An exercise in RIX Sealed

I took a brief break from Standard to get at least some Sealed practice in before Grand Prix London this weekend. My first pool wasn’t very interesting as BG with Vraska, Relic Seeker and Ravenous Chupacabra was quite the obvious choice. Today I will go over my second pool which was quite a bit trickier. Here is what I opened.

I always start with sorting by rarity to get see what my most powerful cards are. Curve and average card quality certainly matters but if you have a Tetzimoc, Primal Death in your pool and choose to play a RW deck, you are almost certainly making a mistake.

In this case the rarity sort reveals two rare equipments, 3 white cards and a black card. Vampires are my favorite tribe in Ixalan so we’re off to a good start. That is, until we sort by color and find that neither black nor white has that much to offer apart from the rares, which aren’t even that great. Nevertheless I started off looking at a BW deck and this is what I came up with.

This won’t do. I couldn’t find a 23rd card I would consider and there are already plenty of stinkers in the deck. The curve is low but the cards aren’t that aggressive so you’re both unlikely to run the opponent over and have too many low impact cards to expect to win a long game.

Instead let’s look at combinations that just contains either black or white since the Forsaken Sanctuary and Traveler’s Amulet will at least let us splash a rare or two. First up is GW.

We have cut all the bad black cards (and the few good ones) and the worst of the white cards. What we gain is a decent removal spell and some beefier creatures. With both Captain’s Hook and Jadecraft Artisan we should be able to attack into most board positions so we might be able to actually finish opponents off. I think this deck looks fine although I’m not quite sure of all the card choices. Maybe the third artisan should be in, and you could even consider playing New Horizons and maybe Blossom Dryad to include Vraska’s Contempt.

Next is what looks like a pretty classic UW Fliers deck. This archetype has been good at least as long as I have played Magic and this could work as well. The fliers are well equipped to wear hooks and there is both bounce spells and a counterspell, what’s not to like. Even if this isn’t the actual best possible build it looks like a blast to play, it is exactly what I enjoy in a limited deck (aside from bombs of course, bombs are the most fun you can have in limited).

This is just a worse UW deck to me. You get Vraska’s Contempt but your creatures get worse and I don’t see what this deck’s plan is. You have fewer fliers to win with and so it looks more like this deck is trying to grind at which point you’re just asking to get beaten by more powerful decks (which is pretty much all the decks you will be facing). At this point I’m ruling out black; there are just too few playables.

I don’t like the red in this pool but with the two Marauding Looter I figured I should at least give UR a chance. Ultimately I think this also ends up being a worse version of UW. The removal is worse and while Unfriendly Fire can go to the face there a fewer fliers so you don’t actually get more reach. Starting with a 2/2 on turn one can end up dealing a lot of damage but I think it happens to seldomly to make up for the lower card quality.

The UW build was the most appealing to me so I played a few matches with it and quickly learned that I had overvalued Elenda, the Dusk Rose. She joins a long list of powerful rares that lose out because they require too many things to go right. She takes a long time to get going, and if you’re behind, the opponent can just not offer up trades and then you need removal to trigger her. Even if you do get some creatures to die, you had better hope they aren’t playing blue, because then she might just get bounced and all your work will be undone. Add to that the fact that she is pretty easy to kill right away in which case she’s a 4 mana Martyr of Dusk.

I also played two matches with the GW deck and still felt unimpressed, so I decided to let go of white and tried the UR deck. Unfortunately I mulliganed both games and didn’t really get a good sense of how good the deck was.

That concluded my league and my overall impression is that the pool was quite bad. There weren’t any bombs and none of the colors were deep nor especially powerful. I have a feeling that the UR deck might be the best option but I am in no way certain. I would really love to hear your thoughts on this. Did I miss a good color combination? Which colors would you play, and would you build it differently than me (in particular in the case of a green deck)? Let me know and thanks for reading.

Beating Legacy #1

November 5th there is a huge Legacy tournament in Copenhagen called “Danish Legacy Masters“. As this is a tournament with great tradition and players coming in from not only all parts of Denmark, but also from Sweden and Germany, I can’t wait to play.

I have four top 8‘s with one win and one finals split in this tournament series over the years, and I’m hoping to add to my resume this time around. But I’m getting way ahead of me because in order to win, you need to prepare! So tag along as I try and break down the most relevant decks to prepare for. Welcome to “Beating Legacy“!

