Lessons from Brussels

Posted in Limited Information on May 6, 2008

By Steve Sadin

Grand Prix–Brussels took place last weekend, and it featured quite the star-studded Top 8. Whenever there is a major tournament I go through all of the coverage and try to scour it for as much information as possible. The first place that I tend to go is to the feature matches that feature friends of mine, and the next place that I go is to the deck lists.

I don't have to explain to anyone why it's important to look at deck lists from Constructed events, but deck lists from Limited events are almost as important. I feel like most players, even avid Limited players, pay very little attention to the undefeated Sealed deck lists at Grand Prix.

While you can't instantly glean anywhere near as much information from a Sealed deck list as you would by looking at a Constructed deck list, there is actually a ton to be learned from studying them. When you look at an undefeated Sealed Deck, it's very easy to say something like "Oh, of course he X-0ed, he opened up Furystoke Giant, Jaws of Stone, Murderous Redcap, a pair of Burn Trails, a pair of Air Jordans, and a Jon Finkel Pro Player card."

But there are a ton of relevant decisions that were made in the process of putting together that bomb-laden masterpiece that you probably won't be aware of if you are looking to chalk success at Sealed Deck as a direct result of luck (or even as a result of luck + play skill). In order to understand these decisions you have to dig past the surface and really think about what's going on.

The Best of the Best

During one of the quick questions segments, Andre Coimbra asked top pros Tomoharo Saito, Antoine Ruel, Bernardo da Costa Cabral, Rasmus Sibast, and Bram Snepvangers what they thought was the best card at each rarity for Sealed play.

Aside from Bram, who is famous for his incredibly unconventional but successful approaches to Limited, each player chose Oona, Queen of the Fae as the best rare and Incremental Blight as the best uncommon.

Antoine RuelOf those questioned, Antoine Ruel was fortunate enough to receive a Sealed pool that contained both Oona, Queen of the Fae and Incremental Blight. If you take a close look at the picture of Antoine in this section, you can see him proudly displaying his Oona, Queen of the Fae and his Incremental Blight. Not one to disappoint, Antoine made the most of his bombs, building a powerful, defensive blue-black deck that he piloted to an undefeated Day 1 record.


Antoine Ruel

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One of the most striking parts about Antoine's deck is that he only played 12 creatures.

This reminded me of an email I got an a little while ago from a player asking if there was a general rule of thumb for deciding how many creatures to play in a Limited deck. The answer that I sent back to him was that I usually want between 13 and 19, but I'm willing to go as high as 21 or even not play any at all in extreme situations such as the Dampen Thought deck from Kamigawa Limited.

Because there are so many different things to consider and so many different exceptions, I believe that there is no theoretically "right" number of creatures to play.

Unlike lands, where you usually want about 17 and should rarely if ever move outside of the 15-18 range, there just isn't a single rule that dictates how many creatures you should play in your deck. There are a lot of things that I consider when determining how many creatures I should run in any given deck, but I can only make those decisions in regards to real (or hypothetical) situations.

Next up on the undefeated block we have Raphael Levy:

Raphael Levy

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Raph built a very aggressive white-blue Sealed Deck featuring Thistledown Liege, Order of the Whiteclay, Spectral Procession, Mistmeadow Witch, and 2 Steel of the Godhead. Aside from the exceptional Thistledown Liege, Raph's deck doesn't have any single card that is overwhelmingly powerful.

What he does have is a deck with an amazing curve that is more akin to a good Draft deck than a Sealed Deck. While we don't have the benefit of being able to see Raph's sideboard, it is more than likely that he had a number of bombs that he ultimately decided not to play because they would lower the overall quality of his deck.

By playing a very tight deck, Raph is able to take full advantage of his 2 Steel of the Godhead.

Gabriel Nassif

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Nassif put together an excellent white-blue control deck with Thistledown Liege that curved up to two Twilight Shepherds.

The thing that jumps out at me most about Nassif's deck is that this is exactly the type of Limited deck that, even without this many bombs, top-level players tend to pilot to excellent records. In fact, the first thing that I though of when I saw this deck was: "Of course."

While both Nassif and Levy piloted blue-white evasion decks, they are philosophically very different from one another. Nassif's deck looks to control the board and then move to the offensive with monstrous creatures that the opponent can't handle, while Raph's deck looks to win with an army of evasive creatures before the opponent is able to fully execute their strategy. Raph's deck still has a very good late game, but it is nothing compared to Nassif's.

While your blue and white cards might not look as impressive as the rest of your pool, they are almost always worth looking at, as they tend to work very well together.

Bram Meulders

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Bram's deck was built to take advantage of his Wilt-Leaf Liege and his Oversoul of Dusk. While both of these cards are hybrid, as I talked about in last week's column, they are both about ten times better in a straight green-white deck than they would be in, say, a white-blue deck.

One of the coolest parts about Bram's deck is that he had both Armored Ascension and Turn to mist to combo with his Witherscale Wurm. The Wurm is pretty tough to deal with even if you don't have a way to reset it.

Simon Ritzka

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Simon's deck, while quite strong, was probably the weakest of the undefeated bunch. Simon dipped into three colors in order to play a lot of removal, a traditionally correct thing to do. The one major potential downside that Simon, whose mana is otherwise very good, could get from playing a third color is that it makes playing his Oversoul of Dusk harder. Fortunately for Simon, it doesn't make it significantly harder, as he only ran 4 Mountains, and he had a Fire-Lit Thicket that can offset one of them for the purposes of assembling Oversoul of Dusk mana.

