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Coverage of Grand Prix Houston Day 1

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  • Saturday, 11:20 a.m. – Grand Prix Trial Winning Decklists

    by Adam Styborski

  • Maarten De Lange
    Sealed Trial 1

    Main Deck

    40 cards

    Boros Guildgate
    Forest
    Grove of the Guardian
    Mountain
    Plains

    17 lands

    Assault Griffin
    Azorius Arrester
    Crocanura
    Daring Skyjek
    Gatecreeper Vine
    Golgari Longlegs
    Guardian of the Gateless
    Rubbleback Rhino
    Scab-Clan Charger
    Seller of Songbirds
    Skarrg Goliath
    Syndic of Tithes
    Tajic, Blade of the Legion
    Thrashing Mossdog

    16 creatures

    Armed // Dangerous
    Avenging Arrow
    Common Bond
    Gruul War Chant
    Pit Fight
    Selesnya Charm
    Selesnya Cluestone

    7 other spells

    Sideboard
    Adaptive Snapjaw
    Axebane Stag
    Azorius Cluestone
    Balustrade Spy
    Bane Alley Blackguard
    Beckon Apparition
    Beetleform Mage
    Bellows Lizard
    Clear a Path
    Dispel
    Drown in Filth
    Emmara Tandris
    Executioner's Swing
    Fluxcharger
    Frilled Oculus
    Frostburn Weird
    Furious Resistance
    Gateway Shade
    Glaring Spotlight
    Golgari Cluestone
    Gore-House Chainwalker
    Guildscorn Ward
    Gutter Skulk
    Hired Torturer
    Izzet Charm
    Izzet Guildgate
    Izzet Staticaster
    Korozda Gorgon
    Mark for Death
    Maze Glider
    Maze Sentinel
    Mending Touch
    Mind Rot
    Morgue Burst
    Murder Investigation
    Mutant's Prey
    Orzhov Charm
    Paralyzing Grasp
    Pithing Needle
    Riot Gear
    Seek the Horizon
    Sewer Shambler
    Shadow Alley Denizen
    Shambleshark
    Simic Cluestone
    Sinister Possession
    Skinbrand Goblin
    Soulsworn Spirit
    Spawn of Rix Maadi
    Species Gorger
    Spike Jester
    Sunspire Gatekeepers
    Tavern Swindler
    Totally Lost
    Urban Evolution
    Viashino Racketeer
    Voidwielder
    Weapon Surge
    Wear // Tear

    60 sideboard cards



    Tad Macaraeg
    Sealed Trial 2

    Main Deck

    40 cards

    Forest
    Island
    Mountain
    Plains
    Selesnya Guildgate
    Simic Guildgate
    Temple Garden

    17 lands

    Beetleform Mage
    Brushstrider
    Burning-Tree Emissary
    Centaur's Herald
    Crocanura
    Deathcult Rogue
    Faerie Impostor
    Gatecreeper Vine
    Greenside Watcher
    Kraul Warrior
    Shambleshark
    Sylvan Primordial
    Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage
    Voidwielder
    Wind Drake

    16 creatures

    Blast of Genius
    Pit Fight
    Punish the Enemy
    Selesnya Charm
    Unflinching Courage
    Verdant Haven
    Way of the Thief

    7 other spells

    Sideboard
    Annihilating Fire
    Armory Guard
    Azorius Charm
    Bane Alley Blackguard
    Cobblebrute
    Consuming Aberration
    Contaminated Ground
    Dead Reveler
    Deputy of Acquittals
    Deviant Glee
    Dimir Charm
    Dimir Cluestone
    Dynacharge
    Ethereal Armor
    Fencing Ace
    Feral Animist
    Firefist Striker
    Firemind's Foresight
    Forced Adaptation
    Furious Resistance
    Gruul Cluestone
    Haazda Snare Squad
    Horror of the Dim
    Hussar Patrol
    Killing Glare
    Knight Watch
    Maw of the Obzedat
    Maze Rusher
    Merfolk of the Depths
    Mind Rot
    Mizzium Skin
    Murmuring Phantasm
    Nav Squad Commandos
    Paranoid Delusions
    Pyrewild Shaman
    Rakdos Shred-Freak
    Riot Control
    Runner's Bane
    Seller of Songbirds
    Shadow Alley Denizen
    Shattering Blow
    Simic Cluestone
    Sinister Possession
    Skyblinder Staff
    Skyknight Legionnaire
    Stealer of Secrets
    Sundering Growth
    Syndic of Tithes
    Tajic, Blade of the Legion
    Tithe Drinker
    Tower Defense
    Urban Burgeoning
    Viashino Racketeer
    Wake the Reflections
    Warmind Infantry
    Wear // Tear
    Zhur-Taa Druid

    60 sideboard cards



    Jeremy Vela
    Sealed Trial 3

    Main Deck

    40 cards

    Forest
    Mountain
    Plains
    Sacred Foundry

    17 lands

    Armored Wolf-Rider
    Batterhorn
    Centaur's Herald
    Emmara Tandris
    Haazda Snare Squad
    Kraul Warrior
    Maze Behemoth
    Millennial Gargoyle
    Rubblebelt Maaka
    Splatter Thug
    Thrashing Mossdog
    Zhur-Taa Druid

    13 creatures

    Armed // Dangerous
    Gruul War Chant
    Homing Lightning
    Horncaller's Chant
    Knight Watch
    Mana Bloom
    Prophetic Prism
    Swift Justice
    Unflinching Courage
    Weapon Surge

