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The letter I! don't think I have had the chance to do a preview card with this incarnation of my column before this week. I was able to do them when I was Swimming with Sharks and would regularly feature a card during my run on the Prerelease Primers. It really doesn't fit in with the news and personality driven nature of this column. We all fill pretty specific roles here on the so-called mother ship, which comes into play with the previews; Mark Rosewater writes about over-arching design philosophy of the new cards, Mike Flores gets to talk about cards in the context of building competitive decks, and new author Noel deCordova gets to build crazy decks around crazy new cards.

Speaking of crazy new cards....

Vein Drinker

I know that art appreciation is usually the domain of flavor-savorer Doug Beyer, but I am afraid I need to stomp around in his domain for a few moments to discuss my card this week. A couple of paragraphs to highlight the subtle intricacies of the illustration for today's preview card are needed. Take a really close look at the art...

If you focus really hard and use a little bit of imagination, you can see the tiny blue envelope containing airfare to Pro Tour–Kyoto in its grip.

This card is a certifiable Limited bomb that you will hope to open in any Sealed Deck pool. I don't know how many of you ever had the chance to play with Contested Cliffs in a Limited format before, but Vein Drinker has that built in and them some. With each creature it fells in the virtual Arena, Vein Drinker looms ever larger. Pretty soon you won't even have to use its ability as your opponent will soon find themselves throwing anything that flies in its path to stave off the inevitable.

That is not to say this card does not require some finesse to play with—after all, there is an entire shard, Naya, that revolves around being big enough to win the fight Vein Drinker gets into. In order for Vein Drinker to tussle with a Naya fatty like Woolly Thoctar, it will need to first take down a couple of smaller guys along the way. If your opponent is not providing that fodder, you may need to crunch your own guys along the way. Token creatures that are destined to jump in the path of a fatty each turn make a perfect cocktail for the Vein Drinker to build up its strength.

Against an opponent with more traditionally sized creatures—again, we are talking about Limited here—Vein Drinker is just a giant pothole in the Red Zone that creates unfavorable attacks and blocks across the table. Much like comparable cards such as Furystoke Giant, Spiritmonger, and Contested Cliffs, this is the kind of card you hope to find in your card pool when you play in a Sealed Deck event.

I don't know if Vein Drinker will make the leap to Constructed formats or not, but every other card that I mentioned in the above paragraph played a huge role in Constructed formats ranging from Block to Extended. It is a powerful board dominating card that demands an answer. In Shards of Alara Block Constructed—pending seeing the rest of the spoiler—I could easily see the Drinker occupying the spot that Oona, Queen of the Fae took up in five color control decks.

Part of the reason I get to write about Vein Drinker this week is that you will have a pretty good chance of giving this guy a whirl if you attend a Prerelease tournament next weekend and take part in Open Dueling. This is a new program being incorporated into Prereleases for players who do not have the same level of tournament experience as your average PTQ player.

"Open Dueling is a chance for players new to tournaments to get their feet wet by playing in a semi-structured environment with a ready-made deck," said Senior Magic Brand Manager Elaine Chase when asked about the program. "By removing the hurdle of needing to build a Sealed Deck, it's a less intimidating way to experience the new set."

Spearbreaker Behemoth

While experienced players will probably want to stick with the more traditional Sealed Deck experience, Elaine explained that Open Dueling creates a perfect entry point for players who have always wanted to sample a tournament but are intimidated by the deck-building process.

"If you've never played in a Magic tournament before, or if you've never built a Sealed Deck, then Open Dueling is for you!" said Elaine. "It is also a really great place for new players who aren't very experienced with Magic to learn how to play."

Each Intro Pack comes with a 41-card prebuilt deck, including one foil rare and one regular rare; one booster pack to start you down the path to deck-building; and two inserts: one that teaches you the basics of how to play Magic, and another that gives you tips on how to play each of the Intro Pack decks and the new mechanics in the set. There will be five Intro Packs released with each set. For Shards of Alara, each Intro Pack deck focuses on one of the five shards. The decks serve both as an intro to the new set for current players and as an intro to the game for new players.

The booster pack inside of each Intro Pack does not go into the deck, but the foil rare does, which means that players who receive the Grixis Intro Pack will be playing with a foil Vein Drinker. Of course, they may find their hands full with the Spearbreaker Behemoth that comes with the Naya Intro Pack. Other cards that have already been spoiled, and will be the focal point of a pack, include Battlegrace Angel in the Bant deck and Master of Etherium in the Esper deck.

They are all pretty exciting, but the card that really has me buzzing is Vein Drinker, which just ups the ante on all previous Sengir Vampire style cards from the past. I know Elaine from way back in the day when she was a pretty formidable Magic player here on the East Coast. I asked for her reaction to the Drinker not as a brand manager but as someone who used to play quite a bit.

''Used to play quite a bit...' Is that a backhand way of saying that my skills aren't what they once were?" laughed Elaine. "Wait, we made a new Sengir? And it can just kill stuff without even having to try and trick you into attacking or blocking? For just one more mana? What the heck are they doing down on the third floor?"

Of course I am a little focused on the Vein Drinker but Magic Developer Mike Turian—a recent inductee into the Pro Tour Hall of Fame who happens to know a thing or two about playing Limited—assured me that no one Intro Pack will simply roll over the other four.

Battlegrace Angel

"They each really show off their shard and are really well balanced," promised Turian. "They are the most competitively balanced that 'theme decks' have ever been. These were all designed by one person, Erik Lauer, and should be pretty evenly matched."

If you are heading to a Prerelease event and have a friend who has been thinking about playing Magic, then Open Dueling with these Intro Packs is the perfect low-key introduction to a tournament Magic experience.

"It has never been a better time to try out a Prerelease," said Elaine Chase. "There are more locations than ever before, because we wanted as many people as possible to be able to attend without needing to drive for hours to get there. The new Intro Packs make Open Dueling fun for every experience level. And I know I'm in marketing, but Shards of Alara is seriously the best Magic set ever. We've never had such a combination of power, fun, and flavor. You can see for yourself a week before the official release at the prerelease event. So check out the event locator to find a place to play near you!"

Firestarter: What's Your Shard?

Have you made any decisions about what color combination you want to be playing in Limited yet? I have found myself attracted to—predictably—all the blue shards, but I have always had a soft spot for Crosis, the Purger, and Grixis is looking to be my early fave among the shards. Head to the forums and share your early thoughts on the color divisions of the impending set.


For more information about Shards of Alara, check out the Shards of Alara product section and Doug Beyer and Jenna Helland's A Planeswalker's Guide to Alara. And don't miss the Prerelease September 27 and 28!

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