Lessons from Atlanta

Ari Lax’s Sealed pool for Grand Prix Atlanta didn’t get him to Day Two, but it did give him insight into the full-block Limited format. Read his thoughts before going into one of the last Limited PTQs of the season or Grand Prix: Washington, D.C.

Given my Sealed pool, I performed about as well as I expected at Grand Prix Atlanta. The deck was good for about 3.5 wins out of my six rounds I had to
play, and I got three. The decks I lost to were either clearly better than mine or clearly better than mine when their mana worked, which, when the
conditional statement is true, doesn’t really make a difference.

I did learn a ton about the format, however.

For those of you hitting up the last few PTQs before Modern season, this is how Journey-Born-Theros draft breaks down.


In two-set sealed, I felt Bestow was one of the most important things for a Sealed deck. The creatures scaled up very quickly, making the ability to break
sizing battles very important. The two-for-one factor was also not to be underestimated, as games tended to stretch long in a lot of matchups.

With Journey into Nyx in the format, Bestow is not quite as necessary. It’s still really good, but the format got faster and sizing got closer. Bestow no
longer gives you a big jump, and people can “go wide” with a group of attackers around a single monster.

The removal in Journey into Nyx is also significantly better against the big monster strategy that dominated Theros and Born of the Gods Limited. Pin to
the Earth, Akroan Mastiff, Armament of Nyx, Hubris, and Feast of Dreams are all common answers that take care of the enchanted creature. Most of these even
leave the Bestow creature stranded on a dealt-with body. Cast into Darkness also performs a similar role if the issue with a Bestowed creature is the fact
that it can block.

Compare this to the Born of the Gods removal that is being replaced by this pack. You have Excoriate, which is fine but clunky; Asphyxiate, which only
really hits when the Aura is Observant Alseid; Fall of the Hammer, which requires having the larger body already (aka winning); and Retraction Helix, which
is great but odd on tempo. When one of these spells stops a Bestow creature, it feels like you got away with something instead of the normal case of Aura
versus removal. Obviously, making Auras an important and playable part of the Block’s Limited format was one of the design goals, but it’s worth pointing
out just how well Wizards succeeded at this line before Journey into Nyx intentionally dialed back on it.

There are also fewer Bestow creatures. I’ve pointed this out before, but Journey into Nyx has zero commons with Bestow. As a result, you end up with less
of the double Bestow stacks that are completely unbeatable as opposed to the single Bestow which is manageable. The Theros Bestow creatures are also miles
better than the Born of the Gods one, so losing a pack of Hopeful Eidolons, Heliod’s Emissary, and Nimbus Naiads there hurts more than it seems like it


Removal is still very important, but you can win without it. Again, instead of breaking through big creatures, there are a lot of smaller creatures trying
to make profitable combats against each other. Removal kills their best target, but that creature is just a slightly better but relatively interchangeable
idiot and not a Nessian Asp, Wingsteed Rider, or similarly unbeatable creature.

The exception is in handling specific rares. My pool had a Bolt of Keranos and a Fated Conflagration as removal and I lost multiple matches to not being
able to handle a Master of Feasts coming down too early to race. I was fine racing a number of other rares just because they cost significantly more
(Doomwake Giant), but that one specifically was an issue. Similarly, I can imagine an awesome G/R deck that ended up with zero ways to beat a Godsend or
Whip of Erebos because it couldn’t find a Fade to Antiquity in the packs it received.

Basically, no removal is not a death sentence for making Day Two of a Grand Prix, but it might be if you are trying to Top 8 a large PTQ or enter Day Two
with fewer than two losses. Dodging the rares you don’t have answers to is something you are favored at in the short run, but over enough rounds will catch
up to you.

Aside on Feast of Dreams: This card was phenomenal for everyone I saw playing it. The common and uncommon enchantment creatures are some of the most
important cards in the format because Bestow is great and a large number of the Constellation triggers are very strong. Just be aware that if you have this
card, it increases the value of your Scourgemarks, Karametra’s Favors, and other similarly “mediocre” cantrip Auras. Sometimes you just have to build a
Doom Blade. Don’t try to mix it with Fate Foretold, though. When your opponent draws the card off their creature dying, things end very poorly for the
removal player.

Aggression and Tempo

Just to double down on what I said above, beating down is the real deal now. The brick walls are all downgraded from Nessian Asp and the Heroic threats
that would outrace a team are all downgraded from Wingsteed Rider. In the meantime, two-drops got a huge upgrade with cards like Stonewise Fortifier and
Oreskos Swiftclaw trading up or providing late-game utility instead of just being a Traveling Philospher. Good old-fashioned creature combat is back in

Part of what this means is that combat tricks are back too. If two-drops are reasonably able to trade for three-drops, it stands that being able to get
down multiple two-drops on Turn 4 is a big deal. Most of the combat tricks in this format are in a prime position to allow this to virtually happen by
stepping in for a would-be trade. For example, if you attack with your Oreskos Swiftclaw into my 2/2 and Savage Surge it, the end result is the same as if
you just played another Swiftclaw.

As a result, a lot of games end up in scenarios where blocking just is not great for either player for a fair amount of time. If you block and they have
the trick, you let them get ahead on tempo. The next turn, you might be better-positioned to choke their mana if you block, but you can attack and force
them into the same boat.

