Last week my sealed PTQ season crashed and burned in ignominy: an 0-3 drop in Philly, the worst performance I’ve had in some time. I have a few theories as to why this happened, but first here’s my deck (and here’s a link to it on CastHaven):

UB Bombs

Creatures (17)
Prognostic Sphinx
Disciple of Phenax
Sealock Monster
Triton Fortune Hunter
Blood-Toll Harpy
Keepsake Gorgon
Shipbreaker Kraken
Mogis's Marauder
Gray Merchant of Asphodel
Breaching Hippocamp
Opaline Unicorn

Spells (6)
Hero's Downfall
Fate Foretold
Ordeal of Thassa
Sip of Hemlock
Sideboard (13)
Dark Betrayal
Viper's Kiss
March of the Returned
Psychic Intrusion
Coastline Chimera
Fate Foretold
Aqueous Form
Prowler's Helm
Loathsome Catoblepas
Bronze Sable
Returned Centaur

I already ditched the colors I didn’t play, but I’m fairly confident that I chose my colors, UB, correctly. White was strong, with a Hundred-Handed One; green had 2X Nessian Asp, but very few other creatures; and red had 2X Lightning Strikes—but really, if you are looking at your pool and you see black like this (Hero’s Downfall, Keepsake Gorgon, 2X Disciple of Phenax, Gary, Sip) and blue like this (3X Omenspeaker, Shipbreaker Kraken, Prognostic Sphinx), and plus the curve looks decent—I dunno, what else are you supposed to do?

I did see, however, that the deck had some readily apparent weaknesses, namely exactly zero bestow and zero bounce. But that wasn’t enough to push me away from the colors, I felt. During the tourney I ran into Andy “Champ” Longo, and he flipped through my deck and said he agreed with my choices, save for a few cards he didn’t like: Opaline Unicorn, Breaching Hippocamp, and I forget what else. He also didn’t love the Omenspeakers, but you gotta play the cards you have. I wanted the Unicorn to ramp to my big blue octopi and fliers, and I wanted the Hippocamp in order to have something else to do on a turn wherein I was holding up Dissolve. I like having Dissolve in a many-round (eight, in this case; we had 225 players, just one player shy of the jump to nine rounds) sealed tournament, as it provides an answer to otherwise unanswerable bombs, such as an Elspeth or an Abhorrent Overlord, which (if you are doing well) you are definitely going to run into at the top tables.

So I liked my deck, and was reasonably optimistic that it could go the distance. But here’s my first and perhaps biggest problem: I wasn’t committed to being there. Here’s why: Before the PTQ, I was sitting at 515 Planeswalker Points on the season. I knew that this was going to be my last tournament of the season, which ends on Sunday, so I knew that, to make 750 points and two byes for the next season, I was going to have to outright win the PTQ. And that, my friends, is a goal that I don’t feel is currently realistic for me. I dunno, maybe it should be—I did, after all, go 7-2 and finish 17th at basically the exact same event, two weeks prior—but my heart just wasn’t in it, given that I didn’t have a realistic “plan B” goal (make it to 750 points) in order to motivate me if top 8-ing began to seem out of reach … which it very quickly did.

I’m not even going to get into a round-by-round analysis, because A) I lost three straight and B) I didn’t take a ton of notes. Here are the universally nice dudes I played, though:

William, R1.

William, R1.

J. Song, R2.

J. Song, R2.

Kevin, R3.

Kevin, R3.

Basically, in rounds one and two I got Vaporkin-ed the fuck out. I boarded in my Viper’s Kisses to deal with the 2/1 fliers, but I didn’t see them in time. (In retrospect, I think I might should have had at least one Viper’s Kiss in the maindeck, in order to answer Vaporkins as well as stuff I didn’t have bounce to deal with, like a Nessian Asp or Ill-Tempered Cyclops, but hindsight is 20/20.) In round three I forget what happened, but my heart wasn’t really in it by that point, anyway, as I knew I was dead for both top 8 and any chance of hitting 750 points.

Another thing that happened was just variance: I didn’t see many of my good cards. I didn’t lay eyes on Hero’s Downfall once in three matches, and Shipbreaker Kraken only showed his face once, as he got milled into my ‘yard (more on that in a minute). And it just so happened that the decks I faced were too quick, and my defenses too inadequate, to reliably get me to my powerful late-game cards, such as Keepsake Gorgon (which got snap-game-one-Viper’s-Kissed the first time I played him/her; bad luck, that) and Prognostic Sphinx, who I think I played once but it was too late to matter.

I will talk about one in-game decision, though: In I think round one, I had swapped out Hippocamp for Returned Centaur, in order to up my black devotion and more reliably block my opponent’s Tormented Hero and other Grizzly Bears. A few turns earlier, I had seen my blue–black opponent’s hand with Disciple of Phenax, and took I forget what—but a Mnemonic Wall remained in his hand. So when I went to cast Returned Centaur, I chose to mill myself rather than my opp., not wanting to potentially give him more targets for his wall. And of course I milled my Shipbreaker Kraken plus a couple other action spells, the former of which could have broken the game wide open, har-dee-har-har.

I think this was the right decision, given that I knew my opp. had Wall. Yet behind-the-scenes Hipster Dave “I’m Sorry, Dave, I’m Afraid I Can’t Do That” McCoy disagrees with me, arguing that the average power level of each of your cards in Limited is uneven, making it too risky for you to mill yourself, because if you mill your powerful cards you are kind of screwed.

My argument, though, was that each card of your library—being unseen—is equally likely to be any card in your deck; so you’re just as likely to, say, mill yourself CLOSER to drawing your bombs, as you are milling them into your ‘yard. OKCupid co-founder and mathematician Christian Rudder, a good buddy of mine, went even further when I presented him with this disagreement later in the day, when I saw him at Friendsgiving in Williamsburg: He said that, if you have, say, 30 cards left in your deck when you cast Centaur, it is more likely that your bombs are in the bottom 26 cards than in the top four—making it more likely that you will mill yourself closer to them. And then of course there’s the benefit of not milling more into your opp.’s ‘yard if he has Wall or, as happened in a match of Dave’s, Nighthowler.

What do you guys think? Hit me up in the comments.

One final super-positive note: This PTQ marked the debut of Hipsters of the Coast’s exciting new relationship with our sponsor, CastHaven. CastHaven is a new buylist-management system that promises to make buying and selling cards much easier (and profitable!) for both players and local game stores. Check them out at—and rest assured that you’ll be hearing more about these guys in the coming weeks, both from us and at big events around the country (their marketing guy, Travis, will be passing out sleeves at GP Toronto). Hipsters team members will be repping CastHaven with these super-sharp sleeves and playmats:


Also, if you fill out CastHaven’s survey between now and the end of the day on Sunday, they will send you a free pack of Theros! Get after it!

That’s all I’ve got for this Black Friday edition of 23/17. I’m bummed that sealed season is over, as I didn’t get to hit quite as many PTQs (just three) as I would have liked to; but hey, life gets in the way (and life is good). I hope it doesn’t bite me in the ass—only having one bye—next season, when I plan to hit GPs in Montreal and Philly, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. It’s worth noting that my best performance ever, at GP Pittsburgh last March, came when I had zero byes (and lost the first two rounds, to boot). Good luck to Hipsters and everyone else who is playing in GP Toronto this weekend! Wish I could be there.

23/17 is a Hipsters of the Coast column focused on Limited play—primarily draft and sealed, but also cubing, 2HG, and anything else we can come up with. The name refers to the “Golden Ratio” of a Limited deck: 23 spells and 17 lands. Follow Hunter at @hrslaton.

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