To start us off, first let me thank all who took the time out to write an e-mail to me. Responses are always appreciated, and boy did I get a lot of them; over 200 e-mails ultimately. I spent about 6 hours going through all of these, noting the ones to get a more thorough reading and deck testing and spent another few hours focused on about a two dozen e-mails. I’ve provided what I feel are the five best ones below, with the winner at the bottom. I’d like to thank the following people who submitted some great e-mails that just missed the cut for one reason or another: Adam Codina, Adam A, Chad Ingram, Artem Voronkov, Benjamin Eldridge, Ivan Oro, Alan Wong, Reid Capali, Andrew Burbine, Tjark van de Merwe, Michael Desnoyers and Raphael Scott.
If you wish to read some of the unedited responses, feel free to see them here: https://docs.google.com/document/edit?id=17Yuvn5aNGPB8AF-adkdzitr-nA4r-6KBEiN4cqrBcLE&hl=en&authkey=CL7Lt6gB
E-mail by Michael Jacob
Let’s begin with what I cannot use. While I am really tempted by the combination of Garruk Wildspeaker and Garruk’s Packleader, there are not enough other Green cards that interact with Packleader or do much of anything on their own. There is some mana fixing, but there are not enough useful 3+ power cards in another color to make Packleader a solid play. The Slime is also tempting, but I would feel cheated if I had to play five of the ten Green creatures. The double Green in Garruk and the Wurm also make a Green splash unlikely. To my great dismay, Garruk and his Green counterparts are out.
Black has a few neat toys, namely Doom Blade, Assassinate and perhaps Gravedigger – if there are any good off-color targets. Other than those three cards, there are very few cards to tempt me towards Black, which is especially weak in the creature department. The three Nightwing Shades are interesting flyers, but are too expensive, especially in multiples. At best, Black is a candidate for a splash. However, there is a much better splash color available.
Whatever deck I end up playing, there will be a Red card in it! Fireball is an automatic winner. The two Lightning Bolts and the Pyromancer make it all the more interesting. With four very useful cards, it has to be considered a contender as a main color. There are three other cards that make me want to play red: Ember Hauler, Vulshok Berserker and Chandra’s Outrage, but splashing two of those won’t work. [card]Destructive Force[/card] is worth a look, but in all colors, there are only two creatures I have that would survive it and one of them is a wall! Shiv’s Embrace also tempts me, but having only three creatures will restrict Red’s use to a splash.
This leaves me with White and Blue and while neither has enough quality cards to go mono (with the Red splash), I really like pairing Blue and White because of the available removal, tempo cards, draw cards and especially the flyers! There are also a few game winners available to me, especially in White.
Having picked my colors, I am left with the task of cutting 18 of the 42 cards (including 4 Red and the tempting artifact, Triskelion). There are 22 creatures (CMC):
1 Prodigal Pyromancer (3)
1 Triskelion (6)
Sixteen to eighteen creatures seems like a good start. Palace Guard, and Phantom Beast are easy to drop, while Harbor Serpent and Wall of Frost seem more useful as sideboard cards. Three five drops named Siege Mastodon seems a little heavy, especially with two other cards outstripping them in CMC, so two will do. This temporarily leaves me with 17 creatures (sorted by CMC):
1 Stormfront Pegasus (2)
1 White Knight (2)
1 Wild Griffin (3)
2 Aether Adept (3)
1 Cloud Elemental (3)
1 Prodigal Pyromancer (3)
1 Scroll Thief (3)
1 Assault Griffin (4)
1 Azure Drake (4)
2 Water Servant (4)
1 Serra Angel (4)
2 Siege Mastodon (5)
1 Triskelion (6)
1 Angelic Arbiter (7)
The seventeen will likely stay, though a few good removal spells or combat trick could weed out the scroll thief or even the splashed Pyromancer. The non-creature cards that deserve a look are:
1 Fireball (X)
2 Lightning Bolts (1)
1 Safe Passage (4)
2 Mighty Leap (2)
1 Pacifism (1)
1 Excommunicate (3)
1 Negate (2)
1 Sleep (4)
1 Foresee (4)
1 Mass Polymorph (6)
2 Preordain (1)
1 Mana Leak (2)
1 Cancel (1)
1 Unsummon (1)
Five of these cards provide quality removal and will be included (Fireball, Lightning Bolt x2, Pacifism and Excommunicate). The remaining cards are quite obviously more than the one slot I have left, but fortunately there are many I can easily cut. First out is the Mass Polymorph, since while the Arbiter seems like an OK target, Arbiter is far too frail to trade for (likely) a bunch of other flyers. Unsummon can go, as the Aether Adepts serve a double purpose. Mighty Leap is less interesting since many of my creatures are already flyers. Negate is a possible sideboard card, as is Cancel, but I don’t have enough room to try playing the counter game. The Mana Leak, however, remains in contention as an answer to my opponent dropping a bomb 1, 2 or 3 lands too early (or to protect the Arbiter, a card I’ve never been able to keep long enough to attack with).
