Learn the wheel! See Anthony turn sealed chaff into sealed, um, mediocrity! And then hear about a legendary fight breaking out between some bees and a vortex.

Two parts to the article this week: A less casual look at this past weekend’s PTQ Barcelona experience; and a very casual look at a couple of duels that Theo and I have had, and that I think you will find amusing. The two tales should balance each other out nicely. Then I’ll give updates on the upcoming "Multiplayer Invitational" in Los Angeles, and the Break this Card contest.

This first deal on Sealed actually has several fun moments, but I’ll understand if those of you who aren’t too interested in Limited formats want to whip ahead to the second part. You’ll just never get to experience the beauty of The Wheel.


While reading Fletcher Peatross’s five-part series on Sealed decks at Mindripper, I began to write down the decks differently than I have in the past. Every time a sealed deck gets listed, it gets treated like this:

Sparring Golem
Spit-in-yer-eye Cameo

Dragon Legend (Bomb #1)
Bomb #2 in the two colors diametrically opposed to Bomb #1’s base color
Wings of Hope (EVERY sealed deck has a Wings of Hope)

Bog Initiate
No Soul Burn. (Why would they give you Bog Initiate AND Soul Burn?)

Vodalian Merchant x14

And so on.

The problem with this layout – and I’m not pointing fingers here, because text files are real hard to make look any other way than text files – is that the gold really gets shortchanged. Gold is the heart of Invasion, and yet many players look at these lists (or the cards in front of them) and put gold all in one big pile.

Excuse me, is gold one of the five colors of Magic? Do you ever say, "I decided not to play gold, even though some cards were strong," or "I went mono-gold for the metagame"? I think not.

So as I was sitting in front of my computer staring at these sealed deck lists, I began to write things down differently.

First, I looked at the back of a Magic card. (Well, okay, honestly I didn’t look, because I’m not that rigid and procedural… But I think my little ruse will help some of you understand what I’m talking about.) They’ve got the five colors there in a circle, don’t they? Clever Wizards. They knew I was going to have this great idea, and they wanted to make it easy for me to explain.

Second, you take ALL of the cards you get in your sealed deck (if you must take out the obvious garbage like Scarred Puma, go for it…But leave marginal stuff like Prohibit, Firescreamer, and Reviving Dose in), and make piles. In that circle.

The key to the circle is that there are SPACES in between the colors. You put the gold cards between the colors that are represented on that card. (You might place them a bit closer to the middle of the circle, so they don’t get in the way.) Ditto split cards, Cameos, and obvious splash-ability/cross-color-kicker cards like Probe, Hooded Kavu, and Glimmering Angel. You make the circle big enough in the center so that you can drop artifacts in the center and still have a little room for a Dragon Legend, which you also put toward the middle right behind the primary color, where it won’t get lost.

So your circle, if incredibly well-distributed after eleven cards, might look like this (and here’s hoping The Ferrett and the webmaster can pull off a little formatting sleight of hand):

What putting the cards into a "color wheel" does is make absolutely clear what color combinations have gold and other synergy cards to support them – and which do not. Of course, decks with synergy between two or three of their colors have a distinct advantage over colors that don’t. (This is why you do not see many, say, green-black or red-white decks qualifying or otherwise succeeding in any Invasion-tinged format.) So the combinations become clearer.

Technical note: Because all of the gold cards in Invasion use allied colors, this works real slick. You can lay everything down on the two-dimensional table and still see all of the relevant relationships. If Planeshift comes out with non-allied gold, I’ll come up with a sphere model you can all use.

Looking at a list with nine gold cards from five different dual-color schemes tells the inexperienced player nothing. Looking at those nine cards laid out to support their colors – THAT tells you something.

Okay; the next step. After you’ve laid out the cards, just sit back and look at them for a while. Notice some relationships. That Void is a great card; but it’s the only card linking a mediocre base of black with another mediocre base of red. In fact, with no red-green synergy cards besides Viashino Trampler, red looks pretty isolated from everything else. And suddenly, it becomes easier to let red go. You can then look carefully at green (or for Dream Thrushes) and decide if Void is still worth splashing for.

