Preparing for Your Prerelease: Avacyn Restored

Written by Chase Keaten on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Limited

Welcome to my Avacyn Restored limited extravaganza! I hope that at least one store treats the Helvault as a piñata so we can see a reenactment of how that sucker burst open in the storyline. If you can convince your store owner – please send video footage (preferably a rap montage).

The first thing that one should do when they examine the set is look at the new mechanics and see how well they play in limited versus constructed. These are helpful clues as to what the general themes of limited synergies should look like (at least as the developers envisioned them).

Miracle

Flagship Card: Temporal Mastery
Limited Geared Card: Banishing Stroke

Many words have been written on the miracle mechanic, but very few of them have been written on how miracle functions in limited environments. The general consensus on miracle cards is that they are really swingy and prone to induce variance in any given game. Either you cast the card from magical christmas land for its miracle cost and win the game outright…or you pay the full price of admission for an overpriced roller coaster. Thankfully, sealed already has a lot more variance than most constructed formats due to factors like: less stable mana bases, lack of recurring card names/functions, and having your game plan driven more by what you draw in any given game vs. what cards are in your deck. Because of this currently acceptable variance miracles will probably feel less dirty in sealed.

Another cool tension with miracles in sealed is that even if you can, you often shouldn’t play them for their miracle casting cost. Banishing Stroke is a blowout more often in limited when it is held for an opportune moment rather than used on a 2 drop on turn 3 for the miracle cost. You probably want to save that Banishing Stroke for the impending Avacyn, or <insert any huge angel/demon here>. Miracles on the whole will work a lot better with tutoring, library manipulation, and Jace, The Mind Sculptor that are much more in the realm in constructed playability. In my opinion, this leaves the miracle mechanic as almost all upside for limited. The costs go up, but so does the the effect and there is a greater tension on the choice to not p(r)ay for a miracle, even if you can cast it.

Miracles play well with limited, but they were really designed for constructed play. If you build your deck around miracles, let me know how it goes in the comments. How often did you sneak them in for the miracle cost? How many times did you pay full price?

Soulbond

Flagship Card: Silverblade Paladin
Limited Geared Card: Geist Trappers (should really have been called “Ghostbusters” or at least “Geistbusters” – this is low hanging fruit)

Soulbond is designed for you to commit at least two creatures to the board. Generally that’s the sign of a more limited friendly mechanic (think drafting ally in ZEN-ZEN-WWK). The interesting choice with Soulbond is whether to use the ability immediately or to wait for a higher cost creature to come along. It’s easy to run out a Lightning Mauler on turn 2 but should you really give your 1 drop haste for the sake of 2 damage now? Should you save it for when your opponent can’t deal with a fatty? Does that provide an incentive for your opponent to waste removal on your (currently) vanilla 2/1? These are the questions that I’m going to ask as I try to play with Soulbond cards. You can and will be encouraged to build a deck featuring Soulbond, and some decks will just be swimming in the mechanic. This is the more limited focused mechanic of the two.

Keep in mind that the Soulbond mechanic plays pretty well with itself. If you have a two-drop with Soulbond, and a five-drop with Soulbond, they will each get both abilities as long as they are paired. Soulbond is both a triggered ability and a static ability based on the pairing. The trigger occurs whenever any creature enters the battlefield on the same side as a Soulbond creature. The key language is this from the FAQ:

* If a creature with Soulbond is paired with another creature with Soulbond, each of them will receive both bonuses.

Soulbond creatures will give you an opportunity to blow people out, and be blown out by removal spells. Be wary of untapped mana, and it might be ok to be a little cautious if the Soulbond bonus is all that stands between a creature dominating the battlefield or dying. Be especially concerned with Soulbond linked effects like: First Strike, Double Strike, Deathtouch, Reach, and ANY stats bonus (+2/+2 for example). This means that you need to know what kind of instant speed removal is in the format and what it looks like. Finally, a perfect segue!

Removal

Okay, there’s nothing worse than getting your sweet creature blown up, but limited games hinge on who has removal and who doesn’t. When both people have removal – the game normally goes to who uses their removal the wisest (which is almost the same as ‘last’). Here are the common removal spells in Avacyn Restored:

White
Righteous Blow

Blue
Spectral Prison

Black
Death Wind

Red
Pillar of Flame
Thunderbolt

Green doesn’t get any removal, instead it gets to swing the scales with massive fatties and combat tricks.

