With the release of Eternal Masters last weekend, we were fortunate in Denver to have two sealed PPTQs in the format. I went to the first on Saturday, thought I built a great deck, learned I was wrong, and went home to process why. Coming back for more on Sunday, I built a deck that seemed decent, battled to a 5-1 record, and finished third in the tournament. Eternal Masters prize packs feel sweet!

On Friday night, going to bed before the first PPTQ, I reflected on how well I had been building sealed pools lately. I’ve had a wide range of power level in my pools over the last year, but I would repeatedly restudy and rebuild my pools after events, only to conclude that my original build was correct, or close enough to be too difficult to measure. I slept well that night, knowing that I would build my EMA pool well.

Well, here’s what I played on Saturday:

3bb

Three Bloodbraid Elf? Goblin Trenches? Glare of Subdual? How can I lose? Well, it turns out that a 3/2 haste that draws a free Kird Ape isn’t that good against Giant Tortoise or Coalition Honor Guard. Or Serra Angel.

Yes, Trenches and Glare are ridiculous bombs. If I stuck one of them, I won the game. But the rest of the deck was simply mediocre. Yavimaya Enchantress was actually my best creature most of the time, which is one reason I leaned on enchantments more than normal. But look: if a three mana 2/2 that gets bigger for each enchantment in play is the best creature in your sealed deck, your sealed deck sucks. I went 2-3 and dropped before the final round. My second victory was against an opponent who didn’t show up.

I went home humiliated with myself. I studied my pool, and shot it around to some friends. I had a Serra Angel and reasonable white creatures. That build, with a red splash for Firebolt and Goblin Trenches, looked ok. But it didn’t look too much better than what I played. Maybe my pool was just on the low end, other than the two great enchantments.

Here’s another lesson I learned on Saturday: blue-white fliers are great in EMA sealed. I put that knowledge to work at the second PPTQ on Sunday:

Humble Brago

Creatures (13)
Mistral Charger
Eight-and-a-Half-Tails
Whitemane Lion
Warden of Evos Isle
Man-o’-War
Pilgrim’s Eye
Ballynock Cohort
Brago, King Eternal
Peregrine Drake
Welkin Guide
Jetting Glasskite

Spells (10)
Sensei’s Divining Top
Field of Souls
Pacifism
Faith’s Fetters
Gaseous Form
Memory Lapse
Prismatic Lens
Rally the Peasants
Carbonize
Firebolt
Lands (17)
Swiftwater Cliffs
Wind-Scarred Crag
Tranquil Cove
Plains
Island
Mountain

Sideboard (37)
Sensei’s Divining Top
Seal of Cleansing
Daze
Brainstorm
Squadron Hawk
Benevolent Bodyguard
Honden of Seeings Winds
Hydroblast
Elite Vanguard
Tidal Wave
Stupefying Touch
Screeching Skaab
Dream Twist
Mesa Enchantress
Tooth and Claw
Wildfire Emissary
Scoured Barrens
Extract from Darkness
Night’s Whisper
Nekrataal
Braids, Cabal Minion
Urborg Uprising
Entomb
Gravedigger
Sengir Autocrat
Skulking Ghost
Plague Witch
Victimize
Wakedancer
Torrent of Souls
Deadbridge Shaman
Nausea

I wasn’t sure how good this deck would be. I lost the first round to my friend Matthew’s powerful control deck, which ironically I had helped him sleeve up minutes before. I had five more rounds to play after that, and I won them all. The deck performed well and gave me plenty of tools to win.

Here’s what I learned while building this deck and playing it to a 5-1 record, second place in a 60-person EMA sealed tournament:

1. Rally is Back

Rally the Peasants is a premier win condition in the sealed format. I had an easy red splash in this pool and both Firebolt and Carbonize to justify it, but Rally does so much work with fliers. I won the first game of round six, against an amazing esper control deck with Serra Angel and Wrath of God, when my opponent tapped out at sixteen life. I attacked with two Ballynock Cohorts, they weren’t blocked, so I cast and flashed back Rally the Peasants to deal fourteen. My opponent untapped, looked at the Firebolt in my graveyard and conceded.

