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The Comboist Manifesto Volume I, Article 21: Special M15 Prerelease Edition (Now With 100% More Phytotitan)
By Stephen Bahl
I can't really remember, but I think the last prerelease event I did was for Invasion. It's not that I haven't been playing Magic in that time or even that I don't like prereleases. But I just didn't go to them. Part of the reason might be that, even when I was playing Magic a lot and spending too much of my money on cards, I was mostly buying singles to complete my casual decks. I've only played Limited formats a few times. Well, I finally decided to attend a prerelease. I even managed to drag along a friend: my old playtesting partner from my high school and early college days, Nick. CPA veterans may remember him as “Al0ysiusHWWW.”

Sealed Deck isn't a format that is particularly conducive to combos and there's very little to talk about from a comboist perspective, but I've been using this column to review the original core set far too much, and I'm more excited for the new one. Also, I did get to apply the occasional combo here and there.

For those unfamiliar with the format, each player's pool of cards consists of five regular booster packs of the new set, plus one seeded pack that is weighted toward a particular color and always contains a specially marked foil promotional card. White gets Resolute Archangel, blue gets Mercurial Pretender, black gets Indulgent Tormenter, red gets Siege Dragon, and green gets Phytotitan. I got a green “Hunt With Strength” prerelease box, while Nick got a blue “Hunt With Guile” box. From there, the goal was to build decks out of those pools of cards and any number of basic lands, with 40 as a minimum deck size. I opened my packs and examined my pool, which was this...

1x Constricting Sliver
1x Geist of the Moors
1x Kinsbaile Skirmisher
1x Marked by Honor
1x Meditation Puzzle
1x Razorfoot Griffin
1x Selfless Cathar
3x Solemn Offering
1x Tireless Missionaries
2x Aeronaut Tinkerer
2x Amphin Pathmage
1x Diffusion Sliver
1x Fugitive Wizard
1x Glacial Crasher
1x Hydrosurge
1x Peel from Reality
1x Quickling
1x Statute of Denial
2x Welkin Tern
1x Accursed Spirit
1x Black Cat
1x Caustic Tar
1x Covenant of Blood
1x Crippling Blight
1x Endless Obedience
1x Eternal Thirst
1x Feast on the Fallen
2x Festergloom
1x Flesh to Dust
2x Necrobite
1x Typhoid Rats
1x Wall of Limbs
2x Witch's Familiar
1x Brood Keeper
2x Clear a Path
1x Crowd's Favor
1x Forge Devil
1x Foundry Street Denizen
1x Generator Servant
1x Hoarding Dragon
1x Kird Chieftain
1x Krenko's Enforcer
1x Lightning Strike
1x Might Makes Right
1x Miner's Bane
1x Rummaging Goblin
1x Shrapnel Blast
1x Back to Nature
3x Carnivorous Moss-Beast
1x Elvish Mystic
2x Hunt the Weak
1x Hunter's Ambush
1x Kalonian Twingrove
1x Life's Legacy
1x Netcaster Spider
2x Phytotitan
1x Plummet
1x Ranger's Guile
1x Restock
1x Runeclaw Bear
2x Satyr Wayfinder
1x Shaman of Spring
2x Undergrowth Scavenger
1x Juggernaut
1x Meteorite
1x Sacred Armory
1x Shield of the Avatar
1x Staff of the Death Magus
1x Caves of Koilos
2x Evolving Wilds

Well, it could have been worse, although it could also have been a whole lot better. It's not necessarily the case that my deck was going to include the color that I took for my box, but in this case, my green was fairly deep and the majority of my rares were green anyway. The green portion of my pool was pretty strong, but I found myself lacking a good support color. I initially tried to build a green/black deck, which is probably my favorite two-color combination anyway. But it wasn't looking good. Reluctantly, I switched to red, which offered better support. Green/red strikes me as a color combination that is usually straightforward to a fault, with a mindless sort of “play creatures and turn them sideways” sort of playstyle. I'd have gone with something else if I thought my pool supported it, but me white and blue were out of the question and my black seemed weaker as a support color than my red. I even contemplated going monogreen, but I just didn't have quite the depth in green to pull it off. Since this was a prerelease and not a competitive Sealed Deck even in which decklists were submitted, I was free to modify my deck between rounds, but I ended up not bothering, save for switching out one Mountain for one Forest after the first round, when I decided that, with two copies of Evolving Wilds, 10/5 was better than 9/6. And so, this was my decklist...

