Removed From Game – Shards Sealed with The Pros

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Wednesday, October 22nd – In a follow-up to last week’s number-crunching festival of stats, Rich ups the ante with another 53 Sealed Pools to analyse. But these don’t come from a PTQ. Oh no. Ruel, Ruel, Levy, Fortier, Mueller, Thaler, Joens, Lybaert, Gregoir, Meulders and 43 others make up the largest detailed Pro analysis of this Limited format.

Last week I brought you an extensive guide to Shards Of Alara Sealed using real-world PTQ numbers. 53 decks were sliced, diced, and data-mined for information about the shape of the format, what cards were widely played, ignored, influential and irrelevant, format-defining, and format-useless. As I hoped, it turned out that these straight-up facts (rather than opinion) were pretty popular, but there was an obvious problem. Although 53 is a decent number, especially for Common cards which occurred in the 20-30 range, the rarer the rarity, the less the data, to the point at which all we could really say about a card like Sharding Sphinx was that player 9 played with it, which isn’t terribly helpful. Also, as most of you were kind enough not to point out, my 53 player sample contained a random mix of PTQers here in England, and whilst that does mean players who regularly travel to Grand Prix and have Pro Points to their name, it also includes some less than stellar players who were early in their Magic careers, or just there for a bit of fun. Since any sample of deck choices are only as good as the individual opinions of the players who make up the sample, it stands to reason that there might be a better, more ‘trustworthy’ sample than the one I had available. That’s not to say that there wouldn’t still be mistakes made during deckbuilding, just that the better (read, more successful) the player, the more likely we can assume that they know what they’re doing when it comes to building a Sealed Pool.

Fast forward seven days. Turns out, I went to another Sealed Tournament this past weekend, and it was the largest tournament in Magic history. That meant that sitting approximately ten feet from my Coverage chair all weekend were one thousand eight hundred and thirty nine decklists. Since players were given 20 minutes to register the pool, I reckoned I could probably collate the relevant cards for my enquiry in about 15 minutes, or 4 pools an hour. Yes, in just 450 hours of work, I could tell you exactly how many people played Soul’s Grace. Whilst logic tells me that this is exactly the piece of information you are desperate for me to impart, logic also tells me that 450 hours is approximately 447 hours less than I have available this week. Therefore, it will not surprise you to learn that I have abandoned that herculean task, and have instead, with pleasing symmetry, confined myself to another 53 decklists just like last time. However, and here comes the science bit, I elected to exercise a little bit of quality control over my choices. These 53 decklists are not random. They do not all begin with the letter A. They are not all the Italian decklists, nor are they 53 decklists belonging to players with the most unpronounceable names, all of which would presumably have given me a fair random sampling of the near-2000 who tried their best on Saturday morning.

No, instead I chose my 53 very carefully indeed. It’s possible that you may have heard of some of these people:

Saul Aguado — Spain
David Besso – Italy
Armin Birner — Austria
Nico Bohny – Switzerland
Manuel Bucher — Switzerland
Bernardo da Costa Cabral – Belgium
Joel Calafell — Spain
William Cavaglieri — Italy
Andre Coimbra – Portugal
Frederico Costa — Portugal
Jan Doise – Belgium
Remi Fortier – France
Patrizio Golia — Italy
Christophe Gregoir – Belgium
Daniel Grafensteiner – Germany
Christoph Huber — Switzerland
Klaus Joens – Germany
Martin Juza — Slovakia
Masami Kaneko – Japan
Frank Karsten — Netherlands
Filippo Kratter – Italy
Matthias Kunzler — Switzerland
Gaetan Lefebvre — France
Raphael Levy — France
Tommi Lindgren — Sweden
Marijn Lybaert — Belgium
Quentin Martin – England
Antoine Menard — France
Fried Meulders — Belgium
Farid Meraghni — France
Andre Mueller — Germany
Shuuhei Nakamura — Japan
Kenny Oberg — Sweden
Richard Parker – England
Christophe Peyronnel — France
Florian Pils — Germany
Thomas Preyer – Germany
Simon Ritzka — Germany
Antoine Ruel — France
Olivier Ruel — France
Jan Ruess – Germany
Tomaharu Saitou — Japan
Rasmus Sibast — Denmark
Bram Snepvangers — Netherlands
Guy Southcott – Scotland
Amiel Tenenbaum – France
Sebastian Thaler — Germany
Kenji Tsumura — Japan
Roel van Heeswijk – Netherlands
Robert van Medevoort – Netherlands
Ruud Warmenhoven — Netherlands
Matej Zatlkej — Slovenia
Arnost Zidek – Czech Republic

