A Khans of Tarkir Prerelease – Back in Black by Christopher Cooper

A Khans of Tarkir Prerelease – Back in Black by Christopher Cooper

As a player of mostly non-rotating formats I don’t often get a chance to immerse myself in new sets. However, once every few months a new set comes to town, and I get a prerelease to buy some boosters and sling some cardboard at.

For the past few years I have attended prereleases at my local games store, Game On in Cheltenham. Tania and Emma who  run the shop and the tournaments are both fantastic hosts, topped only by the hot meals they put on for their players. Tania’s Sunday Dinner Pie is the highlight of the prerelease for me, and is one of the tastiest meals I’ve ever eaten.

So, with a pack of fresh sleeves in my pocket I rolled up on Sunday evening ready to face the hordes of Tarkir.

Sultai banner

I had been allied with the Sultai Brood, continuing my penchant for the black option at prereleases. I opened my box and found a [card]Rakshasa Vizier[/card] staring back at me from my seeded pack. “Great,” I thought, “I’ve been looking forward to playing with Delve.” Further exploration of the booster provided me with a few morphs, some Sultai-flavoured lands and a banner.

I then opened the rest of my boosters and found rather an eclectic mix of cards looking back at me from the table. My rares were some pretty good bombs and tricks, [card]Savage Knuckleblade[/card], [card]Mindswipe[/card], [card]Flying Crane Technique[/card], [card]Bloodsoaked Warrior[/card] and [card]Kheru Spellsnatcher[/card]. I was a little unsure on how to build the pool, so I started, as is customary, by laying out my cards in their colours.

[deck]1 Mardu Hateblade
1 Defiant Strike
1 Firehoof Cavalry
1 Mardu Hordechief
2 Smite the Monstrous
1 Timely Hordemate
1 Abzan Battle Priest
1 Sage-Eye Harrier [/deck]

[deck]1 Stubborn Denial
1 Singing Bell-Strike
1 Wetland Sambar
1 Taigam’s Scheming
1 Monastery Flock
1 Jeskai Windscout
1 Crippling Chill
1 Weave Fate
1 Set Adrift
2 Treasure Cruise [/deck]

Black [deck]
2 Ruthless Ripper
1 Disowned Ancestor
2 Gurmag Swiftwing
2 Debilitating Injury
2 Rakshasa’s Secret
1 Raider’s Spoils
1 Bitter Revelation
1 Bellowing Saddlebrute
1 Sidsi’s Pet
1 Dutiful Return
1 Rotting Mastodon
2 Krumar Bond-Kin
1 Throttle
1 Sultai Scavenger [/deck]

Red [deck]
1 Monastery Swiftspear
2 Leaping Master
1 Valley Dasher
1 Arc Lightning
1 Act of Treason
1 Bloodfire Mentor
1 Bloodfire Expert
1 Mardu Warshrieker
1 Arrow Storm [/deck]

Green [deck]
1 Naturalize
2 Savage Punch
1 Smoke Teller
1 Feed the Clan
1 Scout the Borders
1 Sagu Archer
1 Tusked Colossodon
1 Wooly Loxodon [/deck]

Multicoloured [deck]
1 Icefeather Aven
1 Chief of the Edge
2 Abzan Charm
2 Sultai Charm
2 Abomination of Gudul
1 Snowhorn Rider
1 Ponyback Brigade [/deck]

Artifacts and Lands [deck]
1 Lens of Clarity
2 Jeskai Banner
1 Sultai Banner
1 Mardu Banner
1 Opulent Palace
2 Jungle Hollow
1 Dismal Backwater
1 Thornwood Falls
1 Wind-Scarred Crag
1 Tranquil Cove [/deck]

Looking at this pool I felt rather stuck. I didn’t really have the ferocious, aggressive creatures to back up the Knuckleblade if I went Temur, Jeskai was almost certainly out of the question despite my [card]Flying Crane Technique[/card], Mardu had nothing going for it and Abzan, despite the two charms, didn’t quite fit. It looked like I was stuck with Sultai, but my Green and Blue seemed very shallow.

It was at this point I decided to try something a little different. My black cards seemed to vastly outweigh the other colours both in terms of quantity and quality. I had solid removal and a reasonable curve to fill out, but was still a few cards short. With only 19 Black cards I would need to conjure something up from somewhere.

This is where the beauty of the Morph mechanic really came into its own for me. My curve was looking rather anaemic around the three drop area and I was looking at my off colour morphs and thought “Just how difficult would it be to splash for the activations in this deck?” The only double black costs were the two [card]Krumar Bond-Kin[/card], which themselves could be cast as morphs with a single colour cost activation.

I had a bit of a toss up in terms of which colours I wanted to splash for, whether I wanted to keep with Sultai or go Abzan with a pair of charms of each type and some other good removal in white. I decided to stick to my guns though and go for the Sultai as the charms gave me main deck [card]Naturalize[/card]s (of a sort) and the Blue allowed me access further to a [card]Treasure Cruise[/card] (I would only want to run one of them, they’re great as a one of but a little too clunky in a non-dedicated deck) and [card]Kheru Spellcatcher[/card] to (hopefully) cause some great big blowouts. I also put in one of the [card]Abomination of Gudul[/card] and the [card]Wooly Loxodon[/card] to give me a little bit of nice fat top end threat.

As for the lands, I was left with a little bit of a puzzle. I had been blessed with a large number of applicable dual and tri lands but there is a drawback to running them. I was wanting to be casting a one or two drop early and starting to apply some serious pressure to my opponents’ life totals, punishing them for having a lot of enters-the-battlefield-tapped (ETBT) lands. Having my own lands enter tapped too would hinder this plan too much so I would need to balance things carefully to make sure that I would not be colour screwing myself- the very reason for playing “monocolour” in a field of multicoloured extravaganzas.

