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Know Howe - SoM Sealed, from Practice to Posting Results (PTQ Semifinals)

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Josh Howe

About Josh Howe

I’m currently a graduate student working in the San Francisco Bay Area, and I play as much Magic: the Gathering as I can in my spare time.  I started playing around the release of Mirage, but played only sporadically until the release of Time Spiral.  At the time, I was doing my undergraduate work at Penn State and stumbled across a group of people drafting.  I was immediately hooked again, and in the years since, I’ve made it my goal to improve as much as a player as I reasonably am able to.  I’ve spent the past couple of years trying to grind my way onto the Pro Tour through PTQs, GPs, rating, or whatever other means might be available to me, and have had a handful of PTQ top 8s among other near misses along the way.

Know Howe - SoM Sealed, from Practice to Posting Results (PTQ semifinals)

As promised, the MTGO release event sealed deck flights have provided adequate sealed deck experience for me over the recent weeks, and I return with some impressions about how this sealed format actually works.  For this exercise, I’ve “removed myself from the grid” and not read any existing discussion about the format that others have shared.  Now (aside from a brief reflection on how my online results were with respect to expected results discussed previously) I’d like to talk a little bit about what I’ve learned about Scars of Mirrodin sealed deck.  Then I’m going to talk about the November 6th Sacramento PTQ where I put what I learned into practice and got to build a particularly interesting sealed deck pool.

This article is going to be written at a couple different times because (at the time of writing this part) I have a PTQ coming up in Sacramento, CA.  I’m going to talk first about my results from MTGO, what they mean in the context of the EV discussion I provided previously, and the basic lessons I learned in this process about sealed deck.  I’ll stop here, attend the PTQ, and return with a sealed pool, my build, and my results.  Because of my performance at the PTQ I’ve edited my planned discussion slightly to allow me more room to discuss my sealed deck and provide a brief tournament report.

A Review of MTGO Results and EV

If you’ve not read my previous article, I encourage you to do so:

Know Howe - Maximizing EV on MTGO

Average: 
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As a graduate student, I have a fairly limited discretionary budget, which means I can’t actually guarantee that I may play MTGO as much as I am able to. So when I play MTGO, I try to maximize the expected value of my choice in games as I imagine many players on a budget would like to. I have tried multiple approaches on multiple occasions, and I’m going to use that experience to give some advice to those looking to get into MTGO, but unsure of how to do it without prohibitive financial commitment to virtual cards.

If you’d rather not invest the time right now, I encourage you to skip to the discussion of the sealed deck format, as this first section will likely not be useful for you.

The MTGO sealed deck release events were again a great way for me to cut my teeth for minimal cost in a new format.  For a 40 tix buy in I was able to go through 11 sealed swiss events over the time the release events were running.  It would have been more, but my work schedule has been hellish lately and prevented me from playing more than one event in the second of the two weeks of release events.  Across 11 events I posted 6 2-2 finishes and 5 3-1 finishes, with a pair of lead-off 2-2s while I figured out the format at all and definitely misbuilt my pools severely.  I wasn’t entirely sure what I was doing within the format until around my 4th or 5th event, and my results showed this.  While I could have done some reading to brush up on what worked and didn’t work in the format, I wanted to take a self-taught approach to this one and do a little bit more legwork rather than benefit from the hive-mind, just to see how my learning compared to what had been written.  Thankfully I was able to scrape some 3-1s out of these errors and keep afloat on my posted investment.

My projected performance, given my win probability of about 0.67, was that I would:

  • 0-4:  1% of events
  • 1-3:  10% of events
  • 2-2:  29% of events
  • 3-1:  40% of events
  • 4-0:  20% of events

Obviously, this did not happen.  Granted, a sample space of 11 events is far from a large enough to evaluate this conclusively, but it’s apparent that the extreme numbers on this spectrum are inflated due to the skill of opponents and quality of pools being a function of current standing within a bracket, as I had suspected but have not found an easy way to incorporate into my EV models.  Because I had assumed I understood the format and thus wouldn’t make dumb errors, the ratio of 2-2s to 3-1s that are consequences of properly built pools played competently is 4:5, not too far off from the ~3:4 projected.  Certainly within the error bars we’d need to put on 11 (9 good) data points.

As an additional note on recovered value, I managed to “open” atrociously through my 11 events.  Out of 66 packs, cards I opened that were worth more than 1 tix were:  2x Ratchet Bomb, 1x Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon, 1x Molten-tail Masticore.  And the second Ratchet Bomb and Masticore were in the last sealed I did.  Despite this, the EV of these events is high enough that I’m left behind with 8 tix, a draft set, and most of a set of Scars of Mirrodin, including a Ratchet Bomb, Molten-tail Masticore, and a slew of random cards that may or may not be worth anything like duals, foil duals, and assorted rares.  Pessimistically about 28 tix, so about a 12 tix loss over 11 events.  Projected losses with an EV of -0.02355 tix/(tix buy in) are about 6.22 tix from 11 events.  Given the anomalously low quality of the cards I opened (0 Planeswalkers, 0 Moxen, 0 Wurmcoil Engines in 66 packs), I’m pretty happy with the value obtained given the expected value and small sample space.  The model provided neglected card resale values but over-projected win percentage.  This led to a cancellation of errors of sorts that actually gave a reasonable result.