Not everyone on here has multiple Pro Tour Top 8s, but it’s a very good cross section of current Pros, past greats, established Grand Prix successes, and, of course, some of the best players in the history of the game. Due to Grand Prix: Kansas City taking place, the only piece of the global puzzle we’re missing is the input of a few top of the line American Pros, but unlike in the early days of Magic (where the whole ‘East Coast/West Coast’ thing mirrored that of the NFL for American Football), I don’t believe that the views of Chapin, Sadin, Cheon, LSV et al differ significantly from their fellow Pros who are represented here. In total, they have 163 Grand Prix Top 8s, including 19 victories.

So, let’s see what they made of the format. As before I’ll break the numbers down into certain key categories, plus one additional set of numbers that many of you expressed an interest in, namely the number of lands each player was playing. Let’s go! Here are the categories:

Removal spells
Tap Lands
Mythic Rares
Mana Fixing and Acceleration
The Battlemages
Artifact and Enchantment Destruction
Five-Power Fatties
Play-Me Rares
Basic Land Use
Shard Archetypes

Basic Land Use

Here’s our numbers from the PTQ:

Forest – 219
Mountain — 197
Plains — 175
Swamp — 98
Island — 70

This equated to this many of each land per player:

Forest — 4.13
Mountain — 3.71
Plains — 3.30
Swamp — 1.84
Island — 1.41

And now the Pro Version:

Mountain — 212
Forest — 203
Plains — 130
Swamp — 116
Island — 68

Per player:

Mountain — 4.00
Forest — 3.83
Plains — 2.45
Swamp — 2.18
Island — 1.28

Mountain — Among the Pros, Mountain hits the top of the pile. 22/53 played it as a Main color, with an additional 20 playing it as more than a splash (3 or 4 copies.) 3/53 couldn’t find a reason to splash it at all, all very much in line with the PTQ stats.

Forest — The numbers for using forest as a main color were significantly down among the Pros, from 30/53 at the PTQ to 25/53 in Paris. The percentage playing Green as more than a splash fell from 77% to 71%, still a significant number, but heading back from the Ravnica numbers alluded to last week. It seems big Green men may not be quite as important as it initially seemed.

Plains — In the PTQ 17/53 played two or fewer plains. That number rose hugely in the Pro stats, with 22 running either 1 or 2, and 8 not bothering with White at all. That’s a rise from 32% last week to 56%. From almost 3.5 Plains per player at the PTQ, nearly an entire basic per player has been wiped from the total. Plains is the overwhelming loser from PTQ to Pro.

Swamp — The Pros were much more willing to use Black, although there were still 16 players of the 53 who didn’t touch it. Although a high number, that compares with 23 at the PTQ. 14 were splashing it, while 23 played 3 or more. It’s clear that Black was probably undervalued at the PTQ.

Island — Almost exactly mirroring the PTQ figures, Islands were far and away the least-used basic. 47% of the Pros didn’t touch it, with another 28% only using it as a splash. One interesting side effect of this general view that Blue sucks in Sealed is that many players steered themselves away from drafting Esper decks on the Sunday, presumably in part on their experiences in Prereleases, Releases, and Day 1 of the GP. It was noticeable that plenty of the heavy-hitters on Day 2 recognised that Esper in Sealed and Esper in Draft are two very different beasts.

Shard Archetypes

Last time around the PTQ Metagame looked like this:

Naya — 22
Jund — 5
Grixis — 5
Esper — 5
Bant — 3

Here’s how the Pros stack up:

Naya — 22
Grixis — 13
Jund — 6
Esper — 3
Bant — 3

There are a couple of things to say here, one that is readily apparent and one less so. Grixis is the big winner this week, with the Pros turning to the URB archetype in significant numbers compared to their PTQ counterparts. What these raw numbers doesn’t show is this truly important fact — the Pros were consistently and utterly more ‘greedy’ than our original sample. Many of the decks in the Shard list above were more than just those three colors. Of the 22 ‘Naya’ decks, 7 added a 4th color splash, and a further 4 splashed all the way out to a fifth color. This multicolor bias spread throughout the decks I’ve labelled as recognisably a Shard deck, with far more Pros willing to extend their manabase across the whole range of colors. I believe this reflects both an increased technical understanding of how to produce the correct manabase, an exceptionally complex operation in this format, and also the fact that they understand the importance of playing as many good spells as possible, regardless of color. These two factors combined to make a considerable number of the Pro decks (15/53, or 28%) which defied easy Shard categorization, and were essentially five color.