    10 other spells

    Sideboard
    Assassin's Strike
    Basilica Screecher
    Beck // Call
    Bioshift
    Cancel
    Chorus of Might
    Clear a Path
    Clinging Anemones
    Concordia Pegasus
    Contaminated Ground
    Crackling Perimeter
    Cremate
    Destroy the Evidence
    Dimir Cluestone
    Dimir Guildgate
    Downsize
    Drown in Filth
    Electrickery
    Executioner's Swing
    Forced Adaptation
    Foundry Street Denizen
    Frostburn Weird
    Furious Resistance
    Grave Betrayal
    Illness in the Ranks
    Illusionist's Bracers
    Inaction Injunction
    Izzet Cluestone
    Izzet Staticaster
    Krasis Incubation
    Lyev Skyknight
    Merfolk of the Depths
    Midnight Recovery
    Mindstatic
    Mystic Genesis
    Orzhov Guildgate
    Paralyzing Grasp
    Paranoid Delusions
    Phytoburst
    Pilfered Plans
    Psychic Spiral
    Rakdos Shred-Freak
    Search Warrant
    Simic Cluestone
    Sinister Possession
    Skygames
    Slum Reaper
    Smelt-Ward Gatekeepers
    Smog Elemental
    Sphere of Safety
    Spire Tracer
    Sundering Growth
    Syndic of Tithes
    Terrus Wurm
    Tithe Drinker
    Toil // Trouble
    Tower Drake
    Vizkopa Guildmage
    Way of the Thief
    Zarichi Tiger

    62 sideboard cards



    David Shakarisaz
    Sealed Trial 4

    Main Deck

    45 cards

    Forest
    Golgari Guildgate
    Mountain
    Orzhov Guildgate
    Plains
    Rakdos Guildgate
    Swamp

    17 lands

    Assault Griffin
    Bronzebeak Moa
    Centaur's Herald
    Court Street Denizen
    Drudge Beetle
    Golgari Longlegs
    Korozda Guildmage
    Kraul Warrior
    Mercurial Chemister
    Scab-Clan Charger
    Scion of Vitu-Ghazi
    Seller of Songbirds
    Steeple Roc
    Sunspire Griffin
    Tithe Drinker
    Zhur-Taa Swine

    16 creatures

    Alive // Well
    Angelic Edict
    Armed // Dangerous
    Biomass Mutation
    Burst of Strength
    Common Bond
    Dreadbore
    Gift of Orzhova
    Orzhov Charm
    Prophetic Prism
    Simic Cluestone
    Trostani's Judgment

    12 other spells



    Carl Chase
    Sealed Trial 5

    Main Deck

    40 cards

    Azorius Guildgate
    Golgari Guildgate
    Mountain
    Orzhov Guildgate
    Plains

    17 lands

    Armory Guard
    Azorius Justiciar
    Blaze Commando
    Bomber Corps
    Frontline Medic
    Lobber Crew
    Nav Squad Commandos
    Rubblebelt Maaka
    Scion of Vitu-Ghazi
    Smelt-Ward Gatekeepers
    Sunspire Gatekeepers
    Syndic of Tithes
    Vassal Soul
    Viashino Firstblade

    14 creatures

    Assemble the Legion
    Avenging Arrow
    Devour Flesh
    Holy Mantle
    Knight Watch
    Martial Law
    One Thousand Lashes
    Orzhov Cluestone
    Trostani's Judgment

    9 other spells

    Sideboard
    Adaptive Snapjaw
    Armed // Dangerous
    Awe for the Guilds
    Battering Krasis
    Boros Cluestone
    Burning-Tree Emissary
    Carnage Gladiator
    Chorus of Might
    Cobblebrute
    Crypt Incursion
    Deviant Glee
    Dimir Guildgate
    Doorkeeper
    Far // Away
    Gaze of Granite
    Goblin Electromancer
    Goblin Rally
    Grisly Spectacle
    Guild Feud
    Gutter Skulk
    Hidden Strings
    Keymaster Rogue
    Korozda Guildmage
    Korozda Monitor
    Kraul Warrior
    Madcap Skills
    Maze Behemoth
    Midnight Recovery
    Mind Rot
    Morgue Burst
    Opal Lake Gatekeepers
    Paranoid Delusions
    Predator's Rapport
    Purge the Profane
    Rakdos Drake
    Rites of Reaping
    Rust Scarab
    Seek the Horizon
    Seller of Songbirds
    Simic Keyrune
    Sinister Possession
    Sluiceway Scorpion
    Smog Elemental
    Spike Jester
    Spire Tracer
    Sundering Growth
    Terrus Wurm
    Tithe Drinker
    Uncovered Clues
    Urban Burgeoning
    Verdant Haven
    Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage
    Voidwielder
    Wake the Reflections
    Wear // Tear
    Zhur-Taa Swine

    58 sideboard cards



    Christian Bakkehaug
    Sealed Trial 6

    Main Deck

    40 cards

    Boros Guildgate
    Forest
    Golgari Guildgate
    Mountain
    Orzhov Guildgate
    Plains

    18 lands

    Azorius Arrester
    Azorius Justiciar
    Boros Elite
    Crocanura
    Dryad Militant
    Feral Animist
    Gatecreeper Vine
    Skarrg Guildmage
    Skyknight Legionnaire
    Skylasher
    Sphinx of the Chimes
    Syndic of Tithes
    Thrashing Mossdog
    Trostani's Summoner
    Viashino Firstblade
    Zhur-Taa Druid

    17 creatures

    Coursers' Accord
    Explosive Impact
    Prophetic Prism
    Punish the Enemy
    Weapon Surge

    5 other spells

    Sideboard
    Act of Treason
    Aerial Maneuver
    Axebane Guardian
    Bazaar Krovod
    Boros Cluestone
    Burst of Strength
    Catch // Release
    Civic Saber
    Cloudfin Raptor
    Corpse Blockade
    Cremate
    Deviant Glee
    Dinrova Horror
    Down // Dirty
    Downsize
    Dramatic Rescue
    Essence Backlash
    Forced Adaptation
    Goblin Test Pilot
    Golgari Cluestone
    Haunter of Nightveil
    High Priest of Penance
    Hydroform
    Judge's Familiar
    Keening Apparition
    Killing Glare
    Krasis Incubation
    Merciless Eviction
    Millennial Gargoyle
    Mind Rot
    Mindstatic
    Morgue Burst
    Mutant's Prey
    Plasm Capture
    Primal Visitation
    Rakdos Drake
    Rakdos Guildgate
    Rakdos Keyrune
    Rakdos Shred-Freak
    Riot Piker
    Rubbleback Rhino
    Runner's Bane
    Selesnya Sentry
    Shadow Alley Denizen
    Shambleshark
    Shielded Passage
    Showstopper
    Skull Rend
    Skygames
    Spire Tracer
    Steeple Roc
    Sunspire Gatekeepers
    Supreme Verdict
    Thrull Parasite
    Tin Street Market
    Traitorous Instinct
    Undercity Informer
    Viashino Racketeer
    Voidwielder

