I know you’re tired of reading, of reading about Theros sealed deck. But I just can’t get it out of my head. So here’s a tournament report, complete with musical guests.

I’ve been looking forward to Grand Prix Toronto for a while. Having played many notes of Theros, I felt prepared to put my experience to good use and make day two for the first time. On Black Friday I hopped a plane to Canada and met up with Matt “Two Polis Crushers” Jones at our hotel. We were both hungry to warm up our sealed deck muscles so we went over to the event site and joined a sealed grinder. These are 32-person single elimination tournaments, with the 5-0 winner getting two byes to the main event, a bunch of packs, and a free sleep-in special. We both already had two byes thanks to Planeswalker Points, but sticking together is what good waffles do, right?

I won’t go through the building process for my grinder deck, but here’s what I submitted on my decklist:

Get in the Zone of Positivity

Creatures (15)
Vaporkin
Omenspeaker
Wingsteed Rider
Lagonna-Band Elder
Observant Alseid
Crackling Triton
Master of Waves
Thassa’s Emissary
Heliod’s Emissary
Prescient Chimera
Celestial Archon
Shipbreaker Kraken

Spells (8)
Aqueous Form
Triton Tactics
Griptide
Gods Willing
Chained to the Rocks
Dauntless Onslaught
Divine Verdict
Traveler’s Amulet
Lands (17)
Island
Plains
Mountain

Sideboard (19)
Last Breath
Gods Willing
Swan Song
Gainsay
Vanquish the Foul
Yoked Ox
Scholar of Athreos
Benthic Giant
Horizon Scholar
Triton Shorethief
Thassa’s Bounty
Prowler’s Helm
Gray Merchant of Asphodel
Temple of Deceit
Boon Satyr

Listen to the knowledge being dropped over beats! Fifteen blue mana symbols on permanents! It’s not that easy to assemble so much devotion to blue in a sealed deck, and the deck is overpowering on top of the waviness. It’s not super aggressive, but that’s not what you want to do in this sealed format anyway.

great-wave

A great wave becomes a starry night.

I decided to be greedy and splash a Mountain for Chained to the Rocks. The two Crackling Tritons were necessary for early board presence, so I figured that I’d have something to do with the Mountain most games. At worst, Chained to the Rocks is a dead card, but I was willing to risk that considering the overall strength of the deck. In the main event I probably would take a more cautious approach, but here I was just experimenting as I didn’t care if I won the grinder or not. Well let’s be serious. Of course I wanted to win the grinder.

Guess what? I did. It was a strange tournament. Every deck I faced played white. I don’t think the grinder field prepared me very well for the main event, as I did not expect to play a bunch of white-based decks if I did well on Saturday in the sealed. But I did manage to face all four other colors in combination with white, and much of the format revolves around grinding out small advantages over long games, so it felt nice to play tight and handle my business. And it felt nice to win.

winner

How can you not win with boots like those?

A few highlights. My round one opponent had the annoying habit of playing “woe is me” to bluff a lack of answers. Oh, how are you ever going to kill my Wingsteed Rider? With your Divine Verdict, obviously, and I’m not going to play around it either. Feel free to kill my worst best card with your best removal spell. I love to nod approval after my opponent kills my creature with the spell I know they have. Let them know I did that on purpose.

Game one of round two against Green-White Heroic was one of those classic “I came back from being down 32-5 in life” games that I love to play. If I can force my opponent to use all their resources and I’m still alive, I can look at the 32-5 life discrepancy and say, “Is that all you’ve got?” When I get in this situation, I become determined to win and my focus goes through the roof. That served me well here, where every match I had to deal with annoying life gain. Round three was Hopeful Eidolons, round four Whip of Erebos, and round five Ordeal of Heliod again.

Aqueous Form was a real all-star, providing a relentless source of damage to overcome massive lifegain. Celestial Archon is not a card I’d had much opportunity to play before this weekend, and it really impressed me. I cast it in every match, always as a five-mana flier. I think it died once, to a Rage of Purphoros, in the first game of round one, which I lost.