Sealed Deck Lessons from MTGO

As an experiment for this format, I’ve entirely removed myself from the discourse of Magic websites regarding the format, and have caught very little about what many of the other voices discussing the format have had to say.  Thus, all of the opinions I have formed have come from my experiences and a small handful of conversations I’ve had with friends.  I suspect that a lot of what I will have to share will overlap significantly with the perspectives of other authors regarding this sealed deck format (the PTQ confirmed this), but I think it is also likely that I will disagree on a large number of points with many authors (the PTQ definitely confirmed this).  I look forward to writing this and then going to review where my opinions match and where they don’t.

First, I believe that there are about two decks in this sealed deck format that comprise about 85-90% of all pools:  “Naya” metalcraft/beats and BG Infect.  The other 10-15% of pools fall into a variety of other places, but as most decks are the first two, I’ll discuss those the most.

First off:  about 75-80% of pools are “Naya” metalcraft.  These encompass WRg, WGr, WR, and WG metalcraft.  If you’re really unfortunate, you might not be able to play white, and may end up with some sort of RG deck… hopefully RGw.

The key cards for this deck are: 

W:  Revoke Existence, Arrest, Glint Hawk Idol, Ghalma's Warden, Auriok Sunchaser, Origin Spellbomb, Razor Hippogriff.  Play as many of these as you have, and if you need to cut, begin with Ghalma's Warden and Auriok Sunchaser.  Sunchaser goes first.

Additionally, you’ll play basically any number of Kemba's Skyguards and Glimmerpoint Stags since they’re too good.  Auriok Replica is alright, but mostly it’s a curve-filler and good for reaching the critical metalcraft artifact count.  It’s my least favorite of this replica cycle, sadly.

R:  Galvanic Blast, Arc Trail, Shatter, Oxidda Scrapmelter, Turn to Slag.  Again, play as many of these as you have, although Shatter is actually cuttable if you’re in the fortunate situation of doing that since you don’t want to be left with blanks against the handful of decks that aren’t 2/3 artifact.  I would watch how many Turn to Slags I really want in a deck, too… more than 2 is probably too many, although I’ve not gotten to confirm this.

Vulshok Replica is great, and obviously you want him in your metalcraft deck.  I don’t regard Panic Spellbomb as a key card or auto-include here, although it’s a very strong choice for the deck.  It becomes an auto-include when you’re in the red-heavy deck that involves other things to do with it… like Ferrovore, Furnace Celebration, or Barrage Ogre.  Otherwise I’d keep it in consideration, but would play other good artifacts over it.

G:  The reason WRg is the best version of this deck is that green really only gives you Carapace Forger, Sylvok Replica, and Horizon Spellbomb.  The spellbomb isn’t a reason to try to squeeze green into the deck, but the other two make me want to be green, especially in conjunction with one another.  Slice in Twain is a fantastic reason to end up with a bit more green in the deck.

Artifacts:  These are obviously the core of the deck.  The “critical” number of artifacts in this deck is somewhere between 15 and 16.  I wouldn’t play cards with the metalcraft keyword with under 15 artifacts unless I’m completely fine with those cards never being turned on.  This, in part, is why Auriok Sunchaser is the first white card cut from the archetype-specific cards:  it sucks so badly when you don’t have metalcraft.

Obvious inclusions in this deck are Chrome Steed, Snapsail Glider, and Rusted Relic.  After these, the on-color Myr get involved, although I’m hesitant to play more than 3 mana myr that aren’t Palladium since they generally can’t beat down too well.  Myr are a tricky concept, as I am hesitant to count them as a full mana source since they require you to hit 2 mana before you can cast them, take the tempo of your second turn away (although they generally give it back with interest come turn 3), and have big targets on their oversized metal heads as a consequence of the huge tempo swing they threaten.  I’ve been counting them as 0.5 mana, 0.5 guy, but I’m not sure this is right just yet.

A lot of the other non-“colored” artifacts that I’m looking to include in this deck are equipment for my fragile dudes that will be beating down (or rares, which I’m mostly omitting from this discussion).  I’ll provide below a ranking of them for inclusion in this deck, generally: 

