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FFfreaky Friday – Lessons Learned (and a Sealed Dissected)

If somebody told me a year ago that today I would be qualified for the next three Pro Tours and be a mere two points away from Level 4 status, I wouldn’t have believed them. Now I’m writing my very first article about Magic and getting ready for Pro Tour – Austin.

It took a lot of work to get here, but I believe any player can do it, no matter where they are at today.

I got into the game competitively after Skullclamp was banned. I was glad to dodge that bullet. When I first started building competitive decks, the local area didn’t have a Magic scene that was as developed as I liked, so I looked elsewhere to fill my need for competitive play. Magic Online had the community I needed and the outlet I desired. I spent about six months on the program before I got into my first big event.

Worlds Qualifier

The Worlds qualifier in 2004 was the biggest online tournament. I only owned one deck online – a powered down Affinity build. I made it to the finals of that tournament, but it had little to do with play skill.

Something dawned on me after that tournament. “If I spent more time testing and learning more about what I was supposed to do, I could have won this thing,” I thought. I decided what my game plan would be.

There was a good reason Tori3 won that tournament. His deck was very well positioned in the metagame and he had a very up-to-date list. He slid all the way through the tournament and right into Worlds because he was prepared and had lots of practice. I was inspired to better my game and learn from my mistakes. “Don’t take last week’s deck to next week’s tournament” was a good place to start. I also had to learn what role I played in every match.

I began playing as many matches of competitive Constructed Magic as I could. I tried new ideas in Standard until I came to work with another player named Tulio Jaudy. We ended up creating a Blue-Red combo storm deck during Dragonstorm’s heyday. The deck had a big surprise element and this was also the first format I knew inside and out. I decided to try my first attempt at a big, competitive real-life Magic event by going to Regionals in 2007.

Hatching Storm

I qualified for Nationals at my very first Regionals because of the time I spent seriously testing my deck and learning the format. It was what I always wanted and it came true. But there was no time to rest – I spent the next month just working as hard as I could to fix my very weak Limited game. I played draft after draft on Magic Online. I spent so much time learning Time Spiral Limited I didn’t have any time left to work on the Constructed.

I decided to pick up the deck that did well the week before in Australian Nationals – Rakdos Aggro. My decision couldn’t have been worse.

The metagame shifted into a field full of Lightning Helices, Loxodon Hierarchs, and Wall of Roots. Even though I went 7-0 in the Limited portion, I went 3-4 in Constructed, a direct result of the way I prepared for the event.

After that weekend, I learned more about the game than I ever had before or think I ever will. The work I put in to Limited was worth it, but the lack of effort in Constructed made all of it a waste. Because Pro Tours now split between Limited and Constructed, it’s even more important to test both formats equally, a lesson I learned the hard way.

This was about the time I started fighting it out in the PTQ trenches – especially difficult since I live in Fargo, North Dakota, where there are only two or three a year within an acceptable driving distance of 3 or 4 hours. Driving 8 hours round trip and losing in the Top 8 in six different tournaments was a big blow to my self-esteem.

I was losing interest in competitive Magic after that, but my roommate and long-time friend Bill Lies forced me to go to a PTQ in Winnipeg, Manitoba. I didn’t have any ambitions for the trip, but what I did have was hours of testing spent preparing for a PTQ in Madison, where I was beat in the Top 8 by Owen Turtenwald.

I played Tezzeret Control at the time and knew the deck inside and out. At the tournament, I got my fire back and won the whole thing. Many people just didn’t know how the deck worked or how to play against it and I was able to slice through it just like at Regionals.

Learning everything your deck does is very important in Constructed. A lot of people will grab a deck that did well last week and expect to win with it. This is a mistake most of the time – many of us are simply not gifted enough to simply pick up a deck and play it to first place. We are playing a game that is populated by many intelligent people. It’s very hard to gain advantage on players.

If, however, you have worked with the deck for a few weeks and played a lot of matches, it’s another story. When you know how your deck plays, how every single card interacts with everything else, you can beat anyone in any matchup. Knowing more about how your deck works, and how it plays against other decks, is very important in tight matchups. Knowledge is power – know more than your opponent and you will win those close games.

I spent two weeks doing nothing but testing for Pro Tour Honolulu. The format was difficult to break and it wasn’t a surprise that the players who did well were the ones who learned more about the format. I made sure not to repeat my Nationals mistake, though, and spent time on both formats.

