Greed between the Lines

Posted in Limited Information on November 25, 2008

By Steve Sadin

Last week I showed you my pool from Grand Prix–Atlanta and asked how you would build it.

Shards of Alara Sealed Pool

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Now normally the method that I recommend when building a Sealed deck is to trim nonviable base colors and work from there. That step just isn't relevant with this pool (at least not in an easy-to-see way), because of the high density of playable gold cards.

With this deck, I think it's pretty obvious that we need to be playing green as our base color because it has the most playable monocolored cards, and almost all of the good gold cards have green in their casting cost. Once we know we're playing green, it's not much of a leap to add red to at least support our Branching Bolts and Magma Spray thanks to our two Jund Panoramas and our Naya Panorama. The next thing that I did was add a fairly large white base, which I wound up trimming down considerably during the rest of the deck-building process.

At this point I had enough cards to build a perfectly good Naya deck, but I realized that I wouldn't have to give up much in order to play Sprouting Thrinax, Waveskimmer Aven, Necrogenesis and Kiss of the Amesha. So I did.

Shards of Alara Sealed Deck

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One of the last cuts that I made was Naturalize. It was a very painful cut to make, especially after I had spent a bunch of time last week talking about how good it is in sealed. But sacrifices have to be made somewhere. It was similarly painful to cut Akrasan Squire. I absolutely love this little guy, and I love to go beatdown in Sealed, but it just wasn't a good fit in this deck.

Now there's one other thing that probably jumped out at you about my build. Yes, it's 41 cards. I wouldn't normally recommend running 41, but this was one of those times where it just felt right. I wanted to run two Obelisks, and I wanted to run 17 lands, but I wanted to run more than 21 non-mana spells. I think that my decision was right for this deck, but I'm still not sure. If I were given infinite time during the deck-building period, I would have been able to figure out if this was actually the perfect configuration, or if there was a better 40-card setup. But under the time constraints, these 41 cards were better than any 40 card deck that I could put together.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, it did feel pretty weird pile-shuffling a 41-card deck.

It seemed like there was an even mix between people who said they would go for an aggressive Naya build that didn't splash any other colors and people who said that they would go for a five-color deck that featured all of the most powerful cards that the pool has to offer. The thing that I think a lot of people missed about this pool is that Seaside Citadel and Arcane Sanctum mean that the deck already has two completely free blue sources and a free black source. Between those, the Jund Panoramas, and the Obelisks, I needed to play only a single Swamp to support by splash colors.

Seaside Citadel
Arcane Sanctum

This deck is quite powerful and quite consistent, so I expected to do well with it. Unfortunately, things didn't play out as well as I would have liked them to.

I won Round 4 pretty quickly thanks to Woolly Thoctar and Oblivion Ring. My 5th round was covered as a feature match, but to sum it up, Game 1 of Round 5 was looking pretty good. I was ahead on the board and I had just cast Kiss of the Amesha and drawn my Titanic Ultimatum and a removal spell to go with the other removal spell in my hand. I figured the game was a done deal. Then my opponent played Tar Fiend, devouring three creatures, to knock out my hand. The next game ended in similar heartbreak. My opponent had gotten out fast and knocked me down to 7 before I pulled ahead on the board. I made an attack with my Jungle Weaver, and after thinking for a bit my opponent chose to cycle Resounding Thunder on it. The next turn he played a Blightning that would have killed me had he pointed the burn spell at my face. I was at 4, but I was feeling pretty good about my chances, I was probably going to win on creature damage in two or three turns. I made my attack and passed the turn, only to have my opponent draw and cycle another Resounding Thunder, this time pointed at my face.

While that match was pretty close, I didn't even get the illusion of closeness in my next match. I lost to Flameblast Dragon in two quick games. Ouch!

So there I was, facing elimination so early in the tournament. In Game 1 I mulliganed twice and got wrecked. Game 2 looked pretty close until I Titanic Ultimatumed my opponent out. Game 3 was looking rough for me. My opponent had a Stoic Angel that I couldn't kill that was really cramping my game. I had a Naya Battlemage to lock down my opponent's Stoic Angel, so at least I wasn't dying, but it was really anybody's game. After a while of this I drew my Titanic Ultimatum and played it. For a moment I thought that I had won, but it turns out that my opponent had a Naya Charm to tap my creatures and end my tournament.

The Branching Bolt Principle

Branching Bolt

If you've ever Branching Bolted two creatures, or been on the receiving end of a double-duty Branching Bolt, you know how devastating it can be. A Branching Bolt that only kills one creature is still very good, but it's nowhere near the same level of awesome that a double duty Branching Bolt is.

So why let your opponents get you if you don't have to?

If you can build your deck so that it's resilient to Branching Bolt, then you probably should.

So, if you're building your Shards Limited deck and you're presented with the choice between playing a single flier or not, if the card that it is competing with is even close to the same level, I'd recommend leaving the flier in your sideboard.

Cloudheath Drake is potentially a huge liability in your Sealed deck. Not only does it set you up for gigantic Branching Bolt blowouts, it is also a prime target for your opponent's Naturalize.