I never cast Chained to the Rocks. I did have it in hand once with a Mountain on board, but I already had the game locked up and didn’t need it. The Mountain did some work, though, twice letting me sacrifice a Crackling Triton to deal the final two damage to win a race. I had some occasional mana struggles, where I couldn’t produce double white or double blue, but my deck was strong enough to survive until I hit the right mana. Theros sealed is a slow format, and you can afford to splash one land as long as you don’t need that land until the late game. I’d never splash Anax and Cymede in a blue-white deck, but Chained to the Rocks is fine whenever you cast it, and often best in the late game. In my deck it basically did the same thing that Vanquish the Foul would have, at the same point in the game, but better and for only one mana. Worth the risk.

I was sad to see that Wizards did not put up the winning grinder decks on the coverage website. My primary motivation in winning the grinder was to see my deck up on the mothership. Why didn’t they do this for GP Toronto? Sadface.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I saw these twisty buildings of Mississauga on the descent of my flight.

Jones and Zach Barash kindly waited for me to crush everyone’s dreams of extra byes and then we headed out into the Mississauga aka Fauxronto night. Here’s the official theme song of the city. We hit up the Lone Star steakhouse by our hotels. Yay chain restaurants. I think they get a little better when you live in New York City, because you never eat at them. Maybe its nostalgia from growing up in suburban Atlanta. Our waitress was fantastic, and really, everyone in Canada is fantastic. I have never had a bad time in the country, and I’ve spent more time in Canada than you might think. Perhaps it’s just because I go there on vacation, but the people are always so pleasant and relaxed.

Back at the site for the main event, we sat around waiting for the thing to get started. Around 1:00 they let us sleep-in folks build our decks while the event started with round one. Oof. At least we would have a lot of time to feel out our decks before round three.

My GP Toronto sealed pool, by color:

White

(10)
Chosen by Heliod
Lagonna-Band Elder
Last Breath
Observant Alseid
Ray of Dissolution
Setessan Battle Priest
Setessan Griffin
Wingsteed Rider

Blue

(19)
Artisan of Forms
Coastline Chimera
Crackling Triton
Griptide
Horizon Scholar
Lost in a Labyrinth
Mnemonic Wall
Ordeal of Thassa
Prescient Chimera
Stymied Hopes
Thassa’s Bounty
Thassa’s Emissary
Triton Fortune Hunter
Triton Tactics
Vaporkin
Voyage’s End

Black

(14)
Asphodel Wanderer
Disciple of Phenax
Keepsake Gorgon
Lash of the Whip
Pharika’s Cure
Read the Bones
Returned Centaur
Scourgemark
Sip of Hemlock
Thoughtseize
Viper’s Kiss

Red

(20)
Borderland Minotaur
Boulderfall
Coordinated Assault
Deathbellow Raider
Dragon Mantle
Ember Swallower
Ill-Tempered Cyclops
Lightning Strike
Magma Jet
Messenger’s Speed
Minotaur Skullcleaver
Rage of Purphoros
Satyr Rambler
Spark Jolt
Spearpoint Oread

Green

(11)
Feral Invocation
Karametra’s Acolyte
Leafcrown Dryad
Nemesis of Mortals
Nylea’s Presence
Ordeal of Nylea
Pheres-Band Centaurs
Satyr Hedonist
Savage Surge
Sedge Scorpion

The Rest

(10)
Battlewise Hoplite
Chronicler of Heroes
Daxos of Meletis
Spellheart Chimera
Triad of Fates
Fleetfeather Sandals
Witches’ Eye
Temple of Deceit
Unknown Shores

Yuck. Salvageable, but not exciting. As I looked at the pool during sleep-in deck registration, I knew I had a tough road ahead of me if I was going to make day two.  The entire pool has 37 creatures out of 84 cards: five white, 11 blue, four black, seven red, six green, and five gold. Blue is the only color with a critical mass, so I would almost certainly have to play a blue deck. When I was sorting my pool after returning home, the green cards were still in alphabetical order and the only two black cards mixed into the “cards I ever considered for a deck” pile were Read the Bones and Triad of Fates. Looking back on it now, I could have tried to scrounge up a blue-green deck, but ugh.

This is what I built:

So you're saying there's a chance?