The Preordains don’t dig deep enough to find the Red mana I’m sure to need, so they can go, but looking four deep may be enough for the Foresee to stick. Sleep makes for a nice pair of attacking turns, but my creatures seem a little top heavy. If I get to them, I can hopefully beat down any remaining defenders without having to tap them down, so no Sleep for me. Safe Passage just doesn’t do anything on its own. If I find I’m trading creatures too often, it may make it in from the side board, but not main deck. That leaves me the following 7 to choose from:
With the third color splashed, 9 creatures with CMC 4 or over and no real mana fixing, I want to run 18 lands. Two more cards must go. The leading candidates are (in no particular order) Foresee, Mana Leak, Prodigal Pyromancer, Scroll Thief, a second Mastodon and the Triskelion. I already have two Water Servants, which are just 1 Blue mana away from being additional Siege Mastodons. That, and the fact my creatures are top heavy lets me drop another Mastodon. The last cut is a little more difficult because I’ve never had the chance to play with the final card I’m cutting. It seems like a good removal option, but I have five other spells that fit that bill. At six casting cost, losing the non-flying Triskellion also helps make my deck a little lighter.
So I am left with a deck list:
Blue and White both have has 9 cards, while Red has 4. Blue has four doubles and White has 3. All the Red cards need 1 Mountain to go off. My three earliest cards are White and the Servants use some extra islands, but there’s not enough in one color for me to not go even-stevens. Two mountains will hopefully be enough to catch the one I need.
That is how I would start game 1. I do have a few concerns, like keeping the Pyromancer as a fourth Red splash or the Scroll Thief never finding its way through (3 defense and the lower CMC eases my anxiety a touch). However, the flyers, the removal and the finishers I have leave me confident enough to march into battle with these spells at my command.
Thanks for the challenge!
E-mail by Caedmon Webb
I made a Google document with lists of my take on the playability of the card pools, along with my several deck designs and final choice, here is the link.
My first response to this pool was the sheer number of highly playable cards. Red is chock full of removal, White has two game-winning flyers, Blue has one of the deepest selections I’ve seen in ages, Green has one of the finest limited card advantage engines I’ve ever witnessed in Garruk + his packmaster, and Black… well, Black’s got Doom Blade. Assassinate is a bonus.
My immediate breakdown of the colors was that Red was particularly creature-shy, yet somehow rather color-intensive with Ember Hauler, Shiv’s embrace, and Chandra’s Outrage all costing RR. Without enough beaters to make a properly aggressive deck, Red was looking like a supporting removal suite with a couple of 3/x creatures that would hopefully “get there.” Not a bad place for the pool to be, however, as double Lightning Bolt alone is likely to make any deck we build. Destructive Force is sexy, and really demands to see play, but can Red support such a build-around-me spell on it’s own? I don’t think so. We’ve got nothing that lives through it, and nothing to seal the game with afterwards if they bounce back. Red is looking to be either a splash or a removal suite for another color’s creatures.
