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Lessons Learned from Outlaws of Thunder Junction Prerelease


This past weekend I participated in multiple Outlaws of Thunder Junction prerelease events. I played prerelease in a variety of ways, playing both regular and two-headed giant prerelease, as well as doing some hardcore draft prep with a handful of players qualified for the upcoming Pro Tour. I learned a lot about both the set and myself as a drafter, taking away some pretty key lessons. Here are the most important lessons I learned from Outlaws of Thunder Junction prerelease:

Prerelease #1: 2-1 with Five-Color Green

If you read my last article, I noted how OTJ has a plethora of mana fixing. With a cycle of 10 dual lands at common, 5 rare lands, and a variety of Green and Artifact fixing, it's very easy to splash cards in this format. It's even easier to be four or five-color when your base color is Green.

I try to do wacky things in prerelease since it's the least stressful time to play with the cards and the time where you should be experimenting the most. Prerelease is a great casual event that gives you an opportunity to learn at the start of a new set release. With that in mind I actually tend to push my mana and deck ideas to the extremes at these events, seeing just how much I can get away with. With four dual lands, a Hardbristle Bandit, a Redrock Sentinel, and a Dance of the Tumbleweeds, I felt pretty confident in a five-color build, basically utilizing all of my "good" cards (bombs, removal, two-for-ones).

In my first round of the event I actually got paired against The Command Zone member, Rachel Weeks. Rachel had a pretty sweet Azorius deck that had both Mindslaver and Esoteric Duplicator - which is a two card win the game combo! You can basically loop Mindslaver over and over to control all of your opponents' turns for the rest of the game. While Rachel did have Mindslaver out against me, I committed a pretty hefty crime utilizing a treasure token from my Redrock Sentinel and Shifting Grift...


Switcheroo'ing a treasure token for a Mindslaver and activating it immediately was not on my list of things I would be doing in game one of this format. I also realized later on that I could have also targeted my Redrock Sentinel as an artifact and creature to switch for Mindslaver and one of her creatures.

I lost a match to a pretty rare-heavy deck. While I was definitely behind in terms of card quality against my opponent, they did have a pretty cool way to manipulate their library with Fblthp, Lost on the Range and Bucolic Ranch.

In round three I played against a pretty bulky Abzan deck that had both Gisa, the Hellraiser and Harvester of Souls. I was able to keep most of my opponents' threats at bay with my removal spells, and actually used Crime // Punishment to reanimate my opponent's Harvester of Souls after they had used its discard ability.

Overall I really liked my deck. I felt though I didn't have the most spectacular rares, I did have a healthy amount of sizable creatures and I was able to hinder my opponents' powerful cards with the variety of removal spells I had. While a slower deck, I felt safe from aggro starts due to cards like Canyon Crab and Redrock Sentinel.

Lessons learned:

  • Splashing is very easy, especially in Sealed
  • Sealed felt very slow, and a format where you utilize all of your powerful cards + removal to disable your opponents' gameplan

Prerelease #2: 3-0 with Jeskai Spells

This was probably my favorite deck of the entire weekend. This deck is exactly how I like to play Magic: play high-toughness creatures, counterspells, targeted removal, and late game flyers. I felt pretty ahead of my opponents in most games with Canyon Crab holding down the fort as I pitched away lands in favor of removal spells. Canyon Crab is best friends with counterspells, and as the games went longer I felt more in control.

I did lose one game to an early Oko, Thief of Crowns (Wotc why did you put this card back in Limited??), but I played games two and three very cautiously with my Ionizes, as to not fall victim to the Elk lord.

While this deck has great synergy I was surprised that I was able to be competitive with decks that had higher rare quality than me. My only rares were double Cancel with slight upside and Magda, the Hoardmaster, a creature I never even got to cast in my three rounds. This is a deck I would actually feel confident in top 8'ing a RCQ with despite not having cards that win the game on the spot when they're cast.

Lessons Learned:

  • Canyon Crab is not to be trifled with and is bffs with countermagic
  • You can combat a lack of powerful rares with utilizing removal and tempo plays

Prerelease #3: 2-1 in Two-Headed Giant with Sultai Ramp

I sadly did not take a picture of our decks, but we cobbled together a Sultai deck, which I played with my teammate on a Mardu Outlaws deck that jammed all of our terminates. My deck featured Fblthp, Lost on the Range and Bonny Paul, Clearcutter. There wasn't anything exceptional about this event since it was only three rounds and we had a bye, but I did take away a few lessons.

With the Breaking News bonus sheet, the Prosperity Post card you get as a one-of in every booster pack, you have access to a lot more removal spells than you normally would in the format. This is due to the fact that every Breaking News card enables committing a crime.

