Hi All, I’m continuing my series of accounts of competitive tournaments in the UK by providing this review of my RPTQ experience for Pro Tour Hour of Devestation (to take place in Kyoto).
Following reasonable success from the last RPTQ, the pressure is on to perform yet better. Having said this, the format for this event was Sealed, which I’m much less confident about than Standard.
One big reason for this is that I always feel there’s a bit of an element of fate with Sealed. Sometimes you open well, sometimes you don’t. I’ve previously played in two Sealed RPTQs, one pool I opened was pretty good and I just missed out on Top 8, the other one was garbage and I promptly crashed out of the event at 1-2.
Another reason is that I find playing Limited, be it Sealed or Draft at an advanced level to be much harder than Constructed formats. This is mostly because I don’t play anywhere near as much Limited as I do Constructed, and am therefore a lot less prepared than I would be for a Constructed event. I’ve heard people say ‘You can’t prepare much for Sealed!’ While I agree (without Magic Online) it’s often easier to prepare for Constructed than Limited without buying lots of product, I do think there are things you can learn about the format so that your card evaluation, and deckbuilding skills are informed by more than what is opened in the boosters on the day.
I played in three pre-releases and the Patriot Games Sheffield invitational which included four rounds of Sealed. I also read a few articles about the format, and the one which struck a chord the most was an article by ex-England captain Eduardo Sajgalik where he expresses a strong preference for ‘going over the top’ (UBER) in this format. This means that you want to try and have a green base for big stompy creatures and colour fixing. I identified strongly with this as the Sealed decks I had enjoyed the most involved Spring//Mindinto Colossapede and Angler Drake. I also took note that because your opponent can easily put -1/-1 counters on your creatures, the X/1’s like Initiate’s Companion, Rhet-Crop Spearmaster lose a bit of value. In some formats X/1s are fine because even though they ‘trade with everything’ they are still reasonable blockers. However, -1/-1 counters means you likely can’t really save them with any combat tricks and cause huge blowouts with them. I also learned that, if in green, Stinging Shot likely should be my 24th card, which I had overlooked in previous events, seeing it only as sideboard material.
With this in mind, I opened a few practice sealed pools online to see how far cards like Gift of Paradise and Oashra Cultivator could be pushed. I found that while Gift was actually quite a good way of enabling an effective UGX (usually Sultai) deck, the Cultivator generally wasn’t needed. However, without actually playing any games out, this was purely speculative.
Quick explanation of UBER (and CABS)
One thing I do in a vague attempt to sharpen my Limited skills is to listen to Marshall Sutcliffe and Luis Scott-Vargas (LSV) talk on the Limited Resources podcast. Despite not being a huge Limited enthusiast, I really enjoy listening to it. Between them, things are explained in a really informative and entertaining way. One concept that has stuck with me is a distinction they make between two styles of Limited decks/strategies UBER and CABS:
- UBER: Ultimate Big End-game Ramp. This involves building up to a powerful inevitable end-game. This will likely mean you want to accelerate getting to the end-game with ramp cards like Gift of Paradise, or slow the opponent’s assault with good defensive creatures like Wasteland Scorpion. There isn’t really a definition of what the end game should be, it just needs to be enough to provide the inevitability over the opponent. Sometimes a simple River Serpent or Greater Sandwurm is enough, but cards like Sandwurm Convergence or Cruel Reality really embody UBER.
- CABS: Cards that Affect the Board State. CABS decks/strategies aim to efficiently add presence to the board to pressure the opponent. This means a preference for creatures over one-shot effects that prevent creatures blocking or tap creatures down like Decision Paralysis. CABS decks don’t always have to be hyper-aggressive, but some of the good ones are. For example, if your curve is Gust Walker, Unwavering Initiate, Emberhorn Minotaur, you’re likely playing a CABS deck.
For anyone interested in UBER theory more, they are explained much more extensively by Marshall and Luis in episode 301 of Limited Resources (which was at about the time of Battle for Zendikar preview cards).
The RPTQ was held at Fanboy Three’s new store in Manchester. I travelled with Rob Catton (Roberto) and Matt Duggan (Mythic) from Leeds.
Matt is called Mythic because he his ratio of (useful) Mythics opened vs Limited events played is roughly 1:1 (or better). Rob is called Roberto just because.
