I always enjoy playing in high-level Sealed Deck events just after a set is released. The cards are still new and their power levels are still unproven. These events have always treated me well—the bulk of my Limited Pro Tour Qualifier Top 8s have come in the opening weeks of a new set—and I made a point of setting this past Sunday aside to play in the $5K event that I wrote about last week.
I am vaguely superstitious when I play Magic and have a policy that I will not call my wife as long as I am winning. I call her before the event starts and then will not call her, text her, or email until after I have taken a loss. Tempting fate with any form of communication prior to a loss is almost always immediately followed by the first loss of the day. I came into the $5K event resolved not to weaken and call her until my record included a loss.
I got to the tournament site around 9:30 and am happy to report that I did not call my wife until it was close to 11pm when I lost in the Top 4 with $850 in my pocket. I ended up going 6-0-2 in the Swiss rounds and winning the quarterfinal match-up after the Top 8 Draft. A pretty good showing for a card pool that I was initially unimpressed with, I think. With a Scars Sealed PTQ season looming on the horizon I thought I would walk you through my deck-building process rather than give you a round by round tournament report.
The turnout for the weekend was a little disappointing. After 170 players battled for $5,000 in Saturday's Standard tournament there were only 182 on Sunday for Scars Sealed. That is actually a significantly smaller turnout than Tri-State area PTQs get on a regular basis. There were going to be eight rounds of play but, with a handful of players winning byes in Trials the day before, it was right on the cusp of a nine round event. It was highly unlikely that anyone with two losses would make the Top 8. Multiple PTQ veterans ran the numbers and thought it was possible that not everyone with a 6-1-1 record would be able to make it to the draft table.
If you have never played in a Sealed Deck tournament before there is a pregame procedure that involves registering a pool of cards and then swapping it with another player. This is to ensure that players do not add cards to their decks and to create a master list that judges can refer back to if there is any question later in the event. Sealed Deck rookies will often make the mistake of getting attached to the pool they first lay eyes on. You will hear groans, as players register the deck that they are sure will win the tournament. Once you have played in a couple of these things you toughen up and barely even notice the cards as you tick them off on the registration sheet.
Back in the days of Tournament Packs there would be a box to put the cards and deck registration sheet into. The deck boxes would get collected and redistributed in a completely random manner. In modern era of six booster pack sealed there is no box and instead of collecting and redistributing decks there is a hokey-pokey method that has players ship their decks across the table for double checking and then handed off several seats to the left, right, and across again.
While I do love to grouse about trudging uphill in the snow to attend PTQs in the previous millennium this new method does save a considerable amount of time. While I have hardened my heart to the deck I register at these events, I thought with each pass of the deck that I was holding the raw steel that would be forged into my weapon for the event. It was hard to not get a glimpse of some of the tick marks—Hoard-Smelter Dragon, Carnifex Demon, Molten-Tail Masticore and get one's hopes up. Alas, all those cards kept traveling downstream and I ended up with the following card pool to work with:
(When I sort through a card pool I immediately sort the wheat from the chaff and any card marked with an asterisk is a card that I would strongly consider playing.)
I have to admit that I was pretty disappointed as I gave the card pool a first pass. I had none of the headliners of the set to work with and did not feel like I had enough removal to go toe to toe with the dragons, angels, demons, and planeswalkers I was expecting all my opponents to have. I did have two Volition Reins though and that seemed like a perfect place to start.
My blue cards illustrate one of the idiosyncrasies of this Scars Limited format. I would ultimately end up playing only a small handful of blue cards but still be able to support two cards that cost . Because you get to play with so many artifacts—I had twenty-five ticked off as playable on my first pass—it is rare that you will find a bomb stranded in a shallow color. If you have a Sunblast Angel or a Hoard-Smelter Dragon there is almost no scenario where you will not be able to play those cards.
I actually had no colored, bomb rares so this was not a problem, but I knew that if I was going to get anywhere in the tournament I had to support my two Reins because there would be some spicy targets available across the table. I would have played any color that had a bomb rare with little other support in that color. In sets that are not artifact driven this is often not the case. You obviously want to play your most powerful cards but there have been plenty of previous formats where consistency and card quality in the remainder of a color have benched many a dragon, angel or demon.
