You know the feeling, right?
Sealed PTQ day. You've got The Fire. You're playing good Magic. This could finally be your day.
Droning of the judge explaining what you've already heard a million times.
Sound of hundreds of packs being cracked.
You analyze your cards and see how excellent they are.
Alas—she won't be yours for long.
Pass to the left.
Pass to the right.
It's like a terrible wedding tradition. Do the Cha-Cha-Slide, y'all.
You keep a keen eye on the person who gets your pool. Their eyes light up like a Christmas tree in Time Square.
You shift your attention to what you've been given. The first card is Temple of Abandon.
Good. So it's going to be one of those days again.
You manage to start off the tournament undefeated. Around round 5 you start to think that maybe . . . just maybe . . . you could pull this off.
Around turn 6your opponent perks up in their seat. Why are they getting all excited? I have such a strong board position…
I'll plus one her.
Oh really? You couldn't have guessed.
Well that solves it. Here you were trying to scrape together a shot at the Top 8 in hopes that your drafting ability could get you that envelope, but your opponent with their insane mythic rare had other plans. Within a few rounds you're dead, having been swallowed in a sea of Polukranos and Ashioks.
You lament your luck, but hey—there's always next time, right?
When is it going to stop being "next time" and finally be "your time?"
For a moment this weekend, I felt this way. Just a moment—but it was enough to make me feel like I was being ungrateful. I watched as a friend of mine took the pool I opened, the pool I would have died to register and play with, and literally walk into the Top 8 on the back of its insane power level. Don't get me wrong because he's actually a fantastic player, but it was a bit disheartening to say the least.
I was able to shed the feeling immediately because about five of my friends were able to Top 8 that event, including my pal and spokesperson for Emo Hair International Brennan DeCandio. Brennan is a hell of a guy, and in the several years I've known him, it was only a matter of time until he stopped making the finals of every PTQ in Florida and started winning them.
He had to step away from Magic for a while because he did what every person does at least once in their life: date an insane person who makes them give up Magic. Once he broke things off with her and came back, his zest for the game was stronger than ever. We've spent many nights talking on Facebook for hours about decks and brews, and when I was in a dark place regarding the game a few weeks ago, Brennan (he doesn't even know this) was one of the people who made me shed those nonsensical notions about failure and put my mind right back on Magic.
Brennan won the event with one of the most beautiful and elegantly drafted U/W decks I have ever seen, taking down a Top 8 that was filled with some of the best players in the room. I couldn't be more proud of him.
Let's take a look at my pool. I'm very interested to see how you all would build it, so make sure to comment below!
2 Commune with the Gods
Defend the Hearth
Fade Into Antiquity
Agent of Horizons
2 Ordeal of Nylea
2 Peak Eruption
Priest of Iroas
2 Portent of Betrayal
Rage of Purphoros
2 Spearpoint Oread
Titan of Eternal Fire
Ordeal of Purphoros
My first inclination was to build a U/W deck off the back of cards like Phalanx Leader and Daxos. The deck had a very reasonable curve but wasn't very high on the power level, which in a format driven by some almost unbeatable cards made me feel like I had to go bigger to compete in the later rounds. I started filling out a Bant list that utilized cards like Prophet and Chimera since the Prophet is extremely powerful if it sticks. The mana felt awful though because outside of naturally drawing lands my only fixing was the Unicorn and Unknown Shores.
So I began to shift my feelings to my fairly deep red. This turned out to be a mistake since I ended up registering a very mediocre U/R deck. My reasoning for going Izzet was that I had a ton of good bestow creatures to go along with a lot of removal (Rage, Voyage, Griptide). This left me feeling like I could out-tempo my opponent and then close the door with cards like Portent of Betrayal.
Man . . . I was so freaking wrong.
I ended up siding into Bant every round, losing almost every game one with Izzet and then crushing people with the U/W/G deck that I should have registered and making it so I had to win games 2 and 3 in order to pull it out, which left me at a distinct disadvantage. Eventually I succumbed to mana issues and was beaten by straight-up better decks with cards I couldn't hope to beat unless my opponents simply didn't draw them or my deck fired on all cylinders. Perhaps I should have just been U/W all along. Tempo is a really big deal in Theros Limited—more so than most formats I've played in due to the nature of some of the cards and how heroic can affect games.
If I had gone U/W like I initially intended, I sacrifice power for consistency, but is that really a big deal? With cards like Daxos, Phalanx Leader, and Wingsteed Rider, the majority of my bestow cards become filthy. Not to mention cards like Fate Foretold and Aqueous Form spike in value. I almost feel like a fool for erasing the deck that I first made, but it was a great learning experience.
To be fair, though, I wasn't even disappointed. I played very well in my matches, and the decks that I beat were significantly more powerful than mine. I had to do a lot of work to rattle off some wins. The event was run very well by The Dark Side Games. It was spacious and comfortable in the rooms, and the vending was (for the first time in MTG history) cheap. Dollar sandwiches, chips, and candy. Is this real life?
I was a little sad that I wasn't able to get there, but all was not lost. Don't cry for me Argentina.
One of my primary motivators for going to this PTQ was that several of my traveling partners for Grand Prix Dallas/Fort Worth were going to be there. This was going to be an invaluable experience because it was going to help lock me in on what deck I'd be piloting for this Grand Prix, and thankfully my pals drove me closer to what I'll be sleeving up when it comes time.
