Pat Cox Talks – #GPNash Report *Top 4*

You going to Nashville?”

Well, my team’s combined record over two GPs was 1-6, and we don’t get byes anymore, so of course not.”

I suppose I should thank LSV for convincing me to go to Grand Prix Nashville. Not that I didn’t logically understand that team tournaments reduce variance, but that hadn’t been my experience thus far.

My teammates were Orrin Beasley and David Sharfman (archive photo), i.e. my testing team from when I first started on the Pro Tour a few years back. Orrin already had a couple GP Top 8s to his name, and Sharfman won PT Nagoya and GP Paris, so we were certainly capable of winning as individuals, but maybe we were just bad at Team Sealed?

I was hoping to rectify that by actually practicing this time, but building a Team Sealed remotely proved unwieldy. So in lieu of real practice, I asked TeamCFB for advice.

LSV told me to build three 5-color decks, whereas Wrapter and Cheon were actually helpful. They had done a few practice Sealeds, and said there would usually be a strong B/W Warriors deck, with white deep enough that there could easily be a second deck with white as the base color.

Sealed Deck #1, When We Finally Win Some Matches

While I can’t say if Wrapter’s advice holds true for every pool, it certainly applied to ours. Past that, our main goals were pretty basic:

Play all of our dual lands.

Play all of our bombs.

Luckily, doing the first one facilitates the second. We did a good job of this in our first Sealed: the best cards that didn’t make it into a deck were Armament Corps and Abzan Charm.

Sharfman had a nice Jeskai deck with Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker, Mantis Rider, Dragon-Style Twins, and Jeskai Charm.

Orrin piloted a solid, but unexciting, Temur deck splashing Villainous Wealth. I had a few comments in a draft video the other day asking why I didn’t pick this card. Villanous Wealth isn’t quite unplayable in draft, but most decks do not want it. In Sealed, on the other hand, this card is great. Games are going to go long, and it is pretty hard to lose after casting Villanous Wealth for 6+. I think the best Orrin did is 8. (He did have one game where it would’ve been for ~11 and I got excited for every draw step, until I looked at his graveyard and had the crushing realization that he had discarded it turn 2 to a Mardu Skullhunter.)

I played the Mardu Warriors deck:

In retrospect, we built my deck a bit off. I imagined the games playing out more like an individual Sealed deck, where cards like Bitter Revelation are great. But this deck was much more coherent than an individual Sealed, and didn’t need the smoothing nearly as much. Bitter Revelation is still great with multiple Sultai Scavengers, but I did side out at least one copy in most matches. Similarly, Salt Road Patrol is good in individual Sealed where you expect the game to go long, but this deck was not looking for that.

The other mistake was playing 18 lands, which was completely unnecessary with how good my mana was and my lack of expensive morphs. I sided out a Mountain every round.

I sided in the package of Take Up Arms and Rush of Battle a decent amount, and probably should have just maindecked these cards (as Sharfman suggested). Rush of Battle was especially important in the Mardu mirror, as it let me attack into Ponyback Brigade tokens. Take Up Arms was crucial to beating wrath effects, though I already had some protection from those with Grim Haruspex.

We went 7-1-1 Day One, which was a marked improvement on our previous 1-3 and 0-3 after byes. Orrin got us the draw, and it is entirely possible we would’ve drawn too in his spot, but he is a notoriously slow player, so we gave him plenty of crap about it.

In a different match, I told Orrin to do two things wrong in the same turn that almost lost us the game from a commanding position. Oops.

This is actually something to be wary of in team play. It might seem like three good players playing a game is better than one, but only one of you has been playing the whole match, and there can certainly be too many cooks in the kitchen. (For a good example of this, watch any of the draft videos that include all of TeamCFB.) If you jump in mid-game, you’re likely to not know important details, and might do more harm than good. For the rest of the tournament I mostly just told my teammates I trusted their judgment when they asked me about close plays, especially for games I was not engaged in.

Sealed Deck #2, or The Time I Got All the Rares

I was happy enough with our decks Day One, but our pool Day Two was nuts.

We learned from the previous day, and gave our slowest deck to our fastest player. Sharfman piloted a sick Abzan deck that had at least one of every outlast creature, aside from the Herald of Anafenza I took. Highlights included:

Hardened Scales is mediocre in general, but there is a point where it becomes good. Sharfman’s deck had ~14 cards that put +1/+1 counters on things, so we figured this had to be roughly where Hardened Scales is worth including. The enchantment did get sided out a few times, but overall it was surprisingly awesome.