  1. Darksteel Axe (don’t ever cut this card… from any deck.  Play 4 of them; I don’t care.)
  2. Sylvok Lifestaff.  This card is actually that good.  It makes all of your guys good, and makes every race situation suck a lot more for your opponent.  Very few cards can do what this does to race situations in this format for such a small mana investment.  Initially I was only playing one of these in decks, and that’s wrong sometimes.  I’d likely play 2 if I’ve got them, and would consider 3, although that’s a little much… if you’ve got the deck for it, go for it.
  3. Infiltration Lens.  This is really close to the Lifestaff in my opinion, and should definitely be played, although I’m not sure I’d ever play 3.
  4. Strider Harness.  I’d play 1, but not more (unless I’m infect, then 2 is reasonable if necessary).
  5. Heavy Arbalest.  Not an auto-include, but a very, very good card.  The only thing that removes this from auto-include is that it wants you to get to 8 mana, and that’s not something I’m really looking to do.  Having Glint Hawk Idols or other such cards that make this card even better move it up in my consideration, but not by too much, unless I’m forced to play blue and have the Soliton + Arbalest dream team.
  6. Barbed Battlegear.  I’ll play this with multiple Glint Hawks and Kemba's Skyguards, but don’t really want it too much otherwise.
  7. Accorder's Shield.  Acceptable, but not exciting.  It moves up the list as a result of its 0 CMC if I’m rocking the multiple Glint Hawk pool.  I see a lot of people playing this card that shouldn’t be.
  8. Bladed Pinions.  The last equipment I’ll put on this list, and basically the bottom of the barrel for what I’m looking to include in a deck.  I’m usually sad if I have to play this… in fact, I don’t think I’ve played it more than once.  This is another one that too many people bring to battle.

As for the rare equipment, Strata Scythe is an auto-include.  Livewire Lash is lower than Sylvok Lifestaff (unless you’re playing vs. infect or playing infect), but I believe higher than the Infiltration Lens or Strider HarnessArgentum Armor is incredibly deck-dependent (do I have too many bombs already?), but I consider it a card that you should not leave in the sideboard, although I’ve sadly not had the chance to play with it yet.  Nim Deathmantle should be pretty high on the list, likely behind the Darksteel Axe, although it always plays a different role for me… I hardly ever equip it.  Therefore, it’s half equipment, half bomb spell, which makes it hard to pinpoint an exact value.  Certainly you don’t want to just pay double for Vulshok Morningstar.  I shouldn’t need to mention that the mythic equipment is an auto-include, but I’ll do it here for completeness.

This mostly concludes my notes on this deck.  As a note, variations of the “beats” strategies falling into these colors also tend to get classed with this deck in my mind since they’re similar, excepting that they’re lower variance, less explosive versions of the same deck.  This partly contributes to how many decks fall into this pool of decks, although I think this is fair because the strategies employed with and against them are basically the same.

If ~90% of pools are Naya metalcraft or BG Infect and ~80% of pools are Naya metalcraft, we’re left with ~10% of pools that can be BG infect.  I feel like this is actually even smaller than 10%, maybe more along the lines of 5-8%.

The reason this deck is so scarce is that you need a critical number of infect creatures for it to work, much as you need a critical number of artifacts for metalcraft to work.  The difference here is that if you don’t reach your critical number, the cards you’re choosing to play literally do nothing and have little hope of actually killing an opponent, as your deck starts your opponent at 30 life.  The critical number of infect creatures I’ve found that make the deck worth playing is right around 12.  Any fewer and you’re damned to the fate of combined damage types, and your opponent is obligated to thank you afterwards for making their job easier.  The only non-infect creatures you’d want to have in an infect deck (and vice-versa) are ones that do things on their own to further your game plan.  In this case, frontrunners would be cards like Painsmith or Perilous Myr.  Unfortunately, the converse has 0 examples, so infect guys should not be in your non-infect deck (… maybe Tangle Angler could count here, but that’s pretty shaky).  A huge advantage to this deck is that, when it works, it’s one of the most powerful things you can do in this format, so, if you’ve got the pool for it, build it.

I’d go through a list of “key cards” for this deck, but there really aren’t that many decisions to make.  Sure, some infect guys are better than others, but for the most part, you’ll just be jamming the ones you get in your sealed deck into a pile and playing all of them since it’s not like draft.  I think the more useful discussion is of getting to that critical number and then supporting what you’ve got.  Since there’s a power disparity between Contagious Nim and Hand of the Praetors or Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon, clearly these can’t all nominally be valued at “1.”  The exceptional infect creatures I would allow to pull more than their weight in terms of defining a deck as an infect deck, and it makes us ask things like “how good is Hand of the Praetors with 10 other infect guys?” or “how often will I regrow a guy with Corpse Cur?”  While the answers are “pretty darned good” and “most of the time if you’re playing the right number of guys,” that’s not really what this is about.  Given that we’re jamming all of the infect guys we’ve got into a pile unless something really odd happens, and given that the number of guys we’ve got is about 12, what are the other 12 cards in the deck?

Assume we’ve got 12+ infect guys.  In fact, I’m going to take as an example the one sealed pool I’ve had that met the critical number of infect guys (every attempt I’ve made with fewer infect creatures than this has failed, and even this one, as you’ll see, was pretty mediocre).  We have the following assortment of creatures with “infect” on the card:

So 13 guys with infect.  The other cards I want to fill out my deck fall into four categories:  equipment, pump/reach, utility guys/spells, and removal.

