The Weekly Guild Build – Practice Makes Better

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Veteran Japan reporter and Sealed Deck workhorse Eli Kaplan steps in for the Ferrett, with a satchel of issues and miscellaneous thoughts as he brushes up for Grand Prix: Hiroshima.

Hi, folks. Pleasure to see you guys again. For the next three weeks, I’ll be batting for your friend and mine, The Ferrett. Nothing whets my appetite for Magic like Sealed. When you’re building your deck, it’s just you and the cards. No one’s passing you anything. It’s just your judgment and the forty sleeves waiting to be filled.

I’ve been putting in some serious practice with the locals at Nagoya’s Big Magic in preparation for Grand Prix: Hiroshima. I’ve ran through a few six-man Coldsnap drafts, but it seems like six and eight are radically different in that there are just more copies of cards floating around in the eight-man drafts, and that alters the “abusability” of multiples. I’m digging the snow-covered lands, and playing with cumulative upkeep actually makes me feel good this time around. Back in the day it was a kick in the teeth each and every time your upkeep rolled around. You young ‘uns simply don’t understand how great Wizards is these days. They take pain and whip it into a delicious, twisted concoction.

Two weeks ago, Ferrett ranted on the topic of the newest set, claiming that players simply aren’t warming to Coldsnap. They don’t want to buy four sets a year.

"Because let’s be honest: The Core Sets don’t sell that well, because aside from a couple of chase reprints, they’re comprised of cards that most serious players already have. The Un-sets are neat, but I don’t think they’re serious profit-makers. Thus, I’m sure Wizards is trying to figure out a way to expand the number of cards it can sell in a given year, and if Coldsnap does well I’m sure we’ll see the Hidden Tempest Block coming up next. "

I agree with most of this, but on the other hand I don’t think we’re ever going to see another “missing” set in Magic’s history. Unless Wizards plans to print an incomplete block in the future, then print its third set a few years later, I simply don’t think there’s room for such an idea. At least in my imagination, it was tough enough for Wizards to make the old design file fit the current Standard environment.

Here’s what I anticipate to be Wizards’ future release schedule. We’ll have our regular 2006-2007 block, Time Spiral, and next summer will have 10th Edition. Then there’s our 2007-2008 block. What’s our next summer release? I bet it’s going to be the third Un-set. Tournament players will want a summer off buying a new set.

If few veteran players need the core sets, why is Ferrett complaining about releases of sets his friends aren’t going to spend money on? They’re designed for the new players, and they shake up the Standard environment. The format’s also the draft format of choice for newbies on Magic Online. They’re going to need something to draft before they can handle the expert level goodness.

Incidentally, you as the public are spoiled for choices in the new 10th Edition vote. I voted for Thunder Dragon. It’s a good replacement for perpetual ne’er-do-well Shard Phoenix, and will do a passable substitute for Earthquake. Shame on you, on the other hand, for voting in a tedious combo engine in the form of Crucible of Worlds. So it hoses land destruction. So what? You voted against Forgotten Ancient, one of the most wild and wooly beasties ever to see print in Green! He spawned 10/11 Birds of Painful Paradise! He hosed opponents for playing infinite cantrip decks and subbed in for Quirion Dryad. How could you not love Mr. Babycakes?

Alright, time to get into the pool before I choke on angst.

Rapidly scanning our cards, we find no ridiculous bombs. There’s lots of quality creatures and a few questionable board sweepers, but nothing that promises to blow out games like Savage Twister, Hex, or Hour of Reckoning. We’re going to have to probe our colors to find the right direction.

Solid playables: Faith’s Fetters, Guardian of the Guildpact, Paladin of Prahv, Sandsower

Guardian of the Guildpact’s a superb blocker, but you have to consider how frequently you’ll be able to send him through the lines for damage. My experience is that he’ll get the job done half the time.

Sandsower’s the first mate of an extremely leaky flagship. Okay, maybe not a flagship. Whatever craft he is, he’s better than a dinghy. He’ll take lots of support to become optimal, but he carries his own weight early. In the late game, I love him. He’s probably a little slow for the rapid pace of draft, but don’t underestimate him in Sealed.

Nothing too thrilling here. I’d consider splashing for all of the above, except the double-White Paladin, but there isn’t enough filler to make White a candidate for key color.

Solid playables: Compulsive Research, Drift of Phantasms, Silkwing Scout, Snapping Drake, Tidewater Minion, Infiltrator’s Magemark

If you’re short on evasion, you want Infiltrator’s Magemark. In the late game, it’s very good at getting a bruiser through and ending the game a turn later. Most people don’t sandbag enchantment removal in this format, so it’s worth considering if you have any decent number of big men.

We’ve got a few good fliers and utility cards here. Blue looks likely to make the cut.

Solid playables: Last Gasp, Seal of Doom, Stinkweed Imp, Strands of Undeath

As much as I like forcing my opponent to discard two cards, I don’t know if Strands of Undeath is right for most decks. Ideally, you want to play it on turn 5 after playing a serious threat the previous turn, and attack with Black mana up. In the late game, it frequently loses its spice. But it’s usually quite good.

