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Experiences of a level 46 Archmage – What Have we Learned from GP: Santiago?

Standard is generally the most popular format and I have dedicated many articles to the subject. States have come and gone as well as the Standard qualifier season; what’s left for us? FNM is primarily a Standard event, but there has been an increased focus on draft. We are also in the midst of the Pro Tour Qualifier season for Hawaii yet again.

I don’t know about you, but Hawaii sounds pretty nice to me. My home state (Michigan) will be in the arctic temperature during that time of the tournament. How about we try to win a plane ticket to Hawaii? It’s becoming more difficult to qualify for the Pro Tour without spending every weekend in a convention center due to planeswalker points, but a blue envelope can still be earned in about 11 hours.

Sealed Deck

Grand Prix Santiago featured Innistrad sealed as well as booster draft and many of the Channelfireball regulars attended. This means the best strategies were unveiled and the format is beginning to take shape.

Sealed deck is a format in its own right- very different from drafting. We have a metagame that’s derived from the most powerful and consistent cards in the packs. Some colors obviously rise higher than others and as a result you will face them more often.

It appears that the strongest color in the sealed deck format is white. Four out of four undefeated players featured at least six Plains.

Rodrigo Soto

[deck]2 Forest
7 Island
9 Plains
1 Abbey Griffin
1 Avacynian Priest
1 Dearly Departed
3 Doomed Traveler
1 Elder Cathar
2 Invisible Stalker
1 Kessig Cagebreakers
1 Ludevic’s Test Subject
1 Mikaeus, the Lunarch
1 Moon Heron
1 Murder of Crows
1 Thraben Sentry
1 Blazing Torch
1 Bonds of Faith
1 Claustrophobia
1 Divine Reckoning
1 Feeling of Dread
2 Grasp of Phantoms
1 Sharpened Pitchfork[/deck]

Martin Lecce

[deck]4 Island
6 Plains
1 Shimmering Grotto
6 Swamp
2 Avacynian Priest
1 Battleground Geist
1 Bloodline Keeper
1 Fiend Hunter
1 Galvanic Juggernaut
1 Markov Patrician
2 Moon Heron
1 Thraben Sentry
1 Undead Alchemist
1 Voiceless Spirit
1 Bonds of Faith
1 Cellar Door
1 Claustrophobia
2 Corpse Lunge
1 Curse of Death’s Hold
1 Dead Weight
2 Forbidden Alchemy
1 Traveler’s Amulet
1 Wooden Stake[/deck]

Alejandro Grozzo

[deck]10 Mountain
7 Plains
1 Ashmouth Hound
1 Avacynian Priest
1 Bloodcrazed Neonate
1 Crossway Vampire
1 Doomed Traveler
1 Fiend Hunter
1 Geistcatcher’s Rig
1 Geist-Honored Monk
1 Kruin Outlaw
1 Silverchase Fox
1 Skirsdag Cultist
1 Thraben Sentry
1 Tormented Pariah
1 Unruly Mob
1 Village Ironsmith
1 Voiceless Spirit
1 Devil’s Play
1 Geistflame
1 Harvest Pyre
2 Into the Maw of Hell
1 Midnight Haunting
1 Sharpened Pitchfork
1 Silver-Inlaid Dagger[/deck]

Martin Juza

[deck]7 Island
10 Plains
3 Chapel Geist
1 Civilized Scholar
1 Doomed Traveler
1 Elder Cathar
1 Fiend Hunter
1 Geistcatcher’s Rig
1 Geist-Honored Monk
1 Lantern Spirit
1 Manor Gargoyle
1 Mindshrieker
1 Moon Heron
1 Stitcher’s Apprentice
2 Blazing Torch
1 Bonds of Faith
1 Claustrophobia
1 Dissipate
1 Midnight Haunting
1 Moment of Heroism
1 Rebuke
1 Think Twice[/deck]

You’ll also notice that three out of four players had at least four Islands. There is not much removal in blue outside of [card]Claustrophobia[/card], but [card]Dissipate[/card] offers an additional way to deal with game-ending bombs. [card]Think Twice[/card] also gains a tremendous amount of value compared to draft because the speed of the format has decreased.

These decks have excellent flying clocks that must be dealt with be either removal or other flyers. It seems as if Innistrad is not too far off from sealed formats of the past where solid evasive creatures backed by removal rise to the top.

A big difference between draft and sealed is the evaluation of equipment. The games tend to go longer due to the high amounts of removal opened in six packs, which makes cards with lasting effects stronger.

Martin Lecce played a [card]Wooden Stake[/card]; it’s a marginal card, but the effect is more relevant as the game continues. You cannot spend your opening turns in a draft laying out equipment while your opponent vomits a curve of synergistic creatures.

A lot of equipment saw play in these decks because they all featured Plains. The human tribe greatly benefits from equipment by going from mediocre to awesome. [card]Sharpened Pitchfork[/card] is a hell of a bargain when it grants +1+1 and first strike for the low equip cost of one.