Luckily there was Grand Prix Vienna this past weekend, and a blueprint to follow was laid out before me.
First on my list is this little beauty:
I've gone over Esper before and why I love it, but for reiteration . . . I love it.
Robin took his deck in an interesting direction by cutting Elspeth, Sun's Champion and maindeck Blood Barons and replacing them with cards like Syncopate, the recently out-of-favor Far // Away, and Dimir Charm. Dimir Charm has always been one of those cards that seems like it should see play but rarely has. I find that a tad confusing since it does so much that a control deck wants to do and is rarely bad in any matchup. Against creature decks it can kill an early threat, when you're trying to close out the match you can fate seal your opponent or use it to dig deeper in your deck for something, and countering a sorcery just seems like a sweet fringe benefit.
Where his deck really goes boom-boom is the sideboard. A few Esper decks have been slipping cards like Pack Rat into the board to combat Mono-Black Devotion, but to be honest this card is majestic.
Free wins? Yes.
Angry opponents? Yes.
Dirty looks? Yes.
"You only cast one spell that game. Stop looking so smug." Yes.
This card really placates my inner troll.
The addition of cards like Pack Rat gives you a lot of reach depending on the matchup. Jamming this card on turn 2 against Mono-Blue Devotion forces them to have the Rapid Hybridization. If they don't, they need to pray for a big Master of Waves in order to keep up. Without those two cards, you basically kill them very quickly. The same is true for other matchups. Fiendslayer Paladin is another good example of a card that shores up the tough games, giving you a better shot of beating the red decks that are still out there. Blood Baron is an obvious inclusion, and Pithing Needle is great against U/W and Esper mirrors because you can name their Elspeth with impunity.
The next deck that obviously makes me happy is U/W piloted by Stanislav Cifka.
Look at that board.
Look at it!
U/W has been a bit of a tier 2 deck since Max Tietze took second at the SCG Standard Open in Worchester with it, with most people electing to play Esper in order to gain access to cards like Thoughtseize and Hero's Downfall. This version of Azorius really makes me want to come back to my roots and start battling with it. His maindeck is very smart and clean. Stanislav went for consistency over trying to stick a bunch of one-ofs in his build, and that's what I like about it. Last Breath is very, very good right now. It takes care of early Pack Rats, Nightveil Specters, Mutavaults, Master of Waves, and a ton of other creatures.
Sticking with Elspeth as his primary win condition, Cifka opted to control the game for as long as possible before the coast is clear for the powerful planeswalker to end it. His sideboard is really nice as well. I talked about why I like Fiendslayer Paladin, but Soldier of the Pantheon is another nice addition. Esper decks adopted the Solider as a way to combat aggro decks, and he still shines over something like Yoked Ox. Archangel of Thune is a spicy number that I've seen popping up recently, and when someone as good as Stanislav backs it, it must be the real deal.
These are officially the two decks on my radar along with Mono-Black Devotion. Surprisingly there wasn't a single copy of it in the Top 16 in Vienna, so I have to rethink things a bit.
Bonus Topic: Coverage! (Or How Mark Beat A Horse To Death)
This past weekend I didn't get to watch any of the Grand Prix coverage in Vienna. Why? I don't live on the other side of the planet!
While Vienna was going on, Grand Prix Toronto was also happening, where the format was a very popular Limited format.
You're Wizards of the Coast.
What do you do?
The short of it is that Toronto wasn't covered, and a Top 8 including players like William Jensen and Ari Lax went unseen. Congratulations to Ari for winning it. We'd have loved to have seen it.
This was another ridiculous lapse in coverage that only further irritates the hell out of the player base. You want your product to be seen by the world, right? Cover it. Not only would people have gobbled up the Standard coverage in Vienna, but Limited enthusiasts would have tuned in to Toronto in order to see some of the best players draft. Up until the very end, the storylines with Owen Turtenwald and Sam Black, who I still believe is an alien, could have driven viewership through the roof.
What did we get? Hastily written blurbs about the matches in Vienna and no video footage in Canada, that's what. We were getting updates faster from players via Twitter than we were from WotC. Is this sane? Does it make sense that they don't have a social media person posting results as they come in to make people want to read their coverage or watch their streams?
I'm not trying to be a shill on behalf of SCG because I work for them. In fact, about a year ago I was beyond critical of the way they handled coverage. I constantly blasted them for bland announcing, poor stream construction, and the silly amount of time that nothing happened between games. What did SCG do about it?
Not only has the coverage become better, but the announcing has gone through the roof. Replays of games between rounds is a great way for people to play catchup, and the stream is consumed with interactive giveaways and contests. Not to mention that SCG covers every single event.
I know what you're saying: "But they're only able to do that because their events are in America."
Bite your tongue. Do you really think if they held events in other countries SCGLive wouldn't be there? When you set the standard, you also have the burden of living up to it.
It is high time that WotC took a page out of SCG's playbook and started upping the ante with their coverage.
If Magic is the biggest trading card game in the world, literally generating millions of dollars of profit, why does it get this level of second-class treatment?
I stress that Wizards needs to get their act together. I don't mean to be a broken record on this subject, but I want the game that I love so much to get better than this. It deserves it.
. . .
. . .
. . .
So what did we learn today?
Mark failed at making a Sealed deck, but he also likes control decks.
Next week we're going to talk about how Grand Prix Dallas/Fort Worth went, so make sure you cross your fingers for me! I'll need all the luck I can get!
Catch ya on the flip-
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