With a Pro Tour in Europe the week before, it was an easy decision to attend Grand Prix Malmö—I only needed to extend my trip for a week—and was made even easier by Martin Juza’s invitation to stay with him and Shuhei in the Czech Republic during the week between the tournaments.
What was not so easy was booking my tickets. Originally, I had found something with Cimber Sterling, a Danish airline—it was inexpensive and fit my itinerary exactly (Barcelona-Prague; Prague-Copenhagen; Copenhagen-Barcelona), but the time frames were worrying. Basically it would leave me with one and a half hours in Barcelona for my connection; and since they were different tickets, I’d be on my own if I missed my flight.
After a bit more looking without finding anything comparably priced, I decided to bite the bullet and book that flight anyway—except the flight wouldn’t show up on Kayak anymore. I decided to go to the airline site directly, only to be met with a screen that effectively said: “Cimber Sterling has declared bankruptcy. If you bought a ticket with us, sucks bro”.
I guess it’s fortunate that I waited after all. The solution ended up being to buy three different flights on different airlines and coordinate them with my previous flights, which was significantly more tedious and expensive. For the Prague-Copenhagen flight, it was cheaper to buy a return ticket than a one-way ticket, even if I was only going to use half of it—so I did that. I now have an unused Copenhagen-Prague ticket for the middle of July, in case I find myself in Europe by then.
Once in the Czech Republic, we didn’t actually do much—partially by choice, partially because it was cold and rainy most of the days. We went out to eat a lot, but mostly stayed at Martin’s place otherwise. I had the chance to catch up on each of the series I currently watch (Game of Thrones, Revenge and the best of them all, Legend of Korra!). And I started reading The Belgariad, by David Eddings, which I enjoyed a lot despite it being sort of simplistic (I’m currently on book four).
Of Magic, we didn’t play a whole lot—we all thought we needed a break. The tournament was Limited anyway, which meant we could use our practice from the PT.
On Friday morning we met Lukas Jaklovsky and flew to Copenhagen. My three companions decided they’d rather go to Malmö, draft and go to sleep; but I wanted to visit the city. Nowadays it’s uncommon that I get to fly into a place I don’t already know, and I wanted to at least spend a couple hours in Denmark to see what it was like.
For that purpose, I met Jackie Lee, Melissa DeTora, James Searles and Elie Pichon, and off we went into the streets of Copenhagen with a map and the promise of a “self-made walking tour”. At some point Melissa and James left us, and Jackie, Elie and I continued wandering around semi-aimlessly: first to a random church, then to a castle, then to the famous amusement park Tivoli—where we spent most of our afternoon.
Copenhagen was an interesting city overall, though none of the “attractions” were particularly must-sees—the church was just a church, the castle was relatively small, and while the park was big, it was still just an amusement park. Still, I had a good time, though I was extremely tired from all the walking (and, well, waking up at 4:30 AM to catch my flight) when I actually got to the Malmö arena.
By the time I got there, Martin and Shuhei had already left; but I stayed because I wanted to participate in Rich Hagon’s game show.
For those of you who don’t know about it, it’s a trivia game where you gather a group of up to four people (the team was me, Frank Karsten and Frank’s friend) to fill in as many as you can of certain topics in a given time limit (usually three minutes).
Round one was “planeswalkers from Duels of the Planeswalkers and their deck names” (we got like 8 of the planeswalkers, and not a single deck name. Honestly, who’s Kyora?!). Round two was “players qualified for the Player’s Championship” (we got all 16; the next best team got 13!). Round three was “Soulbond abilities” (we missed the Ophidian one). Round four was cards that needed all five colors of mana to be cast (we got 14 out of 18 if I’m not mistaken, missing Fusion Elemental, Atogatog, Scion of the Ur-Dragon, and something else that I can’t recall). Round five was Alexander Hayne’s Miracles list and sideboard, which I actually knew by heart, and then round six was the Art Round—one where Rich draws pictures from the new set and you have to identify which cards they are supposed to represent.
It’s hard to explain how difficult this is—Rich has many talents, but drawing is not one of them. For one of the drawings, for example, we guessed Entreat the Angels, the team next to us guessed Bone Splinters and the correct card was Barter in Blood. Out of the ten cards, I couldn’t recognize a single one, though Frank’s friend seemed to be very good at that—he got five of the ten cards right. I was sure we had won the round—no one in their right mind would guess more than half of those—but apparently there was a team that got NINE, smashing every other team into oblivion.
The tournament started at 9:30, and I was greeted with a particularly unexciting pool—I used to have awesome pools about half the time, but it seems that is no longer true. It was particularly painful to watch the person across from me get Entreat the Angels, Restoration Angel and two Giselas, while I had to struggle with this:
Everything else is utterly and completely unplayable (you’ll see that I was generous here, listing cards such as Diregraf Escort, which realistically I’ll almost never play). The pool is actually quite interesting, so if you want some sealed exercise I’d recommend you give it some thought—don’t just look at the cards and think “oh, Black/Red” or something; actually go through the trouble of building the deck and looking at the mana curve, you’ll find problems that you didn’t know were there. Of course, that’s a lot harder to do when you don’t have the physical pool in front of you like I did, but if you don’t do this with this pool then you’ll probably miss some important things.
