Solving the Limited Puzzle - 4th & Inches [Adam Yetter]
Recently, my friends and I drove to Austin to participate in a limited PPTQ. We left Houston at 6 a.m. to get there, arrived at 8:15 and the tournament started at 9. The drive from Houston to Austin at sunrise is an almost magical experience in and of itself as we found ourselves driving westward into Texas hill country with the sunrise at our backs, so I was happy to make the day trip. The PPTQ was held at Whose Turn Is It Games on South Lamar. Parking was convenient (though we did arrive almost an hour early) and the location was perfect as there were several places to get lunch within walking distance from the shop. The tournament was run very well, I only wish that I could attend more sealed deck PPTQs like this one.
When I opened my sealed pool, I immediately noticed a Wingmate Roc, along with a generally strong lineup of white creatures. White would need to be a part of the deck I registered, if at all possible. I was very quickly able to cut every red card from my pool because the cards were few and weak. That simplified the deck building process a lot, which is very important to me when building my sealed deck. I generally spend the first ten minutes or so trying to just analyze the information about my pool of cards, and trying to simplify the pool itself as much as possible. Instead of trying to make big decisions about what to play immediately, I just try to carve away what is not playable and by doing so I slowly begin to see the best deck emerge from what's left.
Sealed Deck Pro Tip 1
Before building your deck, simplify your pool by cutting the weak color(s).
I also had some powerful green cards and some black removal, so I looked at Abzan. Unfortunately, my sealed pool only had 4 nonbasic lands, and only one of them had two of the three Abzan colors in them. So while Wildcall is a great card, I didn't have enough green playables to make a green/white deck without adding black, and I couldn't play those three colors because having consistent mana is very important in limited Magic (and in Magic in general I suppose).
Sealed Deck Pro Tip 2
Before building your deck, make sure your mana base can support your colors.
My blue cards were strong but weren't able to stand on their own as a main color; they needed to get paired with a color that had a good creature curve. Fortunately, white had just that creature curve. I built the W/U creature curve and saw Wingmate Roc and Riverwheel Aerialists at the top of the curve, with Ainok Bond-Kins and Mystic of the Hidden Ways in the early to mid-game slots. I had some very powerful spells such as Channel Harm, Suspension Field, and Feat of Resistance. Finally, I observed that I had a copy of Silumgar in my sealed pool. Of my four non-basic lands, two of them would help me fix an Esper-colored mana base as it turned out. I also figured that if I was going to splash black, I'd go ahead and play a Reach of Shadows.
So my sealed deck was registered and if I would have been asked to name it, I'd have called it "Esper Flyers + Removal".
Sealed Deck Pro Tip 3
When building your deck, don't overlook powerful cards you can reasonably splash.
It turns out that the advice I was given when I first began playing competitive limited Magic is still true: if you play your bombs, play evasive threats, and play one-for-one creature removal, you can give yourself the tools to play a patient, mid to late-game knowing you have late game bombs while also having pro active threats that can close the game out by themselves if they go unopposed.
Sealed Deck Pro Tip 4
As a general rule...powerful rares/mythics, solid fliers, efficient removal, and patience is a winning combo.
In the fourth round, I had a Mystic of the Hidden Way in play with two other random dudes and had my opponent on a five turn, unblockable clock. He was playing BG so it was certainly reasonable to expect him to draw a Murderous Cut or some such removal to turn the tides. He had a 1/1 Typhoid Rats, and one other random guy in play, so I was way ahead on the board and in the race. Then he played Sandsteppe Mastodon. His 1/1 turned into a 6/6 deathtoucher at haste speed and suddenly my 15 life didn't seem like it was much at all. What was worse was that even though I happened to draw a random two-drop that would help me win the obvious damage race that this Game 3 was quickly degenerating into, my opponent followed up his giant elephant with another 6 power elephant the very next turn!
It felt like I was running from a tiger.
I ended up having to race more than 20 power on the board with just a Mystic of the Hidden Way. Luckily, the 20 power was only spread among 3 creatures, and I had 3 chump blockers ready when the race began.
Eventually, it came down to this: I needed to draw a chump blocker so that I didn't die on the backswing. If I could live one more turn, AND if my opponent didn't have any bounce/removal, the mighty, mighty Mystic would get there. I drew for turn... and I saw a Take Up Arms. Instead of drawing one chump blocker and losing to any removal spell, I drew three blockers! When my opponent conceded, he drew the next card off the top of his deck and revealed to me an Aven Surveyor. If he would have drawn that 2/2 flying Man-O-War a turn earlier, I lose.
Sealed Deck Pro Tip 5
Never give up because there's often a line of play that can save and win you the game.
If there's one thing I've learned about competitive Magic recently, it's this: there is a very thin line between going X-0 and being able to draw into the Top 8, and missing out on top 8 altogether. Sometimes you draw well off of the top of your deck and get there like I did at this PPTQ, and sometimes you don't. But what separates successful grinders from the rest of the field is that successful PPTQ grinders rarely, if ever, make play mistakes that sacrifice even a small percentage chance to win a single game. Just like football, Magic is a game of inches.
Play well and enjoy the game,