So what does this small list tell us? Basically, it’s important to have at least 4 toughness on your key creatures to dodge most common removal spells outright. If you are a flyer, you might need 5 toughness to survive an errant Thunderbolt. Nothing will save you from a Death Wind or Spectral Prison, but with the amount of combat tricks and flickers Spectral Prison will probably be not as good as an average Ice Cage (but hey, at least there are no common tappers in the set).

If you are playing against any of these colors, expect 1-2 of the above spells for the corresponding color. Prioritize larger toughness creatures in sideboarding, especially against both White and Red as their removal is the most limited in the scope of what it can do and what creatures it can do it to.

Combat Tricks

Now that you have an idea of how your creatures can be interacted with outright, let’s take a look at the combat tricks:

White
Cloudshift
Leap of Faith
Zealous Strike

Blue
Ghostly Flicker
Peel from Reality

Black
Necrobite

Red
Rush of Blood
Uncanny Speed

Green
Joint Assault
Snare the Skies
Terrifying Presence

If you compare this list to the removal list, you’ll see that Wizards is really pushing combat in this set. Battling it out, creature to creature with the twists and turns on the battlefield just has a more angelic feel to it I guess.

The first thing you’ll notice is that there are three relevant combat tricks in white. This means that white decks are going to be just as tricky in combat as green. I include the flicker cards as combat tricks because they allow you to reset Soulbond on the fly, blank opposing combat tricks, in addition to retriggering enters the battlefield effects, you get the point. Also, it’s important to note that the flicker cards also can be used as a counter to opposing removal. The designers of this set really wanted flicker cards to matter in limited and I for one, expanded my understanding of that subtle memo the more I dug into the set. These are excellent 22nd and 23rd cards, and will allow you to outplay your opponents and take home more of the booty than you otherwise might.

The general shorthand rule on combat tricks is don’t play around them unless they absolutely devastate you. If you avoid creature combat with your 3/3 into your opponent’s 1/1 every game and in every situation, you will lose regardless if they had it or not. If that 3/3 is your only creature…you might want to save up for defense or a trick of your own. Judge whether the investment is worth it and go for it. That being said, be wary of playing combat tricks into open mana. It’s probably fine on a rather large creature, but if the dude is killed by all the instant common removal in response you may want to save it for when your opponent isn’t representing a possible removal spell.

Ok – so you’re well educated on what removal can do out of the common slot, what combat tricks are out there and how well flickering effects work with Soulbond. You know almost everything you need to know to take a basic look at the format. I’m going to spend some more time talking about how flyers work in AVR, the uncommon bombs and why they should strongly push you toward a color. We’ll round everything off with a few sleeper cards that I believe are much better in limited than they first appear.

Flying – How does it work?

The thing about flying, and really any evasion mechanic is that it’s designed to break up stalemated games and allow someone to win, even if each side has 5 creatures out. Flying creates subgames, where it doesn’t matter how many creatures your opponent has out, it only matters how many of them can fly.

Flying feels overabundant in Avacyn Restored. What this means is that more creatures have flying in this set than many before it. The design team did a good job of limiting a lot of this nonsense to Rares and Mythics, but when the person in front of you opened 6 packs of the set and is in the right colors, you better believe chances are they have more than a few flyers. Follow this handy chart for cards that fly, create flyers, or grant creatures flying by color:

Number of Flyers per Color
White 14
Blue 8
Black 5
Red 1
Green 0, 3 cards with Reach

Number of Flyers per Color (Simplified)
White 14
Everyone Else 14

Guess what? The angel predominant set has almost the same number of flyers in white as the rest of the set combined! This isn’t even including the 3 gold angels (aka the powerpuff girls) which handily offset the mention of reach. Isn’t symmetry wonderful? An interesting note here is that the blue common flyers are actually better than the white common flyers. Once you get into uncommons and higher rarities though, white is queen in this set (angels are predominantly female, ask @revisedangel for an expert opinion). If flying is great, than anti-flying cards are better than normal. Keep this in mind as you build – in this set, Eaten by Spiders is worthy of a maindeck slot in green even if Plummet and Piatus Strike didn’t pass muster in previous formats.