Lessons learned:

  • It's very easy to commit a crime with the Breaking News bonus sheet showing up in every pack

Pro Tour Testing Draft #1: 2-1 with Sultai Commit a Crime

On Saturday I went down to Collector Legion to test with four players qualified for Pro Tour Outlaws of Thunder Junction. Our testing group consisted of Isaac Sears, Tony Desangles, Miles Nossett (all who had qualified via the Standard main event at MagicCon Chicago) as well as Pro Tour Phyrexia Top 8 competitor, Chris Ferber. It was invigorating but also a bit stressful to playtest with some great players - Chris and I are 1-1 lifetime in comp REL events and our matches have always been really fun and engaging.

In the first draft I opened my pack and had these cards as my highest picks:

I'm a bit biased when it comes to drafting in the fact that I prefer Blue decks and don't consider myself the best White drafter. I like having more control over my games and interacting, so I'm less likely to draft around more aggressive cards. I opted to take Deepmuck Desperado as my pack one pick one.

I like that Deepmuck is a win condition in its own right and you can commit a crime to enable its trigger very easily in this format. Whether it be using one damage from a desert dual land or a removal spell, this high toughness creature that's also a win condition is something I'm really interested in starting my draft off with. I do think Oltec Matterweaver is a good card, I'd be worried about drawing it past turn three and having it sit around as a lame 2/4.

In the draft I also made the mistake of taking Tomb Trawler as another defensive blocker over a Desert's Due. I took it because I was worried about it combating my Deepmuck Desperado plan, but I ultimately should have taken the removal spell instead - Desert's Due also is another way I could've committed a crime!

Here's where I ended up:

I had a pretty powerful deck in the end. While I didn't have any stellar rares, I did like the amount of removal I had access to and ways of triggering Lazav, Familiar Stranger and Deepmuck Desperado. While this deck had card selection in the form of Canyon Crab and Marauding Sphinx, I do think I was desperately needing some sort of Divination effect to tie it all together - I should've prioritized Seize the Secrets higher.

I beat Isaac on Rakdos in round one, learning that Shoot the Sheriff is pretty miserable against non-Green/White decks, due to the number of outlaw creatures running around in Red/Blue/Black. Hell to Pay was also a card that underperformed, as it can't target players, isn't an instant, and costs a lot of mana to even get excess treasure tokens.

In round two I beat Tony on Gruul. I was able to stabilize in games one and three, but in game two Tony had an incredibly fast start where he plotted a Beatbond Outcaster on turn two and then followed it up with a Gila Courser. With my first play being on turn three I got out-tempoed very quickly.

In round three I played against endboss Chris Ferber, who ended up in an Abzan midrange deck with the Oltec Matterweaver I had opened. I lost in three games, one of them being behind to a turn three Oltec Matterweaver - figures. I did make a costly mistake in game two, where I played the card Rush of Dread incorrectly. I used it only to have Chris discard two cards while he had three in hand, but he had a combat trick letting him only discard one card, which was a land.

His last card was a Spinewoods Armadillo and I fell behind quickly after that. I had a Marauding Sphinx in play so I was trying to commit a crime to get the surveil 2 trigger, but my mistake was I played the Rush of Dread too early. If I had waited longer, I could have used it to terminate two of Chris's creatures, plus attacking his life total and turning the tide in my favor.

Overall I was happy with my draft deck, and I think if I had played tighter I would have gotten the 3-0.

Lessons learned:

  • Shoot the Sheriff is weak against Rakdos-based decks, Hell to Pay is a mopey removal spell.
  • You can't keep hands without a two-drop on the draw against aggressive decks like Gruul
  • If you can help it, wait until you can max value your spree spells; it's easy to get greedy and get blown out

Pro Tour Testing Draft #2: 0-3 with 5-Color Rares

I didn't take a picture of this one due to how much of a trainwreck it was. Ultimately I ended up in a five-color green deck with pretty weak fixing, and my play was mediocre at best. I think at this point in the weekend the strain of playing five events caught up to me, and I didn't make disciplined picks. My seat was most likely supposed to be Selesnya Mounts, but I was distracted by some of the rares I saw, like Jace Reawakened.

It was a frustrating experience to 0-3 in this manner, but I learned that in this format it's vital to stay disciplined, and not oversplash if you can help it. Slowing down or missing pivotal turns can mean death due to how fast you can be out-tempoed. It was a humbling experience to 0-3 given that I felt pretty confident in my drafting ability and knowledge of the set going into the second draft - but sometimes, that's Magic. A defeat that frustrating just means that I have more room to grow, but it does sting.

Lessons learned:

  • Manage your time and energy better!
  • Don't be too aggressive with your splashing, follow signals. Two color-splash is probably where you want to be in Draft with how aggressive some decks can be

Outlaws of Thunder Junction is a pretty complex and challenging format. It's one of the largest Draftable sets to date, with three bonus sheets on top of a pretty wordy base set. While I wish I had played and drafted better in my events, I can't be too mad given the learning opportunities I was presented with over the course of the weekend. I definitely like the Blue-based decks of this format, and am hopeful the intricate design isn't eclipsed by the power level in the set's rares.

I'm hopeful about drafting this set going forward and I hope you were able to learn something of value today.

Thanks for reading!

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