Even in a room filled with accomplished players it's hard to find a player more accomplished than Raphaël Lévy. His credentials of nineteen Top 8s at Grand Prix and three at the Pro Tour not only put him in the Pro Tour Hall of Fame, his victory at last year's World Magic Cup also qualified him for the upcoming 2014 World Championship.
But first, like everyone else here this weekend, Lévy needed to turn a pool of 84 Khans of Tarkir cards into one 40-card deck to battle through today's Sealed Deck rounds. He began by going through all the colors, getting rid of the undesirables. Then he looked at the gold cards, all good, and continued with the lands of which he sadly only had three: Mystic Monastery, Swiftwater Cliffs, and Jungle Hollow.
Lévy laid out all the colors by mana cost, with the exception of green which he was able to dismiss at a quick glance. Blue was relegated to sidelines not long after, and he was down to Mardu. He basically spread out all the red, white, and black cards, as well as one Efreet Weaponmaster and Swiftwater Cliffs, as one big deck, then started making cuts.
This process was easy at first but became increasingly difficult. Efreet Weaponmaster and Swiftwater Cliffs left quickly, as did Gurmag Swiftwing. Lévy also decided early on that his deck wouldn't be using Trumpet Blast and Barrage of Boulders, and since most of his creatures were black and white anyway the opportunity to minimize red presented itself. Consequently, Leaping Master and Mardu Warshrieker joined the leftover pile.
It appeared as if Lévy were locked in on Mardu with just a bit of red for some removal and Zurgo Helmsmasher. Then again, Lévy was tempted by Flying Crane Technique and had second thoughts about blue. He took a moment to investigate Jeskai and even looked at a potential blue-black-red build. He soon returned to Mardu, however. Then he considered a small green splash of Abzan Ascendancy and Abzan Guide supported by Jungle Barrier but dismissed that as well.
So back to Mardu. A further reduction of the red component took out both Burn Away and Bring Low, as well as Mardu Banner, and brought Lévy closer yet to his final deck. Next, he tried removing all the red cards except for Jeering Instigator, but soon went back to a more sizeable red splash.
With the colors apparently chosen, Lévy still had to figure out a lot of the details, though, and in Khans of Tarkir Sealed the devil is clearly in the details. He went back and forth a couple of times on cards like Dazzling Ramparts, a second Bitter Revelation, and Shambling Attendants. Finally, he upgraded Krumar Bond-Kin to Abzan Guide and re-added Jungle Hollow.
And even then, when he had settled on 23 cards, there still was a lot of work to be done regarding the all-important mana base. Lévy ended up with two Mountains and one Mystic Monastery to support two cards which actually needed red mana plus Jeering Instigator. Upon further deliberation, he also replaced Abzan Guide and Jungle Hollow with Krumar Bond-Kin and Swamp again. He filled up the rest of his deck with Swamps and Plains and filled out his decklist.
Talking about it afterwards, Lévy stressed the exceptionally severe lack of mana fixing as the defining feature of this pool. "That limited my options a lot." When asked whether he liked the deck, he just frowned: "It's not great."