King Of The Misfit Toys

After working hard to become better at Theros Limited, Ari Lax won Grand Prix Toronto this past weekend. Check out how he built his Sealed deck and handled the three drafts!

I guess I won.

I’m simultaneously shocked and not shocked.

Let’s start from the top.


As a result of the fairly large amount of prep work I put in (as documented in my past few weeks of videos), my deck build felt fairly straightforward to me. Instead of presenting you with the other non-options, I’m going to tell you why this deck was easily correct in my mind.

1. Removal

Almost every successful Sealed deck from the previous Grand Prix featured a significant amount of all-purpose removal. My black cards didn’t provide that, but my green included double Time to Feed and my blue had a Voyage’s End and Griptide. While my blue was fairly shallow, this pairing also offered an on-color Temple of Mystery to enable the splash. I also had an Unknown Shores for this, but I felt losing the tempo to make the right colors would hurt more than just playing an Island and accepting that I might not have double white or green on occasion.

Note that the bounce spells are listed here but not things like Lash of the Whip or Pharika’s Cure. Being able to interact with a Nessian Asp sized guy in any way is more important than permanently answering some random creature. Also note that Time to Feed is easily listed here. While it can’t stop something that is completely snowballing out of control like a double-bestowed Wingsteed Rider or Abhorrent Overlord, it does a good enough job against most of the problem cards. Green also featured a Sedge Scorpion, allowing me to build a Bone Splinters to answer the few things I couldn’t normally handle.

White also had a Divine Verdict, but I’m hesitant to include that here. It does handle large creatures, but if you’re in a scenario where you really need it, your opponent is often in a position to play around it.

Red’s issue on this front is that none of its removal matches up with the very large creatures. Lightning Strike and Magma Jet are the best out there for dealing with Ordeals and Wingsteed Riders, but more Sealed games are won with 4/4 or larger guys. Rage of Purphoros has many well-documented issues, namely Nessian Asp. This is a large part of why red is the worst color in Theros Sealed.

What white did offer me was two sideboard Glare of Heresys. Glare is probably the best of the Theros color-hate cards, in part because the white permanents that do see play are must kills like Spear of Heliod and Heroic creatures. Gainsay is also up there, as countering a Griptide or Sea God’s Revenge is game changing. I also had a Hunt the Hunter in my board, but that card is often hard to maneuver into being useful. It’s obviously worth boarding in, but you need a 3/3 or larger target on your side and often lose the benefit of the +2/+2 on the attack thanks to the leftover damage from fighting.

Green also offered a sideboard Fade Into Antiquity. I’m not a huge fan of starting the enchantment-removal cards without a bonus since they can clog up your hand, but the instants with a bonus are fine. If you Artisan’s Sorrow or Destructive Revelry a random Aura, you probably come out even or ahead on the exchange.

2. Game Enders

I mentioned in my Sealed Video Last Week that blue, black, and green were the most common colors among Grand Prix undefeated decks. Black and blue have a clear role since they provide removal, but green only has Time to Feed in that category. Instead, Green is supposed to provide a multitude of non-cards that can win a game without assistance.

The best part about green is how many interchangeable threats there are. I didn’t have Vulpine Goliath or Nessian Asp, but Centaur Battlemaster, Nemesis of Mortals, and Staunch-Hearted Warrior were quite capable of dealing twenty damage if unanswered.

I almost found Centaur Battlemaster and Nemesis of Mortals better than Nessian Asp, the presumed best high drop. A lot of this had to do with the fact that they went over the top of the 4/5 in green mirrors. Battlemaster in particular has a lot of room to grow. My record was 20/20, which ended up beating my opponent’s monstrous Colossus of Akros in the heads-up race thanks to Hopeful Eidolon and Gods Willing.

Green also has some of the best rares in the format. While I only had one rare in the color, it was a good one: Bow of Nylea. Playing with that card felt somewhere between playing with Umezawa’s Jitte and Obelisk of Alara. It’s probably the best weapon and even won the heads up against both Spear of Heliod and Hammer of Purphoros in one of my games. Your creatures are basically unblockable thanks to deathtouch and the +1/+1 counters. Racing back is near impossible thanks to Bow shooting down fliers and gaining life. Even if they do assemble some combination of cards that lets them try to outlast it, the random fifth ability to rebuy old cards gives you inevitability in the very long game.

Finishers were a big part of the reason I paired white with my green cards. In order to make Staunch-Hearted Warrior into a real threat, I needed access to the Hopeful Eidolon and two Observant Alseids white offered. Wingsteed Rider and Celestial Archon just added to the pile of finishers I had. Blue offered Prognostic Sphinx, but beyond that the cards did not do a lot of killing my opponent.

3. Two-Drops

This was the weak point of my deck.

Having relevant two-drops is one of the ways to make sure you survive Ordeal draws from the decks that are trying to do that. It’s also one of the ways to beat a deck that is better than yours. As Gavin Verhey famously wrote: Always Be Clocking.

