Howdy howdy howdy! None Shall Pass Bombs is now a weekly column, and just in time for the content explosion, I have a great story to tell: how I made day two of a Grand Prix for the first time!

I flew out to sunny Sacramento last weekend for the final Theros limited Grand Prix before the release of Born of the Gods. I had two byes from accumulating planeswalker points last season, I loved the format, and I felt very prepared. It was time.

This week I will focus on day one of the Grand Prix. I want to analyze my sealed pool in depth to show how and why I chose the build the deck I submitted. Building your sealed deck is difficult and incredibly important for determining your success at a limited grand prix (or PTQ). I sure as hell wasn’t going to submit a mediocre pile, scrub out and waste my time doing horrible GP side drafts.

It can be hard to find high quality analysis of sealed deckbuilding, but developing that skill is essential to competitive success in limited Magic. I hope this article will be useful.

sealed seminar

Ben Stark and Luis Scott-Vargas give amazing sealed advice. Josh Utter-Leyton and Pat Cox watch approvingly.

After going through the deck, I will recap my seven rounds of play to highlight what went right and wrong. Next week, day two drafts! I have some exciting stories for that, so be sure to come back for Part Two.

Sitting down for sleep-in deck construction I was twitching with excitement. Theros is a fantastic limited format and building a sealed deck is tons of fun. Plus, I flew six hours to play the tournament. If I were to screw up my deck, my trip would not be very fun. I have a hard time focusing on things that “don’t matter” but boy did this sealed deck build matter to me. At Grand Prix Toronto last November I cobbled together a 6-3 record with quite a weak pool of cards, missing out on day two with a final round loss. I knew that with even an average sealed pool in Sacramento I could get it done.

This is what I got:

GP Sacramento Sealed Pool—White

(15)
Battlewise Valor
Ephara’s Warden
Glare of Heresy
Hopeful Eidolon
Hundred-Handed One
Last Breath
Observant Alseid
Ordeal of Heliod
Phalanx Leader
Scholar of Athreos
Setessan Griffin
Spear of Heliod
Traveling Philosopher

GP Sacramento Sealed Pool—Blue

(15)
Annul
Benthic Giant
Bident of Thassa
Coastline Chimera
Crackling Triton
Fate Foretold
Griptide
Mnemonic Wall
Nimbus Naiad
Triton Fortune Hunter

GP Sacramento Sealed Pool—Black

(17)
Abhorrent Overlord
Baleful Eidolon
Disciple of Phenax
Erebos’s Emissary
Fleshmad Steed
Insatiable Harpy
Loathsome Catoblepas
Ordeal of Erebos
Read the Bones
Rescue from the Underworld
Returned Centaur
Returned Phalanx
Viper’s Kiss

GP Sacramento Sealed Pool—Red

(11)
Borderland Minotaur
Boulderfall
Coordinated Assault
Firedrinker Satyr
Ill-Tempered Cyclops
Lightning Strike
Magma Jet
Portent of Betrayal
Spark Jolt

GP Sacramento Sealed Pool—Green

(17)
Commune with the Gods
Fade into Antiquity
Hunt the Hunter
Karametra’s Acolyte
Leafcrown Dryad
Nylea, God of the Hunt
Nylea’s Disciple
Ordeal of Nylea
Pheres-Band Centaurs
Satyr Hedonist
Savage Surge
Sedge Scorpion
Shredding Winds

GP Sacramento Sealed Pool—Gold and Colorless

(9)
Destructive Revelry
Horizon Chimera
Kragma Warcaller
Shipwreck Singer
Guardians of Meletis
Opaline Unicorn
Prowler’s Helm
Temple of Deceit
Unknown Shores

Hmmm. This seems better than my Toronto pool. Time to dig in. But first, a word from our sponsor!

Dack faygo

Dack Faygo, the greatest soda in the multiverse!

Oh wait, I mean our actual sponsor, CastHaven! Big thank you to CastHaven for supporting my participation in Grand Prix Sacramento, and for supporting Hipsters of the Coast more generally.

When I evaluate a sealed pool, I look for bombs, answers to opponent’s threats, ways to stay alive, card advantage, ways to grind out small edges over many turns, and cards that can end games without being bombs per se. You also want mana fixing to help fill holes by splashing a powerful card or two if necessary.

Specifically for Theros, there are not many bombs or removal spells, but you really want the ones that do exist. Card advantage mostly comes from bestow creatures, staying alive comes from life gain, and non-bomb finishers tend to be monstrous creatures. Instant enchantment removal is especially important because those cards, in particular Artisan’s Sorrow, Ray of Dissolution, and Destructive Revelry deal with bestow creatures and the weapon cycle. Destroying a bestow aura in combat is especially powerful and one of the only ways to gain card advantage against bestow.

