Any guesses on how I did at the Prerelease this past weekend?
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Happy Monday, faithful GDC-ers.  I hope you all had an opportunity to get out and attend an Avacyn Restored Prerelease this past weekend.  The stars aligned and I was able to hit up one of the regular spots to catch a Helvault-enabled event on Saturday.  Then, the stars un-aligned and one of them fell on my deck, knocking me out of contention after going 2-1 in rounds.  Such is life.  Especially if you’re me.  I was left to sit in a corner, mumbling to myself about the glory days of the Mirrodin prerelease and scaring off the younger players.
Nothing new, in other words. 
Where to start?
What did you open, DJ?  Did you land that foil Sigarda?
Nope.  Sadly, I saw one the entire day, opened by the guy sitting to my immediate right.  When it was noticed by one of my companions and mentioned that I would likely trade for it, the player picked it up, hugged it to his chest gingerly, and scowled.  He then poked me in the eye with a pen.
Guess that’s a “no”, then?
So if any of you came across a foil copy, I’m still in the market.  Holler at your DJ.
You didn’t open anything worthwhile?  Man, your luck is terrible…
It’s not all bad.  I did win the Cavern Of Souls lottery, so I was effectively playing losing for free.  In addition, there were a few goodies that fell my way.  I opened a Descendant’s Path (man, is that artwork cool…) and a Soul Of The Harvest in green, and Herald Of War, Terminus and Banishing Stroke in white.  I whiffed on mythic rares completely and missed all of the decent lands.  Oh well…at least I can rare-draft some of the stuff I want after the event winds down, right?
Great…here he goes again…
Seriously, Wizards…it’s patently ridiculous that you’ve nixed drafts at Prereleases.  We had nearly forty players at our event; an informal polling returned about six players who didn’t want to draft…and that’s because they all had to leave by a certain time. 
The owner of the shop told us that he had the product to run multiple Prerelease and Release events if he wanted to, but was limiting things to keep attendance up at the events he did run.
There was enough manpower to have both events judged.  There was space for drafts to run.  There was desire for drafts.  There was product for drafts. 
Can someone again please explain to me the problem with running one as an auxiliary Prerelease event?
Yawn…are you done complaining yet?
You are aware of what site you’re reading, right?
Whatever.  Talk about how things played out.  Or anything other than complaining, really…
My pool basically built itself.  Opening my packs, I immediately removed black, as I simply didn’t have any of the solid removal options or reasonably-playable creatures.  Red fell next; playables were limited to only a pair of Hanweir Lancer, a Pillar Of Flame, and a Thunderous Wrath.  Splashable, possibly.  
After seeing Terminus, Banishing Stroke, Herald Of War and more than a handful of other decent white role-players (Defy Death, a pair of Midvast Protector, Nearheath Pilgrim, two Seraph Of Dawn, Spectral Gateguards), I was fairly solidified in white.  
I passed on blue, despite it being the deepest color I had; what I opened managed to miss all of the real aggressive creatures, flyers, and good Soulbond options (Elgaud Shieldmate, for example), instead leaving me three copies of Fleeting Distraction.  Awesome.  There was a reasonable amount of bounce, but not enough fat to keep up the pressure in the way I felt the white inclusions were pushing me.  
Green was the perfect complement.  I lucked into a pair of Druid’s Familiar, a Howlgeist, Joint Assault, Nightshade Peddler, the afore-mentioned Soul Of The Harvest, a pair of Timberland Guide, and a Trusted Forcemage.  I had a Vorstclaw and a Wildwood Geist for late game staying power, and a Wolfir Avenger for a reasonable flexible roleplayer, defender, and combat trick.  (Which I of course never drew once…) 
With all of the Soulbond I ended up with, I rolled the dice on a pair of Flowering Lumberknot, and they were the MVPs of the deck; neither were ever dead at any time.
So G/W midrange Soulbond.  Seems solid.  What the hell happened?
