Grand Prix Orlando is in the books, and if you didn't get a chance to catch any of the coverage from this weekend (which Patrick, Cedric, and Matthias killed by the way) then you might have missed that this Limited format is extremely fun and quite skill-intensive.
Khans of Tarkir Sealed and Draft are two different monsters, and I fell in love with both of them this weekend while learning quite a bit, but this weekend wasn't all about Magic; well okay, it mostly was about Magic, but there was some other sweet stuff too!
We all left Roanoke on Wednesday after work. The plan was for Brian, David McDarby, Stephen, and I to meet up with some more friends and fill a giant house in Orlando for the rest of the week and through the weekend. We spent the entire ride down alternating between naps and chatting about the Sealed and Draft format.
Some of the big conversations were about how many lands we should be playing. Most of us were keen on seventeen and a Banner, or eighteen, or eighteen and a Banner depending on how grindy our decks were. The consensus is that games tend to go long and mostly revolve around trying to keep at parity tempo-wise and finding ways to pull ahead. I felt like hitting my land drops throughout the game was very important and had me leaning towards the eighteen or eighteen and a Banner camp.
We were all in agreement that Abzan and the outlast mechanic were just the best for Sealed, and that's where we all hoped that we would be, with Sultai, Jeskai, and Temur all being about the same interest and Mardu falling behind. We felt that most of the Mardu cards facilitate a more aggressive gameplan which can be tough to pull off when you are almost forced to be three colors and play lands that come into play tapped to fix your mana. There is also the issue that everyone has a handful of "gainlands" that they are playing, which matters a ton. The residual life that everyone is gaining from their lands really helps negate the damage being done by the few early drop creatures that are playable and let you get to a point where you are trading profitably and pulling ahead without feeling under too much pressure.
Outlast is such a great Limited mechanic, and it also helps that the good outlast creatures line up very well against all of the morphs being played. Abzan Falconer and Tuskguard Captain are amazing. Only costing one mana to outlast is huge when we're moving into the mid-game and can cast a spell and outlast in the same turn, but they are also just straight up 2/3s in a world where everyone is playing a million 2/2 morph creatures. Abzan Falconer, in particular, is one of the best uncommons in the set. Being a great body that also takes to the air while getting bigger that also gives all of our other outlast guys flying is pretty big game. In fact, all of the outlast creatures are great on the curve and give you things to do with your mana later in the game, not to mention how well they play with the combat tricks that Abzan have access to. Feat of Resistance and Dragonscale Boon are both great cards (learn to read your opponent for them and play around them as much as possible!), but they also get extra value when you're also giving your creature flying, trample, first strike, deathtouch, or lifelink. Because of how awesome the outlast creatures interact with the tricks that put counters on creatures, something like Incremental Growth can go from a solid board building spell to feeling more like an Overrun with a lasting impact.
The last bit of conversation was about what we felt the best card was in Khans Limited. The initial thought was that Wingmate Roc was just the best card with High Sentinels of Arashin a very close second, but after getting to play with High Sentinels more, our minds were swayed. Granted, it's still insanely close, and I would be happy to snap P1P1 either card, but we felt that High Sentinels being easier to cast and a bit lower on the curve made it slightly more desirable. That all being said, if you're able to have either card in your Limited deck, then you should probably feel good about your deck.
One thing we did talk about on the drive down that greatly helped me throughout the weekend was Brian Kibler's article about morphs that went up last week. This article was fabulous and helped with early game combat decisions. I could tell that a lot of people hadn't read the article or realized what Brian talked about in it, as I was able to successfully attack my morphs into opposing morphs with less than the necessary amount of mana to unmorph my creature, but they were always scared to block. There are a few outliers, but as Brian points out in his article: "There are no morphs that can kill another 2/2 creature and live with a flip cost of less than five mana."
The more I play with this set the more impressed I am with the implementation of morph this time around. It is extremely elegant.
Besides heading down a little early for some much needed R&R, we were going down early because BBD and I were going to be filming a live VS video right there at the event site for GP Orlando. I really like when we get to do things like this since they are extremely fun to do, and I just really enjoy live performance type things.
The house itself was amazing, and luckily I was able to get the master bedroom to myself with a king-size bed and my own private bathroom with a Jacuzzi tub. I never ended up using the tub because there was a sweet heated pool outside and, well, baths are gross (soaking in your own dirty water - yuck, just take a shower), but just having it there was awesome.
With a full day to prepare for the GP and our live battle, I had planned on doing some video blogs at the house to show off our preparation to try and generate some hype. Unfortunately I ended up sleeping a lot to get caught back up since we drove straight through the night on Wednesday night, but we also just put in a lot of time being serious and testing with building Sealed pools and battling. Since there were ten of us in the house and we had a case to use, there were a lot of decks to go over and things to learn.
I did manage to get a couple Vlogs recorded though, and the second one was totally real and unscripted...
