gpbri13

Grand Prix Oklahoma City 2013
Day 1 Coverage

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  • Saturday, 11:00 a.m. – How to Approach Theros's Mechanics in Sealed Deck

    by Nate Price

  • Welcome to the first Limited Grand Prix to feature the newest Magic set on the block: the utterly divine Theros! As with all Limited Grand Prix, the event here in Oklahoma City starts off with a day of Sealed Deck play followed by a day of drafting for the players epic enough to survive the heavy ordeal posed by Sealed Deck.

    Theros presents its own unique challenges in Limted, introducing some new mechanics, and revisiting (and even remodeling) some old ones. These mechanics have some very different feels in both Sealed Deck and Booster Draft, so it is generally a good idea to get a handle on how the function in each of them before sitting down to an expansive weekend of play. Since the tournament begins with Sealed Deck, that's where we'll begin, too.

    Heroic

    Up first, and representing the mere mortals of Theros, is the heroic mechanic.




    Heroic is a triggered ability that triggers upon targeting these mortal champions with a spell or ability, generating a variety of effects. These effects all seem to enhance the goal of the particular color they come from, with white and green creatures getting pumped, blue creatures disrupting the board, and black creatures killing things and draining life. Considering the fact that this set is aura-centric, there are plenty of ways to trigger heroic, so you will invariably be able to gain value from your heroic cards.

    That said, we're talking about Sealed Deck here, and not Booster Draft. In Booster Draft, you are able to draft a dedicated Heroic deck, featuring a critical mass of cards featuring mechanic and cards capable of triggering it. Thus far, they appear to be among the most aggressive decks the format has to offer, mostly owing to their incredibly linear design.

    In Sealed Deck, you obviously have far less control over the contents of your deck. This makes coming up with the cards required to build a "heroic" deck a considerably more daunting task. That said, the effects of these heroic cards are generally still effective enough that they will be welcome additions to a Sealed Deck. This is especially true considering how good bestow cards are (more on that later). Since Sealed Deck generally pushes you to play as much removal as you can, you have less slots for cards that are going to turn on your heroic creatures. Fortunately, bestow creatures provide a way to do so without sacrificing creature count.

    In general, if you aren't looking to heroic cards to be the focus of your deck, especially a deck as aggressive as they can be in Draft, you'll be pleased with them. Think of them more as a bonus than the "build around me" mechanic seen in Draft and they won't let you down.

    Scry

    The first of the returning mechanics, scry, is a perfect thematic fit for the flavor of this block.




    Greek and Roman mythology, the core inspiration for Theros, is rife with oracles, prognosticators, and omens. You can't take a walk down the street without tripping over someone come to foretell imminent doom. Personally, I think that if they could tell the future so well, they'd have gotten out of your way, but that's just me...

    Scry has traditionally been a powerhouse mechanic in Constructed, particularly in control decks. Look at Preordain, for example. It is good enough at what it does that it's banned in Modern. The ability to cheaply sift through to find the cards you need in a given situation is an incredibly powerful ability, and the same applies to Limited.

    While it isn't as flashy in Limited as it is in Constructed, you can't overlook what scry can do for you, especially in Sealed Deck. The first reason starts with the speed of the format and what that does to your mana base. As a slower format featuring expensive and format-defining mechanics like monstrosity and bestow, Theros Limited often presses players to play more than the archetypically standard seventeen lands. You generally don't mind doing so, as these abilities give you plenty to do with an abundance of mana.

    With scry, you have even greater control over the lands that you have access to, which is very important when you are playing and needing more of them. Scry as a rider onto many otherwise playable cards helps ensure that you have the lands you need when you need them, and sifts away the ones you don't when you don't. It's a very innocuous ability, but it can really pay dividends over the course of a game and a couple of scrys.

    Now I'm obviously not claiming that scry is in any way as powerful or game-changing as monstrosity or bestow. That would be foolish. But it does work very well in concert with those abilities to ensure the consistency of a format that could otherwise be very subject to the woes of mana screw and flood. Any format that requires this many lands to operate runs the risk of both not drawing them as needed, or drawing too many, as your deck is now stocked with more. Scry helps avoid this, providing a valuable service to many decks. And again, recognize that scry is more of an added benefit rather than the main focus of the cards. Every one of the cards pictured above provides a very beneficial effect, in addition to scry. Scry is a bonus, and a helpful one in Sealed Deck at that.