With those thoughts running through my head I started laying the foundation of my deck around the two triple blue enchantments. Amusingly, I would only end up with four blue cards in my deck overall. I added the two blue flyers—Lumengrid Drake and Sky-Eel School—and made the mistake of not including Halt Order in the starting line-up. As I was looking to make cuts to get down to forty cards, I convinced myself that there was no time for me to ever sit back and cast the spell.
My deck was not nearly as aggressive as I thought it looked on paper and I sided it in for almost every single Game 2 throughout the event. There was one round against a fat red-green deck that I sided in Dissipation Field but other than that match-up I wanted Halt Order every single time. I could not find room for the pair of Steady Progress and I never really missed them. Here are the four blue cards that I played:
From there I turned my attention to the artifacts. I was happy to see six mana Myr—including two Silver Myr—waiting for me there. The mana Myr were the foundation for Limited's previous trip to Mirrodin and this trip is going to be no different. I knew I wanted to play fewer lands than I would normally play in Sealed Deck. I usually play eighteen lands but with Myr you can see people go as low as fourteen or fifteen lands. I was not comfortable doing that and did not even feel that safe with sixteen lands but that is where I ended up along with four of the mana makers. Which four it would ultimately be depended, of course, on my other color/colors.
A pair of Contagion Clasps was almost as welcome a sight as the Volition Reins. As I mentioned above, players tend to cheat on their lands in Myr formats and a turn two Clasp can often be back breaking (and it was throughout the day). Nothing made me happier than keeping a Clasp hand while my opponent agonized over whether or not to keep a land-light hand with a Myr in it. I won multiple games simply on Clasping Myr early in the game. I also won a couple with Clasp coming down late in the game and grinding down a creature with the proliferate ability.
The proliferate on the Clasps also played nicely with my Trigon of Corruption. I was not sure if I would be playing black or not but the Trigon was going to be in my deck regardless. At worst it was a Serrated Arrows and at it's finest it would be a proliferation of -2/-2 worth of counters for six mana with the help of a Clasp.
Tumble Magnet is a card I have loved in Limited that plays well with proliferate but is a solid card without adding any counters. It is capable of breaking stalemates on the ground or in the air and I was shocked by how many players had this card on their bench. Even if you don't add any counters it can still be Glint Hawked back to your hand or blinked with Glimmerpoint Stag or Venser. I would likely be playing it anyway, but with two Clasps my proliferate package was set.
I was on the fence about Mimic Vat but it was my most valuable card of the day. It was simply absurd. Highlights include imprinting Lumengrid Drake, Precursor Golem, and Oxidda Scrapmelter. The lowlight was imprinting Perilous Myr and using it incorrectly for several turns. The token creature does not go to the graveyard when it expires, instead it is removed from the game. It would have worked with a sacrifice outlet or by blocking and having the Myr token die, but just letting it sit around until the beginning of the next end step was ultimately unexciting.
With a fistful of Myr in my deck I knew I was going to be playing Myr Galvanizer. It even opened up the possibility for an infinite combo with another card that I knew I was going to be playing although it never came to pass. With Myr Galvanizer imprinted on my Mimic Vat I could get two of them onto the battlefield by making a copy after my opponent's beginning of end step effects. The copy would stick around until the end of my turn during which I could make another copy. With at least two mana-Myr on the battlefield, I would be able to make infinite mana that turn. I could use the mana to cast Golem Artisan, give it haste, flying, trample, and as many +1/+1 pumps as needed to finish off an opponent. I never got to pull it off but it showcases another handful of cards that I knew were making the cut.
I was going to play at least two more Myr and potentially another. If I played black then it would be an easy choice to play the Leaden Myr. If I played white then the Gold Myr was in. Either way I was going to be playing the Darksteel Axe, and likely the Glint Hawk Idols, but I was not enamored of my other Equipment choices in the arsenal. I know that Infiltration Lens has been compared to Skullclamp but it only really shines in the infect deck and I was leaning away from green. Here is the remainder of my artifact choices and then I will explain the cards on the bench and reveal my other color, although it should be obvious from the choices below.