    61 sideboard cards



    Erik Landriz
    Sealed Trial 7

    Main Deck

    40 cards

    Azorius Guildgate
    Boros Guildgate
    Mountain
    Plains

    18 lands

    Armory Guard
    Dryad Militant
    Guardian of the Gateless
    Nav Squad Commandos
    Rubblebelt Maaka
    Selesnya Sentry
    Skyknight Legionnaire
    Steeple Roc
    Sunhome Guildmage
    Syndic of Tithes
    Viashino Firstblade
    Viashino Racketeer
    Warmind Infantry

    13 creatures

    Boros Cluestone
    Goblin Rally
    Homing Lightning
    Madcap Skills
    Martial Glory
    Protect // Serve
    Punish the Enemy
    Street Spasm

    8 other spells

    Gideon, Champion of Justice

    1 planeswalker

    Sideboard
    Aerial Predation
    Ascended Lawmage
    Awe for the Guilds
    Balustrade Spy
    Bellows Lizard
    Cloudfin Raptor
    Cobblebrute
    Codex Shredder
    Contaminated Ground
    Corpsejack Menace
    Cremate
    Crocanura
    Crypt Incursion
    Dead Reveler
    Death's Approach
    Deputy of Acquittals
    Down // Dirty
    Downsize
    Dreg Mangler
    Dutiful Thrull
    Fathom Mage
    Golgari Charm
    Gridlock
    Grisly Spectacle
    Hidden Strings
    Hold the Gates
    Horror of the Dim
    Hussar Patrol
    Inspiration
    Maze Behemoth
    Mending Touch
    Mirko Vosk, Mind Drinker
    Mizzium Skin
    Murmuring Phantasm
    Nivmagus Elemental
    Orzhov Guildgate
    Paranoid Delusions
    Predator's Rapport
    Putrefy
    Rakdos Drake
    Razortip Whip
    Reap Intellect
    Restore the Peace
    Riot Control
    Saruli Gatekeepers
    Shadow Alley Denizen
    Sin Collector
    Smelt-Ward Gatekeepers
    Stonefare Crocodile
    Survey the Wreckage
    Syncopate
    Tithe Drinker
    Tower Drake
    Towering Indrik
    Trained Caracal
    Verdant Haven
    Wind Drake

    59 sideboard cards







     

  • Saturday, 12:00 p.m. – Sealed Deckbuilding Exercise – Nate's Pool

    by Nate Price

  • The letter I!t wouldn't be a Limited Grand Prix nowadays without a Sealed Deckbuilding exercise. These have really taken off in popularity since we started doing them, as they let you at home build these pools however you want, and then compare your work with that of various top-level players over the course of the day.

    This time, however, we're throwing a little wrinkle in things. Stybs and I have opened our own Sealed Deck pools, and we will be taking them around to our choice of Pros to take a look at them. After getting their builds and putting them up for all of you to see, we're going to take our picks for the best builds our respective Pros have put together for us, and then we're going to battle.

    My deck was the same deck I opened up for a Sealedd Deck tournament yesterday. It's got some fairly powerful cards spread out reasonably evenly among four colors. While the mana points you in one direction, the cards themselves pull you in many. I went along with the mana and build a Borzhov deck, but I'm not sure it was right. Hopefully, my Pro stable can help me solve this dilemma.

    Here's the list:





     

  • Saturday, 12:35 p.m. – Sealed Deckbuilding Exercise – Adam's (Stybs's) Pool

    by Adam Styborski

  • The letter B!uilding decks from Sealed pools can be tricky. In Return to Ravnica Block Limited, powerful multicolored cards and the amount of mana fixing available create even more complexity. It also creates exciting and difficult pools of cards to construct from.

    If you looked at Nate's Sealed Deckbuilding Exericse, you'll understand how mana fixing and card power can feel at opposition with each other. My pool, however, affords considerable latitude:

    When your options feel nearly endless how do you choose the right way to go? I'm looking forward to seeing what some of the game's greats decide to do, and If you're up to challenge check out what we have to work with below:





     

  • Saturday, 2:35 p.m. – Tom Martell's Take on Nate's Pool

    by Nate Price

  • "So I heard you guys had a Sealed Deck pool for me to build..."

    I'm pleased that Martell was the first person to respond to my Twitter cry for players to take a look at my pool. A Platinum-level Pro and Pro Tour Champion, Martell certainly has opinions I trust and respect. Giving him the first crack at this build seemed like a fine way to begin this little exercise.


    Tom Martell

    "First off, you're definitely going to be in black," Martell told me as he began to thumb through the pile of cards. "All of your removal is in black, so you're kind of drawn into it."

    He then explained a good way to think about building Sealed Decks from the ground up.

    "Your pools are either going to be driven by the single-color cards in your pool or the multicolored ones," he explained. "This pool has much better gold cards than single-color ones, so it's definitely going to be driven by the gold cards. For us, that means that you're going to be playing Rakdos. My first inclination is towards black/red/blue. Maybe Borzhov instead. Probably not green, though. For now, let's take the Rakdos cards and set them aside and see what we need to fill the deck out."

    A pair of Augur Sprees, Dreadbore, and a virtual smorgasbord of other removal spells hit the deck before Martell recognized an important point.

    "Um, where are the creatures," he asked.

    "In green," I told him.

    Sigh. At that, he began to take a look through the green cards in the pool and use them to fill up his creature slots.

    "This deck looks terrible," he said after filling out his curve with green creatures. "This can't be the best we can do. Let's take a look at white."

    The green went back to no-man's land. As the white began to fill the pile, he began to look up.

    "Now this is much better," he said. "You've got a pair of Tithe Drinkers and a Kingpin's Pet, which are great. You've also got a bunch of other filler creatures, but you don't really have much in the way of power from your creatures."

    It was true. Looking through the deck he had built left him with one nagging question: how is this deck actually going to win?

    "Well, the creatures aren't really terrible," he backtracked. "You've got a few fliers, some good extort triggers... maybe it isn't that bad after all. But you do need to find more ways to win and put them into the deck."