It was attended by exactly 64 players which meant six rounds before cutting to Top 8. Unless there are a lot of draws there are almost always four people at 4-0 after four rounds, who likely ID twice meaning the Top 8 is often comprised of four 5-1 and four 4-0-2 players. This means 4-2 or even 4-1-1 won’t be good enough to make Top 8.
My Sealed Pool
This is what I opened
I was honestly quite disappointed. There is pretty much no removal other than the Cartouches. I have a couple of fixing cards and one good Mythic. It’s a real shame my creature quality in green is lacking in big stompy creatures, I’m having to rely heavily on the blue ones if I’m to implement the UBER plan. This is what I settled on.
My Sealed Deck
So, mostly Sultai, but the green is pretty much for the fixing, the Cartouche and to splash Samut. Blue is my best colour, but needs the support of black. I am unsure about my choice to play Destined//Lead over Cartouche of Ambition, this is likely a misbuild, at the time as I pretty much boarded the Cartouche for this in every game 2. I was obviously too fixated on living the dream with Wasteland Scorpion and killing three of their creatures. To the disappointment of UBER enthusiasts, I also very begrudgingly play the Initiate’s Companion instead of Approach of the Second Sun just to have something to help against getting run over in the early turns. It may as well have ‘this creature blocks each turn if able’ on it in my deck.
Quick note, given the number of colours I’m playing and the urgent need to have the green for fixing, blue for business spells and black for some of the other business spells, I feel the need to max my chances of hitting land-drops so I will almost always choose to go second.
Meanwhile Mythic has opened another Nissa, Steward of Elements and has what is basically the better version of my deck as it has larger and higher quality green and blue creatures and doesn’t need to dig into other colours too deeply for playables. He laments not having a Spring//Mind (what a shame!), but looks set to crush the swiss rounds. Roberto has a decent-looking red-white aggro deck splashing Merciless Javelineer with Regal Caracal topping the curve.
- Game one: I block aggressively in the early game to try and delay the game long enough to make use of the 6 drops that are in my deck. Unfortunately, my opponent card advantages me down in the mid-game with Trial of Strength, Gravedigger and Cartouche of Ambition. Despite being able to Floodwaters the two 4/2 Beasts created, I’m too far behind on board and don’t actually draw my endgame creatures anyway.
- Game two: Both of us do very little in the early turns. This game soon becomes all about my opponent playing Rhonas the Indomitable and me trying to ensure he can’t turn Rhonas on enough to deal five damage to me four times. I bounce his Horror of the Broken Lands with Angler Drake. He replaces it with Colossapede, which is awkward as I had hoped to be able to use the Cartouche of Strength to take out the 4/4 if he replayed it and swing over. Instead I have to settle for giving my Angler Drake flying again with Cartouche of Knowledge before using the Cartouche of Strength on the Colossapede and hope that he cannot remove the 6/6 flying trampling Drake. He doesn’t.
- Game three: I get to go second again. Unfortunately my opponent has Rhonas again and this time Stir the Sands to slow me down (or he can threaten close to lethal on the swingback). This buys him enough time to grind me out with his Gravedigger, Trial of Strength and Cartrouche of Ambition engine while pressuring me with Rhonas and his activated ability. Not having an answer to Rhonas, I concede in short order.
- Game one: My opponent plays Gust Walker and Miasmic Mummy, but also some Forests. Despite him getting onto the board quickly, I block aggressively with my blue Enbalm Creatures and then use Angler Drake and River Serpent to take over the game shortly afterwards. My opponent played a lot of land so likely flooded quite hard.
- Game two: My opponent starts off similarly, but also plays a Liliana, Death’s Majesty on turn five. This certainly complicates things for me. I decide that rather than conserve my cards for value, I need to expend them to try and get rid of the Liliana as quickly as possible. I cast Lead from my graveyard just to force an extra couple of damage in on Liliana this turn. This also prevents her from using her -3 ability. I’m fortunately able to finish her off next turn with Aven Initiate. I’m then able to swing the board in my favour with Angler Drake. My opponent does not draw particularly well after this point, but he keeps playing out all his lands. From his seat, I would likely have held at least one back to at least represent a possible trick.
