Coverage of Grand Prix Lisbon Day 1

Posted in Event Coverage on December 1, 2012

By Wizards of the Coast


Saturday, 10:01 a.m – Trial-Winning Deck Lists

by Tobi Henke

As usual, Friday was when the action began with a number of last-chance Grand Prix Trials. And the competition here in Lisbon certainly was fierce. One of the single-elimination tournaments, for example, was won by none other than 2008 World Champion Antti Malin, while the Snapcaster Mage himself, Tiago Chan, lost in the finals of another.

As for the succesful Sealed Decks, there is a great diversity here. Most have three to four colors, some have all five, some only two, and while green is the number one choice, the rest varies wildly, although token synergies in Selesnya have been a favorite. One constant, however, is a focus on early drops. Make no mistake. Return to Ravnica allows for some crazy multicolor brews, but it is a format with a strong tempo component as well. None of the following decks had less than three two-drops, with additional Rakdos Cacklers, Dryad Militants, and Centaur's Heralds to boot. While a lot of them ended their games on Archon of the Triumvirate, many began with Drudge Beetle. And that may have been equally important (if less flashy).

Andre Olsson

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Wesimo Al-Bacha

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Robin Dolar

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Victor Silva

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Sergio Preto

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Henrik Andersson

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Antti Malin

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Filippo Maurri

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Saturday, 12:02 p.m – Sealed Deck Building Exercise #1

by Tobi Henke

Let's get down to business, shall we? Take a look at the following Sealed pool and build your deck! One pro opened these exact 84 cards this morning and already decided on his 40. Later in the day you'll be able to compare your deck to his. For now, we keep his final deck a secret so as to not spoil your fun; and we keep his identity secret so as to not spoil his fun.

Do you go green with Deadbridge Goliath and Giant Growths? Want to put one of two copies of Pursuit of Flight on one of two copies of Stealer of Secrets? Or does Rakdos, Lord of Riots reign supreme? It's your choice; make the best of it!

Saturday, 12:37 p.m – "Don't be daft, this isn't a draft" with Shuhei Nakamura

by Tim Willoughby

We're back in Ravnica, and I'm back doing what I try to do at just about every Grand Prix – trying to find out as much as I can about the format from those players who are better than me, so that I can crush people in games when I get back home.

The format here at Grand Prix Lisbon is Return to Ravnica sealed deck. Now, from following Nate Price's articles about sealed I feel like I already have a fairly healthy idea about how to go about putting together a winning 40, but that's not to say I don't have a few things to learn. Normally when I'm writing about sealed deck, I'm looking at basic principles to guide you through a prerelease. Today, I sat down with hall of famer Shuhei Nakamura, in order to learn how to take my sealed deck building to the next level. There is only so much you can learn from looking at the decks that go undefeated on day one of a Grand Prix, so in an effort to help all of us get a little better, you'll spot a number of sample sealed pools in today's coverage, along with handy hints where we can get them.

An easy trap to fall into when building a sealed deck is to approach it just like you might with draft. Both times you have a bunch of cards in front of you, and in each case you are looking to finish up with a 40 card deck. However, Nakamura was keen to point out that if you think that way, you could easily find yourself in hot water. As someone who has played in more limited GPs than just about anyone, Nakamura had the inside track on how to take a pool and maximise its potential for an event like a Grand Prix, where you could easily be playing 9 or 10 rounds with a sealed pool.

Nakamura San is ready to battle.

"In draft, people can choose their own path. If they like Rakdos, they can pick lots of Rakdos cards, and get a very aggressive deck. If they don't want Azorius, they can pass it. In sealed you must build with what you have."

This might seem like a simple point, but it impacts to a large extent in terms of what the competitive arena looks like. While draft decks can have a very clear focus, it is rare to see the same in a sealed deck, where the availability of specific types of cards is entirely down to good fortune in opening packs.

"Most of the keyword abilities are not as important in sealed deck as in draft." Nakamura mused. "In draft you can build a nice populate deck, but in sealed you should not be trying to build a perfect example of a Golgari deck, or a perfect Selesnya deck. You should be building a deck where each card is good."

