Yesterday, I tweeted this little gem:

“What do Flesh Allergy, Razor Hippogriff, and Copperline Gorge have in common? They were all in my Bochum sealed maindeck…”

(I’m LuisScottVargas on Twitter, in case you are interested)

I’m pretty sure the above statement needs explaining, since putting a WW card, a BB card, and a RG dual land in the same deck seems odd, to say the least. And no, the answer isn’t just “greed”. There was a specific chain of events that led me to playing such a configuration, and while it may seem strange at first, I wouldn’t change the way I built my deck, with the exception of one swap.

Allow me to continue…

The most exciting and tense part of every Grand Prix is when we finally get the decks we are going to play with. Exciting because we all hope for an awesome deck, and tense because a bad deck will significantly lower your chances at the Grand Prix. I’m not saying that Sealed is all luck or anything ridiculous like that, but that the difference between a good sealed and a bad sealed can often be the difference between making day 2, being x-1 or x-0, and not making day 2. In fact, going x-0, or even x-1 in these 10-round events, is difficult without having a pretty solid deck to work with.

After a calm and orderly registration and swap process (in direct contrast to GP Toronto, where nobody could hear anything, leading to pure chaos), I finally had the pile of cards that would hopefully carry me on to day two.

The Pool

As is only natural, I first checked to see what my rares were, and was pleasantly surprised:

 

(I had seven because the Seachrome Coast was foil)

Granted, I had a few bad ones, but getting two six-mana black bombs was pretty sweet, and made me sure I was going to play black. I soon eliminated red, green, and blue from consideration. I could list all the cards, but I seriously had 1 playable red card (Galvanic Blast), only 3 non-poison green cards (Slice in Twain, Horizon Spellbomb, and Sylvok Replica), and nothing remotely interesting in blue. That left the white and black, both of which were more than deep enough to play.

White:

 

Black:

 

and finally, other artifacts:

 

The base of BW provided a solid-looking deck:

This wasn’t terrible, but I could definitely do better. The presence of Iron Myr, Horizon Spellbomb, and Galvanic Blast seemed like a decent way to increase the power level of my deck. Not only would I get to cut the last few bad cards (Moriok Reaver, Trigon of Thought), another removal spell is always good. I then realized that if I was to splash red, there was almost no cost to splashing green as well. All I had to do was play the Copper Myr as one of my four Myr, play a Copperline Gorge in addition to a Mountain, and add Sylvok Replica. I wasn’t playing a Forest or any green cards, so the splash barely impacted my manabase, but it would allow me to add another artifact/enchantment removal spell as well as occasionally drawing a card off of the green Spellbomb. My final decklist ended up as such:

To summarize, the changes were:

Out

 

In

 

It seemed like quite the upgrade, and the Horizon Spellbomb even kept me at roughly the same number of black and white mana sources, though I understand it can’t fix both in the same game. I was quite happy with the changes, though I did end up siding out Silver Myr and siding in Ghalma’s Warden every match, since another threat was better than the 21st mana source.

The matches themselves weren’t terrible, though I’ve come to dislike this sealed format somewhat. It isn’t fast enough for aggressive decks to end the game quickly; there is just too much removal for that really to happen on a consistent basis. That in and of itself isn’t a big deal, but the expensive bombs in this format are just too overpowering, and since games naturally go long, the bombs end up deciding the vast majority of games. Geth and Carnifex Demon probably won me more games than the rest of my deck put together, though obviously the other cards were there to support them (and I build my deck with that in mind). Almost every game I lost was also to rares, and my lack of removal for colored cards like Hoard-Smelter Dragon or Sunblast Angel definitely came back to haunt me. I like that decks are hard to build, but being able to play any color with ease means that you should always play your bombs, which means that every deck will have them (unless they are really unlucky).

After battling a bunch during the byes, I was feeling good about my chances. I didn’t think my deck had what it took to x-0, but it might x-1 or x-2, given decent draws. I had the removal necessary to stall until my 6-drops took over, and Clone Shell even helped dig for either of my good cards.

I decided to summarize my Sealed rounds by just talking about the interesting situations that came up, since I would rather spend more time talking about the two drafts I did on day two, and 7 rounds of Sealed with the same deck is kind of boring anyway.

