In Zendikar, it was often correct to pick a card like Surrakar Marauder extremely early because the format was so fast. Roughly half of the players liked the Zendikar draft format because it was so straightforward and geared toward aggressive decks. The other half, myself included, lost interest rather quickly because there was little depth in that format. The strategy was easy to identify and became more like a repetitive procedure than the complex system most recent draft formats have been.
Those were the thoughts that crossed my mind this weekend at Grand Prix Pittsburgh. Let me first say, I was very excited for a Grand Prix in my home town two years in a row. Based on our previous history, we should have had to wait another ten years for one to return. I’m glad it didn’t take that long because Pittsburgh is a great city for a big Magic event.
The idea that Gatecrash draft is similar to Zendikar served me well this weekend. In this draft format you can die on turn four or five and you need to build your deck to take advantage of that or be able to respond to it. The sealed format can be almost as fast, but is generally slower. Unless you have a very fast curve, most likely you want some number of six cost spells and or creatures. The important thing to remember in Gatecrash Limited is that curve is the most important thing about your deck.
Day One -- Sealed
Due to my schedule, I was not able to attend enough events and fell short of the 400 points needed for one bye. I consider sealed not only my favorite format, but also my best format so I knew I could be successful. Here’s the pool that I was passed.
Take a minute and decide how you would build your deck from this pool of cards.
It is my personal belief that especially in Gatecrash, there is one correct build and the rest are sub-par. The way I look for this starts by examining the rares. These should be your most powerful spells or tell you that you don’t have much power to lean on. Next, I pile the five guilds individually to see what each color combination has to offer me. While comparing the guilds, I look at what guildgates and mana fixing I have. It’s best to stick to two colors, but often that is not possible with this sealed format and you must splash a third color.
For this specific pool, there did not seem to be any guild that could be played alone. I was definitely going to have to splash a third color.
In case you have not played with or against it, Molten Primordial is quite the finisher. Not only does it Act of Treason your opponent’s creature, it has haste itself. Needless to say, that is a lot of damage from one card. Often playing this creature as soon as you hit seven mana will end the game on the spot. Because I have had experience playing against this card recently, I knew how much of an impact it can have on the game so if I could, I wanted to include it.
I looked at a couple different builds with various guilds splashing a third color, but all of them fell a few cards short of solid. I did not want to make sacrifices on card quality, especially when I would have to play whatever I decided on for all of the nine rounds.
Here’s what I finally decided on.
GP Pittsburgh Sealed Deck
This deck has a few strengths. First of all, it has a solid curve. I should be playing a creature on turns two, three and four regularly. Second, it has a reasonable amount of removal to deal with blockers or opposing bombs. Third, and I can’t stress this enough, it has synergy. I should be able to trigger my battalion creatures frequently due to the mana costs of my creatures or my Act of Treason effects. Fourth, none of the cards I’m playing are bad. Every card is solid. This is definitely not the best sealed deck I’ve played, but the overall card quality is relatively high.
Using Act of Treason to activate one of my battalion creatures or stealing one of their battalion creatures came up surprisingly often. It came up so much that I told one of my friends that I think this may be the best Act of Treason format. The card was crazy good for me all day. Molten Primordial was similarly powerful and game ending, but seven is a lot of mana and sometimes it was stuck in my hand.
I started out the day at 5-0 and took my first loss round six. The deck I lost to was an extremely good Boros deck. Game one, he curved out on turns two, three and four. If his four-drop had been anything other than Firemane Avenger, I would have been able to stabilize. Sadly on my mulligan, I didn’t have either a removal spell or a creature that would survive the angel’s first activation.
Game two was similar, but he also had Blind Obedience. When he did not have the angel on turn four, I thought I was going to take game two, but he played it turn five instead. Then on turn six, my creatures tapped thanks to Blind Obedience, he used every card in his hand (Spark Trooper + Righteous Charge) to kill me. With the hands I drew plus the power level of his hand, I didn’t have much of a chance this game. If I had more mana, I would have been able to play the Debtor's Pulpit in my hand to nullify the Spark Trooper. Overall, I was not disappointed about this loss. His deck was a tier above mine and he played well. I did not lose to playing incorrectly, I lost because I couldn’t deal with his bomb angel.