Storm

Storm uses Dark Ritual, Cabal Ritual, Lotus Petal and Lion’s Eye Diamond to accelerate out Ad Nauseam or Past in Flames either natural drawn or found with Infernal Tutor. The tutor makes sure you can end your turn by searching up a lethal Tendrils of Agony. To clear the way of pesky counter magic, a total number of 6 or 7 Cabal Therapy and Duress are included.

Some opening hands allow for quick kills where others need to set up a later kill with the numerous cantrips. Gitaxian Probe provides free information about the opponent’s hand, while Brainstorm and Ponder do their usual job of digging for what you need.

In order to give yourself the best chance of beating Storm, you need to fight them on several axis. In my experience, if you can attack Storm on at least two of the following areas, you are in good shape:

1) Clock. The faster you can get them low on life, the better. The damage also interacts favorably with Ad Nauseam.
2) Counter magic. Counterspells are good, and Flusterstorm is the best of the bunch.
3) Discard spells. Going for their hand is good for obvious reasons and provides information on how to play out your hand.
4) Graveyard hate. Attacking the graveyard means that Ad Nauseam or Empty the Warrens are their only path to victory.
5) Hateful permanents. They will only have a few answers to permaments in their deck, so getting one into play around their discard spells is important.


Grixis Delver

Many color combinations of Delver decks have come and gone through the years, but in 2017 it’s all about Grixis. Deathrite Shaman is too good not to play and needs black mana, and your removal spell of choice – Lightning Bolt – can finish off players and still kill most of the creatures in the format. Furthermore, red offers some great sideboard options while also adding Young Pyromancer to the threat base. Speaking of which, their different threats can’t be dealt with by the same cards, so keep that in mind.

They usually run a full playset of Deathrite Shaman and Delver of Secrets and then a mix of Young Pyromancer, Gurmag Angler and True-Name Nemesis. While Fatal Push and Lightning Bolt take care of the first two, and True-Name and Pyromancer die to various -1/-1 effects, the Angler is very resilient to non-Swords to Plowshares removal. The difficulty of dealing with its creatures is one of the deck’s greatest strengths.

Playing and hopefully winning against Grixis Delver demands that you can navigate around some of their most important disruptive cards. Let’s go through them one by one.

“Can I afford to play around Wasteland?” is the most important question you have to ask your self. I’ve seen my share of players who played around Wasteland and as a result weren’t able to cast all of their spells. Don’t be that guy. Sometimes you need to make them have it and power through it, and sometimes you need to bridge a gap between two turns where you are immune to Wasteland. Storm and Sneak and Show are the most common decks for these situations with turn 1 basic Island and a cantrip.

Daze raises different questions than Wasteland, but they have their similarities. Early in the game you have to take stand to whether you can play around Daze all game or you’re going to run into it eventually. Keep in mind though, that waiting one turn to boost your odds of resolving a spell can backfire against a tempo deck like Grixis Delver. Wasteland, Cabal Therapy and Force of Will from the top of their library can punish you for sandbagging spells in fear of Daze, so I suggest you cast your spells on curve the majority of the time unless it’s a crucial one.

Playing around Cabal Therapy can be a few things. You need a lot of knowledge about what your opponent is most likely to name depending on the situation, which can be very hard. You should make sure not to have two of the same card in hand if you can avoid it. Aside from Brainstorm and Ponder, another way to do this is playing out the card you have two copies of if you have to decide between two spells for the turn. For example, if you have two Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and one Stoneforge Mystic in hand, chances are you should be playing out the Thalia regardless of what the best play would be in respect of the Therapy.

Stifle in combination with Wasteland can really mess up your plans. In some scenarios, fetching out a nonbasic before the opponent has mana for Stifle, even though they run 4 Wasteland, can be the correct play. Sometimes you need to play out fetch lands and cast no spells and make your opponent keep up the mana long enough for the Stifle to be irrelevant or until they decide to make a move. Since they run relatively few lands, chances are that they will not be able to advance the board while keeping up Stifle. Be proactive if you don’t have the ability to keep making land drops or wait it out – your deck will typically be better in the long game.

That will do it for the first installment of Beating Legacy. Next week I will be back with some more tips and tricks for a few relevant Legacy matchups. In the meantime please add your best advice for beating Storm and Grixis Delver in the comments on facebook, twitter, reddit or where ever you are reading this.

Does Ixalan Limited suck?

Hi guys, welcome back. It’s been a while but I wanted a chance to play with the new cards so I could actually give an informed opinion. I have only been drafting so far and done about 15 and my initial impressions are good. At first glance the set looks like it could get boring super quickly because of the tribes; just pick a tribe and take all the cards you see in that tribe.