    Devotion

    Here's the other returning mechanic, though it's a bit of an undercover one. As Mark Rosewater has explained, devotion is a reworking of an older mechanic: chroma.




    While I won't describe Devotion as a linear mechanic (it kind of is), it certainly pushes for a very linear consideration when building decks. To make the most of your cards with devotion, you are generally pushed to look to keep your permanents as close to monocolor as you can. This is commonly seen in Draft in decks like Black/Blue Merchant decks, with virtually monoblack permanents, touching on blue for access to its powerful spells. This can be a very powerful strategy, but one that has a little difficulty being produced in a Sealed Deck environment.

    It's like beating a dead horse, but it's a distinction that is very important to make: Sealed Deck is more out of your control than Booster Draft. Most players with a reasonable amount of Limited experience under their belt will have a greater amount of experience with Booster Draft than Sealed Deck. As such, it is not an uncommon occurrence that card evaluations are made with a skew towards their performance in Booster Draft. Most of the time, this is something that won't impact you too greatly when transitioning to Sealed Deck. With Theros, however, there are mechanics that can be far more difficult to leverage the way they can be in Draft, making their representatives in the set generally less powerful than many players think they are.

    Devotion is a perfect example of this, better even than heroic. Unlike heroic, where the individual cards are often good enough in their own right to warrant play, some of the devotion cards can suffer from a lack of power in Sealed Deck. Look at cards like Gray Merchant of Asphodel and Fanatic of Mogis, for example. Getting to play them for a devotion of three or four is reasonable, but not amazing. Apart from their abilities, their bodies aren't particularly amazing. Nylea's Disciple is a little better than they are due to being a 3/3, but it still isn't that incredible.

    Hurting devotion the most is the fact that you will be two colors in Sealed Deck, and people are encouraged to play whatever removal they can. Helping devotion is the presence of bestow cards adding resilient permanents to the board that can contribute to the devotion count (bestow really does act as glue for a good number of strategies in this set). It's hard to tell which way devotion leans at this point, but indications thus far are towards the weaker side. Still, you will play them, especially the ones pictured above, and you will generally be pleased with their effects. But you will be disappointed if you expect them to be as good as they were in your sweet draft deck from last week or you wait too long to play them, trying to maximize their effectiveness.

    Monstrosity

    Now we've hit the big times. Welcome to Sealed Deck, monstrosity.




    As you will undoubtedly hear Marshall Sutcliffe repeat ad nauseum on the video coverage of the Grand Prix, monstrosity is pure, unadulterated value.

    Monstrosity is one of the two most format-defining factors in Theros Limited. The costs run as high as ten mana, and most are around six or so mana to activate. This is one of the big factors that pushes this Limited format towards one that rewards players for playing a higher-than-normal number of lands. It also defines how most of the games in this format end. Making a creature monstrous makes it, well, monstrous. They get huge. As such, games that tend to go longer, which happens more often than not in Sealed Deck, tend to end with a couple of swings from a creature of epic proportions.

    One thing that makes monstrosity so good is the fact that it tends to be on creatures that are already good. Look at the creatures pictured above. The worst body from among them is Keepsake Gorgon, and it's still effectively a wall with deathtouch. Each of them is powerful in their own right, and they only get better when they become monstrous.

    Now here comes the downside to monstrous (there had to be one). The investment to make a creature monstrous is immense. It is generally the investment of all of a player's mana to upgrade them, effectively spending a turn on the task. If the creature is removed in response, say with a Lash of the Whip or Voyage's End (both commons), they are never in play to become monstrous, effectively countering the ability. This is a massive blowout for a player to overcome, and often results in a complete swing of fortunes in the game. I've heard players go so far as to say that they won't activate monstrosity if their opponent has mana for Voyage's End available, or at least that they definitely won't if they have something else to do, even if the monstrosity trigger is something as backbreaking as the Shipbreaker Kraken's.

