The Weekly Shift Sift: Lessons Learned

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StarCityGames.com!I stuck to my guns. And lost matches I shouldn’t have. What should I have done to win?

The interesting thing about Sealed Deck is that it’s like drafting, but not really. The card pools are the same, but you have less control over what you can build… And cards have slightly different rankings in a Sealed environment because the pace of play is a little slower and the overall power level of the decks tends to be less.

Sealed isn’t focused. Which means that some cards aren’t as strong because you can’t control the environment they get placed in.

Draft is nice, because ideally you get the hookup for some nice tuned U/R deck. But it can sour when you face some other dude with a great deck and get jacked, simply because his deck’s strategy largely trumps yours. It doesn’t get discussed an awful lot in articles (because to a certain extent, it’s hard to control what your opponents get, and why talk about something that you can’t control?), but in draft you get matchups that are good and bad. This style of draft deck wrecks this style of draft deck. This one beats it.

The matchups aren’t unwinnable, of course — just like Constructed, you can often pull victory out of nowhere. But it makes it that much harder, because the cards he’s gathered together have a goal that quashes your route to victory along the way.

That doesn’t happen in Sealed… But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. You just don’t see it as much. Yet you must be aware of it.

Because it can make you lose. Witness.

What do we have with the cards?

Solid Playables: Benalish Cavalry, Cloudchaser Eagle, Flickering Spirit, Momentary Blink, Outrider en-Kor, Pentarch Ward

Well. That’s nice, solid White from top to bottom, since it has strength all the way down the chain; even the sideline guys of Plated Pegasus and Zealot il-Vec can be quite nice in some decks.

Meanwhile, we have an excellent aggro curve here to start out with, with a pair of cheap flankers (one that can take on pretty much anything and live) and a good, solid trick in Momentary Blink. Even Ivory Giant is decent in this deck, though I’m no longer considering it an auto-include.

Is Restore Balance good? I don’t know. Mike Turian told me once a long time ago that when you found a rare you weren’t sure about, play it just to see how it worked, but I ignored him. Clearly, I am no Mike Turian.

Solid Playables: Cancel, Coral Trickster, Looter il-Kor, Ophidian Eye, Spiketail Drakeling, Temporal Eddy

Ugh. Weak Blue here; none of the tricks I’d really like to see, and not any particularly great bodies to hang them on. Okay, there’s Temporal Eddy, a fine trick to boost your tempo, but none of the cards here (aside from Looter) particularly help me to gain that tempo. So Blue’s out.

Solid Playables: Assassinate, Feebleness, Mana Skimmer, Pit Keeper, Tendrils of Corruption, Viscid Lemures

This is a deceptive solid playables list, because there are a lot of cards that are pretty good underneath; Skulking Knight usually goes down quickly, but he can get in some damage (even if he’s often terrible late-game topdeck), and Skittering Skirge and Withered Wretch can be excellent creatures if you’re into heavy Black. Then there’s Liege of the Pit, which I know some people love but I’ve never been able to activate.

Mindstab? Often good. But sometimes it does nothing, where your opponent is playing a rush deck and plops his hand onto the table, and just overwhelms you. It depends on the style of deck you’re playing, I think.

But can’t you say that about every card, really?

Also, Assassinate? I’m never thrilled to play it. It’s too damn slow, and it can’t hit some of the targets you really want to hit with it, meaning that sometimes you’ll get zapped by a guy you can’t afford to take a hit from and sometimes you’ll be looking at some huge-butted blocker that you need to take out and there’s nothing you can do.

But it’s removal. And this is Sealed, where you use what you have. So I shrug and throw it in.

Solid Playables: Bogardan Rager, Flamecore Elemental, Goblin Skycutter, Ironclaw Buzzardiers, Keldon Halberdiers, Lightning Axe, Pardic Dragon, Thick-Skinned Goblin, Viashino Bladescout

Quick. What’s missing from this pile? What’s the main attraction to Red that’s just pretty much gone from this pile?

Oh, that’s right; burn. Aside from Lightning Axe, we have no removal — never a good sign. That said, Red features some decent bodies in this set even without the precious burn (as opposed to Red in Guildpact, which had guys who suuuuuucked), and the bodies in here are particularly nice, featuring a solid blend of evasion and beef. I like it.

Incidentally, don’t play Pandemonium. I’ve seen two of my opponents do it, and I beat them both times because I could blast their creatures just as easily as they blasted mine, leaving us in a topdeck mode that I won. It might be worth a shot for something truly hideous like “Pandemonium, Bogardan Hellkite,” but that’s a stretch to open, really.

Solid Playables: Aether Web, Durkwood Baloth, Greenseeker, Havenwood Wurm, Jolrael, Empress of Beasts, Might Sliver, Molder, Nantuko Shaman, Penumbra Spider, Phantom Wurm, Spinneret Sliver, Thallid Germinator, Verdant Embrace

Ho-lee crap. See that? Everything’s a playable. Well, everything except for Mwonvuli Acid-Moss, which can be decent if you’re going first against a deck that needs a lot of land.

