Constructed Criticism – MTGO Champs

Tuesday, March 16th – This week we are going to be doing something a bit different. Most of time, this column is dedicated to bringing you insight into Constructed Magic (hence the title), but I do love Limited as well, and I’m occasionally forced to play such formats. Today we’ll be going over Zendikar Block Sealed with Worldwake in the second MTGO Champs of the 2010 season.

This week we are going to be doing something a bit different. Most of time, this column is dedicated to bringing you insight into Constructed Magic (hence the title), but I do love Limited as well, and I’m occasionally forced to play such formats. Today we’ll be going over Zendikar Block Sealed with Worldwake in the second MTGO Champs of the 2010 season. Going into the tournament, I accumulated 34 Qualifier Points, which awards me a single bye (I was busy galavanting in California instead of grinding points on MTGO). Had I accumulated one more point, I would have had a very important second round bye as well, but I just keep up with it enough to know that I needed one more point in the last few hours. The method of tracking these points updates only once per week as well, so that wasn’t helpful either.

I will admit, I do not play a lot of Sealed, but that is mostly because I think the odds of opening a randomly horrible Sealed pool is just too high. I see these occasionally busted Sealed decks with double Vampire Nighthawk and a slew of removal, but I can’t ever seem to open them. To me, drafting is far more skill-intensive than Sealed, but it is just not logical to expect tournament organizers to be able to handle doing drafts for 300+ people (or far more at Grand Prix Day 1’s), so I do understand why Sealed exists, even though it is far inferior to its draft-counterpart. While there is a lot of skill involved in the playing and deckbuilding in Sealed deck tournaments, there will often be the occasion of you getting blown out by a far superior deck. While this does happen in draft, that is usually due to someone drafting the incorrect deck.

After preparing for the 1pm tournament by stuffing myself at lunch with fried rice and steak at Shogun, Kali and I get to meet our new nephew for the first time! Elijah Joshua Anderson was born two weeks ago, and he is a healthy, beautiful little boy. I’m happy for my sister, but she has a long road ahead of her. After meeting up with her at Shogun, we drove home listening to Thursday on Kali’s IPOD. We got home around 12:30 and I fired up the computer. I opened the following pool and built this deck and sideboard:

1 Vapor Snare
1 Whiplash Trap
1 Trusty Machete
1 Blood Seeker
1 Pulse Tracker
1 Sphinx of Lost Truths
1 Wind Zendikon
1 Corrupted Zendikon
1 Surrakar Banisher
1 Vampire Nighthawk
1 Hagra Crocodile
1 Windrider Eel
2 Quag Vampires
2 Bloodhusk Ritualist
1 Surrakar Marauder
1 Umara Raptor
1 Pilgrim’s Eye
1 Lodestone Golem
1 Ruthless Cullblade
7 Island
1 Kitesail
11 Swamp

1 Grim Discovery
1 Vampire’s Bite
1 Kor Skyfisher
1 Kabira Crossroads
1 Turntimber Basilisk
1 Fledgling Griffin
1 Cancel
1 Landbind Ritual
1 Relic Crush
1 Scythe Tiger
1 Geyser Glider
1 Lethargy Trap
1 Gigantiform
1 Selective Memory
1 Feral Contest
1 Mysteries of the Deep
1 Arid Mesa
1 Cobra Trap
1 Arbor Elf
1 Graypelt Hunter
1 Bull Rush
1 Needlebite Trap
1 Teetering Peaks
2 Skitter of Lizards
1 Trapfinder’s Trick
1 Beast Hunt
1 Goblin War Paint
1 Shoal Serpent
1 Guardian Zendikon
1 Quicksand
1 Nature’s Claim
1 Walking Atlas
1 Vastwood Zendikon
1 Rest for the Weary
1 Searing Blaze
2 Mold Shambler
1 Makindi Shieldmate
1 Tanglesap
1 Molten Ravager
1 Guul Draz Vampire
1 Primal Bellow
1 Dispel
1 Quest for the Holy Relic
1 Gnarlid Pack
1 Inferno Trap
1 Ricochet Trap
1 Bestial Menace
1 Calcite Snapper
1 Quest for the Goblin Lord
1 Demolish
1 Canopy Cover
1 Kor Firewalker
1 Torch Slinger
1 Bojuka Bog
1 Magma Rift
1 Smoldering Spires
1 Chain Reaction
1 Nimbus Wings
1 Amulet of Vigor
1 Hada Freeblade