    That said, we have already touched on how powerful the cards are in their own right. You often don't even have to make them monstrous to win games. Just be careful. Monstrosities exist across all rarities and colors (though there are more in green, red, and black), so you will definitely see them, and you will definitely play them. They are incredibly good cards and will make the core of many a Sealed Deck. Embrace your inner monster and use these babies to tear through your opponents. Just beware a premature end to our voyage.

    Bestow

    Last but not least, we have the poster child for Theros, what may be the most successful mechanic, and the glue that holds this Limited environment together: bestow.




    Bestow is an incredibly powerful mechanic for the purposes of Limited, and perhaps an even stronger influence on how people play this format than monstrosity. The bestow costs are generally expensive, though less so than the monstrosity costs tend to be. They provide some give and take, as many of them are respectable in their own right, but others tend to be a bit weaker when not used as auras. Still, even these less-impressive creatures (I'm looking at you, Hopeful Eidolon) are still very impressive when they're carrying their own bestow creature as an aura! They tend to lead towards a slower format with more mana sources to accommodate the necessity of hitting six or seven lands. They force people to take a serious look at maindeck enchantment removal. They turn on heroic abilities. They count towards devotion in both their creature and aura forms. They make any creature monstrous. They are the jack-of-all-trades in this format, and they are a major reason that Theros Limited, and Sealed Deck in particular, can be so consistent even considering the man directions that it can pull you. There isn't really a "bestow deck," rather bestow goes into every deck and makes them better.

    I'll talk more about the importance of bestow as a mechanic in Limited throughout the weekend, but for our purposes here, let's just say that you will likely play every creature with bestow that your Sealed Deck's colors can support. There will be those, such as Nimbus Naiad, that you will be happy to cast as creatures, and others, like Hopeful Eidolon, which will likely wait until they can be Auras. Your opponents will likely be planning to do the same, which should cause you to seriously look into playing one main deck enchantment-removal spell, particularly one that can be cast at instant speed.

    Time to Play!

    That about does it for this quick glance at the impact of Theros's mechanics on Sealed Deck play! As today progresses, we'll get to see how each of them performs, and we'll get to learn about what both makes them work and not work within this Sealed Deck environment. With Theros dropping on Magic Online, as well, everyone can get in on the epic action, and try their best to champion a cause and explore the Theros Limited environment on their own. Keep checking back as we monitor how the 1085 players here in Oklahoma City fare throughout the weekend!




     

  • Saturday, 12:00 p.m. – GP Oklahoma City 2013 Trial Winning Decklists

    by Mike Rosenberg

  • Seven players earned themselves three byes for this weekend's big event by winning a Grand Prix Trial event on Friday. These decklists offer our first look into what players are building out of the a Theros Sealed pool. What did players gravitate towards? Take a look below!


    Bryce Vervalin
    Theros Theros Sealed Trial – Grand Prix Oklahoma City 2013



    Ryan Morlock
    Theros Theros Sealed Trial – Grand Prix Oklahoma City 2013


    Peter Sundholm
    Theros Theros Sealed Trial – Grand Prix Oklahoma City 2013



    Tim George
    Theros Theros Sealed Trial – Grand Prix Oklahoma City 2013




     

  • Saturday, 4:30 p.m. – GP Oklahoma City 2013 Trial Winning Decklists

    by Mike Rosenberg

  • Sealed Deck Exercises are one of my favorite things to do when I get the chance to work at a Limited Grand Prix. It gives you, the readers, a chance to look over a Sealed pool that one of the players in this room had to build from earlier today. Take a look at the pool. What would you do with the cards if they were presented to you as your own pool at a Grand Prix?

    Check back at the end of the day, when we will reveal whose pool this went to, what this person built from the pool, and why this person made the choices that they did.





     

  • Saturday, 6:22 p.m. – Quick Hits: Play or Draw?

    by Mike Rosenberg

  • Do you prefer to play or draw when given the choice in Theros Sealed Deck, and does this differ from your general preference in other Sealed Pack formats?

