Yawgmoth's Whimsy # 339 - Four-Pack Sealed
I’ve been promising to get back to the UST for a couple of weeks but the next matches involve some complex slow creature decks (Boss Naya and Ghazi Glare) that will take time to assemble and much more time to play and document. I will get to it but busy times. All I have been able to squeeze in is a handful of Four-Pack Sealed events. It is an interesting format which feels like a good mix of Draft Sealed and Pack Wars.
Four-Pack Sealed is an online format at least for now. The official rules are here. The format in a nutshell is:
* 8-man queues (which fire pretty fast at least for M11)
* Entry fee is 4 packs no TIX
* Players make 30-card decks from four booster packs
* Players play three rounds of Swiss
* Prize awarded on match wins: 5 packs for 3-0 3 packs for 2-1 and 1 pack for 1-2
One huge advantage: playing out a Sealed event takes even less time than a draft because you are skipping the time spent drafting. Deck construction time is a bit longer but if everyone submits a deck early you jump right to round 1 play.
That has to be the best part of the format for me – I can play competitive Magic in time slots into which I could not wedge any other type of event. I managed to fit a couple of Four-Pack Sealed events into my Saturday working around chores and other commitments. The fact that the events were firing every five minutes or so helped. (M11 does slow down late nights on weekdays and the Rise versions are firing very slowly. Still...)
These events replaced Six-Pack Sealed Swiss queues which never fired. Well – almost never. Six-Pack Sealed events will still occur online in the four-round daily events and as online PTQs. The Four-Pack Sealed events take place in the Sealed Swiss room on MTGO.
The biggest difference between Four-Pack and Six-Pack Sealed besides the fact that having 50% more cards makes the Six-Pack pools a lot stronger is that Four-Pack Sealed events use 30-card decks. This makes building decks quite interesting. Well at least novel.
The standard rule of thumb when building decks is to use 40% land. In a 30 card deck that’s 12 land 18 spells. The Wakefield School was 26 lands in a 62 card deck which would equate to a 13/31 ratio. In M11 I have generally found that decks want 13 land. The mana curves tend to be a little high in M11 and you often need to cast six-drops as close to turn 6 as you can. That requires lands. I have even run 14 lands but that was in a deck with a high curve and two Terramorphic Expanses.
The small deck size and low land count makes splashing tricky. With thirteen lands you are probably playing 6/6/1. You may not see that splash land for a while so splash cards need to be great late. They also need to cost just one colored mana. With so little land and so many spells in M11 with double colored mana costs I have often had to use my Terramorphic Expanse or Sylvan Ranger to fetch a primary color instead of the splash land.
That said the small card pools in Four-Pack Sealed mean that you often cannot avoid splashing. Just be careful what you splash for. Removal is always a good splash – but not if the removal is Chandra’s Outrage.
Scry is an amazing mechanic and is great in Draft and Six-Pack Sealed. It is even better in Four-Pack Sealed. The format is a little bomb-driven and scrying lets you find bombs and removal faster. Crystal Ball may be the best card you can have in the format. Between draws and Crystal Ball you could conceivably look through your entire deck in six turns or so.
Foresee is really good in the format. So is Augury Owl. The one exception of Scry being excellent might be Viscera Seer and VC does shine in two cases: if your opponent has Mind Control (or to a lesser extent Chandra’s Outrage) or if you have Viscera Seer and Reassembling Skeleton. In that case you can scry for 1B at will.
Scrying is so good in the format that it makes Elixir of Immortality good. Generally a three-mana lifegain artifact is pretty bad but with Scry you can waste removal early then return it to your library via Elixir and expect to see the cards again this game.
Four-Pack Sealed is pretty much like normal Limited. Removal is highly valued. Evasion is important. Combat tricks are not quite removal but they are good in aggressive decks. Counterspells are also not quite removal but they can be good in the right deck – and just wrong if keeping 1UU up means you don’t keep pace on the board.
Just like any Limited environment.
What is different is the value of very expensive cards. These are often marginal to unplayable in draft but while something like Demon of Death’s Gate or Darksteel Colossus might be marginally playable in Six-Pack Sealed it is unplayable in Four-Pack Sealed. The difference is in the ratio of the mana needed to cast the creature versus your total mana. Nine mana is probably three-quarters of your mana – which means you will have to have seen three-quarters of your deck before you can cast it. Even with a couple of Cultivates that is a lot. Fortunately however almost nothing in the format costs more than seven mana and seven is usually castable especially with a Cultivate or so.