Land Numbers

This was the big number that was missing from last week’s report. How many is the correct number of lands to play? The factors that go into that decision are many, and include some unique to Shards. Specifically, how should you count the Panoramas? As a source, they can provide one source of up to three different colors, but only one of them in any given game. When you draw them, you’ve drawn a land, but in order to generate the color you have to fetch a land. This is obviously good most of the time, since late game you want to be drawing spells and not more land, and taking a basic out of your deck helps this. However, that also means that you decrease the likelihood of getting to that crucial Xth mana, where X is usually 7 or 8, depending on whether you’re casting a Spearbreaker Behemoth, or an Ultimatum, or are looking to cycle one of the fabulous Resounding spells. Add in the fact that there are accelerators in the format like the Obelisks, Drumhunter, and Exuberant Firestoker and the like (I won’t list them all here) and it’s clear that the number of land played isn’t a totally accurate reflection of any given deck. However, taken across the 53 Pros, if we have a broad consensus that’s going to be a good guide. And boy, do we ever have a consensus… here’s the numbers:

15 land — 1
16 land — 1
17 land — 43
18 land — 6
19 land — 2

Okay stat fans, can you spot the trend? I’m going to stick my neck out, and say that I believe the Pros have shown us that this is a 17 land format, almost every time. At the extremes, 15/16 came from two hyper-aggressive decks, and at the other end, the 19 land-ers belong to a philosophy of ‘I will not die to manascrew ever and will be able to cast my spells no matter what.’ We’ll look at the tap lands and Panoramas in depth later, and the Obelisks too, but for now it’s fair to say that across the range of accelerators and fixers, 17 land came up the answer time after time after time.

Removal Spells

Here’s the list of spells we’re looking at:

White — Oblivion Ring, Resounding Silence, Scourglass.
Black — Blister Beetle, Bone Splinters, Executioner’s Capsule, Fleshbag Marauder, Infest.
Red — Bloodpyre Elemental, Magma Spray, Resounding Thunder, Skeletonize, Soul’s Fire, Vithian Stinger.
Multicolor — Agony Warp, Blood Cultist, Branching Bolt, Cruel Ultimatum, Violent Ultimatum.

At the PTQ last time, those spells shaked down like this:

90% + played — Resounding Thunder, Vithian Stinger, Branching Bolt.
80-90% – Oblivion Ring, Resounding Silence, Bloodpyre Elemental, Magma Spray, Soul’s Fire.
70-80% – Skeletonize.
60-70% – Executioner’s Capsule, Cruel Ultimatum.
50-60% – Scourglass, Bone Splinters, Violent Ultimatum, Fleshbag Marauder.
40-50% – Blood Cultist.
30-40% – Blister Beetle, Infest, Agony Warp.

Better get ready for some changes, because let me tell you, Pros like removal:

90% + played — Oblivion Ring, Bloodpyre Elemental, Magma Spray, Resounding Thunder, Skeletonize, Vithian Stinger, Branching Bolt, Fleshbag Marauder.
80-90% –
70-80% – Bone Splinters, Soul’s Fire.
60-70% – Resounding Silence, Executioner’s Capsule, Agony Warp.
50-60% – Scourglass, Violent Ultimatum
40-50% – Infest
30-40% – Blister Beetle, Blood Cultist
20-30% – Cruel Ultimatum

