This past Saturday, with an eye to getting in some competitive Dragons of Tarkir sealed practice for Grand Prix Atlantic City, coming up next weekend, I drove with my Team Draft League captain, Anthony, and fellow Hipster Derek out to Kenilworth, New Jersey, and the sealed PPTQ at WildPig Comics.

The day got off to an inauspicious and late start; the printer was broken, leading to a long wait on decklists, and the bathroom was broken, too, forcing anyone who needed the facilities to go outside to the Dunkin’ Donuts. The shop was clean and the owner was nice, though, and as the day went on, WildPig Comics proved to be a good PPTQ location. Props to the owner.

As you always want to do, I registered an unexciting sealed pool and was shipped an exciting one. The rares jumped out at me immediately: Surrak the Hunt Caller, Deathmist Raptor, Sunscorch Regent, Shaman of the Great Hunt, and Silumgar’s Command. Color-wise, blue was laughably shallow and incoherent, while black had some good cards (and a Jungle Hollow for fixing) but nothing on the level of green, red, or white.

I knew I would be green, but what to pair it with? Initially I was looking to go white, which had a bunch of good three-drops and some removal, in the form of Valorous Stance and Enduring Victory, but when I laid it all out I just got the feeling that the curve wasn’t as tight as it could be.

So I replaced the white with red, which wasn’t as deep but which filled in my curve in a more comprehensive way. I really had a hard time deciding which half of Naya to go with, but with time for deck reg running down, I settled on the Gruul build. I also, however, made a plan to board into Boros, which perhaps was better on the draw and if I was having trouble vs. fliers. I sleeved up an appropriate number of Plains and the white cards I wanted to play, so that I would be ready to board quickly into RW if need be. Here was my maindeck:


Long story short, I did very well in the six-round tournament, with 58 competitors. R1 went to three games, and I was surprised in G3 by my opponent casting Monastery Siege on turn three, naming Dragons—that’s the Frost Titan, pay-two-more-to-target ability—which I’ve never seen happen before. Furthermore, this was after my opponent A) had already seen an Ainok Survivalist out of me in G2, and B) I already had a face-down morph in play (which was in fact the Survivalist). I suppose my opponent had a plan, though: On turn four he cast Pitiless Horde, perhaps hoping to ride it to victory. But on my turn five I flipped up my Survivalist to nuke the Siege, cast Tail Slash on my five-power guy to kill his Horde, and swung in for eight. Neat.

Rounds two and three I smashed two younger fellas, one of whom seemed very angry at having lost while he had three black cards in hand, but only Plains and Mountains on the battlefield. Let that be a lesson, kids: Friends don’t let friends splash recklessly in Limited.

Thus far I had been lucky enough not to have to face one of my Team Draft League friends. Now, though, with us occupying six out of the eight 3-0 records, it was almost assured that we would be forced to kill each other. Sure enough, it was an all-TDL face-off in R4, with me playing Abe the Babe, Zach Orts playing Bert “Bathroom Water” Phillips, and Zach B. playing Rob “Birdlaw” Kofsky. Abe handed me my first loss of the day, thanks to my not drawing any of my really good cards, and Abe out-carding me in G1 with Damnable Pact and Tormenting Voice, and grinding me out in G2 with Deadly Wanderings, which seemed really strong all day.


Abe, Bert, and Zach B. all won their matches, allowing them to double-draw into Top 8. I still had some work to do, though—and unfortunately it would be to dispatch Anthony, my TDL teammate and carmate. We discussed whether or not it would be advantageous for us to draw this round and then try to beat our next-round opponent, rather than each other. It might have been for me, as I was in fifth place going into R5—the highest of the 3-1 records—but Anthony, further down at 15th place, needed to play. So we did.

This was a really interesting and tough three-game match, full of haymakers and a lot of blood on the ground and creatures in the yard. In the deciding game, Anthony had out a Lurking Arynx, while I had a board of a face-down morph, a face-up Salt Road Ambushers, and another durdle. On his turn Anthony tapped out for a Sandsteppe Mastodon and hemmed and hawed before deciding to bolster onto the Arynx rather than the reach elephant. His plan (as he agreed afterward) was to start swinging in with the now-8/10 Arynx and eating my guys, one by one.

On my turn I thought long and hard about my lines before deciding to swing in with just the face-down morph. Anthony, at a relatively low life total, had to think that there was nothing I could flip up that could punish him for blocking with his Arynx—even a flipped-up Segmented Krotik would have only become a 9/8, thanks to the two additional counters from Salt Road Ambushers—and in the end that’s what he decided to do.

Unfortunately for Anthony, my morph was a Deathmist Raptor (which he hadn’t yet seen), which I flipped up for five mana to become a 6/6 deathtoucher. The creatures still traded, of course, but after that Anthony was kind of out of gas, and I was able to take the hard-fought match.

