Playing Lands for Fun and Profit
My resounding success with Zendikar Limited continued in Tampa, where I lost my last round to miss making Day 2. However, unlike previous events I was happy with how I played, which is good. Like I said last week, I feel much more confident with Zendikar now, and I don't feel like I could have done much differently. My sealed pool was solid, and both of my last two rounds came down to a game three where I was somewhat ahead, only to lose to some timely draw steps by my opponents. I don't feel horribly unlucky or anything, but those are the kind of situations you need to win in to do well in a tournament, and this time it wasn't to be.
Some notes on Sealed:
1) Black is by far the strongest color in Sealed (well, and Draft), and it seemed from casual observation that over half the decks in the format were playing Black, if not more. Certainly the ones doing well seemed to be Black more often than not. Black is both powerful and deep, and its good cards are so much better than the good cards from other colors. Charles Gindy came up to me on Day Two, and showed me what I thought was a pretty sick mono-Black draft deck; turns out, it was his sealed deck from the PTQ for San Diego! He ended up making the finals after cruising through the Swiss, so hopefully we will see a report from him soon.
Black being so strong does change card evaluations slightly; I would maindeck [card]Bog Tatters[/card] in all but the strongest decks (assuming you are playing Black of course).
The better decks, which you will start to face regularly after the first few rounds in most tournaments, will be Black and will have a lot of removal. If your pool can't build a deck that can compete lategame with such a setup, your best bet will be to build something aggressive. [card]Vampire Nighthawk[/card] (more on this absurd thing later), [card]Gatekeeper of Malakir[/card], [card]Marsh Casualties[/card], and [card]Mind Sludge[/card] are going to show up on the top tables with much greater frequency than uncommons in other colors, not to mention [card]Hideous End[/card] and [card]Disfigure[/card].
2. Sealed is a little slower than Draft, but not by that much. Playing is still going to be better more often than not, and don't expect to have all the time in the world to get your game plan going. Attrition is going to be the deciding factor in many games, but playing first allows you to either give your slower draw a chance against their fast draw, or to let your fast draw give you a significant advantage going into the late game. Keeping them on the defensive more than makes up for the extra card afforded by playing second, particularly if they are forced into making a bad block or throwing away cards to protect their life total.
3. I'm fine with maindecking [card]Relic Crush[/card] in most Green decks. All the [card]Trusty Machete[/card]s, [card]Adventuring Gear[/card]s, and [card]Khalni Gem[/card]s are going to be played, as well as most [card]Journey to Nowhere[/card]s, [card]Quest for the Gravelord[/card]s, and [card]Soul Stair Expedition[/card]s. If your deck is strong enough, by all means leave the Crush on the bench, but just about all decks have a few good targets for it, and it can be quite the blowout when it is good.
Enough with Sealed, it's time to draft!
There are many distinct archetypes in draft, archetypes that go a little beyond simple color pairings. One of the better decks is Blue-Green landfall, which combines the good landfall guys in those colors with Green land-searching mechanics and Blue bounce spells to create a fairly overwhelming advantage in the mid to late game. Let's take a look at what makes this deck work:
The meat of the deck, these cards are primarily the finishers, although Grazing Gladehart and Turntimber Basilisk do an excellent job of keeping you alive.
1. [card]Baloth Woodcrasher[/card]
The classic finisher, it is not uncommon to kill them with Woodcrasher on the first attack. Land plus Harrow or Khalni Heart Expedition is the full 16, and trample makes him impossible to chump effectively. Woodcrasher is one of the reasons to go into this archetype.
2. [card]Rampaging Baloths[/card]
Surprisingly (perhaps), this monster isn't as good as the Woodcrasher, which usually isn't the case in the common-uncommon-rare cycle of things. If you are going nuts with landfall, I would rather just kill them, which is what the Woodcrasher does. In a non-landfall deck, the Baloths might be slightly better, but in a dedicated landfall deck I would take the Woodcrasher.
