Sleevin’ up forty. That’s how I like to spend my Saturday. Weekend before last I was lucky enough to have a local Magic Origins sealed PPTQ. My Jam! Coming off my strong weekend in Detroit, I was ready to finally take one of these things down.

I had previously made the top 8 of three PPTQs (two sealed, one standard), and in each one I lost in the semifinals. This time I was looking to change that. Spoiler alert: I lost in the semifinals. Again. But I think I had my best performance to date in a PPTQ, so it’s not all bad. Hopefully I can get over this hump at some point and actually qualify for a regional.

My sealed pool was pretty good. I went through the list, verifying the cards. It seemed ok. Then I got to the artifacts at the end. Hangarback Walker! Well then, my deck just went from decent to great. Now I had high hopes. Here’s what I built:

Hangarback Walker and Friends

Creatures (16)
Hangarback Walker
Fetid Imp
Sigiled Starfish
Deadbridge Shaman
Eyeblight Assassin
Fleshbag Marauder
Guardians of Meletis
Watercourser
Whirler Rogue
Separatist Voidmage
Erebos’s Titan
Returned Centaur
Ringwarden Owl
Kothophed, Soul Hoarder

Spells (7)
Thopter Spy Network
Veteran’s Sidearm
Alchemist’s Vial
Reave Soul
Anchor to the Aether
Read the Bones
Lands (17)
Evolving Wilds
Swamp
Island

Sideboard (14)
Nigthsnare
Negate
Returned Centaur
Artificer’s Epiphany
Send to Sleep
Screeching Skaab
Stratus Walk
Dreadwaters
Nivix Barrier
Jace’s Sanctum
Mage-Ring Network
Undead Servant
Thornbow Archer
Infernal Scarring

This is the kind of sealed deck that looks better than it actually is. It looks great. But it has almost no removal and the powerful cards don’t quite dominate games on their own. Winning with it would require careful play. Fortunately I was up to the task.

I lost my first round to an extremely broken sealed deck. I never dealt a point of damage in either game. That’s not how you want to start your tournament, but there was nothing I could have done differently. Shuffle my opponent’s deck more successfully? Even that seems tough given the massive concentration of bomb rares and uncommons mixed in.

With four more rounds of Swiss and thirty players in the tournament, I had to win out to make the top 8. That’s never fun, but it does at least force you to focus completely. You can’t afford to lose. Many people, myself included, play their best in that situation. And sure enough, I managed to finish the Swiss at 4-1 in third place overall.

walken

Dimir is my weapon of choice.

My toughest deckbuilding choice was whether to play the second copy of Veteran’s Sidearm. Doing so helped make Thopter Spy Network more reliable, but that alone wouldn’t be enough to justify adding a bad artifact. Is Veteran’s Sidearm bad? It’s actually pretty good, although I’m still not sure if it is an above average card. It has two things going for it, above being an artifact: it costs one mana to equip, and creatures are small enough in the format that +1/+1 is useful. So I took my chances and ran the second copy.

This decision paid off in round four. I faced a tough matchup against a grindy deck that was going to win off Volcanic Rambler, an underrated sealed win condition that my deck cannot kill. Game one lasted 30+ minutes, so it was crucial to win it. And I did, thanks to a few thopter tokens and two copies of Veteran’s Sidearm! The second one came off the top on my final turn, as I faced death by rambler if my opponent untapped. The sidearm was also solid at enabling prowess for my two Ringwarden Owls. I took a deckbuilding chance and it paid off!

My top 8 draft started off well: I opened Tragic Arrogance. Is that card good? I hear that it is. Some black removal spells followed by a fifth pick Sigil of the Empty Throne pointed me in the direction of enchantments. White was definitely not open in the draft (at least four people played it) but I was able to find the right cards for my archetype and build a nice one:

My Kind of Deck

Creatures (13)
Fetid Imp
Cleric of the Forward Order
Shambling Ghoul
Blood-Cursed Knight
Nantuko Husk
Auramancer
Knight of the Pilgrim’s Road
Eyeblight Assassin
Kytheon’s Irregulars
War Oracle
Blightcaster
Returned Centaur