Equipment:  The list here looks a lot like the list from Naya metalcraft, excepting a few notable differences.  Strider Harness is an auto-include.  The value of haste on infect creatures is really high, since you’re almost always the aggro and just need force through those last few poison counters in many games.  Bladed Pinions becomes quite playable.  The interactions of first strike with infect make this card suck a lot less.  Grafted Exoskeleton is a legitimate (and even quite good) card.  This is a bit of a tough one, since your guys generally already have infect.  The drawback of unattaching this equipment is quite severe, but the stat boost is also very significant because your guys are anemic.  The value of this equipment beyond the stat boost becomes making the damage from your utility creatures relevant, and I will almost always include this in an infect deck as a result if I’m playing numerous utility guys.  Heavy Arbalest is also an auto-include in this deck due to its interactions with infect damage sources.

Pump/Reach:  Obviously, Untamed Might is the marquee card for this category.  It does exactly what infect needs it to do.  Trigon of Rage does a great job here, as well.  Beyond these, cards with Proliferate are quite worth playing.  Throne of Geth really shines here, as does Contagion Clasp.  If you’re stuck playing UB infect in sealed somehow, call up those Neurok Invisimancers and Thrummingbirds, but I’ve yet to see this done well.

Utility guys/spells:  Really, most of these can fall into the previous category or the last one, but I’ve given them their own place here since they help round out the body count in a sealed deck.  Cards like Perilous Myr, Skinrender, Fume Spitter, Painsmith, Rust Tick, Sylvok Replica, Moriok Replica, and I guess in some cases Bellowing Tanglewurm are the things I’m looking out for in this category.  Mana Myr are something I’m a bit torn on.  I’m honestly not sure if it’s right to include them or not in many cases; it’s dependent on the number of 2-drops you have and if you have ways to make them useful for you later.  As mentioned above, if you’re unfortunately stuck in UG or UB infect, a set of utility guys becomes available in blue.  Steady Progress is quite playable.  Inexorable Tide isn’t (this is actually just unjustified speculation, but I’d need to see something truly special to change my mind on this one).  Just saying.

Removal:  if it kills stuff and helps you get the infect guys through, it’s worth considering.  Premiums are placed on Contagion Clasp (and of course its larger engine brother) due to the additional proliferate uses they provide, but really we’re just looking to eliminate things that are in the way so our undersized beaters can count to 10.

There isn’t too much more to say regarding infect; it’s another linear strategy that you can force to work for you if you have the cards to make it pan out.  It’s just that it’s much less likely to happen in a sealed deck pool of cards than metalcraft.

The deck list that accompanied the above set of creatures is given below.  Even without any bombs, this returned a 3-1 result, I believe with a loss in the finals, although I’m not sure.

Infect Creatures: 

Equipment: 

Pump/Reach: 

Utility Guys/Spells: 

Removal: 

Land: 

Unfortunately, this pool was shallow enough that I was stuck with very little I could do in terms of removal, so a white splash became necessary.  It is notable that both Necrotic Ooze and Necrogen Scudder had to sit out despite being very good to avoid mixing damage sources.

The other 10-15% of decks are the ones that fall into neither of the above two categories.  Some typical decks of this sort are:  UW skies, BR Furnace Celebration, UB infect, UG infect.  I’ve still not seen a UR deck I liked, although I’m sure it exists and involves 3 Neurok Invisomancers.  Because these decks are so varied and in the minority, it’s tough to provide a substantial discussion of them that isn’t a collection of case studies.  If you find that your pool does not support either of the above decks (or has a collection of cards that makes a build divergent from the prescribed archetypes look good to you), try it out.  Despite most of the pools looking a certain way, the pools that don’t fall into the mold usually end up building a lot like typical sealed decks from other, more traditional formats.  This concludes the archetype-specific notes I have, but there’s one more major thing I’ve learned about this sealed format:  choose to draw.

The Case for Drawing

In almost every case, it’s correct to choose to draw in this format, yet (even into the final rounds of a PTQ in contention for top 8) I’ve had opponents choose to play.  I’m of the opinion that you really need a special set of circumstances (that typically begin with “I’m playing infect and…”) to justify choosing to play.  There are a number of reasons for this, and I’ll lay them out below.

While it’s very possible to get an incredibly fast start in this format, these starts are very rare.  Even on the draw, mana myr provide a great way to regain tempo when you’ve lost it.  Even if your opponent’s on the play and makes a mana myr on turn 2, there are reasonable ways to deal with it (this is a lot of what makes Fume Spitter so good), and a lot of times you don’t get punished for it when they don’t have the turn 3 4-drop, and instead hit you for a point with that myr.

The threats are less efficient than the removal.  This sort of goes with the previous point (all of these points are really coupled to tell a complete story about the format).  The bodies are small, generally.  Thus, even if you’re behind, you’re risking taking an extra 6 points of damage or so before you can start to deploy things that strictly outclass what’s been done in the early turns.

