This is a multi-purpose article, as we will discuss a little about Sealed and a little bit more about draft. I not too long ago played in GP Vienna and the format was Theros/Born of the Gods limited. I’ll use the first part of the article to talk about Sealed by discussing how the tournament went for me, my sealed pool, and deckbuilding decisions. Then, in the second part I will talk about the draft strategies that I’ve been using at Magic Online and that I would have used had I made Day 2 (spoiler!!!). If you are interested only in the Theros/BNG Draft part of the article, please feel free to skip the first part about the GP.
GP Vienna and Sealed Deckbuilding
I arrived in Vienna with my wife on Tuesday so that we could still have plenty of time to go sightseeing together prior to the tournament (usually this is the condition that my wife requires to let me play Magic the entire weekend =)…I guess it’s fair). I had done most of my Sealed preparation the week before, so in that week I basically drafted and read some articles and felt good about my understanding of the format as a whole.
As I had no byes, I arrived early on Saturday at the tournament place and to my great pleasure, the GP actually started with almost no delay. What I did not know was that my pleasure would quickly come to an end. We first opened the packs and listed the pools. Then, the judge asked us to pass the pool to the person in front of us to double-check the registration. I quickly saw that the pool was bad. We finished the checking, and I was waiting for the swap to begin when the Head Judge announced that our pool was exactly the one we just double-checked. Immediately, the guy in front of me that received the pool I’d registered ironically asked me if I was satisfied with the pool. That’s a clear sign that you are going to have a tough GP. Well, without further ado here was my pool:
Rodolfo's Sealed Pool
When it comes to Sealed, the first thing I do is to find my deepest color and where the most powerful cards are. In this case, both questions had the same answer: white. I do not like white-based heroic decks in sealed because most of the time they are inconsistent and are not focused like when you can draft the deck. But here, honestly, I do not think we have any other option than to play white as our main color. It is the one with more playables, and our two best rares are white, i.e., Fabled Hero and Hero of Iroas, and I was hoping that they could save the day. To make things worse, you can see that a lot of my unplayables came in double.
The next step would be to choose the best color to pair with white. Black was very bad and I quickly dismissed it, and with that the gold cards. Between blue, red, and green I felt that red was the one offering the most. It had good removal in Fall of the Hammer (that also triggers Heroic!!!) and Bolt of Keranos and the two Kragma Butchers complemented the aggressive curve and they also functioned as pseudo-heroic creatures if you manage to bestow something onto them and start triggering the inspired ability. Red also gave some options for the late game and mana flood in Ill-Tempered Cyclops, Purphoros’s Emissary and Stoneshock Giant. Ultimately, I registered this deck:
Rodolfo's Sealed Deck
After finishing the deckbuilding, I was feeling a little better about the deck. At least I had a good game plan, and the deck could surely present some nut draws impossible to beat on the play and could punish mana screwed opponents. I just had to be aware that it was a high-variance deck and I should mulligan more aggressively than I normally do and take riskier lines of play.
I had some thoughts about splashing blue for Voyage’s End and Sudden Storm since they are great spells, and I even had one Temple of Enlightenment. I decided against it because with this deck I could not afford to have spells in my hand that I could not cast any time of the game. I felt that I really needed at least ten white sources because of Favored Hoplite, Vanguard of Brimaz, and Fabled Hero, and fewer than seven red sources would not let me cast my red spells in the proper time. I just could not add even more variance to an already high-variance deck, I needed consistency at least in my mana base. Of course against some opponents it would be correct to board them in, and when I felt I should, I did just that, especially on the draw. However, against unknown decks, in this case, I think opting for consistency is the correct call. I do not regret that decision.
