For most people, Saturday means a long rest. It means a lie-in to recover from a week of work (and maybe from a Friday night of drinking). I was awake, showered and waiting in the cold for a train to Burton-on-Trent. For me, Saturday meant it was the Dragons of Tarkir prerelease.
Burton and Tarkir; Here Be Dragons:
I ventured by train with two of my compatriots to visit Spirit Games, our venue of choice. My friends and I have been frequenting the shop for our prereleases since Return to Ravnica and have long enjoyed the friendly, easy-going atmosphere of the store thanks to its owners (Phil & Sal) and the regular Magic crowd. For one of our party, it was his first prerelease ever, but I was confidant he would get a warm and encouraging welcome from everyone at the event.
Since I had played Temur at both Fate Reforged and Khans of Tarkir, it was an easy choice to make Atarka my dragon of choice. I had quite a bit of vested interest in this choice; I’ve been running a Red-Blue-Green Commander deck for a few years now (Riku of Two Reflections) and with Wizards printing Sarkhan Unbroken, I was hoping to get my hands on it for both the event and my own decks.
We Are Savagery; We Are Atarka:
After choosing my Atarka prerelease pack, I sat with my friends and mused over which promo card I’d end up pulling in my seeded pack. In these cases, you always want to open the mythic rare. In Dragons of Tarkir, that means getting a Dragonlord.
I’ve always felt irked by the higher variance that mythic rares introduced to Limited formats. It’s especially irksome now that some of them can come in foil with golden date-stamps; it does a tremendous job of magnifying the magpie effect and creates a feeling of being left out when you get a standard rare, but someone sitting two tables down gets an infinitely more useful (and valuable) mythic. I remember being especially disappointed when I missed the chance at a promo Surrak Dragonclaw (to console myself, I have since purchased a German Surrak, because reasons).
I opened the box and found that, once again, I would be waging today’s wars without any mythic armaments. As you might have guessed by this post’s featured image, the promo rare I opened was Harbinger of the Hunt. It’s no Dragonlord, but its still a powerful card in its own right; unanswered, it can win a game on its own just by burning away everything smaller than it. The problem I have with Harbinger is that, for a rare in red-green (the colours most known for physically powerful creatures) having 3 toughness feels like a huge downside. I hoped this issue would never come up, but as I opened my own copy of Draconic Roar, I cringed to envision the varied ways I would have to watch this ‘bomb’ drop.
Despite my lack of a shiny Dragonlord Atarka, I was satisfied and enthusiastic about the deck I had been able to put together. I stayed true to Atarka and made my deck Red-Green. Along with my Harbinger, the other rares I opened were Myth Realized, Dromoka’s Command, Volcanic Vision, Crucible of the Spirit Dragon and Clone Legion. I included the Crucible on the off-chance it could help me fuel out a dragon or two. The rest of my rares went unplayed (although Clone Legion will soon be appearing in a Commander deck – much to the despair of my peers). I ended up with the following deck:
My Dragons of Tarkir Prerelease Deck:
1 Atarka Beastbreaker
2 Guardian Shield-Bearer
1 Hardened Berserker
1 Ainok Artillerist
1 Dragon-Scarred Bear
1 Colossodon Yearling
1 Sabertooth Outrider
1 Summit Prowler
1 Aerie Bowmasters
1 Atarka Pummeler
1 Lightning Shrieker
1 Harbinger of the Hunt
1 Herdchaser Dragon
1 Atarka Monument
1 Draconic Roar
2 Tormenting Voice
1 Epic Confrontation
1 Bathe in Dragonfire
2 Sarkhan’s Rage
1 Volcanic Rush
1 Crucible of the Spirit Dragon
Frequent Sideboard Tools (4)
1 Rending Volley
1 Magmatic Chasm
1 Lose Calm
My deck had everything I could possibly want. A near-perfect creature curve with plenty to do on turns two and three. The removal suite just looks unfair. The two copies of Sarkhan’s Rage reminded me of Ravnica when I ran Char in a Suicidal-Counter-Burn deck (ft. Dark Confidant). I was eager to take this deck to the top tables and undo my (quite frankly) appalling performance at the previous two prereleases. I spent my extra minutes helping my friends decide on their decks. I got the impression that I’d used up the good luck for our whole table, my friends affirmed that their pulls were so poor that they couldn’t decide what to play (a situation I know all too well – ask me about my performance in Theros block).