Hearing strange noises from BBD's room (I thought he might be changing into a werewolf or something), only to sneak in and see him passed out with Khans of Tarkir booster wrappers strewn about was pretty disturbing, and I knew that I was going to have quite the challenge ahead of me.
On Friday I got to build my Sealed pool with Patrick Sullivan and it was a blast. I didn't open a foil Flooded Strand like BBD did, but we did have a High Sentinels of Arashin and put together a pretty sweet Jeskai deck. Unfortunately I lost a real close game 1 and had another game where I just couldn't draw a second land to save my life and ended up losing the match 2-3. One of these days I'll get him, but I did win the basic land game so there's always that.
As for my GP deck, you can check out the deck tech I did while building my actual Sealed pool here. I really liked my Sealed deck, which was Sultai splashing red for a Crater's Claws, and I think that I built it correctly, but I would love any and all feedback on what you would have done differently. I could definitely see wanting the second Treasure Cruise, but with Sultai Ascendancy and Bitter Revelation I was able to go through my deck fairly quickly, in addition to filling up my graveyard pretty well to fuel the other Delve spells that I had.
Hooting Mandrills was an MVP for me all day long. Sacrificing some early game action for mid and lategame velocity, I was able to use Hooting Mandrills to stabilize and turn the corner very quickly in a lot of games. Come turn 5, I was usually double-spelling with delve enablers and Hooting Mandrills, or creatures and removal. I became much more of a fan of Sultai in Limited last weekend. Looking back at most of my games I always ended them with around ten cards left in my library and 15+ cards delved. That felt pretty good.
My two drafts were a little different though. Going in, I wanted to try and be Abzan, but both times my opening pack lacked any of the powerhouse outlast creatures, and I ended up taking a three-color rare locking myself into a clan right off the bat- -Ankle Shanker in my first draft and Mantis Rider in the second. Both of these cards are very powerful, but I really wanted to stay flexible and just couldn't stay the course.
My first deck was an aggressive-ish Mardu deck with two Chief of the Edge and a Chief of the Scale to go along with a Raiders' Spoils and ten total Warriors. Unfortunately, the deck was lacking any early or cheap interaction like Debilitating Injury, Suspension Field, or Murderous Cut. I had two Throttles and three copies of Rite of the Serpent, but there were times that I just felt way far behind.
I actually ended up passing one or two Suspension Fields when I was taking the Chiefs which ended up being a little awkward, but I think it was still right. It also turned out that the person directly to my left was also Mardu, and my second round opponent told me that he opened a Butcher of the Horde and passed it in the last pack, and since he was on the opposite side of the table from me, there must have been at least one other Mardu drafter.
My second draft was Jeskai splash green for Bear's Companion, Snowhorn Rider, and the activated ability on Embodiment of Spring. I got a handful of Green enabler lands fairly late so it was mostly a free roll. My deck also had Mantis Rider, two Highspire Mantis, and two Scaldkin as ways to pressure in the air. I also had Dig Through Time, which was amazing every time I got to cast it. I even got to rebuy it with a Warden of the Eye!
I got to meet and play against Matej Zatlkaj in this draft. Unfortunately they weren't much of games as he was mana screwed most of the time and I got to get a two-for-one on turn 3 with my Arc Lightning in one of our games, but he was awesome, and I always love meeting players that I look up to.
He mentioned how he knew about me and that I have been doing well with the writing and videos and building a name for myself, which just had me beaming. He also talked about how he was sitting with Frank Karsten earlier and people sitting with them were talking about how cool CVM and BBD were and completely ignoring the two of them. I really appreciate all of the support I get from my fans, and it just puts me on cloud nine that people look up to me the same way that I look up to the professional players from when I was learning Magic.
One unique thing that I tried in my second Draft deck that I felt really panned out was an 18 land 41-card configuration. Most of my decks in Khans so far have felt like 17.5 land decks, and I wanted to see how 18/41 would feel and it was just fine. It let me play as many sources of each color that I wanted without sacrificing one of my 23 playable spells. Most Limited formats don't facilitate this very well, but with Khans I think that the games all go so long that you can afford to slightly reduce the chance that you will hit a particular card to make your mana a tad bit better. I may be 100% wrong on this, but I'm going to keep trying it out to see just how it works.
All in all I had a blast in Orlando and was a bit sad that it all had to come to an end. From the live VS Video and signing a million playmats while BBD was building his deck with Cedric to finishing 11-4 in the GP and placing in the Top 100 to the awesome house and getting to go to Medieval Times with everyone, having to leave on Monday morning was bittersweet.
For those of you traveling to Hawaii to play in the PT, good luck and don't get too much sand in your shorts. And to those of you who are battling in the StarCityGames.com Autumn States, good luck; unless you are at the North Carolina or Virginia events. If you are, I wish you just enough luck to beat everyone else but me.