You can also see that, even with no enormous bombs, there is tons of synergy between green and white (Charging Troll, Wax/Wane) and white and blue (Tower Drake, Stormscape Apprentice – both of which you put in the white/blue pile, right?). You could really make that work…if you let the black (and probably the Void) go.

So a tempting rare in two mediocre colors becomes easier to ignore in favor of an overall stronger build.

Not convinced to roll the wheel yet? Here are additional reasons why I think this could work for anyone who isn’t a Pro already:

  • It keeps you from saying, "Ooooh! Ooooh! A five-color build!" for every deck because you can’t make a tough decision.
  • It gives you a method for eliminating colors in sequence: After one color is gone, it’s easier to "work around the wheel" from the gap (so in the example above, assuming you feel most comfortable with a three-color build, the decision after red is gone is: Does green stay, or does black stay?)

  • It allows you to easily flip over a color that doesn’t work, and still clearly see the splash possibilities.

  • It takes up tons of room. Nothing is more imposing for your potential opponents than clearing off an enormous space on your table and undergoing a very impressive-looking piling technique that no one knows about but you.

  • It gives you a method. Having a method helps build confidence in the deck you build. I personally play with a great deal more confidence if I feel that I made my decisions with SOME basis in logic, rather than a panicky sort of random inclusion that happens when you realize you only have two minutes left to register your deck.

So anyhow, there it is. I think those of you who are still practicing your Top 8 strategy for PTQs may want to give it a shot. And hurry up, already, before Planeshift shows up and screws the whole thing up.

I used the Wheel (which my good friend Theo simply INSISTED I call Alongi’s Wheel) at this past weekend’s Minneapolis qualifier for PT: Barcelona. I hesitate to include a report here, since I didn’t Top 8, but I will tell you that I am glad I had the wheel, because several players all more experienced than I looked at the build I came up with, looked at my sideboard, and agreed that I did the best I could with a mediocre pack.

You want to know what I got passed? I’ll tell you, in two words: Duskwalker x2. That was it. Those were my playable bombs.

"Oh come on, Anthony," you chide. "Certainly you had bombs! Every sealed deck comes with five rares! ONE of them must have been playable, right?"

Well, you tell me, Mr. Nouveau Finkel. Is Kavu Lair playable? Geez, I dunno, how about Sapphire Leech? (Yeah, I ended up playing it, too.) Or the amazing COALITION VICTORY? Hey, whaddaya know, there’s my second one; now I have another one to give away in the contest. Whadda coup.

I did have a good, solid assortment of commons. Repulse, Exclude, and Recoil were all in there. And Agonizing Demise (with a Dream Thrush, and yes I did get to use the kicker once!) Ditto Stormscape Apprentice, Benalish Trapper, and Shackles. My green was okay but all double-casting cost stuff like Kavu Climber, and no mana help. My red, aside from the lone good rare (Skizzik) and a Pouncing Kavu, gave me nothing. (Okay, Overload. What kind of cruel limited joke was that for WoTC to pull? Just about every artifact worth destroying in Invasion is 5cc or greater.)

So I went 4-2-1 for the day. My losses came from Top-8er (and semi-regular Pro) Cory Ferguson, who must be getting tired of toying with me in 2-1 decisions (this is the third time in the past month); and a fellow with the cool last name Zwaldo who had his stuff together and a decent deck, and just barely missed Top 8. So I guess with a winning record and good ol’ college tries against tough opponents, I can keep my head up high. (Say, have you considered joining Team AWWAJALOOM? — The Ferrett)

I drafted well in two side events, and then played miserably. I get the feeling my strong, loving relationship with Invasion Limited (combined 10-2-1 across a Prerelease and a PTQ, including a Top 4 finish; and something like 70% victories in official drafts) is going through a rough patch. Perhaps an affair with a young, leggy Planeshift is what I need right now.