– In one match, I flipped Carnifex Demon off of Clone Shell, which definitely took my opponent by surprise. He even made a comment to the effect of “well, I better not kill Clone Shell again,” which I used to my advantage in game three. I actually missed with Clone Shell completely, hitting four lands/spells, but I (correctly) assumed he would treat the Shell as if it had a Carnifex Demon under it. Not only did he not attack into it with a 4/4, at one point I even attacked the Shell into that 4/4! He didn’t block, and the Shell survived intact until the end of the game. By treating Shell as if it had something absurd, I was able to sell that fiction to him, and he was more than ready to buy it.

– I went to game three against a removal-heavy black-red deck, and mulliganed to six on the draw. My six cards were:

 

He didn’t have a turn one or two play, and I played my Myr on turn two. He briefly thought before simply untapping and playing a Moriok Replica. Without thinking for very long at all I Revoked his Replica and attacked for one without playing a land. See, by him thinking at the end of my second turn, I was able to tell that he was considering killing my Myr with Shatter or Galvanic Blast, so by not playing a land I was able to convince him I was manascrewed and the Myr was important. On his fourth turn, he just Shattered my Myr instead of playing a four drop (which he played the following turn), and I won the game as a result. Not only did he skip playing a four, I had plenty of lands and he wasn’t able to Shatter the Tumble Magnet I played to great effect later.

There are two lessons here: First, don’t think when it makes your hand obvious. By tanking on my EOT, he telegraphed both his removal spell and his desire to play it on the Myr, which I could exploit. That is also why I didn’t think overlong before skipping my land drop. If I killed his guy then thought for a long time, it would be obvious that I had something I could play, probably a land. Secondly, you have many options when it comes to tricking your opponent, and not playing lands is certainly one of them. Intentionally missing your third land drop is so unexpected that nobody is likely to put you on it, and it can drastically change the way your opponent plays, often to your benefit.

Lessons

– I failed to tap an 8/8 Ezuri’s Brigade with Tumble Magnet because I thought it was a 4/4. Instead of chumping with my Myr, I chumped with my Myr and took lethal damage. No special lesson here, except to pay attention to the board state. He only had 2 “active” artifacts, since I had his [card]Contagion Engine[/card] tapped down with Rust Tick, so I mentally shortcutted into him not having metalcraft, which cost me the game. I managed to win game three, but that was still an embarrassing and potentially costly error.

– 16 land, 4 Myr, 1 Spellbomb was too many mana sources. That may seem obvious, but I have run that configuration in draft and been happy. The slower sealed games made me want one less Myr and one more Ghalma’s Warden, which is the switch I kept making. If I had some good equipment, like Heavy Arbalest, the Myr would probably have been decent, but I didn’t have any good ways to make use of them late game. Having outlets for your extra mana Myr is very valuable, and one reason I would basically always play Culling Dais in Sealed.

– If you are Gething them, you should play around as much as possible. There is no reason to attack into Dispense Justice, even if you don’t know if they have it in their deck. I won many games off Geth, and him attacking didn’t play a big part in them. It turned out that one of my opponents had double Dispense Justice, which could have been an awkward surprise. Geth is so absurd that there is just no reason to risk him, and this is true of some other rares as well. Some clearly have to attack, but something like Hoard-Smelter Dragon might be worth keeping back. I watched Martin Juza win game three against an opponent who attacked his Hoard-Smelter Dragon into Martin’s Sunblast Angel, despite his opponent knowing that Martin had the Angel in his deck. If he kept the ‘Smelter back as a huge Gorilla Shaman, he almost assuredly would have won the game.

– Save your removal! This is a common piece of advice, but nowhere is it more true than in sealed. Cards like Turn to Slag and Arrest are as good as gold, and should be saved for the bombs you know they have lurking somewhere. Of course, if they end up having Myr Battlesphere or Contagion Engine that sucks, but hopefully you will find that out without losing as a result. I often took extra damage in order to slowroll my Revokes or Flesh Allergy, and my patience was rewarded. I usually drew some random creature that could handle whatever was hitting me, and got to save my real removal for their best cards.

– I always drew first, and never regretted it. Later in the tournament, so did most of my opponents, but in the beginning I got to play against a few people who preferred to play. The games aren’t fast enough to warrant that, though I suppose it isn’t out of the question to want to play in some matchups.

At the end of the sealed portion, I was 7-3, which was disappointing. I started 7-1, but lost my last two to finish with the worst possible record that was still in the tournament. I had to go to bed faced with the reality that even a 6-0 might not get me into the Top 16, and Top 8 was completely out of reach. Also, since I skipped the usual travel details, allow me to fill in a little detail.

