Dragons of Tarkir went on sale last weekend and the good people of Colorado got together for back-to-back sealed PPTQs. The weather was nice and I had plenty of life stuff to do, but I spent most of my weekend playing Magic. I’m a Magic player, that’s my job, that’s what I do.

On Saturday the sealed deck gods smiled on me. I was surprised to learn that the format uses four Dragons of Tarkir packs and only two Fate Reforged packs. I assume Wizards did that because Fate Reforged has too many bombs, which made Khans of Tarkir sealed much swingier when three Fate packs went into each pool. In Dragons sealed, you aren’t going to get three broken rares from Fate Reforged. Or are you?

Honor's Reward Plus 39

Creatures (17)
Atarka Beastbreaker
Ainok Guide
Scaleguard Sentinels
Herald of Dromoka
Whisperer of the Wilds
Dragon-Scarred Bear
Sandcrafter Mage
Sandstorm Charger
Segmented Krotiq
Salt Road Ambushers
Daghatar the Adamant
Conifer Strider
Abzan Skycaptain
Dromoka, the Eternal

Spells (5)
Pacifism
Epic Confrontation
Return to the Earth
Enduring Victory
Honor’s Reward
Lands (18)
10 Forest
Plains

Sideboard (22)
Student of Ojutai
Territorial Roc
Aven Skirmisher
Great-Horn Krushok
Abzan Advantage
Abzan Runemark
Shape the Sands
Ainok Artillerist
Archers of Qarsi
Obscuring Aether
Tail Slash
Wild Slash
Berserkers’ Onslaught
Douse in Gloom
Flatten
Reach of Shadows
Defeat
Pitiless Horde
Hedonist’s Trove
Ugin’s Construct
Tranquil Cove
Dismal Backwater

The worst part about this deck is that one of the Dromokas is foil. If you play the foil in game one and then the non-foil in game two, your opponent will know you have two of them. Life is rough. The only serious flaw with the deck is that it merely has three rares—shouldn’t Dromoka’s Command be in there somewhere?

I went 4-1-1, losing round three to an even more broken deck and drawing the last round to lock up top 8. I mostly just played good cards and won, and I won’t bore you with the details. I have a few impressions of cards worth noting, however.

  • [casthaven]Salt Road Ambushers[/casthaven] plays a lot worse than it looks. It’s base stats are not good enough—both a 3/3 for four in green and a 4/4 morph for five in double green are mediocre. The ability to put two extra counters on your other megamorphs is great, but rarely happens unless you build your deck around it. Mine did not have enough other megamorphs to warrant playing it.
  • [casthaven]Student of Ojutai[/casthaven] is fantastic against agressive decks. I didn’t put it in my forty because I don’t have many spells to trigger its lifegain ability, but I sided it in often and it always overperformed.
  • [casthaven]Return to the Earth[/casthaven] was great every time I drew it but one, and I might have won the match I lost if I had drawn it before my opponent went to town with [casthaven]Mastery of the Unseen[/casthaven]. I’d play one in any green sealed deck.

The top 8 was my first Dragons of Tarkir draft. One of the other drafters insisted that the judge call the draft, which I thought was great. No sitting and reading cards forever on the second day of the format. Restrictions that make a task harder are great when you want to separate the best from the very good.

I first-picked [casthaven]Corpseweft[/casthaven] over [casthaven]Warbringer[/casthaven] and dimir colors happened to be open. Here’s where I ended up:

Exploits of a Young Format

Creatures (17)
Sidisi’s Faithful
Palace Familiar
Sultai Emissary
Qarsi Sadist
Zephyr Scribe
Hewed Stone Retainers
Marang River Skeleton
Marsh Hulk
Dirgur Nemesis
Profaner of the Dead
Youthful Scholar
Lotus Path Djinn
Gurmag Drowner
Aven Surveyor

Spells (5)
Ojutai’s Summons
Corpseweft
Anticipate
Foul-Tongue Invocation
Rite of Undoing
Lands (18)
10 Island
Swamp

Sideboard (21)
Scoured Barrens
Dragonlord Ojutai
Scion of Ugin
Encase in Ice
Contradict
Ancestral Vengeance
Diplomacy of the Wastes
Elusive Spellfist
Ancient Carp
Reality Shift
Mystic Meditation
Reckless Imp
Tasigur’s Cruelty
Sultai Runemark
Custodian of the Trove
Sarkhan’s Rage
Great-Horn Krushok
Winds of Qal Sisma
Sandsteppe Scavenger
Tapestry of the Ages

I was a little underwhelmed with my deck because it lacked hard removal, but I figured that I had plenty of early interaction to make the aggro decks work harder while I set up for victory. I was hoping I’d play a slow deck so I could board in [casthaven]Dragonlord Ojutai[/casthaven], but alas, I beat a mediocre blue-white deck before falling to a red-white deck that killed me with [casthaven]Lose Calm[/casthaven] plus [casthaven]Collateral Damage[/casthaven] both games.

