Before we begin, I’d just like to say that I always love the outpouring of support these contests get, and I’m glad we get such a large turnout. Thanks to everyone who spent time writing up an entry.
With the busted pool, there are a couple of builds that jump out. The shells I want to explore are W/B, B/G, R/G, and B/R, all of which could have a potential splash for extra removal.
Speaking of splashing, I think people take it for granted. In most decks, the extra power is often worth the slight hit to consistency, and sometimes necessary. In this pool, however, that isn’t the case. You can easily play a deep, two-color deck.
What makes this more appealing than usual is that in many color combinations you have multiple cards with dual costs spread across colors. Running a splash is a bit more dangerous when you can not only draw a splash card without proper mana, but draw the splash land and knock yourself off of having double colors open. I’m not against splashing in some builds, and I could see the argument in all of them, I just wish I had seen more people bring it up.
So why those three color shells?
Black has an embarrassment of riches, including multiple two-for-one specials, removal, a planeswalker, and a decent curve. Breaking it down, we have 17-18 playables in this color alone. There aren’t many combat worthy creatures in the bunch though, so I’d need to keep that in mind if I wanted to pair it off.
Green isn’t as deep, but gives you a nice curve and some beefy creatures, which is the main downside of black. Depending on how you feel about Bond Beetle, you have 13 playables. Most of those cards are either cantrip creatures or solid on-curve drops. You even have a way to fetch up Vampire Nighthawk and Silklash Spider on demand!
Red is completely shallow, but has the most removal you’ll ever see in M13 Sealed. In the inspiration for this contest pool, I actually opened this red and took a victory lap. 7 removal spells paired with any decent creature color is going to give you a very strong deck.
White is the baseline for what’s good in this pool. It has a mass of decent threes and fours, with a pair of Serra Angels. It has a mix of walls and fliers, which makes the Crusaders look silly with no Captain’s Call or Attended Knight. It also has a pair of Pacifism to fill the typically barren removal slot. While this kind of white would normally be a slam inclusion, with this pool you can easily make an argument for leaving it on the sidelines.
Blue is just atrocious. After Talrand’s Invocation, the quality drops off a cliff. Even if you paired it with a strong color, you could almost certainly do better with a different pairing. The most common deck I saw with blue was U/R, sometimes with a splash, which had no end-game except Invocation plus many removal spells or Phoenix recursion. So with red doing all the heavy lifting in the first place, why bother with the blue at all?
B/R and G/R have the same goals: getting ahead on the board and slaying anything the opponent plays. The difference comes in how they get ahead. Green has solid beaters, and can take full advantage of crushing blockers on consecutive turns. Black, on the other hand, adds even more removal to the mix, and throws in some card advantage via a PW and Sign in Blood. You’ll mostly be nibbling them to death with whatever you have available while keeping attacks open.
So these were the three builds I made:
If going with the red splash, I’d cut the Forcemage and either the Sign in Blood or Naturalize (likely 2nd Sign). If I wanted more than two Spear then I’d really want the 18th land, because at that point you want to be able to cast BBR early, and still have a reasonable chance of hitting GG for Tracker/Yeva/Silklash. Out of all the builds I personally worked on, most of the judges tended to favor this one over the other options, and in general they preferred B/G or B/G/X.
If you aren’t concerned with rebuying on Phoenix, I’d also consider a 2nd Plains, and possibly another white card like Faithmender or Safe Passage. The mana is reasonable with this build thanks to Farseek and the RR spells all being turn five or later. The biggest downside is the limited number of creatures, but you have a Ring to power up nearly any of your creatures, Chronomaton, Phoenix, and double Geyser to close games out.
I probably like this deck the least out of all the potential ones, but it has a lot of good creatures, a decent curve, and plenty of ways to stabilize the game. This build is effectively the jack-of-all-trades between evasion, exalted, removal, and multiple card advantage spells. You also don’t need to mess your mana up by going deep into a 3rd color, and can easily add the 18th land over Disentomb if you wish.
For those who didn’t read my last article, here are a few interesting trends from the contest.