There are several problems with this pool—the first is that there are just not many good cards, and the few that exist are spread all around the five colors. Let’s take a look at the “tier 1” cards in this pool:
The tier 2 cards:
2 Mad Prophet
Thunderbolt (normally not that good, but once you have two Looters, it becomes excellent and I’ll always play it)
Pillar of Flame
Into the Void
2 Human Frailty
That’s about it—every other card is filler. At this point, it’s obvious that I won’t be playing many of those cards since, again, they’re all spread out.
The second, and most pressing problem, is that there are not enough creatures in any color combination. A lot of the cards I have here could be very good, but aren’t because I have no creatures—things such as Into the Void, Goldnight Commander or the Wingcrafters just don’t do much if you don’t have a board to back them up, and Cloudshifts, Joint Assault and Zealous Strike don’t actually do anything when you have 12 guys in your deck. The three best cards in here—Druid, Paladin and Spear—all need a creature to work with. Even something like Lightning Prowess is just not that good if you don’t have a cheap dude to put it on. If you don’t want to play Wingcrafter, there are only three creatures in the entire pool that cost less than three.
The third problem is curve considerations. When you look at these cards, you might be inclined toward certain color combinations; but when you build the decks, you’ll see you’re just painfully slow. Having nothing to do in the early game is going to be a constant no matter how you build this, but there is a difference between doing nothing, then playing a Fettergeist and doing nothing, then playing a Soulcage Fiend to defend yourself with.
Looking at the colors, it becomes clear that red is strongest—it offers two good removal spells, two pseudo-removal spells and two looters. The problem with red is not only that it has few creatures, but it even lacks playables altogether—the best color happens to be the one with the least cards, and there is no other color that can complement it by itself. By adding the 9 red playables and the equipment, we need 12 or 13 from another color, and we don’t have that.
Black is the closest, with 11 (though that counts Necrobite in a deck where the cheapest creature costs three).
Still, the first thing that I decided was that I would play red—the pool was just not good enough for me to throw away those Thunderous Wraths. Sure, I could end up in a different combination and get 23 playables, but then they’d be 23 bad cards and I wouldn’t beat anyone—at least with this I’d have a shot.
After analyzing the colors, I figured out that any non-white color could be a pair with red. White was just too shallow and the cards required too many creatures. I also figured out that I’d have to splash something.
All the color combinations had their merits and their problems, but neither had a good curve or a good mix of creatures and spells. The most likely splash was 2 Human Frailties and Marrow Bats, which is not very good—cheap removal for cheap creatures, which is not that good when you’re splashing them, but still the best I had.
In the end, I came up with RUg. This is what I played:
The green splash might seem a little awkward, but I think it was correct given the circumstances: I needed cards and I needed creatures, and those were the best creatures I could splash.
When I showed my deck to people they always raised their eyebrows at those cards, which admittedly do look like I’m trying very hard to be too cute, innovative and genius. But, when I told them to go and build something, most people invariably ended up conceding that I had to do something like that.
When I showed my build to Raphael Levy, he said he would have gone straight three colors (RUG), to play the two green two-drops—that was definitely a possibility. Other possibilities were RUb (I think that’s worse—I need creatures more than I need Human Frailty, and Druid's Familiar is the best card in the pool), GRb (the curve got a little awkward and there wasn’t a lot of power, but at least you had one mana fixing card—could be correct), and what I think is the next best choice, RBg.
RBg gets a little awkward when you lay it out, but could be right. You have four one-mana removal spells so you can survive to turns four to six, when you start playing your “powerful spells” (Renegade Demon yay). This might actually be the best option—it’s not powerful but it’s going to be a little more consistent, and you do get more removal.
You can also splash other green stuff in there, but I think Druid's Familiar is enough—you already have a ton of 5s and 6s, and you don’t need that many cards if you play Black (you still want Familiar: with two Looters and probably 18 lands, there is no way I’m not playing that when the alternative is Bloodflow Connoisseur). The deck would turn out like this:
The one thing I am sure I did wrong in my build was to exclude the Nightshade Peddler. He is a fine card on his own, and very good with both the first striker and the Lightning Prowess. Every round I boarded it in, as well as a Forest, for an assortment of cards (usually the counterspell or Into the Void, depending on what they had). Everything else I think is up in the air.
The deck I built is certainly not good—you’ll never get a good deck with this pool—but it at least had some play to it, some tricks, some combos (Navigator + Prophet, Prophet + Alchemist, Navigator + Prophet, Alchemist + Prowess, Prophet + bad cards...).
I played a couple games during the byes—I didn’t beat Jackie a single time, and I beat Martin twice (out of maybe 10 or more games). For the record, Martin went 1-3. Things didn’t really bode well for me, and at this point I should have tried the BR deck, but didn’t for some reason. Maybe I just didn’t want to go through all the trouble, but I definitely should have, it was very idiotic of me not to try it.