1x Forge Devil
1x Hoarding Dragon
1x Kird Chieftain
1x Lightning Strike
1x Miner's Bane
1x Back to Nature
3x Carnivorous Moss-Beast
1x Elvish Mystic
2x Hunt the Weak
1x Hunter's Ambush
1x Kalonian Twingrove
1x Life's Legacy
1x Netcaster Spider
2x Phytotitan
1x Ranger's Guile
1x Runeclaw Bear
1x Juggernaut
1x Meteorite
1x Shield of the Avatar
2x Evolving Wilds
5x Mountain
10x Forest

There were a few possible adjustments, but I think that this is pretty close to the best decklist I could have built out of that pool. I also didn't really have much to sideboard in, so I was all in on the “cast big creatures and turn them sideways” plan. I knew right away that this deck would have little chance to win the prerelease: it was too slow and had too few answers. But that's Sealed Deck. As someone who wants to play combos, I had few options to do that. Most of those possiblities were based on Phytotitan. When I opened my second Phytotitan, I knew that I had to play green.

Not bad by itself, but that recursion can be exploited using other cards. Life's Legacy is foremost among them. Life's Legacy was a very useful card to have anyway and is the sort of bomb that might even be useful in constructed deckbuilding. But with Phytotitan, I'm only temporarily sacrificing a creature, so the cost is mitigated, while the payoff is huge. This combo saved me from losing matches. Phytotitan also has synergy with Hunt the Weak, which let me turn a largely mediocre removal spell into a strong one. To a lesser extent, Phytotitan had synergy with Shield of the Avatar, the recursion giving a greater amount of protection, even while the Phytotitans were tapped.

In the first round, I was paired up against Nick. Tournaments match me up against my friends with uncanny frequency. All I knew at the time was that Nick had blue for his seeded pack. I would later learn that he had this pool...

1x Battle Mastery
1x Boonweaver Giant
1x Dauntless River Marshal
1x Devouring Light
1x Geist of the Moors
1x Heliod's Pilgrim
2x Kinsbaile Skirmisher
1x Raise the Alarm
1x Selfless Cathar
1x Sungrace Pegasus
2x Tireless Missionaries
1x Triplicate Spirits
2x Aeronaut Tinkerer
1x Chasm Stalker
1x Chief Engineer
1x Encrust
1x Ensoul Artifact
1x Frost Lynx
1x Fugitive Wizard
2x Glacial Crasher
1x Mercurial Pretender
2x Nimbus of the Isles
1x Peel from Reality
1x Research Assistant
2x Wall of Frost
1x Child of Night
1x Eternal Thirst
1x Feast on the Fallen
1x Flesh to Dust
2x Mind Rot
1x Necrobite
2x Rotfeaster Maggot
1x Sign in Blood
2x Typhoid Rats
1x Witch's Familiar
1x Zof Shade
1x Clear a Path
1x Forge Devil
1x Foundry Street Denizen
1x Goblin Roughrider
1x Inferno Fist
1x Lava Axe
2x Lightning Strike
1x Scrapyard Mongrel
1x Ancient Silverback
1x Carnivorous Moss-Beast
2x Elvish Mystic
1x Gather Courage
1x Invasive Species
2x Netcaster Spider
1x Phytotitan
1x Reclamation Sage
2x Roaring Primadox
1x Runeclaw Bear
2x Satyr Wayfinder
2x Shaman of Spring
1x Titanic Growth
1x Verdant Haven
1x Vineweft
1x Avarice Amulet
1x Gargoyle Sentinel
1x Haunted Plate Mail
1x Juggernaut
1x Ornithopter
1x Rogue's Gloves
1x Sacred Armory
1x Will-Forged Golem
1x Llanowar Wastes
2x Radiant Fountain