With those ideas in mind, here’s what I see in my pool.

Absolute Bombs: Abhorrent Overlord

Overlord is one of the best cards in the format. It’s an incredible finisher that is very difficult to deal with. Opponents don’t want to bounce it, and even if they have something like Shredding Winds, you keep the tokens. I want to play this card if I can.

Pseudo-Bombs: Hundred-Handed One, Erebos’s Emissary, Nylea, God of the Hunt

Hundred-Handed One is a fantastic card. A 3/5 vigilance for four mana is super efficient, and once you make it monstrous, it is very hard for your opponent to deal with it or win through it. Your opponent probably has to spend multiple cards to get it off the board.

Erebos’s Emissary is very strong, both because of bestow and its activated ability. It is very hard to block and often serves as a removal spell because your opponent either has to risk trading their blockers for whatever creatures you discard, or let the damage through and potentially take a massive if not lethal hit. Its “limitation” of only discarding creatures actually makes the card much better than if you could discard anything, because not errbody knows how much you can pump it—only you do.

Nylea is pretty good, but you want a bunch of big green creatures to turn her on and use her trample. She works well with monstrous as you can spend mana one turn to go monstrous and then on any subsequent turns to pump further. I have some good green devotion enablers, but no Nessian Asps or other big green threats.

Actual Removal Spells: Last Breath, Glare of Heresy, 3 Griptide, Viper’s Kiss, 2 Boulderfall, Magma Jet, 2 Lightning Strike, Spark Jolt, Fade into Antiquity, Hunt the Hunter, Shredding Winds, Destructive Revelry

Pseudo-Removal: Battlewise Valor, Ephara’s Warden, Spear of Heliod, 2 Annul, Bident of Thassa, Crackling Triton, 2 Baleful Eidolon, Disciple of Phenax, Erebos’s Emissary, Ordeal of Erebos, Coordinated Assault, Savage Surge, Sedge Scorpion, Shipwreck Singer

Yuck. That’s a lot of cards, but most are narrow and require careful maneuvering. I have a lot of ways to deal with small creatures, but it is awkward to kill big stuff and most of the ways to do so are on-board effects like Shipwreck Singer, Bident, and Spear. The pool has almost no way to kill enchantments or artifacts. None of my removal screams “PLAY ME” so I want to build around my threats and then figure out what removal effects complement those threats.

Card Draw: Fate Foretold, Triton Fortune Hunter, Read the Bones, Rescue from the Underworld, 2 Commune with the Gods, Ordeal of Nylea

Not much there. Read the Bones is great and stands alone. Other than that, I will need to gain card advantage through creatures and skillful play.

Bestow: 3 Hopeful Eidolon, Observant Alseid, 2 Nimbus Naiad, 2 Baleful Eidolon, Erebos’s Emissary, Leafcrown Dryad

Now here’s where my pool shines! So much bestow. I really want to play white and black, as these cards offer card advantage while also providing some removal, threats, and life gain.

Lifegain: 3 Hopeful Eidolon, Ordeal of Heliod, Scholar of Athreos, Insatiable Harpy, 2 Nylea’s Disciple, Horizon Chimera

Some good options here. The ordeal is awkward as my pool doesn’t want to be aggressive, but the other cards are all strong if they fit my deck. Again, white and black offer the most.

Monstrous: Hundred-Handed One, Ill-Tempered Cyclops

Two monstrous creatures? That is a big hit to the power level of my pool. It’s hard to play green without any monsters. These two are good, but good pools have and will play more than this.

Other Powerful Threats/Finishers: Phalanx Leader, Scholar of Athreos

Phalanx Leader is strong and works well with my bestow cards, but itsn’t the best fit for my pool. Scholar is amazing and I absolutely want to play it if I can. It excels are keeping you alive and closing out a long game.

Fixing: Ordeal of Nylea, Opaline Unicorn, Temple of Deceit, Unknown Shores

Unicorn and Temple fit my pool and I’m happy to have them.

heart

You gotta have fear in your heart.

Looking at the cards overall, I can quickly eliminate red. It has three creatures, the best of which (Cyclops) is splashable, and some decent removal options that are unfortunately redundant with my other removal that only deals with small creatures. I could splash some of them, but it is not likely worth the trouble. Green is fairly deep in cards, but really lacking in beefy creatures. As that’s the main reason to play green, it’s likely out. Shredding Winds is nice, and Fade into Antiquity at least provides an answer to gods, bestow, and weapons, but there’s not enough to support being a green deck.

