Sealed Dissected, Episode VI: The Marketing Ploy

Eli, our Man in Japan, brings us a Sealed cardpool with some of the tastiest cards in the game. It’s not all roses, however… the build proves tricky. Just how can we harness the raw power of these bombs? Plus, a new view on the validity of the Invitational.

Before you get to the meaty, fleischig component of the article, I want to take a minute to address a few issues. I earn my daily living on the basis of teaching Japanese people how to make English words into sentences. I also impart upon them the importance of choosing the right word, and the joy of finding the right word. Learning to speak another language is something every Magic player should do, because you can experience so many great moments, moments of clarity. That’s what good Magic writing should offer the reader.

On Monday, The Ferrett granted us one of the many moments of clarity when he addressed the issue of the Invitational. The Invitational is a mishmash of crazy casual and competitive. In Ferrett’s words,

But as it stands, we’ve got this weird mix of fish and fowl, and it’s inconsistent. Either it’s about the best players in the game, or about the most fun players in the game, but it really can’t be both and be satisfying.

I beg to differ.

Let’s face it, what’s so special about watching five different casual formats? Is there a real point to that as well? I submit to you that a mixed style adds hybrid vigor, an air of unpredictability. What sort of nuance can we get from the drama of the auction? Who’s willing to put their money where their mouth is and bid for their pick? I don’t really care who wins the event; I want to see a fight, a dynamic game. I want to see a tense battle of wits and I want to see a squash match. I want to see the dramatic upset, where the favorite gets his or her comeuppance. When I sit down and cover a Feature Match at a Grand Prix or Pro Tour, above all else I want to tell a story. Done right, the Invitational is where stories become reality. The prize is an afterthought.

It’s fantastic to be able to watch every game of the Invitational played out on Magic Online. For the audience, though, that isn’t enough. Sure, I can follow the game well enough to figure out most decisions, why the timing went the way it did. But how about the general public? Will they have the ability to see the nuance? The less experienced players need a guide to help illustrate the flow of the match, to have someone point out why that Wrath of God was so critical, or writhe in frustration as the players pull off a great combo. If you’re going to have an exhibition, make sure it’s enlightening as possible.

With that out of the way, let’s get right down to business. This Sealed pool was built with actual cards, not the digital variety.

(ellipses courtesy of Duke Togo)







Before going into the build, it’s worth taking a look at the colors. Yes, I read those Selesnya cards up there. Yes, they’re absolutely ridiculous. Four token generating cards is a hell of a lot. But we have to focus on the whole pool, not just the patently obvious. All things come to those who wait. I’ll spend more time dwelling on the new goodies Guildpact offers us, and the changing role of Ravnica staples.

White has a few decent filler cards, but doesn’t shine on its own. Martyred Rusalka has the initial impressions of a winner. She enables stupid Haunt tricks, and can slow a race to a crawl. She has clear synergy with a deck that can spit out tokens all day. (This is known as foreshadowing.) But she doesn’t have the sheer combat versatility of Caregiver.

Absolver Thrull is one of those cards I always want to draft. In a format with so many solid enchantments, 187 goodness warms my heart. However, if you’re running three or more enchantments, you probably don’t want to run many of these. Today we have two.

Lionheart Maverick gets his Holy Armor from Halliburton. Yes, you can order as much as you like, but you’re going to pay obscene prices for it. You are not the US government. Don’t drop your hard earned mana on this boondoggle.

Ravnica’s White offers us Faith’s Fetters, one of the best damn removal spells ever printed. The only thing I hate about Faith’s Fetters is that it turns opponent’s instant speed enchantment destruction into serious card advantage. We’ve also got Benevolent Ancestor, which is always handy when you want games to go long. Courier Hawk’s stock has increased. He used to look across the table at Snapping Drakes and sigh. With the advent of Shrieking Grotesque, his utility’s increased. He also lends well to Convoke.

Blue coughs up some evasive, situational guys. Torch Drake is too pricey most of the time, faring poorly in comparison with Snapping Drake. Surveilling Sprite may block and draw you a card, but won’t be the target of Soulshift like Floating-Dream Zubera. Red has a Galvanic Arc, but relying on Drake Familiar to get another use out of it is very long odds. Train of Thought and Peel from Reality are admittedly nice, however.

