There are a few universal truths to Sealed Deck. Play 17-18 lands. Try and fit as many bombs as possible. Value removal highly, and wait to use it on the opponent’s best threats.
If that’s all there was to Limited, it’d get stale. Instead, each format has its own quirks. When we talk about “learning” a limited format we don’t just mean familiarizing ourselves with its specific tricks and removal or whether the splashy rares are worth splashing, we’re also deciding how good a 2/1 for 2 is.
For me, the most interesting part of a new set is figuring out what vanilla cards are better or worse than usual, what seemingly bad cards are actually good, and other ways the format differs from past sets. While it’s important to know what your opponent is representing if they leave a green and a white open, it’s also important to build the best deck possible.
This is basically the “how good is a 2/1 for 2?” question. In this case, not very. Nearly every opponent will have a 2/2 on turn three. Now, this doesn’t brick your 2/1 like a 2/3 might, but it’s not like you have a lot of efficient tricks to get ahead either, and your early drop will generally be worth 2 points of damage before the opponent can effectively use a morph as a removal spell on it.
The problem isn’t that bears are bad on turn two, like they would be in a field of 2/3s, but rather that putting bears in your deck actively makes your deck worse. When drawn later, your opponent’s morph will be a 5/5 trampler or something ridiculous and your 2/1 will still be a 2/1.
Of course, if a two-drop scales well and can interact with morphs and larger creatures favorably I like it a lot more, and I’m always looking to play Ainok Bond-Kin, Seeker of the Way, Horde Ambusher, and Heir of the Wilds.
If a two-mana x/2 is bad, a three-mana x/2 is much worse. I saw a lot of Bloodfire Experts and Alpine Grizzlys during the prerelease, and these are only cards in a very loose interpretation of the term. The only time I’d play one of these is if I was desperate for an early source of ferocity. Opening more than one Savage Punch could be a fine reason to run a 4/2 for three, but even then it’s not like Savage Punch needs to be cast early to be effective (though it might dodge an opposing trick that way).
The one good 3cc+ card that fails the “does this just trade with a morph” test is Whirlwind Adept, assuming you have at least a couple of ways to pump him. Just think of a Dragon Grip on this guy. How crushing is a 6-7/x first striking hexproof? And it’s surprise first strike, too.
When it comes to evaluating morph creatures, the bigger the better. Your 3/4 flyer that lets you loot is going to get raced by a 5/5 trampler that flips up on the same turn. If you’re RUx, you shouldn’t be playing Ainok Tracker when you have a Glacial Stalker in the sideboard. In fact, you probably shouldn’t be playing Tracker at all if you can help it, and Glacial Stalker is close to an auto-include. A 4/5 is huge!
I’m sure aggro is viable in some capacity, but it’s disadvantaged. The comes-into-play tapped duals provide everyone with incidental life gain, and having to fight through 23-24 life from the get-go is much different than 20.
Meanwhile, the most powerful cards are gold. In order to play them, an aggro deck needs to play three colors. No pure aggro deck wants to play a pile of comes-into-play tapped lands as fixing, and that creates an awful decision between an underpowered two-color deck and a clunky, inefficient three-color one.
When evaluating your aggro deck, think about whether it can rush an opponent starting at 24 life and whether it can beat infinite Moonglove Extracts. On paper, these factors make me think the tokens into Trumpet Blast strategy is the way to go.
I imagine aggro will be less embarrassing in draft, as it usually is.
3cc mana rocks are usually bad. And the Cluestones showed that being able to cycle them doesn’t make them much better. In Khans, I thought they might be more necessary with the emphasis on guild-colored decks, but the abundance of dual and tri-colored lands already has that covered.
Odds are, at least one of your colors will be there mostly to splash tri-color morph creatures, which are all-colorless to put down. In fact, it’s the tension with morphs that makes the banners even worse than usual. You’ll almost always have a colorless 2/2 on three, and that’s what you want to be doing because it develops your board in a meaningful way. As such, I’ll almost always play my 18th land before my first banner, as hitting land drops helps unmorph sooner while casting Banners actively interferes with the morph curve.
The only time I’ve seen Banners look correct are in the five-color lists. Five-color mana bases are tough, and it’s hard to come up with enough colored sources even with all of the dual lands in the format.
9-7-5-4-4 is a great five-color mana base, and a pretty common open of 2 tri-lands and 7 duals will let you match it exactly with 18 lands (assuming you aren’t overloaded on a certain color of dual. Five red duals when you only need 4 red sources isn’t useful). That said, if you do end up with too many of one type of dual, or don’t open enough of them, you might need a banner or two to craft a complicated mana base, but even then I’d avoid it if possible. Again, if you’re only short one colored source then adding another land will help you consistently unmorph on time.
Play or Draw?