Most utilized color: Black
Most ignored color: Blue
Three-Color Decks: 74 of 100
Most Played Color Combination: BGr
Most Splashed Color: Red
Most “Why?” Color Combination: UR (6) and URw (4)
Number of Lands Used:
Number of Creatures Played:
What surprised me most is how many people saw this amazing pool of cards, and threw in every power card and piece of removal they could, without considering any other aspect of the deck.
There were far too many entries with major gaffes in mana, curve, or just overall deck strength. Look at the number of three-colored decks and consider that you could easily make a very good two-color deck with the pool presented. Chronomaton was really underplayed in general, and a card like Ajani Sunstriker made way too many decks with 6-7 Plains and a bunch of other double costs in the deck.
This irks me, because one of the main ways to lose with such powerful shells is to get mana- or color-screwed, and yet that’s exactly what the majority of people did.
Well enough from me, let’s look at the winners!
“Let’s take a look at the pool color by color first.
Black: Looks solid. However, the only removal is Liliana and Essence Drain, and the only awesome creatures are the Bat and the Vampire (that sounds like a good title for a movie). Not a huge fan, but still above average.
Green: Lovely. Card draw (Elvish Visionary), tutoring (Mwonvuli Beast Tracker), bombs, and mass removal ([card yeva, nature's herald]Yeva[/card] and Silklash Spider), and more (soft) removal (Prey Upon and Titanic Growth).
Red: Lots of removal, but no creatures, though 3 Searing Spear seems like a great splash.
Blue: Some might say this is the nuts, but it doesn’t appeal to me. It’s all quite slow, and by the time you get to play Talrand’s Invocation your board will be behind big time. So no.
Lands & Artifacts: Evolving Wilds allows splashes in non-green decks, and the green Ring is straight-up awesome.
Blue is out, red is a potential splash, and green, black, and white look good. As I’m not a fan of B/W Exalted (and this deck is not high on enablers such as Duty-Bound Dead), I’ve decided to go white-green, as it has some better creatures and more efficient removal. I have noticed that these two colors go together pretty well in M13, as they have good creatures, white gives lifegain so you can survive a longer game, and they both have cheap and efficient removal. As we have access to the green Ring, we can give our creatures trample and allow them to get to 4/4, both of which are very important in this set and allow them to beat face all the better.
The following decklist is what I submit:
This deck looks very solid, with two bombs, a lot of removal and some lifegain to survive super-aggro decks. The creature mix is a bit heavy on the 4-slot, which is why we play a Farseek: turn 2 Farseek allows us to play a 4-drop on turn 3, which seems excellent. The Rhox Faithmender is pretty good and a decent blocker, but with the Ajani’s Sunstriker things can get out of hand quickly.
Serra Avenger is a great turn-4 drop while also leaving mana open for removal or combat tricks. I don’t need to explain that Yeva makes combat math very hard, and that Silklash Spider allows us resistance against pesky U/W flyer decks, without hurting our own (3+ toughness) flyers too much. Playing the Mwonvuli Beast Tracker basically gives us a second copy, or a third Primal Huntbeast if we face any decks high on removal.
Notable excludes: Safe Passage can be sided in against Goblin or Soldier decks, but doesn’t fit the gameplan of beating face and removing threats like Giant Scorpion and Vampire Nighthawk. Naturalize can destroy any rings or other though-to-beat artifacts like Akroma’s Memorial.”
Josh: Not a big fan of the explanation here, but I really like how the deck plays out. The mana is stable and the only big misstep was Ajani’s Sunstriker, which will be a rarity on turn two and without major exalted support quickly gets outpaced.
Judge: Some weird explanation for why white beat out black, but I do like the end result. There’s a lot of removal, and the quality of creature is very high. All the early guys replace themselves or grow, and the combination of Ring and flyers means stalemates aren’t a big risk with this deck.
#2: Jules Robins
“With a pool this strong there’s no reason to go three colors. Even with an Evolving Wilds, the inconsistency simply isn’t worthwhile. That said, every two-color combination deserves consideration because every color has strong cards, leaving us with at least 10 possible decks. I considered every color combo and a few flaws immediately stood out.