Before three mana, I had three relevant plays. They were all good ones, but I found myself losing to an Ordeal of Heliod on an Akroan Crusader round 9. Without drawing my Sedge Scorpion or Voyage’s End, I couldn’t stop it, and without my Voyaging Satyr, I couldn’t begin to race it. I was forced into awkward mulligans if I wanted to not lose to the Ordeal one-two punch draws.

Ideally, I would have another early drop to shore up this weakness. I had access to a Bronze Sable, but that card doesn’t hold water against anything going past turn 2. Last Breath, Leonin Snarecaster, Leafcrown Dryad, or some other card with late-game utility would have been ideal.

My full Sealed build for those interested:

Draft 1

I learned my lesson from Grand Prix Pittsburgh earlier this year. I put hours into the Sealed format, got the nuts Sealed pool, and easily 10-0ed. I then promptly 1-5ed Draft on day 2.

For this Grand Prix, I had a plan. I wasn’t going to test a ton for Draft, but other people would fill in the gaps. Specifically, I leaned on Chris Fennell and Brian DeMars, which is quite a duo for Limited knowledge.

The motto from the mouth of Brian DeMars: "Find the sweet spot."

Let’s do a walkthrough. I make no promises these picks are correct, but hopefully what I’m saying makes sense and demonstrates the general ideology I followed.

Pick 1

Hopeful Eidolon
Heliod’s Emissary
Sylvan Caryatid
Coordinated Assault

In my mind, the most powerful card in the pack is Heliod’s Emissary, and I went with it. When I asked around later, Sylvan Caryatid was also discussed. The reasons given were "green is better than white" and "you are passing two white cards." I believe the first is a good answer, but the second doesn’t seem to make sense. Even if I pass some white, I should be cutting it enough to ignore a single card out of a deep pack. I might have to fight someone downstream, but two open packs should be enough.

Pick 2

Hopeful Eidolon

Again, I took the more powerful card in Griptide. Hopeful Eidolon lines up on color, but similar to Sealed access to removal is a big deal in Draft.

Pick 3

Observant Alseid
Nemesis of Mortals

Nemesis is a far better card, and with what I have I’m not even throwing away a pick if I move into Green. Griptide and Heliod’s Emissary are both easily splashable.

Pick 4

Favored Hoplite
Voyaging Satyr

In my mind, this was the closest of these picks. According to Chris Fennell, a fourth-pick Voyaging Satyr is someone handing you a green deck on a platter. According to Frank Skarren, Favored Hoplite is head and shoulders above a bunch of top rares, let alone lowly commons.

I took the Hoplite, aiming for the higher-reward deck, and this could easily be wrong. I followed it up with another Hoplite and some white filler to close the pack. I got a late Akroan Hoplite, but only one other pack showed red playables and green dried up fast. I wheeled an Omenspeaker out of my first pack, indicating there were at least two other people in blue.

Pack 2 I was presented with Sea God’s Revenge over Voyage’s End. I think I may have wanted the cheaper option, but Sea God’s Revenge is so easy to win with. From there I picked up a couple Ordeals and some more generic U/W heroic cards to end up with the following:

Note: Hopeful Eidolon is not actually a creature in any of my decks. I made sure to maintain a minimum of fourteen creatures at all times, and that card was never counted. It is an Aura that leaves a token around, nothing else.

I lost round 1 of this pod to David Ochoa putting Hopeful Eidolon on a Staunch-Hearted Warrior and Phalanx Leader while I found no answer to them. One of the games was close thanks to Daxos of Meletis, but I failed to hit a total mana cost of five in two cards to not die on his last attack. This is also known as running approximately at expectations and not above.

The next two rounds were much simpler despite the fact that I did not hook up a Favored Hoplite with an Ordeal on turn 2 in any of them. Both of my opponents were U/R, also known as the one unplayable color combination in Draft.

I expected a 2-1 or maybe a 3-0 from this and received exactly that. Even if I had beaten Ochoa, odds are I was not a favorite against the Agent of Fates plus Whip of Erebos deck that ended up beating him in the finals.

Draft 2

I was presented with a first pick of Magma Jet versus Polis Crusher. I learned from one of my previous Draft videos that I didn’t want to commit to an early gold card, but I assumed that taking it as the high-reward option and remaining open was correct. Green dried up quickly, but red kept flowing. I picked up some late white bodies, including an Akroan Hoplite, and the rest of the draft was more of the same.

The one interesting pick I faced was Ordeal of Heliod or my second Lightning Strike pack 3. I had zero one-drops, only a couple two-drops, and two Stoneshock Giants plus an Ember Swallower on the high end. Rather than take the Ordeal for the free wins, I decided the removal spell would allow me to leverage my existing powerful cards better. Given the choice again I would make the same pick.