Another tough decision was to select the last five spots in the deck. I am still unsure about them. I was considering ten cards: Cavalry Pegasus, Mortal’s Ardor, Griffin Dreamfinder, Rage of Purphoros, Great Hart, Silent Artisan, Loyal Pegasus, Impetuous Sunchaser, and two Setessan Battle Priests. These final slots could put the deck even more aggressive or give it some midrange stuff. In the end, I opted for Cavalry Pegasus, Mortal’s Ardor, Rage of Purphoros, Griffin Dreamfinder, and one Setessan Battle Priest. I think this configuration left things more balanced, but I think that I should have gone more in one direction. All these cards are very mediocre and bad topdecks in most cases. The only one that I really felt my deck needed was the Griffin, and not for the value it could provide, but I was very weak against flyers. I had no other flyer aside from the two Pegasus, which are not great in defense. I felt that if my opponent had early flyers such as Vaporkin, Akroan Skyguard, Wingsteed Rider, or even Blood-Troll Harpy, I would be in a very bad spot.
I also tried GW and Bant. GW did not have a good mana curve (only Fabled Hero as 3-drop) and Bant was just a clunkier version of it. My impression was that both decks was just making it difficult for me to cast my best threats while doing nothing impressive.
Well, the tournament itself went better than I expected. I had no byes and finished 6-3. Losing the last round and not making Day 2 was heartbreaking, as I battled very hard with the deck and its limitations to be so close and not getting there anyway. The games I lost were due to not having enough early pressure or because my opponent had a way to deal with my single decent threat. The games I won went how I expected; I would build a huge threat that my opponent could not find a way to deal with or race. Most times it was Fabled Hero, but Hero of Iroas and Kragma Butcher also won me games! The Butcher really impressed me and Favored Hoplite and Vanguard of Brimaz underperformed. I felt that committing my mana base to cast these two spells was a trap. While I do not regret playing just two colors to have more consistency, I do regret playing a 10-7 mana base due to these cards. I lost one game due to not finding a single mountain in six turns. I also won games due to my opponents’ mana screw or flood, so I do not have much to complain in that regard. In the end, while frustrated for getting so close, I was happy with the way I played most matches and how I could take the most out of my deck and the tournament experience, I definitely learned a LOT. Now let’s discuss some draft strategies!
Theros/Born of the Gods Draft
In my opinion, Born of the Gods made the Theros format a little bit more aggressive, since you have undercosted versions of a lot of cards from Theros. For example, compare Wingsteed Rider vs. Akroan Skyguard and Staunch-Hearted Warrior vs. Setessan Oathsworn. Also, BNG added simpler but also cheaper bestow creatures like Nyxborn Shieldmate and Nyxborn Rollicker to speed up the format. Because of that, white-based heroic aggressive decks remain one of the most efficient and popular strategies. Especially W/R, since red got a lot better in BNG due to great heroic enablers like the aforementioned Nyxborn Rollicker and Fall of the Hammer, one of the best if not the best removal in the set. Also, cards like Kragma Butcher and Bolt of Keranos are proving that red-based aggressive decks are good and viable strategies. Therefore, the tempo nature of the format remains the same, making even more important to not stumble in the early turns.
With that said, I think that the most reliable way to interact with the aggressive starts and threats is still the blue bounce/tap spells. These spells are not mana intensive, making them all very splashable even in decks with tight mana requirements in another base color. In fact, in this format, blue is at its best as a support color, allowing you to take the strong blue spells as early picks knowing that you will not have to abandon them and thus not wasting your picks. That is why I think blue is the best color in the format and why I think it is possible to draft good U/x tempo decks almost 90% of the time. In my experience, the best color combination is U/G because the larger green creatures combo best with this kind of strategy as they do not need any assistance to represent a fast clock— quite different from the most other colors creatures. However, any color can be paired with blue as long as you are always aware of building your mana curve according to the bounce spells you have taken and are also taking cheap and/or evasive creatures.
Generally, people will try to settle in their base color at the start of the draft and then see what is open to choose the support color. Here, I am advocating the contrary: give priority to the great blue spells first and then take what is open as your main color later. Believe me, blue goes well with any other color in this format, you just have to take Sudden Storm and Retraction Helix more highly than you might be used to in the BNG booster. Every time I look to Sudden Storm I remember Frost Breath and every time I look at Retraction Helix I remember Silent Departure. These two old cards won me a LOT of drafts by abusing their power at their fullest through the exploration of this strategy of drafting U/x tempo decks.