    Eric Froehlich – No. 9 Ranked Player – “I think in general, if the format is not super fast, you'll want to be on the draw, and this format's not super fast.”
    Tyler Lytle – Grand Prix San Antonio 2012 Champion – “I think in general it depends on your deck, but more than likely I prefer to be on the draw, including in this format since it is slow. This is just for Sealed though. It's completely different in draft.”


    Willy Edel – No 6. Ranked Player – “I chose to be on the draw, but I don't know if it is correct for every single player. For my deck, I have some removal and some scry, so I am choosing to draw, perhaps even if this was a draft deck. I think that, if you have a good fast deck, you should be on the play since the format is so slow.”
    Paul Rietzl – Pro Tour Amsterdam 2010 Champion – “I prefer to be on the play. I think people generally overrate being on the draw. There are very rare formats where I think it's correct to be on the draw, and Theros is no different.”


    Seth Manfield – Two-Time Grand Prix Winner – “In Sealed, there's pretty much no format that I wouldn't want to draw first in, and this format is no different, but I think it might be slightly worse drawing first because hitting monstrosity and your land drops is very important. There are more 18 land decks and it's less likely that you'll stall on land drops.”



     

  • Saturday, 7:22 p.m. – A Sample of Theros's Finest from Oklahoma City

    by Nate Price

  • We are coming down the home stretch of Grand Prix Oklahoma City, which means it's a good time to take a look at some decks! Let's take a look at some of the decks that have carried their owners to undefeated records thus far and see what makes them tick.





    These four decks were randomly chosen from the pool of undefeated decks so that we could take a look at how things seem to be shaping up here at Grand Prix Oklahoma City, and what tools players are using to tackle Theros Sealed Deck.

    The first thing to note is that all of the decks save one were running a mere seventeen lands. This is especially notable considering that bestow and monstrosity were supposedly strong enough pillars of the format that eighteen lands or more would be the new norm. Sure, this is only a small sample size from a large pool, but it's something to consider nonetheless.

    Secondly, bestow cards are apparently too good to leave out. Of all of the cards in colors played by these decks, only one bestow creature was left benched. The rest all found their way into decks.


    Next, looking at the cards played by each of these decks gives you an idea of what works in each of the colors. None of the players were playing white, as none of the decks had a particularly appealing white pool. In blue, players notably went after the powerful tempo cards, with two players dipping into a blue splash strictly for cards like Griptide and Sea God's Revenge. In fact, all three blue decks have a copy of the powerful blue sorcery. Black was the most-played of the colors in this pull, but the cards used by each player differed a little. All of the cards that were present in all three pools had two players that championed them, while the third left them sitting in the board. There was no strong consensus. The only thing that was clearly visible was that all three players played every black removal spell their pool offered them.

    Red didn't provide the particularly large draws offered by the other colors, with only one lightning strike amongst the pools, so it was interesting to see two players opt for it as a second color. Those that did choose to play it did so for the strength of the creatures more than the removal. One player used the speed of Minotaur Skullcleavers, while the other went with the beefiness offered by Wild Celebrants. Finally, green gave a pair of players access to good combat tricks, as well as some beefy guys like Nemesis of Mortals and Nessian Asp. One of the big standouts in the green of these pools was the pair of Sedge Scorpions sitting in Player D's list. The card is deceptively good, and provides a great way to keep combat to a minimum until you are ready to unleash the beasts in the later stages of the game, exactly like green likes to do in Theros.

    These decks are but a small fraction of the decks that are doing well so far this tournament, but they hopefully at least give you guys at home a glimpse of what it takes to win matches in Theros Sealed Deck. As the day continues and more players drop from the undefeated ranks, we will be able to bring you the final decks that were strong enough to make it through the crucible of nine rounds of play unscathed for an even clearer vision of what it takes to become one of Theros's best!




     

  • Round 6 Feature Match - Jose Francisco Da Silva vs. Brock Parker (Theros Sealed)

    by Mike Rosenberg

  • Grand Prix Rio De Janeiro 2013 Champion and Gold-Level Pro Jose Francisco Da Silva has had quite the season, and is in Oklahoma City getting some hands-on tournament experience with Theros Limited. His opponent, Grand Prix Pittsburgh 2013 Champion Brock Parker, was no slouch in Limited though, as the two sat down to see how their Sealed decks would fare in Round 6 in today's big event.