Blue has some strong options. Bident is great, as are the three Griptides, but those cards are best in a tempo deck. My pool doesnt have enough aggression to capitalize here. As much as a love blue-green, and Horizon Chimera specifically, the pool isn’t quite there. Blue-black also could be a thing, with fliers to draw cards off Bident and deathtouch blockers to work with Bident and Singer. But I’d rather splash a blue card or two off the Temple than splash white off Unicorn plus basics. In the end, white-black offered the most power and versatility. It’s a style of play I enjoy, which is important considering I need to grind out seven matches with the deck. Also, I happened to be wearing an Orzhov guild shirt under my Twenty Sided Store hoodie, so there’s that.

Here’s the deck I registered:

gp sac sealed deck

We can build on this!

Orzhov No Removal

Creatures (16)
Hopeful Eidolon
Baleful Eidolon
Returned Phalanx
Phalanx Leader
Opaline Unicorn
Scholar of Athreos
Observant Alseid
Disciple of Phenax
Insatiable Harpy
Hundred-Handed One
Erebos’s Emissary
Returned Centaur
Abhorrent Overlord

Spells (6)
Spear of Heliod
Read the Bones
Griptide
Viper’s Kiss
Last Breath
Rescue from the Underworld
Lands (18)
Temple of Deceit
Island
Plains
Swamp

Sideboard (14)
Hopeful Eidolon
Glare of Heresy
Ephara’s Warden
Annul
Griptide
Nimbus Naiad
Shipwreck Singer
Guardians of Meletis
Plains
Island

Most of these cards are powerful and speak for themselves. Here are a few comments on card choices that might not be so obvious.

Hopeful Eidolon: I only played two of my three copies. I love the card, but csard slots in sealed decks are really tight. That’s especially true in Theros where most decks want 18 lands. With only 22 slots, I can’t afford to spend three on the same effect in my main deck.

Griptide: Once again, three copies of a card won’t fit in most sealed builds. My deck is very slow and I have the Dimir temple, so I can afford a small blue splash, which also can activate Returned Phalanx. I considered splashing Nimbus Naiad also or instead, but ultimately I decided that my deck really needed one card that could get something big off the board instantly.

Phalanx Leader: This card is not spectacular in my deck, but it does two things well: provide extra value off my many bestow cards and eat a premium removal spell. Most opponents will kill it on sight if they can, and I’m happy to use Phalanx Leader as a pseudo-Disciple of Phenax with more upside if it lives. And there’s always the dream of triggering it with a bunch of Harpy tokens on board.

Viper’s Kiss: If you can’t kill a Nessian Asp, you can at least make it kiss another snake. Or something. Flavor issues aside, monstrosity is such a powerful mechanic in sealed that I will take what I can get to answer it. And the kiss has some other uses that I discuss below.

Rescue from the Underworld: I don’t have Gods Willing or Boon of Erebos to protect my threats. So instead I have a card to buy something back. Rescue is quite nice with Overlord, and you can even do some reanimator shenanigans with Erebos’s Emissary. I never actually did that, even though I could have during one game, because this deck wants to use Rescue to grind long advantage rather than to gain tempo.

Shipwreck Singer: I chose not to splash this card. It’s so mana hungry, and the blue activation wants more mana than the black one does. It works well with Spear of Heliod and many of my blockers, but I don’t need to actually kill their attackers. I just need to keep them from killing me while I drain out with Scholar of Athreos or smash face with Overlord or some giant bestowed snake-nymph-spirit-harpy. Card slots are tight. Maybe Singer would have been better than Phalanx Leader, but I doubt it.

Spear of Heliod: Spear is generally the worst weapon, but it is at its best in a deck like mine. When you play white aggro strategies in Theros, you usually want to build a big hero. Spear wants you to build out, not up. Glorious Anthem is awkward in Theros, and the tap ability isn’t so great in a low-curve deck that can’t hold up mana. But on defense in a deck full of 1/4 and 2/4 blockers that are happy to get a little bigger, that wants to hold up mana for reactive effects (or bluffs), and that lacks better removal options? Yes please! Spear is actually quite strong in combination with Scholar of Athreos. With Spear on board and open mana, your opponent’s creatures turn into burn spells. Every attack has diminishing returns, as you kill off their threats. A series of Lava Axes can win the game, but not when Scholar is draining one or two or three life a turn. And if they don’t attack, you can put that extra three mana into an additional Scholar drain. And by the way, good luck killing a 2/5 that never needs to get into combat.

