Setting the Scene – The new Sealed Deck Format with Steve Hatto

Posted in Event Coverage on July 30, 2016

By Craig Jones

Innistrad first debuted back in 2011 as Magic's “horror”-themed plane. Those sets drew heavily on gothic horror for inspiration and B-movie creature-feature classics such as Vampires, Werewolves, and Frankenstein's Monster-type Zombies abounded. The same was true when players got to return to the plane with Shadows over Innistrad earlier this year, but now, with the arrival of the Eldrazi titan Emrakul and her warping influence over all life, the horror has gone cosmic. This triple Grand Prix weekend marked the first chance to see how the new set, Eldritch Moon, would shake up the Limited format at higher levels of play before the Pro Tour in Sydney.

At Grand Prix Stockholm players had four Eldritch Moon boosters and two Shadows over Innistrad boosters with which to build their forty-card decks. As Eldritch Moon was the second set in the block after Shadows over Innistrad, the challenge presented to them was to evaluate how the Limited format had changed with the addition of Eldritch Moon. Would strategies successful in Shadows over Innistrad continue to be successful? Would the format be slower or faster?

Some things hadn't changed that much with Eldritch Moon. The tribal synergies around Vampires, Werewolves, Spirits, Zombies and Humans in particular were still present. Also still present were the mechanics of madness and delirium. Madness rewards players for finding ways to gain value out of discard costs while delirium encourages interesting constraints on deck construction in order to reliably hit the four card types in the graveyard delirium requires. The major change was the absence of the investigate mechanic in Eldritch Moon. With less Clues floating around, the Clue-based strategies that were effective in Shadows over Innistrad are much harder to pull off. Ironically, while the Werewolves in Eldritch Moon have different trigger conditions to transform than their brethren in Shadows over Innistrad, the differing trigger conditions complement each other as transforming an Eldritch Moon Werewolf is an efficient use of mana for the turns when they aren't casting spells in order to transform their other Werewolves.

Old mechanics going out made room for new mechanics coming in. A new mechanic to, well, emerge in Eldritch Moon is emerge. Remember the dog from John Carpenter's “The Thing”? Well, Magic players got to re-enact that in cardboard form with a whole range of new Eldrazi horrors just waiting to burst out of previously innocuous creatures. As sacrificing creatures just to make other creatures isn't the best in terms of card advantage, Eldritch Moon helpfully provided players with cards like Foul Emissary and Exultant Cultist, that just so happen to make perfect emerge fodder. Another spicy new mechanic found within Eldritch Moon is the ability to meld two creatures together into a single massive one. While it's hard to pull off as a player needs to open both halves in their pool, before the tournament I was hoping we'd get to see a Brisela, Voice of Nightmares or Hanweir, the Writhing Township at some point over the weekend in Stockholm.

While escalate might not be as flashy as the tentacular squirmings of the new, appropriately cosmic-horror-themed mechanics, it does offer a great deal in terms of versatility. Modal spells have always been popular because of the options they give players and escalate provides further options by allowing player to pay additional costs to take multiple or even all of the modal choices instead of just one.

I asked a few of the more accomplished players how they thought the Limited format had changed with the addition of Eldritch Moon.

Hall of Famer Anton Jonsson: “The draft format with triple Shadows over Innistrad was pretty fast. And can be unforgiving. It might slow down with Eldritch Moon, but the jury's still out.” He added, “I haven't seen any really good control strategies other than ‘got all these removal spells'.”

Maybe future Hall of Famer and multiple Pro Tour Top 8 finisher, Marijn Lybaert: “I don't know. Maybe Delirium will be more of a thing. I'm guessing, though.”

Unfortunately, Lybaert wasn't the only one to give me a vague answer. While we had a few recognizable names here, a lot of them don't play as regularly nowadays and haven't been able to devote the time to master the set that they would have in the past.

Noticing I was struggling, fellow coverage reporter Tobi Henke stepped in and found me an expert on the format I could talk to in the form of Luxembourg's Steve Hatto. Hatto had reached Silver level and qualified for at least two Pro Tours next year. He was also the current Luxembourg World Magic Cup captain and had the experience of a couple of Grand Prix Top 8s under his belt.

The first thing Hatto told me was that Eldritch Moon had made delirium easier achieve, and for colors not normally regarded as delirium colors.

After my experiences at the pre-release I thought the format had slowed down a bit in comparison to Shadows over Innistrad, but Hatto wasn't convinced this was the case. He mentioned that “sealed can muster some interesting aggressive decks on the back of the transform creatures.”

The main strength of the transform creatures, as well as the escalate cards, as he put it, was that they “help your curve while giving some staying power in the late game.” In that respect he said the transform creatures functioned similar to morphs, although without the mystery aspect. It was something he came back to later – that with the new transform cards, escalate, and even emerge to some extent, Eldritch Moon offered plenty of early game options that a player could include in their deck without them worrying they would be dead draws late on.

Emerge was a mechanic he said at first didn't appeal, but started to feel like a sweet mechanic the more he played with it. There are lots of pieces to make it work and even without a creature that could be sacrificed for benefit he said, “you'll also be quite happy to upgrade a 2 drop into an 8 drop for 6 mana.” Later he also pointed out that the creatures that could be exiled from the graveyard for additional effects in Shadows over Innistrad also worked well with emerge.

The other thing he'd noticed was that the creatures felt small. And cards like the 4/5 wolf from Shadows over Innistrad was more playable with Eldritch Moon just because it was bigger than the other stuff.

I asked if he had any preferences for Sealed and he laughed and said he normally hopes to have a couple of colors that are completely unplayable as it makes deck construction easy. Nowadays sealed pools go so deep that sometimes the choices can be difficult.

After this, his 5th sealed pool, he mentioned he liked white a lot as it had a good mixture of creatures and spells. Also green as well.

“When in doubt I prefer to attack.”

Other than that he said the usual rules applied.

“Evasion is still good. Murder is still good.”

I should also state that last comment was about the Magic card, Murder. We probably don't want that one being taken out of context…

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