Many of my wins were very close and were won from managing the game better than my opponent, often through careful blocking. If you block only enough so that you stay alive, playing around cards your opponent might have when you can, you can win many games on the swing back. My deck can do this through cards like Act of Treason, Molten Primordial, Madcap Skills, Boros Charm, and Ordruun Veteran. The bloodrush creatures function the same way and allow you to surprise kill your opponent. A couple of my opponents were quite stunned when I killed them from a high life total with the Ordruun Veteran + Rubblehulk “combo”.
My seventh round opponent fell prey to this “combo” and the round ended quickly. I took my second loss the round right after though. My opponent was playing Simic splash black, a common combination. Games one and two were evenly matched with each of us winning one game. The third game was extremely close the whole time, but he was able to surprise kill me with Biomass Mutation. There was really nothing I could do about that loss. I had not seen that card yet in the match so I couldn’t play around it, and I made the best plays I could in the situation.
The last round of the day was the win-and-in to make day two. My opponent told me he was playing in his first Grand Prix and had been playing for about a year. Having this much success so early in his career is a credit to him, but I don’t think he had these thoughts on his mind after I defeated him. It was clear that I put him in some situations that he had not been used to playing in and he was not sure how to respond.
Game one, I hardcast Rubblehulk and was only attacking with it and not my other creatures. This prevented him from attacking me back and also allowed me to play around the Aetherize he was clearly holding. After a hit or two from my Rubblehulk, he bounced it with the Aetherize he did indeed have and I replayed it since I hadn't used any of my mana in case this happened. Game two was a lopsided win where he didn’t draw lands, and I curved out two, three, four and ended the match shortly after. I felt bad that he didn’t make day two, but I was excited that I did.
We also played round ten on day one. It was after the cut but we still used our sealed decks. Round ten was one of the roughest matches I’ve played in a while. I was completely exhausted from playing all day and to be honest, I was sick of playing my sealed deck. Despite this, I tried to play my best, but I’m not sure I was playing to my full potential.
My opponent had a very solid deck in blue green black. I lost game one due to a misplay. I had two removal spells in hand, Ground Assault and Homing Lightning. I chose to use the Ground Assault to kill a large flyer and get in some damage. On his turn he cast Hands of Binding on his other flyer and bought himself a lot more time. If I had kept up Homing Lightning, I could have killed the other flyer instead. Game two, I did not have removal to break up his combo of Zameck Guildmage and Call of the Nightwing. In case you don’t see it, by activating the guildmage every turn, it makes 2/2 flyers that get out of hand rather quickly. If I would have drawn the Homing Lightning plus a flying blocker, I could have dug myself out of the situation, but I did not.
Day Two -- Draft
I was 7-3 going into day two for the drafting portion.
Draft Deck 1
My first pick overall was the dragon. From my experience playing with it, you should pick it first every time. There are not many answers to it by that point in the game and it can win the game all on its own. For my second pick, I did not have many options so I took Ordruun Veteran. Third pick there was nothing other than Zhur-Taa Swine.
From there, I focused on taking low mana cost creatures to fill out my curve. I did not have any two costs until pack three. I did pick up the Experiment One in the middle of pack two which was confusing, but it helped lower my curve significantly. The only reason I ran white was because I had the fixing to do it and I didn’t have enough playables to stay exclusively Gruul. Multiple players in my pod told me that the draft was quite strange and atypical. I couldn’t agree more. I was hoping pack three was going to help more than it did but when I saw a pack three pick one with no cards I could play in my deck, I lost a little hope.
It’s possible that the Verdant Haven maindeck should be the gargoyle instead. I had many white sources to balance the mana and Haven might have been unnecessary. I sideboarded Millennial Gargoyle, Ruination Wurm and Tower Defense in many games. I tried some configuration that did not include the two white cards, but nothing seemed good enough. Keep in mind that if I remove the two white cards, I should also take out Verdant Haven and Boros Keyrune because they no longer are necessary. I just did not have enough playable cards to not play white.
Despite this deck not being very good, I was able to win two of my rounds with it. The first round was against a local player I know playing a relatively slow Orzhov deck. Game one was starting to become me grinding for damage and him extorting to counter it, but then I played a dragon off the top. It only took two turns to finish him off from there.
