Deconstructing Constructed – Misadventures In Sealed

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Tuesday, October 28th – Having now played in a Limited PTQ for the season, the first one I’ve played in at least three years, I can safely say Sealed is not just a luck-based pile of garbage. Rather, it’s a format where, if you want to lose with a good deck, your large advantage is something you have to punt away.

For non-Limited talk, please skip a bit more than halfway down the page. Last time on Deconstructing Constructed:

Sealed Deck… oh how I hate thee. Yes, I’ve been told there’s actual skill involved, but I just can’t get over the feeling of being completely overmatched in some cases and there is nothing you could’ve done about it. At least in Constructed if you trace your steps far enough back, you can say you could have changed your deck to some degree to have a better shot. Or even concede that perhaps a different deck would’ve led to a different result. In Sealed this isn’t the case; you have a limited amount of resources to work with, and no control over the quality of such. Sure, there are usually build decisions, and some of those can be incredibly difficult, but I’m saying that even ideally built and skillfully played, a pile is still a pile and your chances of making Top 8 are in the dumper. Whatever, enough negativity on a format I barely play anyway…

And now the continuation: Having now played in a Limited PTQ for the season, the first one I’ve played in at least three years, I can safely say Sealed is not just a luck-based pile of garbage. Rather, it’s a format where, if you want to lose with a good deck, your large advantage is something you have to punt away. Okay, so again, it isn’t quite that simple, but staring at the number of decks that had cards like Flameblast Dragon, Sigil of Distinction, and the various Ultimatums all around me at the top tables throughout the day made me feel at least a little outclassed.

I had built about four Sealed pools this season, and played two of them, so that should give you some insight as to how building was. Despite my relative inexperience, I ended up going 6-2 and landing in 14th out of 185 people. Not the greatest, as toward the end of round 7 I thought I had a real shot at Top 8, but it was fine considering the circumstances. Enough about me, though… below is the pool and my deck, my general format thoughts, and anecdotes following that.

* Time to think — Craig, add white space here* [No problem! — Craig.]

This ended up being my deck, after some thought:

6 Forest
4 Plains
2 Mountain
Jund Panorama
Bant Panorama
Arcane Sanctum
Seaside Citadel

2 Akrasan Squire
Knight of the Skyward Eye
Knight-Captain of Eos
Oblivion Ring
Magma Spray
Dragon Fodder
Thorn-Thrash Viashino
2 Druid of Anima
Cavern Thoctar
Jungle Weaver
Gift of the Gargantuan
Carrion Thrash
2 Sigil Blessing
Woolly Thoctar
Rakeclaw Gargantuan

I realized this was a little misbuilt after round 1, and my new boarding plan quickly became minus the Viashino, Bant Panorama, and sometimes Dragon Fodder, for a Forest, Naturalize, and Realm Razer. Naturalize is definitely maindeckable in Sealed, and likely should be on the sole basis of killing Oblivion Ring, Capsules, and bombs like Sigil of Distinction or Necrogenesis to which you’d otherwise have few to no outs.

I’m still not sure how good Realm Razer is exactly, but with the amount of fat this deck and two Druid of the Anima it’s fine, and probably should be maindeck. Even if it is often a completely miserable topdeck and one-toughness too low for my taste – thanks a lot, Magma Spray.

That said, the deck itself played well for every real game of Magic I got to play. It also didn’t mana or color screw me very often; on the contrary, I managed to get mana flooded in three of my blowout losses. The one time the color base truly hurt was when I couldn’t find one of my two Black sources or my Jund Panorama to fetch the Swamp for Necrogenesis, despite being 20 cards deep into the deck and having resolved Gift of the Gargantuan. I did eventually get it the turn before I was about to die, which I’ll talk about in a little bit.

You’ll note that on the whole my main gameplan was just early beats, abusing Sigil and Blessing to get good trades and otherwise just killing time until I could get my fat online, or Necrogenesis to simply swarm the board.

I’ve obviously got a small sample size of only eight rounds and a few Magic Online queues to work from and draw conclusions from, so this isn’t gospel… however, it seems to ring true for many of my more active Limited playing friends as well.