Sharfman’s deck also had a nice sideboard of End Hostilities and Death Frenzy if he faced aggro decks. I had a few good players ask why we weren’t just maindecking End Hostilities here. It is possible we should have; it did get sided in a decent amount. But in general, I think people maindeck wrath effects too often in Limited. They are good if you have a controlling deck, I played against a few such decks during this tournament, but I don’t love just jamming a wrath into my normal creature-based Sealed deck.

Orrin again had a fine Temur deck, but it was nothing to write home about. The highlights were Hooded Hydra, Kheru Spellsnatcher, 2x Bear’s Companion, and 3x Arrow Storm.

My Mardu deck, on the other hand, contained half of the rares in our pool:

I know people sometimes gloss over decks in articles, but seriously: look at this deck.

Did you look at the deck?

Okay, good. Unsurprisingly, this was the best Limited deck I’ve ever had. I listed the sideboard cards I thought about bringing in, but in reality I sideboarded zero times in five rounds. The deck was capable of some pretty busted draws, but by far my best one was on camera playing for Top 4.

In case you don’t want to watch:

Turn 1: Herald of Anafenza
Turn 2: Attack with Herald, play Mardu Skullhunter with raid (opponent has already mulliganed to five).
Turn 3: Trade off Skullhunter with Highland Game, play Mardu Hordechief with raid.
Turn 4: Attack with Hordechief, play Timely Hordemate with raid, returning Skullhunter with raid.
Turn 5: Attack, play Wingmate Roc with raid.

Andrew Cuneo pointed out to us that playing Orrin’s Kheru Spellsnatcher unmorphed was probably correct a lot more often than we were doing it, given that Hill Giant is a good size in a world of Gray Ogres. I think he was right, since Spellsnatcher does take some amount of maneuvering to be good.

While I think it is less often correct to play unmorphed than Spellsnatcher, I did have a similar realization about Master of Pearls. If you have nothing else to turn on raid for Mardu Hordechief, or have a Timely Hordemate to return the Master after trading it off, it is probably correct to just play it as a bear. I couldn’t quite convince myself to pull the trigger, but my closest call was when I was stuck on four mana and had a reasonably developed board with Rush of Battle in hand. I could potentially win next turn by playing two 2-drops, one being Master, or I could take it a bit slower, play Master as a morph, and hope to topdeck a land later. This would give me two Overruns, in case one wasn’t enough. I went with the latter plan, but I’m unsure if that was correct.

We started the day 3-0, before unintentionally drawing with Shahar, PV, and Martell. Sharfman and Martell were both playing slow Abzan decks where Sharfman eventually took game one by finally drawing his Abzan Falconer after 40+ minutes. Game two he got flooded and Martell was able to beat him in ~7 minutes, which left no time to even start game 3.

Luckily, breakers worked out that we’d definitely make Top 4 at 11-1-2, so the draw wouldn’t hurt us if we could win the next round. Unluckily, we had to play against some friends in John Cuvelier, Steve Mann, and Tannon Grace, so we wouldn’t all be able to make Top 4. I had the aforementioned busted draw, and in the decider Sharfman managed to have two giant lifelinking flyers early thanks to Armament Corps, Abzan Falconer, and Abzan Battle Priest.

Top 4, Wherein We Draft Poorly

Our opponents in the Top 4 draft were Jacob Wilson, Matt Nass, and Jesse Hampton. Orrin had yet to draft KTK, having only practiced Sealed, so Sharfman and I were a bit worried about our prospects.

As it turned out, Orrin drafted a pretty good Abzan deck, while Sharfman and I both drafted nigh-unplayable Mardu decks, with Jesse also being Mardu.

I am not sure exactly what happened, but at least one of us misread the draft. Packs 2 and 3 were full of great Temur cards, all of which ended up in people’s sideboards. I picked a Bear’s Companion 12th, and Orrin got a last pick Temur Charm. Clearly one of us should’ve recognized Temur was open and switched. The deck would’ve been short a few playables after missing out on pack 1, but still more powerful than what Sharfman and I ended up with.

You can read coverage of our Top 4 match here, but long story short: we were soundly defeated. Though given how the draft went, I couldn’t be too disappointed with a Top 4 exit.

This was my first Grand Prix Top 8 in almost two years, so it feels great to do some winning again between this and a Pro Tour Top 8 back in August. But more importantly, it was awesome to accomplish something with my friends, and help Orrin qualify for the Pro Tour again.

I’ll continue to post KTK draft videos in the coming weeks as I prepare for GPs Ottawa and Baltimore, so be on the lookout for those. In the meantime, if you have any questions about the Sealed or Draft formats in general, feel free to ask in the comments here.

Thanks for reading!

Pat Cox
@wildestnacatl on Twitter

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