The exciting conclusion! So far, with Sealed Pool #2 we've seen (18) Alex Hayne make a Red-White deck and Christian Calcano make a Green-White deck. Rather than siding with one or the other, Super-pro David Ochoa went his own way, and comprehensively built a whole different animal.
Before we get to that, I want to talk a bit about the man, the myth, the unassuming David Ochoa. He's one of the most recognizable people on the circuit, one of the most welcoming, and one of the most meticulous. He's often described as "stoic" or even "taciturn" (for the GRE-exam inclined), but listening to Ochoa break down a format, or even just a Sealed pool, is an enlightening experience. He did it on Friday night to a crowd of people delivering a ChannelFireball Sealed lecture on the eve of the Grand Prix, and he did it for me here. He knows what he's doing, and he does it with confidence and style.
Each card pile is organized with care and precision. After discounting an entire color, instead of haphazardly pushing the cards to the side, they're stacked, and certain cards are angled differently if they have potential contextual uses. When deciding cuts, the cards under the knife are placed sideways in between the piles of definite cards and are each given their due consideration.
The best part of the process is that he approaches these practice pools with the same care as his official Grand Prix Sealed pool. While interviewing him, there were sometimes half-minutes of pure, silent thought. At one point, when he was deciding among a few straggling 22nd and 23rd cards, I offered him an out to finish the interview. He looked at me and said, "I haven't made the cuts yet." What Ochoa presented to me was his entire thought process from front to back and made sure I knew why. It's rare to get that sort of openness and respect.
It might seem counterintuitive that one of the most popular players in the game is also one of the most reserved, but it's small moments like these little interviews that reveal the quality of David Ochoa's character. He's a really good dude.
Enough slathering praise, and on to the inevitable Sealed pool conclusion!
The first card Ocho saw was Grindclock, and he chuckled. "That card kills my Sealed deck [in the Grand Prix]. My deck's not very good." With the same face on, he riffled through some cards and said, "We're absolutely playing White. Soul of Theros is the best card in the format, and we've got a Dragon (Seraph of the Masses)." He then scrutinized the other colors to find its pair.
"Red is very middling," he said while laying out the cards that made Alex Hayne's final deck. "It's got an OK curve, and at least you can do some early trading without wasting your removal." He lamented the absence of Hammerhand and Inferno Fist to pair with the two Heliod Pilgrims. Ochoa was unimpressed with the Marked by Honor, and was looking for a better excuse to play the pilgrims. When pressed about why, he only replied, "It's great if you can stick it." After finishing up a rough build, he moved the red cards aside, turning the Cone of Flame and the Scrapyard Mongrels a different angle to help him remember possible draws to the color.
Fanning out the black cards, he remarked, "This has got some good stuff." Caustic Tar and Crippling Blight were cards that made him happier to play the pilgrims. Continuing to rifle, "Oh man, Festergloom is good, but not with all these tokens." I made a joke about how the Selfless Cathar could help protect his tokens, and he, with absolutely earnest replied, "Yes, it can." He followed up, "There's no Stab Wound, but I'd play at least one of the Pilgrims with this. I'll have to figure it out."
One by one, he went through the other colors, returning to themes we'd briefly discussed along the way. "If I play three auras, I'll definitely play two pilgrims." His use of "definitely" here proved more flexible than the standard usage. He considered adding the Marked by Honor if he played black. "I'm really just comparing non-white against non-white here. There's more removal in black, and I'm really not impressed with the blue. There's tempo, but not enough follow-up."
He then moved to Calcano's final color, green. "A lot of late game, but it's all pretty expensive," he said while also formulating the thoughts in his head. "The Oreskos Swiftclaw is worth it as a blocker in this version of the deck." "The aggro support outside of white isn't really there though, and we don't have Sanctified Charge." He went through the red cards again, "That guy's good . . . good . . . good."
Reassessing red as an option, he laid out the cons. "We're really missing the Borderland Marauders. In this deck I want those and Pegasus as my two-drops. Without [the Charge], Raise the Alarm is really just a convoke enabler." He built a more solid version of the deck with no Bronze Sable ("it's really a sideboard card"), no Lava Axe ("I don't think this is a Lava Axe deck"), and no Heliod's Pilgrim or Marked by Honor. Shrugging his shoulders repeatedly while looking over the build, he came to his final conclusion: "Red's really only adding Cone of Flame." It wasn't worth it to Ochoa. Black was the color; now it was down to how.
He removed the artifacts Sacred Armory and Hot Soup, leaving in Will-Forged Golem and lined up the black cards. "We get to play Wall of Essence now too." The Festgloom was in, so far. It was currently 25 cards, and the cards turned sideways in between the piles arranged by converted mana cost and creatures and non-creatures were: Marked by Honor, Oreskos Swiftclaw, Selfless Cathar, Sacred Armory (which had since been put back in), and Heliod's Pilgrim (the second one). The final cuts were where David Ochoa took the most time.
"This looks good. The curve is low, so we won't get aggro'ed out, but we're going to lose to Souls. We only have one Pillar of Light and no Flesh to Dust. We have decent flyer defense, protection from Intimidate guys. And Ephemeral Shield is really good here. The early creatures aren't good enough to draw out much removal, and when they spend a turn casting Flesh to Dust, you just gain so much tempo."
He went back and forth on each iteration of potential cuts, then added Witch's Familiar to the pile. "We don't really need it," he said, but reconsidered, "but it does block Accursed Spirit." He was considering every angle, and every specific possible card. Sacred Armory turned out to be the mystery. He wasn't sure quite how it would function in the deck. But based on feel, it looked like he'd decided he was fine with the gamble. Laying out the pros of Selfless Cathar he added, "Cathar is troublesome in Black-White. You can threaten to do lots of damage out of nowhere." Oddly enough, this sealed Cathar's fate out of the deck.
Finally, he made the last two cuts: the Selfless Cathar and the Witch's Familiar. He looked at the land, factoring in the Cave of Koilos and the Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth. "We can really cheat here with these, and nothing black I want to cast early. I'd like to cast the Crippling Blight on turn three, but I'm ok casting it turn four." And so the 10/5 split was made, and the deck was completed. And it felt complete.
"If we go up against a deck we can't go over the top, I could see siding into red."
There it was. We've completed our long journey, and we've learned a lot. With a Sealed pool that doesn't build itself, even in a "figured out" format, even in a core set that's "simpler" than other sets, there is wild build divergence even among the pros. That's pretty cool.
Our journey is over. As we bid adieu to Magic 2015 Sealed as Day 1 winds to close, look back to your Sealed deck from the beginning of the day. How close were your builds to Hayne's, Calcano's, or Ochoa's? What would you have changed in their builds? How different does your build look from the Magic 2015 prerelease?
Even "simple"Magic sets are exceedingly complex. I guess that's why we all keep coming back.