T-Minus One Week

Posted in Feature on September 28, 2004

By Brian David-Marshall

Brian David-Marshall is a New York–based game designer who has been involved with Magic since 1994, when he started organizing tournaments and ran a Manhattan game store. Since then, he has been a judge, a player, and one of the longest-tenured columnists on DailyMTG.com, as he enters his second decade writing for the site. He is also the Pro Tour Historian and one of the commentators for the Pro Tour.

This Friday marks the on sale date for Champions of Kamigawa. The next day is the kickoff for the Champions Sealed Deck season of Pro Tour Qualifiers (PTQs) for Pro Tour Nagoya. With only a Prerelease and maybe one Friday Night Magic tournament under our belts, we have to dive right in to high-level competition with new cards, new mechanics, and cards with actual color requirements in the casting cost.

Cool.

I usually do pretty well at those early PTQs, with most of my Top 8s coming in the first one or two weeks after the release of a new block. I have played a couple of oddball cards, but generally I seem to hone in on the good cards pretty early. I remember playing Dispersing Orb in my Onslaught Sealed Deck when I made Top 8—not such a winner. I did splash red for my two Lavamancer's Skills, and that was a few weeks ahead of the curve. Sealed Deck has been pretty good to me, although I can't say the same about Rochester Draft—once you get there you are on your own!

The first Prerelease for a new block is more valuable than any of the subsequent ones in that block because the product you build with reflects an actual tournament format. For the next two expansions in the block—at least in North America anyway—you receive a tournament pack and THREE boosters of the new expansion. While it is cool to get extra product, it does not actually help you prepare for the PTQs like that first event in the block with a tournament pack and two boosters. The starter and two boosters of Champions you used at the Prerelease is representative of the card pool you will have to work with at the upcoming PTQs.

I always keep my card pools separate so I can go back during the next week and look at how I built the deck with an eye toward the PTQs. I played in two events last weekend and kept both card pools to write about in The Week That Was. I included one entire card pool and two decklists. The first deck that I presented was sans card pool, so if you haven't looked at it, hold off until after you have seen the card pool below and we have discussed the different approaches you can take to it. When you do look at it, you can also find my second card pool with the decklist several hundred words below if you need another deck to tool around with.

PPTQ (Potential PTQ) Card Pool
Champions of Kamigawa Sealed Deck

White:
1 Bushi Tenderfoot
1 Call to Glory
1 Ethereal Haze
1 Horizon Seed
1 Indomitable Will
1 Kabuto Moth
1 Kami of Ancient Law
1 Kitsune Diviner
1 Kitsune Healer
1 Otherworldly Journey
1 Pious Kitsune
2 Quiet Purity
1 Reciprocate

Blue:
1 Consuming Vortex
2 Floating-Dream Zubera
1 Gifts Ungiven
1 Guardian of Solitude
2 Hisoka's Guard
1 Hisoka, Minamo Sensei
1 Kami of Twisted Reflection
2 Lifted by Clouds
1 Mystic Restraints
1 Reach through Mists
1 Soratami Cloudskater
2 Soratami Rainshaper
1 Soratami Savant
1 Soratami Savant
1 Swirl the Mists
1 Wandering Mists
1 Thoughtbind

Black:
1 Bloodthirsty Ogre
1 Devouring Greed
1 Hideous Laughter
1 Kami of the Waning Moon
2 Nezumi Bone-Reader
1 Nezumi Ronin
1 Painwracker Oni
1 Pull Under
1 Ragged Veins
1 Thief of Hope
1 Villainous Ogre
1 Wicked Akuba

Red:
1 Akki Avalanchers
1 Brutal Deceivers
2 Crushing Pain
1 Desperate Ritual
1 Ember-Fist Zubera
1 Frostwielder
1 Glacial Ray
1 Hearth Kami
1 Lava Spike
1 Mana Schism
1 Pain Kami
1 Sideswipe
1 Stone Rain
1 Yamabushi's Flame

