A while ago, I decided that I would step back a little from traveling to GPs. I wasn’t doing well and couldn’t really justify how much it cost me to travel. I had no intention of ever going to GPs Phoenix and Philadelphia, but a couple of things happened that changed my mind. The first was the fact that I Top 8’d both GP Paris and GP Buenos Aires—that made each future Pro Point I get a little bit more valuable and, more importantly, made me want to go to events again. Second was the fact that I found a cheap Flying Miles ticket. Third was the fact that since ChannelFireball was hosting GP Phoenix, I’d be able to do some rounds of video coverage if I did badly. I’d always wanted to do video coverage and that seemed like a great opportunity to try it.
So I booked my ticket and went to Phoenix. I didn’t do well, but that wasn’t such a big deal for me because I got to cover the first two rounds of Day 2, alongside LSV. I’d certainly prefer doing that over, say, finishing in the Top 64. I liked doing video coverage very much and I hope I have the chance to do it again.
After Phoenix, I flew to New York to stay with Chris Mascioli. We hung out and met up with a lot of nice people over the week, and eventually took the $10 Chinatown bus to Philadelphia, arriving on Friday night. On Saturday, I received the following pool:
At first, I thought this pool was pretty strong, then as I analyzed it further and started building decks it was weaker than I originally thought. Every color was playable, and every color had good cards, but no color was very deep. White seemed to be my best color, with many solid cards, but there were realistically only nine white cards that I wanted to play, which made a deck like green/white impossible, as it just wouldn’t have a reasonable number of playables.
In the end, the most intuitive choice of red/white looked best to me. That would let me use one of my best cards (Chained to the Rocks) and give me good ways to target my Skyguards (a second Ordeal, Fearsome Temper, and the Eidolon), which were much better options than I would get from any other color.
This is what I registered:
In this Sealed format, I am not a fan of red/white Aggro. I think there is too much that can go wrong and then everyone is playing something more powerful than you are—a simple common, Nessian Asp, might mean you will never be able to get through. I think power is king in Sealed, and this deck had to play hits like Bronze Sable and Satyr Rambler, which are downright embarrassing if you draw them at any point after turn two.
Another issue I had with this deck was that its most important cards were enchantments. People often have enchantment removal in their sideboard, and if someone were to board in a couple of Disenchants against me, they would be able to deal with my pump spells, my best creature, and my removal spell—it would never be dead against me. I tried very hard to build something else, since I dislike the archetype so much, but I couldn’t get to a deck that had good enough quality in meaningful numbers.
That said, as far as red/white decks go, this is certainly a good example. It has good early game, with two Skyguards and two Ordeals, a reasonable curve, and some powerful late game of its own with Archon and two Alsieds. It can also deal with cards that the archetype usually can’t deal with through Chained to the Rocks. I wasn’t unhappy with my deck.
Most of the cards are pretty standard. I don’t like 2/1s for 2 in Sealed, but if I’m committed to the strategy, then I am committed. The only card I will usually not play is Nyxborn Rollicker, but I think it’s good there and edges out the other possibility—Decorated Griffin—by a significant amount. There are three reasons: first, I have two Skyguards, and the Rollicker turns them into real cards. Second, I have two Ordeals, so I can play a turn one Rollicker, turn two Ordeal, which is pretty decent. Third, I have two Ordeals and a bunch of 1-toughness two-drops. Normally, if you Ordeal a two-drop, then it will be too big by the time your opponent can block it. With a 2/1, not so much, because they can still play a 3-power three-drop on turn three, on the draw, and block you. If you have Rollicker, it stops that.
My first round flew by, and my second was covered here.
My opponent had a black/red deck with Phoenix, Whip of Erebos and Felhide Spiritbinder, and it felt like I was going to lose both games, but I managed to win both due to a combination of drawing well, my opponent messing up the math a little bit, and playing to my outs. I then won my next round and went to the video feature match. We eventually got to a scenario where my opponent had a Thassa’s Emissary and a freshly cast Centaur Battlemaster, and I had some ground dudes and an Akroan Skyguard. I could Bolt of Keranos my opponent’s Battlemaster, or I could Ordeal of Purphoros up the Akroan Skyguard. If I play Ordeal, I kill him next turn for sure if he has nothing, though it’s not very likely that he will have nothing—but I still kill him through a blocker. If he has a bounce spell, it’s by no means the end of the world—and it would have ended up happening anyway. If he suits up his Battlemaster, that’s not a big deal either since I have a ton of blockers and right now I’m more worried about multiple blockers from him than one big guy that only blocks one of my guys and I can certainly race. My hand also contains an Akroan Conscriptor and a way to target it, so I can always steal his Battlemaster once I draw a land if it becomes too big or somehow unblockable.