Green has one removal spell, blue has none, and neither of black’s two do a good job of dealing with bombs. That means our best deck will very likely contain at least one of white and/or red, leaving us with only seven decks. Blue is incredibly shallow, so both UW and UR are short on playables, which isn’t what we want in a pool this strong.
Next we look to game-enders, where this pool is somewhat lacking. White’s got a couple of Angels, red has the Phoenix, green doesn’t even offer a Vastwood Gorger, and black has tons of exalted. Red-black’s way too short on creatures without resorting to some really suspect inclusions, so it looks like white’s a must, now leaving BW, WR, and WG as potential options.
White-green has too few total removal spells, but the WB vs. RW decision is a tough one.
The tipping point was the WB deck’s superior ability to close out a game, thanks to scores of exalted creatures.
So, the deck:
Black and white offered more than 30 cards and up, so the question quickly became what to cut. Mana considerations are an obvious concern, but so was finding the right balance of board presence and card advantage.
That’s matchup dependant, but since the aggro decks seem to be easier to crush in the sideboard games, I opted for double Sign in Blood and no main deck bears. Similarly, while powerful, Mark of the Vampire is much more likely to run you into a blowout in Sealed. People have more removal than in draft, so here it’s not worth going in on.
All that said, the aggro matchups certainly aren’t bad. The main deck has a lot of three-drops that clog the ground and a bunch of lifegain. Blood Reckoning seems like it would be sweet with this many defensive guys, but there are already too many 4′s, and it doesn’t usually beat bombs. Finally, with only Serra Angel and Vampire Nighthawk as awesome cards to recur, playing Disentomb on top of Rise from the Grave seemed suspect.”
Josh: Not sold on double Crusader or double Duskmantle Prowler, but at least you have a lot of guys to take advantage of max exalted and Crusader. Though Crusader has to be really awkward when you can’t curve into it. Even with this issue, I like it better than the majority of B/W decks I’ve gotten.
#3: Chris Baker
“TEAM EDWARD AND JACOB UNITE FOR WHITE – BGw
To build an unkillable, unraceable monster, start with a 3/3 hexproof, add a dash of trample and a +1/+1 counter every turn, and top it off with +2/+2 and lifelink. Mutating the Huntbeast into a verifiable MONSTER is one of the most powerful things this Sealed pool can do, so the deck built best to support that is what I concocted. The reason it’s so good is that it’s almost impossible to interact with, save for Mutilate, Planar Cleansing, or having sufficiently large or deathtouching blockers. The Huntbeast blanks Pacifism, Essence Drain, Turn to Slag, Searing Spear, Volcanic Geyser, Unsummon, and Prey Upon, and that’s just removal found in our pool.
Blue is the only color I think is unplayable in this pool—it just doesn’t compare to the other colors because nothing it has is interactive or presents a fast enough clock. BW Aggro exalted or BRw Liliana/Geyser Control looks sick, but I don’t like how the exalted triggers all come from things that cannot attack in the BW aggro deck, and the control deck can’t beat Huntbeast.
Our build is weak to flyers overall, but [card Silklash spider]Silklash[/card], and the Tracker to find it, cleans up pretty well. Red seems awesome, because it has so many solid cards, but I think it’s a trap. I’d rather have more quality creatures than quality removal spells, and red supports a team with minimal offense. The Phoenix is one the most difficult cards to permanently deal with in the set, but the color-intensiveness and lack of other threats in that color make it less appealing.
I debated the splash between red or white, and whether we should even run a splash. Our GB shell lacks the ability to disable bombs, so I felt we needed a few more removal options to increase our outs to huge creature. Two Pacifism > Three Searing Spear for fulfilling this role. Our deck now fairly consistent mana-wise, solid at applying pressure while removing relevant threats, and ultimately aims to morph a Huntbeast into a BEAST that likes to HUNT (for prime rib by default, for blood when he is marked).
Mwonvuli Beast Tracker is stellar in this deck because his targets are so versatile and numerous. They include Vampire Nighthawk, Silklash Spider, 2 Primal Huntbeast, and Giant Scorpion—all the best creatures in the deck. Yeva and subsequent green creatures are more potential removal spells, while performing double duty by improving our clock.