- Game one: My opponent comes out of the gates very quickly with Nef-Crop Entangler enchanted with Cartouche of Knowledge and Emberhorn Minotaur. I am fortunately able to draw Stinging Shot to take down the Entangler and delay the Minotaur with Angler Drake. I then play a couple of cheap, small creatures to try to hold off the onslaught at a mere two life. My opponent plays Glorybringer and exerts it to try to kill my Angler Drake but this is after I have untapped so I have Destined to turn my Drake into a 5/4 indestructible and ensure that no glory is brought to my opponent. The turns pass back and forth with me being able to play my more powerful spells and add to the board. I start to pressure my opponent with Samut, Voice of Dissent enchanted with Cartouche of Strength leaving back the Angler Drake at all times to make sure I don’t die to my opponent’s 2 power flyer. The opponent eventually deals with Samut, but I’m able to keep the pressure on with a River Serpent. I’m conscious that my opponent hasn’t drawn any spells for about four turns, so he is likely to draw business next turn. I have my opponent dead next turn, the only thing that would stop me is either a removal spell on my Angler Drake or a Cartouche of Knowledge to create a second flyer (or Open into Wonder but I have no outs to that in my deck game one). I cast Wander in Death and return Samut and also a Wasteland Scorpion which I can’t actually cast this turn as I only have one Swamp but I manage to cycle it into Aven Initiate which I can cast. On cue my opponent draws the Electrify which would allow him to get past my Angler Drake but he can’t kill me this turn and loses the following turn. This game was pretty amazing!
- Game two: My opponent curves Slither Blade into Nef-Crop Entangler into Cartouche of Knowledge and Consuming Fervor. I don’t draw the removal I need and die to evasive threats very quckly.
- Game three: I choose to go first seeing as my opponent’s deck is quite fast. Unfortunately, my opponent misses land drops 3 and 4 and I play my threats on curve so it’s quite an anticlimactic affair. I’m even able to assemble my own ‘Baneslayer Angel‘ with Cartouce of Ambition on my Angler Drake, killing his Nef-Crop Entangler. Disgusting!
- Game one: My opponent opens with Naga Vitalist and Exemplar of Strength putting all the counters on the Vitalist. I sort of stabilise the board with my MVP Angler Drake, but my opponent is able to replay a small creature, the exemplar and then use Cartouche of Strength to take down the Drake. I was making a bit of a comeback, but then I start to draw only lands and fall to the 5/5 trampler. Despite playing almost all Forests, he does play a Swamp eventually revealing his second colour.
- Game two: My opponent opens with Mountain, Plains into Nef-Crop Entangler as he appears to have built two decks from his sealed pool. He piles on the aggro very quickly and I feel foolish having chosen to play second. Fortunately, I have all Sultai mana and cast a Wasteland Scorpion on turn three to stem the bleeding. My opponent’s draw is a bit lacklustre and I use Floodwaters to slow him down and put a River Serpent in the way. I then turn the River Serpent into a 6/6 lifelink killing his Entangler with Cartouche of Ambition. The game falls out of reach for my opponent.
My opponent puts both his decks out and then switches between doing some real (or fake) sideboarding with both decks hoping I’ll lose track of which one he decides to play for game three. I pay close attention and am pretty sure he is on the red white deck.
- Game three: I have to mulligan into a hand that has three lands, blockers to play on turns two and three and a Floodwaters. It does need to draw some more business but hopefully I can stem enough bleeding to get there. My opponent opens with Fan Bearer, Nef-Crop Entangler and Exerts Ahn-Crop Crasher on turn three to bash past the Initiate’s Companion I played on turn two. I then play Hekma Sentinels. He casts Compulsory Rest on the Initiate’s Companion and Exerts the Entangler to prevent the Sentinels from meaningfully blocking. Maybe I should have chumped with my 2/3 given he already has Fan Bearer, but that seemed low value at the time. Meanwhile I have drawn a Cartouche of Ambition, but no black mana so I play Aven Initiate. My opponent then taps the Sentinel end of turn, Exerts the Crasher again and I take another six down to four life. At the point, I still have no black mana and I have to hop to survive until the next turn to cast Floodwaters. At least I can sacrifice the Companion under Compulsory Rest and gain two life. Unfortunately, my opponent uses Djeru’s Resolve to untap the Crasher, taps my Initiate with Fan Bearer, Exerts both his creatures to prevent the Sentinels from blocking and I take six which is enough even if I sacrifice the Companion.