Well, his white was a bit stronger than mine, but still not remarkable. Blue and green were his deepest color choices, but what's really striking about this pool is that an artifact-based deck is an option here. This pool has two good rares that are artifacts and five more artifacts that could be useful. And the blue has synergies with artifacts in Aeronaut Tinkerer, Chief Engineer, and Ensoul Artifact. By itself, the blue portion of the pool is mediocre. And the artifacts by themselves aren't enough for a deck. But together, they have potential. I happen to know that Nick was playing a lot of Magic in the days of Mirrodin block, and he was even building affinity and metalcraft decks back when Mirrodin Besieged was new, so he's quite familiar with this approach. It was just a matter of adding a second color for support. His final decklist looked like this...

2x Aeronaut Tinkerer
1x Chasm Stalker
1x Chief Engineer
1x Ensoul Artifact
1x Mercurial Pretender
1x Peel from Reality
1x Research Assistant
2x Wall of Frost
2x Elvish Mystic
1x Phytotitan
1x Reclamation Sage
2x Shaman of Spring
1x Verdant Haven
1x Avarice Amulet
1x Gargoyle Sentinel
1x Haunted Plate Mail
1x Juggernaut
1x Ornithopter
1x Rogue's Gloves
1x Will-Forged Golem
10x Island
6x Forest

But that's not the deck I faced. He started out with red as a secondary color. Instead of those green cards, he used (I think) Goblin Roughrider, Inferno Fist, Lava Axe, two copies of Lightning Strike, Scrapyard Mongrel, and Shrapnel Blast. But after losing the first two rounds, he swapped out his mountains and red cards for forests and green cards. From there, he went on to win a round and lose a round, for a final record of 1-3. His first-round loss to me, though, was very close. We were the last pair to finish our match. He won the first game by hitting me with direct damage spells after I took him down to 2 life. But I managed to catch up in the subsequent games and beat him down.

My second opponent, playing black/red, got a quicker start than me and was able to completely shut me down with Liliana Vess in our first game. He did some early damage to me in the second game, but my big green creatures overpowered him. The third game ran long, and I got him down to 1 life and killed all of his creatures, but he topdecked and killed me with Cone of Flame.

My third opponent was playing white/black and easily outraced me in our first game. In the second game, he had bad draws and couldn't stay ahead of me, so he scooped. The third game, yet again, was close, in part due to some bad plays by both of us. Eventually, I kept playing more threats while he kept drawing land, so I won.

Against my fourth opponent, I mulliganed bad hand after bad hand and watched my blue/red opponent easily outrace me. I finally started to be able to play creatures and try to do something, but I failed to even do a single point of damage to him before he finished me off. In the second game, I kept my hand because it had some lands in it, but then I couldn't draw any threats and he had answers to all of the threats I'd drawn in my opening hand, so he was able to play a game that was both faster and more controlling, keeping me from doing any damage to him yet again. It was a shame too, because my other opponents, the ones that I'd had close matches against, were quite nice. This guy was a bit of a jerk. Oh well.

I didn't win the die roll to go first in a single match and I never won the first game in a match either. Still, all but the last match were pretty good and I had fun. Magic 2015 seems like a fun core set, and I'm eager to see more of it. Between the two of us, with our Sealed Deck packs and our prize packs, we opened 14 boosters and didn't get any mythic rares. The rare in my prize pack was the rather unassuming Preeminent Captain (could be good in a soldiers deck, maybe). Nick opened another Phytotitan, so we actually picked up a playset of them. If I were a real casual player, I'd now commence to building a deck around Phytotitan...

Read More Articles by Stephen Bahl!

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