Of the three of us, I chose Atarka, and my two friends chose Ojutai and Kolaghan. With some reluctance, my Kolaghan comrade ended up building an Ojutai deck, having been swayed almost entirely by a Pristine Skywise. Our actual Ojutai player decided to add a splash of black to his deck for the sake of some extra removal and Silumgar, the Drifting Death. With decks completed, we began round one.
Round 1; Kolaghan:
My opponent lead with a turn one Kolaghan Stormsinger. I felt confident that this was a misplay – I expected that the 1/1 with haste wouldn’t make a real dent and that they’d have been better off morphing it. On turn two, my opponent played an Ire Shaman. I knew I’d have to take more hits than I would like, but this was manageable. Their third turn was a morph that was soon turned face-up as a Silumgar Assassin that killed my own turn three Colossodon Yearling. I was in trouble. I had no creatures on the board and the only thing I could play on my fourth turn was an Atarka Monument. On their fifth turn, my opponent attacked with all of their creatures and burnt me out with Sarkhan’s Rage. I had died before the people sitting next to us had even started playing. A poor start to the day.
As game two began, my opponent admitted that they’d just unloaded their ‘god hand’ and they’d be unlikely to do the same again. They were right. Game two featured the same turn one, but with a Kolaghan Aspirant on both turns two and three. This time, however, I had my own creatures to block and I managed to land my Harbinger of the Hunt.
Now, let me point something out about Harbinger of the Hunt: its artwork is entirely accurate. See all those Kolaghan cavalry getting incinerated? That’s what it looks like when an Atarka player drops a Harbinger and proceeds to go devour your board of bite-size one toughness creatures. Needless to say, I won game two. Game three was an underwhelming opposite of the luck for my opponent; they got mana screwed by an absence of mountains. By the time they saw one, my beatdown was too much to stop and they conceded with a handshake.
This is scary first round matchup that showcased the polarities of power vs. speed, but I managed a 2-1 win.
Round 2; Kolaghan? Atarka? Jund!:
One thing you can pick out at these prereleases is the coloured die that come in each prerelease pack and are unique to each dragonlord. When my opponent sat down with matching pink sleeves and a pink Kolaghan die, I was filled with immediate concern for a repeat of round one. If they had won their game, did they have a better build of the same archetype?. Then they played a turn one Forest. I exhaled relief, only to be accosted by a familiar turn two and three Kolaghan Aspirant. This pairing created an aggressive situation with us both attacking into each rather than either of us risk our creatures dying to the other in combat. We traded blows until I turned the tables with an Epic Confrontation. Already on the backfoot, my opponent used a Sarkhan’s Triumph to search up a Destructor Dragon while at the same time playing a swamp and revealing they were, in fact, Jund. I wondered what they must have to warrant playing three colours, but settled for using the opening to attack and end the game with my own Sarkhan’s Rage.
Game two felt very stally. My opponent lead with some Dragon Fodder that eventually got eaten by a Dragon-Scarred Bear (the last bear on Tarkir!). We eventually amassed our midranges. I dropped them to twelve, they attacked back and sent me to six. And then they cast a double Sarkhan’s Rage for Destructor Dragon and Dragonlord Atarka.
This was one of those situations where you have to win right now, or you’re dead. On the up-side, I already had the tools I needed to win, my opponent just didn’t know it. With a board of Harbinger of the Hunt and two face-down morph creatures, all I had to do was turn up my face-down Herdchaser Dragon to reach the twelve damage and attack for the win.
Close, especially on the second game, but the openings from Sarkhan’s Triumph in both games let me punch through to a 2-0 win.
Round 3; Atarka’s Revenge:
Round three came down to a true mirror match. In game one, we both played morph creatures and traded blows until my opponent eventually flipped up his Aerie Bowmasters on a block, making it a 4/5. They followed with a Hunt the Weak, making it a 5/6 and leaving me with a bitter ‘feel bad’ taste. My attacks halted and I couldn’t recoup. Game one was a loss.