    The Decks

    Many players would take a quick look through Parker's deck and think that it is a dream come true for Sealed. With multiple copies of Read the Bones, some early removal, Mnemonic Walls to bring those cards back for another go, Prognostic Sphinx, and a Whip of Erebos, it had just about everything you could ask for.

    Brock Parker

    Except for, well, any way to deal with a large and monstrous creature. The deck was devoid of any copies of Griptide, Voyage's End, or Sea God's Revenge, giving his otherwise solid blue-black deck a deadly Achilles heel against an early monstrous creature.

    Unfortunately for Parker, Da Silva had a couple of those ready to go in his Green-White deck, including the brutal Hundred-Handed One and the very dangerous Nemesis of Mortals. Da Silva had some potentially powerful draws, but if Parker managed an early offense with his fliers, then the match could fall in his favor.

    The Games

    Parker's start included a curve of Traveler's Amulet, Returned Phalanx, and Read the Bones showing him Whip of Erebos and Frontline Chimera. As Parker shipped the Chimera to the bottom of his deck, it became clear that he had many more high-impact spells to cast.

    Da Silva, meanwhile, had a rather slow start on the draw with Wingsteed Rider, which began its attacks on Parker, followed by Burnished Hart.

    Those attacks quickly halted when Parker played Prognostic Sphinx on the fifth turn, which quickly began its assault and started doing its work, scrying most of Parker's unnecessary lands to the bottom of his deck. Silva's Evangel of Heliod for four tokens was not enough to get him back into the game, especially once Parker dropped Whip of Erebos to decisively ensure that there wouldn't be a close race.

    Da Silva 0 – Parker 1

    Game 2

    In the second game, Parker's weakness to monstrosity began to show, as Commune with the Gods fueled a devastating third-turn Nemesis of Mortals for Da Silva. Parker, who had to go first due to Da Silva's choice to draw and due to a mulligan, was quickly under a dire situation. Returned Phalanx plus Pharika's Cure let him take out the Nemesis on the next turn when Da Silva cast a Wingsteed Rider, but Parker was still facing an uphill battle after having lost cards from a mulligan, being on the play, and having to spend two of them to take care of Da Silva's big creature.

    Jose Francisco Da Silva

    Volpine Goliath and the Hundred-Handed One soon followed for Da Silva, and while Parker was able to make up for his card deficit with Mnemonic Wall returning Read the Bones for another go, he quickly ended up massively behind on the battlefield and succumbed to Da Silva's giant creatures.

    Da Silva 1 – Parker 1

    Game 3

    The third game featured a difficult spot for Parker, who had tempo by being on the play and Read the Bones to smooth his draws. However, Da Silva had a second-turn Sylvan Caryatid which powered out the Hundred-Handed One on the third turn.

    The giant began to attack in on the next turn, and as Da Silva had a fourth and fifth land on following turns, he threatened monstrosity early on. Parker, who only had a single Keepsake Gorgon that was capable of taking out the giant, could no longer race with any fliers that he followed with after the giant became monstrous.


    Lantern Campad added insult to injury, as Parker no longer had the luxury of blocking with his blue-creature-heavy draw. His one hope for blocking, a Burnished Hart, drew its Last Breath courtesy of Da Silva, allowing the Brazilian pro to attack in for the final points.

    Da Silva 2 – Parker 1

    After the match, Parker went through his Sealed pool with Ben Seck to see if he could find any ways to combat monstrosity with his color combination. Blue or black offered nothing, and green was his next best option but did not shore up his pool's blind spot of being unable to deal with gigantic creatures. "If I had even one Voyage's End..." he lamented, knowing that his deck had the ability to dig to, find, and re-cast the bounce spell as needed.

    Unfortunately, his other colors provided no options, and Parker was left hoping to dodge anything too monstrous in his remaining rounds.

     

  • Saturday, 7:45 p.m. - Quick Hits: Best Color in Theros Sealed?

    by Mike Rosenberg

  • What is the best color in Theros Sealed Pack?