Well, Serra Angel is a bomb, and so is Angelic Arbiter. At seven mana, however, I want the Arbiter to win the game as handily as a properly executed Destructive Force. A sandbagged Doom Blade will give us nothing but woes if we put our hopes into the arbiter closing the deal for us, but “it dies to Black removal” is hardly a good reason not to play a huge flier. Triple Siege Mastodon is… well… a lot of fat on the back end. A ground-pounding army isn’t going to get there unless they’re backed by a ton of removal, in which case we’re likely to stick one of our fliers and seal the game. I built the R/W deck with this concept in mind, but in the end, I felt the deck had the same problem that R/W almost always has in Sealed: It’s just not very interactive. Playing against an opponent who is curving out well will put us very behind with this build unless we get the nuts and roll out Serra Angel, Triskellion, Angelic Arbiter on turns 5/6/7. A nuts draw is almost always going to be a win with this deck, obviously, but it’s also very prone to awkward hands with 3 mana, a removal spell, and a couple 4/5 drops. I don’t want to lose to a decent start just because I had to mull for fear of getting blown out by Aether Adepts.
Three 5-mana 2/2’s? Bog raiders? A 2/1 flyer that costs double Black? Hmm…
One of these pools is not like the others. Aside from Doom Blade and Assassinate, there is very little here that screams “play Black”. Sure you can go turn 3 Specter, turn 4 Mind Rot, and hope they don’t topdeck, but that’s really not an attractive plan. Corrupt is a great card, but is hindered by its need for you to play a lot of swamps, which is in direct opposition with the rest of the pool’s desire for you to play little to no swamps at all. Splashing for the cheap removal is a great plan, paying double-Black for anything with this deck is not.
Holy hell. Negate, Mana Leak, AND Cancel? Sign me up! Blue is easily the deepest color in the pool, and is very likely going to be the base of our deck. The number of cards that could be read as “Hey, Blue is open!” in a draft is staggering. Azure Drake is great. Double Adept is great. Wall of Frost is an absolute beating against decks that want to hit you with creatures. You even get Foresee. The giant pile of great spells and creatures led me to a pretty solid looking U/R deck that had a whole lot of great cards that didn’t really seem to work together all that well. If the deck manages to get ahead on the board with Adepts, then keeps control with cheap removal and countermagic, the game is inevitably yours.
In looking at the list, however, I didn’t like Destructive Force very much except as a finisher, or something to cast to reset the board when you’re behind. Problem there is unless you’ve sandbagged really well and baited out a lot of creatures with your big Blue blockers, the game turns into a topdeck war, which you are likely to be behind in if you had to cast Force to stabilize in the first place. Sure, Destructive Force wins it for you when you’re ahead, but it does that in any deck, and does it a lot better in decks that aren’t this one. U/W also looked pretty enticing to begin with, but ran into a serious issue in a lack of removal. Pacifism and Excommunicate aren’t gonna do it often enough to top 8 with this deck, and we’re probably going to run into someone with more bomby creatures than us at some point.
Hey! It’s Garruk. I hear he’s pretty good. What’s that? He makes 3/3s, untaps lands, AND doesn’t die to Destructive Force? That sounds like something worth exploring. Cultivate and Sylvan Ranger make splashing removal a breeze and our Planeswalker lightens the load of any double mana casting costs. With Packmaster as a draw engine and some classic Green fat in Yavimaya Wurm, Green looks to be the color most likely to have synergy with a second in the pool. It allows for Blue to hit its many double casting-cost creatures, Red to get its hugely powerful double-red spells, and White to lay down 5/6 flyers as early as turn 4 if you draw the absolute nuts. What Green doesn’t do in this pool is defend itself very well. There are no Giant Spiders, and no Basilisks to gum up the ground until the fat comes down to win the game, so if we’re going to run Green, we’ve got to keep that in mind, as losing our Planeswalker to a lack of blockers is *never* fun.
