Well, that was interesting…
I was able to catch a Prerelease on both Saturday and Sunday at Off The Wall Games in Hadley, Mass.  I learned a few important things in the process:
1. Return To Ravnica sealed (okay…’sealed with an asterisk’) is a blast.  It seems well balanced, opens up a ton of different archetypes, defines and pushes the guilds really well, and hits on so many positive levels as far as presentation and packaging.
2. I have absolutely no idea what’s what when it comes to evaluating strategies with this set. 
3. I was lucky in all the wrong places.
4. Selesnya can suck it.

 

 

I think I’ll let this unfold in chronological order…
Saturday

Right off the bat, if you read my predictions last week, I completely nailed one thing.  I was in the kitchen with my son at 6:30am.  The coffee hadn’t kicked in, and I was working on making Declan some toast.  I set him down, turned to grab the toast from the toaster, and turned back around just in time for him to plow straight over my left foot with his Batmobile.  
I hate being right sometimes.
Anyway, fast forward to the actual event.  Off The Wall had 61 people signed up and seated by 1pm.  I had every intention of running Rakdos, and even had the box in my hand, but I changed up last minute and went with Azorius.  Of course, the rares from my packs ended up nearly all Rakdos anyway, but with no proper supporting cards.  I ended up sticking with Azorius as a result; other than the promo Archon of the Triumvirate, I managed to pull a Sphinx of the No Way In Hell Am I Getting To Draw Four Cards With This Thing In This Format, and a Martial Law.  That’s about it, really; the deck ended up being essentially the equivalent of a U/W Core Set draft deck.  Some 2/2 fliers, a few pieces of mediocre removal. 
It seemed terrible in my opinion, but what do I know?
Round One – Izzet
2-0 in games, 1-0 total record

Seemed like a good deck.  I think it was a good deck.  My deck came out swinging, dropping a bunch of 2/2 flyers and just quickly swarming for the win twice.
What I learned:

When your opponent doesn’t really play threats and you can play more than they can remove, it’s going to work.
Round Two – Rakdos

2-1 in games, 2-0 total record.

It was a Rakdos deck.  I was curb-stomped in game one, but I managed to stabilize in game two at two life and win out with a bunch of 2/2 flyers.  Game three I was able to handle things long enough to get both Martial Law and Archon active, and that was as close to a decisive victory as I saw all weekend.
What I learned:

Rakdos needs to keep drawing and playing threats and not have to deal with early chump blockers.  Oh, and bombs win games.
I’m so good at this!
Round Three – Rakdos

2-1, 3-0 total record.

This was honestly the best my deck worked all weekend.  I was in great shape in game one, sitting on Arrest, Archon, and The Sphinx, and I dumped my hand to Rakdos’ Return the turn before I hit six mana.  I couldn’t overcome the resource loss and lost to a horde of unleashed creatures in short order.
Game two, my opponent got a start of Lobber Crew into turn four Rakdos 2.0.  I had the Voidwielder when I untapped.  The next turn, I had the Azorius Arrester when it hit again.  Then, I had the Arrest.  You guessed it – 2/2 flyers took it down.
Game three was an absolute blur, but I was able to match his tempo until I found Martial and Archon.  He didn’t hit a drop until turn three, and I was able to stall out the early game long enough to find my bombs as a result. 
What I learned:

Rakdos (the clan) needs to curve to win.  If it tries to focus on one threat and can’t maintain tempo, it can’t win.
Round Four – Golgari

0-2, 3-1 total record.

And then the wheels fell off.  The games weren’t even close.  All the right threats, scavenge on 1/1 flying life linkers, Stab Wound and Abrupt Decay just completely outclassed me.
What I learned:

I have no idea.  What the hell just happened?  The deck I played against just seemed incredibly synergistic from start to finish; nothing seemed out of place at all.  (Foreshadowing alert! – This is where the wheels started turning for me.)
Round Five – Golgari

0-2, 3-2 total record.

See above, but with 100% more Deathrite Shaman and Jarad himself.
What I learned:

See above again, but with 100% more getting run over by a synergistic green/black bus rather than just a delivery van.
Round Six – Izzet splash green

2-1, 4-2 total record.