With this in mind, I selected [card]Jungle Hollow[/card], [card]Thornwood Falls[/card] and [card]Opulent Palace[/card] as my multicoloured lands, with two [card]Island[/card]s, one [card]Forest[/card] and 10 [card]Swamp[/card]s. This gave me enough early black sources to make sure I would have one early but that I would still be able to cast and unmorph my off-colour cards in a reasonably timely manner. All this left me with the following decklist:

[deck]2 Ruthless Ripper
1 Bloodsoaked Champion
1 Disowned Ancestor
2 Gurmag Swiftwing
2 Debilitating Injury
2 Rakshasa’s Secret
1 Raider’s Spoils
1 Bitter Revelation
1 Bellowing Saddlebrute
2 Krumar Bond-Kin
1 Throttle
1 Sultai Scavenger
1 Kheru Spellsnatcher
1 Treasure Cruise
1 Wooly Loxodon
1 Icefeather Aven
2 Sultai Charm
1 Abomination of Gudul
10 Swamp
2 Island
1 Forest
1 Opulent Palace
1 Thornwood Falls
1 Jungle Hollow[/deck]

In my first game I got off to a strong start as planned. A few ETBT lands from my opponent meant that they were behind on curve, and [card]Bloodsoaked Champion[/card] gave me some great card advantage as my opponent traded creatures to keep some life. I very nearly cut the [card]Raiders’ Spoils[/card], thinking that it did nothing on an empty board and would be an awful top deck in some situations, but for this deck, having eight warriors meant that I could really keep the pressure on and was drawing multiple cards per turn and was able to make otherwise suboptimal attacks to force through damage and keep drawing cards to replace the dead creatures.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t expecting to write a full report of the prerelease and so haven’t taken notes of any kind (even life totals evade me as at a prerelease I tend to take the lazy option of a the free spindown), but I will attempt to talk about some of the more poignant things that occurred to me during the prerelease.

Treasure CruiseI often felt like the deck was playing a little like a Delver deck in Legacy, by which I mean that I would create an early threat or two, then trade cards one for one and create tempo with cards like [card]Icefeather Aven[/card] until I could cast a blowout spell like [card]Treasure Cruise[/card] to gain a huge amount of card advantage to seal the game. In other ways it was a little like a Jund deck, casting two-for-ones in [card]Rakshasa’s Secret[/card] and [card]Bitter Revelation[/card] and just getting the pure card advantage of [card]Bloodsoaked Champion[/card] and being able to create that element of doubt and expectation of a trick by holding him back for a turn or two then attacking him into a clogged board often forced through a little extra damage.

Speaking of extra damage, the pair of [card]Ruthless Ripper[/card]s were both great combat tricks and great ways of finishing a game. More than one game ended with the revelation of one or both of these nasty little attackers forcing their extra two points over the top, just when my opponent seemed safe. In games where my opponent saw them early, they spent the other games being wary of attacking into any morph when I had cards in hand. In games where my opponents hadn’t seen them they often were able to net me a nice tasty bomb and a bit of value at the same time.

In one game the latter situation became incredibly relevant. I actually conceded a game mid-resolution of a spell in order to conserve information: I was about to die to lethal on the board, but I had a [card]Rakshasa’s Secret[/card] in hand. I cast the secret to get a peek at the last two cards in my opponent’s hand and before it milled me two, I conceded the game (I know this is a bit of a hyper-spike move for a prerelease, but I was playing against a judge who seemed to appreciate and admire my tight, technical play here). I then looked at the top two cards of my library and saw both [card]Ruthless Ripper[/card]s there, and then used them to deal the last few points of damage in the second game.

I didn’t actually need to go to my sideboard at all in most of the rounds I played. The only time I actually accessed it was when I was playing against a rather defensive Abzan Deck that ground out big outlast creature after big outlast creature. I decided that in this kind of matchup none of my two-drops would have a great impact. He was low on morph creatures so the [card]Debilitating Injury[/card]s would be limited to one-for-two-ing myself post combat and the bats were outclassed by his fliers and other creatures with reach. I decided to bring in a second copy of [card]Abomination of Gudul[/card] and [card]Treasure Cruise[/card] as well as [card]Set Adrift[/card] and [card]Rakshasa Vizier[/card] to help me play the long, grindy game, as well as a few extra duals to keep my mana nice and smooth.

I feel that I won the sideboarding game in this match as after the match we were discussing our sideboarding choices and my opponent revealed that he had tried to take out some of his larger catch-all answers for more lightweight, cheaper spells, which would have been negated by my plan of bringing in the larger, more splashy effects.

Khans of Tarkir Flag Banner

I ended up going into the final round at 3-1, seated on the fourth table. A look at the standings revealed that I would likely need to win this round to make top 8, but I could afford to lose if other results went my way. Unfortunately, I did lose, but results did manage to pan out my way (partly due to the fact that my only loss was to the guy who finished fourth) and I ended up scraping into the top 8 in eighth place, though I guess it should be noted that the top few places were all running five colour monstrosities.

Overall, I found the prerelease to be a rather interesting experience in attacking a format from a different angle. Time and again I found myself racing away with games as my opponent stumbled on mana, whether it be due to high costs, coloured mana constraints or just not playing their spells on time due to the nature of their dual/tri lands entering the battlefield tapped. I was able to be hyper-efficient with my mana in the early game, giving my opponent a big hill to climb up to claw their way back into the game.

So if you’re playing in a Khans of Tarkir sealed and open a pool that’s looking a little lacklustre, why not try going mono-coloured? It’s certainly a change of pace.

Thanks for reading as always. I hope you’ve enjoyed this little bit of a change of format from me.

Till next time,

Christopher Cooper

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