    Tyler Lytle – 2013 Grand Prix San Antonio 2013 Champion - “Green, to be honest. The creatures are just so overwhelming, and are much more powerful than what the other colors have.”
    Shahar Shenhar – 2013 Magic World Champion, No. 3 Ranked Player – "Blue. It has cards like Voyage's End, Griptide, and if you can get lucky maybe you can get a Sea God's Revenge."


    Chris Fennell – Four-Time Grand Prix Top 8 Competitor, Grand Prix Washington DC 2003-2004 Champion – "Green. I think red is the best color for Booster Draft because you can focus your picks, and red is very color intensive, which you're likely not going to be able to do much of in Sealed. Two-Headed Cerberus isn't reliable enough to hit if you have a 9/9 land split in your mana base, and cards like Dragon Mantle aren't as good as they could be. For green, I just think it's really good since monstrosity is very good in Sealed. Nessian Asp is amazing, Voyaging Satyr is amazing as well."
    Eric Froehlich – No. 9 Ranked Player - “Blue. It has lots of great commons, such as Griptide, Voyage's End, Nimbus Naiad, and Prescient Chimera. They have a lot of good cards and complement the other colors well. Blue-white, blue-red, blue-green, and blue-black are all real decks. It has powerful uncommons as well, such as Horizon Scholar and Sea God's Revenge. Next best is probably green, which has a lot of good creatures.”


    Paul Rietzl – Pro Tour Amsterdam 2010 Champion - "I haven't liked white much, which is abnormal for me. I've seen really good black decks and really good red cards, which are typically the removal colors. To be honest, I don't have quite enough experience to say definitively, but I haven't seen a bad black deck yet, so that would be my pick."



     

  • Saturday, 8:00 p.m. – Bestowing Knowledge

    by Nate Price

  • Perhaps you missed the memo, but bestow is a big-time mechanic.

    One of the biggest problems keeping auras from being a force in Limited has been their vulnerability. Removing the creature wearing the aura, or worse in response to the aura, resulted in a two-for-one advantage for the opponent. It was rare (or sometimes mythic) that an aura was strong enough to warrant inclusion in a Limited deck despite this vulnerability.

    Bestow is Wizards's answer to this vulnerability. Now, removal spells only get to hit one of the two cards instead of two. Remove a creature enchanted with a bestow creature and you not only get to keep the aura, but it stays in play. You get the benefit of having the enhanced creature in play until your opponent can remove it and then you get the tempo advantage of them not even being able to reduce the number of creatures you have on the board! It's incredibly powerful.

    "There's no real way to get punished by bestowing a creature," World Champion Shahar Shenhar told me after using a bestowed Observant Alseid to cleanly win his Round 4 match. "Between this and monstrosity, there are a lot less favorable blocking opportunities. There aren't really opportunities to straight-up block and trade with a bestowed creature. It's always one huge guy attacking. That creates more times when you are forced to chump block as opposed to favorably blocking."


    Shehar Shenhar

    Shenhar hit the nail on the head. Thus far, Theros Limited seems very in favor of the attacker, with bestow and monstrosity doing work to ensure that there are always epic monsters fighting on the board. Things are often so large and powerful that regular creatures don't stand a chance. They're the innocent bystanders of a war between gods, heroes, and monsters. You know what innocent bystanders do in movies like Clash of the Titans? They die.

    That's one of the more interesting quirks to Theros Limited. The answer to the power of bestow is often more bestow. It's a trope as old as the mythology from which Theros was drawn. How do you defeat a hero with a gift from a god? You send another hero bestowed with another gift. Sure enough, the easiest way to make sure that a creature is big enough to fight amongst these bestowed creatures and monsters is to bestow something onto it and make it more comparable to fight.

    This can have especially large repercussions when the creature onto which the aura is being bestowed is a bestow creature itself! Think of the differences between the various bestow creatures. You have cards like Nimbus Naiad, which would be playable on its own. Then you have cards like Hopeful Eidolon. As Trained Caracal, it was less than exciting. As a Trained Caracal that another creature can ride into battle (we're talking a big kitty), it becomes one of the best white commons. What gives? The simple answer is that bestow begets bestow. When the Eidolon falls off and becomes a creature again, it can pick up another bestow creature and become a force to be reckoned with. Even when it's dealt with, the aura it was wearing becomes another threat to be dealt with, and the chain continues.