2/2 fliers on my side and mana screw on his game one.  Missing land drops turns four through seven on my side game two.  2/2 flyers on my side and mana screw on his game three.
What I learned:

Not too much.  The results were in my favor, but I hate to see things end like that, rather than getting decidedly an unlucky shuffle.
Final Standing –

14th Place

Prizes are over-rated anyway.
The Silver Lining

Apparently, I pre-ordered a copy of From The Vault: Legends from Off The Wall last year.  I guess I never picked it up.  When they moved locations, they found it in the mess somewhere.  That’s good for something, right?
The Important Stuff: EDH Playables

Other than the contents of the FTV:Legends, the Martial Law might possibly see some play in the reinvented Sigarda list…once I actually get around to reinventing it.
Hey!  Looks like I also managed to pull a foil Underworld Connections too.  I’m not sure that I’ll play it, but I have to salvage the day somehow, right?
Moving on…
Sunday

After the beating I took yesterday, I was convinced Golgari was the way to go for today.  No question.  When I got to the shop, there were a few unclaimed Azorius boxes left, and there was a small part of me that wanted to audible and give it another try.
I should have listened in retrospect.    
Anyway, the Golgari pack was good.  Stab Wound, Deathrite Shaman, and some other decent role-players.  I wanted to add a red splash for a few Rakdos includes, but the white was just too good to pass up; Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage, Rootborn Defenses, and a few solid Selesnya token makers and populate cards.  G/W/B it is.
In the process of building, I somehow missed the fact that I was in Golgari with next-to-no scavenge cards, no flyers at all, and as a result, I built something that looked more like a bad populate deck.  High quality cards slapped the blinders on me, and I stumbled blissfully into…
Round One – Selesnya

1-2, 0-1 total record.

Let me preface this by saying that my opponent was a nice guy.  He really was.  But my god, he wouldn’t stop talking.  Like ever.  About anything and everything, and to anyone within earshot.  The match was a new level of pain and suffering for me.. 
Apparently, I lost a bet with God when I wasn’t paying attention.
So we’re shuffling up, and my opponent is telling me all about the other events he’s played so far.  How he opened a pool last night with that one card that has the ability that lets him put the counter from the one thing on the other thing, and man is that aura that makes your guys bigger and indestructible…or wait, I think it’s first strike maybe?  It might be an instant.  I don’t remember exactly, but my buddy had like three of the other things that fly and they combo with that thing all day long.  Isn’t this spin down awesome?  I played this guild just for the spindown…
Seriously.  And it went off in another direction for minutes at a time every single time someone else walked up to the table.  It was all I could do to keep my head from exploding.  I had to constantly interrupt to ask if he was done, and if I was okay to play.   
And all the while, he’s dropping the Guildmage, activating Grove of the Guardian, populating like thirty-five times, and not attacking. 
Time was just about standing still, I shit you not.
When he finally swung for the win, we were thirty-five minutes into the round, and he was representing one-hundred forty-seven power on the board spread across about twenty-three different creatures.  When he declared the attack, he looked at me for an honest response.  I had seventeen life and six blockers.
Uhh…scoop to lethal damage six times over?
Game two, I landed a Stab Wound turn three on a creature with three toughness.  It went all the way.  Ten turns later, we were shuffling for game three.
And game three? 
I opened on double Stab Wound.  I felt positively confident. 
As I was getting to three mana, he started with Trained Caracal into Fencing Ace into double Ethereal Armor.  I dropped my first Stab Wound to make the Ace a 3/3.  On his fourth turn, he played Swift Justice and swung exactly for lethal.
Yeah…Selesnya with the turn four aggro win.  Didn’t see that coming.
What I learned:
To walk it off.  Walk it off.  Walk it waaaaaaaaay off.  For about fifteen minutes.
Round Two – The Mirror – Go Figure…

1-2, 0-2 total record.

I’m sure that I was on full tilt, and I glazed over for this round as a result.  There were three incredibly grindy games; we had nearly the same card pool, so it was essentially a series of coin flips.  We both were mana screwed at the same time, and had gas at the same time.  I don’t say that to disparage my opponent in any way (because he played well) but I felt like all three games could have gone either way. 
What I learned:

That I kind of suck at play-by-plays when I’m not in a good frame of mind, and that I didn’t walk it off enough.
And with that, I dropped to head home.
The Silver Lining

I did manage to open a Jace and a Steam Vents, so at least things were paid for.
The EDH Playables

Riku picks up two new toys in Counterflux and Cyclonic Rift.  The former is a decent new option in the ‘answers to protected combos’ department, and the latter is an attempt to fill a needed gap in ‘tokens’ answers and board wipe options.  I was also incredibly impressed with Deathrite Shaman, to the point that I might just be brewing a new G/B deck…
So that’s that.  Technically, the pool from day two and the FTV from day one put me up for the weekend, so that’s nice, but I really wish I was lucky in the gameplay department instead.  I suppose it could be worse, but especially with a set this good for limited play, I really want to play games.  Even with the Jace and the Vents, I still wish I had traded in my Golgari pack for the last Azorius one.  I really do.
That may or may not have played a difference in the long run, though.  While I loved the set, I don’t think I know what’s going on with it any better than I did going into the weekend.  I really think the big factors are play/deck building skill, and having the right bombs – not which guild you picked.  All the guilds seem to be capable of winning in the right hands, and all seem playable.
Although I couldn’t play Golgari to save my life, and like I said before, Selesnya can suck it.

—>DJ