My matches at the tournament were not interesting. I went 0-3 drop, winning two games. My losses were a combination of my deck being worse than my opponent’s and me not drawing very well, though I think I actually played pretty well.
Not related to anything, but during the GP, I witnessed two rulings that I'd like to mention:
• Triumph of Ferocity triggers every turn, and you can actually make the largest creature in response to the trigger. This is somewhat intuitive if you just read the card, but not if you’ve been playing Magic for a long time. Generally, this type of effect will only trigger if the condition is met, and then will check again on resolution—Oath of Druids, for example. During our entire playtesting for the Pro Tour (and throughout the Pro Tour), we just assumed that it would not trigger. The wording is a little bit different on those two cards, though, and Triumph doesn’t have the same intervening “if” that Oath does. In practice this means that you can pump your guy with Joint Assault or the Firebreather, or play an upkeep Wolfir Avenger, and still draw a card.
• With cards like Goldnight Commander and Kruin Striker, you don’t need to say anything. Since the new rules were announced, a lot of people (me included) thought you’d have to point out those effects or they wouldn’t happen—same with Steppe Lynx et al. The way it works, though, is that if there is no visual representation then it’s just assumed that it happened. This is much better than what I originally thought, since having to mention everything that just happens is very annoying.
I also witnessed something else worth noting: Exquisite Blood. In play. On Day Two. By two different people! Normally, I wouldn’t be making a fuss over this—people play bad cards all the time, whatever. There is something about this card that is apparently appealing, though, because I’ve seen good people play with it over and over. Since I seem to be the only person who can see reason, I feel like it’s my obligation to guide you to enlightenment. This card is COMPLETELY UNPLAYABLE in any way, shape, or form. Never put that in your deck, never side it in, forget that it exists. No, not even in this very specific situation you’re thinking about right now.
Not convinced? Read the card! Now read Angel's Mercy. Angel's Mercy is much, much better than this, and it’s already highly unplayable. For this to be the equivalent of Angel's Mercy, you need to play it and hit your opponent for seven damage, except it costs five and is sorcery speed, so they get to see it coming. Hitting them for seven is not easy—sometimes they’re just dead by then, after all what have you been doing until turn five? If you’re the sort of deck that wants to gain life, you’re probably not the sort of deck that is hitting the opponent very hard, either. Basically, imagine that this reads 4B, sorcery, gain 10 life—no one would think of playing it. Now imagine what has to go right for this to actually be that card—in the great majority of the games, it’s going to be much worse than that. Seriously, don’t play it.
Ok, now that I got that out of my system, let’s continue.
As far as Sealed goes, well, it’s safe to say I have not had a ton of experience with it; but I don’t like it very much. Most good people that I know did badly, which sucks because they’re mostly my friends. At least that makes me feel a bit better about myself—if everyone good does very well and you don’t, then the fault is most likely yours. If a lot of good people do badly then the format is probably not very good or skill intensive (though of course things are not mutually exclusive—it’s possible, even likely, that I misbuilt my deck and the format is horrible).
To give some perspective, our room had three of the best players in the tournament by whatever metric you want to use (other than results in that tournament, I guess...) and we went 1-3, 0-3 and 2-3. Sealed seems to be about the same Sealed always is—removal is good and bombs are good. There were were rumors that the format was a lot faster than normal, but, while it is fast in draft, I don’t really believe this happens in Sealed. It is not slow, sure, but most decks can survive early assaults and then more powerful cards will overwhelm you (even my deck, which had a whole one 1-drop and three 3-drops, managed to survive the early game most of the time—in two of my three rounds I actually lost to Avacyn).
I think in this format there are more horrible pools than usual, since so many of the cards are stone unplayables. If you open one of those then you just have to try to play to your strengths. Shuhei’s pool, which was featured on the coverage, is a good example. Faced with a bunch of unplayables, Shuhei managed to build a mediocre BGR deck, but I think he should have built BW instead. It was not any better overall, and the mana was horrible, but it had Entreat the Angels—by far the best card in his pool. When your deck is that bad, then I don’t think you can afford to omit such a powerful card because you might stumble on mana. You need to win somehow, so you might as well gamble a bit and give yourself a chance.
On draft, my opinions remain mostly unchanged—the only difference is that I like black a little bit more now. It’s still the worst color, but it’s not thaaat much worse than everything else, and drafting is always sort of self correcting. If a color is worse, then less people will draft it and you’ll get better cards. I’ll still not move into black easily, since the cards are not very good and you’ll probably pass them early, with the exception of Homicidal Seclusion and Death Wind. But, black is there in quantity if not in quality, and since a lot of people dislike it, it is a color you can actually change to in the middle of the draft. You might start picking Black cards at, say, P1P8, and still end up with a heavy black deck that is fully functional, which will not happen for any other color in most circumstances.
Well, this is it—luckily, there are no more tournaments with this Sealed format. Here’s to hoping M13 is a little better (or at least has more playables)!
See you next week,