That was it for my artifacts. I know there was a lot of Equipment to choose from but I hate playing too many pieces of Equipment in Sealed Deck formats especially with Tumble Magnets and Vedalken Certarchs running around at common. In fact, I don't think I should have played the Axe. I sided it out every game for Halt Order. Equipment really shines in this format with infect, and I was not going to be pursuing that strategy with this pool and only 3.5 infect creatures to work with.
Green was briefly tempting but my Cystbearers were at cross-purposes with the other creatures. The problem with playing infect and not going "all in" on it is that your opponent can choose to deal with whichever set of creatures present the most immediate problem. It is almost like you give them extra life to work with. Once they get low on life they can block, tap, kill, or bounce your regular creatures and take some poison counters. They can make okay defensive creatures but I was not looking for a reason to have good blockers. Green did not make the cut.
Red was an easy cut as it offered little more than an Oxidda Scrapmelter. Initially I was leaning toward black for the Skinrender but it was very thin and offered none of the synergy that white offered. In the first place white let me turn on my Glint Hawk Idols whenever I wanted. It also provided more removal in the form of Arrest and Revoke Existence. There was synergy between the Myrsmith, my concentration of artifacts, and the Galvanizer. Finally white offered me some flexibility with Glint Hawk and Glimmerpoint Stag.
There were multiple games that saw me bounce Tumble Magnet, Contagion Clasp, or the Trigon to reset or reuse the artifacts. Glint Hawk's "drawback" did far more for me on the day than its ability to attack for 2. Glimmerpoint Stag was equally versatile. There was one game where it blanked a Chimeric Mass that had been set to eight counters by blinking it out. In another game I had used Volition Reins to take a creature—nothing notable—and my opponent followed it up with Molten-Tail Masticore. I was able to use the Stag to blink the Reins over onto the Masticore and win that game.
Like I said earlier, it is a brave new format that had me playing nine cards with colors in their casting cost. I ended up playing nine Islands for four blue cards and seven Plains for my five white cards. With two Silver Myr it should have been eight and eight, but I was overly worried about the triple blue in the casting cost of my two uncommon stealers.
I was not sure how good the deck was when I was done building but it played out perfectly for me through the first six rounds before I was able to intentionally draw twice to ensure a seat in the Top 8. Volition Reins was the all-star of the deck, stealing me Molten-Tail Masticore, Hoard-Smelter Dragon (and potentially a Mountain on the next turn if my opponent had not scooped), and Argentum Armor.
Precursor Golem was seemingly stalking me throughout the event and I had to play through one opponent who had two of them in one game. Grinding the actual Golem down with Clasp and imprinting it on Mimic Vat certainly went a long way in that match as the two Golem tokens would stick around even after the original copy was exiled. I find it hard to believe that I was waffling on the Vat before the event as it turned out to be utterly ridiculous. Even when it did nothing it loomed large in combat for my opponents who did not want to kill any key creatures.
Despite having five rares tied behind my card pool I found myself sitting down to draft after eight rounds of play, poised to win more money in an individual event than in any other event during my Magic career. I opened a Sunblast Angel but that was pretty much the last white card I saw in pack one. When I got passed a second-pick Corpse Cur I immediately abandoned white for what I hoped would be the black-green infect deck. The Cur is considered one of the absolute best commons in that deck and I took it as a strong signal that I would not be tussling with the player to my right.
In the end I suspect that the deck was overdrafted as my quarterfinal opponent was also playing that same archetype and the winner of the event—Rob Seder—was black-green infect as well. I ended up a few cards shy and had to splash some of the white that I speculated on in pack two.
I got through my quarterfinals largely on the back of Untamed Might on the last possible turn and lost in the semifinals to Josh Stringer's metalcraft deck with Argentum Armor. Josh was playing in his first ever tournament outside of his local store and had an amazing run. To make the finals is quite the accomplishment and I look forward to seeing what else he does between now and the $75,000 Championship Tournament we both qualified for by virtue of our finish.
Good luck to everyone playing in the 2010s this weekend. I am hoping to make it into my old neighborhood in Brooklyn to try my hand at two Top 8s in two weeks.