Crap Unwrapped, or: If I Could Turn Back Time....
The guy next to me handed me my deck as if it were a dead squirrel. "I'm sorry," he said funereally.
"Why? What's wrong with it?" I asked, alarmed.
"Oh, your deck isn't bad," he said, in tones that indicated that it clearly was. "It's just all over the map. Good luck trying to build a deck with it."
Slowly, I unwrapped the registration sheet from around the deck and began to look through the cards, scanning for a power rare or an array of smash-house commons. But just as my gloomy seatmate had predicted, this was pretty much crap.
Three Wandering Ones clogged up my blue, while Shell of the Last Kappa ate up a rare slot. Untaidake, the Cloud Keeper was a real giggle in a deck with no legendary creatures, and I had plenty of removal but no big creatures to seal the deal. I looked through the cards, riffling through them repeatedly as though the correct deck pattern would reveal itself, A Beautiful Mind-style, if I flipped through them enough.
We all want the kind of deck that leaps out of the box, tapdances, and begins to build itself right before your very eyes. The kind of deck that says, "Hi! My green creatures are plentiful, and here are several red removal spells! I believe green/red would be the way to go, sirrah!"
But there are other, more cryptic decks - the ones where you go into your first round still baffled, wondering whether this is indeed the right build, or even if you're using the right colors.
Having played enough Sealed games in the interim, I know now that I definitely misbuilt my deck at the Prerelease (though it was a tricky choice). But that's because I've learned a few lessons about Sealed CoK - some that I could not have possibly known at the time, and some that I should have learned from past seasons.
If I had known then what I know now, what would I have done differently? Well, first let's look at the card pool, broken down by color and misrankings:
Honden of Cleansing Fire
Kami of the Painted Road
The White is still pretty much crap. At the time, I very much underestimated the Hondens (as you can see right here); after building several Kamigawa decks, I now adore the Hondens. I completely forgot the #2 rule of Sealed: Anything that's reusable is potentially powerful. And the Hondens are automatic damage, automatic card draw, automatic lifegain, automatic creatures. The only one that's not a total gimme is the Honden of Night's Reach, but even that's won me a game when we've gotten into a stall.
The Hondens aren't quite as bombtastic in draft, where the tempo tends to be a lot quicker (and thus burning up turn 4 or 5 to cast them may be a bad idea), but I'll almost always run 'em in Sealed. A Honden isn't quite enough to pull me into a color by itself, but if I see one I'll take a second look at the color.
Unfortunately, even on second look the white is very weak. Kabuto Moth is a great card (and I knew that even then, even if I didn't know how good), and Mothrider Samurai is a fine card with a frickin' stupid name. Those three cards are excellent, but then you fall into Kami of the Painted Road (which can be playable) and the sometimes-useful Kitsune Diviner, and the rest of it pretty crappy.
Thus, white is out as a main color, at least... And I made that decision correctly. White was not in my deck.
Commune With Nature
Kami of the Hunt
Myojin of Life's Web
Now, this is a little more like it. Feral Deceiver, Kami of the Hunt, Moss Kami, Burr Grafter, Kashi-Tribe Warriors, Kodama's Might, and Myojin of Life's Web? Creature-tastic!
But now that I know the format, there are some subtle errors: One, the best thing about green is the mana-fixing it can provide - Kodama's Reach and Sakura-Tribe Elder will help you get up on land and smooth out future draws. In a pinch, Orochi Leafcaller can help get your colored mana, or Orochi Sustainer can serve as a scaly-yet-expensive Llanowar Elves.
This deck has nothing except for the Sustainer. That's pretty bad, considering that two of the best cards we have here are expensive. Moss Kami is a backbreaker in a lot of Sealed games, and the Myojin is huge and practically uncastable... But you really need to have the mana-improvers to turn this into a verdant powerhouse.
As a result, I really dramatically overestimated Green, thinking that the fat would propel me to victory. Compared to other decks that had Green, this was likely weak. Looking at it now, I'd say, "This is good, but I'm never going to live long enough to get to the Myojin and I can't accelerate into it."
And speaking of the Myojins, I'm generally pretty down on 'em, even in Sealed. They're very high-end, and unless we're talking the Myojin of Cleansing Fire, I don't think they have enough bang for their buck. I've spent many a game waiting for the seventh or eighth land to hit - and when it did finally hit, I had a big-ass creature that I couldn't afford to remove a Divinity counter from because I needed it to serve eternal chump blocker duty.
If I had a lot of mana acceleration, I'd think about it... But as it was, I never lived long enough to cast my Myojin and putting it in was a mistake.