3. [card]Grazing Gladehart[/card]
The Gladehart buys you an unbelievable amount of time, and is excellent even in decks that don't put multiple lands into play each turn. Once you start gaining 4 to 6 life per turn, it takes some pretty severe beatdowns for you to die in any sort of reasonable timeframe. There is also no limit to the number of Gladeharts you want, which is not true of the other cards on the list.
4. [card]Roil Elemental[/card]
It may seem odd to rank this under Woodcrasher, and especially Gladehart, but have you seen this format? A six-drop that dies to any removal spell and does little the turn it comes into play is just too slow much of the time. It is still pretty high on the list, since if it does survive, it is roilly good (sorry). Much like a swingier [card]Sower of Temptation[/card], if big Roils isn't killed right away, it completely dominates the game. Turn six Roil Elemental with a Khalni Heart Expedition in play is also known as living the dream, in case you were wondering.
5. [card]Windrider Eel[/card]
The Eel is the most reliable way of killing them, since it is a common and most other decks don't want it nearly as much as yours does. In a "normal" Blue deck, [card]Welkin Tern[/card], Eel, [card]Into the Roil[/card], and [card]Umara Raptor[/card] are all pretty close, and can fluctuate depending on many different things. In UG Landfall, the Eel is by far the best option. Hitting for a consistent 4-6 damage on average, the Eel is what usually allows you to outrace other decks.
6. [card]Turntimber Basilisk[/card]
A powerful defensive option, the Basilisk threatens to eat two guys if you have a Harrow, Expedition, fetchland, or Frontier Guide. I think you want the first Eel over the Basilisk, but probably Basilisk after that, but it may be that Basilisk is just more important.
7. [card]Hedron Crab[/card]
This is the only deck where I think the Crab is worth picking highly, unless you have a read on being able to get multiples. A lone Crab is a solid alternative win condition here, since triggering it many times is not all that difficult. Worst comes to worst, it [card]Thoughtseize[/card]s one of their removal spells, since they have to respect its potential even when you are pretty far away from milling them out. I still think people are taking the Crab waaaay too high, but once people realize how mediocre it is in most normal decks, it should start going at a reasonable time. It is playable in a normal Blue deck, but I consistently see people taking it picks 1-4, and that just isn't right. I guess there is a reason [card]Glimpse the Unthinkable[/card] and [card]Traumatize[/card] have been 10-dollar bills ever since they were first printed, and that isn't related to how tournament viable they are.
8. [card]Territorial Baloth[/card]
Not incredibly exciting, the Baloth still hits for a solid amount of damage. The lack of evasion is its biggest drawback, since getting your finisher chumped while you die to Surrakar Marauders or Kor Skyfishers is always annoying.
9. [card]Ior Ruin Expedition[/card]
Better here than in a normal deck, since you can often make use of it even later in the game, I still wouldn't get too excited about this Expedition. Play it if you draft it, but don't take it very highly.
10. [card]Adventuring Gear[/card]
This isn't really the best deck for the Gear, even though it can trigger it multiple times a turn. You usually don't have all that many low-drop beaters, and most of the cards you are interested in stand on their own. That being said, if you can pick up a late Gear, it still finds its way into the deck much of the time. It isn't like the deck doesn't play a few Welkin Tern/Nissa's Chosen type guys, and even doubling up the Landfall on an Eel is fine. Because you want this less than other decks, you usually don't get any, but every now and then you pick one up.
Bonus Greedy Splash Cards:
I have splashed for this one a few times, since [card]Khalni Gem[/card], Expedition, and [card]Harrow[/card] make it a reasonable option. While I think the comparison to Meloku is pretty absurd, in this deck the Angel can make that argument a little less ludicrous. I mean, it is still no Meloku, but making a couple dudes a turn while increasing your manabase is certainly quite strong.
