Grand Prix Vegas was the most prepared I’ve ever been for a Limited GP.
Usually, Limited Grand Prix share a draft format with the most recent Pro Tour, which means you can leverage testing from that tournament, without doing a ton of additional work. But it also means that teams are unlikely to collaborate much, since Sealed is usually intuitive enough if you know the Draft format.
Modern Masters 2015 was not a Pro Tour draft format, meaning I had to start from scratch. Luckily, I was not alone. Team UltraPRO did a lot of work on this format. The Madison guys built a Cube immediately, and were posting sample draft decks before I’d even digested the spoiler. We all built practice Sealeds on MTGO using a Sealed Deck generator, then discussed in team forums. Once the set was online, we posted all of our Sealed and Draft decks. It was awesome!
Even if you aren’t on a “team” I highly recommend starting a Facebook group with your friends where you post all of your draft decks, good or bad, and give each other feedback. It is a great way to see what’s winning and gain information on cards/archetypes you haven’t played yet.
My main takeaway from all the Sealed Decks I saw was that you could easily be 3-5 colors, and it was rarely correct to be two. The problem with 2-color decks in the format is that many of the commons are meant to fit into synergistic draft archetypes rather than being inherently good cards. When you open a random assortment of cards, it is unlikely enough of them will work together for Waxmane Baku or Court Homunculus to be good.
Fortunately, this is balanced by there being a ton of fixing, much of it colorless. Pretty much all of it is good in Sealed (even seemingly mediocre cards like Sylvan Bounty), though I avoid Expedition Map if at all possible. It is just too bad of a rate to not put the land into play.
The other interesting thing is not all “five-color” cards can go in every five-color deck. If you’re fixing largely via bouncelands, then sunburst cards like Skyreach Manta are great, but domain cards like Matca Rioters may be unplayable.
With all that said, let’s take a look at my Sealed pool.
Yeah, about my Sealed pool: CFB had the awesome idea of bins to donate cards you don’t want to kids. An unfortunate side effect of that is that I no longer have my whole Sealed pool to record here. But I do remember enough to go over the interesting decisions.
These are the rares I opened:
Thankfully I had Sleep-in Special, or I might’ve missed out when someone dropped with all this value! Really though, the cards I’m most excited about here are Wildfire, and Endrek Sahr, who can be played in almost any deck. Wildfire isn’t universally good, but can be great when you have a bunch of ramp and bouncelands.
The next step in any pool is to look at the fixing:
Wait, where’s the rest of it? At this point I briefly panic, because this is a below average amount of fixing, and I had yet to see a good synergy Sealed deck.
Luckily, my pool happened to contain just such a deck:
I decided to leave Wildfire on the sidelines because it is a nombo with Eldrazi. You know, unless you cast them first, and are therefore already winning.
Full disclosure: after a lot of hemming and hawing during build, I actually left the Algae Gharials out of the main. I had very few early creatures, and was worried about getting run over my first addition to the board being a 1/1 on turn 4. But that was just very wrong, as Ben Stark, Paul Rietzl, and Sam Black were all happy to tell me. I sided them in every round, and they won more games than any other card. I did have some games where I had to take damage while setting up, but the Gharial always got too big to deal with.
Why was Algae Gharial so good in my deck? Well, I have a reasonable amount of removal, including Grim Affliction to add an extra counter. But mostly just because of all of the Eldrazi Spawn. Being able to pump at instant speed, and immediately after tapping out for Algae, was just so good. They also let me Savage Twister while keeping Algae alive multiple times, which is pretty gross. Wipe the board aside from a 10/10 shroud? Yes, please.
Eldrazi might seem too expensive and slow, but they are great in Sealed, even without cards that make Eldrazi Spawn. Games go long, and you effectively play ~20 sources between bouncelands and fixing. I’d shy away from any of the rare ones except for maybe Kozilek, but the common and uncommon Eldrazi are both good.
The most interesting cards I left out of the deck were 2x Skyreach Manta, which is usually great in 5-color decks. But I was very light on other colors, so it wasn’t likely they would be bigger than a 3/3 most games, and I already had a lot of on-plan 5-drops.
I also like maindecking Naturalize-type effects, and Sundering Vitae was actually one of the cards I started over the Algae. (The other being a mediocre Thief of Hope because it was a 3-drop that might get back one of my two Nameless Inversions.)
I won’t bore you with a round-by-round, but I ended up 8-1 with this deck. It did play out better than it looked on paper, but this was still ~1 win more than I’d expect to go without any crazy bombs. I did essentially get a 4th bye when my first opponent showed up 8 minutes late, and then mulliganed to 4, so that might have helped.
Draft 1: Crap UR Elementals
My first draft deck was very likely the worst deck I’ve had in this format. In hindsight, I think I was supposed to be UG, but I didn’t see any of the uncommons for that deck, and even with them I find the archetype unimpressive, so it didn’t really register as an option during the draft.
I mostly agree with Martin Juza’s article on the format, including that UR Elementals is not very good. But I have liked more aggressive UR decks that use the bloodthirst guys and cards like Vapor Snag and Aethersnipe for tempo. You can even use Thrummingbird to both turn on bloodthirst and make your guys bigger. Unfortunately, my deck turned out more like an Elemental deck with no payoff for being that tribe. If I’d seen some Smokebraiders, the deck would’ve been decent, since I had multiple Soulbright Flamekins and Inner-Flame Igniters in the sideboard that could’ve swapped out for some of the cards I did play.
I ended up 2-1 in the draft, which is very lucky. I beat two 5-color decks, and got crushed by a very good GW tokens deck.