I decide that I’m in a good enough spot that I don’t have to fear the Battlemaster and can just race him with my Bolt, so I play Ordeal and attack. On his turn he plays Time to Feed, which is slightly annoying because now racing him is harder, but he still can’t attack because I have too many dudes out. I play my Conscriptor and he plays the 3/7 Centaur. The following turn, I steal his Centaur and attack him down to 3 life, with Bolt in hand. He draws and plays Nylea’s Disciple, going up to 8. I still have Celestial Archon, but I need a seventh land to win the game; he has a way to give his Centaur flying and then another pump spell, hitting me for 15 and killing me.
I’m not sure whether my play was correct or not; it seems a lot safer to just kill his Centaur, but then I might lose to many other things whereas keeping the Bolt in hand and threatening his life total might win me a game that I would never win otherwise. He needed to have Time to Feed and another life gain spell to survive, so I wasn’t unhappy with my play, though killing his Centaur would probably have won me the game. Game two I was stuck on two lands and didn’t play a spell.
I won my next round to lock Day 2, and then played against a very good green/white deck. I feel the same way about green/white as I do about red/white—it always seems good but falls short in Sealed. My opponent’s deck had all the problems of a normal green/white deck, but it also had all the things a good green/white deck should have.
I lost a close game one when he played Unravel the Aether on my Bronze Sable that had two enchantments on it (followed by me drawing Bronze Sable again on my last turn for max rub-ins), and then game two we get to a very interesting scenario. My board is Satyr Rambler with Fearsome Temper, and his is freshly cast Fleecemane Lion and a tapped 1/1 Setessan Oathsworn, with GW up. My hand is Observant Alseid, Chained to the Rocks, and Rage of Purphoros, and I can cast one spell.
My choices here are Rage or Chained. If he untaps with his Lion and has a fifth land, it’s extremely unlikely that I will be able to win the game (though it is theoretically possible since my guy has trample and is going to eventually become a 6/5). He is playing GW, so he probably has some pump spells, but I didn’t see any game one. I saw a lot of bestow guys but nothing that would save his Lion. If I Rage and he pumps it, then I probably lose.
I know he has at least one Disenchant in his deck, maybe more after sideboard (but likely only one he can play right now). I decide that the chances he has one or the other are roughly the same, and I should instead make my choice based on what happens if I’m right and what happens if I’m wrong.
If he has both in hand, it doesn’t matter which one I play. If he has neither, then I would much rather Rage of Purphoros it, because I get to scry, use my mana, and I can save the Chained to the Rocks for a later, more powerful guy (I can even bestow Aisled and play Chained next turn if I draw a land).
If I Rage it and he has Disenchant, that is still not great for me—he can Disenchant my Fearsome Temper and I’m still not in a great position. If I Chained and he has a pump spell, that’s better for me because a pump spell here is not as threatening, considering I can pay 3 and make his guy not be able to block.
In the end, what tipped it for me was the fact that if I Rage now and he draws a pump spell next turn, I still “win,” whereas if I Chain now and he draws Disenchant next turn, I still lose. I wanted to play the spell that would force him to have something this very turn, and the spell that would make the game the best for me in case he had nothing.
I don’t know whether that was right or wrong, but it turned out to be bad, as he had the pump spell to save his guy. I attacked and he traded, which I think was a mistake but nothing criminal, and in the end he just had the superior board and I lost.
I ended Day 1 at 7-2, which is good because you make Day 2, but somewhat disappointing because tournaments are so big that there is a strong chance you can’t Top 8 even if you x-0 Day 2.
On Day 2, I open my pack and it’s quite good. It has no bombs, but a lot of the best commons and I end up taking Akroan Skyguard over Retraction Helix, since I rather like white in draft and I think Helix is somewhat overrated (though still very good). I second pick a Helix, and then face a choice between Helix or Glimpse the Sun God—I take the Glimpse. I fourth pick another Helix. At this point, I have two good cards in each of two colors, but I also know that I’ve passed many good cards in those colors—in every pack, the second best card was either blue or white.