When you think about it, that isn’t much different from a normal set where you just pick your colors and take the best card in those colors. What makes a normal set interesting are the times where the correct pick isn’t just the best card in your colors but something that synergizes with what else you have going on.

The equivalent in Ixalan is then when the correct pick is not just the best card in your tribe, but that is often going to be because there is a super powerful card in your colors that doesn’t have any tribal synergies. I haven’t gone deep enough yet to know how often these things happen but at least you have to consider both tribe and colors when making a pick which is more than the base level for a normal set. I hope there will be rare times when you get to draft a treasure deck for example and I will be looking for it (probably at the expense of tickets), but today I want to talk about what has been the best tribe for me this far; vampires.

Anoited DeaconUnassuming, I know

The key to this deck for me is Anointed Deacon; most of the vampires are 2 or less power and this is the guy that can push them through. With Bishop’s Soldier, Queen’s Commission, Paladin of the Bloodstained, and Call to the Feast, boosting power is worth double sometimes and since the lifelink makes racing difficult, your opponent will often have to start trading real cards for each of your tokens. If you ever get two deacons down together, it becomes extremely hard to lose.

Aside from the lifelinkers my favorite creatures in the deck are Skymarch Bloodletter, Legion Conquistador, both undersized creatures that benefit from getting an extra two power (or 4). You even get two good one drops in Duskborne Skymarcher and Vicious Conquistador. While they’re both uncommons, it’s unlikely that anyone else will be interested in them. Glorifier of Dusk is also good in the deck, but it doesn’t need as much help as the other guys.

Other good uncommons for the deck are Adanto Vanguard (which is also just a great aggressive card), Deathless Ancient, and Bishop of the Bloodstained if you are really deep in the tribe. Once you find that the archetype is open, there are also some great rares that you can expect will come to you if someone opened them; Sanctum Seeker and Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle. These are straight bombs for you and pretty poor for anyone else.

That actually brings me to a side note on the format which is that the rares in this set are less ridiculous than they often are. Yes, you still have things like Regisaur Alpha and the planeswalkers which are insane, but I don’t think there is anything on the level of Glorybringer and because of the tribal theme, a lot of the good rares are only good in specific contexts, so your first pick will not be a windmill slam rare or mythic as often as you’re used to.

This to me is one of the most important signs of a good limited set; You might lose to Sanctum Seeker but at least it required your opponent to draft reasonably well and they would probably still have a deck that could win without drawing it. I actually didn’t even enjoy many of the draft decks where I had Glorybringer because I lost so many games where I didn’t draw it.

So back to vampires, how do you draft them? As I said, Anointed Deacon is the key but I don’t like first picking it. There a lot of generically good black and white cards that you can often first pick, like Contract Killing, Pious Interdiction, Vanquish the Weak, and Adanto Vanguard. Then if cards like that keep coming for the next few picks, maybe including a Deathless Ancient I will start to look for the deacon and the uncommons.

Legion ConquistadorIgnore this card at your own peril

One important thing to keep in mind is if you have passed any Legion Conquistadors. It is likely to wheel and you obviously need more than one for it to be playable. Let’s say it’s pick 6 and I have a couple of removal spells, a deacon, a Bishop’s Soldier and some good card in another color that hasn’t looked open so far. The pick is now between Queen’s Commission, Skymarch Bloodletter and Legion Conquistador.

If I have passed a Conquistador earlier I will probably take it here but if I haven’t, both of the other cards have higher priority (probably the flier first). Two Conquistador is just playable but as soon as you get more than that it becomes insane since it helps stall the ground and with a deacon to help them trade up, it will grind the opponent out quite effectively.

So you have a couple of removal spells, a deacon and a couple of vampires and now you have to choose between a Contract Killing and a Queen’s Bay Soldier (your first two drop). I am going to go out on a limb here and say you should lean towards the removal spell. The reason for that is that there is so much lifegain in this archetype that your curve matters less than it normally does in limited.

This particular example might be a stretch and it also depends if you have any lifegain so far, but keep in mind that the tools are available in this archetype to stabilize both the board and your life total. Of course, you would also like to have a board presence so your deacon has an effect the turn it comes down so if it’s a Bishop’s Soldier instead, I’d probably take it. I guess a more general way to express it is that you often don’t have to take subpar cards for curve considerations if you have a lot of good ways to gain life.

That’s about what I have learned so far. I will spend next week playing a lot of Standard so I’ll hopefully have something to report back soon. Until then, thanks for reading and good luck in the queues.