The first deck I tried to build was Red/Green splashing Doom Blade and Assassinate. It looked a little shaky on turns 4-6, and ran the risk of losing control of the game if it didn’t hit the right drops. The removal suite looks great, but the creature package is slightly underwhelming. It is thankfully good enough that we don’t have to run Canyon Minotaur, but it’s also not so good that a strong curve-out from Blue/White skies could completely ruin our day. All is not lost though as Garruk provides superlative advantage if you can untap with him and cast Destructive Force on turn 5.
My next deck was G/W splashing Red. This color combo has fixing with big creatures and along with the splashed removal sounds like a pretty great idea. The great thing about this deck is the sheer number of cards it can draw from Garruk’s Packleader; with 3 Mastodons, Mitotic Slime, both Angels, and Garruk himself, you’re likely to get a lot of free cards if you can make it to turn 6 safely. An aggressive draw backed by removal will present the same problems that it would to the U/R and U/W decks. While I know these are unlikely, I run into them often enough in bigger Sealed events that I want to be able to beat them as handily as I could the usual mid-range bombfest that most Sealed decks try to resemble. This leads me to my final deck choice and how I decided to build it.
U/G/r is the winner here, and is actually the first deck I wanted to build after looking at the pool. I held off because I can’t always trust my first instincts, especially when it comes to playing Green dudes. This deck is the real deal, though. It gives you several options as early as turn 2, allowing you to interact profitably with your opponent at every stage of the game. In Blue, you end up cutting several of playable cards because your overall card quality is so high, which is usually a pretty good sign. You get your counterspell suite, you get acceleration and fixing in Llanowar Elf, Sylvan Ranger, and Cultivate. Garruk will be excellent here, as you can defend him with bounce, Wall of Frost, and Azure Drake, and draw cards off of his Packmaster. In addition, you can bluff counterspells by casting a dude, untapping two islands and passing the turn. People are going to be very wary about walking into a Cancel or Mana Leak, especially if you catch them with one early. I tried building a U/G/b deck, as well as just a straight U/G deck, and I would be happy to either in any Sealed event, but neither Black removal plus Gravedigger, nor Giant Growth, Water Servants and a Harbor Serpent seemed quite as strong as double Lightning Bolt, Fireball, and Destructive Force.
Despite only running two Mountains, Destructive Force is surprisingly playable in this build, for several reasons: You have Ranger, Cultivate, Forsee and Garruk. If you get one Mountain, Garruk gives you the other Red mana you’ll need. Forsee digs you plenty deep if you absolutely have to, and Cultivate will solve your color issues on its own if you let it. It also has the added benefit of REALLY blowing someone out. If you’re playing R/G and have Garruk on the table, your opponents will likely start thinking Force. Whether or not they can handle it is an entirely different matter, but in practice, it’s a much stronger card if it comes completely out of the “Blue”.
E-mail by Tine Rus
So here are my thoughts on your new Sealed pool:
Black is the weakest, but can be splashed for Doom Blade and Assassinate if you end up playing Green. White is very good, especially if combined with Blue, but could also work with Red (but not with Green). Red has great removal and Destructive Force, which would best work together with Green (Slime, Garruk, Cultivate). Green has some very good cards, yet it is a bit shallow. Blue is good as well with excellent creatures and some card draw which would make the Sealed deck consistent.
In my opinion, there are two options and the decision is a close one. The first one is a classic UW Skies deck. Both colors have enough cards on their own, but there is an option of being a bit greedy and splashing Red for a Fireball (and a Lightning Bolt), provided we play Foresee and Preordain (maybe 2 copies). Such a deck would have great tempo game with flyers, Adepts, Pacifism, some counters, as well as Sleep.