With this pool, I had a few different ways I could have gone, and my Green was especially strong, but incredibly slow. Blue was going to be a color, no matter what the complimentary color ended up being, because of the Sphinx of Lost Truths and Vapor Snare, as well as the other solid cards. Green and Black were both strong contenders for the main color of the deck, since Green provided large monsters and a little bit of acceleration. However, with Green and Blue as the two colors, the deck ended up having six cards at the five-drop slot, which is just unacceptable in Zendikar Sealed. Even though the format has slowed down a lot compared to previous incarnation, it is still incredibly aggressive, and you just can’t play a deck that slow. That left me with Black, even though I was positive the cards were not as strong as my cards in Green.

One card I was just not sold on before the tournament was Quag Vampires. I will admit that I don’t play a ton of Sealed, but I do know that Black is by far the most played color, so Quag Vampires is probably a decent threat that is also unblockable more than 60% of the time. Guul Draz Vampire is generally acceptable in a Black deck with more removal, but my deck is very light on that aspect, so he is much worse. Pulse Tracker suffers from the same problem, but can sometimes put away slow decks if you have a few tempo-based threats. Surrakar Banisher and Whiplash Trap provide you with pretty insane tempo when you are racing, and while pretty small, Pulse Tracker can clock your opponent very well. This is especially true when attached with Kitesail or Trusty Machete (but that is true for most creatures).

Nighthawk is obviously dumb, but he is pretty much my only great Black creature. The Black Zendikon is obviously a real threat, but Zendikons have a pretty serious drawback. Bloodhusk Ritualist is also a pretty sick creature, since he is virtually Mind Sludge that doesn’t require you to play a ton of Swamps, and happens to be attached to a 2/2 body. Being so versatile, and usually trading with at least one card, the Ritualists give the deck a different element to help combat the slower control decks that I might face. After reading AJ Sacher article from two weeks ago about “onions” in Limited, as well as cards that just don’t interact well together, I can openly see a few fundamental flaws with my deck, but my pool is not incredible enough to build a completely focused deck. Surely a deck with almost no removal that is playing Pulse Tracker is going to have some problems. Pilgrim’s Eye is not the most aggressive of threats, but helps fix mana and can block in a pinch.

After building a pretty solid UB deck, I get to sit around for an hour with a Round 1 bye.

Round 2 against Ilpala

My opponent wins the die roll but opts to draw, which leads me to believe that he hasn’t played Zendikar Limited much. His deck, however, is just incredible. His first four plays of the game are Vampire Nighthawk; Urge to Feed; Oracle of Mul Daya; and Kazuul, Tyrant of the Cliffs. His mana seems a bit shaky, but he has a Raging Ravine to help splash his green cards. I draw a few fliers and put pressure on him, but his Nighthawk just ends up being too much for me to handle. He plays a Green Zendikon, and I draw about 3 lands in a row and am just dead.

Game 2 I start off with a mulligan to 5, but it had Quag Vampires, Whiplash Trap, Surrakar Banisher, and two lands. I end up drawing a Swamp and Vampire Nighthawk to get some beats in. He has Punishing Fire, which is really awkward against my Nighthawk, but he doesn’t yet have enough mana to kill it. For some reason, he decides to use Marsh Casualties and the Punishing Fire to kill my Nighthawk, but I’m at 28 by that point and in good shape. I land a Windrider Eel that gets killed with Hideous End, and he begins to take chunks out of my life with a 3/3 Quag Vampires and a Goblin Roughrider. I fail to draw a 5th land for Whiplash Trap, Banisher, or Vapor Snare, and end up eventually having to chump block his Green Zendikon when it comes into play. I end up topdecking the 5th land on turn 10ish, use Whiplash Trap to kill his Zendikon and bounce his Quag Vampires. He recasts the vampire as a 4/4, which I Vapor Snare and begin the slow race to kill him.

