Last week was tough. Saturday offered up one of the few sealed PPTQs in Colorado, but I struggled to get excited for it. It takes a lot to dissuade me from playing a sealed tournament, but I was close to skipping it. That morning, I actually turned off my alarm and went back to sleep. But after a while, I got up and went to play some Magic.

Turns out, that was a good decision. I won the whole thing, and have another shot to get back to the Pro Tour when the regional rolls around in March. Long before the final match, I knew I made the right choice. My sealed pool was excellent. It was one of the best pools I’ve ever opened. One of the six packs featured both [casthaven]Aetherstorm Roc[/casthaven] and a masterpiece [casthaven]Verdurous Gearhulk[/casthaven]. Pretty good. It turned out all seven of my rares were on color or artifacts, so the deck mostly built itself.

A Rare Sealed Deck

Creatures (17)
Oviya Pashiri, Sage Lifecrafter
Ninth Bridge Patrol
Longtusk Cub
Trusty Companion
Eager Construct
Gearshift Ace
Architect of the Untamed
Highspire Artisan
Glint-Sleeve Artisan
Thriving Rhino
Aetherstorm Roc
Consul’s Shieldguard
Propeller Pioneer
Wild Wanderer
Verdurous Gearhulk

Spells (6)
Fleetwheel Cruiser
Blossoming Defense
Appetite for the Unnatural
Revoke Privileges
Deadlock Trap
Lands (17)

Sideboard (28)
Inspired Charge
Built to Last
Acrobatic Maneuver
Authority of the Consuls
Tasseled Dromedary
Cowl Prowler
Take Down
Commencement of Festivities
Dukhara Peafowl
Prophetic Prism
Sky Skiff
Ballista Charger
Aradara Express
Inventor’s Goggles
Torch Gauntlet
Fireforger’s Puzzleknot
Woodweaver’s Puzzleknot
Glassblower’s Puzzleknot
Veteran Motorist
Voltaic Brawler
Whirler Virtuoso
Chandra’s Pyrohelix
Era of Innovation

Yeah, that should be good enough to make the top eight of a five round tournament. The field was small but full of the best players in town, minus those who already qualified or are preparing for the World Magic Cup. I lost a close round three to Shawn Sloan doing some mean things with [casthaven]Pia Nalaar[/casthaven] and a lot of vehicles, but otherwise won out to claim the first seed going into the top eight.

Over the last couple years I have gotten quite good at sealed Magic, but my draft game has been slipping. Leaving Brooklyn and the Team Draft League cut my access to regular, high-level drafting. I play online a bit, but that’s nowhere near as much fun. I still do well enough, but I think my ability to read a draft has slipped a bit, making my decks just weak enough to cost me in high stakes drafts in PPTQ top eights or day two of grand prix.

I set out to bring my drafting up to where I want to be, with a good mix of paper and online Kaladesh drafts. I found my in-game decisions were getting better, but my decks didn’t seem strong enough. I felt like my grasp of the format was strong, but that wasn’t translating into how I navigated my picks from draft to draft.

While reading the fantastic limited write-ups from Ben Stark and Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, I realized my mistake. I actually agreed with most of what both Ben and Paulo said about the format, despite them conflicting heavily. The format feels very balanced around being able to play either strong aggro or a midrange/control powerhouse. It’s an impressive feat for Wizards R&D, to make a limited environment that is powerful, complex, and balanced. I had been waffling between different styles too often in my drafts, grabbing the good cards going late whether they fit my style or not. Instead I needed to understand what type of deck I was drafting and how to assemble the pieces.

Sitting down for the top eight draft, I vowed to focus on my role throughout the draft. I was going to read signals and find the best deck that could come my way. This was the result:

Renegade Tactics

Creatures (14)
Dhund Operative
Embraal Bruiser
Reckless Fireweaver
Thriving Grubs
Foundry Screecher
Prakhata Pillar-Bug
Pia Nalaar
Spireside Infiltrator
Maulfist Doorbuster
Gonti, Lord of Luxury
Spontaneous Artist
Ambitious Aetherborn
Marionette Master

Spells (9)
Ovalchase Dragster
Welding Sparks
Chandra’s Pyrohelix
Rush of Vitality
Built to Smash
Live Fast
Fireforger’s Puzzleknot
Lands (17)

Sideboard (19)
Die Young
Built to Smash
Incendiary Sabotage
Spark of Creativity
Subtle Strike
Night Market Lookout
Ruinous Goblin
Cathartic Reunion
Ambitious Aetherborn
Morbid Curiosity
Giant Spectacle
Riparian Tiger
Arborback Stomper
Sage of Shaila’s Claim
Wily Bandar
Tasseled Dromedary
Hightide Hermit
Failed Inspection

[casthaven]Pia Nalaar[/casthaven] came first. Great card, but not the best pairing with the [casthaven]Arborback Stomper[/casthaven] that I took second. Red and green were both sorta open in pack one, but not the cards that are good in a red-green energy deck. I saw no white, and mediocre blue and black. As I was starting to get nervous, a [casthaven]Dhund Operative[/casthaven] showed up seventh or eighth pick. I took that as a strong signal that nobody on my right was fighting too hard for black, and settled in to draft red-black artifacts, which fit well with my early red picks. Pack two sent a lot of green, which sucked a little, but they still weren’t the best red-green cards. Red flowed in both directions, and sure enough pack three was a deluge of powerful black cards.

[casthaven]Panharmonicon[/casthaven] showed up late in pack three. I was short on artifacts and said why not. As I built the deck, adding the trigger-doubler helped me fit the [casthaven]Fireforger’s Puzzleknot[/casthaven]s into the deck, and gave me some late game combo potential. Mostly, I just wanted to make sure my [casthaven]Foundry Screecher[/casthaven] and friends would be turned on by turn four. Maybe [casthaven]Die Young[/casthaven] would have been better, but I felt the deck needed more synergy and less dudes-plus-removal.

It turned out everyone drafted white. I plowed through two green-white decks and a white-red deck to win the RPTQ invite. It’s reassuring to face the same color every round of a draft, as that usually means none of the decks is too loaded with powerful cards. That was mostly the case, although I did survive the [casthaven]Skysovereign[/casthaven] in the finals (which gave me my only game loss in the top eight) and dodge the [casthaven]Nissa, Vital Force[/casthaven] in the quarters against Brandon Nelson.

All the rares and usual suspects showed up for me when I needed them, but the absolute star of the deck was [casthaven]Ovalchase Dragster[/casthaven]. I took it third overall, and it won many games, including game three of the finals. I love being able to hold it in my hand to sculpt a surprise hit, but it can actually stick around and do more! It’s hard to lose a game where dragster hits them twice. So you sit back, waiting to drop the death blow with dragster, but if a spot opens before that, you can smack away and still have it back for the final attack. An artifact [casthaven]Ball Lightning[/casthaven] that survives? I love it.

And that’s that. After a lot of second and third place finishes in PPTQs, I’m heading back to the regional. Just in time to get the lame new [casthaven]Emrakul, the Aeons Torn[/casthaven] promo. Way to screw that up, Wizards. At least it’s better than the laughable [casthaven]Progenitus[/casthaven] grand prix promo. I guess I better make the top four!

Carrie O’Hara is Editor-in-Chief of Hipsters of the Coast.

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