2. Untapping lands is good.

Who knew? Peregrine Drake is all the rage in Pauper now that it’s been downshifted to common. And it’s amazing in EMA sealed. I had the joy of playing it and Welkin Guide on the same turn multiple games. Once, I even did it with Brago ready to get through for four damage and flicker the drake for the full Cawblade Sword of Feast and Famine experience. There’s also Warden of Evos Isle, to let you do this on turn four, or generate an extra mana, if you feel adventurous.

3. Ain’t No Yard for Your Barbecue

The format is really lacking in good reanimator targets. I listed all of my black cards in the sideboard above. They are good. Going through my entire pool, though, the best big creatures were Jetting Glasskite, which never dies anyway, and random value stuff. Why bother? It’s hard to pull off. If your pool has Entomb and Sphinx of the Steel Wind, then sure, go ahead. But this isn’t cube, and the big stuff isn’t plentiful.

4. Dimir in the End

So how did I win game two of round six against that great esper control deck? I sided out my red cards and some filler for a black splash, adding Extract from Darkness, Night’s Whisper, Urborg Uprising, and Gravedigger. I landed the turn one Top, which is good, and it let me set up a devastating sequence where I floated Extract from Darkness on top of my deck for a number of turns while holding Memory Lapse. When my opponent went to cast Serra Angel, things went really wrong. If you can’t find anything good to reanimate, try the other graveyard!

5. Always ask a judge!

Later in that game, I got an interesting judge ruling. I had Field of Souls in play along with the Serra Angel when my opponent cast Wrath of God. The wording on Field says “when a creature is put into your graveyard from the battlefield,” get a spirit token. But that language was what got changed to “dies” recently. I asked the judge if I got a token off Field of Souls when “my” Serra Angel died and went to my opponent’s graveyard. Final ruling: yes! I wonder if that is correct. Why wouldn’t Wizards have retemplated Field of Souls to say “dies” if that’s the functionality they wanted? I think that ruling is probably wrong. It didn’t matter, as my opponent had Nausea to immediately kill all my spirit tokens anyway. But strange. Always call a judge and ask how weird cards work!

6. Ban Top!!!

Holy shit why is this card still legal in Legacy? I don’t even know if my sealed deck was good or if I just got to crush lives with Sensei’s Divining Top. I almost played my single Squadron Hawk just to get a shuffle effect and combo with Rally the Peasants. That was almost good enough to play a 1/1 Storm Crow in my EMA sealed deck! Maybe I was wrong not to! In Legacy, Top does quite a bit more. Go see what Kate Donnelly says, or Andrea Mengucci, or whoever you want through Google because everyone has written about banning Top. It’s gonna happen. Maybe not in July, since they just sold a lot of Tops in EMA packs. But it will.

7. Oh yeah I got to do an EMA draft in the top eight!

I loved the deck I put together, even if I never saw any other pieces of the combo after starting the draft with Entomb and Worldgorger Dragon in my first four picks.

emarock

I beat a sweet UW fliers deck in the quarters, after losing game one to his splashed Glare of Subdual. Then I lost to another sweet UW fliers deck. This one started game one like this: plains, Benevolent Bodyguard, plains, Mother of Runes, Elite Vanguard. I actually should have won this game, despite never drawing Toxic Deluge or killing Mother of Runes! But in the final turn, I forgot that after my opponent blocked my 3/3 Brawn with Aven Riftwatcher buffed by Sprite Noble, and my post-combat Nekrataal targeted his Sprite Noble, the Riftwatcher should have died. And that was the lethal attacker for him when I was certain to win next turn! And I planned it out! I don’t know. You get tired after eight rounds of weird EMA interactions. I guess wrangling various chump blocks to set up the tapped Mother of Runes on my final turn took too much out of me.

I lost game two in a brutal sequence. Here are the cards played in the first five turns of the game: Lands, Aven Riftwatcher, Innocent Blood, Skulking Ghost, Glimmerpoint Stag, Coalition Honor Guard, Toxic Deluge, Counterspell. BARF!!! I asked my opponent if he had sided into a slower deck to avoid the sideboard Nausea and Plague Witch he had watched me use to win the quarterfinals. No, he said, he just drew the slow part of his deck when I drew the perfect hand for all of the cards he played in game one. That’s Magic!

Anyway, if you get the chance to play some EMA sealed, give it a shot. Deckbuilding is very difficult, and the cards are unfamiliar, but it’s really rewarding. You don’t need to open crazy bombs to do well, but it won’t be easy. Challenge yourself!

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.