The Weekly Shift Sift: Now You’re Playing With Power

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StarCityGames.com!After last week’s disappointing card pool, this week The Ferrett cracks a stellar collection of power – so much so that it’s more trouble figuring out what to leave out! How do you trim a grouping of solid removal, good mana fixing, and decent (if high-end) critters to all fit inside one winning deck?

Writing these Sealed deck columns for StarCityGames.com is like walking around your house with one leg manacled to the floorboard. But I probably should explain.

See, when I write on multiplayer for MagictheGathering.com, I can write about, well… Anything. I’ve listed the best cards for the format, I’ve written about political approaches, I’ve written about decks that I’ve played, and in a future column I’ll be writing about building decks.

There’s a freedom there. “Multiplayer” is a vast and wide-ranging topic, which I can approach from a multitude of angles; I can discuss multiplayer theory, or I can talk about deckbuilding strategies, or I can just rank cards or make fun of Anthony Alongi. I’ve got a big pool to swim in.

But writing about Sealed? So constrictive. Because no matter what I do, there’s always The Deck and The Cards — the two axes around which every Sealed column I write must revolve. And I have to write about one of them.

I hate them.

I mean, I love playing Sealed, but in writing about it there’s not a lot I can talk about when it comes to approach. Sealed has a bunch of rules, each well-tried and tested: Play with the most powerful cards you have. Keep your mana base as tight as possible and your mana curve low. Cards that destroy things are good.

So I can’t really write about Sealed theory. I can’t really rank Sealed cards, either, because in Sealed your cards are only as good as the cards that support them. Is Dark Withering a bomb or merely an overpriced destruction card? Well, what kind of discard outlets do you have?

So that leaves me with two basic things to write about in Sealed: Here’s the card pool I got and how I built it, tell me what you would have done in our forums and hey, these cards are better/worse than they looked on paper! Neither of which allows me to do the sort of freewheeling, loopy articles that I really love to do.

It’s not that it’s a bad job. But like working on the factory line, it’s a bit repetitive. Here, let me write another article:

  • Intro that has nothing to do with the rest of the column;
  • Presentation of Sealed pool;
  • Discussion about which cards are “Auto-Plays” and which cards aren’t that great;
  • Building of deck;
  • End results of playing said deck;
  • Gratuitous plug for Home on the Strange.
  • Sign off.
  • Optional: Wise-ass P.S.

That’s it. I could write them in my sleep.

Now, I really want to shake the format of these articles up, but I’m not sure how to do it without sapping them of whatever strategic content they have. And I’m not talented enough, as Flores is, to talk about Sealed theory and play in a way that I feel comfortable with. So what’s a writer to do?

I guess I could ask you all for suggestions as how to add much-needed spice to an otherwise-dry column. Maybe you could tell me how to do it. Y’never know.

(Intro that has nothing to do with the rest of the column: Check.)

Indeed, this is a much better pool than last week. In fact, it has both powerful cards and mana-fixing; what more could one ask for?

Solid Playables: Errant Doomsayers, Flickering Spirit, Griffin Guide, Gustcloak Cavalier

Not a whole lot to the ol’ White here; it has Errant Doomsayers, which really affects way too many cards in this format (and the fact that it checks “toughness” can really be helpful with cards like Feebleness), and Gustcloak Cavalier, which has way too many damn abilities on a stick.

Ironically, this White has two ways to fetch the best Rebels in the pack, but none of those Rebels have actually shown up. What’s up with that? (Okay, okay, Errant Doomsayers. But they’re not exactly what I’m hoping for in combat.)

Solid Playables: Gemhide Sliver, Havenwood Wurm, Herd Gnarr, Phantom Wurm, Search for Tomorrow, Thrill of the Hunt

I have learned my lesson from New Jersey, and having played a little more with the Gemhide, man is it good. I myself was underrating the need for mana-fixing in this format, and overrating the times it would help your opponents out…. Mainly because in multiplayer, we’ve had so many bouts of Slivers lately that Gemhide has been a card that others have worked to protect. That said, the Birds of Paradise on a stick (making it a stick on a stick) really helps to flesh out a deck — there are a lot of cards with off-color abilities, and Gemhide gives you the ability to twofer a Strangling Soot or a Thrill of the Hunt.

