So close, yet so far away.
Last weekend I played in a Shadows over Innistrad Sealed Deck Regional PTQ for Pro Tour Eldritch Moon. I won a random PPTQ with Four-Color Rally a few months ago, and the idea of getting to go to Australia for the first time was exciting. I don't get to play too much Limited anymore because I focus on Constructed for the SCG Tour®, but I used to play a ton of Limited back in the day and really enjoy it. A few practice Sealeds during the week and I was ready to battle.
Unfortunately, all my preparation could not have prepared me for the Sealed pool I opened.
All of my practice Sealed had been pretty straightforward. I was two colors every time, and all but one of my decks were fairly aggressive and proactive. I was having the most success with white and green and was in love with any card that made a Clue. However once I opened my sealed pool for the RPTQ, it was clear that it lacked any clear focus or direction.
There was a mediocre B/R aggressive deck headlined by Olivia, Mobilized for War and Geier Reach Bandit, but the deck was very shallow. Not only was the deck a few cards short, but my proactive aggressive decks in testing had worked best when they were supplemented by Clues in the mid- to late-game. This deck didn't seem to have a good plan at all for the late game.
If I had been streaming or playing for amusement, I would have built a wacky Crawling Sensation deck. I opened two copies of the enchantment, along with two copies of Unruly Mob and a number of reasonable delirium cards like Autumnal Gloom. However, this was not for amusement; this event was for a free plane ticket to Australia. I do think the deck could have been good, but without enough practice with the gimmick decks of the format, it just seemed far too risky to try at such an important event.
Otherwise the pool just felt underwhelming. There were good cards stretched across all five colors, but every deck I laid out just felt like it came up short. I knew I probably wanted to play white, but beyond that it was very unclear. I spent the entire deckbuilding time swapping out different colors until I ran out of time and ended up with this:
- 1 Harvest Hand
- 1 Wild-Field Scarecrow
- 1 Altered Ego
- 1 Dauntless Cathar
- 1 Drogskol Captain
- 1 Drownyard Explorers
- 1 Inspiring Captain
- 1 Niblis of Dusk
- 1 Silent Observer
- 1 Spectral Shepherd
- 1 Stern Constable
- 1 Stitched Mangler
- 2 Thraben Inspector
- 2 Unruly Mob
I'll start right off by saying this deck is pretty badly misbuilt. Every version of the deck I had laid out before I ended up here had been more aggressive, but it should have been very clear that this was going to be a long-game deck that was going to rely on its bombs to win. Unruly Mob is already a pretty underwhelming card, but more aggressive options like Stern Constable, Harvest Hand, and even the amazing Gryff's Boon just didn't jive with that plan. I was too focused on trying to be aggressive and proactive like my practice Sealeds and didn't recognize this.
Thankfully, after deckbuilding I talked over my pool with fellow Team MGG member and SCG Indianapolis champ Pete Ingram, who helped me recognize that I should have been playing a lot of my slower cards over the mediocre aggressive ones. My deck already contained awesome defensive cards like Silent Observer and Drownyard Explorers, and adding in a combo kill with Startled Awake and Tamiyo's Journal was definitely correct.
While it is unfortunate to misbuild your Sealed deck, you can always sideboard into anything you want. I worked out the deck and decided that every match I was going to do this:
In (Five of Six):
Unruly Mob is a pretty underwhelming card in general, but while Gryff's Boon, Harvest Hand, and Stern Constable are all pretty solid aggressive cards, they were very off-strategy for the deck. The first four cards would always come in, while Deny Existence would come in against decks with larger threats and Explosive Apparatus would come in against more low-to-the-ground aggressive decks.
Now my deck had a plan and an excellent endgame beyond just Drogskol Cavalry. Startled Awake can win the game by itself, but Tamiyo's Journal can set it up into a loop with Epitaph Golem if you can't get the 1/1 skulk creature to hit. You can put the Startled Awake back on the bottom of your deck and then tutor for it again with Tamiyo's Journal. Casting Startled Awake twice is always good for a kill.
The deck wasn't perfect, but the fixed version was much better. Of course, the problem was that I was stuck with my bad deck for Game 1 every round. This led to the problem of me playing a deck in Game 1 that took a very long time to play and would likely lose, and potentially not having enough time for Game 3 when I won Game 2.
Thankfully, they give you a ton of cards to work with in your Sealed pool. Sealed is an exercise in problem solving, and to solve this problem, I built and sleeved up this deck:
- 1 Harvest Hand
- 1 Ember-Eye Wolf
- 1 Geier Reach Bandit
- 1 Ghoulcaller's Accomplice
- 1 Kessig Forgemaster
- 1 Kindly Stranger
- 1 Rancid Rats
- 1 Sanguinary Mage
- 2 Stromkirk Mentor
- 1 Twins of Maurer Estate
- 1 Ulrich's Kindred
- 1 Voldaren Duelist
- 1 Olivia, Mobilized for War
Remember the mediocre B/R aggro deck I mentioned earlier? Well, while it's definitely not better than my U/W deck normally, if there's only four minutes on the clock for Game 3, I know which deck I'd rather be playing. I already had picked up an unintentional draw in Round 2, and I knew a second one would be devastating. I had a problem, and I searched my Sealed pool for a solution.
I never got to actually use the B/R deck, but it was nice knowing I had it sleeved up and ready to go if the need had arisen. There was only one card in common between the two decks, which made the swap even easier. Bonus points if you can use the same sleeves and swap them without your opponent even noticing! You can really catch players off-guard like this, and it's not completely uncommon to just build two decks and play the one that matches up better against your opponent's deck.
Remember, preparation is everything!