Traitorous Instinct

There are some cards whose value alters quite substantially given this way of thinking. "Slitherhead is good in a perfect Golgari deck, but in sealed you will not have this, and you should not be playing with the card. In Rakdos draft decks, I want to have a copy of Traitorous Instinct, or maybe two, to help end games. In sealed deck it is unlikely that I will have a Rakdos deck fast enough for Traitorous Instinct to be better than just ok."

Speed is certainly a concern in the Return to Ravnica sealed format. While draft decks can come out of the gates very quickly, Nakamura felt that the sealed format was sufficiently slower that choosing to draw first was typically correct (barring a fast Rakdos deck being on either side of the table). On top of this, some cards that are low on Nakamura's rankings are much higher when it comes to sealed.

"In draft, I won't normally play Horncaller's Chant. It is just too slow to impact on most games. In sealed though, where games go a little longer, it is one that I am fine with including."

Seven and eight drop cards in general improve quite a bit in the slower format, as do elements of mana fixing like Transguild Promenade ("A Time Walk for your opponent in draft, but quite good in sealed"). Many of the more expensive cards are the sorts of rare bombs that inevitably catch the eye in sealed deck. Once you reach the higher tables at a Grand Prix, you find that they can be a bit of a bombsite, with big rare flyers dominating many a game. Something like Archon of the Triumvirate might sometimes not be quick enough in limited, but just a little more time lets these bombs do their thing.

Aerial Predation

If you know that dragons are around, then it makes sense to plan for them, right? Nakamura certainly thought so, singing the praises of Aerial Predation. "In draft, it might be that sometimes you play against a deck that just doesn't have any targets for it. In sealed, it is much more likely that you will come across them, and something like Aerial Predation will have a higher impact."

Clearly the cards that are good in draft are unlikely to be bad in sealed, and many of the all-stars of the format (the guildmages, Pack Rat) are powerful threats regardless of the nuances between sealed deck and draft. Mana fixing becomes a little more important, as the likelihood of a two colour build declines, while the need to find removal is ever present.

There are some slightly more nuanced cards too. Something like Pursuit of Flight is interesting in this regard. In draft, it is very powerful, in part due to the fact that it can produce some lightning fast starts when attached to a two cost creature, to attack for a lot in the air from turn three onwards. That is not necessarily as likely in sealed, where consistently aggressive curves of creatures can be a luxury that isn't always available. However, Pursuit of Flight retains some of its value due to the fact that this format is a little bit weak to a sizeable flyer, meaning that even later in the game, it can be a great way of breaking through.

Nakamura seemed quietly confident with his deck for day one of Grand Prix Lisbon. While this may be his default feeling going into events, flicking through his cards it seemed that the confidence was not ill founded. We'll catch up with him later in

Saturday, 1:22 p.m – Sealed Deck Building Exercise #2

by Tobi Henke

There's still some time until the action heats up and the pros enter the fray. So far they have only just built their Sealed Decks. And the details of that actually are very interesting, particularly with the following pool which has been whittled down to a 40-card deck by one pro whose identity we'll keep a secret for now. (We'll reveal the deck he ended up with later on, and later still, the player's identity.)

You think you can do just as well? Fire up our Sealed Deck Builder and try!There's still some time until the action heats up and the pros enter the fray. So far they have only just built their Sealed Decks. And the details of that actually are very interesting, particularly with the following pool which has been whittled down to a 40-card deck by one pro whose identity we'll keep a secret for now. (We'll reveal the deck he ended up with later on, and later still, the player's identity.)

You think you can do just as well? Fire up our Sealed Deck Builder and try!

Saturday, 3:15 p.m – Sealed Musings with Thomas Holzinger

by Tobi Henke

This week on social media, Austrian Platinum pro Thomas Holzinger sounded a call for help. "I was really struggling with this Sealed format for a while and did terrible in most of my practice events," Holzinger admitted. "Now I have talked to a lot of players and learned a lot, but still, Sealed with Return to Ravnica is incredibly hard.