First is that at least one game will (almost always ) be decided by mana screw (color or land number) or mana flood, and typically both players will encounter this during the course of a match, often leading to only one ‘real game’ being played. A lot of this is simply due to the inconsistency the format encourages, with the discrepancies in mana-fixing and the quick starts of which many of the Naya-based decks were capable. Almost all of my matches involved my opponents losing one game to their own decks regardless of how good or bad my draw actually was. It seems like the only reasonable way to play this format is either be very greedy and go five-color, or just suck it up and run three colors (four if you must, with good color splashing).

Second is that the games are relatively straightforward; there are almost no flash guys in the entire set, which makes it easy to just look for tricks. That said, there don’t seem to be too many super important instant speed tricks either, at least ones that totally blow you out. Sigil Blessing is the notable exception due to the cheap cost and pumping of the entire team; otherwise it ends up being rather obvious tricks like Resounding Silence and Thunder, etc. And the really good ones end up being uncommon, like the Charm cycle, which limits how often you’ll run into one. People should be on the look-out for Angelsong more often, as there were so many games where if I’d had an Angelsong I could’ve simply ended the game off a no-block, Fog, counter-attack strategy.

The final thing is this: people need to stop and think about what they’re doing when racing an opponent. People were dropping games simply because they didn’t read the freaking card correctly, or they failed to plan out what tricks actually exist in the format. For example, there is no instant in Shards that gives trample, which means unless it’s an on the board trick or printed on the card, chumping is perfectly safe and reasonable. From the way some people were playing their matches, you’d think Resounding Roar came with that clause.

Now a few anecdotes, so you have some idea of why I kept winning games throughout the day despite having no way to win at least three unless the opponent punted hard.

1. Tezzeret is in play, along with Windwright Mage and a few random ground creatures. The important thing is that Tezzeret has six counters, and I’m at seven life with absolutely no way to block or kill a flyer. Oh, and it’s my opponents turn. Instead of dying, I’m attacked normally twice via Mage, which gives me the extra time necessary to deal with Tar Fiend stalling my ground pounders and force my opponent to block with his flier… a turn later I kill my opponent via Necrogenesis tokens and Knight of the Skyward Eye. Had at any time during these two turns he realized the ultimate ability on Tezerret affected artifact creatures as well, I was dead. In fact, had he just activated it, I’d be forced to deal with an 8/8 and three 5/5 creatures anyway, which would’ve cost me my entire side of the board save a Rakeclaw Gargantuan.

2. I’m in a game where there’s literally no way I can win unless he makes an error. It’s my turn and I have Rakeclaw Gargantuan in play with 10 mana out, Necrogenesis and Sigil Blessing in hand. My opponent is at 8 life. I’m at one.

He has four 1/1 saprolings, a Sprouting Thrinax, and a Cylan Elf in play. Three Saproling tokens are untapped to block.

There are 0 ways for me to win unless he blocks with more than one guy. So I do some math, sigh, swing and then do a slump after he decides to block with some amount of tokens. He blocks with two. For what reason I have absolutely no idea, I slam Necrogenesis and make 4 guys to live by blocking the remaining four guys on the counter-attack. The following turn, I make four more guys and win shortly after with Sigil Blessing.

3. Long story short, I can’t win unless I resolve Realm Razer in the next turn to stop a fresh Necrogenesis from making a billion guys and ending me. The only problem is I pretty much know my opponent has a Magma Spray in hand. Regardless, it’s my only play, anyway so I throw it out there before I attack. My opponent, instead of making tokens and floating the red to Magma Spray my Realm Razer, instead just floats Red and casts Spray after Razer resolves. He is deeply troubled when he realizes his lands do in fact come back into play tapped, as he now can’t make tokens and I can now swing for the win on an empty board.

4. This one didn’t happen to me, but rather at the table next to me. I don’t know the specifics, but the gist of it is this: Hellkite Overlord and Broodmate Dragon are on the table at the same time, which is insane enough. His opponent is at 8 life and has no relevant blockers, but has 8 mana open. Instead of simply swinging with the Overlord, he decided it’ll be a much better play to swing with both Dragons. I don’t think his mind could handle the ensuing ruin when a cycled Resounding Silence ended his day. Words were exchanged afterwards, and the Dragon player desperately defended his actions by saying, “What am I supposed to do, stay back in fear of that one card!?!’ to which his opponent replied with the obvious, that he only need attack with Overlord in case of a trick. There are maybe four outs to that situation in the format, and Resounding Silence and Angelsong are both at common and can do the job. So why risk it?

