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Magic: the Gathering Prelease Deckbuilding Primer

This Saturday (January 19th) is the prerelease event for Ravnica Allegiance. Prereleases are the best events during the year for Magic. It’s the rush of playing with the new cards for the first time, that awesome smell of cracking open the new packs, and getting to meet other people who enjoy this awesome hobby just like you do!

We have a lot of newer players at Chimp’s, and I get asked often about what to do at a limited tournament. So, I figured I would take a moment and offer a few tips for deck building during a prerelease. Even some you experienced players may find some useful information to help level up your Magic skills.

Rule #1: Have fun!

Seriously. I know that sounds obvious, but more than any other event a prerelease is about having fun. The store is filled with a crowd of people who all love to play Magic: the Gathering, and all of us are excited to hold the new cards for the first time. We are all, from the new players to the veterans, at the store to celebrate the upcoming release of a new set. It’s exciting to see the hot new cards, and watch some of the most over the top moments that happen in a game. Take the time and soak up all the enjoyment.

Deck Construction Basics

So you have just ripped open your prerelease kit, and have a pile 90 cards sitting in front of you. What direction should you go? Generally it is a good idea to pick 2 colors, and build your deck around them. Your choice should be the colors that have a good mix of creatures of all mana costs, and some removal spells and combat tricks. Lucky for us in Ravnica Allegiance you get to pick your guild. So, you will have a high chance to play the 2 color pairing you picked when signing up.

Here are some real quick guidelines I use for deck construction. I will go into more detail of each below:

Deck size: 40 cards

Creatures: 14-18 creatures

Other spells: 5-9 sorceries, instants, enchantments, and artifacts

Lands: 17 lands

The minimum deck size for a sealed deck is 40 cards. And you want to try and stick to that number. You can include more than 40, but every card you include decreases your odds of drawing your awesome rares and mythics. Try to keep your deck to the best cards in your sealed pool.

Also, during a prerelease event constant deck construction is allowed. If your deck did not work out as good as you hoped in the first round then you can always rework it a bit in between games and rounds. You can use any cards in your sealed pool. If you are not sure what to do when deck building ask someone for advice. Prerelease events are the most casual and friendly environments where asking another player for deck building advice is allowed.


Creatures make up the bulk of a sealed deck. Since your pool of cards to build a deck is much smaller than normal it makes creatures even more relevant than in a constructed game in which you bring your own deck. Your creatures will constantly be colliding with your opponent’s, and being able to keep a presence on the table will help keep you in the game.

Which creatures do you play? You need to play some creatures that are lower cost (casting cost 1-3) to make sure you do not get run over. Then, you will want some creatures that have a middle mana cost (casting cost 4-5) to help stabilize your board. And last, but certainly not least, you will want a couple of higher cost creatures (casting cost 6+) to help you close a game out, as well as match up against your opponent’s heavy hitters. Here is a guideline I use myself for a creature lineup:

Mana cost 1: 0-2 creatures

Mana cost 2: 4-6 creatures

Mana cost 3: 4-6 creatures

Mana cost 4: 3-4 creatures

Mana cost 5: 2-4 creatures

Mana cost 6+: 1-2 creatures

Of course these numbers can vary depending on the cards in your sealed pool. The more aggressive color pairings may have more lower casting cost creatures. The more controlling color pairs may have a greater concentration of higher casting cost cards while relying on removal to help deal with an opponent’s early creatures.

Creatures that have evasion make for excellent choices as attackers. Evasion includes creatures that have flying, and ones that are unblockable. Since the ground will possibly get clogged up with on both sides of the battlefield having the ability to slip through unseen, or fly over everything else makes for a great asset.

Notice also that I only suggested 0-2 creatures that have a mana cost of 1. That is because in sealed deck games creatures with a mana cost of 1 get outclassed by other creatures extremely fast. Usually it is not a good idea to include 1 mana cost creatures in a sealed deck unless it has a great ability you can use (like Llanowar Elves), or you are playing an extremely fast deck.

Sorceries, Instants, Enchantments and Artfifacts

While the bulk of your sealed deck is made up of creatures, you will want some spells that help you control the board and win combat. That is where your other spells come in. You will generally want to be looking for spells that remove your opponent’s creatures, or combat tricks that help your creatures win combat against your opponent’s.

For removal, almost any version works well in limited. Normally in constructed you will not want to play a 5 mana removal spell like Get to the Point, but since limited games tend to go to the late game more often than constructed matchups cards like these become great cards. And that also means that low cost removal spells like Bedevil, or Justice Strike from Guilds of Ravnice, become premium removal since it can be cast in the early game, but works just as great when you draw it later. Also, enchantments like Slimebind become great forms of removal. While in constructed there are usually better options, Luminous Bonds can be an all-star in your sealed deck. Keep in mind when playing blue that spells that counter your opponent’s creatures are a form of removal. If a creature is countered and never enters the battlefield it is just as good as using a spell to destroy it. One thing you want to keep in mind though is that trying to put too many counter spells in your deck is generally not a great idea as you run the risk of getting behind your opponent. But, a Cancel or two in your deck to counter your opponent’s bomb, or a removal spell to kill your bomb, can be a life saver.