It always surprises me when I recall how little I play Constructed duel. (Hey, so I’m easily surprised. Big deal…Oh my goodness, punctuation! Hold me…) In November, Theo and I had at it in a couple of games worth relating.

It all started when he began ragging on my Birds and Bees deck, for something like the 328th time. "That deck shouldn’t win," he’d say. ("Ah, but it DOES," I’d say.) "It’s too fragile. And green stinks anyway. Speaking of green, did I ever tell you how much I hate hearing Jamie Wakefield name on the Internet? Come on, people, grow up and make your own history!…" And so on. (Hey, don’t write to ME and complain. HE said it.)

I, at the same time, have given Theo plenty of garbage about this combo-control deck of his that uses Land Equilibrium and Mana Vortex to control lands. (He explained to me once, "I thought of using Limited Resources, but I didn’t want to be cheesy." Seriously, that’s the reason he gave. Sigh.) His path to victory? A single Barbed Wire (and artifact mana, to prevent self-pinging). This thing, as beautiful and intricate as it is, has won, like, twice. Now that everybody knows about it, everyone pounds on Theo as soon as he lays down a Marble Diamond. Of course, Theo COULD employ some reasoning from the Alongi School of Multiplayer and back up his threats a bit; but so far my pleas have fallen on deaf ears. (For starters, he could throw Misdirection in there.)

So we’ve both been fairly disparaging of the other’s current "signature" deck, and so we decided we just needed to play this sucker out.

The base of each deck, for those of you just joining us…I don’t bother with quantities, this is flavor only:

Land Equilibrium
Mana Vortex
Wrath of God
Force of Will
Sky/Marble Diamonds
Barbed Wire

Killer Bees
Ensnaring Bridge
Birds of Paradise
Seal of Strength
Deepwood Drummer
Patchwork Gnomes

Now, I want everyone to remember that no matter how bitter this battle may seem at times, Theo and I are obviously a tiny bit impressed with the other’s deck. I took the time to acquire an additional Land Equilibrium for him (it’s a Legends rare), since he and I both agreed the deck needed it; and he suggested and then donated the Patchwork Gnomes for my own deck. (I have no idea why I didn’t have any. One of those weird uncommon-gaps in a collection. It was about a year after Saga came out before I got my hands on a single Albino Troll; I still only have two. And poor Theo and Ben have been buying and sharing box after box of Invasion – I think five or six total – and they’ve gotten a grand total of THREE Fact or Fictions. Theo, the blue mage, is heartbroken at this. It didn’t help matters when after they finished going through their last box, Pete busted open a couple of packs and found… A Fact or Fiction. "Fact or Fiction!" he sputtered. "Geez, I’ve got, like, SIX of those already!")

GAME ONE. A second-turn Tranquil Grove and third-turn Treetop Village spells almost certain doom for Theo. I mean, how can he keep his crappy combo going if he doesn’t have any lame enchantments? But he gets an Armageddon off, and then lays down an Equilibrium, which keeps me from getting to the critical three mana for Grove activation. Theo properly targeted my Birds for Swords bait. Some mid-game Bees did continually ping him for one or two at a time; and Theo slipped when he let a Scavenger Folk get active so I could destroy his Barbed Wire.

And then the milling race was on. I was, however, destined to lose that fight, since he had a Feldon’s Cane. Theo eventually gets out his full combo and I’m locked down on lands. I smacked him down to four with a one-power Bees (BoP-powered). Then a Seal of Strength! My last Bird of Paradise felt saucy and came swinging over for three. The scoundrel was down to one!

And that’s when my deck gave out. He Sworded the last BoP. With no more solutions, and no way to even launch a tiny Hurricane, I had nothing to do but run out of cards.

But at least I didn’t die to that Barbed Wire.

GAME TWO. This was a week later. I was still fuming about the previous loss, and had given my Birds and Bees a stern talking to in the locker room. It was time for game face, I told them. Time to pay the piper! Now they’re in OUR house!!! (Actually, we were at Ben’s, I think, but that’s beside the point. Think of my deck as the New York Jets of casual duel Magic, borrowing another team’s stadium for home field advantage.)