Obviously disappointed to lose, but I didn’t expect this deck to function at all. Likely out of contention even for Top 16 as my tie-breakers are likely awful from losing round 1.
I am paired against Roberto. Not another red and white aggro deck!
- Game one: Fortunately my opponent’s start isn’t as lighning quick but an Emberhorn Minotaur does get added to the board which will likely trade for two of my creatures. I fortunately have enough random blockers down that I force my opponent to use Brute Strength and Pursue Glory to force through a scary amount of damage at the expense of losing his Minotaur. Luckily I have a window to push miles ahead on board and though I’m a Fling away from death, my opponent never gets a chance to deal the last few points of damage.
- Game two: My opponent doesn’t play anything the first couple of turns which is absolutely excellent for me. I ramp with Gift of Paradise, not really making any plays as my hand is all stompy creatures including Samut. My opponent has deployed a 3 drop and plays Emberhorn Minotaur. I slam my fifth mana pretending to be disappointed with topdecking another land and make no play passing the turn quickly. My opponent knows I have Samut, Voice of Dissent, but hopefully my behaviour last turn only makes it moderately suspicious at this point. He still attacks and I’m able to at least 2 for one him as he spends a trick and his best creature to take down the Voice of Dissent. I then use Angler Drake to slow him down, and turn it into a Baneslayer Angel with Cartouche of Ambition when my health is getting low. I deploy random big ground creatures to ensure he can’t get through and lock up the game shortly afterwards.
- Game one: We both start a bit slow, each adding Gift of Paradise on turn three. My opponent then adds Champion of Rhonas while I can only add an Initiate’s Companion. Despite having a Cartouche of Strength, I decide not to 2-for-1 myself just to kill the Champion. My opponent attacks and fortunately, doesn’t put in anything too large, just an Emberhorn Minotaur. I decide to trade with the Champion nonetheless as I’m pretty sure my opponent just attacks past my lone creature with Emberhorn Minotaur. He adds a Nef-Crop Entangler. I then play the same trick as I did in the last round slamming a land and passing the turn with Samut, Voice of Dissent (and the mana to cast it). My opponent attacks but doesn’t exert which is great as I can ambush in Samut and hopefully kill off the Minotaur. It works. I then untap and use Angler Drake on my opponent’s Entangler and start to push ahead. My opponent plays a Colossapede but I’m able to continue to apply pressure in the air and roadblock with a River Serpent, which soon becomes a 6/6 due to Cartouche of Strength, offing the Colossapede and ensuring victory.
- Game two: My opponent starts faster with Battlefield Scavanger, which I take a couple of hits from. Again, the Champion of Rhonas makes an appearance, but I blunt the attacks pretty quickly by using Spring//Mind to ramp into Decimator Beetle and River Serpent. I’ve obviously drawn my MVP Angler Drake to go over the top. My opponent then doesn’t seem to follow up with anything of particular significance and aggressively rummages with the Scavanger ability to try and find better gas. He adds a Colossapede to the board but I use the Drake to crash in for massive damage and put him dead on board in no time at all. He doesn’t draw an out and extends the hand.
I finish 19th due to tie breakers, which is just short of a full box of boosters and a Top 16 playmat. I’m pretty amazed with the way the deck performed. I had written it off as an 0-2 drop pool. When your best card is Angler Drake (Samut was a bit awkward to cast, it’s not like I was straight up Red-Green beats) you know other people in the room definitely have more powerful decks than you, but between the balanced approach to colour balancing, having enough threats that also cycled in case I needed lands and playing to the UBER plan, I think it did extremely well. The only time the colours let me down was against the player with two decks in the third game. I had black cards and no swamps in that game, but I’m pretty sure his draw was so good that game, they might not have even made the difference.
Mythic did make the Top 8 going 5-1 with his absurd deck. Unfortunately the draft didn’t go his way and he was matched against quite a good player in his play-off round and lost.
This leaves me with a little more confidence for Grand Prix Las Vegas which is just around the corner for me. I have registered for all three main events, even though they stagger and I can’t realistically do well at all of them. If day one of the first GP (Legacy) doesn’t go to plan, you can be sure I’ll be sleeving up something hopefully more powerful than I did at the RPTQ and hopefully to some success!
There are quite a few UK players going to the Vegas GP week, which I’m really looking forward to! I’ll try my best to bring you some coverage of adventures had there. Until then, good luck and have fun!