If Sins of the Past were one less mana, it’d be playable, and possibly broken in Constructed. But for today’s purposes, I’d give it a miss. Most of our solid removal spells are enchantments anyway.

Mortipede’s never that thrilling by his lonesome, but the more removal you have, the better he looks. And if we can regenerate him, then he’s golden.

Still on the thin side, though.

Solid playables: Viashino Fangtail, Cleansing Beam, Kindle the Carnage

We’ve got a lot of burn here, but it’s expensive and mostly requires double Red. The rest of the Red guys are cheap, but don’t hold up well in combat. Ghor-Clan Bloodscale wouldn’t be bad if his activation cost was one less, but as it stands he’s simply not worth it. I do like Bloodscale Prowler in aggressively curved decks, though.

Solid playables: Dryad Sophisticate, Elvish Skysweeper, Farseek, Gather Courage, Ghor-Clan Savage, Silhana Starfletcher, Sporeback Troll, Transluminant

Where’s the beef? Here’s the beef! We’ve got quality Grizzly Bears and mana fixing. I’m an absolute fan of Sporeback Troll, he’s absolutely vicious. He makes for at least a Drudge Skeleton and a regenerating fattie. Sounds a lot better to me than Strands of Undeath, anyway.

Dryad Sophisticate gets evasion about half the time in Sealed. That’s certainly good enough to get the thumbs up from me each and every time. The opponent has the opportunity to hold his late Karoos back, but that will stunt their manabase. Even if you’ve had extensive play with this honey, you may not realize the influence it’s had in your previous games.

This pool taunts us by handing us Doubling Season. Oh, how I wish to get this in play and have a grip filled with graft and bloodthirst guys. But we’re just not getting enough today.

Solid playables: Plague Boiler, Plumes of Peace, Streetbreaker Wurm, Golgari Rotwurm, Dimir Guildmage, Plaxcaster Frogling, Izzet Chronarch

If you’re on the offense, odds are you’ll want to keep Plumes of Peace in your hand, ripping your opponent’s defensive line apart. Too many times I’ve seen people throw it down impulsively. Keep your powder dry when you’ve got this card. (On the other hand, if your opponent unleashes a bomb, it may well be worth your time to lock it down with Plumes.)

Plague Boiler continually gets dissed by people because it’s too expensive to trigger. Usually it’ll take six mana followed by three mana on the following turn to blow up. Sitting around with two counters on it ad nauseum’s not going to win you any games, as your opponent will just hold onto his best spells.

So we know we’ll be playing with our Green cards. We’ve got enough mana fixing to handle three colors comfortably. But can we push it a little further? Here’s my build.

1cc: Elvish Skysweeper, Gather Courage, Terrarion
2cc: Dimir Guildmage, Dryad Sophisticate, Transluminant, Farseek, Last Gasp, Izzet Signet, Selesnya Signet
3cc: Drift of Phantasms, Plaxcaster Frogling, Silkwing Scout, Silhana Starfletcher, Stinkweed Imp, Compulsive Research, Plague Boiler, Plumes of Peace, Seal of Doom
4cc: Mortipede, Snapping Drake, Sporeback Troll, Faith’s Fetters
5cc: Ghor-Clan Savage, Golgari Rotwurm

1: CSS
5: CC

Azorius Chancery
1 Plains
3 Swamp
6 Forest
4 Island

This deck’s got a solid curve of creatures, evasion, and synergy. The mana’s a tad bit messy, so the deck should draw first. But we’ve got two Signets, a Karoo, and four mana fixers, coupled with card draw. Four spot removal spells and one board sweeper will help us take care of any bombs. You’ll rarely come out the gate swinging, but you’ve got all the tools to shut your opponents down and pull out games.

I chose not to run Clutch of the Undercity. There simply aren’t that many “essential” four drops that are worth the three-mana investment to fetch, and the double blue and black doesn’t go well with the curve. Twisted Justice’s a great card if your opponent doesn’t have a lot of little guys, and with the decline of Selesnya in RGD draft it’s certainly worth drafting. But in Sealed, I still won’t give it a thumbs up. Dimir Infiltrator’s just too hard to cast comfortably, but he can be transmuted to fix mana if you’re so inclined.

Yes, there was a Boros Garrison and Izzet Signet, I could have played Red and gotten access to the two board sweepers. But five colors would have been too shaky, and I’m not sure what I would have cut. Mass removal’s not all that exciting anyway when your guys aren’t bloomin’ huge.

If I had my druthers, I’d have one more graft guy to make our army that much more resilient and get Doubling Season past the cut. But that path does not lie in our future.

As I put the final trim on this article, I clicked away to see what was going on at US Nationals. It turns out that John Friggin’ Rizzo can write mean coverage. I tip my hat to him.

Your comments are eagerly awaited on the forums. Thanks again for checking in.

Eli Kaplan