The Dragonmaster’s Lair – GP Nashville: All About Bombs

Monday, November 29th – Brian Kibler is not the biggest fan of Scars of Mirrodin Sealed Deck, and it’s got everything to do with the excessive focus on unstoppable bombs. Read his opinion on this format and about his Nashville experience.

A week or so ago, I asked for recommendations for country songs over Twitter. I figured that with the Grand Prix being held at the Opryland Resort, it would be appropriate to find a song that fit the theme. I got a few good recommendations but had trouble with my iTunes account and couldn’t download anything new, so I was stuck searching my extensive music library for something appropriate.

Ultimately I decided on “It Can’t Be Nashville Every Night” by the criminally underrated Canadian band The Tragically Hip. By the end of the tournament, I was pretty happy that the song title was true – I was pretty well done with “it” being Nashville at all. 

It wasn’t Nashville itself that I was sick of. I barely left the massive casino-like complex that made up the tournament venue (and probably wouldn’t have at all if it were actually a casino!), so I didn’t really get much of a sense of the city itself. Logistically, too, the tournament was great. It was run incredibly professionally and efficiently, and the hall itself was probably the best for any event in recent memory, with enough room to actually lay everything out during deck construction without elbowing your neighbors or having to stack up one color when you wanted to look at another.

No, what I was sick of was the Scars Sealed Deck format. Note that I specifically say Sealed Deck – I actually love Scars Draft, which is an incredibly interesting and well balanced format with a variety of possible strategies. Sealed Deck, on the other hand, feels like a bomb fest and little else.

Now, I’ve never been a huge fan of Sealed Deck formats in general, but I actually didn’t mind M11. Even the M11 Titans, as potent as they were, had a wide range of answers available – not to mention they were mythic. Even non-creature power cards like Mind Control had any number of common solutions.

How many ways are there to deal with a Hoard-Smelter Dragon? Geth? Carnifex Demon? The only common cards that can really handle most bomb creatures are Turn to Slag and Arrest, with Flesh Allergy available in desperate times.

This is only the beginning of the problem, though. Every format has bombs, and in every format some of them are going to be tough to deal with. That’s fine – that’s just the nature of Sealed Deck. But when people complain about Scars feeling bomb heavy, it’s not just because they’re whiners who lost to a Steel Hellkite after using Shatter on a mana Myr. Scars Limited really is set up in such a way that players have more bombs in their decks!

In M11, you could very easily have Grave Titan, Overwhelming Stampede, Baneslayer Angel, and Mind Control, but you’d be hard-pressed to fit them all in your deck without ruining your mana. In Scars Sealed, not only do you have tremendous flexibility with your colors because so many of the cards in your pool are artifacts, but many of the bombs are themselves artifacts! If you open Geth, Hoard-Smelter Dragon, Molten-Tail Masticore, Contagion Engine, and Mimic Vat, you can just jam every last one of them into your deck with barely any effort at all. It’s not always the best strategy, of course, but it’s much easier to fit everything than it has been in formats past.

I actually got quite a strong pool in Nashville. I had my share of game-dominating bombs, including the ridiculous Wurmcoil Engine and the clunky-but-game-ending Argentum Armor, along with a decent pool of removal to go with them. I beat decks with the full range of bombs, from Molten-Tail Masticore to Sunblast Angel to Hoard-Smelter, and I had some awesome games against Mimic Vat where I had to figure out bizarre lines of play to win. I ended the first day at 8-2, a decent but unspectacular record with a solid deck. I won every game I played Wurmcoil Engine when my opponent didn’t immediately remove it. My losses were to my opponent having the perfect answer for everything I played – including my Wurmcoil Engine – in one match, and my opponent getting Argentum Armor online two straight games in the other.

I bring up all of this because I want to make it clear that this isn’t just a whiny rant of someone who lost to a bunch of rares and got upset about it. I appreciate the importance of having strong rares for Limited play, and I’m well aware that it’s a design goal of WotC because it provides excitement and lets even weaker players feel like they have a chance if they open the right cards. Sealed Deck is supposed to have variance – that’s the whole point. I just think for Scars Sealed, the pendulum has swung too far in the direction of powerful rares deciding games and hope that future sets shift back more in the other direction.

All that having been said, I think Scars is a fantastic Draft format. I’ve done upwards of fifty drafts and still feel like I’m learning. It was interesting to see the differences in card valuations people had between GP Sydney early in the format and GP Nashville when people had longer to play with the set. Early in a Draft format, the usual route to success is to identify the best strategies before everyone else, while later on it’s often more important to figure out what people aren’t drafting and try to figure out what you can do with it. So far I’ve enjoyed finding new strategies, whether on my own or by being stomped into the ground by them by my opponents.

My own drafts at GP Nashville went fine, but the games themselves just didn’t go my way. My first pod was pretty much only players I recognized, with Steve Sadin sitting across from me, PV to my left, and a whole crew of Florida players around the rest of the table. Florida is known for being money draft central, so I didn’t expect to have an easy time in the pod.

I opened a pack with Venser, Revoke Existence, and Turn to Slag as the only notable cards. Venser is a weird card, because it can be completely absurd or a stone blank depending on the board state when you draw it. I know Ben Stark feels the card is worse than pretty much any removal spell, but Revoke and Turn to Slag are at the low end of the removal totem pole, and it’s easy to draft with Venser in mind and pick up juicy things for him to blink out for value. Even in a super aggressive white deck, the unblockable ability can easily win games, since you can force through a bunch of damage and then falter for the win. I decided to take the Venser, but I wasn’t married to it – I’d be okay abandoning it if U/W just didn’t come.

