The end of each year is a popular time to take a break from competitive Magic. I enjoyed the opportunity, as I suspect many did. Turns out it was good enough to keep going, so I took the month of January off for the most part as well. The prerelease weekend was a fun refresher, and I did play one Sealed PPTQ the weekend after. Beyond that, I watched Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan on tape delay back home, and played no paper or electronic Magic at all. It was a nice break.

As sometimes happens when you stop focusing on improving, you improve anyway. That’s not random. The mind processes and organizes experiences into memory—at least mine does—and some time off is essential to feed that process. Non-stop focus 24/7/365 leads to burnout. That is why vacation is essential. Which is a long way of saying, I lost in the semifinals of the PPTQ despite doing no prep other than two prerelease flights.

Behold the sealed deck I registered.

Merfolk You

Creatures (16)
Merfolk Mistbinder
Deeproot Warrior
Giltgrove Stalker
Silvergill Adept
Kitesail Corsair
Jungleborn Pioneer
Sailor of Means
Atzocan Archer
Seafloor Oracle
Deadeye Rig-Hauler
Forerunner of the Heralds
Siren Reaver
Spire Winder
Riverwise Augur

Spells (7)
Traveler’s Amulet
Secrets of the Golden City
Depths of Desire
Perilous Voyage
Profane Procession
Lands (17)
Drowned Catacombs

Sideboard (15)
Sea Legs
Dive Down
Ixalli’s Diviner
Sworn Guardian
Secrets of the Golden City
Raiders’ Wake
Pious Interdiction
Divine Verdict
Crafty Cutpurse
Aggresive Urge
Orazca Relic
Storm Fleet Sprinter
Regisaur Alpha

Yes, I got totally hooked up with the broken Merfolk pool. And indeed, I thought the deck was so good that it was worth trying to splash the stupid Profane Procession off my Drowned Catacombs and such. My thinking was, I could use a super-late-game engine if I ever ended up there, at which point the mana wouldn’t be too hard to hit.

As it turned out, the one game where I drew it—my first game of the day—I ended up losing to Zacama, Primal Calamity when I was one mana short of being able to play and activate Profane Procession to get rid of that thing. So I always sided it out for Pious Interdiction, Divine Verdict, or stuff like Dive Down. I don’t think the double splash was worth it, and the deck is better with smooth mana. Raiders’ Wake is a great card in Sealed if you can cast it before the late game, but that’s not realistic in this deck with so little fixing and so few treasures. The pool had no black removal spells, somehow.

As you can imagine, I crushed my first three rounds and double-drew into the top eight. (We only had five rounds because a decent snowstorm hit Colorado that morning.) Three copies of Jungleborn Pioneer are quite the powerhouse. You don’t need much interaction when you can flood and pump the board like this deck does.

Going into the top eight draft, I had no idea about the format other than it seemed fast. All color combinations look playable—blue-white and black-green finally joined the party—so I decided to take the best cards and find an open color pair.

As it turned out, I opened Etali, Primal Storm and blue was wide open. These are the results:

Tempo Pirates

Creatures (15)
Fanatical Firebrand
Storm Fleet Swashbuckler
Tilonalli’s Knight
Kitesail Corsair
Storm Fleet Sprinter
Frilled Deathspitter
River Darter
Sailor of Means
Deadeye Rig-Hauler
Brazen Freebooter
Spire Winder
Storm Fleet Pyromancer
Etali, Primal Storm

Spells (9)
Pirate’s Cutlass
Lightning Strike
Unfriendly Fire
Firecannon Blast
Expel from Orazca
Crashing Tide
Lands (16)

Sideboard (11)
Run Aground
Crashing Tide
Storm Sculptor
Sworn Guardian
Curious Obsession
Secrets of the Golden City
Navigator’s Ruin
Blood Sun
Orazca Relic
Prying Blade

This deck seems pretty great to me. Red removal came in pack three, and that put the deck over the top. I wasn’t sure on the mix of blue spells, so I hedged by running Hornswoggle instead of another bounce spell. It never came up. I totally ran over my hapless red-black opponent in the first round. Then I drew tons of lands both games and lost to a solid black-white vampires deck in the semifinals.

I never drew Pirate’s Cutlass, which somehow found its way to me fifth or sixth pick in the final pack. I guess that’s just variance evening out, because there is no reason a cutlass should go that far around the table. I was not the only pirate drafter in the pod; but even if I had been, it’s great in almost all archetypes. That said, I was probably supposed to play Curious Obsession—it seems like a reasonable median case to get an extra point of damage and a replacement card.

Losing in the top eight of a PPTQ usually feels bad. I won five packs of Rivals for my troubles, but I didn’t really care. The cards came my way and I played well without thinking too much. A few different topdecks and I make the finals, where I’ll take my chances against anything. This season feeds the weird team RPTQs, so who knows whether I will want to play in that or need to win a PPTQ to get the opportunity.

Regardless, it feels good to play with new cards. Rivals of Ixalan draft seems fun, though sealed maybe not so much. Now I can explore the format without having to focus too much on preparing for tournaments. The Pro Tour draft rounds sure looked exciting!

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

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