Missing early land drops is incredibly punishing.  Most decks are playing 16-17 lands (at most) and some myr, so land-light hands happen… especially with some brave souls choosing to run 15 land and a ton of myr.  As a result, mulligans on the play are so much more punishing in this format than in many other formats.  I want to avoid mulligans on the play if at all possible, while putting my opponent in that awkward position more often.  Thus, even if I’m infect, I don’t want to give my (probably not infect) opponent an extra card in the dark.  If I know I’m in the infect mirror, I’ll choose to play (as long as I’ve got some Corpse Cur to help recoup the losses after my opponent and I trade teams).

While tempo is important in this format, a lot of what makes you win comes down to card efficiency and how much extra value you can work out of each card.  True card advantage is fairly scarce, but pseudo card advantage is out there in droves.  If the game is going to devolve into a game where I want to hit my first 4 or 5 land drops every game and I expect the games to become attrition or bomb wars in pseudo card advantage, there is no reason for me not to take the extra card and give myself some actual card advantage and an extra draw at that late-game bomb.

Putting Lessons to Work:  November 6th Sacramento, CA PTQ Report

The first thing I’m going to provide here is a list of the relevant cards from the sealed pool I was passed at the Sacramento PTQ.  It was immediately obvious that I was playing black and red, but the specifics of the deck were a little tricky to nail down.  So tricky, in fact, that after the sealed portion of the PTQ ended there was a fairly interesting debate between me, Orie Guo, Matt Nass, Teng Chi Lim, Tom Raney, and one other person whom I can’t recall who got in on the discussion (I believe Kenny Russell) about how to build it… and none of us agreed!  Five of the six of us were in the top 8, and Orie had died in the last round playing for his slot, so it was a collection of guys whose opinions all had justification to some degree, and I was surprised at how much we all disagreed.  I encourage you to try your hand at building a deck and a manabase for this before proceeding in the article (and share your decisions in the comments!), and then I’ll go through how I made my decisions and some points of contention from the collective deckbuilding exercise.  Without further salesmanship, here’s the pool:

Black:

Red: 

Artifact: 

Obviously, we’ve got some bombs and some grade-A removal that we basically have to play.  So I’ll throw that into a pile:

Arc Trail, Shatter, Turn to Slag, 2 Grasp of Darkness, Skinrender, Kuldotha Phoenix, Koth of the Hammer, and Carnifex Demon are making the cut… 9 cards automatically.

There was actually a bit of debate on Instill Infection and Fume Spitters based on whether we wanted to try for metalcraft or not in this pool.  If we are playing Metalcraft, there’s no way we can ever cut Barrage Ogre, which makes 10 cards that are colored.  We’re thus left with a maximum of 14 artifact slots.  This does not give us the 15 requisite cards for metalcraft, and so it’s dismissed.  I believe this threshold is actually that strict without a Liquimetal Coating or means of generating extra artifacts or drawing cards.  If we’re playing metalcraft, we could get away with the 16-land build with Panic Spellbomb, but that’s actually the worst way to draw cards, since we can’t use it to dig to find artifacts if we want it on the field.  It’s my opinion that we cannot play the metalcraft deck as a result of these considerations.  Since we’re not metalcrafting, in go Instill Infection and 2 Fume Spitter.

The artifact auto-includes for me are Leaden Myr (our curve is looking to have some top-end bombs and I’m happy to get some action into the deck that will help us get there), Sylvok Lifestaff, and Perilous Myr.  That gives us 15 cards in the deck, and it’s the last 8-9 cards that are really tricky.  Sylvok Lifestaff is a card that I seem to like more than most, but this is certainly the deck for it, given that we’ve got an assortment of guys that want to get into the bin and our late game is absurd, so we really only need to worry about getting there.  It’s a card that’s adequate on offense and great on defense, while being amazing at doing both roles for minimal mana cost.

First, there’s the potential green splash that I want to dismiss.  We’d splash only for Sylvok Replica (admittedly absurd) and Horizon Spellbomb as both a fixer and potential cantrip if we raw dog the splash land.  This is wrong because of the color-intensive spells we want to maximize in this deck.  We’ve got Grasp of Darkness that we may actually need to have open on turn 2 or 3 in this deck (which may end up being slow, and thus vulnerable to fast early starts), while we also want to see Kuldotha Phoenix come alive on turn 5 needing RRR.  We want BBB at least for Carnifex Demon (Grasp of Darkness and Galvanic Blast concerns), preferably BBBB so he’s beyond Turn to Slag range.  In a deck that has these color concerns, you just can’t splash for a single replica with what is already a great removal suite.  Additionally, I’ll trim out the cards that are only going into the metalcraft deck.  These include Chrome Steed, Necrogen Censer, Rusted Relic.

Additionally, the deck has a great selection of finishers available to it, many of which are capable of ending the game on their own.  Thus I’m removing cards like Exsanguinate (which just isn’t as good as other top-end things available to us), Ogre Geargrabber, and Trigon of Rage (our guys really shouldn’t need the help).  Because we have so many good finishers, our early game is oriented toward slowing the opponent down (or stopping them entirely), and Goblin Gaveleer does not have a place.