I traveled from San Francisco with Tom Raney, who is mainly known for his love of value and sunglasses. Even our departure from the airport reinforces that, as the plane was in the midst of boarding before Tom showed up. When I asked him why he cut it so close, he said that he had a 1:00 meeting that he didn’t want to skip. To put that in perspective, our flight boarded at 2:45 or so, for departure at 3:30. Of course, Tom didn’t want to “waste” the two hours of time you are supposed to give yourself before flights, so he went ahead and attended his meeting, then rolled on over to the airport minutes before boarding. It worked out well, and he definitely got value.

At the end of day 1, Tom was sitting on 8-2, and looking to be in good shape to pick up the one Pro Point he needed to qualify for Worlds, not to mention the chances of winning a sweet headset and a t-shirt.

Aside on the GP Bochum payout:

I don’t actually mind the payout change that much. Sure, I’m winning my choice of a PS3 or Xbox, plus a gaming headset, none of which I want at all, but I would rather play in the venue they had at Bochum, complete with Price is Right prizes, than the abandoned warehouse we played at in Toronto. I wish they had announced the prize changes earlier, since releasing that information 3 days before the tournament looks kind of suspect, but it isn’t a dealbreaker, and had I won an iPad I would have been pretty happy.

End Aside

After failing to find any restaurant or delivery place open past midnight (we conveniently finished at 12:04), we just cut our losses and went to bed, aided by the extra hour the time change granted us. Even though I was bummed to be out of contention, I was looking forward to drafting. After all…it’s drafting!

Drafto!

I don’t have the exact pod info, since the standings after round 10 are split into Blue and Green sides, and the pods combine the two, but the only person I recognized was Lino Burgold, who was sitting to my left.

I opened a tough first pack, which is an oddity. At this point, p1p1 isn’t much of a challenge, since I’ve played enough that I have a pretty good handle on the relative rankings of every card. Here was the pick:

 

With not much else of relevance in the pack, at least nothing that would impact my choice among those cards. I immediately dismissed the Reins; it’s the weakest and hardest to cast of the three. Golem vs Scrapmelter is very close, and I don’t know if there is even a right answer. I chose to take Golem, just because it is a little more powerful, and doesn’t commit to any color. Granted, Scrapmelter isn’t much of a commitment either, but Golem is definitely more flexible. So far, everyone I’ve asked would take Golem, but all agree that it is very close.

My next pack was close as well, and featured the following choice:

 

Golem Artisan isn’t actually much of a combo with Precursor Golem, since it will die to whatever kills all the rest of the Golems, but it still is quite a powerful card by itself. I still wanted the removal spell, even if it somewhat restricted my choices. I’m again unsure about the pick, and suspect it would have been better to take the Artisan. I think Grasp is better, but the casting cost makes it difficult to fit in many decks, and I ended up benching it.

This also seems like a good time to talk about drafting “un-themed” decks. By taking Grasp I wasn’t committing to poison by any stretch, and am now open to drafting decks that aren’t poison or heavy metalcraft. It’s hard to avoid having some metalcraft stuff, but in this sort of deck you get to take advantage of late pick Sky-Eel Schools and Alpha Tyrranaxes and the like, since most decks aren’t that interested in them. These decks do need more “good” cards than most decks, since they have no underlying themes to rely on, but if you can pick removal with your early picks, you can definitely draft a normal sort of deck that doesn’t rely on poison or metalcraft. When I took the Grasp I definitely kept that in mind, though poison was of course still on my radar.

My next two picks firmly cemented me in red, since somehow I got Oxidda Scrapmelter third and Galvanic Blast fourth. Ding! I rounded out the pack with an Instill Infection, a Myr Propagator, and a Saberclaw Golem. In pack two, I opened a pretty bad pack and took Leaden Myr, since you gotta have a couple Myr in a deck with multiple 5-drops. I was then passed a Spikeshot Elder which I obviously slammed, and a Shatter, which I took over Nim Deathmantle. Deathmantle may be powerful, but it’s slow and it definitely is worse than a removal spell.