Which, incidentally, are both in this card pool. Hmm…

Fleshing out the “Fix our mana, pls thx” theme a little more is the excellent Search for Tomorrow. I really shouldn’t have to tell you that’s good. I am, however, in love with Herd Gnarr, a card which didn’t impress me that much but has been growing in my estimation with every week. Basically, Herd Gnarr reads “Cast me the turn before your Suspend critter comes online: Get a 4/4 attacker. Or a 6/6 attacker if you can cast something else that turn.” Plus, it turns any Flash creature into a double-combat trick, something that never hurts. It’s not possessed of such overwhelming power that it’d draw me into Green by itself, but I’ve won more than a few games when someone’s underestimated just how quickly this little fella can swella to hella proportions.

Havenwood Wurm and Phantom Wurm mean that this deck will be mighty top-heavy, should we choose to go into Green. That’s not good. But we do have mana-fixers, and either one will do fine — the Havenwood is better than you’d think, since passing a turn in the late game with seven mana open does not scream “ATTACKING ME WILL WRECK YOU” in the way that passing your fourth turn with, say, a Blue open does. And Phantom Wurm dies to Red’s ping-ping-ping effects, but stalls the ground quite nicely against everything else.

Solid Playables: Bogardan Rager, Empty the Warrens, Flowstone Channeler, Grapeshot, Ironclaw Buzzardiers, Viashino Bladescout

Flowstone Channeler makes the list not because it’s got a great ability — discarding a card for its effect seems, well, a little pricey — but because it’s got a reasonable body, proving that what makes the “Solid Playables” list is not always fair. Likewise, Flamecore Elemental is not on the list because with its double-Red commitment, it’s something I’ll often cut from a deck when I’m trying to smooth my mana. (That, and every decent Blue deck hoses echo like you wouldn’t believe.)

I’m on the fence about Ghitu Firebreathing. It seems good, but nobody’s ever wrecked me with it, so I don’t know whether it’s an auto-maindeckable or merely something to consider strongly if I’m out of other combat tricks. (I mean, it works well with first strikers, but what pumper doesn’t?)

Subterranean Shambler is, well, troublesome. In theory I like it; in practice, I draw it whenever I have a Trespasser il-Vec, an Errant Doomsayers, and a Crookclaw Transmuter on the board. Thus, I’m passin’.

The Red here is decent but not overwhelming. If I had a tad more Suspend cards, I’d strongly consider it — the combo of Grapeshot and Empty the Warrens could really be backbreaking in a Suspendolicious deck — but lacking that, this is a solid but not broken pool.

Me? I want broken.

Solid Playables: Corpulent Corpse, Dark Withering, Dread Return, Feebleness, Pit Keeper, Premature Burial, Strangling Soot, Sudden Death, Trespasser il-Vec

Okay, so I have… What? Four removal spells? Five?

Oh, I’m totally in Black.

Seriously, there’s a lot of synergy right here in Black alone. “Hi, I’ll discard a Dark Withering to my Trespasser… Wait, no I won’t. I’ll discard this gigantic fattie I can’t cast for three turns yet and Dread Return it back. Oh, thanks for playing.”

This is the point where clever writers stretch for things to say about the Black, but this is the kind of Black you hope to open. It kills things dead. We’re gonna need another color for actual, you know, creatures, but hey. We can work those details out later on.

Solid Playables: Ancestral Vision, Crookclaw Transmuter, Fathom Seer, Fledgling Mawcor, Slipstream Serpent, Viscerid Deepwalker

Ancestral Vision… Okay, you’re really on the line here. If I’d had just a few more whiffs with you, you’d be out of the playables field right away. But for every time I topdeck you in the late game when I need an answer now and curse you, there are two “I Suspend you turn 2 and get a boatload of stuff later” circumstances. Thus, even though you’re maddeningly inconsistent, you’re still in.