Uncommon Bombs

A quick word on the uncommon bombs. There are really two standouts that I see right now, but chances are one or two will emerge as the format develops. These two are guaranteed evil though. Play nicely and wisely with them. Plan to overcome them if cast against you. They are Barter in Blood and Into the Void.

Barter in Blood takes more setup to work effectively but it can be devastating to play against. A good “tell” that an opponent might have Barter is if they have access to double black and pass on turn 4 without a creature. The less subtle opponents might even sigh (but remember, they snap kept their opening hand!). You can choose to either play out more than two creatures or to attempt to ride one creature to victory. The more you delay, the more impatient your opponent can get. There isn’t a counterspell that can get Barter in Blood in this format, so keep this in mind if you open it. It’s ok to “forget” a land drop. Let your opponent smell blood in the water. Then blow them out.

Into the Void should have never been printed in this particular set. There just isn’t enough speed. The common one drops are all ½’s. There aren’t a lot of grizzly bears. Toughness is generally higher than power with a few exceptions. This set is designed to give you time to cast your angel. But I can quote for you the bad beat story that you will either be on the giving or the receiving end of this very weekend at a prerelease near you:

So my opponent curved from a Mist Raven on turn four to Into the Void on turn five. I lost on the spot even though I still had 10 life because I could never get enough board presence back.

Almost ironically – the only way/best way to recover from Into the Void is an effect provided by Barter in Blood. Awkward.

I’ll go ahead and start stepping off that soapbox, but it stands to reason that if Quicksilver Geyser was first pickable in a faster format, making it cost one less in a slower format with common bounce spells probably doesn’t exactly take the fangs out of the effect. I reserve the right to get smarter – I could be misjudging the speed of this format – but at face value this card was a mistake for limited play.

Sleepers

Demonic Taskmaster – A 4/3 flyer can get the job done on his own in limited, especially after a lot of trades go down. It’s hard to outclass this at 3 mana – but he’s not for the weakhearted.

Fettergeist – A 3/4 flyer that is a little bit more gentle when playing with others. With a quick curve this card can be the icing on the cake, with a slow draw the drawback is negligible. If you rule the skies, you will probably do well in this format.

Eaten by Spiders – Finally, they give us a believable story for flying removal. Many will underrate this, and it’s worth boarding out against some decks. But most people will be jamming their angels and most angels will not take their spider antivenom – so be sure to pack this maindeck although I’m not sure I’d start more than one. I’ll be happy with the first.

Geist Trappers – Without this card, green might not even be a defensible color choice without multiple bombs. With this card, you get to sing a song made famous by a great movie made in 1984. Choose wisely.

Tormentor’s Trident – I’m not sure the flying decks will want this, but the faster and more aggressive decks will be all over this card. Three power and only two to equip make this one of my favorite turn 5 plays in this format.

Cloudshift – I bumped this once, but I’m not sure you caught it. This effect is downright mean in certain decks, and in limited it will almost always be worth a card or more. It’s not going to help you catch up, but it will keep you from falling behind and it will stop key removal at key moments. Like Eaten by Spiders, it will take some time to know if I should start more than 1 of these, but the flicker effect is being pushed hard and that generally means error on the side of “it’s good”. Trust me, development can be subtle sometimes – to note: B/W token decks in Dark Ascension.

Well – you’ve either made the journey or skimmed to this point. If you skimmed, I apologize for no decklists but honestly you should read titles before you skim. Either way, congratulations. Prereleases are about having fun first and foremost, so take them as an opportunity to grow your local community. Trade lots, boast about your favorite formats, grow interests and make connections. Bring a box of old commons and uncommons to bring to give away to a good sport who isn’t old enough to have a job to fund this habit. Heck, even win a bunch of new packs while you’re at it. Just remember, what you put into days like this makes or breaks your reputation. Not something many of us dwell on, but worth mentioning in this type of atmosphere.

I hope this informs your game. Now go crack some bombs and get to work.

As always, thanks for reading.
I appreciate your feedback.

Chase Keaten
@chasekeaten on Twitter

Firestarter Questions:

  1. How fast do you see this format?
  2. How do you ride the line of fostering a community while still being competitive?
  3. Is Into the Void really that bad? Surely it can’t be worse than a sword of blank and blank?

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