We’re left with 33 cards to consider for 23-24 slots, of which 15 are already locked.  We’ve got 7 creatures and 8 noncreature spells, so we need additional guys in the deck.  The best of those available to us are Barrage Ogre, Golem Artisan, and Rust Tick, so they get in.  I’m a big fan of removal, and while Flesh Allergy isn’t the greatest form of it, it does remove anything.  There’s something to be said for that in a format where a lot of times games come down to who outbombs the other guy.  If at the same time we include Clone Shell, we get additional value out of our Barrage Ogre and Flesh Allergy, while definitely having guys that are worth sneaking into play.  This gives us 20 cards of the 23 that we want in the deck (because the way this curve is shaping up, we want 17 land, especially with the color requirements).  At this point, this is how our deck looks:

With only 11 creatures in the deck, I want some more bodies, particularly if I want to play Flesh Allergy.  In the 3- and 4-drops available (very shallow right now), I like the Vulshok Replicas since they provide reasonable value as beaters if the way is clear, bolts if necessary, and blockers that trade with most early plays.  Minor extra synergies with Sylvok Lifestaff don’t hurt the case for these guys.  I prefer them to either the grey ogre Snapsail Glider or the “does nothing” Darksteel Myr, despite being a defensive deck.  We’re left with a deck including only 8 artifacts, so Painsmith, Blade-tribe Berserkers, and Bleak Coven Vampires (although ok as a 4/3 for 5) don’t quite make the cut.

We’re left with our choice from Corrupted Harvester, Panic Spellbomb, Accorder's Shield, Livewire Lash, Strider Harness, and Culling Dais.  At 9 spells and 13 creatures, I actually want another creature here and believe that Corrupted Harvester, while a very sketchy choice, fits the bill. 

“Oh, but that card’s terrible.  You’re terrible.” </reading>.   –anonymous

If you’re still here, let me defend my choice.  We’ve presently got 4 ways (Koth, Phoenix, Carnifex Demon, and Golem Artisan) to close out games.  Sure, we might get there on the Barrage Ogre beats plan, but really that’s not much value.  Very little in this format is going to stand up to an active Corrupted Harvester, and it provides another good out to Clone Shell, Perilous Myr, or any number of guys we need to run through the Lifestaff (yes, this happened).  In the same slot we could either play a piece of equipment; the best of our options is Livewire Lash.  Granted, it’s very good, but we don’t have a lot of the spells that give it any “over the top” value… all we’ve got is removal, and we want to point that at our opponent’s guys.  I can’t fault someone for playing this in the same slot, but I didn’t feel comfortable with 2 equipment and 13 guys, a lot of which wanted to find their way into the bin (Perilous Myr, Fume Spitters, Clone Shell).  For the same reason, Culling Dais is pretty terrible here.  Panic Spellbomb isn’t horrid, but there aren’t a lot of ways to get value over “R1:  Cycle” in this deck.  We’ve got a single Barrage Ogre, and Kuldotha Phoenix if we want to stretch.  Finally, we’re playing Clone Shell, and really don’t want to whiff with our 2/2 for 5.  We could go back to playing Hill Giant or Grey Ogre, but they don’t do much for me in this type of deck, and if I’m playing 17 land and a myr (wanting to draw), I want something to do come turn 8… that something is Corrupted Harvester.  The manabase for this ends up being 9 Mountains, 8 Swamps (+1 Leaden Myr).  The final build looks like this:

To be fair, my registered build of this pool was worse and had two errors.  Being on a timer and having to build a pool as unusual as this one, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what I could and could not do, and simply missed Golem Artisan.  I also was too quick to dismiss Clone Shell.  In the place of Clone Shell I was playing Bleak Coven Vampires.  In the place of Golem Artisan, I wanted some other body to put into a finisher place in this deck, and so I took what was available to me.  In this case… Ogre Geargrabber.  Not pretty, but with this much mana, sometimes a 4/4 is just big enough… even for 6.  Obviously, once I noticed my sidelined Golem Artisan, this sideboarding change was made every game.  The Clone Shell for Bleak Coven Vampires swap was something I missed throughout the day, and so I was not battling with the Clone Shell that should have been there, but rather just had an extra huge body to throw around.

The tournament itself was mostly unexciting, but I’ll give a quick report here to highlight some of how the deck played out against other sealed decks.

167 players showed up for this PTQ, so we’d have 8 rounds of swiss play with a cut to top 8.  6-1-1 or better to make the cut, almost assuredly.

Round 1:  Ryan Nestelroad

Ryan asks me to not laugh at his deck when we sit down, so I promise to try not to, but take the window to laugh preemptively.  As it turns out, Ryan’s playing mono white.  I’d class this as a corner case of the Naya metalcraft deck.  Unorthodox, but if you’re mono anything in this format, white’s the place to be.  I win the roll, choose to draw, and Ryan mulligans to 6.  I draw 13 of my 17 lands this game, but manage to get Ryan to 3.  Unfortunately, he’s got Tempered Steel, Accorder's Shield, Rusted Relic, and Golem Artisan on the board, so my Carnifex Demon actually gets stuck shrinking his guys a bit and then chump blocking the 5/8 vigilant flying Rusted Relic coming my way.  I die shortly thereafter.  Game 2 I keep a 7 on the draw that is “Mountain, Mountain, Leaden Myr, Grasp of Darkness, Kuldotha Phoenix, Turn to Slag, Skinrender.  My myr gets picked off and I get stuck on 4 Mountains for a couple turns before finding my 5th Mountain.  I end with Skinrender, 2 Grasp, Flesh Allergy in hand and 0 life.