The pickings in Black are as thin as Kate Moss. Darkblast has many new X/1 targets to aim at with Guildpact, and Thoughtpicker Witch has the potential to shine in decks that spit out guys like there’s no tomorrow. Dimir House Guard has excellent evasion and makes triggering haunt a snap, if you’ve got creatures to spare. His value’s a lot higher than it used to be. If we’re short on men, Roofstalker Wight works in a pinch.

I like Cry of Contrition in decks with little guys. The problem with the spell is that you’re rarely going to play it on the first turn, since you’ll only get one card for your trouble. You’ll usually have to wait until the third or fourth turn to have the mana free to cast it, so it works best with low curved decks. I suspect it won’t come into its own until we see the self-destructive Cult of Rakdos show up with Dissention. (If Rakdos doesn’t have a self-destructive theme to it, I’ll be very surprised. One of Red’s themes is impulse, short-term gain at long-term expense. Black is no stranger to self-inflicted pain, either.)

I’m a real fan of Necromancer’s Magemark. In the first Prerelease, I opened a G/W/B deck with Pollenbright Wings, Moldervine Cloak, Guardian’s Magemark, and Necromancer’s Magemark. (Beastmaster’s Magemark was available too, but it’s the absolute worst Magemark.) Getting three cards back to your hand makes opponents cry. It’s a situational tool, and I don’t care for it too much in Draft, but if you have the right tools handed to you the Magemark is a winner.

Ravnica’s Red makes its usual unimpressive performance. Galvanic Arc is great, War-Torch Goblin can be decent, and Greater Forgeling is a decent five-drop. We’ve also got situational evasion with Sabertooth Alley Cat and Goblin Spelunker.

The Guildpact Red is a tricky package. Leyline of Lightning does not impress me in the slightest. It’s only efficient if you have a very cheap curve, it only targets players, and it’s horrible late in the game. Both Parallectric Feedback and Pyromatics can be fetched with Sunforger, and they’re efficient enough on their own. Tin Street Hooligan is fine, and if he takes out an opponent’s Signet he turns into Stone Rain on steroids. (Incidentally, Red/Green mid-range aggro in Japan has always been called Steroids. Why? You got me.)

Our Green is sparse, but functional. Skarrgan Pit-Skulk is a decent Convoke enabler and can occasionally be quite useful as a beater, but most of the time he’s lackluster. Primeval Light is a powerful sideboard tool, and Beastmaster’s Magemark isn’t worth the cardboard it’s printed on. Ravnica does cough up Farseek, Root-Kin Ally, Bramble Elemental, and Sundering Vitae, though, and I like all those cards. Keeping in mind that this deck has ridiculous amounts of token generators, the Ally stands out as being particularly noteworthy.

The Selesnya cards here are utterly, completely ridiculous. You’d have to be crazier than a pet raccoon not to see how broken these cards are. Glare of Subdual and four ways of making tokens translates into utter ludicrousness. The only real problem is that with Absolver Thrull joining Sundering Vitae and Faith’s Fetters as common removal, your opponent has a good shot at taking your Glare out, so don’t assume that it’s going to win you every game that you draw it.

Sunforger is a lot better when you have a slew of fliers or evasion, but that’s not going to be the case here. There just aren’t enough evasion guys to cut the mustard. It does allow all sorts of devious combat tricks if you have the right colored mana. Unfortunately, it won’t allow you to use Boros Fury-Shield to full effect.

Woodwraith Strangler is patently awful, so I can dispose of Golgari with a single sentence.

Gruul doesn’t excite me. Yes, it’s nice to pay five mana for Streetbreaker Wurm, but he still hits a brick wall when facing off against an active Selesnya Evangel or Restless Bones. He’s great when you have a combat trick handy, but otherwise he’s not all that exciting. Gruul Scrappers don’t excite me either, though if you have a lot of Falter effects (Gigadrowse, Thundersong Trumpeter) he can cut the mustard. In a race against Dimir or Izzet decks, his haste can make a big difference, but most of the time he’ll be mediocre.

Orzhov offers us the ability to say no. Given the superiority of enchantments to artifacts in Ravnica, Mortify is strictly better than Putrefy in Ravnica Sealed… and we have two of them. Pillory of the Sleepless is slower, but helps put your opponent on a clock. (Like Clinging Darkness, it also raises the value of instant speed enchantment removal as a combat trick.)