I followed Venser up with a pair of Glint Hawk Idols, which are some of my favorite cards in aggressive white metalcraft decks over nothing particularly exciting in either pack, and then blue just kept coming. I kept getting passed packs with two or more good blue cards, which created the awkward situation that I was fairly certain Paulo was blue behind me and entirely likely U/W because of the Revoke I’d passed him. My suspicions were confirmed when the pickings were slim in pack 2, where I was only really able to pick up a few Myr and Spellbombs for my trouble.

I had an interesting decision in the first pick of the second pack that I was torn about at the time. I opened a pack with Oxidda Scrapmelter, while the best pick for my deck was a Myr. At the time my only white was a Glint Hawk and two Glint Hawk Idols, and Scrapmelter is a very powerful card that happens to combo amazingly well with Venser. The fact that I hadn’t really seen any red from Forrest Mead on my right led me to stick to U/W, but I was certainly tempted. I really wished that I had made the swap into red when I opened Hoard-Smelter Dragon in pack 3 only to ship it along to Paulo, who in turn shipped it again to his left. Hindsight is always 20/20, and even if I had made the swap, those two would’ve been the only quality red cards I saw the entire draft, but they certainly would’ve given my deck a lot more power.

I finished 1-2 in that pod, losing my first round to Steve Sadin G/R monster deck. The green fatty deck – or as it has come to be known, the “Dinosaur” deck, after the art on Alpha Tyrranax – is one that has emerged as an adaptation to the other popular strategies. Steve ultimately finished in the Top 16, while Ari Lax made the finals drafting dinosaurs all day.

The same lack of removal to handle bombs like Hoard-Smelter and Geth is the reason the dinosaur deck is good. Cards like Alpha Tyrranax may be expensive to cast, but they sure are hard for your opponents to kill! The keys to the deck are the cards that let you accelerate into your monsters and stall the game out until you cast them. In my match with Steve, my fliers couldn’t break through his pair of Walls of Tanglecord, which somehow remain dramatically underrated, and as soon as Steve hit five mana, he started dropping massive fatties on my head one after another. Bellowing Tanglewurm is a decent card in poison to help your Tel-Jilad Fallen be basically unblockable, but it’s a much bigger threat when it’s Molder Beasts and dinosaurs that your opponent can’t just throw chump blockers in front of. The dinosaur deck is one that I definitely want to get more experience with before Worlds, since it makes good use of a number of cards that other decks just don’t want.

After my 1-2 start on the day (beating Paulo in the third round to avoid going 0-3), I was long since out of contention for Top 8 and needed to 3-0 the second draft just to finish in the money. When I opened a Contagion Clasp and got passed a weak pack with only a Corpse Cur for notable cards, I decided to just move in on infect right away.

As an aside, I hear a lot of people talk about the record they need for a particular finish influencing their deck choice in Constructed, and I don’t think that makes much sense. This is particularly common Day 3 of Worlds, when people know what they have to finish in order to make the Top 8. I’ve seen so many people audible to a different deck because they only need two wins, or they need to 6-0, or whatever, and I don’t understand their reasoning when it comes to Constructed. If you have some reason to believe other people at your record will be playing particular types of decks and you want to play a deck that’s good against those, that’s one thing, but otherwise I always think it’s correct to play the deck you think gives you the best chance to win the most matches, and that’s true of the first day or the last day of the tournament.

Draft is different, however. If you’re in effectively a single-elimination situation and you need to draft a deck that can 3-0, it can sometimes be best to eschew traditional wisdom about reading signals and remaining open and just go all-in on a particular strategy right away. Sitting back and waiting to see what colors are open might get you the best overall winning percentage, but if a 2-1 is the same as an 0-3, there’s little reason to hedge your bets. If you’re in the Top 8 of a PTQ, you may want to seriously consider just slamming a Cystbearer and never looking back.

My own gamble didn’t quite pay off. I ended up with a very strong infect deck, but the player directly to my right was drafting B/R good stuff, so I ended up with essentially no removal outside my Contagion Clasp and my fortuitous pack 3 pick 1 Contagion Engine. I lost an incredibly close game 1 in my first match, won the second handily, and then died a horrible death to a Hoard-Smelter Dragon in the third.

I decided to play on anyway and won my next match against Sam Stoddard W/G metalcraft deck. We had an absolutely bizarre game 1 in which Sam had an Infiltration Lens that was giving me serious trouble in combination with his Leonin Shikari until I drew Sword of Body and Mind. I got in a single hit with my Sword to mill ten cards and then we ended up in a weird stalemate. Because Sam had already drawn eight or so extra cards from his Lens and I’d milled him once, we ended up in a bizarre situation in which he couldn’t even attack anymore because I could block with all of my creatures and deck him since the Lens is not an optional trigger!

 I won my last round against Mat Marr and finished a glorious 71st.

I won’t be in Florence, and I’m pretty pleased that means I won’t be playing any more Scars Sealed Deck, but I do plan on drafting quite a bit more before Worlds. 3-3 is not exactly the kind of performance I’m looking for on Day 2 in Chiba. To the queues!

Have a happy holiday and travel safe,