Now this doesn't matter at all if your deck already has a couple of Kathari Screechers, an Oblivion Ring and a Angelic Benediction, but if your deck doesn't have any other fliers with less than 4 toughness or any other artifacts or enchantments, you're probably best off leaving your Cloudheath Drake at home until you are sure that your opponent doesn't have any Branching Bolts or Naturalizes. If your opponent isn't playing green, you have nothing to worry about and can safely board in an artifact, a flier, or even an artifact flier.

One other thing to keep in mind is that in Sealed, a pretty high percentage of the pools that open Branching Bolt will play it. That means you are going to be playing against a lot of Branching Bolts. In Draft there are fewer packs running around, so you just aren't going to be playing against as many Branching Bolts as you do in Sealed. For that reason this rule is more important in Sealed than it is in Draft.

Infestion question

Last week I talked about whether or not you should mulligan a hand that contained:

Savage Lands
Dregscape Zombie
Kathari Screecher


Assuming that you kept the hand, there's an interesting follow-up question to ask yourself, and that is: under what circumstances do you play the Dregscape Zombie on turn two?

Now an easy answer to this question would be something like, "I'll always play it on turn two. It's a two-drop, duh ...." or "As long as my opponent doesn't already have two creatures that I can kill with Infest."

Here's my answer to the question:

If you're on the draw and your opponent plays a two-drop, you pretty much never want to play Dregscape Zombie on turn two (though you want to play it on turn three if your opponent doesn't have a follow-up play). If I'm on the play, I'm not going to want to play it on turn two if my opponent played a one-drop. However, if my opponent doesn't have anything on the board when my second turn rolls around, I'll pretty much always play Dregscape Zombie.

Why wait on playing your 2/1? Well, the basic plan is to try to lure your opponent into getting two-for-oned by your Infest, but it's actually a bit more complicated than that. Because the hand doesn't have that much action, if you played the Zombie and traded with your opponent's two-drop you would still have to infest away any three-drop (if it had less than 3 toughness).

Now you don't want to take this too far. If your opponent has already played two creatures that you can kill with your Infest, then you should probably play it and wipe their board. It's pretty unlikely that your opponent will have more than two 2-toughness creatures in their opening hand, so you would be giving up too much time and too much damage by not playing Infest to kill two creatures on turn three on the chance that your opponent will give you an extra creature to kill.

Guardians of Akrasa vs. Akrasan Squire

Guardians of Akrasa
Akrasan Squire

A lot of times when I'm drafting I'll have to choose between taking Guardians of Akrasa or Akrasan Squire. Now I don't bring this pick up because it comes up more frequently than other two-card pick questions I bring it up because this pick is (usually) really hard. There are times when you're drafting a control deck and you can pick up Guardians of Akrasa without giving it too much thought, and there are times when you're drafting a hyper-aggressive exalted deck and you immediately grab the Akrasan Squire.

Both of these cards perform a vital task for exalted decks, Akrasan Squire helps you "blow out" your opponents, and Guardians of Akrasa gives you a crucial blocker while you smash away with your one exalted guy.

So how do you choose?

Well, if you already have a bunch of three-drops, then that should lean you towards Akrasan Squire. But if you don't have any other 1-toughness creatures, then you should probably lean towards Guardians of Akrasa because of the Branching Bolt principle, only this time it's because of cards like Blister Beetle and Blood Cultist.

I don't have any great advice here, I just wanted to bring it up so you could know about a question that been driving me crazy lately. Do you have any advice for me on this pick?

Covenant of Minds

Covenant of Minds

Analyzing Covenant of Minds is an excellent way to improve your card evaluation skills.

Now don't get me wrong, I like Covenant of Minds. I think it's a fine card, I'll draft it pretty highly, and I'll play it in pretty much any deck that can support it. But it is by no means a bomb. I've heard some very accomplished player compare the effect of Covenant of Minds favorably to "draw three cards" when it is in fact strictly worse than "draw three cards."

  1. You never want to give your opponents more information than you have to.
  2. You (usually) don't want to give your opponents more options.

There are of course exceptions to these rules, such as when you choose to reveal some misleading information when you need to trick your opponent into making a play that will cause them to lose the game. However, you want to have control over when you try to trick your opponents into making the wrong play, you don't want your cards to give them more information and more options every time you play them.

Most of the time when you cast Covenant of Minds, you're going to get to draw three cards and your opponent will get to see them. But sometimes you'll get to draw five mystery cards. That's better than three known cards, right?

Actually, no. When you draw five cards it's only because your opponent decided that the three cards you were going to draw would be better than five mystery cards. That means that the three cards that were denied to you were probably good enough to either win you the game or prevent you from losing it.

Always be aware of what your cards actually do. Sometimes the apparent upside of a card is actually a drawback.

Bonus exercise:

Agony Warp

In pack 1, you opened up:

Agony Warp
Bant Panorama
Blood Cultist
Bloodpyre Elemental
Lightning Talons
Memory Erosion
Obelisk of Grixis
Sighted-Caste Sorcerer
Sunseed Nurturer
Tortoise Formation
Undead Leotau

You took the Agony Warp without much thought, then you got passed your next pack:

Blister Beetle
Cavern Thoctar
Cruel Ultimatum
Crumbling Necropolis
Dispeller's Capsule
Dregscape Zombie
Jhessian Infiltrator
Kederekt Creeper
Relic of Progenitus
Ridge Rannet
Savage Hunger
Spell Snip
Tower Gargoyle

What do you take to go with your tricky Agony Warp?

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