The weekend started on Thursday night when Rick came over. I’ve known Rick a long time. He’s a strong player with a GP Top 8 or two, but he mostly goes to big tournaments to trade.
Even though we were leaving at seven in the morning, we spent the night talking and drafting. I love pulling an all-nighter before a road trip, as it helps me sleep in the car. Just pass out and wake up at the destination, like time travel or teleportation.
Jacob Baugh lives close to me, and it was easy enough for him to pick us up on the way to Devin’s. Jacob has a way of fitting together cards that don’t seem to go together. Most of the time, I can’t tell how he wins.
I bounced around in the back seat, prattling on about how much I loved this Limited format and how I wanted to see X-Men. Rather than tire me out, the night of drafting had pumped me up, and I didn’t expect to sleep much.
I almost didn’t recognize Devin, as he’d bulked up a bit and was sporting a farmer’s tan. Despite that, he was his regular loud, impulsive self. He’s a different person when he plays, maintaining a strong focus on the game. He favors Spike-y cards like Thoughtseize and Cryptic Command.
We swapped cars at Devin’s, cramming four dudes into a Honda Civic for an eight-hour drive. It was tight, but the car was newer and got good gas mileage. Plus, Devin was willing to drive the whole way.
Traffic stalled, and eight hours turned to eleven. Our GPS dropped us off underneath the CNN building, which was across the street from the venue. We followed a tunnel until we came out into the CNN parking lot, a dilapidated, somber place of concrete and steel and barbed wire. It was cheap, though, and for three-dollar parking we were willing to walk a bit.
We signed up. We were too late for grinders, too late to catch X-Men.
The next morning, we got up early, forced down some continental breakfast, and headed to the tournament.
As a deckbuilder, I love Sealed. Some say that you’re always at the mercy of your pool. Sometimes you are, but it’s rare. I heard that 5% of pools are unplayable, 5% so busted that it’s hard to lose with them, and the rest are about average, and I think that’s about right. If you play enough Sealed it should even out, just like any other variance. Only, you have to know how to build a deck, and I think that layer makes it more skill intensive than most Constructed formats.
Usually, it’s best to stuff as many bombs and removal into a deck as possible, and this pool hints towards a GUb deck. 3-4 bombs, some disruption, some evasion, and some fixers.
Still, I was more excited about the prospect of UW heroic. If the Sealed pool can support it, I prefer to just kill people. Opponents have clunkier curves in Sealed, often splashing colors to fit in their high-end bombs. If you can end them before they get a chance to play said bombs, they’ve just got an inconsistent deck.
I started with the threats, and it looked promising.
That’s an awesome base for a heroic deck. Five cheap, powerful threats is plenty to have one reliably, and with enough enablers a deck with this base should consistently roll people.
Next I pulled out the enablers:
We have a couple that multi-target and two that grant evasion. Only having five is worrisome, as it’s not enough to curve out with the nuts all day. Usually, I want 7-11 ways to trigger heroic including tricks and bestow. Still, if the rest of the deck is solid, the heroic package could be a fine “I win” hand to complement a more typical aggro strategy.
Next, we look to the premium filler cards:
These cards aren’t reasons to play WU, but I’m happy to run them.
The premium filler threats bring the count up to 19. Now’s the time to evaluate the chaff and figure out the rest of the slots.
Pillar of War is probably fine, even if there are only two enchant creatures. Loyal Pegasus might also be OK, though we don’t really have the threat count for it. Excoriate is a fine card, but it’s not amazing in our deck. It could do work if we get into a racing situation, but it’s not forcing through damage.
Eternity Snare is usually a reasonable filler card, but it costs too much for this deck. Prowler’s Helm can be reasonable for some aggro shells, although this one already has enough evasion and it’s not really needed. Finally, Coastline Chimera and Eidolon of Rhetoric suck at attacking.
I stared at the pool and shuffled cards around. I considered playing seventeen lands (instead of the more desirable 16). I looked at GWu builds, increasing the heroic enabler count to a more healthy seven while also making turn-two Battlewise Hoplite impossible.
Usually I build fast, with at least 20 minutes to shuffle up and goldfish a bit or wander around and wonder why they give us so much time. This was different. Maybe I was exhausted from the trip, or lacking caffeine. Maybe my preferences were inducing me to waste time, or maybe it was just a tricky pool. Whatever it was, the announcement snapped me out of it:
“There are four minutes left in deck construction.”
I looked down at the UW cards, realized there were just too few enablers and too many filler cards to get there, and threw together a GUb control list.
Fortunately, I always take the time to register my pool before building, and I had my list ready just as time was called.
This is what I registered:
While we don’t have much early game presence, that’s usually fine in Sealed. I’d rather be the guy playing a 2/3 on three than a 2/2 on two. Also, with three colors we’re more likely to play our spells later anyway, and we have a variety of cards that can catch us up if we fall behind on tempo.
Desecration Plague is a little clunky, but I lacked enchantment hate and it seemed necessary. After playing with it, I like it a lot in Sealed. There are a lot of tri-color mana bases, and hitting someone off a color wins games. I got it back with Mnemonic Wall more often than any other card.
Commune with the Gods doesn’t have much in the way of graveyard interactions, but all of our bombs are creatures and it should usually find something tasty. Also, it helps find Nylea’s Presence, increasing consistency.
Aqueous Form is a little strange, but it does combine with large green creatures to win through a stalled board.
Looking back, I didn’t do bad for four minutes, and the only real change I’d make is -1 Servant of Tymaret +1 Feast of Dreams. While Servant is amazing, it’s not a consistent three-drop off of the splash, and the deck isn’t short on bodies or anything.