So, a real control deck! Block, gain life, eventually play Overlord and win? Sounds like a plan. If you had asked me before the tournament how I would feel playing a slow black-white deck with no Elspeth, Sip of Hemlock, Divine Verdict, Ray of Dissolution, Lash of the Whip, Gray Merchant of Asphodel, or Wingsteed Rider, I would have either been like “not great” or “so you’re saying I have a Scholar of Athreos?”

teysa

Teysa is in the house. I better not disappoint the syndicate!

On to the matches!

Round 3—Chester Moon playing GBw

Green-black. Just what I want to face. Oh wait, no. My lack of removal is going to be a problem. I lose the die roll. Thankfully, most people choose to play in this format. I’ve gone back and forth but have finally settled on drawing most of the time. I am certainly drawing with this deck, which wants to grind long card advantage but has decent early defense. Anyway, Chester chose to play first. On the entire day, I drew every game I played but one, regardless of who had the choice.

On turn three, Chester drops Boy of Nylea. Fortunately, he doesn’t drop much else and I have turn one Temple of Deceit, turn two Returned Phalanx, turn three start hitting for three to cancel out the Bow. The game lasted a while, but eventually I drew Overlord and won. Game two, he bestowed Nylea’s Emissary on Nessian Asp, and had two running Divine Verdicts to kill both halves of my Baleful Eidolon blocks. Must be nice.

Game three I kept a seven card hand with Spear, Insatiable Harpy, and five lands. I figured Spear gives me something to do if I flood. He played his own Harpy on turn four. I had drawn Last Breath, but with my bigger harpy and the Spear, I chose not to kill it immediately, figuring I could use the Last Breath later on a deathtoucher or Voyaging Satyr that might not be vulnerable to Spear. Well, Chester proceeded to bestow the harpy and then Glare of Heresy my Spear. Fifteen turns and 9 more lands drawn later, and with Last Breath still in hand, I lost. Oops.

2-1 in matches (including byes)

Round 4—Kevin Hale playing GBx

Yay, more green-black. Kevin played an Unknown Shores at some point but I never saw a third color. Game one, Kevin had Hero’s Downfall for my monstrous Hundred-Handed One, but later I bestowed up a vigilant, lifelinking space-snake and won. I sided out my Phalanx Leader and a Plains for an Island and the second Griptide.

Game two Kevin played turn two Leafcrown Dryad into turn three Ordeal of Nylea. I lost. In the final game I got Harpy going and bestowed with Observant Alseid, and had Spear to negate his offense. The two Griptides helped seal the victory by blanking his draw steps.

3-1 in matches.

Round 5—Mark Melendy playing Esper (UWB)

So Mark’s deck had Gray Merchant, Sentry of the Underworld, Master of Waves, Shipwreck Singer, and Wingsteed Rider. Game one I don’t remember, except that it seemed close in life but I felt in control throughout and won comfortably. Game two took forever. I got an early Overlord but he kept staying alive with Gray Merchant, Shipwreck Singer to negate my Harpy tokens, etc. Late in the game, I made one bad mistake that gave Mark a few extra draw steps. He used Singer to force Scholar of Athreos to attack into his Baleful Eidolon. I went to combat damage and forgot to use my open mana to drain twice with Scholar before it died. Ugh. Fortunately, next turn I drew Rescue from the Underworld and was able to rebuy Overlord (which had died to a double block plus Lash of the Whip a few turns earlier). That sealed the deal.

4-1 in matches.

Round 6—Travis Harper playing UGrb

Travis was a fun guy to play against and we had a nice match. He was playing blue-green bestow with a bunch of scry lands to splash who knows what. Game one he bestowed a Prescient Chimera with Thassa’s Emissary. I never drew a third plains to make my Hundred-Handed One monstrous and thus able to block the giant flier.

Game two Travis played a turn two Voyaging Satyr, which I promptly introduced to a certain amorous viper. He ended up never drawing a fifth land, and was stuck with expensive cards with double mana costs. At one point, I played Disciple of Phenax with four black devotion. Travis had five cards and four lands in play, of various colors. These are the four cards he showed me: Sea God’s Revenge, Baleful Eidolon, Prescient Chimera, and Nimbus Naiad. He did not have access to two blue mana. I made him discard the Baleful Eidolon as it seemed most likely to prolong the game until he drew lands. I think I made the correct choice and went on to win the game.

In game three, I mulled to five. Travis played another 3/4 flier, then used Sea God’s Revenge to finish me and put me on the bubble for day two elimination.

4-2 in matches.

Round 7—Chad Kaplan playing WG/UB

Game one Chad kept a hand with two plains, a Phalanx Leader, and a bunch of spells he could not cast. I had Last Breath, exiled the Leader, and smashed his face while he discard to hand size. Among the cards he discarded: Bow of Nylea, Agent of Horizons, Scholar of Athreos, Divine Verdict. OK then.