I also underestimated the Zuberas, because this format is all about the early beats and 2/xs. Kamigawa Sealed is very tempo-driven. If you can get out a creature on turns 2, 3, 4, and 5, you're probably well on your way to winning. (Even if your opponent manages to stabilize at eight, there are a couple of powerhouse commons that can drain for eight almost instantly.) Anything that comes out early to serve as a blocker and has a nice effect definitely works. As it is, I put in the Zubera to serve as filler, but I was surprised at how well it did.
So what happens is that the green has a lot of fat, but it's expensive. In terms of tempo, I'm always going to be behind unless I get the perfect draw. I needed something to help me with that, but I didn't know it at the time.
And I still don't know whether Commune with Nature is good. Isn't there some forum I can turn to that will settle the question once and for all?
Red is, to put it plainly, unplayable as a main color. The creatures all suck, and there aren't enough of them.
I completely dismissed it as a splash, because I was incredibly stupid. Years of Limited experience should have tapped on my shoulder and whispered, "Reusable damage, you nimrod." But I was thinking of the Hondens as useless unless I could somehow get all four of them into play, because I was stuck in Onslaught mode where the defining creature was 2/2. A single point of ping in Champions goes a bit farther... And besides, considering that at this point I was hoping to stall until the end game, I needed a slow finisher in case of a stall.
So I didn't even consider the Honden, neatly dancing past both experience and current strategy.
Uncontrollable Anger turned out to be even more powerful than it looked (especially on Nezumi Cutthroats or fliers), but it's double-red makes it not worth splashing in a deck with no mana fixers.
As it is, what's left for a splash? Three cards: Yamabushi's Flame (really nice for stopping recursion), Yamabushi's Storm (debatable, but it couldn't hurt), and the Honden. Are those three cards worth splashing for?
I don't know. I do know that I saw only two cards worth splashing for, and shoved the Red farther away from me than I should have.
2 Gibbering Kami
Kami of the Waning Moon
Much nicer. I really liked the double-Rend removal (plus Pull Under as a potential), and there were some small critters in here to come in at the low end, where Green had abandoned me: Nezumi Cutthroat, Kami of the Waning Moon, Villanous Ogre.
I threw in Waking Nightmare thinking that if my whole game plan was to survive until my Big Green Bawmbs could come out, I'd want to start stripping cards. That wasn't a bad strategy, and in fact I find that if I have a slot left over after putting all of the good critters and removal into my deck, adding a Waking Nightmare or a Distress isn't a terrible idea. Card advantage is mighty thin on the ground in this format, and if you can dump a card straight into their graveyard it's usually gone. (Barring Soulshift mechanisms, of course.) Still, it's not something I'd put in over a good creature or a solid destruction spell.
The Gutwrencher Oni rocked. But I knew it would. What didn't do well was Kami of the Waning Moon, which was a little overpriced. And yet if black is the other main color in this deck - which, barring some tremendous set of Blue cards, is probably the case - I'd still use it. This little Kami gets ridiculed on a fairly regular basis, but I needed some early chump blockers in a deck that was low on playable creatures. Yeah 1/1 for three isn't great, but it's better than getting damage to the face.
Now, one other thing had yet to occur to me, because I really didn't know the format this well: It would have been nice if I'd gotten more spirits. In addition to counting for playables, I now count the number of spirits and spirit-related spells.
Spirits are really critical in Sealed, as far as I'm concerned: A Devouring Greed or a Devouring Rage plus several spirits in any color can often steal a win out of nowhere. Extensive Soulshift usage can sometimes help stem the bleeding from an early beating until you can stabilize. And there are enough Kamigawa creatures that have nice effects when you play spirits (or, all right, arcane spells) that your spirit count really matters. A lot of spirit synergy can often push me into an otherwise-unappealing color.
At the time, I didn't know that I would also be disappointed by the relatively low number of spirits contained in this card pool, which is just as well. I was depressed enough as it is.
Eye of Nowhere
Lifted by Clouds
Part the Veil
Petals of Insight
Sift through Sands
Student of Elements
3 Wandering Ones
Then and now, this is pretty lousy. The number of playable creatures is precisely two - bad in a deck that needs fewer tricks and more beating down. Student of Elements and Lifted by Clouds appealed to my "Win once with a Really Cool Trick, then crow about it for the rest of the day in the 1-4 bracket" mentality, but I quickly dismissed it. Petals of Insight, as an arcane spell, might have been good for a late-game splicelock, but I didn't have any board-shattering spliceable spells that were worth seven mana to recast.
Honestly, I still don't know whether playing counterspells is good enough to cover up a lack of creatures. I've been disappointed by counters in past formats, so I avoid them like burned bodies these days. It could be that two or three counterspells could be cool in this format, but I'm not gonna be the one to try it. (And I haven't encountered anyone who has, either.)