Both Simon and Bram had Oversoul of Dusk in their decks, which, in case you were wondering, is well worth building your deck around. First off, Oversoul of Dusk has protection from almost every removal spell. Even the decks that are capable of dealing with Oversoul of Dusk tend to have a very hard time doing so. And then there are the decks, like Antoine Ruel's, that will have no more than a Trip Noose that can deal with Oversoul of Dusk.

Bomb Much?

Letter_BombOne of the biggest things that I took away from the 9-0 Brussels decks was a reminder of the role that bombs play in Limited Magic.

Sure, the overall quality of a player's cards definitely matter, but these five players didn't put together undefeated records just because they "got lucky." Sure they may each have had some bombs, but it's pretty rare for a player, no matter how good they may be, to go undefeated on Day 1 at a tournament as big and as hard as a Grand Prix without at least a couple of good cards.

When playing Sealed Deck, people open a good set of cards most of the time, a great set of cards some of the time, and a terrible set of cards some of the time. When you are playing Magic, or doing anything that involves elements of chance for that matter, all that you can do is allow yourself to take advantage of opportunities as they arise

A player as good as Gabriel Nassif doesn't need two Twilight Shepherds to go 9-0, but getting a couple of bombtastic fliers certainly doesn't hurt his chances to do so.

Just Because You Have a Good Pool...

...doesn't mean your work is done for you.

ManamorphoseOne thing to keep in mind is that Grand Prix, and especially European Grand Prix, tend to be HUGE tournaments. Nearly 1,500 players showed up to compete at GP–Brussels, and only five of them ended Day 1 with unblemished records. Given the number of attendees, I would confidently wager that there were at least 100, but possibly even 200 or 300, Sealed pools that were of comparable quality to the undefeated pools.

Even if you get a good pool in a Sealed Deck Grand Prix, PTQ, or FNM, you will still have a long road ahead of you. First you have to build your deck well, which I, just like everyone else who has played in a Sealed Deck tournament, have failed to do more times than I can count.

The last time that I seriously botched a Sealed pool was at GP–Massachusetts, a Two-Headed Giant Grand Prix that featured a Top 4 that was packed tight with friends of mine from the North East.

Me and my teammate Paul Jordan received a very powerful pool that we could have built two awesome two-color decks with. Instead we got greedy and decided that we wanted to play with all of our bombs.

The result?

We won a couple of matches in blowout fashion wherein our bombs came out to play, but we failed to advance to the second day after picking up three losses, two of which were a result of self-inflicted mana problems.

I don't want to draw too much from anecdotal evidence, but of the 9-0 decks, four of them were two colors (I'm counting Bram Meulders deck, which splashed a single Mountain for a single Puncture Bolt, as a two-color deck), and the one that did dip into three, Simon Ritzka's, was almost entirely green splashing both red and white. In fact, Simon's deck actually had better mana than many two-color decks have.

Because Shadowmoor's hybrid nature makes it so easy to put together a good deck, it becomes especially important to have good mana in Shadowmoor Sealed.

In many formats it is worth it to sacrifice the stability and consistency that a two-color deck provides in order to play more powerful three-color decks. Unless you have exceptionally good fixing, it doesn't appear as though it will be worthwhile to play a third color as more than a light splash in Shadowmoor Sealed unless you have a good reason.

How'd They Finish?

Antoine Ruel, Gabriel Nassif, and Raphael Levy were each able to convert their 9-0 Day 1 records into Top 4 finishes, with Nassif making it to the finals where he was taken down by Kamiel Cornelissen.

Though he didn't make it to the Top 8, Simon Ritzka put together a 12-2-1 record that was good enough for 10th place and an invite to Pro Tour–Berlin. At pretty much any non-European Grand Prix, Simon's record would have been more than good enough to put him into the Top 8.

Bram Meulders didn't have a great Day 2, but was still able to finish the tournament in 48th place.

Aura Follow-Up

Another trend that I noticed is that literally every one of the 9-0 decks contained at least two enchantments in them, with some containing additional enchantments or artifacts. This means that you are really going to want to maindeck at least one Disenchant effect, and you are certainly going to want to play any and all Turn to Mists that you open.

If your deck doesn't have any other way to deal with the hybrid Auras, I would strongly consider splashing for a Turn to Mist and I would definitely splash for Consign to Dream.

Auras matter in a big way in Shadowmoor.

Speaking of Auras, last week I asked you what you thought the best Shadowmoor hybrid Aura was and the results are:

Which is the best hybrid Aura in Shadowmoor?
Shield of the Oversoul 3244 36.6%
Steel of the Godhead 2948 33.3%
Rune of the Deus 1312 14.8%
Fists of the Demigod 837 9.4%
Helm of the Ghastlord 522 5.9%
Total 8863 100.0%


Shield of the Oversoul
Shield of the Oversoul edged out Steel of the Godhead by a fairly small margin. I was confident that Shield of the Oversoul and Steel of the Godhead were going to take the top two slots, I just wasn't sure which order they would finish in. It turns out that the LI audience would slightly prefer to make an indestructible flier to an unblockable lifelinker.

Coming in third place is Runes of the Deus. I'm glad to see that Runes of the Deus got some love. While it may be a bit cumbersome, it offers far and away the most powerful effect of the bunch. If you are able to set up a single turn to attack with, say, a Scuzzback Marauders with Runes of the Deus on it, then you are probably going to end up with a win.

In fourth place, right behind the hardest to cast Aura, we have the easiest to cast Aura, Fists of the Demigod. I'm still not completely sold on Fists of the Demigod, but I've been hearing enough good things about it to give it another try.

And in last place we have Helm of the Ghastlord. Even though it came in last place, Helm of the Ghastlord still received nearly 6 percent of the vote.

Take care,

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