That was my third straight PPTQ finishing in third place, losing to the eventual winner in the semifinals. Rough beats, I suppose, but I’ve really enjoyed the tournaments. Denver feels like the perfect city for the PPTQ system. There are a lot of stores around the metro area, they all have plenty of space, each runs a PPTQ, and the fields attract 40-50 players. Many of them have played on the pro tour, and the top tables are very competitive.

Dilu_Horse

Gotta get back on the horse, right Hunter?

I came back on Sunday knowing I’d have a much worse sealed pool to work with. And sure enough, I got a hot pile of meh. The only colors my pool supported were blue and red, and they make the worst color combination in sealed. That can vary from format to format, but ultimately those colors have the fewest creatures and the least ways to deal with big creatures. Bad news for sealed.

Most of my cards were aggressive, and I wanted to get under the big decks, so I made my deck as streamlined as possible. Here’s what I built.

Izzet Good Enough?

Creatures (13)
Sidisi’s Faithful
Jeskai Sage
Mardu Scout
Jeskai Infiltrator
Screamreach Brawler
Silumgar Sorcerer
Ojutai Interceptor
Silumgar Spell-Eater
Atarka Efreet
Stormcrag Elemental
Sabertooth Outrider
Aven Surveyor

Spells (9)
Dragon Fodder
Anticipate
Wild Slash
Twin Bolt
Tail Slash
Collateral Damage
Kindled Fury
Lose Calm
Taigam’s Strike
Lands (18)
Swiftwater Cliffs
Evolving Wilds
Island
Mountain

Sideboard (14)
Dragonlord’s Prerogative
Belltoll Dragon
Updraft Elemental
Kolaghan, the Storm’s Fury
Reduce in Stature
Cunning Strike
Temur Battle Rage
Shifting Loyalties
Silumgar’s Scorn
Contradict
Dragon Tempest
Obscuring Aether
Gleam of Authority

I spent at least five minutes of the build time trying to decide if it could ever be correct to cut Dragonlord’s Prerogative from a blue sealed deck. Over lunch, Roberto Gonzalez said it was not. He’s probably right, but in this deck, it would really only be an insurance policy for when things go badly. That’s still good, but I thought my marginal spells like [casthaven]Kindled Fury[/casthaven] and [casthaven]Screamreach Brawler[/casthaven] did a better job of winning the game quickly. I always brought in the new [casthaven]Opportunity[/casthaven] after game one, removing whatever card was worst for the matchup, but I think my choice to leave it out of the maindeck was at least only slightly wrong and possibly correct.

The real criticism here is really whether it is correct to build a blue sealed deck that doesn’t want to play [casthaven]Opportunity[/casthaven]. I tried to make a slower deck where Dragonlord’s Prerogative would be an obvious bomb, but I don’t think this deck has enough power to compete in the long game even if it draws four cards in half its games.

Is This Better?

Creatures (13)
Sidisi’s Faithful
Jeskai Sage
Jeskai Infiltrator
Updraft Elemental
Silumgar Sorcerer
Ojutai Interceptor
Silumgar Spell-Eater
Atarka Efreet
Stormcrag Elemental
Belltoll Dragon
Kolaghan, the Storm’s Fury
Aven Surveyor

Spells (9)
Dragon Fodder
Anticipate
Wild Slash
Twin Bolt
Dragonlord’s Prerogative
Contradict
Cunning Strike
Silumgar’s Scorn
Lands (18)
Swiftwater Cliffs
Evolving Wilds
Island
Mountain
Swamp

This deck seems underpowered. I was afraid of ending up being the second-best late game deck against most powerful pools. Why give up the “free wins” of the aggressive version if I can’t feel confident going long?

The real problem is that the other best card in my pool, [casthaven]Jeskai Infiltrator[/casthaven], is the polar opposite blue card from Dragonlord’s Prerogative. [casthaven]Jeskai Infiltrator[/casthaven] wins games when you play it on turn three and benefits heavily from an aggressive shell. In my first deck, it is amazing. But it does very little if you get to a late-game stall. It’s basically a [casthaven]Pack Rat[/casthaven] that is only good if you play it early. You don’t even want to draw it off Dragonlord’s Prerogative.

Playing the control deck also gave up [casthaven]Lose Calm[/casthaven] and Taigam’s Strike, which seem like the best cards to have in a blue-red sealed deck. You have to win quickly, unexpectedly, to beat the green beefsteaks that always do well in large sealed tournaments. While it is nice to draw [casthaven]Lose Calm[/casthaven] and [casthaven]Collateral Damage[/casthaven] off your draw four, that’s the best case possible.

Anyway, I went 2-2 before scooping to Lee Marino, aka the Matt Jones of Denver, who was 2-1-1 and got paired down. It made no sense to try to dreamcrush him with the hope of winning six packs, and I was happy to pack up my mediocre pool and go home a little early after a long weekend.

What do you think? How should I have built my second pool? Do you think it would have mattered?

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.

Don't Miss Out!

Sign up for the Hipsters Newsletter for weekly updates.