Against one of the 5-color decks, I was ahead, but stuck on 5 land unable to cast my Aethersnipe or Spitebellows. Luckily, my sixth land was an Evolving Wilds, because on his next turn he drew an All is Dust I hadn’t seen. Unintentionally sandbagging my 6-drops was enough to win the game, phew.
In my other 5-color match, I was narrowly winning the damage race with a Cloud Elemental while a 5/5 Gorehorn Minotaurs held down the ground, but my opponent had just cashed in an Etched Champion, so things weren’t likely to go my way.
He is at 8 with two mana up and a lot of cards, so I put him on a Nameless Inversion. I contemplate attacking with my Gorehorn because if he declines to block, the Brute Force in my hand will kill him through the Inversion. I decide that a chump block is more likely, so just swing with my Cloud Elemental. He Inversions it, and my Brute Force makes it an 8/3 to get him for exact damage.
Draft 2: Busted BW Spirits
Where my first draft deck was likely the worst I’ve had in this format, my second was almost certainly the best. I first-picked Sunlance, and second-picked a Mulldrifter over Sunlance and Nameless Inversion. Next came a Pillory of the Sleepless, an Agony Warp, and eventually a tabled Shadowmage Infiltrator. Esper isn’t really a deck, but I seemed to be drafting it.
In pack two, I opened Nameless Inversion and Dismember. Dismember is the better card in general, but I already had a couple Spirits and if I ended up in that deck, Inversion would be miles better due to soulshift. I took the Inversion and was immediately passed a Dismember anyway. In this pack I saw tons of Spirits and eventually a Devouring Greed. Okay, I guess I’m Spirits splashing some blue cards?
Then I got a 15th pick Scuttling Death and figured I probably wouldn’t need the blue. The last pack started with a Wilt-Leaf Liege (not a Spirit, but still pumps half my deck), and continued the steady stream of removal and Spirits, along with a random gift of a Long-Forgotten Gohei.
I also agree with Martin’s article that Spirits is mediocre. The best common creatures are Gray Ogres that require a lot of work to do more than that, and are easily outclassed in combat. But if your deck is all removal spells and soulshifting? Yeah, the archetype can be great. Long-Forgotten Gohei also helps with the creatures being outclassed, though it actually was not all that necessary in this exact deck, due to all of the removal.
For those of you who didn’t play during Kamigawa: Devouring Greed is a great finisher, and one of the few payoffs for going Spirits in this format.
The most interesting decision when it came to building this deck was whether or not to play the three bouncelands (UB, UW, WR) I had picked up when I thought I might be Esper or 5CC. Most decks want some number of these lands, since they effectively increase your land count without taking a spell slot. My curve was not super high, but I did need to get to 5 mana, so having a double land would be nice. The reason why I did not ultimately include any bouncelands was that I had 2x Restless Apparition. If I played a bounceland turn 2, I would not be able to play Apparition turn 3. Given my single 2-drop creature, I figured the persist creature would be the ideal 3-drop most games, since it couldn’t truly die if I was behind.
I am still not sure if this decision was correct, and got a mix of answers from other pros I asked. LSV kept telling me that I should definitely play my nonexistent Orzhov Basilica. If I were to average out the non-buffoon answers, I’d end up with one bounceland in the deck, so maybe that was the correct build.
I went 3-0 with this deck, beating BG Tokens, UW Affinity, and RB Bloodthirst.
I lacked 2-drops, but had a lot of ways to gain card advantage, so my general strategy was to spew off removal early to then recur Nameless Inversion later. My Affinity opponent badly punished me for this plan twice by casting Stoic Rebuttal on my Scuttling Death.
We played a really back and forth three-game match. In the final game I was close to stabilizing with a Waxmane Baku, but would have to go to 3 from a Myr Enforcer first, so I still may have lost. Fortunately, a topdecked Terashi’s Grasp gained me 7 and gave me a lot of breathing room. The game came down to him at 4 with me having a Narcolepsy’d Restless Apparition, a Waxmane Baku with no counters, and Ghostly Changeling to his Somber Hoverguard. I’d been holding Devouring Greed forever, fearing Stoic Rebuttal. But with him at 4, I could finally go for it by saccing only the Apparition. He had the Rebuttal, but the Ki counter from the Greed let me tap his 3/2 and get in there for lethal.
(I realize I probably would’ve won by just attacking with the Changeling a few times, but I was proud of myself for finally beating that stupid Stoic Rebuttal.)
Wrap-up (Spoiler: I Don’t Top 8)
For those you not keeping track, this put my final record at 13-2. LSV had the same record in his concurrent Grand Prix, so we had to sweat through announcing 16 names. Ultimately neither of us were close, and I ended up in 13th. I would’ve loved to Top 8, but I knew what I was getting into tiebreaker-wise with such a large tournament, so I’m very happy with Top 16. (And I still got the most relevant part of Top 8: 4 Pro pPoints!)
I’ve been to a lot of huge Grand Prix, several that were the biggest ever at the time, and they were often just a lot worse than a normal-sized tournament. But I have to hand it to CFB, because that really was not the case here. The tournament hall was appropriately sized such that it didn’t feel crowded, and the GP was broken up into eight flights on Saturday, which helped things run about as fast as a regular tournament. I’ve also admittedly never understood the allure of VIP, but the lounge in Vegas had stadium seating with a big screen showing coverage, along with free popcorn and hot cookies!
Sadly, my Limited attentions have to return to DDF with GP Montreal coming up, which is a real shame because Modern Masters 2015 is way sweeter. If you haven’t given the format a try yet, I highly recommend it. Personally, I’ve liked the Phantom queues online: they are cheaper, and there’s no incentive to take anything but the best card for your deck. If you have any questions about the format, or are interested in more draft videos featuring it, let me know in the comments.