But we have a great Sliver factory, and an excellent set of beef, and a couple of great finishers, and a toy truck and a Nintendo Wii and God everything I want for Christmas.

I mean, come on. Verdant Embrace and Thallid Germinator? Do you know how much fun that is?

I’ll take this as a main color, thankew! The only question is, what do I pair it with?

Let’s see what my choices are:

I get a very aggro build, where I can start out very quick with a bunch of creatures that are very hard to block (or suddenly turn into gigantic fatties thanks to the Verdant Embrace or the Might Sliver), then stall long enough to get one of my big finishers online. I can also afford to throw away some dudes in senseless combat or save them from removal with the Blink, which is pretty darned good.

Basically, this deck is the uber-rush deck. It’s going to swarm fast and finish with a Fortify or die.

I get a much more slow, controlling build with this; I give up the quick rush and instead go for the long game by removing whatever I don’t like on my opponent’s side with Assassinate, Tendrils, and Feebleness until I can start chipping away at his life with evasion creatures and bashing through with my superior Green. Not bad, really.

This is a deck that could work well, but the big problem is that it’d have no removal or combat tricks save for Lightning Axe and Aether Web (and, arguably, Viashino Bladescout). My decks’ successes can be measured quite firmly on their tricksiness, and every time I’ve gone with the “nineteen creatures and no real tricks” plan, I’ve been hosed. So I’ll skip this option, even if that Pardic Dragon looks purdy darned nice. (I won’t ever Suspend it — I’ll just play the damned thing!)

Thus, it’s Black or White, which a lesser writer might turn into a cheap Michael Jackson joke… But not me!

Here’s what I went with:

9 Forest
1 Jolrael, Empress of Beasts
8 Plains
1 Benalish Cavalry
1 Cloudchaser Kestrel
1 Durkwood Tracker
1 Flickering Spirit
1 Fortify
1 Greenseeker
1 Harmonic Sliver
1 Havenwood Wurm
1 Ivory Giant
1 Might Sliver
1 Momentary Blink
1 Nantuko Shaman
1 Outrider en-Kor
1 Pentarch Ward
1 Penumbra Spider
1 Phantom Wurm
2 Spinneret Sliver
1 Thallid Germinator
1 Verdant Embrace
1 Weatherseed Totem
1 AEther Web

And how’d I do? Actually, I went 3-2. But that was due to my own stupidity.

Because when this deck worked, it worked very well. Against almost any sort of Blue matchup, it just won; I came out too fast, and by the time they got their tricks online I was just in a position where a couple of stupid attacks would take them down. White- and Green-based matchups were a little trickier, since the Sliver factory usually made Might Sliver a more dangerous proposition, but my Army of Slivers usually carried the day.

But remember what I said about bad matchups? I could not win against R/B decks. Period.

The reasoning is simple: this deck wins on the back of a fast army made of solid creatures, where I can win almost any combat. Before turn 5, I can pretty much be assured of coming out on top in almost any alpha strike…

assuming that I have all of my creatures.

But the R/B decks were brutal (and R/B’s a surprisingly popular combo in Sealed), because they had the removal to just destroy my creatures at no cost to them. Strangling Soot flames half my team. Lightning Axe? Also bad news for a rush deck. Even Feebleness really cuts a big hole in my offense. It’s hard to launch an alpha strike with one guy, but that’s often what I had left after they realized what was happening and worked overtime to blunt my army’s teeth.

And I was too stupid to change up. Because I did not see that I got a bad draw, but rather my whole strategy was mostly neutralized by their deck.

I often think of what I have to offer to StarCityGames.com, since I’m not a pro, and my answer is usually this: I can offer learning. Most pros make high-level mistakes that stem from subtle errors in judgment, but when I make a blunder it’s usually the sort of dumb thing that mediocre players like me don’t catch. The pros are too smart to ever really write about things like that, because they don’t experience them.

Unfortunately, I do. And my dumb choice is in matchups.

What I should have done when I faced the R/B is done a transformational sideboard — my pool was certainly strong enough to accommodate it — and go for the G/B build instead, where I didn’t have to rely on a quick-victory-or-death route. It would have been an uglier match and I might have been swarmed under by a fast deck, which was my main concern in straightlining G/B… But as I said, this would have been against a slower deck with worse creatures in the early game, and I would have been given the time to set up.

Instead, I stuck to my guns. And lost matches I shouldn’t have. And that’s what I learned this week.

The Weekly Plug Bug
What happens when a hot character in a roleplaying game, played by a girl who has a crush on you, wants to have sex with your character? Okay, that sounds fine… But what if you’re happily married? That’s where Tom is this week as Branch’s character Princess Fluttershine wants to know what it’s like to be a woman, and Tom has to decide what to do.

Oh, the huge manatee! All in Home on the Strange.

Signing off,
The Ferrett

[email protected]StarCityGames.com
The Here Edits This Here Site Here Guy

P.S. — There will be a “reader feedback” column coming very soon. Promise.