Game 3 he opts to draw again, and my draw is very aggressive with Cullblade and the Black Zendkion, crashing for 5 on turn 3. However, he stalls me a bit with a Giant Scorpion, and I just play a Bloodhusk and make him discard a card. He decides to trade his Scorpion with my Zendikon, which I am more than happy with. I play a Banisher just to start bashing, but he uses Hideous End to kill it, and also Searing Blaze to kill my Cullblade. I land Lodestone Golem, but he matches me with the Green Zendikon. I use Vapor Snare to steal it, and he is out of gas at that point.


Round 3 against _THAT_

I win the roll and lead with Machete and Corrupted Zendikon. I start bashing with the 5/4, and play Lodestone Golem when plays a Giant Scorpion. I suit up my Lodestone after trading the Zendikon with his Scorpion, but he has no real answer for my 7/4. I use Banisher to bounce his tapped Zendikon, and he never really has a chance after that. Trusty Machete is obviously MVP this game.

Game 2 I lead with Pulse Tracker. He lands Blood Seeker, which starts pinging me as I play Vampire Nighthawk and Bloodhusk Ritualist, which gets his entire hand. He doesn’t have removal for Nighthawk, and pretty much scoops when I land a kicked Sphinx of Lost Truths.


Round 4 against Zodar

I win the roll yet again, and keep an aggressive opener with a turn 1 Wind Zendikon, followed by a Surrakar Marauder, Blood Seeker, and a Corrupted Zendikon. By this point, his only play has been lands and Trusty Machete. He runs out a 4th turn Heartstabber Mosquito, which just trades with the Marauder, and is quickly overwhelmed by my threats.

Game 2 he mulligans to five, but puts up a good fight with Kor Skyfisher and Heartstabber Mosquito. I play a few aggressive beaters, and eventually stick Lodestone Golem, and he can’t really fight my creatures off. He drew no removal, and his creatures were just smaller than mine.


Round 5 against Boin

Game 1 I win the die roll again, and lead off with Wind Zendikon. After bashing him a few times, I stick a Blood Seeker to trade with this Surrakar Marauder. He plays a Halimar Excavator, followed by an Abyssal Persecutor. He crashes me down very low on life with the 6/6, and uses Into the Roil to bounce my Sphinx of Lost Truths, and end the game by playing a Surrakar Banisher to bounce his own Persecutor when I’m at -6 life.

Game 2 I keep a slow hand on the play, and he gets me down to 12 blisteringly fast with a Vampire Lacerator, Halimar Excavator, and Corrupted Zendikon. I draw Vampire Nighthawk a turn too late, but seem to stabilize for the moment. My Lodestone Golem trades with two of his early dorks, but I can’t draw a second Blue mana for my Sphinx or Whiplash Trap. I eventually die to his Nighthawk when I draw my 7th Swamp.


Round 6 against TPABHuk

I win the roll, and lead off with Machete on Turn 2 after topdecking it. I play a drawn Surrakar Marauder on Turn 3 (a bit slow to start off I guess). He plays a Ruinous Minotaur, and I hold back my Marauder to block after I play my Lodestone Golem. He doesn’t attack, and I attack with the Marauder after playing Windrider Eel. A Chain Reaction rolls my squad, but I draw Bloodhusk Ritualist for a kicker of 3 to rip his hand apart. He plays a Deathforge Shaman, and we race. I land Kitesail and a Quag Vampires with 2 counters, and he can’t race.

Game 2 I think I played pretty badly, because he had a few creatures with evasion, and I punted pretty hard while we were racing. I block so that I end up at 1 life, but have more creatures in play than him afterwards. I attack him down to 8 with enough flying power in play to kill him next turn, but he topdecks Piranha Marsh to kill me.

Game 3 I open with Machete and Corrupted Zendikon and get to work. He is at 10 when he uses Inferno Trap to kill my land, but by then I have a Blood Seeker and a Windrider Eel in play and he can’t race the large flier accompanied by the bloodsucking dork.