0-1.

Nice start.  Now I need to 6-0 and draw (maybe) or 7-0 to get there, but I feel like the deck isn’t terrible… it just drew terribly.

Round 2:  Daniel J. Mabee

Daniel is playing BG infect with Mimic Vat and the standard fare of infect guys (13 of them counting Carrion Call as 1) alongside Untamed Might and Contagion Clasp among other things.  A solid deck.  I win the roll and choose to draw.  I get up to 4 poison counters early, but am able to stabilize with a fist full of removal after shattering Mimic Vat with a Plague Stinger on it.  Carrion Call + Untamed Might tries to get there when I’ve got Daniel dead on board, but Grasp of Darkness saves me from a large infected insect.  Games 2 and 3 I don’t remember well, but they were both unexciting as Daniel infected me out without much resistance and I beat Daniel down without being infected.

1-1

Round 3:  David Gillingwater

I win the roll and choose to draw.  David is RW metalcraft/beats.  He mulligans to 5 on the play, but shows Kuldotha Phoenix, Glimmerpoint Stag, Tumble Magnet, Rust Tick, and Turn to Slag.  Despite the mulligan this turns out to be a fairly close one, but I get there, although I don’t note with what.  Game 2 David chooses to draw and mulligans to 6 to me keeping my 7.  I go down to 2 life to David tapping out to attack with Kuldotha Phoenix and beat back for 11 on the critical turn before I die aided with a Flesh Allergy.  David was behind, but had me if my hand of 3 cards was all blanks, and decided it was his best chance.  Fortunately for me, I had something.

2-1

Round 4:  Frankie Mach

I win the roll and choose to draw.  I don’t remember Frankie’s deck at all.  Game 1 he gets stuck on 2 land on a mulligan to 6 on the play.  Game 2 he chooses to draw and mulligans to 6 and does more than in game 1, but not enough to not die.  This round sadly got lost to the grind of trying to get through this tournament.  With so many mulligans from opponents, I was still not too sure about the deck, but I guess you take wins how they’re given to you.

3-1

Round 5:  Alvin Tsao

Sadly, this round is also completely blank in my memory.  Alvin wins the roll and chooses to play… sweet, I win the roll again!  He’s not infect, so I’m pretty sure this is just a mistake by Alvin.  Either way, I take game 1, I mulligan to 6 in game 2 with Alvin on the play, and then I choose to draw for game 3 and win… but I don’t recall how.

4-1

Round 6:  Christ Phretzschner

Christ has some manner of RWB deck, which as far as I could tell was RW beats that was black essentially only for Geth.  I win the roll and choose to draw.  Game 1 I see Sunblast Angel and Oxidda Scrapmelter, but mostly I see a bunch of lands as Christ floods out.  He’s got cards in his hand throughout the game, however, and I play cautiously and minimize the information I reveal as a result.  When I finally get to 6 mana and haven’t played any real threats, Christ is convinced the haymaker is Wurmcoil Engine.  Instead, I deploy Ogre Geargrabber, which is pretty much as hilarious as it should be… yet it’s effective.  Game 2 Christ chooses to draw and gets behind a bit on board to my Skinrender after he Scrapmelts something.  He’s forced to deploy Geth as a stabilizing effort, but he gets turned to slag and the game ends in short order.

5-1

Round 7:  Kyle Priddy

Kyle’s on RW metalcraft.  I win the roll and choose to draw.  I keep a 2-lander that has a Myr, a Flesh Allergy, a Koth, and some other high-end action.  Unfortunately I get stuck on 2 lands (1 Mountain, 1 Swamp) and the myr gets killed when land drop 3 doesn’t happen.  I finally draw a second Mountain, but I’m still on nothing, as Kyle has a Darksteel Axe attached to Sunspear Shikari and gets up to 27 life to my 12 (he took 1 from myr beats on turn 3).  I hit my 4th land (Swamp) and deploy Koth, untapping a Mountain.  I choose not to attack into what might be Dispense Justice here due to being mana tight.  Kyle’s follow up is to play Barbed Battlegear and equip it, bashing me to 4 and going to 35.  I feel like this is really, really greedy and he should just kill the Koth here given the information that he didn’t have a hasty way to eliminate Koth the following turn.  I up Koth to 5 (I draw a third Mountain) and turn the Shikari and Battlegear to slag, getting in for 4 with the Mountain this time, since he’s tapped below 2W.  He follows up by making a Myr Battlesphere.  I make my Koth emblem and pass the turn back, shattering the Battlesphere on enter combat after taking a chance to read the card.  To be fair, I should have shattered the katamari during my turn, but was not clear on the exact wording and was thinking there may be a window to save some damage with the tapping of the myr.  As it turns out, there isn’t, and I had to shatter it before anything got tapped.  The remaining two Mountains shot down the myr with the axe on it and a 1/1 myr.  I take 2, going to 2.  Afterwards, Koth emblem does a great job of taking care of everything that would threaten me, while Kyle’s life goes from 31 to 28, 26, 23, 19, 18, 14, 10, 5, and 0 and he draws no burn.  All the while Kyle is dumbfounded and muttering to himself about how he manages to lose that one.  Should have killed the Koth.

