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War on the Horizon: Week Zero Lessons

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I was disappointed that we mere mortals have to wait another week before The Brothers War (BRO) comes to Arena. However, the Early Access Streamer Event offered us a first look leading up to Prerelease Weekend. After watching the Early Access, and my own experiences with the new cards at prerelease, my thoughts have evolved from last week's preview guide. The format appears interesting and dynamic. Let's look at how my observations and experiences changed my understanding of the format, and look for lessons to guide us to a strong start in the early days of BRO.

Is This a "Prince Format"?

A long time ago Magic cards were mostly terrible. A few were solid, and some (mostly rares) were exceptional. The term "prince format" was coined to describe Limited environments that were so uneven that the quality of our rares oftentimes defined the power level of our decks.

Thankfully, those formats don't really exist anymore. Sometimes though, as was the case in Innistrad Crimson Vow (VOW), a format will have high quantities of high-quality rares. While we can adapt and prepare for such an environment, they are typically not as fun.

This may be an overreaction based on two notable realizations.

  1. Dominaria United (DMU) lacked a high quantity of powerful rares, and we may be overreacting to a return to normalcy.
  2. The Sealed format tends to be defined more by rares than Draft, where players have more autonomy over crafting synergistic decks.

Bombs Away

There are a number of cards at this power level that seemed very strong. This means that we want to prioritize removal, but because these threats span a number of card types and mana values, it's hard to ensure you have the correct answers to the threats you might be facing. While if this does turn out to be a prince format, we want to make sure that we know how to navigate such an environment.

The Secret to UB Draw 2 Is Retro Artifacts

In our preview guide to the format, we noted that many of the prescribed two-color archetypes are dependent on uncommons and rares. While this is still a concern, the UB deck, which triggers various advantages on drawing a second card each turn, gains a lot from some of the retro artifacts.

Low-Cost Draw-Two Enablers

These cards make it very easy to trigger our Thopter Mechanics and Gurgling Anointers. They can also be excellent targets for Mightstone's Animation, which in turn draws another card. Energy Refractor also thrives in this role, especially because it doesn't need to be tapped to filter mana.

During the prerelease, I experimented with boarding in a Howling Mine to enable an Anointer and a Gixian Puppeteer. I would not advise this approach, however, if we have enough payoffs, it might be worth considering. Still, I'm skeptical.

Underdrafted Overperformers

While it's too soon to call these cards underrated, these cards have over-performed expectations. In a very small sample size, they appear to be going late. However, this does not mean their respective colors are open. Still, these cards have made strong additions to the decks in which they've been included.

Stone Retrieval Unit

The body is fine and the powerstone feels free. This creates two artifacts and can help to gum up the board for decks that want to cast their prototype creatures without the discount.

Emergency Weld

This is just a two-mana Gravedigger with the upside of being an artifact. It's very good.

Tomakul Scrapsmith

While it is too soon to rank the millionaires, this one has seemed the strongest. We're typically playing a lot of artifacts, whether they be creatures or otherwise. Additionally, two power can trade just fine.

Gaea's Gift

Green does a nice job of applying pressure early as well as having a robust late game by playing a powerstone into prototype strategy. Both of these gameplans are supported by this trick that plans interaction, wins combats, and sometimes just kills your opponent. It's a Counterspell against removal, a removal spell against flyers, and a burn spell against greedy blocks. This card does quite a bit.

The Truth About Fixing

The claim that "this format doesn't have fixing" has become a common first reaction to BRO. While it's true that recent formats have certainly had more fixing, this conclusion is a bit of an overreaction. First of all, the color requirements of this format are far more lenient than DMU. Additionally, the artifacts allow us to build a deck less reliant on specific color pips. The unearth creatures, for example, all can be played from hand without colored mana. While we will want to unearth them in the late game, the value we get initially will buy us some time.

Energy Refractor, (the secret best friend of Fallaji Archaeologist), and Evolving Wilds help decks that need their services. While we typically shouldn't be splashing in BRO, the opportunity is there for decks that want it. My splashes have been very conservative, and watching opponents struggle to pull together bad mana bases was certainly a recurring theme of my prerelease weekend.

Draft Chaff

We still have a lot to learn about BRO and that will be the case until it comes to Arena. I believe the observations here, based on a heavy dose of pre-release events and the Early Access Event on Twitch, will hold true. The best part of Limited is exploring new environments, and this one looks promising. Prototypes and powerstones seem as powerful as predicted, but the format offers a lot more. Retro artifacts create unique situations and the rares present interesting build-around opportunities. While many of the uncommons unlock their prescribed archetypes, the commons will help us get there.

As we begin this new format, my goal is to lock in the first color with (hopefully) a bomb rare and strong commons until the draft points to a great location. In the worst-case scenario, powerstones into prototypes will make a good backup plan. What lessons did you learn from the early access to the format? What did I miss? Let me know!

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