[card]Silver-Inlaid Dagger[/card] is strong enough when it only grants +2+0, but is just gravy with humans. The coverage gave a bad wrap to [card]Mask of Avacyn[/card], but I think the card is fine in sealed. It takes 5 mana to get it going, so it’s clearly plays a specific role. There are bound to be sealed decks with plenty of removal, but a lack of strong creatures which could take this equipment all the way. It’s probably not a card I would start, but could definitely be looked at as a strong sideboard option. Think about the power of this card when you cast a four drop and follow it up by equipping the creature with mask; that could be a game-winning scenario.

It should also be noted that white may not be the deepest color overall, but provides the most consistent decks if you open the right cards. I don’t know the proportion of players who featured white as a main or secondary color, but it may paint a slightly different story. My main point from showing the undefeated decks is to illustrate what a successful pool looks like in this format.

These decks are pretty slow and controlling with big bombs, but you may not be so lucky at the next PTQ. I would assume there were plenty of aggro decks because the pilots didn’t have a choice to go control. You’re wasting your time if you build a sub-par control deck expecting to go long against absurd pools like these. I have been successful in sealed PTQs when I just went aggro because the cards were below average; there’s nothing worse than a deck that does nothing but durdle.

There’s a decent chance you will play against bad control decks or marginal aggro decks in the early rounds of the PTQ. Many players don’t have the opportunity to play sealed deck very often and it can be tough to judge a good deck from a bad one. I’m sure we have all had the experience of feeling good about a pool only to be crushed by certain fundamental errors. Some versions of a pool could feature plenty of removal, but lack a true win condition, while others have no way to beat a flyer. The best decks often have a healthy amount of removal backed by some bombs and efficient creatures.

What do we do in this situation? We will face aggro decks as well as control decks during the course of a 7 or 8 round event. What’s the perfect balance of spells?

I had success in Zendikar sealed by playing random creatures that did nothing but block and trade. This sealed format has a stronger emphasis on creatures with abilities such as [card]Stitcher’s Apprentice[/card], [card]Avacynian Priest[/card], [card]Civilized Scholar[/card], and [card]Deranged Assistant[/card]. The green decks feature some combat tricks and large creatures so playing grizzly bears aren’t very effective against them either. We need to focus more on larger creatures, but cannot forget about the werewolves that may trigger as a result of a slower curve.

Usually the mediocre aggro decks don’t have much of a chance against solid removal backed up by larger creatures. That has always been a deadly combination and these results show us it continues to win. Many of the players at the top tables will have big bombs as well as slow control spells; if you expect to enter the draft portion at all, you need to keep this in mind. Play cards that have the ability to shine when a game goes long, but don’t focus too much on this aspect because your deck will otherwise be diluted. Equipment is nice, but you can see all of the undefeated players included no more than two. [card]Blazing Torch[/card] doesn’t count in this guideline because it’s a glorified removal spell.

Play or Draw?

Many players in the past sealed formats have chosen to draw in order to gain card advantage at the beginning of the game. The new argument is the presence of werewolves makes playing spells earlier more important. [card]Reckless Waif[/card] can flip as early as turn two which makes playing the second land first all the more critical. I can personally justify getting run over every now and then because my overall consistency increases. Sealed decks are typically the worst kind of decks you can play because the pool is only six packs. These decks aren’t very focused and their “strategy” is typically control or beatdown. I would say to play first against aggro decks if they were more consistent, but there aren’t many that fit the bill.

You can gain an advantage against a beatdown deck because they need to keep a fast hand or they will lose the long game. Aggro sealed decks need a fast start backed by combat tricks plus removal to win a game. Add lands to that mix and you got yourself a pretty dependant series of draws to pull off a win against a respectable pool. If you make them go first, they will need to mulligan more in order to find that perfect combination. Why give them that chance to draw what they need with the extra card.

This argument goes both ways in the sense that you have less cards to fight their wave of aggression. You start the game up two cards when they mulligan and you keep on the draw. A single mulligan is back breaking when you go first because it’s so hard to win a grinding game without the help of an absurd bomb or your opponent drawing poorly being down two cards. That leaves the aggro plan looking better after a mulligan on the play, but if that’s not your main goal it becomes more difficult to achieve.

Bottom line: unless you have a deck that’s consistent enough to pump out early threats, I would suggest going second. The same applies to the deck you are playing against in the sense that they need a very consistent aggro strategy to justify going first.

Draft

Drafting is a different story when it comes to going first or second. I prefer to play with blue decks that feature [card]Think Twice[/card] or [card]Forbidden Alchemy[/card] because you aren’t affecting the board. The loss of card advantage is made up by the spells so it’s less dangerous.

We have some powerful strategies in the triple stand-alone set draft. The power level of the triple set draft is higher because the cards are designed to be cohesive. These decks become less focused when the middle set is released due to new mechanics hindering the more streamlined strategies. I would want to go first in order to prevent my opponent from getting their nut draw because it happens more frequently. Many decks end up being a series of random creatures and spells in which I would want to draw.