Round 7 against SteffenG

I finally lose a die roll, and my opponent opts to play. He leads with Akoum Refuge, followed by Island and Kraken Hatchling. My draw involves mulliganing into Kitesail, Windrider Eel, and Hagra Crocodile. I play a topdecked Pilgrim’s Eye, and then Crocodile, and suit him up with Kitesail. He plays out an Umara Raptor, which trades with my Crocodile when I miss the landfall. He plays Windrider Eel, which I steal with Vapor Snare after casting my Sphinx to cycle through three cards. He has a removal spell for the Windrider Eel, keeping my landfall stuff in check, but I overextend a little bit into a Chain Reaction, which wipes the board. I follow that up with a Bloodhusk Ritualist, which hits his entire hand except for a single card, but his lone card ends up being Kazuul, Tyrant of Cliffs. I play a Lodestone Golem and Pulse Tracker, which makes him keep his Kazuul at home, since I have lethal in play. He scoops after drawing no answer to Kitesail or the Lodestone Golem.

Game 2 I mulligan into a 5 land and Windrider Eel hand, but draw only lands for the first four draws. His hand is not very aggressive, but his Halimar Excavator gets to work on my life total. He plays a Living Tsunami on Turn 5, but I start racing with the Eel and a freshly drawn Quag Vampires. He attacks with his 1/3 into my 3/3, which makes me believe he is holding Chain Reaction, which won’t kill his 4/4 if I block, as there are only 3 creatures in play at that point. I take the 1 and get to racing. He plays out a Seagate Loremaster, but ends up only getting to use it one time. I rip his hand apart with a Bloodhusk Ritualist that I’d been saving, since he was sandbagging his hand for a while. On his upkeep, he uses the Seagate Loremaster to draw two cards before deciding what land to bounce. I know then that he’s going to cast his Chain Reaction (which was his lone card in hand after I cast the Bloodhusk, I’m sure). He attacks me down to 8 and Wraths. Luckily, I topdeck the second Ritualist, and kill the rest of the cards he’d drawn off Loremaster. With Machete in hand, I suit up my guy and send him to 1 life. He draws nothing, or possibly Black cards (since he was bouncing his Swamp with Living Tsunami to keep my Swampwalker back), and promptly dies.


Round 8 against ptimmons

He wins the roll and leads with PLAINS! Wow, finally someone who is playing white! My opener is solid, with Blood Seeker, Umara Raptor, and Bloodhusk Ritualist. He plays a Cliff Threader, which I trade with the Blood Seeker. He misses a few creature drops, and I put a Kitesail on my Umara Raptor, and bash for 3. I draw a Blue Zendikon, while he plays a Pillarfield Ox. I destroy part of his hand with the Ritualist after attacking for 5, and he tries to race with Fledgling Griffin, and a Paralyzing Grasp on my Wind Zendikon’ed land. I use Whiplash Trap to get through the final points of damage.

Game 2 he opens with double Blue Zendikon, which is very hard for me to deal with. My Pulse Tracker and Black Zendikon try to race, and I end up drawing a Blue Zendikon to halt his fliers. However, he draws a Tidewater Elemental to make combat pretty annoying. I use Vapor Snare to steal it, but that taps out my Wind Zendikon, letting him bash me down to low life. I topdeck Vampire Nighthawk, but he has his own Vapor Snare to steal it and put me away.

Game 3 I open with Black Zendikon and Nighthawk, followed by Hagra Crocodile and friends. He trades his Cliff Threader with a Kitesail on it for my Hagra Crocodile, which leads me to believe something is up, since he hasn’t played a creature in a while. He untaps and casts Day of Judgment, but I end up reloading with Sphinx of Lost Truths, and draw into Vapor Snare. He just can’t handle my bombs and I end up bouncing his team with Whiplash Trap to finish him off.