Game 2 Kyle chooses to play and I keep a grip with 3 land, Perilous Myr, and 3 removal spells.  I kill everything Kyle brings to battle and the game devolves into us each deploying threats that keep one another’s boards stalled.  Kyle’s got Nim Deathmantle, so dealing with his threats is very slow going, but I’m able to force his development to glacial pace by threatening bad things to happen if he taps below 4 mana available.  Things get pretty mired in this sort of mess, but I’m ok with that due to my late game giving me better topdecking than most opponents.  I’m held off by a Sunspear Shikari with a Nim Deathmantle on it and my army of fat and Perilous Myr holds back the assault due to unfavorable racing situations (I’ve got Corrupted Harvester and an arrested Barrage Ogre to feed it).  I believe what finally began getting through for me was Kuldotha Phoenix that had gotten a counter on it from Necropede, and I am able to apply a bit of pressure in the air, managing to get there with this pressure.  I’m not 100% sure about this, as the match was long and got mired in multiple strange board states.

6-1

The standings go up and I’ve moved into 10th.  I was in the middle of the pack for 15 pointers the previous round (which surprised me given my round 1 loss, but gave me hope for the ID).  Sadly, this was not to be the case.  There were two undefeateds , and then 9 6-1s.  The top four could ID, but it was less certain for tables 3 through 5 (6).  The pair up/pair down match was between Kyle from round 7 who was seated directly beside me and Jessica Day, the 11th place 6-1.  Kyle and I agree to help one another’s breakers for standings and wish one another luck, so thankfully he’s not planning on making my job harder than it needs to be by scooping someone into the top 8.  As it turns out, this allowed Matt Nass his top 8 spot when Kyle wins his match.

Round 8:  Avery Moore

Avery’s playing RW metalcraft.  He wins the roll and chooses to play.  I haven’t lost a roll all day.  I don’t recall the pace of either game, but they both felt fairly one-sided once I dealt with the threats that were deployed.  Most decks just can’t handle the raw amount of removal I was bringing to the table, and Avery’s deck was no exception.  Game 1 I see Nim Deathmantle, Kemba's Skyguard, Sylvok Lifestaff, Vulshok Heartstoker, 2 Glint Hawk Idol, and Perilous Myr, so a pretty solid assortment of cards.  Game 2 is much the same, with Avery again choosing to play and mulliganing to 6.  This game is more one-sided, with Avery down a card to a good removal-heavy draw from me.

Before Avery dies, he asks for the ID since a table above us has played out a match to a result and it looks like Kyle is winning his pair-up match.  With two IDs above us already who have us on breakers and Matt Nass’s table playing that could ID over us, I’m not convinced that I won’t bubble at 9th, and having taken 9th on breakers in two PTQs already this year, I wasn’t willing to risk another 9th, so I take the win without having done the exact math.  Avery was fairly convinced we were both safe, but I was a bit more worried about it.  Afterwards, Avery says he’ll show me how to go through the math, and it turns out I’d have very likely bubbled at 9th, so I feel less bad about taking the W there.

7-1

This is enough to put me into the top 8.  Sadly, the top 8 list is not available, but to my recollection the 8 were:  me, Teng Chi Lim, Ryan Reynolds, Matt Nass, Tom Raney, Standish “Dish” O. Choi, Kenny Russell, and someone else.  Sorry “someone else” but I didn’t play against you, you sat 3 seats up from me in the draft, and I don’t remember who you are.  I draft a WG deck that’s a bit shy on artifacts for the metalcraft theme to really play out, but I’ve got a pair of Glint Hawk, Glint Hawk Idol, Kemba's Skyguard, and some other aggressive flying creatures to try to get there alongside Tempered Steel, Revoke Existence, Liquimetal Coating, and Slice in Twain.  Not stellar, but not abysmal.  Clearly my draft practice is not quite where it needs to be, however, as I manage to not win this tournament, instead choosing to lose to Dish in the semifinals.  Dish ends up winning the tournament, defeating Tom Raney in the finals, so congratulations to him.

Regardless of the mediocre draft result, I was happy with what I was able to do in the swiss portion of the tournament, and I feel like the practice I put in on MTGO put me in a position of understanding this sealed deck format.  I look forward to your comments on sealed deck in general and the RB deck I built for the PTQ in particular!

Josh Howe

Maniacal42 on MTGO

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