A lot to think about here, but it can mostly be summed up like this: Play Your Removal. Only 1 copy out of 30 of Bloodpyre Elemental was left unplayed maindeck by the Pros. Resounding Thunder had a perfect 21/21. Skeletonize was only missed out once from 11 chances. The absence of spells in the 80-90% range suggests that the Pros didn’t muck around. A ton of removal spells simply insisted they should be played, and the choices at the PTQ, leaving more copies of Magma Spray, Oblivion Ring and Bloodpyre Elemental in the sideboard, shows one area where Pros tend to leave others behind. These numbers also go part of the way to explaining the increase in 4 and 5 color decks. The Pros wanted to play removal, and took steps to ensure that they could. The largest change between the two samples was with Fleshbag Marauder and Resounding Silence. Only 5/10 Marauders were played at the PTQ, whereas 10 of 11 made it into the Pro decks. Going the other way, Resounding Silence has gone way down in value. This may be to do with the Pros relative dislike of White as a color, but more likely their wariness of a removal spell that absolutely can’t kill anything that isn’t in the red zone, regardless of how irritating it might be (Battlemages, Vithian Stinger, Exuberant Firestoker, Drumhunter…). Whether or not Infest makes an impact on Constructed play (and there seems to be plenty of monsters from Faeries to Tokens to Weenies that die to it) the card clearly isn’t a winner for Sealed most of the time. The Pros were also wary of Soul’s Fire, but only slightly more than those at the PTQ. I take the desire of Pros not to take the ‘eggs-basket-one’ approach of an enormous Devour guy plus Soul’s Fire for the win as the reason for this slight downturn. Other less popular cards among the Pros were Blister Beetle and Blood Cultist, again reflecting the Pros desire for reliability. Once again though, because I think this bears repeating, comprehensive efforts were made by the Pros to play their removal. So should you.


As you can see from the PTQ numbers, almost nobody played countermagic:

Cancel — 2/29
Punish The Ignorance — 1/6
Spell Snip — 0/23

Would the Pros be any different?

Cancel — 2/27
Punish The Ignorance — 1/4
Spell Snip — 3/29

Er, no, they wouldn’t. It really does seem that you can cast your spells in peace, as two of those Spell Snips came from the same deck, and the other belonged to a five-color deck that featured 3 Plains, 3 Islands, 3 Swamps, 3 Mountains and 3 Forests. For a small fee, I can be persuaded not to say which Pro built this deck. And for a slightly larger fee, I will.

Tap Lands

At the PTQ the totals for the Tap Lands saw 59/70 played, or 84%:

Arcane Sanctum — 9/14
Crumbling Necropolis — 13/15
Jungle Shrine — 12/14
Savage Lands — 10/11
Seaside Citadel — 15/16

To be honest, last time, in a rather cavalier fashion, I suggested that these were played almost always, which is a pretty inaccurate reflection of 84%, which is, after all, only 6 out of every 7, roughly speaking. Given that the Pros went out of their way to use every color of mana under the sun, we’d expect that number to go up this week. And it really does:

Arcane Sanctum — 11/12
Crumbling Necropolis — 14/18
Jungle Shrine — 14/14
Savage Lands — 13/15
Seaside Citadel — 13/13

That’s 65/72, or 90%. Perhaps the only slight surprise was that Arcane Sanctum rose in value, although since these are Uncommon there’s every possibility that this is just a statistical anomaly.


With 94/130 Panoramas in use at the PTQ, more than a quarter were left on the sidelines. We can be pretty certain that the greedier-for-mana Pros will have availed themselves of the Panoramas rather more heavily. Here’s last week’s numbers:

Bant Panorama — 15/24 (62.5%)
Esper Panorama — 16/27 (59.2%)
Grixis Panorama — 19/27 (70.3%)
Jund Panorama — 23/26 (88.4%)
Naya Panorama — 21/26 (80.7%)

And now the Pros:

Bant Panorama — 21/24 (87%)
Esper Panorama — 23/31 (74%)
Grixis Panorama — 21/24 (87%)
Jund Panorama — 20/26 ( 77%)
Naya Panorama — 29/30 ( 97%)

Significant differences abound. Right the way across the cycle, the Pros took advantage of both the fixing and the thinning effects. Although this was occasionally true where the Panorama could only fetch a single color, by and large they always did double duty, and as we’ve seen, frequently triple. 85% of the Panoramas saw play, and there really doesn’t seem to be a reason not to use them for most deck archetypes. Another resounding thumbs up from the Pros.