The other impact of 30 card format is that mill decks appear more attractive. M11 also has some common mill cards including Tome Scour and Jace’s Erasure. In a best case scenario – something like Tome Scour turn 1 Jace’s Erasure turn 2 and maybe Foresee turn 4 (relevant because Jace’s Erasure triggers on any card drawn) – the opponent will be decked in about seven turns. On the flip side if your deck is devoted to milling it probably is not as good at controlling the board and most decks can goldfish faster than turn 7. Of course if you can combine milling with a lot of board control it could work – but beating with creatures also works if you have board control.
Personally I have faced a couple mill decks and beaten them all. The one time I tried a mill strategy was after sideboarding in a mirror match against another UW deck. We both had lots of Blinding Mages Azure Drakes and Pacifisms – so we ended up with a huge creature stall game 1. Game 2 we both added in Erasures as 31st cards and mine hit first. Other than that however I have not seen mill decks work consistently enough to win out. That said – a lot of people try them.
Other gimmick decks – like the Act of Treason / Fling / Bloodthrone Vampire decks - can work sort of but you have to open exactly the right pool. Multiples and combos like that can happen but you are opening just 40 commons and the set includes 101. You could easily see zero Acts and zero Flings in any given pool. (By comparison an 8 player draft opens 240 commons so you can expect multiples of any given common.)
In this format as in M11 Limited in general I like Naturalize effects. (Side note: I started to call them Disenchant effects. I wonder what portion of readers remember Disenchant from when it was in the main sets? It was Time Shifted – before that it was last in Seventh Edition… Whatever.) I don’t always maindeck it but it is close. Look at what the card kills: Crystal Ball Mind Control Pacifism Whispersilk Cloak (which is a nasty surprise) Juggernaut Stone Golem Armored Ascension Gargoyle Sentinel Warlord’s Axe Ice Cage Shiv’s Embrace – not to mention a half dozen rares. Naturalize is often the 17th card as is Solemn Offering. Acidic Slime War Priest of Thune and even Manic Vandal are all auto-includes if I am in those colors. Just be careful with the Vandal – while the others all have “may” abilities the Vandal will smash your own stuff if nothing else is around.
Here’s a quick check on the value of colors in the format. If I’m Green I maindeck Plummet because of all the fliers. If I’m Red I’m about 50/50 on maindecking Combust and always side it in. Deathmark is a common 17th card and comes in against most decks. Celestial Purge on the other hand is never maindeck and only occasionally comes in out of the sideboard. That’s because UW fliers is a scary opponent and Red exists mainly as a splash color.
Let’s take a more thorough look at the colors. I’ll clump the cards but with the caveat that any time you try to define categories for a spectrum you get some arbitrary results. For example a card that scores 2.499 rounds down to 2 while an almost exact math that scores 2.501 counts as a three. That said I’ll still group the commons and uncommons as
Great: Great / Bomb etc.
Auto: Always makes the deck if you are in the color.
Filler: Filler / Chaff / 17th card – also strong but situational sideboard cards.
Avoid: Something is probably wrong if these are in your deck.
Filler: Excommunicate Infantry Veteran Inspired Charge Mighty Leap Palace Guard Siege Mastodon Solemn Offering // Ajani's Pridemate Celestial Purge (sideboard goodness) Elite Vanguard (so close to auto).
Note that Squadron Hawk is not on the list. I still don’t know where to rate it. If you have great equipment like Sword of Vengeance then even one might be playable. On the other hand even if you have three they are only 1/1s – and three slots in a 17 or 18 card deck is a lot.
I also expect that a lot of people are probably disagreeing with Silvercoat Lion being unplayable. In my experience the best scenario I have seen is him doing a miniscule amount of damage then trading with a 4/2. If you are playing 2/2s because you are feeling threatened by 4/2 ground-pounders something is going wrong.
Auto includes: Aether Adept Augury Owl Azure Drake Cloud Elemental Harbor Serpent (a bit worse with fewer lands in decks) Ice Cage Mana Leak Negate Preordain Scroll Thief // Water Servant Wall of Frost
Avoid like the plague: Armored Cantrix Jace’s Erasure Tome Scour
A note on Armored Cantrix: it is so very much worse than Siege Mastodon. Both cards are generally used as walls while evasive creatures win the day. The difference is that Siege Mastodon deals three damage. The elephant kills meaningful creatures like Canyon Minotaur and trades with Juggernaut. The Cantrix does not.