Fathom Seer? Oh, Nick Eisel was right about you, me hearty. I thought that sending two Islands back to your hand would cripple your tempo, but of course you don’t do it on turn 3; you do it a little later in the game, when you have some room to spare, and then you’re up two cards. Way to go.

Fledgling Mawcor? You’re, um, a card. Hi. Good to see you.

Artifacts and Lands
Solid Playables: Candles of Leng, Clockwork Hydra, Foriysian Totem, Prismatic Lens, Triskelavus, Venser’s Sliver

Well, that’s an all-star lineup. Every single artifact is playable. You no doubt no by now about the power of Clockwork Hydra, Triskelavus, and Prismatic Lens… But Candles of Leng, being a rare, doesn’t get the same press.

Lemme confirm that it is insane. Basically, it reads, “Pay six mana: Draw a card. Then pay four for another one.” And so on, because this is Limited and a) your deck consists of singletons anyway, and b) barring some freaky discard stuff, you will never have lands in your graveyard. Thus, you crank out some quite reasonably-priced card advantage whenever you can’t find something to use your mana on this turn, and you bury your opponent with it.

Safe Haven, however… I know Ted Knutson thought it might — might – be playable in Constructed, but I’m not sold on it in Limited. I have enough mana problems without a Land that does nada to cast my stuff, and saving two mana to save my guys doesn’t seem like a consistently good deal. I’ll pass for now, with the understanding that I might be wrong.

Building the Deck
A pool like this gives us a lot of options. The biggest problem we’re going to run into is:

a) What do we splash for, and:

b) How do we avoid clogging the top end of our mana curve?

Obviously, Black is in the deck, and probably Green should go in to flesh out our mana and to let us cast that delightful Trisky and Clockwork. That leaves us with a possibility of one or two splashes. Here’s what I went with:

6 Forest
4 Island
1 Plains
5 Swamp
1 Saltcrusted Steppe
1 Ancestral Vision
1 Candles of Leng
1 Clockwork Hydra
1 Corpulent Corpse
1 Crookclaw Transmuter
1 Dark Withering
1 Dread Return
1 Feebleness
1 Fledgling Mawcor
1 Gemhide Sliver
1 Griffin Guide
1 Havenwood Wurm
1 Herd Gnarr
1 Pit Keeper
1 Premature Burial
1 Prismatic Lens
1 Search for Tomorrow
1 Slipstream Serpent
1 Strangling Soot
1 Sudden Death
1 Thrill of the Hunt
1 Trespasser il-Vec
1 Triskelavus

This deck has a lot of hidden synergy; I’ve killed people with the Herd Gnarr/Triskelavus play twice, since you can swell your Gnarr to ridiculous sizes and attack in the air. You can also, as noted, throw your best guy away in combat and then Dread Return him, or kill your opponent’s dudes with your surfeit of removal, or just choke on the wrong type of mana.

That’s right. It can choke. When this deck hums, it hums, putting up a 15-4 record over a long weekend when my family was in town. When it died, it died horribly, as I mulliganed twice and got the wrong kind of mana when I needed it. The base is ugly (if flexible), and usually pulls you out in the long game, but the trick is getting to that long game.

That said, the addition of Griffin Guide was an excellent choice, since it pulled me out of a lot of games that I would have otherwise lost. GG, dude, GG.

(End results of playing said deck: Check.)

The Weekly Plug Bug
This week’s Home on the Strange storyline involves Karla, at the office, picking up an unwanted guest. I dare say no more than that, except that bringing home said guest involves a lot more bodily fluids than she wants to deal with….

Signing off,
The Ferrett
[email protected]
The Here Edits This Here Site Here Guy

P.S. — Optional wise-ass P.S.