I pick up an Elite Skirmisher, followed by a bunch of irrelevant cards, and then I get my first pack back and have the choice between Elite Skirmisher and Graverobber Spider. Skirmisher is obviously the better card for my deck, but I start thinking that maybe white isn’t that open and green is. I did see a considerable number of late green cards after all (none very good, like Satyr Wayfinder, but still they were the only playables left in those packs). Spider is pretty good, and shouldn’t table. I liked my deck, but I also like the Spider, and if green truly was open, I didn’t want to be the idiot who had the chance to get it but passed up on it because he was too committed to his early colors. In the pressure of “pick your card,” I panicked and took the Spider.
That was a horrible pick. Really, really bad—one of the worst in history. The reason the Spider was still there was not that green was open but simply that my opening pack was stacked with good cards, so some of them still had to be left. I ended up not seeing another green card in either direction and obviously my deck ended up short a 3-drop or two.
After that, things were mostly academic and I didn’t have a ton of interesting choices to make. This was my deck:
I felt my deck was good, though it had some cards that were obviously not great. Excoriate and Silent Sentinel are cards I almost never play, but I felt like they were good in this deck. I had a bunch of ways to tap their guys for Excoriate (three Snarecasters, Glimpse, Triton, Skirmisher) if I needed to get rid of a blocker, and my deck didn’t seem particularly fast so it could use the big flying kill condition. I also had to play cards such as Silent Artisan and Crackling Triton, and three Leonin Snarecasters in a deck that didn’t really want to attack much, but I had nothing else to play. I thought my deck was average or slightly below average and expected to 2-1 with some luck and 1-2 if I ran badly.
I was paired against the guy I was feeding who also turned out to be UW, partially because I passed him a bunch of good white and blue cards in pack 1 and partially because he opened Brimaz. Game one looked really good for me since he was apparently stuck on five lands, but I kept drawing lands myself and couldn’t close the game before he found his sixth, and then he played Sea God’s Revenge and Evangel of Heliod making five tokens to win the race. Game two I was stuck on four Plains and didn’t cast many spells.
Next round I got paired against a UG deck. I win game one on the back of fliers and lose games two and three to a turn four Kiora that my deck realistically can never beat if it’s backed up by any sort of average draw. For round three I get paired against a UG deck and win in two comfortable rounds.
At this point I’m x-4, and need to win out to Top 64. I already had five GP finishes, so I wouldn’t get any Pro Points, but there were still cash and honor on the line, so I battled on.
My first pack has the 2/1 inspired Harpy and Kiora’s Follower; I take the Follower. It’s a very powerful card and definitely first-pick worthy in power level alone, but I am not a fan of first picking gold cards because there’s a high chance you won’t play them, especially one not splashable like the Follower. Still, it’s the only reasonable pick in the pack, so I take it. After that I see a lot more green and blue and not much else, and my hardest choice ends up being Bronze Sable or Satyr Hedonist. I took the Hedonist, but in retrospect I think I should have taken the Bronze Sable. This was my deck:
I thought this deck was better than my previous one—it had more power and less bad cards (though it still had some bad cards). I thought it was slightly above average and expected to 2-1 or 3-0.
Round 2 I’m paired against David Shiels, on a fast RW deck. I overwhelm him with big dudes game 1 and he is stuck on lands g2. At some point in game 1, he attacks with Two-Headed Cerberus with an Observant Alseid on it, and I block with my Nessian Asp, trading, even though my life total is very high. After the match he commented that when I blocked there, he knew he was dead. He knew I would never block if I didn’t have a ton of gas, I would just wait to monstrous my Asp, but the fact that I blocked meant I didn’t even need it. He was right—I still had a lot of gas left—and I thought it was interesting that he noticed what my blocking meant, it’s something everyone should try to do. Normally I wouldn’t block, but I did, what does that say about my hand? That I have other stuff and am more worried about not dying than winning the game because I know I can win with what I have left anyway.
Round 3 I play against an almost mono-green deck splashing red. His deck was super good but I was able to race him with Nimbus Naiad (a big problem for green decks) g1 and then with Sea God’s Revenge g2.
In the end, I finished 11-4 for Top 64. I liked how I played in general, and I think that all my important decisions were legitimately hard. I made a lot of mistakes that lost me games, but they weren’t flat-out mistakes, they were just judgment calls where I had to choose one option or the other, both had merit, and I ended up choosing the wrong one (or the right one and being punished for it, I can’t tell). I would probably play the tournament the same way, though I would definitely have picked that Elite Skirmisher!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this, see you next week!