"Picking colors, splashes and figuring out the mana base is both insanely difficult and extremely important. Most people I spoke with agreed that, when in doubt, one should be greedy, basically splashing everything that can kill creatures or win games. However, there are some pools where one needs to built a straight two-color deck with minimal or no splash at all," said Holzinger. "Telling one from the other isn't exactly easy."

Thomas Holzinger

In general, Holzinger would recommend the greedy approach though. "Some aggressive Rakdos decks work, but in my experience blue-white, for example, just doesn't come together. You never have the all-flier deck, and a couple of Vassal Souls/Sunspire Griffins are all too easily outclassed by bigger creatures or a bunch of Centaur tokens. What you want to have is green, and Axebane Guardian in particular. I'm a big fan of the ramp strategy."

Holzinger also likes Keyrunes. "The first thing I do, when I get my hands on a fresh pool, right after checking for Pack Rat, is to take a look at the Guildgates and Keyrunes. If you don't have good green mana fixing, you basically depend on these." He went on to mention Transguild Promenade which he considers somewhat of a necessary evil. "Turn two is the only good opening you have for that. Then again, some bombs simply need to be splashed."

If you don't have anything to splash, however... "Incidentally, I have unused Guildgates in my sideboard today. I could easily splash things like Explosive Impact, but I just didn't get anything worth splashing," Holzinger complained. He showed me his deck, a collection of solid if unexciting cards almost equally spread throughout green, white, and blue, commenting: "Now this is the actual worst. You want to either have a greedy deck or a very consistent deck. I have the worst of both worlds."

Round 4 Feature Match – Denniz Rachid vs. Rui Rocha

by Tim Willoughby

Toward the end of round three, I bumped into Platinum level pro Denniz Rachid of Sweden, ruefully smiling as he explained how he had misbuilt his deck.

"This is what I should be playing" he grinned, splaying a bevy of powerful cards. "I am playing almost none of them."

Against Rocha, he Rachid would be starting as aggressive Rakdos, but anything could happen depending on the outcome of game one.

Rui Rocha playing for Portugal's pride.

On the play Rocha started with just Golgari lands, meaning that it was Rachid with the first play of the game, in Tavern Swindler. Rocha got in the first damage, with a Dreg Mangler, but soon found his 3/3 neutered by a Stab Wound. That Swindler traded off with a Cobblebrute, and Rocha was left in a rough spot. An Augur Spree killed off Rachid's Rix Maadi Guildmage, but Dreg Mangler couldn't profitably block a Daggerdrome Imp.

Rakdos' Return from Rocha was enough to take out Rachid's full hand. This lead Rachid to respond with Annihilating Fire for three points of damage. A discarded Zanikev Locust allowed Rachid to pump his flyer with scavenge, but the Daggerdrome Imp died to Ultimate Price before it could put the game out of reach for Rocha.

Stab Wound continued to apply the pain, until eventually Rocha could engineer a situation where he could block, letting his Dreg Mangler. Now he was on just two life, with a mountain to climb in terms of getting into a winning position, but at least up on cards in hand.

It seemed that game one would be decided by top-decks, and that Rachid was the lucky one. With an Explosive Impact he was able to burn his opponent out.

Denniz Rachid 1 – 0 Rui Rocha

Denniz Rachid has a cunning plan.

One big question was the extent to which Rachid would choose to sideboard for the second game. He'd already seen that his opponent's deck was also fairly aggressive, but not necessarily better at being so than his own. Would a 'durdly' sideboard deck plan be a good one? The sight of Rakdos' Return seemed to suggest not, and Rachid made only minor adjustments before game two. He had an Annihilating Fire for the first Korozda Monitor of Rocha, happily removing the scavenge monster from the game. Ultimate Price meant that Rachid's unleashed Dead Reveler would not hang around, but it was soon replaced as the only creature on the board by a Golgari Longlegs.