    At this point, he looked to the mana fixing the deck had. In addition to the obvious Rakdos Guildgate, Transguild Promenade, and Boros Guildgate, there was a Gruul Guildgate and an Azorius Guildgate to consider.

    "You've got a couple of green cards to consider putting into the deck in Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage, Call of the Conclave, and Ready & Willing," he noted first. "You've also got Blast of Genius and Haunter of Nightveil in the blue to consider. You also have Stolen Identity, but you can't splash it because of the double blue. Blue ends up being a splash far more than a main color in this format, and Stolen Identity and Ætherling are really the only double-blue cards you're looking to play. I don't really like the Blast of Genius in this since it is effectively a double splash. This is tough."

    After a bit of thought, he picked up Breaking & Entering.

    "This card is actually probably pretty absurd in this deck, and it deals with some of our problems," he considered. "Our deck has a ton of removal, but it really needs more ways to win. It does no good to go one-for-one with people all game long unless you are hitting them as well. Eventually, they're just going to draw something you can't deal with and kill you. If you aren't going to add a card that can beat them up while you're killing their stuff, you can always try and trump them. With all of the good removal in this deck, you have the tools needed to kill their bombs. With Entering, you can just reanimate the best card you've killed of theirs and use it against them. This card might just be insane in this deck. We even have the Promenade and Azorius Guildgate to freeroll the Breaking side of it as well."

    With that decided, there were a few other interesting decisions that we discussed. The first was his exclusion of Gift of Orzhova.

    "It doesn't seem that good in this deck for a few reasons," he told me. "First, you don't have a very large number of creatures to begin with. Second, people tend to play all of their removal in Sealed, giving people access to more ways to two-for-one you. I think we're pretty happy if an opponent is playing Gift against us, for example."

    The other question was about which artifact mana sources to include.

    "I think that the Orzhov Cluestone is generally better in this deck than the Boros Keyrune," he explained. "This deck is a little slower, so having something to do with your mana in the later game is generally going to be more important than making the creature from the Keyrune. Besides, we don't have any way to make it a bigger creature."

    The fact that our deck was slower led to another discussion about the speed of the format in general.

    "I think we can cut this Gutter Skulk from the deck," he began. "Gutter Skulk is a holdover from before Dragon's Maze, where you had to be able to block a 2/2 or you'd just die. The format is much slower now, so having a card that can do that in your maindeck is much less important. Besides, the three drops in this deck are very good at blocking, so you generally don't mind taking the hit and then just setting up shop behind one of those guys."

    The last thing we talked about was the sideboard.


    "This deck has a few very interesting sideboard choices," Martell noted. "You've got Gruul Guildgate, which enables you to play both Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage and Ready & Willing. You can bring the Guildmage in if your opponent's deck is slow. It'll give you another way to win the game. Ready & Willingg is good in a couple of situations, like if your opponent has a fast deck and casting Willing would be like a Plague Wind against their creatures. It's also worth considering if your opponent has a bunch of removal, since you can potentially make your creatures indestructible in the late game. You also have access to the Haunter of Nightveil for decks with lots of tokens, and Debt to the Deathless as a finisher against slower control decks."

    So here's how Tom Martell would turn this lump of clay into a deck:


    How close was your deck to his? If you were different, don't worry too much. I'll be checking in with a couple more players as the day winds on, looking for the best version of this pool that we can find.




     

  • Saturday, 2:40 p.m. – Patrick Sullivan's Take on Adam's Pool

    by Adam Styborski

  • The letter H!ow can you handle the options presented by my sample Return to Ravnica Block Sealed pool? We caught up with longtime player and resurgent pro Patrick Sullivan to see how he'd narrow down the choices.

    After sorting the cards by and finding an abundance of Guildgates, Sullivan settled on his approach. "Because mana fixing is so good, I lay out all of the powerful cards in the pool." He said. "With all the Gates, Gatekeepers are especially good."

    Even with the option of nearly any cards in the pool, Sullivan didn't waver from looking for consistency. "It's still Sealed. I value evasion and removal very highly. With so many good cards I'm ignoring little beaters," he said, pointing to Kraul Warrior, "and play the control game."

    As he narrowed in on playing control an Esper – white-blue-black colors – his deck began to appear, stacked with flying and ways to kill off creatures.


    Patrick Sullivan

    "You might not need it, but if you do focus on removal for adding a fourth color to a deck." Sullivan said, looking at the bounty of potential cards to splash. "Take Krasis Incubation. It's an Arrest on your opponents' things, but you can also build up one of your own. It's great for the long game we're looking at."

    Suddenly, Sullivan pulled out the Gatekeepers and most of the Gates. "Maybe I'm getting hung up on Gatekeepers here." he said as added Runner's Bane and Steeple Roc to the mana curves laid out. He looked at it a moment and shook his head. "Not an easy pool. I'm glad this isn't the Sealed pool I received."

    Part of what led him to pull out Gates and Gatekeepers was the splashing wasn't solid. "The problem with splashing Putrefy," Sullivan said, "is there's no guarantee to cast it from just Gates and Islands." Using Golgari Guildgate or Rakdos Guildgate to replace a Swamp didn't help make any spells castable – they just turned on having Gates in play.

    As he looked through the green and green-red card on the side he scooped up the white-blue-black deck up and set it aside. "I wonder if I'm missing something here?" Sullivan asked himself as he began to lay out blue, red, and green cards, the venerable "RUG" configuration seen in Return to Ravnica Block Draft.


    It wasn't long before Sullivan counted and shook his head again. "Way too short on cards." Back out came the white-blue-black deck, and the mana situation was revised. "The mana's not ideal. There's not enough ways to cram the great cards in. Once you start to add basic Forests to this deck," Sullivan said as he pointed to the mismatching Guildgates piled to the side, "the mana's off its rails."

    With the nail in the coffin for splashing further, this is what Sullivan settled on:





     

  • Saturday, 4:05 p.m. – Mulligan Decisions

    by Nate Price

  • "These decisions are like the hardest kinds of decisions for newer players to make..."

    "Why do you think I'm asking them?"

    I had this conversation with Tom Martell soon after he turned in his version of my Sealed Deckbuilding Exercise. Having played the deck last night and come across some difficult mulligan decisions, I wanted to get some expert advice.