Spells (10)
Tragic Arrogance
Sigil of the Empty Throne
Shadows of the Past
Consecrated by Blood
Infernal Scarring
Weight of the Underworld
Cruel Revival
Unholy Hunger
Read the Bones
Enshrouding Mist
Lands (17)
Evolving Wilds
Plains
Swamp

Sideboard (18)
Mage-Ring Network
Enlightened Ascetic
Yoked Ox
Guardians of Meletis
Returned Centaur
Aven Battle Priest
Catacomb Slug
Nightsnare
Healing Hands
Touch of Moonglove
Sphinx’s Tutelage
Sigiled Starfish
Artificer’s Epiphany
Hitchclaw Recluse
Volcanic Rambler

I had two tough choices in the draft. My second pick overall was between Cruel Revival and Reave Soul. Which one is better? When in doubt, err on the side of the cheaper spell, right? Well I took Cruel Revival. As it turned out, my deck was pretty good at dealing with smaller creatures and really needed ways to kill big problem cards. So maybe I was correct? But I have a feeling Reave Soul is the “correct” pick. Tell me what you think!

Third pick of pack three, firmly ensconced in white-black enchantments, I had a choice between Blessed Spirits, Blood-Cursed Knight, Suppression Bonds, and a couple other solid white cards. The bonds would be very nice, but I felt I had to take a creature. My deck only ended up with thirteen (along with theoretical Angel tokens) so I feel correct in that assessment. So which do you take, Blessed Spirits or Blood-Cursed Knight? The “smart” play, I suspect, is to take the spirits and hope to wheel the knight. It was obvious to me that no good white card would come back around, so this was my only chance to pick up Blessed Spirits. But how likely is it that Blood-Cursed Knight will come back to me tenth pick? By the way, the knight was foil.

I decided it was unlikely the foil gold card would come back to me, so I took it. Blessed Spirits is in that Wind Drake-with-upside category that is very strong in limited (not quite Nimbus Naiad levels of awesomeness, but still quite good). But Blood-Cursed Knight is absurd when you control an enchantment. I went for it, and I don’t regret it.

deer-hunter

Now tell me which card you’d take.

Ironically enough, I ended up losing game three in the semifinals to three hits from a 2/2 Blessed Spirits. My opponent had a solid green-white deck. In game one we answered the eternal question: who wins in a battle between Kytheon’s Irregulars and Sentinel of the Eternal Watch? Turns out it was the sentinels, unfortunately for me. I had tons of white mana, but I couldn’t do anything else, was at low life, and eventually succumbed before I could draw Tragic Arrogance. I won game two comfortably.

The fateful game lasted forever. We traded a lot. Cruel Revival took care of Sentinel of the Eternal Watch. Tragic Arrogance traded one-for-one with Patron of the Valiant. (It had to be done.) Eventually we were both in the mid single digits in life with one creature apiece. From that point, I drew mostly lands. My opponent had three cards in hand. Threy were probably lands, but could have been tricks. My kingdom for Shadows of the Past! Or another creature! Or anything other than lands.

Despite my bad luck, I made a big strategic mistake in these final turns. I had drawn Enshrouding Mist. Multiple times, I had an opportunity to trade it with my opponent’s only creature to save mine. Each time, I felt it wasn’t necessary and that I could lose by walking into a trick in response. Never mind that the only relevant one, Celestial Flare, was good regardless. The clearest moment I should have fired it off was when my 3/2 Knight of the Pilgrim’s Road blocked his Somberwald Alpha. He paid for trample, and Enshrouding Mist would have saved me one trample damage and kept a 3/2 renown creature on board.

Cowbell

You’re gonna want that play back.

If not then, at least I should have used it when my last creature traded with his last creature. I figured I would draw another, and the extra damage could surprise him. He was at 3 life now, so it was plausible enough to trick me into taking that line. I promptly died to three hits from his freshly-drawn Blessed Spirits, never finding another creature or another card to win. On one life, needing to draw an answer, I found Read the Bones. All the daggers.

Here’s the moral of the story: Shadows of the Past is amazing. Try to draw it every game. Also, when you maneuver a tough game into the late stage topdeck war, try to trade off your tricks for their creatures. Don’t get fancy. Or to be more accurate, don’t put combat tricks in your sealed deck. Maybe I should have splashed that Sphinx’s Tutelage.

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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