Battle for Zendikar Decks-ercise Follow-Up

Posted in Event Coverage on November 15, 2015

By Marc Calderaro

For anyone who tried to attack the dastardly Sealed Pool I posted earlier, you might have found it a bit confounding. If you did, don't be sad about your Magic skills; I talked to many pros and got completely different decklists. None of them even played the same colors. Christian Calcano, Gerry Thompson, Josh Utter-Leyton, and (6) Sam Black all built different ideas, on varying degrees of the safe-to-crazy scale.

The pool even attracted various on-lookers and volunteer builders multiple times.


Josh Utter-Leyton’s build getting subsumed by (6) Sam Black and Adrian Sullivan

What made it so interesting, was although the White looked like a shoe-in, with at least 15 playables to start out, it almost became a trap because no other colors paired very well with it. But not playing the White would have been insane. In case you missed the pool, here it is again. If you want it by color breakdown, go here to see the introduction.

Battle for Zendikar Sample Pool

 

“There's a reasonable number of Allies up in here,” were Christian Calcano's first words after getting the pool. “Jeez, and good removal too.” But as he shuffled through the non-white colors, he face shifted a bit. This was the same thing that happened to Josh Utter-Leyton. Before getting to the other colors he said, “With 15 playables in one color, you get to be choosy with your second color. This blue for instance.” But then he looked at the Blue and changed his tune.

With only four or five non-devoid-centric playables, even playing with the solid Blue—Halimar Tidecaller, Clutch of Currents, Rush of Ice, Spell Shrivel, and maybe Ruination Guide—would be tricky.

Additionally, there was another wrinkle with White that Gerry Thompson highlighted. “Kor Castigator is the best two-drop, but I don't like two drops.” Usually in Sealed, nobody does. But this pool has 85% of a great two-drop-ful deck. So you're highly encouraged to throw the Castigators, and Kor Bladewhirl in there. But filling out the other 20% feels terrible. The Black is basically unplayable, providing only a modicum of support for another color; so if you rule out Blue, you're left with either (or both) Green and Red.

After building the unspectacular Blue-White deck, Calcano ended in Green-White, while Thompson begrudgingly built White-Red. As he was building it he said, “I don't know if this can actually win any games,” and when he was done he said, “This is my deck. But I cannot stress enough how not happy I am that this is my deck.”


Gerry Thompson

Calcano was happy to add the Oran-Rief Invokers and Snapping Gnarlid, along with the huge Tajuru Warcaller to his pile. “This combo is busted,” he said while pointing to the Warcaller and the Retreat to Emeria. “If you are even on board or ahead, this will make you win the game.” He wasn't thrilled with the final result, but emphasized, “Sometimes you can really just curve people out, even in Sealed.”

But Thompson (with (12) Brad Nelson in tow) said, “the [green] cards are good, but don't sit in the mana slots you need them to.” He had a point. While Red added multiple Valakut Predators and a Nettle Drone to the three-drop slot, and Stonefury as solid removal, Green basically just added more two-drops. Calcano's final build had two one-drops and six two-drops. That is a crazy-low curve. “If he kills me, he kills me,” Calcano said about his aggression.

So Thompson went with Red, but he did not emerge unscathed either. His deck featured not one, but two Reckless Cohorts, and without the Tajuru Warcaller to justify their slots. “Look, this deck is for attacking; it's not a deck where you're going to get into racing situations.” He said it was near the best Cohorts would look in Sealed. He surveyed the work and decried, “This is like the perfect curve; it's just filled with lots of bad cards.”

Neither Calcano nor Thompson were overly pleased with their decks, but both thought the best strategy was to skew aggressive, leveraging the one- and two-drop slots, then using Retreat to Emeria to stay ahead. Calcano leaned on his Ally synergies, while in Thompson's deck, the Lantern Scout was nearly incidental.

Josh Utter-Leyton went another direction. Though he had the same base white cards, he worked a little harder to make the previously discarded Blue work. He didn't like either his green or red builds. “Your green is way too easy to get brick-walled,” he said. So he ended up cutting some of the smaller White cards that the other players used and added in Ondu Greathorn, Roilmage's Trick, and the top end of Breaker of Armies to fill out the last couple cards and hit submit. It was the safest of the builds so far, if the most unexciting.

It was around this time that Sam Black and Adrian Sullivan showed up on the scene. Earlier, Sullivan was cut short in his first go-around—but it was a doozy. Looking at it, Thompson snapped off, “Of course, Sullivan sits down and immediately builds a Green-White deck with Fathom Feeder in the two-drop slot!” That was 100% accurate, and it was going to get a little deep in here.


Sully's first draft on fleek

Now, Black independently jumped in after Utter-Leyton and tried to figure out the puzzle for himself. Things got interesting. Black, with Sullivan goading him on, cycled through the previous White-based builds, but was unhappy with them. So the first outlandish solution attempted was the dreaded no-white build. Others had threatened it, but Black was the first to give it a whirl.

“Let's just pretend for a minute that all our mana will work.” Always an interesting assumption to start with. Black went the full-on Grixis Devoid strategy, and the deck looked good. Real good. In fact, all three agreed that this was the best version of the deck—assuming of course, all our lands tapped for any color of mana. But with a two-drop slot with Fathom Feeder and Forerunner of Slaughter, with a total of five red spells, it looked like a mess.

While cobbling it together, Black said, “We have five red spells, so that's our ‘splash'? I can fix that,” then jostled more things around. All three settled on a 7-7-5 mana base, but it was way too greedy. No one was crazy enough to run this one.

“I like casting my spells,” Utter-Leyton explained. So Black hit the drawing board one last time. The Madisonians weren't done yet.

Here's when Black parallel-evolved Sullivan's previous deck. Black took away all the cards that weren't removal or overtly powerful and started sorting them by mana cost. He was going deep.

As the Catacomb Sifter, Halimar Tidecaller, Sheer Drop, and Stasis Snare all found homes in the three-drop slot, Utter-Leyton's face began to scrunch up. “I'm sticking with my Blue-White,” he said. But Black kept going—he wasn't nearly through.

By this point Sullivan was chiming in about the different ways his and Black's deck differed. Black started chucking cards in and out with considered disregard, as he and Sullivan's deck worked closer and closer together.

The Smoldering Marsh had to go because Black wanted a higher chance of finding a black mana off his Fertile Thicket. Titan's Presence was out for lack of power—despite having both Breaker of Armies and Desolation Twin. But as the painting was coming into focus, there was an utter poetry to the whole thing. There was something amazing about a Fathom Feeder in a deck with two Islands and two Swamps.

Eventually, Utter-Leyton said, “You know I'm coming around to this deck.” Perhaps it was the Brilliant Spectrum that did it for him. Humorously, at one point someone suggested cutting the borderline-Sealed-playable Blue card and every single person turned and glared at him. Brilliant Spectrum was the grease that made the deck hum.

We've talked enough about this thing. Here's the final deck:

Sam Black's Madison Four-Color – Grand Prix Atlanta Sample Pool

No one at the table thought the deck was “good” per se, but they thought it was the best with the cards we had. “If you're asking if I'd trade my Sealed deck with this one, I would,” Black said. “This pool is like a 50% pool.”

Utter-Leyton chimed in, “Yeah, I would say this is a pretty average pool.”

And that's the crazy part about Sealed that we often overlook. This is an average pool, and spawned four completely different decks. There's a reason when you're building a Sealed deck a crowd will invariably gather. This is why Sealed building is so meticulous.

This is the stuff that Magic's made of.

So how'd your deck look?

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