[card]Ob Nixilis, the Fallen[/card]
Essentially an off-color [card]Baloth Woodcrasher[/card], Ob Nixilis certainly kills them pretty rapidly. He might not do quite as much damage if they have chumpblockers, but his edge is that he can burn them out without using the attack step, which gets around many cards that would stop the Woodcrasher. If you have some [card]Khalni Heart Expedition[/card]s, you just might end the game on the spot, which is pretty sick.
The other piece of the puzzle, these are the cards that let you go nuts with all your cool landfall cards.
1. [card]Oracle of Mul Daya[/card]
If you are wondering what can put you into this deck from pick 1, look no further. The Oracle is sick in any deck, but becomes downright absurd when a third of your deck has landfall triggers. You even have Harrows and Khalni Heart Expeditions to shuffle your library, making the peek at the top card more of an advantage. I have splashed for Oracle in normal decks, which is a testament to how powerful it is. Nothing is more of a mise than turn 4 Oracle, flip a land, since you are up a card and a land drop even if it dies immediately.
2. [card]Living Tsunami[/card]
As much as I want to put Harrow in the second spot, the Tsunami wins on raw power level. This doesn't cheat extra lands into play, so I debated even including it in this category, but assuring you of hitting a land drop every turn seems pretty enabler-ey to me. One of the best "Plan B's", I find myself disappointed time and time again as my Living Tsunami kills them before I can get any sweet landfall tricks going. Don't scoop yet, I still had all these!
The card that really makes the deck, there isn't much you can even consider taking over Harrow in this deck. Acceleration plus excellent manafixing is awesome in any deck, and once Harrow starts doing stuff like gaining you 4 life, doing 4 to 8 damage to them, and even [card Lure]Luring[/card] two creatures, it becomes flat out absurd. There is a kind of interesting tension built in, since if you use Harrow to accelerate or fix you are often giving up the chance of pumping a huge landfall monster, but that's why you should just have a ton of Harrows; use one to accel out the Crasher, and the other two to kill them dead! Realistically, that is why Gladehart is awesome, since it is cheap enough to let you use Harrow both as acceleration and as a landfall enabler, since the 3-4 Harrow deck doesn't happen all that often.
4. [card]Lotus Cobra[/card]
The snake doesn't show up often enough to really demand mentioning, but for completeness' sake, here it is. The cobra can lead to some sick Harrow plays, but overall isn't that much better in this deck than a normal Green deck, where it is a solid accelerant. In most drafts, it will be the pick simply because of how much its worth!
5. [card Misty Rainforest]Fetchlands[/card]
These show up a little more often than Cobra, and are actually pretty good. Their monetary value is a nice bonus, but even in a draft where you don't care about the rares, the fetchlands are a reasonably high pick. A little fixing plus a ton of synergies goes a long way, and I don't mind taking them over most mid-level playables, particularly in this deck.
6. [card]Frontier Guide[/card]
As acceleration/fixing, this is pretty unwieldy, but as a reusable landfall trigger, it can't be matched. The Guide might not have the raw power of Harrow, or the surprise value, but it helps grind them out if you are on the Crab or Eel plan, as opposed to the Woodcrasher plan (where one Harrow probably just ends the game on the spot). Sitting back on a Gladehart and a defensive landfall dude is also pretty awesome when you have Guide active.
7. [card]Khalni Heart Expedition[/card]
This Expedition is almost unplayable in a non-landfall deck, so you should get them pretty late. People still seem like to like this even when they shouldn't, but I imagine that won't be the case as the format matures. This is more like seal of landfall, since by the time you can crack it, you rarely need the mana, so it basically just sits there until you need to trigger some landfall stuff. In a deck such as this, that is perfectly acceptable, and it makes Khalni Heart a card you will usually play multiples of. The more you have, the better they get, since if you have one in play and draw another, the first feeds the second and so on.