Liliana seems weak in our deck, because we can’t use the excess mana for more than hitting lands drops and Silklash’s Hurricane, but the inclusion of the green Ring let’s us stampede over blockers with Liliana’s pump if we get to +1 until all 7 swamps are in play. She is often best when -3/-3ing a dude then we bash for a bunch.
Want to marry Giant Scorpion or Vampire Nighthawk? Then put a Ring (of Kalonia) on it. Trample and deathtouch is a saucy combination that makes chump-blocking a nightmare with a few exalted triggers because it only takes 1 damage to coup de grâce anything from Goats to Wurms.
Notable sideboard options (and exclusions from deck):
2 Sign in Blood: Color intensive means it’s unlikely a 2-drop, which is what we need. 2 Elvish Visionary fills the role here, especially with Ring of Kalonia in the deck.
Rise from the Grave: They can’t kill Primal Huntbeast, so we won’t need to get it back from the afterlife. Also a non-bo with our 2 Pacifism.
Naturalize: Nice to be in green to have the best answer for Sands of Delirium, Oblivion Ring, etc.
Angelic benediction: Potential blowout to bring in against decks trying to leave back creatures like deadly recluse to block our Huntbeast.
We should never side red in instead of white, so don’t even think about it!”
Josh: Heavily disagree with the non-inclusion of Sign in Blood. This format is basically a love song to incremental advantage and if you aren’t killing them with a curve-out or a bomb they can’t answer, that’s how you’ll be winning your Sealed games. I’ve had outright awful Sealed decks go 3-1 on the back of people throwing away cards and being able to recover with a Sign in Blood or Divination before they could recoup. Otherwise I really like the build.
#4: Bryan Flanagan
“When looking at this pool I was immediately drawn to the green selection because having played with and against Silklash Spider, I have seen how easily it can dominate games, more so than any other card in this pool. The fact that we have a Mwonvuli Beast Tracker with which to search it up is fantastic, essentially giving me two of this powerful bomb. While green is not very deep, it is still very solid. Yeva is great, we’ve got a little removal in Prey Upon, and I feel Naturalize is always a very good main deck card in this Sealed format.
When looking for a second color I quickly, but very sadly, put red aside. The removal is amazing, but there is not enough depth. I keep it in mind for a splash however. Blue has a similar issue, some powerful cards but not the depth to complement the green I want to play. This leaves black and white. Liliana seems like it should be a big factor, but I’ve been a little underwhelmed by her.
I’m much more interested in the interactions between Mwonvuli Beast Tracker and Vampire Nighthawk, as well as Mark of the Vampire and my two Primal Huntbeasts. I feel these combinations offer more than white could, and I now have to decide between going straight BG or splashing.
There are enough playables in just BG alone, however this would involve playing cards like Duskmantle Prowler, which are fine but not particularly synergistic with the rest of the BG build. What I’m looking for is a splash that brings me some more removal since I’m a little light.
Red has all those Searing Spears, but this kind of removal excels in the early game and typically we aren’t hitting our splash color until the mid to late game. Pacifism on the other hand is perfect, so white it is. While I’m at it, I decided to get a little greedy and include the Rhox Faithmender, since I have a Bloodhunter Bat, a Mark of the Vampire, a Vampire Nighthawk, and an Essence Drain all potentially giving me double life gain.
As far as the land goes, I have a little bit of pressure from double-black and double-green requirements, so I play just the single Plains, which via Farseek and Evolving Wilds gives me 3 white mana sources.”
Josh: Faithmender seems sketch, I already mentioned Sign in Blood, and I’m OK with Prowler not making the cut.
Judge: I really like this build, nothing too flashy, just a good mix of creatures, removal, evasion and bombs. It even has the maindeck Naturalize to deal with Rings, Mark, or a Staff of Nin. I miss Sign in Blood here, though I appreciate a little less pressure on the mana. After seeing Baker’s build and a few others, all of these are very similar and about three slots seem to just come down to preference. I also like that Prowler wasn’t just thrown in.
Honorable Mentions: Noah Anderson, Adam Pilarski, Peter LaCara
Big thanks to everyone who entered and congratulations to our winners!