My deck came out screaming, and I was yelling pretty loudly too. This disturbed Theo, but he still managed to get a Barbed Wire out.

On turn six, I hit him with a five-point Hurricane.

On turn seven, I hit him with a six-point Hurricane.

Too much, too fast. While he managed an Armageddon immediately after that, the damage was done. POW! Bottle Gnomes to the head. BANG! Pump my Bees for one. SLAM! Here comes the Birds of Paradise. You can’t stop them! And oh yeah, I’ll use the Deepwood Drummer and pump those feathery babies up, yes I will.

So now we’re at one and one. Rubber game to come soon, no doubt. I’ll let you all know what happens, but only if I win.

The funniest thing about this matchup is how many dead cards we have. My four Ensnaring Bridges are useless; and his Wrath of God is a very expensive way to get rid of the very small armies I release at him. Of course, the other halves of the decks absolutely hate each other: Killer Bees against his Armageddon; or anything of his against my Tranquil Groves. It’s a fun match-up to play and, from the reaction of a few guys in our group, watch as well.


MULTIPLAYER EVENT. First, the "Multiplayer Invitational," as I like to call this get-together we’re having in Los Angeles just before the Pro Tour begins. The Ferrett and I assembled a merry band of hamsters upon which to test this experiment. In alphabetical order (no favoritism!):

Alongi, Anthony
Buehler, Randy
Bush, Michelle
Dariani, Omeed
Ferrett, The
Menery, Sheldon

So, let’s see: I’ll be at the table with a World Champion who works at WotC R&D, the mother of Trix, the man who knows every Magic card in print intimately enough to have come up with new flavor text for each, an absolutely rabid rodent, and a Level III judge. Somehow, trash talk escapes me.

There were several others that we all wanted to at least consider. We decided at this first experimentation to keep the number at six for manageable games. If this works, I could easily see us trying to organize simultaneous games, with six players in each; that would let us go to twelve or eighteen or whatever. Then the winners from each table could meet for some kind of freaky championship! How surreal that would be… But it will have to wait for some other city.

We will play three games of chaos: Two with two Type II decks, and one in an older format to be determined. (Last I heard, it was Extended.) The exact time/place is not yet determined, but it looks like Thursday February 1, with the possibility of having the third game sometime Friday when more people are there. I’ve got both of my decks partially designed/built and will be testing them shortly. I’m also hanging on to most of the design notes and emails with colleagues, so I can report on this afterward.

This should be fun! Tune in to Star City, and possibly the Sideboard as well, for coverage. And I’m sure that The Ferrett and Sheldon Menery will have thoughts on the event as well, both before and after.

BREAK THIS CARD. People, people! I’m still getting a trickle of submissions in; but we need a flood if we’re going to get to 150. At this point it looks like we’ll hit about 80. That’s nice (and in fact about average); but I would hope that the greater chance of winning a prize would spur more of you to join in! And don’t tell me you don’t have the time – ZVI entered, for goodness’ sake. Yes, you could have your deck sitting right next to Zvi’s on this page! (Assuming, of course, that his build is good enough for my standards.) Zvi is certainly not the automatic winner, and in fact I’d really like to have five.

But I recognize the holiday season may have made us all logy. So here’s the NEW deal. (If I can ban Shyft mid-contest and make your lives harder, I can certainly do this thing mid-contest and make your lives easier.) If we reach a hundred entries, I will still announce five winners and give out five scribbled Coalition Victories.

We’ve only got about 35 to go. Deadline is NEXT THURSDAY, MIDNIGHT, JANUARY 18. So you! Go build that Victory deck! I have mono-blue builds, mono-red builds, mono-green builds, four- and five-color builds – the ideas are out there! You just have to pluck ’em out of their nests, give them a warm home, and then wonder why they died when you took them out of the wild and tried to tame them, you cold-hearted, western-civilized bastard.

Anthony Alongi