That Golgari Longlegs got stuck in when a Stab Wound got rid of Sluiceway Scorpion, taking down Rocha's life total in five point chunks. By the time that Rocha had found a way to kill it, he was also facing down Rakdo Shred-Freak and Viashino Racketeer. Rocha had to use Dreadbore to kill off the Shred-Freak just to protect his life total, wary of Explosive Impact but was still in deep trouble. Drawing nothing but lands, and soon extended his hand. The Portuguese player would have to wait at least one more round to get his fourth win, while Rachid was able to escape his first round of the day without having to expose all of his the tricks his sideboard had to offer.

Denniz Rachid wins 2-0!

Saturday, 5:25 p.m – Living on a Rare

by Tim Willoughby

Earlier in the day I spoke to Shuhei Nakamura about the differences between building draft decks and sealed. My hunger for games was not sated with what I learned though – there must be more to learn about what is acknowledged to be a very tricky sealed deck format.

The speed of this sealed deck format, coupled with good quality mana fixing makes this a format where rares are particularly important, and that impacts both on deck building and the way that you play.

Martin Juza had an interesting take on how rares play out within Return to Ravnica.

"I would never consider splashing as heavily in any draft format as I do in Return to Ravnica sealed. With enough turns, and good quality lands to get you there, you can splash Rakdos Return in an Azorius deck."

With longer games, there is plenty of potential for people to both draw and play the best cards in their decks, putting greater emphasis on making good decisions about how to apportion removal, or answer opposing tricks.


The common wisdom on removal in this format is that waiting to play it is probably a good idea, and that if you don't have much, you are in a very rough spot. While in draft, each player only gets about three shots at seeing a 'bomb' rare (a rare that can swing a game on its own). In sealed you are opening six packs, and with sufficient fixing you should be able to play what you open. Especially at a Grand Prix with 9 rounds of sealed deck, you will have to face powerful cards, so you need to be ready.

This means that aggressive decks that are light on removal are simply not going to be good enough in a GP, though they may be fine in a draft. Even decks with a fair amount of removal need to be careful about where to play it, and not get baited into using it early, only to fall to a greater threat later.

Juza mentioned both Aerial Predation and Dispel as neat answer cards within the format. "This a format with a lot of tricks, and Dispel is a nice one to make protect your bombs, or stop some of your opponent's. As for Aerial Predation, a lot of the best rare creatures are big flyers. You often have a good target for this removal spell, which would normally be a sideboard card in draft."

Round 5 Feature Match – Elias Watsfeldt (Blue-White) vs. Luis Esteves (Blue-White-Green)

by Tobi Henke

Elias Watsfeldt from Sweden is no stranger to the spotlight, with two Grand Prix Top 8s to his name. So far he had started into this tournament perfectly with 4-0, but so did his Portuguese opponent, Luis Esteves, and now only one player's record would remain untarnished.

Game 1

Watsfeldt started on a mulligan and Concordia Pegasus. Esteves made a Vassal Soul followed by Seller of Songbirds. Esteves, who previously hadn't bothered, attacked with Vassal Soul into Watsfeldt's 1/3. Watsfeldt, fearing some trick, took his first damage.

Luis Esteves

Esteves summoned Runewing, Watsfeldt cast a Frostburn Weird. On his turn, Esteves sent Concordia Pegasus to Watsfeldt's hand with Voidwielder, Watsfeldt in turn sent Runewing to the top of Esteves's library with Azorius Charm.Watsfeldt took another 3 from Vassal Soul and Esteves's flying 1/1 token.

Watsfeldt cast Skymark Roc, but he had played around a pump spell before and wasn't going to lose his 3/3 to one now. No blocks meant he went to 12. Esteves replayed Runewing, Watsfeldt replayed Concordia Pegasus.

All of Esteves's three fliers attacked, and this time, Skymark Roc blocked the token. Esteves tried to boost it with Chorus of Might, but instead Watsfeldt removed it with Cyclonic Rift. Next, Esteves tried to increase his army with a second copy of Vassal Soul, only to lose both to Watsfeldt's timely Detention Sphere.

Esteves never recovered from these exchanges. Watsfeldt's Skymark Roc, now free to attack and repeatedly bounce Esteves's last remaining flier, took the game a couple of turns later.