A general rule of thumb is that the slower the format and the more colors in the decks, the better being on the draw is because drawing first will help hit land drops and naturally fix for colors, increasing your consistency a bit.
Yet, here we are with a slow tricolor format and I’m choosing to play. This is because, even though the format is “slow” in comparison to other formats, that doesn’t make it less tempo-centric. Developing the board is still important, and whoever unmorphs first has a huge advantage.
Most of the things worth doing in this format are a little clunky, and cards have a tendency to trade with one another for the first several turns. This means that whoever does two relevant things on the same turn, like play a morph and a removal spell, or unmorph + play a morph, or something similar, has a giant advantage in tempo, almost like taking two turns in a row. As such, I’m usually going to play first, and I’m also likely to play 18 lands because I want to hit those land drops.
It helps that my favorite card in the format is Dragonscale Boon. Imagine being on the play and jamming your morph into the opponent’s with this baby up. They can’t block, and they can’t attack back profitably without a trick of their own.
Incremental Growth is less good than it looks. If you can cast it profitably, you could probably spend that mana unmorphing for a similar effect. If you can’t cast it profitably, you’ll lose the game with it in hand, and that feels awful.
I will always splash for Crater’s Claws.
Smite the Monstrous is solid removal. Almost every card you care about has at least 4 power, and turning off the opponent’s ferocious is big game.
Dragon Throne of Tarkir is expensive, but it lets you split the cost over a couple of turns. After that, Overrun‘ing on every turn of the game should win. At the prerelease, I maindecked it and boarded it out vs. fast aggro, but it might’ve been correct to sideboard it for the slower midrange/control matchups.
Blinding Spray is a fantastic hoser for that Trumpet Blast deck that I mentioned earlier.
I was hesitant to play Roar of Challenge, as lure effects don’t tend to be very good, but it turns out that adding indestructible is pretty good. If my opponent was tapped low, I’d use it as pseudo-removal, but most of the time I’d hold it until it was one of my last cards and I was absolutely sure my opponent was out of removal. Then, it’d eat a few of my opponent’s best creatures, winning the game several turns later. While I could imagine decks that are too low on ferocious enablers to run this, it should make the cut often.
I’ve had a few people ask me about Standard. I do have a few lists I’ve been working on:
After seeing Sorin in action, the guy is better than he looks, and he’s especially good here where the pump ability can combine with the tokens. Curving Rabblemaster into Sorin isn’t quite as good as curving Rabblemaster into Butcher of the Horde, but it’s still great.
Remember that the +1/+0 and lifelink lasts during the opponent’s turn, too, making it an oddly good defensive ability. I like how a burst of life gain from Sorin or Butcher can make up for a lot of pain from the mana base, giving the deck a game one chance in the aggro mirror.
In Modern, turn one Birds of Paradise, turn two Doran, turn three Mardu Ascendancy creates a turn three kill. Ascendancy isn’t quite that explosive here, but it does snowball the threat count, protects the team from Anger of the Gods, creates more fodder for Butcher, and helps Rabblemaster live through blockers.
I’m not entirely sure about Grim Haruspex yet. It’s the type of card that’s good vs. wrath effects, but with Supreme Verdict rotating it’s hard to judge whether it’ll be consistently impactful or not. For now, I don’t mind the miser’s copy to maybe combine with Butcher or Tymaret.
The one card I’m not overly pleased with is Lightning Strike, which I’m looking to swap for Thoughtseize or Magma Spray depending on how the format works out. Right now I’m sticking with Strike because there’s a small hole in the two-drop slot, but Stoke the Flames might just be better because of all the tokens.
And speaking of tokens:
This is a port of the RUG Chord deck that Nathan Holiday wrote about a few weeks ago. We lose Young Pyromancer, which was a large part of the deck’s engine, but gain Hordeling Outburst as an on-color token producer to help fill the gap.
I’ve been impressed with Rattleclaw Mystic so far. When I first saw the card, I assumed it was just a two-drop, a worse Sylvan Caryatid. While it is that, the delayed burst you get from morphing is impressive, leading to some good Chord turns.
Xenagos is another way to generate Chord mana, either by making 2/2s for convoke or by effectively doubling your convoke count. With an active Xenagos, chording up a post-Purphoros Hornet Queen is less of a pipe dream.
The mana base has been tweaked a bit to take advantage of Elvish Mystic. While regular mana dorks don’t do anything special with convoke, being able to play a three-drop on turn two is worth it. The sooner Rabblemaster comes down, the sooner he can get to work.
My main concern with this list is a lack of things to do on turn one and two. The old version had Pyromancer, a very real threat, coming down on two, and there was a lot of cheap burn to buy time. Here, both token producers (Hordling and Rabblemaster) are three-drops, and the deck can be a little slow if it doesn’t have a mana Elf.
That’s all for this week. If you have any sweet Khans brews, please share them in the comments!