After removal there are combat tricks. Cards like Storm Strike allow your creatures to win combat against your opponent’s. They allow you the flexibility of having your 2/2 attack into your opponent’s 2/2 (or better yet their 3/3!) and be confident that you will win the combat. In colors such as green you can use your combat tricks to act as a pseudo removal. Blocking your opponent’s 3/3 with a 2/2 and playing Pack’s Favor works just as good as casting a Deadly Visit on the creature. You just need to keep in mind your opponent may have mana untapped for a combat trick as well.

Auras that buff your creatures can be tricky to play. Throwing a Maniacal Rage on your creature to give it a permanent +2/+2 sounds awesome, and it can work wonders. But, it stinks pretty bad when right after you play it your opponent uses a removal spell on that creature. You lose the creature and aura both, and worse, your opponent only needed to use one card to get rid of two of your cards. We call situations like that getting 2-for-1’d. When this starts to happen too often in a game you will see yourself falling behind your opponent fast. So, think of it this way: auras can be great assets, but you need to be smart about when and where you decide to play each aura.

It is hard to really give blanket advice for artifacts and enchantments (that are not auras). Each one does something different than the next. The best advice I can give is for you decide if the specific artifact/enchantment progresses you toward the goal you are trying to achieve in a game. If that specific cards helps you more than a creature or an other spell then consider putting it in your deck.


Notice that I was firm in saying that I include 17 lands in my 40 card decks. That is because I want to maximize the chance that I am able to play each spell when I want to. Does that mean I will not have a game in which I get mana hosed? No, but it minimizes the variance. The only time I will consider running lower than 17 lands is when I get a weird sealed pool, and need to play a deck full of fast low mana cost creatures. And then at that point I only go down to 16 lands. On the opposite end there are times when I will consider playing an 18th land. Those times are when I have a greater concentration of higher mana cost creatures/spells, or when I have a lot of mana sinks. A mana sink is an ability that costs mana that you can use each turn, or better yet multiple times in the same turn. Dawn of Hope, the new Simic adapt mechanic, and even the guildmages are examples of a mana sink.

One thing that is specifically relevant to Ravnica are the guild gates. Each pack you open will have a guild gate in it. So, this gives you a couple of options. The first one is simple: if you pull the guild gate that matches the guild you are playing it is an easy include in your deck. It will give you access to both of your colors, and the sealed games tend to go long enough that the gate coming into play tapped won’t hurt you.

Second, if you pull an awesome card that is not part of the two colors your are playing the gates can allow you easily splash in a card or 2 from a third color. For example, if you are playing the Simic guild (the blue and green guild), and you pull a Bolrac-Clan Crusher (a green and red card) in your packs you could include a Gruul guild gate or two to allow you to cast him. Of course this all depends on what gates you pull from your packs. And it can be confusing for newer players to build a deck that splashes a third color. If you feel uncomfortable doing that then it is perfectly ok to stick to just your two colors.

The Sideboard

All of the cards in your sealed pool that you did not include in your deck become your sideboard. One quick thing worth restating is that you are allowed to continually build your deck in between each game, and each match, during a prerelease event. So, the cards in your colors you did not use for your deck can become options if another card is not performing as you had hoped.

There are certain cards that are often best relegated to the sideboard, and then brought in when you need them during a match. Cards like Deface are prime candidates as a sideboard specialist. For example Deface allows you to destroy either an artifact or a creature with defender. There are matchups in which this card can be an all-star, but much of the time you will not have an opponent playing an artifact or a defender. And in all those cases Deface is a dead card in your deck. So, in this example I would leave Deface in my sideboard, and only bring it in during a match in which my opponent is playing an artifact I need to deal with, or is playing a few defenders that Deface could easily get out of my way.

In general, cards that just destroy artifacts or enchantments are best relegated to the sideboard. Also, narrow cards like Deface, which can be great in a specific matchup but horrible in most, are best left to the sideboard.

Final Thoughts

Ok, I think that about covers it. There are many more nuanced strategies, but this is a good place to start when building your sealed deck. The one major thing I want to reinforce is that a prerelease event is about having fun. Take the chance to meet some other players, see the new cards in action for the first time, and celebrate the upcoming release of the game that we all love to play. If at any time you have questions do not be afraid to ask another player for advice. I do not hesitate to say the community that has built up here at Chimp’s is full of amazing people. The people are the best part about this community, and I cannot be more proud than to be able to say that!

If you have any questions about the prerelease event, or anything in this article, please feel free to visit me in the store, send me a message on Facebook, or comment below. Let’s all get fired up about the release of Magic’s 80th expansion, and I cannot wait to see you all Saturday!

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