Auto includes: Assassinate Child of Night Liliana's Specter Mind Rot Nightwing Shade Quag Sickness Rotting Legion Sign in Blood Stabbing Pain // Black Knight Corrupt Howling Banshee Rise from the Grave.
A note on Stabbing Pain and to a lesser extent Hornet Sting: A fair number of x/1s want to die. Stormfront Pegasus Awakener Druid Royal Assassin etc. Even cards like Child of Night and Elite Vanguard need killing sometimes. However Stabbing Pain can also tap a Baneslayer Angel before declare attackers which is why I generally maindeck it. That said Stabbing Pain is not really an “auto include” – it like Black Knight are generally in but don’t always make the cut.
Filler: Act of Treason Arc Runner Berserkers of Blood Ridge Canyon Minotaur Fiery Hellhound Fling Goblin Piker Lava Axe Thunder Strike Volcanic Strength // Chandra’s Spitfire Combust (great sideboard card)
Again these categories are just approximations. Calling Berserkers of Blood Ridge and Canyon Minotaur filler doesn’t mean the cards are that different. I have often maindecked both and I’ve left both sitting in the sideboard.
Artifacts & Lands:
Great: Crystal Ball
Filler: Stone Golem Sorcerer’s Strongbox (strong filler especially if you roll well) Warlord’s Axe
I’ll finish with a card pool. I wish I could give you the one with double Fireball double Chandra’s Outrage double Lightning Bolt and double Doom Blade but an opponent had that one. I did have one with Primeval Titan and won that event. This one though is more interesting. I won the first then threw away the second match to an amazingly bad misplay / misclick and the third match to mana screw – but my build was prone to that problem. My build should have been 2-1. Do you think there is a 3-0 build in there somewhere? Tell me in the forums.
Black: (8 creatures)
1 Black Knight (BB)
2 Bloodthrone Vampire
1 Child of Night
1 Nantuko Shade (BB – pump B)
1 Nether Horror
1 Reassembling Skeleton
1 Rotting Legion
1 Doom Blade
1 Rise from the Grave
I noted the tough casting costs and the creature counts. The creature counts however are deceiving. The seven Red creatures for example include the three goblins. While I may play Goblin Piker on occasion I am never going to play Bloodcrazed Goblin etc.
(Pretend there’s lot of white space here for you to think about building the deck.)
I tried pretty much every combination.
Red was my auto-include. Cyclops Gladiator was my one legitimate bomb. Ideally you put him under a Whispersilk Cloak but that was not an option with this pool. The best I could do was to play the Giant Growths and hope to get lucky.
Black was also good. I figured my main colors would be RB – although I could also see playing just a Black splash for Assassinate Doom Blade and Rise from the Grave. However when I tried to make the mana work for both Cyclops Gladiator and Nantuko Shade I gave that up. You cannot play both not in 30 card decks.
Green had the two Giant Growths. They would let me smash through with the Juggernaut and Cyclops. Maybe. Obstinate Baloth also seemed good if you ignored the mana cost.
White was the other option for a splash. I tried playing the Blinding Mage Pacifism Solemn Offering and Roc Egg. That might be a better build but I’m really torn. When I assembled it it just felt too clunky. RBG felt better but in hindsight I’m questioning that a lot.
Here’s what I played. The mana for this would be just plain ugly except for the Rootbound Crag. That was what finally convinced me to go Rgb instead of Rbw.
Deck as Played:
1 Doom Blade
2 Giant Growth
1 Lightning Bolt
1 Rise from the Grave
Or should I have played this?
Alternative Build #1:
1 Doom Blade
1 Lightning Bolt
1 Rise from the Grave
1 Solemn Offering
1 Berserkers of Blood Ridge
1 Blinding Mage
1 Canyon Minotaur
1 Cyclops Gladiator
1 Ember Hauler
1 Goblin Piker
1 Llanowar Elves
1 Roc Egg
1 Squadron Hawk
That’s ugly too.
“one million words” in the MTGO Four-Pack Sealed queues at least for now.