This means one-mana tricks that let you get ahead on Turn 3 instead of Turn 4 are huge deal-breakers. The problem is that so many of those tricks aren’t
reliable enough to force the issue. Getting Mortal’s Ardor’ed when you block their 2/2 with your 2/3 sucks, but two turns later, when your 4/4 blocks their
2/3, that Mortal’s Ardor starts looking really bad. If you have a one-mana trick and your opponent can actually go bigger than you, you need to get the
most out of the additional value it provides. You see things like Ajani’s Presence and Gods Willing being hyped because they can present larger blowouts,
but the card that I think is underrated is Nature’s Panopoly. If you ever win a combat with this card, it has a lasting impact on the board state. Instead
of just trading your card for their card, you get a partial card up with the permanent boost. People really liked Feral Invocation, and this card is just
the cheap and flexible version of it.

This also means that you want tricks that actually win the combat definitively. If everyone is loading up on tricks, playing your trick and then losing to
their trick is going to more common than normal and just as devastating thanks to the two-for-one. Ajani’s Presence is the obvious one, as any retrick over
your indestructible leaves your creature still standing, but first strike (Rise to the Challenge, Coordinated Assault) is another way to do this. There was
also a green Ajani’s Presence in Born of the Gods (Mortal’s Resolve) that does this job. People undervalue that card because the +1/+1 size jump just
didn’t matter enough in the previous format, but in this format, that card is one of the ultimate trump card tricks.

This also means creatures that force the combat trick are important. Anything that is 2/3 or larger for three does this exceptionally well. Nessian Courser
got way better than the already great value it was, and the 2/3 Constellation creatures (Harvestguard Alseids and Oakheart Dryads) are amazingly good. With
these last two, not only do they force the trick on your opponent’s early attack if you put them into combat, but they are the trick for
your swing.

Blue is the Best Color

This really isn’t close.

Blue has the best ability to interact with an indeterminate creature in the format. Hubris, Voyage’s End, Griptide, Pin to the Earth, and Retraction Helix
are all indiscriminate in their targets, while the other colors are handed conditional answers. When the format is all combat tempo races or breaking up
large creatures, bounce is basically removal. Your opponent just doesn’t have the time to reinvest their cards properly the second time they are forced to
pay mana for them.

The blue finishers are also amazing. Often in other colors, your one slightly bigger creature is put into a position where your opponent can just
two-for-one themselves to answer it. Green answers the issue by just playing more creatures and generating a string of on-board two-for-ones, but blue does
it by just using evasion to prevent the scenario from ever occurring to begin with. The multiple 3/2 fliers for four (Cloaked Siren and Chorus of Tides)
end games in fast and fairly non-interactive ways, and those aren’t even the higher-cost ones that are four-power evasive creatures (Whitewater Naiads,
Rise of Eagles, Nimbus Naiad to an extent). If it’s finishing tricks you’re looking for, it really doesn’t get better than Sea God’s Revenge or Sudden
Storm (aka common Sea God’s Revenge).

If evasive threats can’t finish games, blue has the best long game of any color in the format. That shouldn’t be a shocker, as card draw and card selection
are always powerful weapons when the game extends extremely late, but it gets laid on thick in this format. Sigiled Starfish has been hailed by a few
people as the best common in Journey into Nyx, and that seems surprisingly accurate to me. The ability to hold down an early game as an 0/3 while assuring
you come out ahead in the long term with repeated scrys is really unparalleled. Sphinx’s Disciple is another card I have pegged as being extremely
underrated. A lot of people are very down on the card as a five-mana 2/2 that has no effect for two turns, but if the game is remotely stable when you land
this, it provides a cascading advantage in a way that a simple power-and-toughness threat can’t really match.

Blue also has the most uniquely powerful cards. This might seem like a drawback because so many potential slots to open solid cards are replaced with
question marks, but that isn’t the case for two reasons. The first is that most of these cards are early in the draft, with Riptide Chimera and Knowledge
and Power (practically blue as you aren’t playing it without critical Starfish mass) as the two standouts in my mind. If you take them, you have time to
plan around having the card and maximizing it. The second reason is that these cards allow you to gain value on your late picks. If you can turn what
should be mediocre cards into standouts, you will reliably end up in game states where you draw more good cards than your opponents because you just have
more good cards. When you’re looking forward to that Turn 7 Fate Foretold because you now draw a card a turn with Floodtide Serpent and trigger
Harvestguard Alseids to keep your 4/4 around, you have turned a tenth pick into a valuable draw.

It’s not that these things are unique to blue. Green has the finishers, red has unique cards, black has card selection, and the other colors mostly have
some removal. The issue is just that blue has everything in more plentiful and better forms than anyone else.

Welcome to the status quo since Alpha.

Aside on Pin to the Earth: This is a type card that would have been bad several years ago, but has gone way up in value as Wizards of the Coast has
implemented their newer design philosophy. Cards like Pin to the Earth have always been mismatched in the past, as the most threatening creatures were
those with non-combat related abilities. If you shrank a Sparksmith or Kabuto Moth, it didn’t matter because they still activated and destroyed your board.
Now the top commons are good because they have power and toughness and actually end games instead of making them draw out miserably. This also applies to
the rares in this format, with the bomby rares being more Stormbreath Dragons and Fabled Heroes and less Visara the Dreadfuls and Olivia Voldarens. Still,
this stigma hangs around, and Pin to the Earth is instinctively viewed as a subpar answer.


I really like this Limited format, but that may be because it plays to my strengths. Tempoish combat, racing scenarios, fat green creatures? Sign. Me. Up.

All I’m hoping for at this point is that I get a pool that makes getting to the draft rounds of Grand Prix Washington D.C. easy.