The second option is to play a GR deck splashing for Black. Here’s the list, since I would decide to play this:
Here’s an explanation for some close decisions: Grizzly Bears and Vulshok Berserker are in because we need some more creatures. Perhaps the Bears are even better than the Berserker in this deck, since both cards have 2 toughness, we already have a lot of other spells at 4, and our plan isn’t really to race. Still, Berserker triggers the Packleader, so I decided to play 1 of each. I didn’t include Shiv’s Embrace as we don’t have any Sacred Wolves, the curve is already filled at 4 mana slot and I just hate getting 2-for-1’d. There are also disenchant effects played quite often and I rather have my opponent only have one target in Triskelion. I think this deck doesn’t need such risky cards as Shiv’s Embrace. Instead, I included Giant Growth. It’s not the best, but it could occasionally combo well with Destructive Force. Plummet main deck is solid as flyers will be dangerous and even though there’s a lot of removal already, more couldn’t hurt. I thought about splashing Gravedigger instead of Assasinate, but I opted for removal instead, as it will help us more getting into the late game, which we want.
All in all, this deck is all removal and bombs, which is what you want in any limited deck:) Sideboard options include Deathmark, Shiv’s Embrace (against Green without a lot of removal), Wall of Vines against a hoard of 2 power flyers, Grizzly Bears against serious aggression, possibly even Hornet Sting. I can also see replacing the Black splash with a White one when playing against a heavy-Black deck, since Celestial Purge will do much more than Doom Blade and Pacifism is better than Assasinate.
I think this is the best build possible.
For an outside perspective on the matter, Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa was kind enough to also ship in a response to the Sealed challenge after a bit of poking.
I think this Sealed is very tough to build, but it is the good kind of tough – everything is so good that you don‘t have a clue what to do, but you know there is no way you will end up with a bad deck, no matter how badly you mess it up. The first color that jumps up to me is blue – though there are no blue bombs, the color is really solid, and the blue cards are deceptively strong in Sealed. Cards like Mana Leak, Cancel, Preordain and Foresee might not look so powerful, but they help dealing with opposing bombs and they help you find your good spells and your curve.
In blue, we have the following list of cards I would be very happy to play:
That’s 17 solid cards, which, after you add Triskelion, leaves us with 4-5 cards from
another color – that is good, because we don’t have to worry about depth anymore, just quality. If we find more playables, we can cut, for example, Harbor Serpent, Unsummon, etc.
Black is the worst color in the pool; we can have a Doom Blade, but we shouldn’t need it, and all the other colors offer better options. Our Blue is also very demanding on the mana, with Servants, Adepts and Cancel, so we don’t want Swamp-hungry cards like Liliana’s Specter, shades and Corrupt.
White is solid, and a possibility. It offers Serra Angel, Pacifism, Assault Griffin, Wild Griffin, Angelic Arbiter. The White cards complement the blue cards nicely, because the bounces combine with the fliers to make a tempo deck. It also gives you a bomb and a semi-bomb to dig for with your Foresee and two Preordains.
Red offers 2 Bolt, Fireball, Pyromancer, Chandra’s Outrage, Ember Hauler and Berserker. It also complements the blue nicely (though this selection of cards complements pretty much anything nicely), and in this deck, with this amount of burn, it is possible to just burn them out if they stabilize (you can even bounce your Triskelion for more burn).
Green offers Packleader, Mitotic Slime, Garruk, Ranger, Yavimaya Wurm, Cultivate, Llanowar Elves, Awakener Druid
Green is very appealing, because it has Garruk, which is obviously insane. The other rare I feel is a little bit overrated – in many decks, I think Packleader is better than Mitotic Slime, because in this format there is a lot of countering, bouncing and Pacifism-ing going on and not really that much killing. In the end, Green’s biggest strength is that it lets you play those powerful cards while also splashing the powerful cards from another color – for example, you could play Garruk, Ranger, Cultivate, the two 4/4s, and then Fireball and two Bolts off one or two Mountains.