    Using his deck as a reference point, I gave him the following hand:


    In the dark, with no knowledge of your opponent's deck, what do you do? Consider your options for both the play and the draw.

    ...

    ...

    ...

    Ok, that's enough time for rumination.

    Here's what Martell decided.

    "So I've got two white Guildgates that come into play tapped and five Plains," he began. "On the draw, I'm pretty sure this is a keep. The hand is absurd if you manage to draw into a way to play Tithe Drinker followed by Kingpin's Pet. With seven cards that I can draw on the first turn and then another chance on the following turn at five cards, I feel good enough that I'm willing to keep the hand. Plus, it's not that bad if you make the same plays just a turn off. You also have Grisly Spectacle, which you can play off of any land, and a ton of great removal that you can draw in place of a white source that will allow you to stall until you can get going.

    It's harder to say about being on the play. I really don't like mulliganning on the play if I can avoid it, but I can't really justify keeping this hand on the play. I'm not sure if I'm right about that, either. If everyone else disagreed with my decision, it wouldn't surprise me. You've got a lot of the cards you want to open with, but you can't cast them. You lose out on the tempo advantage you gain by being on the play if you can't actually cast your cards. If you get there, this hand is absurd, but you can't realistically get there frequently enough for me to keep it."

    Here's the second scenario. Same situation, where you're facing an unknown opponent, and I want consideration for both the play and the draw.

    Here's the hand:


    "This one is a little different from the other one," Martell said after a quick glance. "You can cast your spells, but it's a weak hand. This is weaker than an average hand from this deck. The problem is that all of the good cards in the deck, the ones you want to draw, are black. You need to both draw them and a black source to be happy. I'd snap mulligan this hand on the draw. You have the ability to draw so many better hands than this one. I'm pretty sure that this hand is just worse than a random six cards out of the deck.

    On the play, I'd have to keep. Mulliganning is just really detrimental, so I avoid it if I can. You can cast all of the spells in this hand, and it's even set up to not be terrible on the play. You can Mugging early if you need to, and you're going to be playing Zarichi Tiger into a 2/2 most of the time instead of a 3/3. You shouldn't fall behind with this draw, so you'll have time to put things together."




     

  • Saturday, 4:30 p.m. – Paul Rietzl's Take on Adam's Pool

    by Adam Styborski

  • The letter P!aul Rietzl is a consummate competitor. From his victory at Pro Tour Amsterdam 2010, playing in two premier events at the same time during Magic Weekend Paris 2011, to winning in two Limited Grand Prix last year (in Mexico City and as part of a team with David Williams and Matt Sperling in San Jose), Rietzl's focus and play are undoubtedly among the game's elite.

    One of his methods of success is to have a method on hand for everything. Rietzl picked up my sample Return to Ravnica Block Sealed pool and sorted it by color, counting the total cards. He moved quick to get down to business.

    "There are two ways to build a Sealed deck in this format: Play as many bombs as possible, or as good curve and mana as possible." Rietzl said. He began to look at the rares, counting all six and confirming there wasn't a foil one. He spread the cards by color and guild to see what stood out.


    "There's a lot of powerful gold cards," Rietzl said, "but blue-white allows us to play most of the powerful cards. A lot of fliers too. That's nice." Rietzl's system to choosing his base color revolved around finding the greatest number of early plays by pulling out every one- and two-drop.



    After counting seven white-blue plays, he laid out an Azorius deck and checked to see which color might make a splash. "You can eliminate red," he said as he pulled the entire stack away. "None of these are cards I'm excited to splash, and there's no way to make green work since there isn't enough in it to make the deck base green."

    His approach is very conservative, but he knows it. "I'm the least greedy Sealed player I know. I'm never going to fight for cards if it makes my mana terrible." he said as he counted the colors and cards after adding Merciless Eviction to his array of Azorius. "We only need one Swamp, maybe two, for black in this deck."

    After settling on a white-blue-black configuration, Rietzl began to check his available cards against those in the deck. As he put it, "The only card I don't like is Runner's Bane, but I'm asking myself 'Are any of these cards better?'" (He said none of them were.)


    One card he called out as stellar was Prophetic Prism. "Prism is one of the best cards to open. You can splash anything." He wasn't entirely happy with the situation however. "The mana is a little weird since over half the deck is blue, but I'd still play Frostburn Weird over Dutiful Thrull here."

    With a focus on consistency and curve, Rietzl locked in on a white-blue-black deck quite different from the one Patrick Sullivan set:





     

  • Round 5 Feature Match – Martin Jůza vs. Christian Calcano

    by Adam Styborski

  • The letter C!hristian Calcano quickly crushed Martin Jůza thanks in two games thanks to the destructive power of Wrecking Ogre and Boros Battleshaper.


    Christian Calcano

    After putting himself onto the map with his victory at Grand Prix Minneapolis last year, Calcano has been on a tour of the world to find more Pro points. While he's played everywhere and has appeared at multiple Pro Tours, he's yet to find a consistency for his success.


    Martin Jůza

    Martin Jůza is a name renown for Limited play. With multiple Grand Prix victories in recent years, including 2010's Portland, back-to-back visits to Bochum, and across the globe in Hiroshima. He placed just outside the Top 25 of Pro Tour Dragon's Maze, competed in last year's Magic Players Championship, and was part of his team's Top 4 appearance in Providence last weekend. Consistency is something Jůza's managed to build.

    But consistency isn't always enough.

    Calcano tore through Jůza's life in the first game, backing his army of evasive red and white creatures with Legion's Initiative, a card that turned off Jůza's stellar removal in Arrest, and Wrecking Ogre to overrun the life gain that would have kept Jůza alive. The second game was close in as much as Jůza managed to drop Calcanco to 4 life before a Boros Battleshaper finished reshaping the battlefield.

    A timely Act of Treason allowed Calcano boost his life from 4 back up to 8 after Jůza played Unflinching Courage on his lone Tower Drake. "I think I had to play it that turn." Calcano said.

    "Yeah. Gaining four really helped. It put you out of reach." Jůza agreed.