Creatures (15)
Artisan of Forms
Vaporkin
Setessan Battle Priest
Battlewise Hoplite
Observant Alseid
Wingsteed Rider
Crackling Triton
Triton Fortune Hunter
Lagonna-Band Elder
Daxos of Meletis
Coastline Chimera
Thassa’s Emissary
Prescient Chimera
Horizon Scholar

Spells (8)
Chosen by Heliod
Last Breath
Ray of Dissolution
Ordeal of Thassa
Stymied Hopes
Triton Tactics
Voyage’s End
Griptide
Lands (17)
Island
Plains

Sideboard (18)
Last Breath
Ray of Dissolution
Lost in a Labyrinth
Mnemonic Wall
Thassa’s Bounty
Setessan Griffin
Temple of Deceit
Unknown Shores
Read the Bones
Triad of Fates
Coordinated Assault
Magma Jet
Lightning Strike

Oh look, it’s a much worse version of the deck I won the grinder with last night. I would kill for a Gods Willing, or Divine Verdict, or Hopeful Eidolon, or Nimbus Naiad, or even a Battlewise Valor. You have to play the strong cards you do have, so I suited up Daxos of Meletis, Thassa’s Emissary times two, Triton Fortune Hunter, Wingsteed Rider, and the oddball Artisan of Forms and went to work.

The only other deck I really considered was blue-red. Ember Swallower is strong, and Spellheart Chimera could actually be good with all the burn spells and Coordinated Assaults. The Chimera’s trample is actually useful to combine with Thassa’s Emissary. I could even play the Mnemonic Walls for max value. But that still doesn’t sound very good. Daxos can do some mean things, gaining life and drawing cards, and Artisan of Forms can actually be insane if you curve out. I felt Wingsteed Rider worked the best with that strategy, and Observant Alseid is a fantastic card.

The other draw to White was the two Last Breath and two Ray of Dissolution. This deck doesn’t have great removal, so it is nice to at least be able to kill some of the ridiculous threats in the format. Ray especially is a great card in sealed. Bestow creatures provide so much value because they are so hard to deal with efficiently. Ray crushes them and gains you three life to boot. I only ran one in the main deck, because I prefer variety in my tricks against the field. Last Breath works well with Daxos, since it kills anything that can block him. And it deals with some of the most annoying creatures in the format: Phalanx Leader, Sedge Scorpion, Keepsake Gorgon, Prophet of Kruphix, Wingsteed Rider, etc.

This deck, sadly, has no real sideboard. I joked about trying to kill a Nessian Asp with Lost in a Labyrinth plus Last Breath. Yay, jumping through hoops to two-for-one yourself! I considered splashing red for Coordinated Assault and/or one or two burn spells, but decided it was better to have a consistent aggressive deck running two colors. Curving out with Daxos of Meletis or Wingsteed Rider wins a decent number of games. And so I set out on a mission to defy the odds and win seven matches with a weak sealed pool.

Donald-in-mathmagic-land-original

Time to beat the numbers.

Round three (after my byes) was horrible. The hall was overflowing with players, and my seat was crammed in half the space I should’ve had. My neighbor to the left bumped cards off my library multiple times while recording life total changes, and my neighbor to the right had her elbow on my life pad most of the round. My opponent played a Fleecemane Lion on turn two both games, so at least it ended quickly. I cannot kill a Fleecemane Lion basically ever, with my best answer being Stymied Hopes on turn two. 0-2 in games, 2-1 in matches.

I then proceeded to lose round four in three long games  against a very nice fellow with a deck full of bombs. Arbor Colossus is about as unbeatable for me as Fleecemane Lion, and he also had Purphoros, Boon Satyr, and Polis Crusher. 1-2 in games, 2-2 in matches.

This is the point at which I said, “I’m not going down like this!” I sure as hell didn’t cross international borders to 0-3 drop and play horrible side drafts until 1:00am when everyone else would be done playing for the day. If I were going to do that, I would have stayed home and drafted Modern Masters all weekend with the crew. So I went in the “washroom” and had a pep talk with the Ofs: Daxos of Meletis and Artisan of Forms. “Show up! On turn two. Or three. OR ESLE!”

gza_rza_gr

Bill Groundhog-Day, Ghostbustin’-ass Murray! A true artisan of forms.

And it worked. Round five game one, these are the non-land cards that hit the board: Artisan of Forms, Purphoros’s Emissary, Ordeal of Thassa (Artisan copies red Em), Voyaging Satyr, Observant Alseid bestowing the Artisan (still a red Em), Vulpine Goliath, Thassa’s Emissary bestowing the Artisan (now a GIANT FOX), attack for 14! And draw a card. And enter the scoop phase. Game two was not quite as awesome but still pretty awesome. 2-0 in games, 3-2 in matches.