In many Sealed decks, I would be down for this, especially in a core set – I think most of the time power should beat consistency. With this particular Sealed, though, there is already so much power if you go UW or UR that you don’t need to add a whole color for a powerful spell (because that is pretty much what you are doing – you are splashing Green for Garruk, even if that is not what it looks like; if it was not there, no one would even glance at the color). The power level of the deck gets a little bit higher, as opposed to the much smaller consistency – for example, the three-colored deck is power 9.5 and consistency 7.5, whereas if you stick with two it is power 9 consistency 9.
In the end, I think the consistent approach is best – again, the blue cards are blue-mana hungry, and, if you cast your spells, you should win even if two colors. Also, in this set, if you splashed something, you would just end up cutting a good card for a good card, because we will be cutting good cards already as it is.
So, it’s down to UR or UW (because, by themselves, those colors are better than Green)
It is hard for me to do this without laying the cards down and moving them, but it seems to me that Red is just a better pair – I really like the prospect of either getting rid of everything in front of me and bashing, or digging for my burn if the game stalls. There are some double colored cards, it is true, but they are fine even in the very late game. This is how I would build it:
I like the Vulshok Berserker better than Minotaur in this deck, but can be swapped depending on what you are playing against.
I needed two cuts, and I cut the Unsummon – there is enough removal already that I would rather have a creature most of the time, so that I actually have something to bash with while I’m killing their guys – and Harbor Serpent, because I honestly have no clue what else to cut. Again, these choices can be swapped in depending on what they have. Note that Sleep also missed the cut, because it competes with Shiv’s Embrace and I don’t think there are enough guys in the deck to support both. I already felt that I had to drop Negate to fit in Minotaur for another body to beat with.
Some people like to go 18 lands in powerful decks, because you aren’t going to lose if you don’t get mana problems, but this has two Preordains, a Foresee, and not really many expensive spells. There’s cheap removal/counter magic, so you aren’t going to die very early, and starting at three casting cost you get cards that help you get back in a game if you are behind.
This is what I would have built with a 20 minute limit. I cannot guarantee that there is not a better build, but I think it is extremely powerful – if I had this pool in a GP I would expect to go at least 8-1.
In the end, out of the 200+ e-mails I received for this pool, Tine Rus is victorious! Why Rus over our others? In the end, it comes down to how well the deck plays out and how well the person can explain their decisions behind the build. Many of these e-mails either lacked any serious analysis, including any commentary on puzzling card choices (Brindle Boar as a maindeckable card, but Runeclaw Bear as unplayable) or just tried to do too much and break down everything. The problem with analyzing every single facet of the pool is that you make a case for every deck and then pick one without really justifying your choice. It also tricked some people into not optimizing their final decklist and many good e-mails were discounted when I tried the decks out and found them lacking compared to the Grb, RU or WU builds presented. With this many entrants you just really had to hit on one of the best color combos and one the best configurations to win.
What I enjoyed was that Jacob’s and Rus’ e-mails got to the point and analysis focused on the builds they presented, both of which were very strong. I also considered Webb’s since his build was reasonable and his overarching breakdown was one of the clearest I had seen. On the other hand many e-mails just had poor builds and the analysis was effectively irrelevant to the equation. A good number of you have bigger problems identifying playable cards than I had originally believed and in contrast to the builds certain people submitting the difference is striking. It may not be difficult to come up with 35 of 40 in your build or even 37, but the remaining cards being optimized can make differences over a longer tournament. If a correct card choice even gives you an advantage in one game, in a format like Sealed, that’s a pretty big deal.
In the end the only builds worth pursuing were GRb, WU, WUR or RU (GUR was close), though versions with splashes lacked a little consistency compared to the other two. I assumed the Scry cards would take care of it, but in actuality the more aggressive nature and straight mana-fixing of the GRB build was the only reason it worked so much better.
Again, thanks for all the responses and I’m sorry that I can’t ship feedback on many of your builds, but there are just way too many messages to get through. There won’t be a Sealed exercise this week, but there will to be one more M11 pool and hopefully this column will return when Scars of Mirrodin Sealed gets into full swing. Until then!