Success. This word means something different for each of us. My opponent in the second to last round of the Sealed PTQ in Buter, PA would most likely determine this event a success even though he did not top 8 and most likely did not top 16. Why then is my top 8 at this PTQ not a success for me then? The difference is my opponent (sorry I did not write down any names for this event) almost got there at his first event outside FNM. This is a major accomplishment for him and hopefully will motivate him to continue on this path. Though It helps when you have a double Olivia Voldaren, double Heretics Punishment sealed pool like he did, tight play is still needed to be successful at such a talent filled event such as this one.
For those of you unaware, currently I have the hash tag #Can'tWinAMatchintheTop8ofanEvent attached to my name. One of these events I will break this curse that has been on me for as long as I have been playing. Don't get me wrong, I am and was ecstatic that I top 8'd a PTQ but some extra packs is not the same as qualifying for the pro tour. This is where my goofy title for the article comes from. It is not only the name of a Magic card, Boon Reflection is my motto for this next year. I need to reflect back on the things I did well, continue to improve, and the one boon I ask for is to break out of the quarterfinals of an event. Personally, I hope that I can do this in North Carolina for the Star City Invitational. We will see.
Important things I learned from this PTQ:
When I was passed my sealed pool and looked it over, I knew it was going to be a complex pool to work with. I dismissed red immediately because it had some playable cards but the color was not nearly deep enough and there were no cards worth splashing. I like removing colors from consideration when building sealed decks because once you determine it is not an option you can focus more on the colors that are an option.
I really wanted to play green because I think the werewolves in green are hard to deal with plus I had double Prey Upon. Unfortunately besides the couple werewolves and the two removal spells that was about it for green. There might have been one or two other playable cards but not nearly enough even for a second color. Splashing a third color didn’t seem likely either because I had no mana fixing but I kept the green removal spells in mind as I went along.
The difficult part about the rest of the colors was that they all were about the same power level. They were all solid, had good playables, and had some removal spells. It seemed like white was going to be my main color because I had early aggressive creatures, removal, and synergy. The blue seems paired well with the white because it provided some additional flyers, a sacrifice outlet in Stitchers Apprentice, and some beef in Stitched Drake and Makeshift Mauler. What I didn’t like about blue was the fact that it was geared towards the midgame. I know that seems fine but it goes against one of my main philosophies in Innistrad Limited…mana curve is one of the most important features about your deck. Normally I want to have one costs but I definitely need a fair number of plays on turns two and three for me to be comfortable with any limited deck in this format. There were many games I won over the course of the day because I played spells on turns one through four of the game. In fact, there was a game in the last round of the event before the top 8 where I won the game with that sequence even after only playing lands for the next five turns in a row and nothing else. Pay attention to how much your cards cost because your mana curve is really important.
What I ended up playing was the white paired with the black cards for a couple reasons. I really love black in Innistrad because it provides card advantage for you. The flashback cards in black do a lot more than the ones from other colors. For example, a card that I favor more highly than most is Moan of the Unhallowed. This card is very powerful especially if your second color is green or blue and can accelerate it out a turn early. Even on turn four it is better than what most other colors are doing with their four mana. Black not only offered me Moan of the Unhallowed, but also Unburial Rites, Sever the Bloodline, and Skirsdag High Priest. These cards added the card advantage I was looking for as well as some solid removal spells in the color as well. Finally ,there were two of a card that I find players constantly undervaluing. Falkenrath Noble is simply an amazing card. Four mana for a two powered flyer is not that bad to start but the ability to drain life when ANY creature dies changes the game drastically. Some of my opponents made critical errors playing against this card so make sure you understand how powerful it is.
Play the colors that will give you the best chance to win. That is why I decided on white black. Analyze your pool and decide which colors will give you the best chance to succeed in the event. If you have a strong color with no removal, make sure you pair it with a color that has removal or you probably misbuilt. This goes for your sequence of plays as well. Make the right play even if you think it may make you look silly. I encountered this, as I thought I might, with Unburial Rites. In my deck, Unburial Rites is not spectacular because I do not have great threats to get back. In the last round I was faced with a decision of how to play this card. I had a ton of mana but just could not finish my opponent off. With the reanimation spell in hand, I could play and it flash back to get two more creatures on the board. When I thought over all possible ways the game could play out, I paid my nine mana and returned a Falkenrath Noble and Doomed Traveler to play. Why? They were the only two creatures in my graveyard, the rest were removed from the game. It was hard to reanimate a Doomed Traveler, but it was the correct play. There were a lot of people watching the match at that time but it was correct so I needed to not care what they thought and just make the right play. Don't let spectators change how you play. It was an important lesson for me, and I luckily made the right decision and hopefully you will too.
Top 8 Draft:
The draft after the sealed event was one of the most interesting, skill intensive, complex series of mind games I have ever been involved in. Here's the procedure. Sit down and open you pack. Set all the cards down accept the flip card. Hold the flip card up so everyone at the table can inspect them. Now, pick your pack up and draft a card. If you pick a flip card, everyone at the table sees what you picked. These logistics were talked about and debated briefly when the set first came out but in a high level event like this, the implications were almost overwhelming.
What happened in the actual draft? Well I faced one of the hardest decisions of my life in pack one, pick one. We sit down and do the whole procedure outlined above. The girl sitting next to me opens Garruk Relentless // Garruk, the Veil-Cursed, I open Mayor of Avabrook, and the rest of the table open red or green werewolves of varying strength. I look over the pack after what seemed an eternity of everyone examining each flip card, and the only other first pickable card in the deck is Stitched Drake. I must decide, do I fight over green through two of the packs or do I ship an amazing green card because I know about the Garruk Relentless // Garruk, the Veil-Cursed. What would you do?
Rather than fight over the green cards with the table, I made one of the boldest picks I have ever made and took the Stitched Drake. Second pick I took Curse of Deaths Hold and after that I was firmly committed to drafting the blue black self mill deck. The deck was fine but certainly not my strongest draft deck ever. As we know, I lost the in the quarter finals in a rather horrible fashion by mulliganing to five game one. Then, game two I beat him soundly and he was never really in the game. Finally, in game three it was going well until I started drawing cards. You would think this was a good thing but it doesn't matter how many cards you draw if the are all lands, and in my case it was six extra cards and those six plus my two for the turns were all lands. It happens. I just wish it didn't have to happen in the top 8 of events for me all the time. Never did draw that Stitched Drake once either. Oh well.
If you are interested in the top 8 draft deck lists, they are posted on the organizers web site.
If you enjoyed this trip into limited, read up from some other players more competent than myself. First read my favorite new author Jeremy Neeman. His article will serve you well at the next PTQ or big event you are headed to. Also, take a gander at AJ Sacher's article focusing on Innistrad limited. AJ's in depth discussion of plays was extremely well written. There is a lot for everyone to gain by reading this article.
I learned a lot this past weekend and I hope I have been able to convey that to everyone. Enjoy limited because it is quite interesting right now.
Until next week,
Unleash the Force on Innistrad!