Here’s the thing about Avacyn Restored limited – with the right cards, it’s fast.  Blazing fast.  My deck was designed to really get rolling at the four-mana mark, and if it was given the opportunity to do so, it could present a board-state that could keep improving itself through the heavy Soulbond options.  When I got to the mid-game, I frequently saw myself sitting on Druid’s Familiar paired with Trusted Forcemage.  If something was traded in combat, Flowerknot came down and immediately made the team better all over again.  Synergy was very high.
However, I’d guess that roughly sixty-five percent of the room was playing aggressive red/white.  My deck had exactly one way to handle the hyper-aggressive starts that archetype could pull off – Draw and play Terminus somewhere near turn four for its’ Miracle cost, and build a better team from there.
Guess how many times that happened? 
Now guess how many times I drew Terminus in my opening hand instead and couldn’t play it when I needed to?  
(I’ll give you a hint; the two numbers referenced above are “0” and “5”.  You figure out which one goes where.)
I managed a win round one primarily because my opponent was gracious enough to explain to me that Soulbond triggers not only when the creature with it enters play, but if that creature is unpaired and another creature enters play.  I’m nothing if not bad at reading cards.  I lost the first game based on a self-imposed penalty (I ended up mana-screwed after realizing that Abundant Growth doesn’t read “When this land is tapped for mana, add one additional mana of any color to your mana pool…), but managed to stabilize my mid-game in the next two to take the round. 
Round two was a harbinger of things to come.  My opponent was playing a three-color mid-range brew (green/blue/black), and managed to stick every land drop to have two of each color by turn six.  I was overwhelmed by Undying demons and solid removal.  I took the second game when the other player was mana-screwed, and my Soulbond lifelinkers took me to over fifty life on the way.  This was a first for me in limited.
Before the third game, my opponent decides to “sideboard” in a red/white deck that was cobbled together out of the other leftovers from the three-color main deck.  I keep a hand that offers me my first creature at the three-drop slot, and curves through to Vorstclaw at six.
I lost on turn five to aggressive red one-drops and key removal for my third turn guy.  That’s a serious sideboard.
Round three was quick and painlessful.  I dropped game one to quick, aggressive red beaters.  I stabilized for game two and took it down on the back of Soulbound Lumberknots. 
Game three?  Lost again on turn five to aggressive red one-drops and key removal.  
You suck at Sealed.  Just saying.  What do you think about the set?
From a limited perspective, Soulbond is the real deal.  Because of the way that it passively triggers anytime the creature with it is unpaired, it just serves to make every creature in your deck far better than they should be alone.  I do feel the mechanic isn’t particularly skill-intensive because of the way it works; you basically just dump out the stuff you have, let it all get better together, and move on with your game.  However, it does favor the deck-builder as a result, which is right up my alley, and it’s a fun mechanic.  It makes games feel powerful.
I’m on the fence about Miracle, primarily because I need to re-learn to play the damn game now.  Banishing Stroke was a pain in my ass all day; There were several times where I could have turned a game around by being able to effectively Swords To Plowshares away a problem creature, but instead, I grabbed my draw, jammed it into my hand, and then realized I missed my opportunity.  Twice over, really, since I was also usually at about four lands. 
Similar to Soulbond, it’s not a particularly challenging mechanic, but I like the flexibility.  Most decks I saw favored playing the Miracle cards as soon as possible, unless they were already way ahead and didn’t need it.  I have a feeling that most of these cards may as well not have Miracle in EDH and will probably be played “fairly” at the correct time, but I guess an optional discount doesn’t hurt.  
Overall, I like the format quite a bit.  I was very put off by Innistrad and Dark Ascension, so this is a welcome change.  It feels less like Kamigawa block and more like Ravnica to me – wonky mechanics and tribal angles taking the backseat to bombs and solid standalone options, with synergy available to the discerning builder.  
So what’s “the card” for this set?
Odds are I’ll start opening Gallows At Willow Hill like I own stock options.  For now, though, I pulled an Arcane Melee out of my Prerelease pool, which is a card that screams “You might want one of these for a niche deck, but that’s about it!”, so I’m sure there will be three in whatever Fat Pack I open next weekend.
Let me know if anyone out there is willing to toss Sigarda my way for a playset of either of those.  I’m sure I’ll be able to deliver.  Any takers?
àDJ