Mythic Rares and Planeswalkers

We continue with a group of stats with limited reliability. Whereas 15/27 mythics and planeswalkers got played at the PTQ (55%), the Pros upped this number considerably, to 21/28 (75%). Once again, the lesson appears to be ‘play your best spells no matter what.’ Godsire; Hellkite Overlord; Kresh, The Bloodbraided; Mayael The Anima; Prince Of Thralls; Rafiq Of The Many; and Sedris, The Traitor King went a collective 11/11. Are you spotting a theme yet? Play. Your. Best. Spells.

Mana Fixing and Acceleration

Enough talk, straight to the numbers. PTQ:

Drumhunter — 10/12 (83%)
Druid Of The Anima — 21/27 (78%)
Exuberant Firestoker — 7/13 (54%)
Sacellum Godspeaker — 2/4 (50%)
Lush Growth — 4/20 (20%)
Keeper Of Progenitus – 0/5 (0%)


Drumhunter — 9/16 (56%)
Druid Of The Anima — 18/23 (78%)
Exuberant Firestoker — 5/14 (36%)
Sacellum Godspeaker — 0/8 (0%)
Lush Growth — 1/33 (3%)
Keeper Of Progenitus — 0/4 (0%)

Another area with clear daylight between the ideas of our PTQ crew and the Pros. These assorted accelerators/fixers were comfortably downgraded in significance by the Pros. Craig Stevenson proved to be thoroughly in step with Pro opinion with regard to Lush Growth (modest man that he is he’ll probably remove that sentence, but it doesn’t stop him being right) [Heh, I nearly bolded it — Craig, amused]. Here’s another piece of sound advice. Sacellum Godspeaker — no. Just no. A curiosity here is that the acceleration of cards like Drumhunter and Exuberant Firestoker seem not to be in demand from the Pros, and that suggests that maybe, for all this is a format of enormous monsters, the need to ‘rush to market’ and get your big guys online isn’t as essential as it might have appeared. Let’s see what the Obelisks can tell us. At the PTQ these were the stats:

Bant — 8/26 (31%)
Esper — 13/26 (50%)
Grixis — 11/20 (55%)
Jund — 12/23 (52%)
Naya — 12/25 (48%)

In total, that was 56/120 (47%). I expect that number to rise, but if the format is all about getting fatties into play, the numbers should be stratospheric. Let’s take a look:

Bant — 13/21 (62%)
Esper — 14/31 (45%)
Grixis — 10/25 (40%)
Jund — 16/24 (66%)
Naya — 17/32 (53%)

Overall that’s 53% of the Obelisks utilized by the Pros. Although that’s enough of a rise compared to the PTQ to suggest that the Pros do indeed value them more highly (rather than just a +/- blip), it’s clear that plenty of people still consider these artifacts to be surplus to requirements. Shuuhei Nakamura, for example, had one copy of each in his pool, and ran precisely none. Apparently the format is slow enough that you can expect to reach your 7 or 8 mana without having to resort to artificial means. Those decks that do attempt to speed up the clock run the risk of being overrun by the genuinely fast decks, as they effectively skip a turn or two in the hope of big turns down the line, turns that never come. Incidentally, now seems a good time to pass on one piece of information that I have from the Pros that doesn’t have numbers attached, but I believe is still extremely valid. Asked what the notional ‘perfect Sealed Pool’ would be, I received near-identical answers from every Pro. Nobody, but nobody, mentioned Predator Dragon or Hellkite Overlord or Empyrial Archangel or Planeswalkers or Spearbreaker Behemoth et al. Without exception, what the Pros wanted for Christmas was a fast fast fast deck, using tempo spells and removal to get the hell out of Dodge before all the afore-mentioned expensive spells could come online. Their overwhelming advice to you at your next PTQ would be to build an Aggro deck if it’s there for the taking, and pray for good draws if it isn’t. Bottom line here — Obelisks are not an easy fix.

The Battlemages

At the PTQ:

Bant Battlemage — 6/12 (50%)
Esper Battlemage — 3/15 (20%)
Grixis Battlemage — 4/14 (28%)
Jund Battlemage — 8/11 (73%)
Naya Battlemage — 10/14 (71%)

Given that the Pros were throwing five colors around like confetti in Paris, we can expect these to go up in value, because both activations are likely to be available, and Pros love options, since that gives them more ways for them to be right and you to be wrong, thus making the difference. Here’s what the Pros thought about this Uncommon cycle:

Bant Battlemage — 7/17 (41%)
Esper Battlemage — 4/18 (22%)
Grixis Battlemage — 7/15 (47%)
Jund Battlemage — 9/11 (82%)
Naya Battlemage — 10/14 (71%)

This was almost exactly 50% of the total Battlemages available, broadly similar to the PTQ numbers, suggesting that this is one area the PTQ sample got pretty much correct.

Artifact and Enchantment Destruction

I’m sensible enough to realize that I don’t have all the answers, but with a bit of cajoling I can usually get them. In the forums last week, there were a number of excellent contributions, for which I thank you, including some pertaining to the use of Artifact and Enchantment destruction. Last week I had posited a theory that if ever there was a set where it was worth having Naturalize as your ’23rd card’ in a deck, this was it. I presented a lengthy list of potential targets, nobly playing fair by listing them by rarity, acknowledging that my opportunities to kill Sharuum the Hegemon for two mana would be fairly limited. My arguments were roundly shot down in flames, which thankfully means I’ve learned something. Unless of course, the Pro numbers look a lot different to the PTQ, which was:

Dispeller’s Capsule — 2/27 (7.4%)
Naturalize — 3/23 (13%)

The Pros:

Dispeller’s Capsule — 1/36 (3%)
Naturalize — 7/27 (26%)

Well, not a lot changed overall. The Pros worked out that Dispeller’s Capsule was worse than it appeared to the PTQ crowd, while Naturalize was somewhat more playable, without being anything close to an auto-include even for those with relatively weak pools and Green as a major color (remember Green went down in value with the Pros compared to last week’s PTQ.) Overall, this still feels like there are reasons to play Naturalize, and quite possibly that rests on intangibles like how badly you don’t want to be beaten by cards like Tidehollow Strix or Oblivion Ring versus how often you’re prepared to effectively skip a draw step when your Naturalize does nothing. But generally, I’m wrong, and everyone else is right. It had to happen sometime…

Five-Power Fatties

Rockcaster Platoon — PTQ 5/13 (38%) Pro 4/14 (29%)
Yoked Plowbeast — PTQ 14/27 (52%) Pro 10/24 (42%)
Kederekt Leviathan — PTQ 2/5 (40%) Pro 1/3 (33%)
Archdemon Of Unx — PTQ 1/5 (20%) Pro 0/5 (0%)
Salvage Titan — PTQ 0/4 (0%) Pro 2/5 (40%)
Incurable Ogre — PTQ 7/29 (24%) Pro 11/33 (33%)
Ridge Rannet — PTQ 16/25 (64%) Pro 17/29 (59%)
Cavern Thoctar — PTQ 17/24 (71%) Pro 17/29 (59%)
Feral Hydra — PTQ 5/5 (100%) Pro 4/4 (100%)
Jungle Weaver — PTQ 20/26 (77%) Pro 22/26 (85%)
Mosstodon — PTQ 15/26 (58%) Pro 20/27 (74%)
Spearbreaker Behemoth — PTQ 2/3 (66%) Pro 2/4 (50%)
Bull Cerodon — PTQ 12/13 (92%) Pro 10/12 (83%)
Empyrial Archangel — PTQ 1/2 (50%) Pro 1/2 (50%)
Godsire — PTQ 1/1 (100%) Pro 2/2 (100%)
Hellkite Overlord — PTQ 2/2 (100%) Pro 1/1 (100%)
Prince Of Thralls — PTQ 1/3 (33%) Pro 1/1 (100%)
Rakeclaw Gargantuan — PTQ 15/25 (60%) Pro 15/28 (53%)
Sedris, The Traitor King — PTQ 1/3 (33%) Pro 3/3 (100%)
Sharuum The Hegemon — PTQ 1/1 (100%) Pro 2/4 (50%)
Sphinx Sovereign — PTQ 1/2 (50%) Pro 0/0 (0%)
Woolly Thoctar — PTQ 11/14 (78%) Pro 13/16 (81%)

If you haven’t been paying attention to my frequent warnings about what statistics do and don’t mean, or might mean, this is your last chance. Whereas the threefold increase in play of Sedris, The Traitor King from 1/3 at the PTQ to 3/3 amongst the Pros might suggest that Sedris is the kind of guy you want on your team, the infinite fall from grace of Sphinx Sovereign from a respectable 1/2 at the PTQ to a 0% caning amongst the Pros, none of whom chose it out of the no times it was available to be chosen, should perhaps not be indicative that Sphinx Sovereign is unplayable. In other words, the percentages here are unreliable, especially for the big splashy rares and mythics. Amongst the Pros, 61% of the fatties made it into decks, compared to 59% at the PTQ. Although clearly an important part of the format — and the Grand Prix was won with a Draft deck that absolutely relied on enormous men to get the job done — they are not the be all and end all. One final thought — if you open Feral Hydra, playing it is apparently a requirement enforceable by law.

Play Me Rares

Battlegrace Angel — PTQ 4/4 (100%) Pro 7/7
Feral Hydra — PTQ 5/5 (100%) Pro 4/4
Broodmate Dragon — PTQ 4/5 (80%) Pro 5/5
Stoic Angel – PTQ 4/5 (80%) Pro 1/2
Spearbreaker Behemoth — PTQ 2/3 (66%) Pro 2/4
Cruel Ultimatum — PTQ 2/3 (66%) Pro 1/4
Sigil Of Distinction — PTQ 2/3 (66%) Pro 5/5
Tar Fiend — PTQ 3/5 (60%) Pro 3/4
Scourglass — PTQ 2/4 (50%) Pro 2/4
Sharding Sphinx — PTQ 2/4 (50%) Pro 3/6
Violent Ultimatum — PTQ 2/4 (50%) Pro 2/4
Quietus Spike — PTQ 3/6 (50%) Pro 4/11
Hell’s Thunder — PTQ 2/5 (40%) Pro 2/7
Vein Drinker — PTQ 1/3 (33%) Pro 4/5
Where Ancients Tread — PTQ 1/4 (25%) Pro 0/5
Gather Specimens — PTQ 1/5 (20%) Pro 1/5
Archdemon Of Unx — PTQ 1/5 (20%) Pro 0/5
Predator Dragon — PTQ 0/1 (0%) Pro 8/8

Having, I trust, made the point about percentages, I’ve left them absent here. However, there are some telling comparisons. Battlegrace Angel, Feral Hydra, Broodmate Dragon, Predator Dragon, and Sigil Of Distinction were all compulsory amongst the Pros. In addition to the two dragons mentioned here, Quentin Martin also had Hellkite Overlord, and yes, he played that too! Although the first four mentioned should be no surprise, I’m not sure everyone realizes quite what a powerful card Sigil Of Distinction is. You should. By and large Pros were not seduced by the potential excitement of Ultimatums, although Shuuhei Nakamura annihilated Klaus Joens in the last round of Day 1 with Cruel Ultimatum in ways that weren’t even funny, and Simon Gortzen drafted two in the Top 8 almost by accident, and played neither. That doesn’t stop at least two of them being hysterically unfair when they do their whole song and dance routine. Time will tell what the Cruel impact on Standard will be longterm (right now it seems to be the card du jour, but that could change).


Last week I was reluctant to ascribe too much value to specific traits revealed by the numbers. This time, with the weighty authority of 53 very, very talented players to beef up the reliability, I’m happier to say a few general closing comments. So before we turn our attention to Pro Tour: Berlin, featuring my all-time favorite format of Extended, here are some things that we can definitely say you should bear in mind when building your next Sealed Deck, and trying to make it to Pro Tour: Kyoto next year:

Be greedy. Play every color, because if you need to, you can.
Obelisks are not necessarily the answer you’re looking for.
The perfect deck is super-speedy, tempo and removal and cheap men, not bombs.
With so many bombs around, stretching for removal is critical.
The format is generally slow, and you will have the time to cast your spells.
You can cast your spells in peace, nobody will counterspell them.
Your Esper men, if you have any, are broadly safe from Naturalize.
17 land is almost always the correct answer.
Just because there are five Shards doesn’t mean you have to play one of them. There are five colors too.

And finally — if you’re not great at Magic, you have a legitimate shot at winning a PTQ, or at least making Top 8. With a couple of bombs – and there are plenty that are really tough to deal with – and some luck, doing well has never been more possible. That’s one of the lessons of Paris, where a veritable slew of big names failed to make the cut, and also found themselves stranded in the 9th-32nd range, making the Top 8 one of the least experienced in Grand Prix history. More on this next week, as we get back into the Pro scene with a vengeance.

But until next week, this is Rich Hagon saying, as ever, thanks for reading.