Sideboarding is even more important in Limited than it is in Constructed, and it gives a tremendous amount of control over various matchups. In Constructed, if you end up with a bad matchup you have to hope your 15-card sideboard has the right hate, and because the hate cards need to be powerful in order to impact lopsided matchups they tend to lead to lopsided games (see Stony Silence vs. Affinity).
In truth, 15 cards isn’t enough to give you game against the entire field, and tournaments have a bit of variance known as the “pairings lottery” where you hope to face good matchups and dodge the unwinnable ones.
In Sealed, there are rarely unwinnable matchups because your sideboard is so much larger and you can change your deck so drastically. With this pool, I have a few different options for boarding. In the good stuff mirror, I can keep the deck fairly similar. If the opponent has the absolute nuts, I can board into UW heroic and hope to kill them before they get going.
While that never happened, I did use a few different sideboard packages.
Against decks with efficient ground threats, I did this:
-Crypsis, Mnemonic Wall, Aqueous Form, War-Wing Siren, 4 Island
+Feast of Dreams, Pharika’s Chosen, Brain Maggot, Pharika’s Cure, 4 Swamp
The ratio between black and blue is very adjustable, and I’d usually end up swapping between 1-4 cards with a matching ratio of land.
-Mnemonic Wall, Crypsis, Desecration Plague, 1 Island
+Grisly Transformation, Coastline Chimera, Brain Maggot, 1 Swamp
I brought in this package against David Sharfman’s UW deck of 4/4 fliers and almost no removal. In that matchup, a 1/5 flyer to stall or an unblockable 4/x are likely to carry the game. David agreed with my plan, though he would’ve also brought in Countermand to target the top end of his curve.
I played well, ending the day at 6-2 not counting my bye. I dropped a few matches where I felt slightly favored, but my opponents played and drew well. Jacob also ground out a 7-2, though Devin died in a flurry of mulligans.
We got out of the venue a little after eight, which was plenty of time to watch X-Men and get a good night’s rest. Devin was tilting too hard to see a movie, though he agreed to drive us.
When we descended into the maze of concrete and barbed wire, we found the car had run out of juice.
Devin ran back to the site to find someone to get a jump. Jacob and Rick diddled with their phones and paced a bit, and I tried to read a few pages of a Scott McCloud book on Making Comics before I realized I was too hot and tired and gave up.
A girl walked out to her car.
“Should I ask her for a jump?” I asked.
“Naw,” Jacob replied, “she probably wouldn’t anyway. I mean, a bunch of random guys in this sketchy place…”
He was right. Even if she would’ve helped us, it wasn’t fair to put that stress on her. It’s kind of terrible that a person’s gender impacts whether they can afford to help a group of strangers, but that’s the world we live in.
Eventually, Devin returned with a guy from the GP. A good old fashioned “someone would do the same for me” sort of fellow.
We were quiet on the ride back to the hotel. No one mentioned X-Men, and I didn’t bring it up.
We ran a little late Sunday morning, and they dropped off Jacob and me before parking.
When they reached the bottom of the ramp with the derelict buildings and pillars of concrete, they noticed the figures. Cops checked out a car with a man slumped over, resting. No, not resting, dead, a hole in his head and his blood dribbled out between the cracks in the seat.
Rick was horrified. Devin parked the car.
When I heard the story, I was dumbfounded.
“You didn’t find a different place to park?” I asked.
“I mean, it was three-dollar parking,” Devin said.
While Devin and Rick were off discovering a corpse, Jacob and I were drafting. I forced red, just like I do in my draft videos, and ended up with an aggressive Ru deck with triple Satyr Hoplite and a ton of cantripping auras and burn. When I looked at the deck, I knew it could 3-0, but didn’t want to get my hopes up.
Then the deck started performing, and I got a glimmer of hope. It’s been a bit since my last limited GP Top 8, but I was playing well and I had a good deck. LSV was in my bracket, if in a different pod, and if I kept winning maybe I’d get a chance to finally beat him.
After 4-0’ing my first two opponents (including a turn four kill), I met Boros in the finals. I won game one true to form, but in game two he killed my Hoplite before it got a chance to grow, and I didn’t draw a removal spell for his lifelinking double striker. In game three, I mulled to four on the play and just like that the dream was dead.
In the second draft, I opened up a Dictate of Erebos and slammed it. I don’t draft black often in this set, but I have a soft spot for Dictate. I love everything about the card, from the instant speed to murdering the opponent’s board to the amazing artwork.
I ended up with a reasonable Bu control deck splashing for Ashiok and Arbiter of the Ideal. It was good enough to 1-1, beating a clunky boros draw but losing the UB mirror to a deck with more removal and draw. My opponent out-drafted and out-boarded me. While I cut some tricks to up my curve, I left in my early drops, hoping to protect an Ashiok and ride it to victory. He cut his smaller guys, figuring he wouldn’t beat a turn three Ashiok anyway and instead banked on the late game, which paid off for him.
In the third round, I explained to my opponent that we could draw, locking up $250 each, or play it out with the winner getting $300 and the loser getting nothing. He took the draw.
Jacob managed to 0-3 his last pod, going down to X-5, and still hit 100th place for $250, leaving him in good spirits for the rest of the trip.
Even though Devin had driven the whole way down, he beast-moded it the whole way back, blasting tunes and singing along to stay awake. I usually try and talk with the driver on those long rides, but this time I kept mostly quiet, listening to the music and staring ahead into the endless roadway wrapped in comforting dark.
PS: I finally saw X-Men on Monday. I liked it, but can only recommend it if you like great acting, awesome special effects, or the X-Men in general.
PPS: I’d like to thank Wizards for making a great Limited format, as well as scaling prize structures for GPs. Also, a big shout out to Pastimes for running a smooth event.