Game two, he chose to draw (the only time anyone did this against me all day!) and then proceeded to play out islands and swamps. I suppose he “got me” for boarding in Glare of Heresy, but whatever. I was much happier to see blue-black than the Phalanx Leader and Bow of Nylea shenanigans he would’ve had had he drawn lands game one. All he did this game was play Prescient Chimera and Bident of Thassa, hitting me for three and drawing a card for a few turns.

On his last turn, we both had 12 life. His board was the Chimera and Bident plus nine lands. I had Spear, Scholar, and Observant Alseid with space snake bestowed on it, plus six lands and three cards in hand. He cast Sip of Hemlock on the Alseid, dropping me to 10 life, then hit with the Chimera to draw a card and put me to seven. Then he decided to tap out to cast Read the Bones, dropping himself to ten. I had been plotting what to do to win the next turn and whether I should discard creatures in my hand to pump the Emissary for lethal, if he left up Voyage’s End mana. So I didn’t even notice that by losing two life to draw two cards, he was just dead ten ways to Sunday. I could drain twice with my open mana end of turn, swing for six and drain twice more. Instead, I drained once, used Spear to kill the Chimera, untapped, and drew a Plains. The photo below recreates my board state and hand:

gp sac r7

How do I lose?

Now intead of just attacking and discarding for lethal, I got fancy. I played my plains, cast Phalanx Leader, exiled it with Last Breath to put counters on my other two and gain four life, swung for eight damage, and drained for the final life point. Chad was like “whoa” so I don’t think he realized he was dead on board anyway. Style points on not, I won the match 2-0 and stayed alive!

5-2 in matches.

Round 8—Denis Ulanov playing UB

Denis played turn two and three Vaporkin, and bashed me down to six life. I was able to bestow Hopeful Eidolon on the space snake to get back up to a safe life total but he kept the relentless pressure. On my final turn he was at 9 to my 5 life. My Emissary was on the board alone as a 3/3 now. Denis had no blockers but still had the two Vaporkin. I had eight mana and three cards in hand: Observant Alseid, Opaline Unicorn, and Read the Bones. If I cast Read and find another creature, I can attack for lethal, either with the bestowed Alseid along with two discards or just by discarding the Alseid as well. If I whiff on Read, I am at three facing four flying damage I cannot block. I decided to go for it, as he was tapped out and I have a lot of creatures in the deck and four cards to dig down if necessary. On my scry two, I saw a land and a Griptide. I probably should have shipped both to the bottom, but I decided to keep Griptide on top, as it could buy me another turn if I whiffed on my other card draw. It turned out the random card I drew was Returned Centaur, so I bestowed the Alseid, swung for five, and discarded two creatures for lethal. Whew.

Game two, I got Overlord and Scholar online together. Denis had a lot of chump blockers and also had Shipwreck Singer to make Overlord less useful, but I was able to get him down to four life with nine mana. I had been slowly sacrificing all my creatures, but I was able to drain him to one, untap, and with only the Overlord and Scholar in play, with the sacrifice trigger on the stack, I drained for the last point and victory.

Now, what if I had to actually sacrifice a creature there? I think I have to sacrifice the Overlord and keep draining with Scholar, right? What if I had a Returned Phalanx in hand to ensure I could play another creature to sacrifice? Do I keep the Overlord then? I think still the Scholar is better as it doesn’t have to attack. Wait a minute you say, why do I have a Returned Phalanx in hand on my upkeep with only my two best creatures in play and an Overlord sacrifice trigger pending? Why didn’t I play the Phalanx the last turn so I could sacrifice it? Because I am stupid, that’s why. Keeping Phalanx in hand let me drain for three instead of two, but Denis was at 4, so it is unlikely to matter. Maybe he can gain two life with Pharika’s Cure. I don’t know. If he had been able to kill my Scholar on his turn, and then I had to sacrifice my Overlord and be left with an empty board with him at one life, and I lost? Thank Athreos that didn’t happen. Magic is hard.

6-2 in matches!!!!

Round 9—Jacob Creed playing RW

Round nine! Playing for day two! Just like in Toronto, but this time with a good deck. Jacob played a turn one mountain, the first one I’d seen all day. His deck was strong, topping out with Purphoros and Celestial Archon, but my lifegain plan was the last thing he wanted to face. I won game one, and sided out my blue splash for the third Hopeful Eidolon plus Glare of Heresy. Game two went similarly.

7-2 in matches!!!!! Day two!!!! I did it.

To be continued . . .

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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