I spent this draft paying very close attention to my curve. Red can drift towards being heavy on four-drops, and I tried to overvalue early white creatures to accommodate this. My mana was worse for it, but my deck was better.

My deck:

I misbuilt. The Spearpoint Oread should have been maindecked instead of the Flamespeaker Adept. The reason is not my heroic guys. The first strike on the Oread makes it easier for my big guys to go over the top of Nessian Asp. Flamespeaker Adept is amazing, but with only two scry cards it isn’t going to be triggered enough to matter. If I had wheeled either of the Temple of Triumphs, it would have been an easy include, but Chris Fennell didn’t let me have fun or good mana.

Now for the cuts. Divine Verdict is too clunky for the maindeck but worth it against opposing big dudes. Ray of Dissolution is good but not better than all my always-on spells. Deathbellow Raider without black mana is not actually good.

Going into round 2 the pod was all live ringers. I unfortunately had to knock out hometown hero Phil Samms and Team Luxurious Hair member Chris Fennell on my way to 3-0 in the pod.

In terms of matchups, I easily beat a Five-Color Green deck plagued by mulligans while my loose keeps weren’t punished, pulled out a squeaker versus a U/R deck (including a lethal Peak Eruption), and stole a game from a very good G/W deck to win in three.

Top 8

Also known as how to salvage a train wreck.

I started off with Gods Willing over Forge[/author]“]Purphoros, God of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] and Gray Merchant of Asphodel. I always want to be attacking in this format, and Gray Merchant often leads to not doing that. As for Purphoros, I’m ready to be wrong here. I have just been consistently unimpressed with non-Thassa Gods in this format and didn’t want to head down that path.

I followed up with Ordeal of Erebos over Anthousa and Nemesis of Mortals, but in retrospect Nemesis may actually be a more powerful card. I received a third-pick Sea God’s Revenge, and then everything dried up but Green. I assumed I would be in G/B or G/U, but pack 2 only fed me white. I accepted I would just have a great pack 3 in return, but again I was just fed more white.

The two clutch picks I had were in the middle of pack 3.

First was a decision between my first Time to Feed, my second Ordeal of Nylea (with the Ordeal of Erebos to complement), and my second Nessian Courser. Courser was the least powerful card, but I needed the bodies more than anything else.

Second was Temple of Mystery over Feral Invocation. I had two combat tricks in Savage Surge and Boon of Erebos, and getting to freeroll my Sea God’s Revenge off a Nylea’s Presence and the dual land was a big plus.

My Top 8 draft was a pile with a plan:

Let’s talk about some match highlights first:

– I didn’t think about playing an Island to fetch with the Ordeal of Nylea during deckbuilding. I thought about it mid-round 2 and concluded I didn’t want it anyway.

– I lost to Purphoros plus Elspeth round 1 from a dominating board state when my opponent had mulled to five. I then returned the favor by killing his Elspeth game 3 with a Cavern Lampad on a Nessian Courser, which then took the match home.

– I double Ordealed a Bronze Sable against Huey game 1, sitting on Boon of Erebos backup in case of a Pharika’s Cure. The game ended when the makeshift Alpha Tyrranax received intimidate from a Mogis’s Marauders and became nigh unblockable for the lethal swing.

Loathsome Catoblepas and Bronze Sable were both involved in the beatdown crew that won the last game of the finals.

Now on to the deck:

The principle it was based on was good. I avoided playing blank bodies and had all beaters and good spells.

I had the ability to get free wins. My high end could monster out people, I could double Nessian Courser for the midgame beats, and double Ordeal sometimes happened. Note that the Ordeals are a big part of why Bronze Sable cuts it here and not in my Sealed. Add some random blowouts like Sea God’s Revenge, Cavern Lampad, and Mogis’s Marauders and you have a deck that can put matches on the scoreboard.

The low end of the deck was light. Actually, that may be a generous phrasing of it. A Voyaging Satyr would have been a huge boon. A Sedge Scorpion would have been phenomenal as a way to not die and to Ordeal people out. Instead, I had Bronze Sable aka Ferret Piker.

The deck was creature light. I really had to stretch all thirteen of my bodies to achieve victory and could have easily fallen to the all pump + no dudes mulligans.

The fact that the final table was a disaster helped me a ton. I expected more given that myself, Greg, Huey, and Seth were in a chain passing to each other. Presumably this line of players would be more responsive to signals and in turn have more cooperative drafting. Instead, we all ended up in the same colors with average (or worse) decks.

Looking back on the drafts, I can’t say I did anything outside my normal range. I tend to either end up in the best decks or pull together some wacky deck with a specific game plan and crush with it. White aggro is percentage-wise the best deck, and my final Draft deck was certainly a brew.

All I can say about that one is what I led in on after game 1 of the finals:

"If I go home with the gold trophy, just remember I didn’t deserve it."