Prereleases are always some of the most exciting moments for a Magic player, because they’re the first time when you first get to play with brand new cards. That also means you’re trying to learn what the cards do as you’re playing with them, which is no easy task, even for experienced players.

And the simple truth is that mistakes are going to happen; you’re never going to understand the subtleties of the format on day 1 or play exactly the same as you inevitably will once you have a few drafts in. In preparation for an error-ridden prerelease for all, here are three of the most common strategic mistakes you will make this weekend at the Amonkhet prerelease.

1. Undervaluing cycling, or overvaluing its enablers.

Cycling is one of the best mechanics out there, but many players don’t realize why. Cycling is so great because you can just replace the card in your hand when it won’t be good, right? Well, that means that you significantly raise the floor of the card’s power level (i.e., the worst case scenarios for when you draw the card), especially when it’s situational or expensive. When you raise the floor by such a wide margin, you provide an equally large boost to the card’s average power level as well. Another way to look at it is that cycling ensures that a card will be at least a solid performer at all points in the game.

 

Cycling also has a lot of enablers in the set that trigger whenever you cycle a card. I expect some players to overvalue these synergies when they have only a few cyclers in their deck. While many of the trigger cards are decent even without the trigger, you really need like seven or more cyclers to justify playing something that’s bad on its own, like Faith of the Devoted (which you still shouldn’t play in sealed).

2. Exerting your creatures when you shouldn’t.

Exert is a really cool mechanic, but a lot of players may use it incorrectly at first, especially when they’re in a damage race with their opponent. Sometimes it really looks like exerting your creatures is going to win you the race- it’s just an awesome boost to your creatures, right? But in reality, that no untap clause is going to hurt you a lot more than you think it is.

It usually means you do less damage to your opponent overall, even though you may be getting more in right now. It also means that if your opponent plays some scary creature on their next turn, you won’t have time to hold up the right blockers before that creature comes crashing in on their following turn. Most of the time, it will just be better to attack with the creature without exerting it.

 

To help players evaluate whether it’s correct to exert during a race, I have compiled the following set of heuristics:

    1. Exert when it puts your opponent dead on board.
      1. Obviously, if your opponent has zero life, it’s going to be pretty difficult for them to take advantage of your exerted attack.
    2. Exert when you have untap effects that you’d like to use anyway.
      1. The downside of exert is mitigated when you’re just going to untap your creature anyway- preferably during your opponent’s attack step so you can ambush one of their creatures. Cards that look like they’re going to perform this role exceptionally well are Djeru’s Resolve, Synchronized Strike, and Vizier of Tumbling Sands. Try not to spend one of these cards just to untap an exerted creature, though; it’s just not worth it.
    3. Consider exerting if you can’t do anything unless you exert.
      1. This one isn’t as hard and fast as the other ones, since you still need to do a bit of evaluation to make sure it’s right to attack in the first place. Imagine you’ve got an Emberhorn Minotaur you’ve been attacking with, and your opponent plays a 6/6, their only tapped creature. In this case, it’s worth considering exerting your attacker, since otherwise it’s not attacking at all.
    4. Exert when it gives you an effect you need that’s unrelated to combat.
      1. Say you’re desperate for a specific card from your deck to avoid losing the game, and you need it as soon as possible. Now would be a good time to exert your Watchful Naga so you can find that answer. Similarly, removing a problematic creature with Glorybringer is also going to be a good use of exert.

3. Not giving the cartouches enough consideration.

Conventional wisdom says auras are bad and you shouldn’t play them in your sealed deck. Lots of players are going to put their cartouches in the unplayable pile without thinking about it, but that’s a horrendous mistake, even without considering their synergy with the Trial cycle.. The green, black, and blue cartouches are actively really good, and the others are very playable as well in the right deck.

Part of the reason for that is the enters the battlefield effect on each Cartouche, which offsets the card disadvantage inherent to auras in powerful ways. I mean, Cartouche of Strength is an upgraded Hunt the Weak! It looks like Wizards has learned from the mistakes of the runemark cycle from Fate Reforged, and cycles of bad auras will no longer plague our common slots.

Let’s face it: nobody’s going to use new cards perfectly the first time they play with them. However, if you plan ahead and remember to avoid these three mistakes, you’ll have an edge over your opponents at the Amonkhet prerelease. Good luck this weekend!

Are you looking for some more Amonkhet limited analysis to help you out at the prerelease this weekend? This article from Austin Mansell has you covered, as he discusses two of the most important questions that players should ask themselves when approaching any new limited format.

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