    The first game was quick and painful for Jůza. As Calcano curved out Keening Banshee into Vassal Soul, Legion's Initiative, and Skyknight Legionnaire, Jůza could only muster Crosstown Courier and Tower Drake before falling prey to his mana. Casting two Keyrunes and Cluestone didn't help Jůza find his second source of blue, which locked away Skyline Predator from rescuing him. With Legion's Initiative at the ready to shake off Arrest, Jůza's meager defenses weren't enough when Haazda Snare Square tapped Jůza's Tower Drake, and a bloodrushed Wrecking Ogre granted the doublestrike needed to stop Jůza from gaining a point of life to stay alive.


    "I guess I would have lost anyway since you had a lot of other stuff going on, but if I had that blue mana," Jůza said, explaining his reveal of Skyline Predator while he was short what he needed to cast it, "I could have done something. Your deck seems pretty good."

    The second game appeared to reverse the roles, as Jůza smoothed Crosstown Courier into Tower Drake and Beetleform Mage to quickly drop Calcano just 6 life. While trading away Assault Griffin and using Viashino Racketeer looked like it would just buy Calcano a little time, casting Boros Battleshaper allowed him to take over the game.


    Sluiceway Scorpion joined Jůza's side, but Calcanco had it sent into a waiting Riot Piker. "That's how it works? Wow." Jůza said as he reread the card and watched his Beetleform Mage get picked off in a forced block the next turn. After Calcano cast Goblin Rally, Jůza put his Unflinching Courage onto Tower Drake and the rest was history: Act of Treason a full-on attack from Calcano put Jůza to 6 life (down from an untouched 20), then Jůza drew Clan Defiance ("It's a good one!" as Jůza put it.) without enough mana to steal the game right back.

    Jůza's extended hand ended the match, both games to Calcano.




     

  • Saturday, 8:05 p.m. – Reid Duke's Take on Adam's Pool

    by Adam Styborski

  • The letter R!eid Duke is perhaps best known for cutting his competitive teeth through Magic Online, becoming a MOCS winner and contender at last year's Magic Players Championship. But his victory at Grand Prix Nashville and several strong finishes at Pro Tours means his young career is only just getting started.

    With a sharp wit for Limited, Duke approached the process of building a deck with machine-like precision by rifling through all the cards in my sample Return to Ravnica Block Sealed pool. "I'm sorting to see every card, and pull out every cards I don't want to play – that's anything not a creature or removal, or really good. Then I look for cards that I don't want to leave in my sideboard." Duke said as he set aside Riot Controls and Awe for the Guilds, then pulled out Ghor-Clan Rampager, Advent of the Wurm, Righteous Authority, Merciless Eviction, Putrefy, and Annihilating Fire.


    He also pointed straight to Prophetic Prism. "This card's going to be huge."

    It didn't take long for Duke to come to the same decision as Paul Rietzl. "The Azorius gold cards are really good, but mana fixing is the opposite of the best cards in the pool." Duke said as he laid out a familiar blue-white deck.


    Duke explained his thoughts as he whittled down the curve of blue and white cards. "I'm keeping evasion creatures, and cutting cards that won't control the game on their own. Look at Crosstown Courier. It can fill a hole in a deck that needs it but it usually doesn't contribute to winning."

    Since Duke was quick to narrow in on blue-white, he pointed out that he had the time to look at other color combinations too.

    "All the good fixing is in Jund." Duke said, splaying the series of Guildgates that give some combination of black, red, and green mana. He went on to explain what he was looking for. "I'll ask myself 'What might I build if mana constraints weren't an issue?' I look for what I might play, then I'll add and subtract cards accordingly." he said. "One of the challenges of this pool is that the bulk of the gold cards are either aggressive or slow. Cards like Wojek Halberdiers lose a lot of value if they're played after turn two, but a four color deck is meant to be slow so we have time to hit all the colors."


    "With all these Gates, Ogre Jailbreaker is great, but it isn't enough. Without a good creature base for a Jund deck I'd go Azorius and splash black." Duke continued, and reset the blue-white deck from earlier. Merciless Eviction and Orzhov Charm jumped up to the curves. "The last decisions come down to mana. For instance, Frostburn Weird is double blue here since there isn't any red in the deck, but I'd still play Weird over Dutiful Thrull here."

    "Cards like Mindstatic and Dispel help you stay ahead. There's a solid base of creatures here." Duke said. "No real weaknesses. I like this."




     

  • Round 6 Feature Match – Ben Stark vs. Reid Duke

    by Nate Price

  • The letter A!n incredible amount of life was gained and lost over the course of this match, but, in the end, Ben Stark was able to gain just a touch more than Reid Duke, giving him the edge in this very close match.

    Now a perfect 6-0, Stark needed every point of life he could muster to keep Reid Duke from draining him to death over the course of this very long and grinding two-game match. Between a suite of lifegain creatures, multiple life-loss enchantments, a bevy of extort creatures, and Debt to the Debtless, life totals did not remain static for very long.


    Reid Duke

    "Can't win by less than that," Stark said after squeaking out a narrow victory at the end of Game 2. In both games, he ended the game at single digit life, even dropping as low as 1 in the first game.

    The match began with Duke taking a beating at the hands of Stark's Gateway Shade. After leading with a pair of Guildgates, Stark found himself able to attack for a massive seven life with the Shade as early as turn four. Duke's draw was a bit slow, not hitting the board until turn four, but a Scion of Vitu-Ghazi gave him some breathing room to set himself up.

    Before he could celebrate his cushion, though, a Stab Wound turned the Scion into a ballistic missile, aimed at either slowly killing Stark or saving Duke two life a turn. Stark just took the two damage most turns, content to trade two life a turn with Duke. He had a massive advantage on the board between Gateway Shade, Alms Beast, and Thrashing Mossdog. Duke had no good attacks other than the Scion, while Stark kept eating creatures with his massive bodies.