Still, this was a great example of an utterly bombtastic pool losing with an incompetent player.

As for what I lost to? In round 7 I got paired up against a solid four-color deck featuring plenty of removal, some Unearth men, and a couple of bomb rares. I won game 1 in a walk, game 2 I lost to Flameblast Dragon after locking up the ground with Necrogenesis and friends (although I punted by not giving myself an extra turn to dig for an answer by not playing Captain-Knight of Eos ASAP). The third game I mulled to six and got off to a ‘WW draw’ which was turn 1 and 2 Akrasan Squire and all Plains until turn 4. My opponent took advantage of my general lack of action, but made a few costly attacks into my forces and I eventually stabilized with 5 life left.

Opponent was at 8 life with infinite mana, Dregscape Zombie, and Viscera Dagger in play.

I was at 5 life with infinite mana, Metallurgeon, Knight of the Skyward Eye, and a freshly cast Jungle Weaver.

I lost to a ripped Violent Ultimatum. What a beating. Turned out even Flameblast Dragon wouldn’t have turned things around for him, since my top three cards were Oblivion Ring, Excommunicate, and Realm Razer.

Other than that gut-punch moment, for the most part I didn’t hate the format nearly as much as I thought I would. I still think it has far too many one-sided blowouts because somebody’s deck decided not to work, but at least the real games you get to play are pretty interesting. When we have more PTQs in December, I may actually show up, although it is Sealed…

Random Shots

Who wants a sick deck for Berlin? Nobody? That’s what I thought! Too bad, you get one anyway, because it happens to be made of awesomeness and cheese, which is a winning combination* where I come from.

* Disclaimer: I take absolutely zero responsibility as far as not winning is concerned. In fact, even winning will likely not be due to anything the deck does.

The deck was effectively started around the Erayo-Ethersworn Canonist idea, but that quickly became too bulky to effectively support. So instead I built around the Canonist — Voidmage Prodigy idea of merely locking out the most annoying spells while still being a useful creature on its own. Trinket Mage is another card that I’ve wanted to play with for a while, and Shards has brought us some real goodies to make him even better. Sigil of Distinction may seem out of place, but if you tutor one up with Trinket Mage and then cast it the following turn you basically get a 5/5 guy out of the deal. And if something should happen to him, a 4/4… or, in the worst-case, just attach it to Mutavault and swing with it.

Banneret is one of those cards I tried because it was a Wizard, and so many of my creatures gained from having it in play. However, it turned out Islandwalk was a pretty big deal with all the Shocklands, and it made Sigil of Distinction quite ridiculous at times by turning a 1/1 unblockable into a 4/4 unblockable. The deck might just be too much synergy and strategy and simply not have enough raw power to compete. Against Zoo, for example, you really have major issues game 1. The maindeck Threads of Disloyalty go a long way toward making it winnable, but you still will usually have to pack it up for the board. After that, things are pretty good; you gain multiple sweepers for one-drop starts, cheap removal, and the 4th Threads, along with classic Jitte beats. Against combo and slower midrange decks, Wizards has a way better game-plan. Control using Stifle, Canonist, Prodigy, Clique, and Venser, while establishing at least some amount of a clock with all the 2/2 bodies at your disposal.

Ultimately, the deck might just be a bad Faeries deck, which although unfortunate is just the nature of the beast. Cool lock and Trinket engine not withstanding, they already do much of what this deck wants to do in the first place. Although I still have some faith in the GWU build I posted a few weeks ago as being pretty awesome, especially Bant Charm.

For States… well, next week will be all about the final prep-work before States. I may throw up a few lists early in the forums if I can get the consistency for the odder ones right. At the moment, all I want to say is that my best performing RDW build involves running Green for Treetop Village and has Sigil of Distinction in it. Until then…

Josh Silvestri
Team Reflection
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom