RGD Sealed – The Last Waltz

While Coldsnap Limited is the new kid in town, qualifiers for Pro Tour: Kobe continue unabated. Today, Josh looks at an intricate RGD Sealed pool, and offers his thoughts on the format as a whole. RGD Sealed seems like it’s been around forever… but there are, as always, fresh insights to be learned. Plus, for those who enjoy building Sealed pools, Josh adds a bonus pool for discussion in the forums…

Coldsnap Coldsnap! Coldsnap? Coldsnap Coldsnap COLDSNAP Köldknäpp Kalteeinbruch Koudegolf!

For weeks, maybe even months, this is all you’re going to see. In the big picture, there’s precious little I can do about it for you.

I hate speculating about the impact of a set on a constructed format. From time to time, I’ve done it, but I don’t like it. This set is both interesting (Snow) and boring (Everything else), which is better and (you guessed it) worse than a normal release… but still, I’d rather not. Maybe next week. For this week, I can write about Ravnica Sealed, and I will.

There are PTQs for the rest of August, and during the Grand Prix in Arizona on the first weekend of September, so for all you naysayers out there, it is still relevant. For the rest of you, keep reading.

RGD Sealed is a format I’ve covered before, and in Magic terms, it is an old format. It’s been out on Magic Online since the release of Dissension (May 30th, 06.) Most of you are familiar with it, if not well versed. Nonetheless, for all of you, the basics:

1) Mana is Everything
There are ten Signets in this format, which are nice as they provide mana fixers and mana accelerators at the same time. Easily considerable when making final manabases as one of each color that they produce, you’ll hope for some of these, but not as much as you’ll hope for the bounce lands. Dare I say all that matters are the bounce lands? It’s nice to have really good cards, and if you’re greedy you’ll hope for bounce lands and Ribbons of Night, but ideally you’re going to want double-on-color bounce lands. You’ll probably play off-color ones, too.

You’ll have less difficulty deciding to mulligan properly, knowing you’ll bounce (punny) back. The "extra" card provided is monumental in this format, considered both the norm as well as the gold standard – at the very least, you’ll usually need them to compete. Ideally you’ll have three in your deck; this will provide you with the ability to freely play first or draw first, which is important. If you have four, feel free to play all four, but you’ll have to play first. I’ve never had the option of playing five, so I don’t know what it entails. I’m not sure I’d do it. Obviously though, If I did, I’d play first.

2) Mana is Everything
A lot decks will be four-color. Maybe even yours. Two colors plus two splashes is the norm. One is usually "for free." You get a few free mana sources from your Signets and bounce lands… maybe you have to play one Mountain to support your fourth-color Red, but usually no more. If you’re lucky enough to have the proper mana fixers and bounce lands you could run five colors, given a good enough reason (like, say, Fetters and/or Pillory when you’re already the other four colors.)

Particularly Blue mana. It seems after you get past the initial hoping for bounce lands, the next thing you’ll want to do is hope for Blue cards. As usual, Blue is the best color in this particular Sealed Deck format (rhoaen: Blue is the best coloUr in every Limited format ever.) It seems that Blue does just about everything, but what it does particularly well – racing (providing an offensive clock, particularly in the air) and drawing cards – are both as important as ever. Unfortunately, you can’t always play Blue, as we will see, but it’s nice when you can.

If you can’t play Blue, you’d better hope you can play Green, or that your other three colors are so good it really doesn’t matter. I classify Green as format-defining in RGD Sealed, but not in the way that Blue is. Blue is just very good and nice and wonderful, and all of that, but Green… first you must understand that most of the removal in the format that isn’t a Pacifism or a Dark Banishing (there are a few, but not many, and they are mostly limited, Disemboweling a Siege Wurm is a little slow, etc…) is good at killing small creatures. Against big Green creatures, starting with Bramble Elemental, they end up being in the unenviable position of waiting around for their Pacifism or whatever, or two-for-one’ing themselves.

So if you’re Green, you can at least trade your Green guys for their Green guys. It makes life a lot easier. In Toronto, a recent Grand Prix in this format, I had a fairly good non-Green deck full of removal and good creatures (a few bad, too. The deck wasn’t insane or anything) including the awesome Rakdos Guildmage, but in the five rounds I played I faced four Green decks. I certainly learned about Green cards that day.

4) The Rest
Play your good cards, play your removal, look for synergies like Graft and Bloodthirst, or playing extra Eidolons if you’re lucky enough to have Stormscale Anarch and/or Rakdos Guildmage (or if you’re already playing them, consider cards like Skullmead Cauldron). Build your deck with a plan to win in mind, if possible. In the ideal world you’ll be able to do all of this. Some decks certainly do not provide that many options. This can be both good and bad.

Because of the intricacies of the format, and the desire to play suboptimal cards in some decks, I often revisit my cardpool multiple times looking for a card that might make all the difference. Doubling Season or Three Dreams, etc… the cards that can easily make or break a deck, the cards when you’re looking thrumming a deck you find them and say “how lucky.”

And that’s it. The world’s only Sealed Deck theory article without any cardpools or practice builds.

Just kidding…

Looking at the cardpool, it’s easy to spot the highlights. Deep Green including Trophy Hunter, Gleancrawler and Ghor-Clan Savage; no Civic Wayfinder or Farseek, but I never said it was perfect. In Gold there’s Ulasht, the Hate Seed and Putrefy, but most importantly there are three bounce lands, and even a cursory glance at the colors they’re in provides us with the notion that playing all three won’t be too far a stretch.

Of course, at the very least, what that means is that we won’t be playing White. This isn’t much of a surprise, and we would have come to this conclusion anyway because a Belfry Spirit and a Shrieking Grotesque won’t be cutting the proverbial mustard.

Without too much trouble, we can easily see that the Red is both deep and good: Galvanic Arc, Stormscale Anarch, Ulasht (we would have probably played this anyway,) Fiery Conclusion, Indentured Oaf, and Greater Forgeling, as well as Sandstorm Eidolon, Burning-Tree Bloodscale and Sparkmage Apprentice providing support.

At this point it’s safe to assume we’ll be playing the Gruul Signet. That gives us eighteen cards we want to play, although the Eidolon is on the fence with few gold cards. Looking at the rest of our cardpool, we see a Putrefy that’s definitely getting played, thanks to our bounce lands. The rest of Black provides little: Mausoleum Turnkey and Shambling Shell provide interesting options – Shell especially, with Eidolons in general – but as we have just one Eidolon, neither of these cards excite me.

Blue, however, provides at the very least Steamcore Weird and Helium Squirter, both of which will compliment our deck quite nicely… consider Ghor-Clan Savage, Cytospawn Shambler, Ulasht, Trophy Hunter, Sporeback Troll: all prime candidates to be flyers, though some are better than others.

Adding those two Blue cards gives us twenty playables including the Eidolon, but neither of the latter Black cards. Three bounce lands, a Signet, and an Elves of the Deep Shadow leads me to think we really want to play just 16 lands and no more – despite playing a seven-drop – so we need three more cards. Looking at our curve, we’d really love some more three-drops, so in this instance I think I’d put Shambling Shell in the deck. It gives you some more late game and works quite well with all of your graft creatures, and the Eidolon (of course).

For the last two spots in the deck, in my eyes, there are eight cards vying for my attention.

Peel from Reality
Mark of Eviction
Copy Enchantment
Mausoleum Turnkey
Sundering Vitae
Drake Familiar
Stinkweed Imp

The weakest of the bunch correlating to this deck are those that don’t shine without enchantments in play already. With just Fists and Arc in our deck, (not to mention the fact that copying Mark of Eviction isn’t actually all that exciting), I think it’s safe to say that both Copy Enchantment and Drake Familiar are unsellable. They’re out, so that leaves us five candidates.

Sundering Vitae
An excellent sideboard card. A mid-combat removal of a Pacifism will often garner a two-for-one. There are plenty of good targets for this, including Signets (depending on the situation). This isn’t a card I always play or always cut… it’s completely in between. Because of our high number of utility and graft, pacifism won’t be that heartbreaking on most of our creatures, which is if nothing else, something to consider. Nonetheless, I think this is a distinct possibility.

Again, a million graft creatures and Ulasht make this very realistic. I don’t love the card, but with seventeen creatures its value is certainly near the top end of its expected worth. I’d say this is definitely going to be played.

Stinkweed Imp
I hate splashing this card, but I don’t have a great reason for that view. It’s an excellent card and probably deserves a spot, especially with all the graft (what’s better than a Stinkweed Imp if not a bigger Stinkweed Imp, am I right?)

Peel from Reality
The ultimate combat trick. Gone are the good old days where this card could be had ninth in a triple-Ravnica draft, and only those in-the-know bashed those in the other category. This card has now been given all the credit it deserves, and is one of the very best commons in Ravnica. That’s saying a lot, considering the volume of awesome commons. It isn’t the best Blue common – and that’s saying a lot too, considering just how good it really is. All of that and I haven’t said anything… in the same vein as Sundering Vitae, this will be great against Pacifisms, but they aren’t that great against us in the first place. We don’t have a lot of 187 – just a Steamcore Weird, which is nice, but not that nice. Refilling a graft guy is pretty nice, though. As much as I like this card, I think it’s getting the bench in this deck. I could see sideboarding it and the Vitae against decks with a lot of Pacifism effects.

I axed the Mausoleum Turnkey because now we have two dredge cards, which means we probably won’t be getting anything awesome most of the time, and because of our already high number of four drops. A deceptively easy decision.

That leaves just Mark of Eviction to talk about. Mark of Eviction is an awesome card and any base-Blue deck would love to have one. It controls the tempo of your opponent in a way a card rarely can, and its cheap cost means it’s basically a one-sided affair. You spend one mana, they spend five. The downside of this is that you basically can’t block the guy it’s on, should it want to attack you. This is not necessarily that bad, and in the late game you can probably make a decent chump block to keep on winning, they will be pretty far behind – after all – if all things go according to plan… However, given the choice, I’d like to minimize the splash colors. Increasing the need for a color we have little other use for is very undesirable. Especially considering we have no easy fix and will have to support Blue with actual islands… I’d like to keep it to a minimum. There are other reasons for not playing Mark of Eviction in this deck, but I’d like to leave it at that.

I went with Thrive and Stinkweed Imp. It wasn’t as hard as I made it seem, and in real life the process won’t take you as long as it took me to write it out, but I felt it was a good idea to explain the thought process.

The deck is base Red and Green, splash Black and Blue; three guild lands providing: Red, Black, Black, Black, Blue, Green… almost perfect. With thirteen extra land spots and a Signet providing Red and Green, we need to figure out if we want to play a Swamp or not. Elves of Deep Shadow as the fourth Black source makes more sense to me than a Swamp, especially since we need Islands for the Blue cards… but I am a little greedy. We need to play at least one Island, ideally two. With as much Green as there is in the deck, I’d say the minimum amount of Green-mana producers we could comfortably get away with is seven, and eight would be a whole lot better, so let’s say six Forests. If we play five Mountains, that leaves us one land to use; we can’t mulligan a hand without Green, and probably not without Red, but at the same time, I worry about our Blue cards. They’ll be good anytime we cast them, but getting caught with our pants down when we need to kill them with a Helium Squirter-induced Falter would suck, I’ll point in the direction of an Island.

Overall, this deck is pretty good. I’d be happy to have it. Good late game, and three bounce lands to support the early game, with a good curve and a lot of awesome cards is really all you can ask for. The occasional bomb would be nice – but we have that, too. Pretty much an all-round good deck; but I must say, I think it was unfortunate that this deck was so good and so easy to build… this article didn’t say enough about making the best of what you have, a lesson everyone who plays Magic needs to learn at some point.

I’ve included a second cardpool that is decisively more difficult to build. Fewer bounce lands, less awesomeness. I advise you to give it a whirl and see what you come up with. I’ll be watching the forums.

That’s it for this week. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading.

Josh Ravitz