Your deckbuilding process is not done in Sealed once your decklist is handed in. You should be spending your time between rounds tweaking and tinkering with your deck and looking for better possible decks. Finding the right build in the first 30 minutes you are given is very difficult, and even if you do find mostly the correct build, you can see what other builds the pool can produce.
Imagine you've got a great W/R aggressive deck, but you go up against an extremely slow and controlling U/B deck with tons of removal, big blockers like Silent Observer, and a slow but dominating late-game. Maybe you could bring in your two copies of Fleeting Memories and your Startled Awake and cut the red aggressive cards that match up poorly and play W/U instead.
Very closely examining your pool and finding niche options like this is very important to succeeding at Sealed deck. Sure, sometimes you open the six-rare Archangel Avacyn, double Always Watching pool and just crush everyone, but that's not what Sealed is all about. There are many edges to be gained over the course of a Sealed event, and the players that are able to properly gain those edges will usually come out on top.
After making the proper changes, sideboarding a ton, and some long and grueling matches, I was able to draw into the Top 8 in the last round. The Top 8 would be a draft, and the top four would qualify for the Pro Tour, meaning only one round of play would be necessary.
The draft was an unmitigated disaster.
Aside: I had never done a draft in real life with flip cards before. It always seemed very dumb to me, and proved to be exactly that in practice. I spent half of my time trying to see around the table for what cards people had taken, which made for a very inelegant and awkward drafting experience of partial information. For what it's worth, I think sleeving the cards for high-level drafts is a fantastic and necessary idea. End aside.
My opening pack was almost completely barren, with only Angelic Purge and Quilled Wolf as cards I would be mildly interested in first-picking. I decide on Angelic Purge, and after laying out my pack, I look to my right to see this card sitting on top of my neighbor's draft pile:
My next pack contains two average white commons, a Wild-Field Scarecrow, and little else. Wild-Field Scarecrow is great anyway, but I was clearly going to avoid the white cards in the pack because the person feeding me for two packs just first-picked a white card.
My next pack is again almost blank, and I don't even remember what I selected.
Then comes the fourth pick:
Silverfur Partisan has been unbelievable for me every time I have played it, and now here it is in another mostly blank pack. A clear signal that green was open, I take it and move in.
The rest of the draft was all over the place, with weak packs overall and constantly shifting colors. I spent about an hour discussing the draft with Pete on the ride home, and we couldn't come to a clear consensus as to where I went wrong. Pete said the player to my right started out U/W (which I knew because I saw him take a few blue flip cards), but ended up moving into red in the third pack, which cut me off heavily. There were a lot of late blue cards, but I couldn't identify a point where it would have made sense to move into blue.
Regardless, I was able to cobble this together:
- 1 Bloodmad Vampire
- 1 Cult of the Waxing Moon
- 1 Graf Mole
- 1 Hermit of the Natterknolls
- 1 Intrepid Provisioner
- 1 Pack Guardian
- 1 Pyre Hound
- 1 Quilled Wolf
- 1 Scourge Wolf
- 1 Silverfur Partisan
- 1 Stoic Builder
I had an extremely difficult time finding creatures for the deck, especially two-drops, and I'm not exactly sure why. My clunker with far too many pump spells and not enough early creatures wasn't pretty, but it certainly could have won a match. Given that I only had to win one, I was still reasonably confident.
Unfortunately for me and my dreams of being on a plane for twenty hours as I travelled halfway around the world, it was not to be.
I was dispatched in two fairly quick games. I lost Game 1 to an unanswered Flameblade Angel flying over a stalled battlefield in a R/G mirror. Game 2, I mulliganed to six on the play, and the only spell I cast was be a madnessed Bloodmad Vampire I discarded to hand size the turn before I died.
Despite the bad beat, I didn't really deserve to win anyway. My deck was an abomination, and I only wish I could watch some sort of a replay of the draft to see where it all went wrong.
The only silver lining is that the Top 8 finish qualifies me for the next Regional PTQ for the Pro Tour in Hawaii, which is great because I would love to go to Hawaii again and was very unlikely to play in another PPTQ. The general consensus among familiar faces at the RPTQ was disdain for the PPTQ/RPTQ system, but that's fodder for another article.
There's another round of RPTQs this weekend, and if you are playing in them, I give you the following advice:
Get a Clue!
Any card that is reasonable and makes a Clue is amazing in Sealed. You will almost always have time to crack them, and each of these effects often ends up being a two-for-one. That really adds up over the course of a game of Sealed. Games are going to go long, and all of these simple commons that make Clues lead to a ton of value that is hard to overcome.
Otherwise I would try to stay to two colors, play white if possible, and try to avoid gimmick decks unless it really just falls into place.
Most importantly, spend as much time as possible taking in all the possibilities of your pool. If you can figure out what problems you are likely to face before you end up facing them, you can be one step ahead when it matters most.
Last week's Challenge Thursday was both simple and successful.
The challenge posed by @Gallant81Jordan was very simple: play Goblin Rabblemaster in Modern. I decided to cook up two decks, one silly and thematic and one a bit more serious.
The silly goblin deck with 34 Goblins and four Lead the Stampede actually ended up going 3-2, but the real winner was the B/R disruption deck, which ended up being the second 5-0 ever on Challenge Thursday!
The deck was sweet, and we cruised right along to 5-0.
This week, we have new challenges to tackle:
As always, the poll will end at 6:00pm Eastern time, which will give me one hour to construct my deck. Then you can tune in at 7:00pm for the start of the stream. I will be playing an entire League with the challenge deck, tweaking it a bit, and then playing another League right after.
How many wins can I get? Cast your vote and tune in to my stream at 7:00pm to see how it goes!