Green:
1 Dripping-Tongue Zubera
1 Humble Budoka
1 Kodama's Reach
1 Kashi-Tribe Warriors
2 Moss Kami
1 Myojin of Life's Web
1 Orochi Ranger
1 Sakura-Tribe Elder
1 Vine Kami
1 Wear Away

Artifacts and Lands:
1 Junkyo Bell

What I normally do after I have sorted through my cards is pull the chaff out of each color and find my strongest color pools. From there I look for synergies and try to build a deck. Examples of synergies in this set are Soulshift and Splice onto Arcane. Here is what I think the ‘playable' cards in each color are… The italics represent cards I would consider sideboard cards but wouldn't necessarily start maindeck.

White:
1 Call to Glory
1 Ethereal Haze
1 Indomitable Will
1 Kabuto Moth
1 Kami of Ancient Law
1 Kitsune Diviner
1 Kitsune Healer
1 Otherworldly Journey
2 Quiet Purity
1 Reciprocate

Blue:
1 Consuming Vortex
1 Gifts Ungiven
2 Hisoka's Guard
1 Kami of Twisted Reflection
1 Mystic Restraints
1 Reach through Mists
1 Soratami Cloudskater
2 Soratami Rainshaper
1 Soratami Savant
1 Soratami Seer
1 Thoughtbind

Black:
1 Bloodthirsty Ogre
1 Devouring Greed
1 Hideous Laughter
1 Kami of the Waning Moon
1 Nezumi Ronin
1 Painwracker Oni
1 Pull Under
1 Thief of Hope
1 Villainous Ogre
1 Wicked Akuba

Red:
1 Brutal Deceivers
1 Ember-Fist Zubera
1 Frostwielder
1 Glacial Ray
1 Hearth Kami
1 Pain Kami
1 Sideswipe
1 Yamabushi's Flame

Green:
1 Humble Budoka
1 Kodama's Reach
1 Kashi-Tribe Warriors
2 Moss Kami
1 Myojin of Life's Web
1 Orochi Ranger
1 Sakura-Tribe Elder
1 Vine Kami
1 Wear Away

That still leaves us with quite a few cards and plenty in each color. Let's look at the colors one by one and see what they offer us.

White:

The first thing that jumps out is the lack of creatures. There are only four playable ones and only one of them is going to attack. The color's best combat trick is Call to Glory, and there is not a single Samurai to fully exploit the latter half of that card. In fact, one of the strengths of white is the Bushido of the Samurai. There are a couple of tricks to be found with Indomitable Will, Ethereal Haze, Otherworldly Haze, and Reciprocate. None of them scream out for us to play this color, and I think we can agree to set white aside with little argument. If we have to come back to it we are probably in trouble.

Blue:

This is more like it. There are actual creatures in this color, and almost every one of them flies. When I built my first deck with this at the Prerelease, I tried out the Junkyo Bell assuming that I could muscle up a flier for the kill. Like the Dispersing Orb I tried out at the Onslaught Block PTQ, I quickly reevaluated the card and relegated it to unplayable status. Still, the fliers in blue are solid. The Cloudskater offers excellent card selection—it is like a flying Trade Routes—and the Rainshapers are cheap, two-power fliers with a useful ability.

I am unsure about Kami of Twisted Reflection because I just don't have the experience with him yet, but he seems like a reasonable combat trick for blue, as you can stack damage with him and another of your creatures and save the other one. The Soratami Seer is a little pricey for two power of flying, but his ability more than makes up for it. In the late game you can rip through huge chunks of your deck looking for just the right card to seal your victory or deal with an immediate problem.

One of the cards that was most compelling for me in blue was the Mystic Restraints. It offered my deck a way to deal with a dragon or other ridiculous legend—something this card pool was sorely lacking—and not have to suffer the unfortunate aftermath of a dragon's death. If white had featured Cage of Hands, I would have given that color more consideration on the basis of that card alone. I hate losing to dragons.

Blue also offered a smattering of Arcane spells for the Glacial Ray we saw in red when we laid out the colors. It also offers the lure of a splashy rare in Gifts Ungiven. For me, the card mostly fetched three different lands and a guy and yielded two lands each time, which was fine. The card becomes more interesting if you have the arcane Raise Dead or plenty of Soulshift action.