Niv-Mizzet’s goons give us the keys to his house, but don’t leave any toys for us to play with. Leap of Flame is a passable combat trick that I see as being underrated right now. Two copies of Nivix, Aerie of the Firemind do little for us.

Here’s what I came up with on the first pass.

Creatures (13)
1cc: Caregiver, Skarrgan Pit-Skulk
2cc: Courier Hawk, Selesnya Evangel, Selesnya Guildmage, Farseek, Seeds of Strength
3cc: Benevolent Ancestor, 2 Mortify, Pillory of the Sleepless, Sundering Vitae, Sunforger
4cc: Absolver Thrull, Dimir House Guard, 2 Gruul Scrapper, Faith’s Fetters, Glare of Subdual
5cc: Bramble Elemental, Root-Kin Ally*
6cc: Pollenbright Wings
7cc: Guardian of Vitu-Ghazi*

I mark all creature spells with convoke as costing less one mana, except for Guardian of Vitu-Ghazi. Guardian of Vitu-Ghazi gets a discount of one and a half. Autochthon Wurm doesn’t get any discount, ever, because he never even makes it into consideration.

1: CC
5: CC
6: S
7: C

6 Plains
5 Forest
3 Swamp
Boros Garrison
Gruul Turf
Vitu-Ghazi, the City-Tree

How do I love this pool? Let me count the ways. Four token generators. Four spot removal spells, and an onboard tool to search for two of them. One utter bomb that locks down the board and wins you the game. The Selesnya Conclave’s classic stall and overwhelm strategy will work, provided we give it all the opportunities for it to flourish.

The deck has a few combat tricks. You have Sundering Vitae to turn an opposing Faith’s Fetters or Clinging Darkness into card advantage. Seeds of Strength turn a massive brawl your way for two mana, or counter a burn spell.

Sadly, the creature quality isn’t thrilling. Gruul Scrapper isn’t going to trade with true threats. I would have been much happier to open a Veteran Armorer or Oathsworn Giant to whip the army into fighting trim shape, but we’ll have to settle for what fate hands us. It’s good that we have all that removal, because we’re going to need it to win games. Flyers will be a real problem. Dealing with fatties is going to be tricky. Milling strategies will be annoying.

There is another road to take. It’s a little more consistent, and if you built the deck this way, you wouldn’t be far off the mark either. Can you execute every single last motherloving one of your opponent’s threats with this build? No, but you get more mana consistency, and less awful creatures.

1cc: Caregiver
2cc: Courier Hawk, Selesnya Evangel, Selesnya Guildmage, Tin Street Hooligan, Farseek, Gruul Signet, Pyromatics, Seeds of Strength
3cc: Benevolent Ancestor, Boros Fury-Shield, Galvanic Arc, Sunforger
4cc: Absolver Thrull, 2 Gruul Scrapper, Faith’s Fetters, Glare of Subdual, Parallectric Feedback
5cc: Bramble Elemental, Root-Kin Ally, Streetbreaker Wurm
6cc: Guardian of Vitu-Ghazi, Pollenbright Wings

1: C
5: CCC
6: CS

Boros Garrison
Gruul Turf
Vitu-Ghazi, the City-Tree
2 Mountain
6 Plains
5 Forest

This build gives us more efficient creatures and more tricky business with Sunforger. However, we lack the reliable removal of Mortify or Pillory. When I point and click, I want to know that whatever I’ve targeted is gonna be daid. Replacing that surefire stuff with Galvanic Arc and Pyromatics doesn’t work quite so reliably, but at least we get more efficient guys and consistent mana.

The more I muse over the pool, the smarter the Gruul build looks. We have more sneaky ways of direct damage with the Parallectric Feedback and Fury-Shield, though admittedly using Sunforger to play the Fury-Shield doesn’t have a lot of appeal. (Sometimes you need to prevent that damage, no matter what.) We don’t need to play inefficient or unreliable filler like the Sundering Vitae or Pit-Skulk. Parallectric Feedback always throws off your opponent’s math, and we have enough mana to be able to do all sorts of dirty tricks to our opponent’s board.

Agree? Disagree? Think the build with Black was better? Bring your thoughts to the forum.

Eli Kaplan
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