    Still, Duke was able to keep the game surprisingly close. Between the damage he was dealing with his Scion and the lifegain and extort offered by the Knight of Obligation and a pair of Tithe Drinkers, life totals remained fairly close. Eventually, with the life totals tied at 7-7, Duke took stock of his situation. He decided to virtually throw his team away against Stark's attackers, keeping him at 7 life. This left him with only a Tithe Drinker in play, but Stark smelled something. He wasted no time in using Fatal Fumes to kill the Tithe Drinker, leaving Duke with no board. Duke drew his card, thought for a minute, and cast Debt to the Deathless for three, putting himself up to 18 and dropping Stark to a lonely one. He dropped a Dimir Guildgate afterwards. Had it been a land that came into play untapped, or if he had been given one more turn, it would have been lethal. Instead, Stark got to attack with his team twice, ending an otherwise tight Game 1.

    "Good game," Duke offered. "It was a close one."

    "Yeah, it was," Stark agreed.

    Game 2 was even tighter. This time around, Duke had a better start, but it was quickly nullified by Stark. Tithe Drinker was forced to sit idle as Stark added Trestle Troll and Thrashing Mossdog to his team over consecutive turns. Duke was able to use Smite to finish off the Mossdog, but its counters soon made their way onto Golgari Decoy, a very potent threat. Fortunately, this provided a perfect target for Duke's One Thousand Lashes, beginning the slow drain of Stark's life.

    Still, Stark was able to pull ahead with Alms Beast, taking huge swaths of Duke's life total each turn. One attack away from Death, Duke was once again able to use Debt to the Deathless to push himself back up to 14 life, dropping Stark all the way down to 9. The Beast continued to Rampage, and two more attacks put Duke down to a startling 2 life. Near death, Duke's Scion of Vitu-Ghazi once again stepped up to the plate, providing a stream of blockers to keep Duke alive while he tried to extort his way to victory.

    Unfortunately for Duke, Stark had a Basilica Guards and was able to use it to keep just barely ahead of Duke's extort and One Thousand Lashes. As Stark's life total ticked away, Duke decided to try and end things with a Blast of Genius. He discarded a useless Assault Griffin, putting Stark to 3.

    Now down himself, Stark's deck gave him a hail Mary, as a Saruli Gatekeeper put him up to a now-massive 10 life. When Duke tried to better his defensive position with a Thrill-Kill Assassin to stop the Alms Beast, Stark's deck once again came through.

    "I drew a good one," he said. "It doesn't kill you or anything, but it keeps the fun going."

    The Stab Wound that had made such an impact in the first game came down to kill the Assassin, once again forcing Duke to chump away his creatures. As long as he kept drawing them, though, it seemed like it would be good enough. Combined with extort triggers, the One Thousand Lashes was doing work, chipping Stark lower and lower. Once again at 3 life, his deck came through again, delivering a Centaur Healer to keep him alive. Now down to his final creatures, Duke saw victory slip away, as the Alms Beast continued its crusade.


    Ben Stark

    "Well that was a funny game," William Jensen said from the side of the feature match area.

    "Yeah, I kept drawing lifegain at the perfect time," Stark smiled. "Game 1 was the same. He finished by putting me to one. Can't win by less than that."

    Game Notes: Stark found a Sewer Shambler that he hadn't sideboarded out after his last match while sideboarding for Game 2. He hadn't drawn the card all game, but still wanted to call a judge to see what the judge wanted to do. After conferring with the head judge, it was determined to be no penalty.




     

  • Saturday, 9:10 p.m. – Mulligan to Play

    by Adam Styborski

  • The letter T!he art of choosing when to mulligan is difficult to master. Assessing risk and probability is daunting for even experienced players, but there are essentials for any players to consider. Having secretly chosen one of the pro player's build of my sample Return to Ravnica Block Sealed pool I would wield against Nate, it made sense to consider what the deck could provide for me.

    Melissa DeTora is a phenomenal Limited player, and consistently hits a perfect (or near perfect) record in the Draft portion of Pro Tours, including at her Top 8 appearance at Pro Tour Gatecrash. While she couldn't change the deck further, she is an excellent players to ask about mulligans.

    "A mulligan a lot. I may actually mulligan too much." DeTora admitted. Her focus on hands is always about what plays will be available based on the cards you see.


    Would DeTora keep this hand? "No way!" she said. "Even on the play, when you're drawing a card, there's nothing to do. If you don't draw blue mana you're just dead."

    What DeTora's looking for are cards that you can play without needing to draw anything. It isn't about ignoring what you would draw, but ensuring you have a plan regardless of the randomness of the deck.

    Switching up a few cards presents a trickier decision.


    "Your only play is Keening Apparition." DeTora explained. "You can't play Righteous Authority on it since it will be dead to your opponent's creatures. Dispel is good at protecting an aggressive draw, but we don't have that here. If we only needed to draw lands it'd be okay, but it needs creatures too."

    So what does a hand look like that DeTora wouldn't mulligan?


    "Auto-keep. No way I'd mulligan. It's good no matter that you're playing against." DeTora said. But a quick swap revealed why this hand is okay.


    "I'd still keep this. You always have something to do. Against aggressive decks, Azorius Charm slows them down. Against slower decks you can just draw a card instead. Mindstatic keeps them off their four-drops, and Jelenn Sphinx is a huge wall. It gives you a lot of time to draw into other stuff."

    DeTora never wavered from looking at what you could play from the opening hand. I asked her to put together a perfect hand, the ideal one in the deck. "It'd definitely involve Orzhov Guildgate, an Island, and some other land." DeTora was quick to say. "The rest is tough, though I'd want a two-drop, three-drop, and four-drop."

    These were two configurations she pulled:



    "There's a ton of really good hands." DeTora said.

    Knowing that you're looking for plays every turn can you see why she really liked both of the hands above?




     

  • Round 7 Feature Match – Shuhei Nakamura vs. Brian Kibler

    by Nate Price

  • The letter A!s expected from two Hall of Famers, the match between Shuhei Nakamura and Brian Kibler came down to the wire, and a couple of key turns.

    After dropping the first game to an unstoppable Beetleform Mage, Nakamura rallied to take the next two games on the backs of a few very powerful plays. It was a good thing he did, too, because Brian Kibler flashed a pair of cards that spelled loss for Nakamura if Kibler was given a chance to untap.

    "One moment," Nakamura said as he dug into his bag. He plucked out an "I Played a Hall of Famer" pin from it and offered it to Kibler with a smile. The collected masses roared with delight.


