my early creatures and so would often not have a second creature available to block with. I had five removal spells if they did have a second untapped creature, and I also figured that opponents who double blocked the cyclops would be letting my other creatures through, and would often get wrecked by my combat tricks. And I figured that they would occasionally be on the battlefield when The Flame of Keld got its third lore counter. Unfortunately, Rampaging Cyclops underperformed, partly because my opponents had cards like Yavimaya Sapherd and Call the Cavalry and even History of Benalia which produce more than one creature, and had removal like Gideon's Reproach and Vicious Offering which can kill the cyclops in response to a pump spell.
  • Whisper, Blood Liturgist is ridiculous, especially in Black/Green which has a lot of ways to make tokens. My first round opponent had Josu Vess, Lich Knight, and in one of the games, he was able to bring it back another two times using the liturgist.
  • Song of Freyalise is also ridiculous. If you have a couple of creatures on the table, you can usually play another creature on the turn you play the saga, and you can play most of the rest of your creatures on the next turn, then attack the following turn without any real risk since your creatures have both vigilance and indestructible. And since the creatures produce mana of any colors, you might even be able to play your splashed bomb on turn four.
  • Helm of the Host is amazing. When I first saw the card in the spoiler, I only saw how expensive it was to cast and equip, but after getting routed by it a couple of times, I now consider it a bomb.
  • Both my Green/White opponents played On Serra's Wings and it was a beating. It swung battles fast enough that the game was usually unwinnable after a turn or two, even if I managed to 2-for-1 them a couple of turns later.

With the knowledge I now have about the format, I would have instead built a Black/Green deck that splashed Red for additional removal and Garna, the Bloodflame:

The last cuts in this version of the deck were Jousting Lance, Lingering Phantom, and Wild Onslaught. While I never played this version of the deck against an opponent, it seems much stronger than my first build given what I now know about the format.

My next article will contain my third prerelease deck, as well as the result of my first draft in the format.

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