Game two, I missed an evolve trigger on not one but two Crocanuras which prolonged the game quite a while. If I would have remembered the trigger they would have been 4/6 crocs and would have beaten through his 1/4 walls. Instead I was forced into an extremely long game where he was double extorting to my single extort. Luckily he was already at a very low life total and I was eventually able to just attack with all my creatures. It seemed like he had a removal spell in hand so I was careful about my attack. The turn I attacked, I drew the Massive Raid and was able to use it in response to the extort triggers from the removal spell.
Round two was against another local player also playing Orzhov. His version was much faster than the previous round though. This match was a reminder that much of the time, playing your creatures with bloodrush is an effective strategy. My pigs overwhelmed him game one. Game two I was light on lands, which made me fall too far behind. Game three, my opponent heard the roar of the dragon.
After winning two rounds with a mediocre deck, I was hoping to sweep the pod. As game one progressed against Simic, it looked like I was going to do just that. The turn before I was going to kill him, he had other plans though. As he played Biomass Mutation, I had flashbacks from losing to the card the day before. Determined not to lose to the enormous pump spell, I won game two through tight play and bloodrush. Game three was well in my control the entire game, but it was not meant to be. I miscalculated the amount of damage I was going to deal on my attack if he blocked and he was able to kill me on the swing back because he had Mutation once again. Losing two matches to the same rare in limited is no fun at all, but I could have done a better job playing around it.
Draft Deck 2
The second draft started out with another mythic rare, Master Biomancer. Some cards are good enough to justify jumping into a guild right from pack one, pick one, so don’t be afraid to commit that early. But don’t be afraid to switch if it doesn’t work out. After getting two guildmages and a Hands of Binding in pack one, I was pretty set on Simic. One of the later picks in pack one, there were no real cards for me so I took a Dimir Guildgate. This line of thinking about a possible black splash was crucial to my draft.
Round one, I played another local player I know. He had an interesting Gruul deck splashing both white and blue. He drafted basically every bloodrush creature including two Rubblehulks and two Swine. In addition, he had other late game bombs like Stolen Identity. Game one I kept a hand that was too slow to compete with his enormous creatures. Fortunatly, I was able to block and draw a couple more cards than him thanks to my guildmages. I drew a Greenside Watcher which allowed me to put another counter from Ivy Lane Denizen onto Metropolis Sprite and double pump, giving me exact damage to kill him. Game two was similarly a very close game. I was attacking with flyers while he was busy bloodrushing for huge chunks of my life total. Between attacking with the creatures I had in play and fireballing him with Shadow Slice, I was able to kill him pretty quickly.
Round two, I saw my opponent from last round talking with other players I know. He was telling them how I beat him on a mulligan to five cards. Before he mentioned that, I had completely forgotten that I won with only five cards. The reason I bring it up here, is because that is what I would have had to do in both games of round two to be successful. Game one, that definitely did not happen. The only thing I played were two Islands. If I had drawn even one Forest at some point, I think I could have beaten his slow five-drop Boros deck. Game two was a little different. I played turn two Greenside Watcher (no guildgates though) and then turn four Master Biomancer. Unfortunately, the only creature I drew in the handful of turns after that was Dinrova Horror which I couldn’t cast because I never drew a sixth land either. If I had drawn any creature I could cast or a sixth land, I could have easily won the game.
Round three I played another Orzhov deck. Master Biomancer helped my board get out of control rather quickly. Even though I had only five cards to start with for the fourth time in a row, I was still able to win a close game one. Game two, my opponent missed his third land drop for two turns then missed his fourth. The game didn’t last much longer than that.
I felt that my second draft deck was very solid and capable of winning the draft pod. It upset me that I was not able to play Magic in round two because that is a match I felt I could have won without all the mulligans. Even though I mulliganed a ton this draft, I still made the best of it and tried to win every game. That resulted in a 2-1 draft rather than something much worse.
Due to my tiebreakers being bad, I ended in 102nd. That is respectable for my first day two finish but I was still left wanting more. Identifying some of my mistakes will help me continue to improve. If you try to do this when you play, it will help you improve as well. Don’t blame every loss on variance or you won’t be able to get better. I hope this article helps you improve your Gatecrash Limited skills. I certainly learned a lot this past weekend.
Until Next Time,
Unleash the Force on Limited!