By Hugh Kramer, Grade 8

Recently I’ve been on the live, eat, and sleep Magic: The Gathering workout plan even more than usual. My MTG crew and I often use the term “leveling up” when it comes to improving at magic and I feel that with my recent successes I’ve personally hit another tier. Last month I won an “old school” PTQ and just this past weekend I won my first PPTQ also here in NYC. When I play a game of Magic these days I feel like Neo looking at a bunch of green 1s and 0s cascading down a black screen.

OK, well, perhaps that is a slight exaggeration—but honestly, when playing competitive Magic recently I feel a wave of calm concentration wash over me that I don’t feel in any other aspects of my life. Perhaps that’s part of the addiction. Though my drive to win certainly doesn’t hurt.

At both the PTQ in November and the Khans sealed PPTQ this weekend (editor’s note: actually a couple weekends ago now, sorry, I had the flu) I opened lots of non-basic lands in my sealed pools. Lands are far and away the most important thing in this sealed format. If you open enough of them (usually at least 6-7 or if you’re lucky 8-9) you can usually play all the most powerful spells your pool provides. Almost every pool will have enough powerful gold cards at all rarity levels that it really does not matter which spells you open because again, if you have the lands, you have all you need.

If I’m gifted all the lands and I get to play four or five colors I generally prefer to play all my good morphs to increase my consistency. I will play whatever my best 5-6 removal spells are, 18 lands, and hopefully have 2-3 card draw spells. I will almost always play hard removal over soft removal and tend to shy away from most double-colored spells unless they are bombs.

Two-drops in this format are bad. They’re bad in draft and even worse in sealed. Games go long and bears get outclassed very quickly. Two-drops also have colors in their cost and if you are playing many tap-lands you want to play your tap-lands on turns one and two so you can play a morph on turn three, then another morph and tap-land on turn four.

In GP Baltimore last month I opened a pool with almost no lands and not a lot of powerful spells. As a result I had to build a deck with a lot of two-drops which is something I did not want to do. As a result, I did not think my deck would be good enough to make Day Two. Sure enough, I lost my win-and-in round but it again just was further evidence to me that bears are bad and lands are good.

The only two-drops I’d consider in a 4-5 color “good” sealed deck in this format are Archer’s Parapet (because it’s a blockahontus and buys you all the time) and early creatures that can outlast to keep pace with more powerful spells later in the game. Disowned Ancestor is one of my favorite cards to play in slow decks, as outlasting even just once is enough to block most things in the format. Playing it on turn 1, outlasting it turn 2, and then outlasting it turn 3 and playing a tap-land or just playing a morph turn 3 is the best start you can have with a deck like this.

The PPTQ was six rounds of swiss with a cut to Top 8. I 4-0’d my first rounds and was able to double draw into Top 8. I’ve drafted this format a LOT and definitely have to say there are only two decks I like drafting which I believe to generally be the best decks in the format. The first is Sultai which Gerard Fabiano clearly showed the power of with his dominant if unorthodox strategy of taking Rakshasa’s Secret over basically anything at GP Baltimore. While I am on the same page as he is that Sultai is the best clan I’m not as high as he is on Rakshasa’s (Rakanishu’s!) Secret.

The other deck I want to draft is 5-color as I think it’s head and shoulders the most powerful deck. I think the BW Warriors deck is extremely overrated and see no reason to ever want to try to draft two colors in this format when fixing and power (gold cards) are so readily available.

On the flip side I think that Temur is the weakest clan. Red’s creatures are generally poor and it doesn’t have any cheap removal spells than can also go to the face, which is one of the best things that red cards can do in Limited. At the PTQ Top 8 last month I had drafted what I knew to be a bad Temur deck that had to lean on cards Barrage of Boulders and Stubborn Denial, which, while admittedly were great for me for that particular Top 8, are generally not where you want to be.

For the PPTQ last weekend as I sat down I knew I had a clear plan in my head of drafting Sultai or 5-color and trying to avoid Temur at all costs. Of course the fates would laugh in my face as my first pack was terrible with the only good cards being Dragon-Style Twins and Bitter Revelation. I nearly took Bitter Rev first pick because I really think red is the worst color in the format but in the end I reluctantly went with the Dragon-Style.

There were some very strange signals going on in the draft but I ended up in the right clan and had very few tough picks to make. I got two Mardu Heart-Piercers, which is insane (a card I think is better than Arc Lightning in this format) and a lot of very solid removal spells. A timely open of a Frontier Bivouac in pack three solidified what would’ve been a slightly worrisome mana base and I was off to the races.

My quarter- and semi-finals opponents didn’t put up much of a fight as I drew many many Heart-Piercers.

The finals pitted me against a very solid player with a solid Abzan deck. During the draft I had been able to pick up a Bloodfell Caves, Dismal Backwater, and late Villainous Wealth and knew that if I played any grindy match-ups in the Top 8 I’d be able to bring in the free black splashes as well as a Swamp with the Wealth and have an absolute trump card for the matchup.

After winning a super tense and grindy game one I knew that the longer game two went, the better my chances of winning would be. Sure enough, on turn nine with a just a Mystic of the Hidden Way to my opponent’s board of four creatures I was able to cast the Wealth for six and get four spells off the top of his library to stabilize and let my Mystic finish him. I ended the tournament without losing a single game. It felt p good.

Special thanks to friend of the blog Sean Morse for hanging out with me throughout the whole Top 8 despite the fact that he knows nothing of my work. It’s always nice to have support and friends with you to celebrate with when you actually win. Thanks everyone for reading and hope to have another victory report in the near future!

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