Daxos of Shirtlessness apparently got jealous, so he came to play in round six. After I beat my opponent in game one, he sided from green-black to red-black. Here are the non-lands that saw play in game two: Daxos, Purphoros’s Emissary, Borderland Minotaur (on my side after being exiled by Daxos), Kragma Warcaller (on my side after being exiled by Daxos), Minotaur Skullcleaver (on my side after being exiled by Daxos). Post-combat haste is a little awkward, but who cares? I could have won off the lifegain alone. 2-0 in games, 4-2 in matches.

Round seven was the best round. I faced off against Mani Davoudi running white-black Merchants of Soul. Game one his Phalanx Leader and friends outraced my Wingsteed Rider and friends. My tournament life hung in the balance. We went to game two. I kept a hand with two lands and good creatures. And then I proceeded to miss land drops. Mani Disciple of Phenaxed me for two with four cards in hand. We joked that after missing two lands drops, I should reveal a pair of lands to the Disciple for the ultimate next level. In reality, I revealed Crackling Triton and Ray of Dissolution. I had no creatures in play so he took the Triton. Many turns later, after Gray Merchant shows up to play, I am at two life facing down the 2/4, a 2/3 Disciple wearing Scourgemark, and a Cavalry Pegasus bestowed with Observant Alseid. I have seven mana and my board is a Triton Fortune Hunter that has been Chosen by Heliod and bestowed with a giant card-drawing crab. My hand is Triton Tactics and the Ray of Dissolution Mani knows about from many turns ago. I am dead to the fliers (Disciple of Phenax is a human) unless I draw an answer to the Pegasus.

Now earlier, Mani had mentioned that he ordered a pizza. It was close to 10:00 so I could totally understand. The delivery guy called him during the match and said it would be there in ten minutes. I obliged the phone call. I mean, why not? I am as close to dead as can be. Any variance from the normal progress of the game has to help me. We both thought the game would be over soon enough. But then I drew my card for the turn, tapped four mana, and played it. Coastline Chimera, aka the best card in the history of ever. I was able to swing with the Fortune Hunter to get in five damage and draw a card (a land), then passed the turn with three mana up, enough to Ray the Alseid to go up to five life and negate his attacks. The second call came, signaling the pizza had arrived, and Mani called a judge. When the judge came, Mani told him that he had a pizza waiting outside that he needed to pick up, and that the game looked like it would go on a bit longer. The judge excused him and sat with me while we waited for five minutes. And that that point, I knew I had a shot to win.

While Mani went out to get the pizza, I surveyed the board. At this point I realized that Coastline Chimera has an ability to block multiple creatures. So not only could I survive by Raying the Alseid, I could spent two mana to make Chimera able to block twice, then Triton Tactics to lock down his team while also drawing another card off the Fortune Hunter. Mani passed the turn without attacking, and I Rayed the Alseid on end step. A few turns and many more cards drawn later, I won. Triton Fortune Hunter was the all-star this round. And as usually happens when a player comes back from a huge deficit game two, I went on to win game three and stay alive. Mani ate his pizza. 2-1 in games, 5-2 in matches.

Round eight my opponent was half asleep. Totally understandable as it was almost 11:00. His deck looked worse than mine, and I felt in control the entire match. 2-0 in games, 6-2 in matches. Live for day two! Win and in!

terminator_2_ending_scene_by_dyadyaborya-d4kfs9w

There is one more left.

Round nine. Chance to make day two. Except my opponent has a very strong green-black deck featuring Boon Satyr, Reaper of the Wilds, Nessian Asp, Nemesis of Mortals, Sip of Hemlock, and who knows what else. I don’t stand a chance and sure enough, I lose. 0-2 in games, 6-3 in matches. The dream is over, but I put up a good fight.

And with that, the end. I’m tired. You’re tired. Jesus wept.

Brendan McNamara (MTGO: eestlinc, Twitter: @brendanistan) used to play Magic in the old days. His favorite combo was Armageddon plus Zuran Orb. After running out of money to buy cards and friends who were willing to put up with that combo, he left the game. But like disco, he was bound to come back eventually. Now he’s a lawyer by day and a Dimir agent by night.

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