One more round to go. Would my opponent want to draw in? Zach B. said that he thought I would be able to do so, but maybe not my opponent. So I had to sweat for a bit when I saw the pairings—me in fifth vs. a guy in seventh—and my opponent had to confer with his friends before deciding to ID. I think he knew that he wasn’t a lock, but he decided to take his chances.

I also had to sweat when the judge, Simon, announced the Top 8. Sure enough, I heard four TDL teammates’ names in the first seven slots—Richard Tan, Abe, Bert, and Zach B.—mixed in with three more guys. There was only one more slot to announce, and I was worried that somehow I wouldn’t make it. Then Simon said, “And in eighth place, with a four-digit DCI number…”—and I knew I was in. I pumped my first and said, “Yes!” Afterward Monique said that she saw my relief. (I also joked about what daggers it would have been if someone else at the store that day had randomly also had a four-digit DCI number: “And in eighth place, with a four-digit DCI number … Bob Jones.” Man that would’ve been awful. But no—I got it!

Time to draft. The judge asked if we wanted to do a called draft—that’s where you have a certain amount of time for each pick, and you have to draft and pass your packs when the judge says to do so—and I was the only one who voted “yes.” Guys, come on: You get very few chances to do a called draft, and each one you do makes you more likely to succeed on Day 2 of a Limited GP or some other competitive drafting situation.

I was fine to just draft regular, though, and so we did. I was seated to the left of Zach B. and to the right of a guy I didn’t know. I opened a pack containing Silkwrap, Pacifism, and Stormcrag Elemental; Living Lore was the rare. I was worried that perhaps I was being too cute, but Pacifism, while still good, isn’t as good in Dragons as it has been in other formats, due to to exploit and dash kind of eating its lunch. I like red, too, and Stormcrag Elemental is a very strong card in any red-based archetype. Plus, if your draft goes totally off the rails, the morph will never be a totally dead card; and there was another decent white card in the pack, maybe a Sandcrafter Mage, and no other good red cards. All of these things together tipped the scales for me toward the 5/5 megamorph trampler.

Zach shipped me a weak-ish pack two with the rare missing and a Vulturous Aven in the pack, so I took that happily, hoping to find myself in Rakdos. Then came a Youthful Scholar in pack three, followed by a Palace Familiar and *another* Youthful Scholar in pack five or so. The red had stopped flowing by this point, and I felt like I was off the races for UB exploit.

It’s interesting to note different card evaluations here. As it turns out, Zach ended up in Dimir colors as well; he shipped the Youthful Scholars to me becasue he thinks that card is not great. So what I saw as a strong signal—I think the Scholar is very good, as it’s often a three-for-one that requires no more work than tapping four mana—was in fact just a difference of opinion.

Who is correct? I don’t actually think it matters. But what’s worth remembering is that what you see as a signal may not be a signal to someone else; don’t assume everyone thinks the same things about cards as you do, and draft accordingly.

Despite being in the same colors, I was still able to assemble a heavily blue deck that I thought was really good, if very grindy. I was shipped a Ruthless Deathfang in pack two—just the card I wanted to see—and was lucky enough to open a Supplant Form in pack three, and get shipped an Aven Surveyor later in that pack. I ended up with three Palace Familiars, two Gurmag Drowners, a Vulturous Aven, a Sultai Emissary, a Silumgar Sorcerer (*so* good in my deck, as Abe pointed out), and more. Here’s the full list:


This build was difficult to optimize. My last two cuts and includes were getting rid of the Risen Executioner and something else, and putting the Elusive Spellfist and Taigam’s Strike in there, as another win condition. I was very glad to have Rakshasa’s Disdain in my deck, as it was almost always a hard counterspell that no one ever saw coming.

Well, I say “no one,” but really I should just say “Richard Tan,” as he was my first—and last—round opponent. I had a good two-game match against his strong RB deck, and felt like I was about to turn the corner in the second game, with a fistful of spells in hand. But Richard was wise enough to save up a flurry of tricks, and was able to fight past my Butcher’s Glee plus Rakshasa’s Disdain (countering his Reach of Shadows); in response he cast Kindled Fury on his attacker, which negated the lifegain I needed to stay alive from the Butcher’s Glee.

And my tournament was over. I hung around until the end, though, as Bert had mopped up the non-TDL side of the bracket, ensuring an all-TDL finals. Zach dispatched Abe to make the semis, then Richard to make the finals. Bert and Zach faced off in the finals, and Zach’s deck kind of shut Bert’s whole operation down. It was a pretty grim set of games, to be honest; Bert just wasn’t ever really in the game. Later I told him that it was like when the Soviets march you out into the woods to shoot you, but first they make you dig your own grave. Kudos to Bert for being a very sportsmanlike loser, and keeping chipper throughout; lesser men would have flipped a table.

That’s all I’ve got for this week, kids. Next week I’m headed to Grand Prix Atlantic City, but will join you as ever on Friday for perhaps some last-minute sealed R&D.

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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