The Blue Black mill strategy for example has so many interactions that are worth a card such as casting [card]Armored Skaab[/card] and hitting a [card]Think Twice[/card]. Draft decks have enough focus so it’s less about grinding out the game and more about doing your own thing.

My two favorite draft archetypes are Blue Black mill and Green White [card]Travel Preparations[/card].

There are certain cards in each of these decks that have gone up in value. [card]Travel Preparations[/card] went late at the beginning, but people have started to wise up. Everyone knows green white is a much more popular color combination than most because of this powerful flashback spell. I drafted this deck last week and didn’t see any copies of the card and would have gladly picked it up early.

My flaw with the deck was not paying close attention to the curve. Green White has very little going for it outside of playing creatures and combat tricks. Sure, there are some white removal spells, as well as [card]Prey Upon[/card], but they go early. I had way too many four drops and lost to [card]Silent Departure[/card] as a result. The draws were clunky and I will certainly be valuing big threats lower and [card]Avacyn’s Pilgrim[/card] much higher. It’s important to have a consistent curve because [card]Travel Preparations[/card] is meant to be used as a four drop. The ideal start is turn 2 creature, turn 3 creature, turn 4 [card]Travel Preparations[/card] with flashback.

I like the deck that PV drafted in the top 8.

[deck]9 Forest
8 Plains
2 Abbey Griffin
1 Avacynian Priest
2 Avacyn’s Pilgrim
1 Darkthicket Wolf
1 Elite Inquisitor
1 Orchard Spirit
1 Slayer of the Wicked
1 Spectral Rider
1 Thraben Sentry
1 Village Bell-Ringer
3 Villagers of Estwald
1 Woodland Sleuth
2 Bonds of Faith
2 Silver-Inlaid Dagger
1 Spidery Grasp
2 Travel Preparations[/deck]

His curve was low compared to the average green deck in order to make the best use of [card]Travel Preparations[/card]. Notice the two [card]Bonds of Faith[/card] and [card]Avacynian Priest[/card] are the only ways to deal with a creature outside of combat. The green removal drops off after [card]Prey Upon[/card] and [card]Spidery Grasp[/card] so it’s a good idea to make the curve low in order to have a threat in play to maximise these spells.

Blue Black mill happens to me my second favorite strategy because you get [card]Stitched Drake[/card] and [card]Makeshift Mauler[/card]. These creatures are ahead of the curve and are on-par with the green fatties with the right support. There is a ton of synergy in this deck and the best way to go about constructing the deck is to pick [card]Armored Skaab[/card] highly. Everyone is aware this guy’s stock has increased recently thanks to the Grand Prix so don’t expect it to come around late.

Take a look at Igor Silva Pinto’s winning Grand Prix draft deck from the top 8.

[deck]8 Island
9 Swamp
1 Armored Skaab
1 Bloodgift Demon
1 Bloodline Keeper
1 Deranged Assistant
2 Diregraf Ghoul
2 Ghoulraiser
1 Makeshift Mauler
2 Markov Patrician
1 Moon Heron
1 Screeching Bat
1 Snapcaster Mage
1 Stitched Drake
1 Typhoid Rats
1 Walking Corpse
1 Altar’s Reap
1 Dissipate
1 Forbidden Alchemy
1 Ghoulcaller’s Chant
1 Lost in the Mist
1 Moan of the Unhallowed[/deck] [card]Walking Corpse[/card] seems like a marginal creature, but the fact he’s one of the few black zombies makes it desirable. Igor played [card]Ghoulcaller’s Chant[/card], which is actually very good in a blue black deck. There are plenty of playable zombies in blue such as [card]Stitched Drake[/card], [card]Armored Skaab[/card], and [card]Makeshift Mauler[/card]. [card]Ghoulraiser[/card] is great in this deck as well because the milling effects give additional utility to the creature. Don’t forget about the synergy with [card]Ghoulraiser[/card] and sacrifice effects; the triggered ability doesn’t target so you can cast [card]Altar’s Reap[/card] with the trigger on the stack and return the same [card]Ghoulraiser[/card] to your hand.

Igor had a great deck and was certainly helped by [card]Bloodline Keeper[/card] and [card]Bloodgift Demon[/card]. This deck had enough synergy and could have done well without these two bombs, but they certainly didn’t hurt.

Opening a [card]Bloodline Keeper[/card] is perhaps the strongest card to open because everyone knows you are in black. Who would want to fight with you when the powerful bomb is sure to make an appearance in your deck? As a result, you may get some hate drafters around you, but the color will most likely be open. This adds a unique element to the draft format we need to be familiar with. I would advise practicing plenty of real life drafts because MODO won’t help you get used to that extra piece of information.

This limited format is awesome so far and I can’t wait to play in the upcoming PTQs in Detroit. I hope this breakdown helped you guys!

Good luck in the PTQs!

Thanks for reading.

Kyle

kmboggemesATgmailDOTcom

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