The cards I wheeled in this pack sent me on a different course than I expected, since Carapace Forger and two Engulfing Slagwurms tabled. I don’t think they are absurd or anything, but I took all three over basically nothing. I wasn’t strongly committed to black, and if I picked up some green cards I might switch. After opening Wurmcoil in pack three (yeah, sack, I know), I had to make the choice between black and green. I could either take Ezuri’s Brigade, which is very good, or Saberclaw Golem, which is mediocre. I decided that green was more likely to pay off, and took the 8/8. The draft ended without many more surprises, and here was the final decklist:

The Liquimetal Coating is easily the worst card, but I figured between the three metalcraft guys and the two Shatter effects, it might be decent. My other options were Withstand Death (which I sided in often) and Wing Puncture (which I never sided in). Had I switched into green earlier I would have had another playable or two, but I still was happy with how the deck ended up. Removal spells plus huge monsters is a good combination, and I figured the Wall, the Tangle Angler, and the removal would buy me enough time to dominate the game with various Wurms and whatnot.

This deck managed to 3-0, though it had some dicey moments.

In my first match vs poison, we quickly split the first two games, him with a fast curve game two and me with a removal-heavy draw game one. In game three, he had the following in play:

 

and I had:

 

I was tapped out having just cast Tyrranax, and passed the turn. At the end of his turn, both his permanents were in the graveyard. How, you might ask? Well, first he decided to use his Sylvok Replica to kill my unequipped Arbalest, a play I heavily supported. Then, while he was thinking on his turn, I picked up my pen to mark the five life Geth would take (a classic maneuver). He complied, and swung in, which let me turn my Tyrranax into an artifact with coating and devour Geth. He was able to reanimate my Arbalest, but the next two guys I played quickly finished him off. I only had one card left in my deck that could kill Geth at that point (Scrapmelter), and I was pretty much just dead to it if he didn’t attack. I certainly wasn’t complaining about Liquimetal Coating after that game!

In round two, I beat a WR metalcrafted piloted by Simon Leigh, who was passing to me in the draft. The Scrapmelter and Galvanic Blast he passed came back to haunt him, as they made short work of his Chrome Steeds and Saberclaw Golems. I did keep a pretty sketchy one game two, after we both mulled to six:

 

I figured that on six cards (and on the draw of course), this was keepable. Since he was metalcraft, he didn’t have a huge amount of actual threats, since metalcraft usually doesn’t, and if I drew one Mountain I could hold him off for many turns. I did draw the Mountain, and in fact was able to survive until the Slagwurm engulfed him. Note that I wouldn’t blame you for shipping that hand back, but who wants to mull to 5?

In round three I battled Lino Burgold, which wasn’t a huge surprise. He had a quick UR deck that featured multiple Shatters and Golem Artisans. I peeled pretty hard game one, in a game I was pretty sure was lost. He had a tapped Golem Artisan and Myr, and an untapped Barrage Ogre, all versus my Carapace Forger and Myr, with no cards in hand. Precursor Golem off the top not only gave me three threats it also let me bash him to one with the Forger, since the Ogre was summoning sick. I then drew Oxidda Scrapmelter and killed him with an all-out attack.

That left me at 10-3, though at this point my chances of making t16 looked slim.

I do have my next pod, which was:

49 Steinsdörfer, Daniel [DEU]
50 Ruel, Antoine [FRA]
51 Maier, Jordan [FRA]
52 Wysoczanski, Krzysztof [POL]
53 Schwarz, Stephan [DEU]
54 Claudel, Maxime [FRA]
55 Scott-vargas, Luis D [USA]
56 Dickmann, Patrick [DEU]

We were all 10-3, and with middling tiebreakers.

I was passing to Antoine, though I didn’t know what he tended to draft. I opened another interesting pack:

 

Not the most exciting selection, but each of them is certainly worth considering. I decided to keep my options open, and took Darksteel Axe. I really don’t like taking a triple-colored card first, and even taking Myrsmith commits you to base-white metalcraft. Axe is quite good, even though most people overrate it, and most importantly I know I will play it no matter what. I then was passed another tough pack:

 

I still don’t like triple-colored cards, and this pack did make me think poison was open. The guy to my right took a common over Grasp, which I think is wrong even in poison, so it might be clear. Plus, Axe is very good in most poison decks. Of course, I followed that pick up with Sky-Eel School over stone nothing (vomit) and then Shatter, then Corpse Cur. A nice way to start a draft; cards for three different decks! Poison was definitely being cut, and I wheeled Riddlesmith, so I decided to draft U/R or U/B, depending on what pack two gave me. Again, I’m not scared of drafting off-brand archetypes, as it were, and blue is usually underdrafted.

It turned out that pack two was all Grasps, as I picked up two more Grasps and a black Trigon. Black/blue control it was! I opened Steel Hellkite pack three, and got shipped a few more decent blue cards, including two Trinket Mages, which are awesome with Axe.