Game two got off to a much better start. We morphed around and traded more hits until I unleashed a turn five Harbinger of the Hunt and spent my turn six buffing it with a flipped Guardian hield-Bearer. On their seventh turn, my opponent caused a complete reversal. Dragonlord Atarka. I was on the ropes immediately. Atarka burned out my smaller creatures and was bigger than my Harbinger. The turn after, they aimed a Hunt the Weak at my Harbinger. I paused and mused as the Hunt waited to resolve.
Cautious blocking had my opponent at a lofty fourteen life. I had a Draconic Roar in hand but, with my only dragon about to die, I would soon lose its extra damage (Herdchaser got boarded out). I eyed up my opponent’s Smoldering Efreet, read it to confirm the numbers and roared it’s face off. With the extra two from the deceased Efreet, the Roar brought my opponent to nine. The same as Atarka‘s current power. I’d boarded in my Lose Calm between games. I had to top-deck it in a single draw, but it would let me usurp Atarka and steal the win. One draw?
I died soon after after. My only solace that I had at least identified the path to victory. Even if a Dragonlord had stopped me walking it, it was still the right play. That’s how you win; maximise your opportunities.
I woud up with a 0-2 loss, but it only inspired me to fight harder.
Round 4; Is this…Grixis?
My round four opponent was another Kolaghan player. After defeating a Kolaghan deck in round one, I knew the match-up was favourable. I dived into the game thanks to my Atarka Monument powering out an all-too-familiar turn four Harbinger of the Hunt. The game ended swiftly as my animated Monument teamed up with my Harbinger for some decisive double dragon action.
Game two began mostly with conversation over fetchlands and when they’d get reprinted. My opponent had the misfortune to get mana screwed and so, while they floundered in search of swamps, I was mauling their face with a Dragon-Scarred Bear and ticking up the counters on my Crucible of the Spirit Dragon. I toyed around with some morph creatures and had enough free to make a cute play of flipping two Guardian Shield-Bearers to make my Bear extra ferocious.
My opponent’s misfortunes made this 2-0 win a much tamer match-up than round one.
Round 5; Dromoka:
I’d been anticipated a non-Kolaghan/Atarka match-up and was glad to finally get one, although having to fight a fresh challenge in the last round didn’t bode well. I had a 3-1 win/loss record, so victory here could could still yield some tasty treasures (dragons love treasure!).
My opponent started off with a Misthoof Kirin that spent the entire game hitting my face. I cast my faithful Dragon-Scarred Bearand followed it with a Sabertooth Outrider. We swung away at each other until my opponent cast a Wardscale Dragon. I attacked into it anyway. My opponent was one damage short of lethal on their next turn and, given that they were a Dromoka deck, I expected finding a Bolster 1 or something similar would be quite easy. My opponent didn’t block, so I dropped them to two life thanks to a Volcanic Rush.
Then I died to a Tread Upon.
Game two was glorious. I boarded in all my extra removal, including both Roast and Rending Volley, and proceeded to melt everything. I found room make a morphed Guardian Shield-Bearer and a Sabertooth Outrider as beatsticks and went to town. I almost blinked when my opponent cast a Stampeding Elk Herd. It was big enough to block and kill my attackers until it got Roasted. I won without taking damage.
Game three was much slower. It started with me getting poked by a Servant of the Scale, but that quickly gave up when I made a morph. My opponent used it to chump-block, but I burnt out their Dromoka Captain before it received the counter. More burn kept my opponent’s board clear while I cast my Outrider. By the time they found a blocker, I had an Atarka Pummeler whose active Formidable ability gave me the win.
A 2-1 win put me at 4-1 overall.
More Dragons, More Treasure:
We wiled away the last hour of the day by playing Tarkir Dragonfury and earning more treasures. When the results came around, I had placed 2nd. I took my prizes happily (a pile of packs, soon to be cracked). The only player to beat me had placed fourth, so I felt especially vindicated by outmatching them overall.
I would’ve liked to get my claws on some Ojutai and Silumgar opponents, but I think my life is probably better with as few Islands involved as possible. Overall, Dragons of Tarkir definitely made for an exciting prerelease environment. Wizards’ have done a great job in recent years with getting players to align themselves with a particular faction; the immersion created by this definitely leads to a stronger and more invested experience. I can’t wait to see how they execute the prereleases for Magic Origins and Battle for Zendikar.