Look, don’t get me wrong. I am not saying to pick a Retraction Helix over a Brimaz, King of Oreskos. When you happen to open a card as strong and powerful as Brimaz, it is the 10% scenario when I am open to draft accordingly. Sure you can still end up blue, but first you want to make sure that you will play with your powerful first pick. I advocate forcing the U/x tempo strategy in the cases where you open a mediocre rare and the uncommons are not so much better than the blue tempo spells. In this case, the blue spells have the edge because they will lead you to a better game plan. Regarding blue creatures, Chorus of the Tides, Deepwater Hypnotist, Nyxborn Triton, and Vaporkin are all welcome additions to what this kind of deck wants to accomplish. Here is a sample deck from one of my drafts:
Rodolfo's Sample Draft Deck
Okay, but we all know that sometimes things don’t go the way we wish in a draft. So what’s the plan B? What if we don’t open a stupid powerful rare/mythic and do not get passed or open none of the blue bounce/tap spells?
Well, in these cases I still do not like to fight for white and red, since red become very shallow in the two remaining Theros boosters and there are always a lot of people drafting white. I only go for white if I see it is REALLY open, i.e., if I get passed Ornitarch or Akroan Skyguard late (3rd, 4th, or 5th pick) in pack one. My plan B strategy is forcing green as my base color. My reasoning is two-fold:
1) As mentioned before, I think green is the best base color because its creatures’ base stats do not require you to fill your deck with “enablers” to make your threats reasonable. They win combat on their own. To make things even better, green actually has great bestow creatures and combat tricks.
2) The second reason is kind of more subjective but I believe it is true for most. My impression is that Born of the Gods changed the way people “see” green in this format. As you are not first-picking Nessian Asp or Voyaging Satyr anymore, I think people are taking green for granted. This is great, because you can force green in the first pack and then receive all Asps, Satyrs, Nessian Coursers, Leafcrown Dryads and Time to Feeds you want and MORE in the Theros boosters. On one occasion, aside from all the solid green creatures, I got passed one Arbor Colossus and a Mistcutter Hydra. In other draft, people passed me two Boon Satyrs in a row.
When I am on this track, I usually look to pair up green with black. Black is the color that is closest to blue in the sense that it can provide ways (removal) to deal with a threat that your green creatures can’t or until they can take over the game for you. Of course you can still end up U/G, but I think that if you did not see any blue bounce spell in the first pack it is pretty unlikely that you’ll be passed them in the Theros packs. Another thing that favors B/G is that black is not very good in BNG, so there is a good chance that it will still be open in the beginning of the second pack. If you manage to grab a Bile Blight in the first pack, you should be fine drafting B/G.
After black comes red in my preferences, especially if you were able to pick a Fall of the Hammer and maybe other solid red cards from BNG. Still, your focus in the Theros packs should be the strong green cards, but you can actually have the chance to be passed a Polis Crusher and even a Lightning Strike. I do not like G/W a lot because you do not have many ways to interact with your opponent’s creatures, but it is always solid and consistent enough.
Well, to summarize it all:
- If you do not open something VERY powerful to guide your picks, try to cut blue by picking the blue premium tempo spells and other solid blue creatures looking to build a pairing color.
- If possible, in a pack without good blue options, try to pick good green cards in order to set green as your main color trying to be U/G.
- If you notice that green is not open, read the draft to see your best option to pair with blue.
- If blue is not open and you have not seen any blue premium spell, try to force green as your main color and then be aware of what is open to pair with it.
This is what I had for you today, hope you have enjoyed it. I am very eager to read your feedback on my sealed pool and draft strategy. Journey Into Nyx will still not be online for a few more weeks, which leaves you plenty of time to win boosters drafting with Theros block as it is!
Thanks for reading!