Besides the landfall engine, there are other important components to this deck, as well as just the normal sort of filler one expects to play in any deck. Bounce is a high priority, since Blue and Green aren't colors particularly known for their removal, and low drop men can help fill the weak spot in the curve. With all the sick landfall dudes, you are pretty set for finishers, so crap like [card]Vastwood Gorger[/card] shouldn't make an appearance, but early defense is always welcome. I don't really think a pick order is that useful among all the possible cards for the deck, since their uses are so varied, but I suppose listing the top few commons to be on the lookout for can't hurt.
1. [card]Into the Roil[/card]
2. [card]Whiplash Trap[/card]
3. [card]Vines of Vastwood[/card]
4. [card]Umara Raptor[/card]
5. [card]Oran-Rief Survivalist[/card]
6. [card]Oran-Rief Recluse[/card]
7. [card Nissas Chosen]Nissa's Chosen[/card]
8. [card]Sky Ruin Drake[/card]
9. [card]Paralyzing Grasp[/card]
10. [card]Kraken Hatchling[/card]
Again, this is a pretty broad list, and besides the bounce spells, the order can vary wildly. Vines is pretty important, since protecting your finishers is critical. When you are playing a bunch of cards with the express purpose of making a few big guys better, you better make sure those big guys survive, or the whole plan falls apart. I figure I should mention that I don't like [card]Welkin Tern[/card] as much in this deck as others, since that is probably the biggest omission from this list. I would play the Tern, but it is less important to the deck than the cards listed. Getting six damage in doesn't matter when you are going to kill them in one or two attacks regardless; I would rather have a good blocker up until then.
What the Finished Product Should Look Like
There is no set composition for the deck, since it usually just comes together naturally. Having an idea of how many of each type of card is important though, since you will have to choose between them in some of the packs.
Ideally, you have 2 or so six-drop landfall guys, 3-6 [card]Windrider Eel[/card]/[card]Living Tsunami[/card]/[card]Territorial Baloth[/card], as many Gladeharts and [card]Turntimber Basilisk[/card]s as possible (seriously, can you imagine having like six Gladeharts?), and then a good amount of defensive random creatures.
As for enablers, as many [card]Harrow[/card]s as possible, with at least one being really important, a few [card]Khalni Heart Expedition[/card]s (more if you have some of the six-drop landfall guys) and hopefully a [card]Frontier Guide[/card]. If you are lucky, you might even have an [card]Oracle of Mul Daya[/card] or a fetchland. You don't strictly need a ton of enablers, since even the plan of playing a land each turn is solid, but the deck won't really be insane without ways to get multiple lands into play on the same turn. [card]Khalni Heart Expedition[/card] is a card you can reliably pick up, but you don't want to rely solely on Expeditions. The first [card]Harrow[/card] is critical, and even subsequent ones are of great importance.
Other than random creatures, landfall guys, and enablers, you want a couple bounce spells, some Vines, and an [card]Ior Ruin Expedition[/card] or two.
That about wraps up the deck, although I have a little more for today. After a few events filled with drafting and the watching of drafts, I have my selection for the best card in the set, pick 1 pack 1. It is the first time such an honor goes to an uncommon, since Rares are just naturally more powerful, but the great speed of this draft format is really what gives this card the nod. Unsurprising to some, this card is Vampire Nighthawk.
At three mana, the Hawk just shuts down any opposing offense, unless they have a Journey to Nowhere. Worst comes to worst, you trade it for their biggest guy, netting you 2 life and probably an attack step, since they had to leave any smaller guys back.
There are plenty of more powerful cards, but even cards as powerful as [card]Malakir Bloodwitch[/card] or [card]Sorin Markov[/card] lose in the comparison solely due to mana cost. Nighthawk being able to start going about its business on turn three instead of turn five or six is such a huge advantage. When turn five kills aren't uncommon, that difference tips the scales to the point that I can say that I will take Nighthawk over any other card pick 1 pack 1. Feel free to disagree, but by the time your [card]Hellkite Charger[/card] comes out, I will have hit you three times with my Nighthawk, at which point the two cards get to trade.