Conley Woods

Hawaii qualified me for Nationals. I did a lot of good networking with other players. I met Conley Woods in Hawaii and we talked a lot before Nationals. He designed the breakout deck of the tournament: “The Conley Woods Special.”

The deck was good enough to get me to the Top 8, where I faced a mirror match with Brett Piazza, the only player besides Conley and me to play the deck. I learned the deck and its matchups before Nationals began, but we never talked about a mirror match. With only three of us in the tournament, what was the point?

After Day 2 of Nationals, I got together with the Madison crew and they helped me prepare. Initially we thought the matchup was going to be cut and dry, but 10 games into sideboarding, we discovered all 75 cards could play a role in the matchup depending on how Brett would play it out.

This was very interesting and very scary at the same time. If Brett got a read on me he could take a big advantage going into the later games of the five-game set. Part of me almost wishes we did go into later games because the match was so complex. Matches like that are why I play the game. You can read about the match in the official Nationals event coverage here.

After that match I went on to live the dream: I’m the United States alternate for Worlds. Words cannot describe the feelings I’m having about being able to watch on the sidelines while the team competes. Okay, so that’s not true. I am happy about how I did, but wish I could have been on the team. I can’t really complain, though, since I’m still qualified for Worlds and much closer to Level 4.

The last few weeks have been crazy with a lot of traveling. I’m finally home now and can’t wait to get back onto Magic Online and start grinding again. Magic 2010 was released online and I’ve spent the last four days playing as much as I can. A lot of people dislike the format because of its dependency on bombs. To some extent I can believe that, but I’ve been doing really well in the releases.

In the dozen or so sealed tournaments I played, the same situations kept coming up. One of the most important things I learned is that Green decks win only a small portion of the four-round sealed tournaments. One of the decks in the finals is usually a Blue-White fliers with multiple 4/4 creatures for five mana or a Red deck full of really good spells.

Even though Green has a lot of good creatures, at the end of the day they’re just creatures. Spells like Overrun and Howl of the Night Pack are easily trumped. With [card]Safe Passage[/card] running around in the format, I’ve lost more games in which I cast Overrun than won.

Magic 2010 sealed is bomb heavy and has slower starts than, for example, Shards sealed. Combined with boards constantly getting bogged down, counterspells can and do play a bigger role in this format than any other Limited format I’ve played in. Every Blue pool I’ve opened to this date has had from 2-4 counterspells. Countering a Fireball is one of the best feelings out there – my roommate recently won a game by Negating a lethal Fireball, then Cancelling a lethal Earthquake the next turn.

One of the pools I opened was very interesting. It had the potential to do very good in a long tournament like a Grand Prix, but the correct build was very deceptive. It took me almost the entire 20 minutes of deck construction before I was comfortable with my list. This pool has many traps and holes to fall into, and I don’t even know if I built it correctly.

My Pool

The first thing about this pool is that the Blue cards are very strong. It has the ability to control the big spells while bringing its own to the table. The pool has every finisher that red can provide in the set without anything to back them up. Black seems very strong, but lacks the ability to close games if combined with blue.

Green, on the other hand, looks like it could easily be paired with the Blue. Sleep always works best with Green monsters and this pool supplies plenty. Having Terramorphic Expanse and Rampant Growth to easily splash both Red X-spells gives the deck great late game reach, while still providing a very aggressive curve.

I looked at the Green/Blue/Red version before trying other options. Looking at the Blue/Red, the deck came up about eight playables short. The card quality was great and finishing games would not be difficult, as long as I could finish of the list. I decided to see if a mix of Blue/Red/Black would work, and it surprisingly ended up with enough playables.

The removal package was Black’s strongest asset, but its role as a splash color meant Mind Shatter and Howling Banshee were out of the question. That left me needing to play a few weak Red creatures to get the count up to 22 playables, but it was a fair trade off. This deck definitely needed 18 lands, which matched up perfectly the spell count.

These were the 2 lists I came up with.

URb

 

UGr

Both lists and the pool in general is up for discussion and after playing the rounds the answer is still in the air. I would love to hear what you think in the forums.

Thank you for reading my first article. It was exciting to write and can’t wait to do it again. Next week I will be working on standard in the Magic Online events. Hopefully I can bring something spicy to the table.

Brad Nelson

FFfreaK on MTGO

[email protected]

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