Mike Turian once told me that I should play a rare whenever I find it, just to see whether it's any good or not. However, I firmly believe that Mike Turian should play the rare for me, because he's better than I am. As such, I have no idea whether Moonring Mirror is good, though I've heard pleasant reviews from people who I trust.
The dual combo of Tenza and Untaidake in a deck with no legendary creatures is just dripping with irony.
So what did I build? Well, here's where I forgot another lesson of Formats Past: A solid mana base is not as important as raw power.
Really, I should have remembered that for every time you get mana screwed, you have two times where plopping that "I win" card onto the table takes the game home for you. As such, most Sealed builds in most colors should be two colors and a splash of a third.
But I panicked, partially because I didn't have any obvious "I win" cards. If I'd had a Dragon in red or white, I definitely would have remembered, but instead I got this weird idea that somehow, having a smooth color flow would help me out. Which it didn't. So I threw in every remotely-playable card in my two colors.
My Big Fat Greek Decking
2 Gibbering Kami
Kami of the Waning Moon
Kami of the Hunt
Myojin of Life's Web
Now, I hear you chuckling: "Ragged Veins? Ragged - cough - Veins? And you edit this site, you pathetic scrub?"
But wait! Ragged Veins actually won me a game! Now, I know about the danger of misreading one-time wins - I wrote an article on it, in fact - but it was kind of funny. My opponent was smashing me down with a Ryusei and an Order of the Sacred Bell, and I was down to eleven life. The next turn, he would win, but fortunately I had a plan.
I cast Ragged Veins on the Order of the Sacred Bell on the end of his turn, then passed through mine without a hitch. He attacked, and I Pull Undered his dragon; when Ryusei hit the graveyard, it did five damage to him and cleared his board.
I then cast Moss Kami and won.
Now, you may note that I would have won with or without the Veins. He didn't draw any answers in the next four turns, and I would have killed him anyway. But it was funny.
Aside from that, I can't defend Ragged Veins aside from saying, "It was black."
What happened was sadly predictable; with such an expensive card pool, I kept getting run over. The entire deck revolved around getting to seven mana, and I was continually on the back foot, trying to recover from creature rushes. I dropped out after being crushed horribly.
Now, even with what I know now, this is still not a card pool that I'd want to see. (Well, aside from the fact that I'd get an extra booster pack, but hey.) It's fairly weak, but in retrospect we need to build this with a splash to maximize the chances of winning elsewhere.
The only two realistic splash colors are White and Red. But what do they offer?
White doesn't offer much, but it definitely helps. It has evasion and pump in the form of Mothrider Samurai and Kabuto Moth, and the Honden would definitely help out in terms of regaining tempo. But the problem with white is that I need the creatures in the early game, when I'm least likely to have the mana to cast it. Which means that I can either pour more Plains into the mana base to maximize my chances of getting an early White source, leading to more mana screw, or I can just shrug and hope like hell a Kabuto Moth will turn the tide on turn 8. Not bloody likely.
Red, on the other hand, is a little better but not much. Yamabushi's Flame and the Honden will come in handy whenever, but will I really need the Storm?
Actually, probably yes. I wouldn't advocate splashing for Storm in most decks, but this one is going to have to play for the long game no matter what - and if I'm in the long game, I'm probably worrying about Soulshift and other critters that I want to RFG. As such, it might be worth it just for the removal aspect. And besides, otherwise I have to play with Ragged Veins.
But what goes? Well, the Myojin is nice, but now this is a three-color deck and we couldn't afford it anyway. Ragged Veins definitely hits the skids. And though this is a trickier call, I'm gonna say that Venerable Kumo's too expensive for its cost, even if it is a much-needed creature. (It's that or Thousand-Legged Kami - an arguable call.)
This all begs the question - if your critters are going to be so critical, should we maybe try Uncontrollable Anger in the deck and hope like hell for the turn 5 Angry Nezumi play? When that works, it works well, but I think I'll pass. I still am paranoid about mana bases, and that seems to be pushing it.
Also, note that if I had any mana fixing - one Sakura-Tribe Elder or one Kodama's Reach - I would sure as hell be throwing the white Honden into the mix and going for the double-Hondenation. But like Uncontrollable Anger, that's pushing manascrew too much here for my tastes.
Whut Ah Knows Now
2 Gibbering Kami
Kami of the Waning Moon
Kami of the Hunt
Honden of Infinite Rage
Is this the best build? I don't know. Why don't you tell me how to improve it in the forums?
The Here Edits This Here Site Here Guy