    Brian Kibler

    Things began with two reasonably one-sided games. Kibler took the first thanks to an early Beetleform Mage that Nakamura simply couldn't deal with in time. After the match, he told Kibler, "I should have killed the Beetleform Mage when I had the chance. I had the Pit Fight." Kibler agreed, saying, "Yeah, that guy did you a lot of damage." It wasn't a lie, either. The Beetleform Mage was actually responsible for the entirety of the damage Kibler did over the course of the game, single-handedly killing Nakamura. The second game was just as one-sided, as a Voice of Resurgence and Crowned Ceratok made short work of a mana-light Kibler.

    The final game was where the magic happened. Kibler got off to an incredibly fast start, using a Zhur-Taa Druid to power out a Thrashing Mossdog. Nakamura was a step behind, having to wait until turn four to drop a Crowned Ceratok. When he sent it in on the following turn, Kibler used his Zhur-Taa Druid to cast Arrows of Justice. Nakamura thought for a minute before using a bloodrushed Zhur-Taa Swine to keep it alive and deal a massive chunk of damage to Kibler. Following that, Kibler attacked with his team, and Nakamura had a Burst of Strength to untap his Ceratok and allow it to successfully block the Thrashing Mossdog.

    "Shuhei with his Burst of Strengths. He just gets everyone," Kibler said with a smile and a shake of the head. Even though he was now in a slightly disadvantageous situation, he still appeared to be having a good time.

    After combat, Kibler scavenged the Mossdog onto a Drudge Beetle he had cast the turn before. Though it looked like Kibler had stabilized, Nakamura had other plans. He cast a Give, making the Ceratok into a massive 8/7 trampler. He then used Pit Fight to kill the Drudge before attacking Kibler down to 3. Unfazed, he untapped, dropped his first blue mana onto the table, and cast Krasis Incubation, locking the Ceratok down.


    Shuhei Nakamura

    "Oh no," Nakamura yelled with a laugh. "He is stopped."

    Now, Kibler went on the offensive. Runewing and Opal Lake Gatekeepers came down on consecutive turns, battling Nakamura down to 8. Things looked very good for Kibler, but Nakamura finaly drew the Punish the Enemy in his deck and used it to outright kill Kibler.

    "Man," Kibler sighed, flashing his hand to Nakamura. Armed & Dangerous and Dragonshift were exactly enough for Kibler to have been able to attack for the win on the following turn. Nakamura wiped his brow in relief and shook Kibler's hand.

    "Good luck," Kibler said with a smile.

    "You too," Nakamura returned. "Don't forget your pin!"




     

  • Saturday, 9:50 p.m. – Martin Jůza's Take on Nate's Pool

    by Nate Price

  • The letter T!his time around, I got Martin Jůza, world traveler and Platinum Czech superstar, to build my Sealed Pool. Jůza was very familiar with the contents of the deck, as he and I played a few games against each other earlier in the day.

    "Seriously, though, can we just trade decks already," he asked as I sat him down in front of the pool.

    "This pool has so many good cards. Oh well."

    After failing to appeal to my compassionate side, and then failing again to bribe me with delicious Brazilian cookies, Jůza started to actually build the deck.

    "The first thing I like to do is look at the mana in the pool," he told me, digging the Guildgates and Cluestones to the top of the pile.


    Martin Jůza

    "This is perfect he said," fanning four Guildgates, a Transguild Promenade, and a quartet of artifact mana generators. "Now I get to just comb through this and find all of the cards I might want to play."

    There was a lot of power in the Sealed Pool, and he set about marveling over the cards he'd get to play.

    "This pool is insane," he gushed. "I get all of this removal, Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage, Stolen Identity, these split cards... this might actually be too many good cards. This is going to be tough to build."

    With all of the cards he might want to play selected, he started organizing them by color.

    "Now we have to actually start to take a look at the mana in the deck and figure out what we can and can't play," he said. Surprisingly, one of the first cards to hit the sideboard was Grisly Spectacle.

    "I don't know if this deck can support the double black," he said. "Since we have to be able to play all of these colors, we can only really put like six Swamps in the deck. Combined with the Promenade, Cluestone, and Guildgate, that's nine sources of black mana. Well, maybe that's enough. I don't know. I'm also not sure about these Tithe Drinkers. They're very good cards, but I don't know if we can realistically cast them early with our mana. Though they're good even if you play them later... Man, this is tough!

    We are definitely base black. All of our removal is there. Other than that, we've got about the same amount of red and white, and blue and green are definitely just splashes. Our mana gives us four sources of blue that also give other colors. There are three sources of green, which means we need to add a Forest. We only have three sources of black, so we're going to have to play a bunch of Swamps. Like six. Then we can match up the Plains and Mountains and we should be fine."

    There were a number of cards that didn't make the deck that easily could have. Only Give & Take was played as far as split cards go. The rare ones were left in the board. A number of removal spells were left in the board as well, including Trostani's Judgment.

    "Playing all of these colors is especially good because you get to have such insane options when you sideboard," he told me. "You've got cards like Keymaster Rogue against decks with Arrests, Corpse Blockade against the fast decks, a couple more removal spells if there's a bomb you just have to deal with, Sundering Growth... there are so many options. It's the reason I love playing decks like this in this format: I love having options. I like being able to open sweet cards and play them. But it only works if you've got the mana to support them."


    Pleased with the deck he was able to build, though he wished he had more time to build it, he put a final seal of approval on the deck.

    "This deck is really hard," he told me. "This probably isn't even the best build. You could hammer away at it for a few hours and might be able to figure out the actual best cards to have in the maindeck of this five color deck, but you aren't really going to improve it all that much. If this deck is an 89 out of 100, I'm content turning this in over agonizing for an hour to find the 91 that exists. It's not worth it. Instead, I'll just sleeve it up and draw several practice draws, just to see how everything looks like it's working out. If I feel like I need to make a change then, I can go ahead and adjust it in the final minutes before I turn it in. Judges always walk by and try to take my decklists from me, but I'm not quite done. I've gotta get those practice hands in!"

    Here's the deck he decided on:


    "Can I tell Jana 'hi'?" he asked as I was scooping the cards back up into one pile? Oh, I suppose. Consider it one more hidden perk of being Platinum.




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