Round 9 against Twanbon

I win the roll and lead with Machete into Blood Seeker, but my opponent plays Plated Geopede and Harabaz Druid. I draw and play Nighthawk, then suit it up with Machete and crash. He plays Burst Lightning with kicker on my Nighthawk, and next turn plays Adventuring Gear and starts taking 5-point chunks out of my life total. I play a Pilgrim’s Eye followed by a 2/2 Quag Vampires, and use Whiplash Trap to put him into a topdeck situation. His attack will put me at 3, but he is dead to my 3/2 Flying Pilgrim’s Eye if he has nothing. He ends up having Spire Barrage with 3 Mountains to kill me.

Game 2 he mulligans, and just destroys me with Geopede, Adventuring Gear, and double Cunning Sparkmage. He kills all of my creatures and uses Geopede and Groudswell to crush me.


At this point I’m 7-2, and out of Top 8 contention. With the bye system for the MTGO Champs, they don’t add any rounds like they do for Grand Prix. As such, with no intentional draws, it is incredibly difficult to make Top 8, and usually requires a record of 9-1 or better. I have actually seen a MTGO Champs tournament where two people went 9-1 and failed to make Top 8 because of tiebreakers. Hopefully with another win in Round 10 I can crack the Top 32, and get a foil Full Art Wrath of God, as well as some hard earned packs. Unfortunately, the amount of packs I can win at this point don’t amount to the number of hours I’ve spent playing this tournament, but maybe I’ll still get something out of it.

Round 10 against Yuuzan

He opens with Basilisk Collar on the first turn, but no creature for the first few turns. I play Pulse Tracker, followed by Kitesail and Corrupted Zendikon. He plays a Bojuka Brigand, but I begin racing with my 3/3 and Pulse Tracker. He plays a Surrakar Marauder, but trades it for the Pulse Tracker because he is losing the race. He suits up his Brigand with the Collar, and uses Searing Blaze to kill my Zendikon. I draw Bloodhusk Ritualist and just destroy his hand, then use Vapor Snare to steal his Heartstabber Mosquito (without Kicker). I use it to trade with the Brigand, and attack. I topdeck Wind Zendikon but he has Hideous End for it. I play a 3/3 Quag Vampires, which threatens to end the game soon, but he plays a Caustic Crawler to halt my squad. I’m dead if he draws a land to kill my Pilgrim’s Eye that I held back to block the Crawler. But, if I had not attacked, there is no way I could have raced his large flying monster with Lifelink. I draw a Hagra Crocodile to help race, but he draws an irrelevant 3/3, and I get to put a Kitesail on my Hagra Crocodile to sail over for 9 damage when he is at 8.

Game 2 he doesn’t mulligan but apparently keeps a really weak hand. He plays three consecutive swamps but no other play. I start with Wind Zendikon, followed by a Nighthawk on Turn 3, Hagra Crocodile on Turn 4, and Vapor Snare for his lonesome Heartstabber Mosquito on Turn 5. He scoops after untapping.


So, at 8-2, I’m likely to make Top 32. I began the round in 38th place at 7-2, as my tiebreakers were pretty horrible. I feel like I got pretty lucky to open such a good sealed pool, and also that I played pretty well. I made a few mistakes, but the matches I lost were to better players or decks, so I’m not too unhappy. My only two real losses were to incredible draws from incredible decks, but I handed a few people losses that I felt had a better deck than me. I know that there is a lot of luck involved in Magic, and even more so in Sealed than either Draft or Constructed, but it is the game we play and love, and there isn’t much we can do about it other than eliminate as much of that factor as possible. When you are presented with a Sealed pool, you must build the best 40 card deck out of that pile of cards that you can. All you can do is play well and hope for the best.

I’m pretty sure my friend Brian Eason made Top 8, and I really hope he wins. I would love to be able to room with him in Japan (assuming I am able to qualify for Worlds again). As of now, I’m off to prepare more for upcoming Extended PTQ’s. Hopefully I’ll be able to finally win one of them. With so many different strategies in the format, I might be able to find one strong enough to break the stale Zoo and Depths filled metagame. It will probably involve 4 Bant Charms, as I have an uncanny love for that spell at the moment. It is just so versatile, and fights against all the current strategies in Extended, including just removing a Tarmogoyf from play! Kali says I would marry Bant Charm if I could, but I think it would probably have to draw a card for that to happen.

Thanks for reading.

strong sad on MTGO