My final decklist:

I liked this deck, even though it was about one win condition short. I sided in Corrupted Harvester or Scrapdiver Serpent if I wanted another threat, though the decks I played against were fast enough that I liked the maindeck configuration. Double Trigon and triple Grasp are very good at killing every threat the opponent plays, and Stoic Rebuttal helps keep it that way. Triple Nihil Spellbomb is a lot, but with two Trinket Mages and Riddlesmith, they did their part.

I didn’t play as many matches with this deck, due to both pairings and tournament structure. First round I played against Antoine Ruel, who graciously conceded to me. I came to Bochum to search for Pro Points, and Antoine wasn’t in dire need of them. At this point, we were both out of contention for Top 16, not to mention Top 8, and he decided to concede.

My next round I faced a pretty good RW metalcraft deck with multiple Scrapmelters and a Spikeshot Elder.

After winning game one with multiple Grasps, an Axe, and some beatdown, I had an interesting choice game two. He was attacking me with a Blade-Tribe Berserkers and a Spikeshot Elder. I decided to Grasp the Berserkers, not the 2/2 Elder (equipped with Strider Harness), even though the Elder is a much bigger threat. My reasoning was such: he had missed a few land drops, and had just four lands in play with 5 cards in hand. I knew he was all spells and needed to kill him before he got to use them all, since I was down to just two cards (both Grasps). I figured if I killed the Berserkers, on his next turn he would activate his Elder to kill my Trinket Mage, and I could Grasp it in response. Normally, killing Spikeshot in response doesn’t do anything since it uses last known information, but Grasp also shrinks its power, which does work.

As I predicted, he couldn’t turn up the chance to kill a guy for free, and my Grasp killed both his Elder and his entire turn. The game ended two turns later, as I peeled Trigon to kill a blocker and attack for exact lethal, with him still on four cards in hand. Had I killed the Elder the first turn and let him play one of those cards, I almost assuredly would have lost.

I was then 12-3 going into the final round, and unable to make t16, even with a win. The breaks were close, but I would be 17th or 18th, since gaining 1% tiebreakers in the last round of a 17 round tournament just isn’t going to happen.

My last round opponent decided he wanted to play, despite playing being strictly worse from a prize perspective (win or draw is the same prize, lose is worse). He said he just wanted to battle me, to which I couldn’t really argue. I mean, it is certainly his right, but it still was frustrating to potentially lose half of the points I came to get so he could say he beat me. I settled up and got ready to battle.

Game one was pretty insane. He had multiple Razor Hippogriffs and a Scrapmelter, while I had two Trigons of Corruption and a bunch of ineffective beaters. My Steel Hellkite got Arrested, and we kind of stared at each other for quite a while. Finally, he played a Precursor Golem, and I peeled Neurok Replica. I bounced and replayed my Hellkite, ready to ravage his team. He then drew True Conviction and swung with the entire squad. After some judcious blocks, I was down to 3, he was up to 39, and I lost most of my team. My Dragon then came in for a bunch of damage and killed all his Golem tokens, and I added two Myr to my side. I was able to go to 1 and survive his next hit, and then the Dragon mopped up his remaining forces.

I also had drawn Stoic Rebuttal, which I knew was there because of a Clone Shell many turns earlier. I did lethal with the Hellkite with no cards left in my deck; an exciting game to say the least!

While sideboarding, he said he would now accept a draw. I was really torn. On the one hand, I knew I couldn’t win anything extra with a win, and would only lose with a loss. On the other, I really wanted to beat him because of his refusal to draw earlier. It wasn’t just me being petty; I don’t believe in rewarding bad play, and if he wanted to battle he should be mindful that there is danger in that request. Sadly, my main goal was to get points, and risking a point in order to beat someone I likely would never see again just didn’t seem worth it. I’m still a little annoyed, since I doubt he would have offered the draw had he won game one, but it isn’t worth dwelling on. I took the draw and got 26th, around where I expected.

12-3-1, 26th place

Going into Nashville I’m hoping for a good sealed pool (obviously) and just want to be live heading into the draft. So far I’ve had good results in the GP drafts, though as the format progresses I expect people to get better as well.

My travels back were uneventful, and I’m now back in the States and ready to start Worlds testing. I hope this format was interesting for a tournament report, since I decided to emphasize the choices I made rather than just recounting the games, though the narrative ends up being a little less linear. Let me know in the forums!

LSV