Elias Watsfeldt 1-0 Luis Esteves

Game 2

Things started slowly in the second. By turn four, Watsfeldt had Security Blockade with the accompanying token and a Concordia Pegasus in play, while all Esteves had was a lonely Hussar Patrol. During combat he tried to grow said Patrol past Concordia Pegasus's 3 toughness with Giant Growth, but Watsfeldt stopped that with Azorius Charm. It certainly seemed as if Watsfeldt had all the answers.

Elias Watsfeldt

Again, Esteves took to the air with Runewing and Sunspire Griffin, but Runewing got stuck under Paralyzing Grasp and Watsfeldt's 2/2 token picked up Ethereal Armor. The resulting 5/5 first striker was easily enough to dominate Esteves's creatures, and that didn't change again until it was all over.

Elias Watsfeldt 2-0 Luis Esteves

Round 7 Feature Match – Frederico Bastos (Blue-White-Green) vs. Antti Malin (Green-White)

by Tobi Henke

Now this was an easy feature match to pick. In the one corner we have two-time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor Frederico Bastos from Portugal, in the other the 2008 World Champion Antti Malin from Finland. Add to that two perfect scores of 6-0 so far, and we have ourselves a proverbial winner. The actual winner would of course be determined on the battlefield ...

Game 1

Bastos went first, had Transguild Promenade on turn two, then Vassal Soul, then Lyev Skyknight. Meanwhile, Malin had summoned Drudge Beetle and Seller of Songbirds, and started the beatdown. Malin summoned Trostani, Selesnya's Voice on turn four; Bastos immediately took it out with Detention Sphere.

Frederico Bastos

Bastos's air force and Malin's infantry traded blows, with Malin slowly falling behind in life. He tried to put a stop to that with Towering Indrik, but Bastos redoubled with Soulsworn Spirit. Next turn, Bastos attacked with the Spirit and Lyev Skyknight, which suggested he might have Swift Justice or similar. Malin thought long and hard before finally deciding to block with Towering Indrik anyway. Bastos, his bluff called, shrugged and binned his Skyknight.

At end of turn, Malin had Eyes in the Skies, then attacked with everything, and cast Common Bond for the win.

Frederico Bastos 0-1 Antti Malin

Game 2

"This is tempting," Bastos commented his opening seven. He peeked at the top of his deck before shuffling up his cards. "Well, I have six lands," said Malin who went for a mulligan as well. Both were happy with their six though.

Antti Malin

Bastos went first, but Malin had the first play, with Keening Apparition followed by Centaur Healer. Meanwhile, Bastos's Vassal Soul was followed by Runewing. Runewing and Keening Apparition traded, but Malin simply upgraded to a second Centaur Healer. All Bastos had was a Security Blockade.

Both Centaurs came crashing in, and Malin still had more: Selesnya Sentry and Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage. The latter died to Trostani's Judgment and gave Bastos some hope in the form of a second 2/2 token too. In turn, however, he lost one of his 2/2s to Arrest and Malin's following attack brought him down to 3. Malin also had Rogue's Passage, so time was definitely running out for Bastos. Security Blockade and Aerial Predation on his own Vassal Soul bought him two more turns, but that was it.

Frederico Bastos 0-2 Antti Malin

Saturday, 8:00 p.m – Sealed Deck Building Exercise #1: The Deck

by Tobi Henke

As promised earlier, here's the deck that came out of the pool we showed you in our first deck building exercise of the day. Highlighted by the rares Dreadbore, Underworld Connections, and Rakdos, Lord of Riots himself, it did indeed end up straight Rakdos:

Sealed Deck Building Exercise #1

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"Not much else I could have built from that," said this deck's pilot. "A couple of different three-color decks would have been possible, but nothing worth the extra inconsistency. I think the deck's fine. Not great, by any means, but decent."

Saturday, 8:30 p.m – Sealed Deck Building Exercise #2: The Deck

by Tobi Henke

Did you check out the second Sealed Deck Builder earlier in the day? Here's what our mystery pro came up with. If your deck looked anything like this, you're in good company:

Sealed Deck Building Exercise #2

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