Black:

Kami of Twisted Reflection
My first build featured plenty of black cards. I did not originally include Devouring Greed in my playables, but I have since found it be a decent finisher in some decks, although I am not sure how to value it. Mostly I was playing black for Hideous Laughter and Pull Under. The former is nuts in this format with tons of Grizzly Bears and Grey Ogres in every color, and the latter deals with monsters.

The creatures in black were “eh”. Painwracker Oni proved to be problematic with only two Ogres, and spot removal had the potential to go two for one against me if it took out one creature leaving me with only the Oni. I won one match using the Bloodthirsty Ogre and the Painwracker to great effect, but I was working way too hard to make my cards work all match. It felt clunky, and although I won, it convinced me to drop the color and I swapped it out for… (more on that in a couple of paragraphs). I should point out that while I was able to make changes to my deck at a Prerelease, you cannot do this at a PTQ. You must start every round with your deck in the same configuration as the one you registered.

Thief of Hope is an amazing card by the way, and in a heavy spirit and arcane deck, he would be absolutely nuts. I was a little disappointed with Wicked Akuba, but I'm sure my mana played some part in his unspectacularness.

Red:

The only Zubera I left in the playables was the red one. Again, not a call I made originally at the tournament, but if I was building for a PTQ I would definitely not set him aside. I had the same problems with red that I had with white. There just were not enough creatures. There are five now, but at the time I thought it was four. Either way, it was not enough to support red as a main color.

Like white, red lacked the good Samurai and creatures, but red did offer what white did not, which was removal. Glacial Ray, Yamabushi's Flame, and Pain Kami all removed creatures. Hearth Kami would certainly make the main deck if I was playing more red, but as it was, I merely sided him in versus artifacts. Frostwielder would also automatically be maindeck if I were playing more red.

I am not sure if Sideswipe is maindeck worthy or not. I originally designated it for sideboard duty, but my subsequent matches have featured more than a few targeted Arcane spells from my opponents. The card really shines against decks with Splice onto Arcane, since the spliced cards become part of the spell that is being cast and you can redirect all that spell's targets. The game swing from Sideswiping a Consuming Vortex with a Glacial Ray spliced onto it is likely insurmountable.

Green:

Moss Kami
So I kept getting beat down by Samurai with my black/blue/red build. My creatures were just not up to snuff and would just watch first-striking Bushido Samurai barrel by without any resistance. After squeaking through one round of white beat down and struggling with the clunkiness of my black creatures, I looked to green for help.

Green offered early drops, mana-fixing, and huge creatures that eat Samurai and pass them through their gastrointestinal tracts in the Moss Kami. It was definitely the right call, as it allowed me to cut back on the Mountains I was playing for my three red spells, splash one Swamp for Pull Under, and still support a menagerie of creatures in green and blue. The Rainshapers worked well with the Moss Kami, leaving my opponents one turn to deal with the giant spirit before I could pay three and bounce a land to make him untargetable.

The Sakura-Tribe Elder and Kodama's Reach were the best two cards in the deck. They allowed me to do whatever I needed and cast all of my spells. This is invaluable, especially in Sealed Deck where you want to play as many of your best cards as possible. I would consider green just on the basis of these two cards for any Sealed Deck builds as long as there were some reasonable bodies to back it up.

Here is the deck I ended up playing, and as I look at it now, I think I would leave it pretty much the same for a PTQ. I tend to play a little looser at a Prerelease, and I would have probably cut either the Vine Kami or the Myojin for a seventeenth land in a higher level of competition. I could also see cutting a high-end creature for the Wear Away. It seems that there is almost always a target, whether it is equipment, a Honden, or creature enchantment. It also provides another Arcane spell for Glacial Ray to piggy-back onto.

Champions Prerelease

Download Arena Decklist

Good luck building your deck this weekend, whether it is at Friday Night Magic or at a PTQ!

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