    The ever-present threat offered by massive bestowed auras and monstrosity has led Shenhar to offer the following advice to anyone sitting down in front of a Theros Sealed Deck pool in the days to come:

    "Be able to deal with really big creatures. I'm talking a bestowed creature or a creature with monstrosity. You need bounce spells or ways to have good block. Cards like Hopeful Eidolon are good because you can bestow it and attack and gain a bunch of life. If they decide to block it with their big guy, it dies but it still comes back as a 1/1 lifelinker that can chump block. That little guy can save you nine or ten life. Things like that which can alter the tempo of the game are going to be very important."




     

  • Saturday, 8:30 p.m. – Quick Hits: Best Cards in Theros Sealed?

    by Mike Rosenberg

  • What is the best common/uncommon/rare (mythics included) in Theros Sealed Pack?

    Paul Rietzl – Pro Tour Amsterdam 2010 Champion - "For rares, this one that surprised me so far since I didn't think it would be as big of a bomb as it was, but it'd be Hammer of Purphoros. It looks like it's a Constructed card and a good Limited rare, but it's actually just a bomb. In terms of uncommons, I'd say Sea God's Revenge. I've seen that card played a few times and that card is a huge blowout. In terms of commons, Griptide. Using it in response to monstrosity is one of the biggest blowouts in this format."
    Shahar Shenhar – 2013 Magic World Champion, No. 3 Ranked Player – "Elspeth, Sun's Champion is the best rare. The best uncommon is Sea God's Revenge. As for common, it's either Voyage's End or Griptide. It might be Griptide."


    Tyler Lytle – Grand Prix San Antonio Champion – "For common, I'd say Lightning Strike. For uncommon, I'll go with Magma Jet. For rare, it's easily Elspeth, Sun's Champion."
    Eric Froehlich – No. 9 Ranked Player - "The best common is probably close between Griptide and Voyage's End. For uncommon, it's also close between Sea God's Revenge and Keepsake Gorgon. And for that, the best rare is Elspeth, Sun's Champion, but I don't think white is necessarily the best color in this format."


    Seth Manfield – Two-Time Grand Prix Champion - "At common, I think it's Lightning Striek. For uncommons, I want to see the Emissaries (Heliod's Emissary, Thassa's Emissary, Erebos's Emissary, Purphoros's Emissary, Nylea's Emissary). It's tough to pick one. There are some stronger uncommons such as Sentry of the Underwold, but you need to be two specific colors to play them, whereas the Emissaries are just very good. As for rare, Hammer of Purphoros. I think that card is absurd."



     

  • Saturday, 9:00 p.m. – Consulting the Oracles

    by Nate Price

  • "What is this, some sort of Limited round table," Hall-of-Fame elect Ben Stark said as he approached the table I was seated at. To one side was his fellow Floridian and Limited mastermind Chris Fennell, to the other was two-time Grand Prix Champion Seth Manfield.


    Seth Manfield, Chris Fennell, Ben Stark

    "It would be hard to do much better, wouldn't it," Fennell joked as Stark joined the panel.

    After beginning the day with an overview of how the mechanics of Theros would shape the landscape of Sealed Deck, I have had quite some time to actually watch the format play out, and there have been a few observations that have floated to the front of my mind.

    1. Between monstrosity and bestow, you will inevitably be faced with some gigantic creature that you will have to deal with or die.
    2. The best solution to those massive creatures isn't a removal spell, it's a massive creature of your own.
    3. This format has a lot of room to play in it, so you will almost inevitably reach the late game.

    Time and again I'd seen games utterly dominated by cards like Nessian Asp and Thassa's Emissary. Time and again, I'd seen the player that had the best late-game plays assume control of the match. No one got raced out. It was like watching a sumo wrestling match: just bunches of fat slamming into each other over and over again.

    I knew there had to be more to the format than that, so I called together these three great Limited players to give me their counsel on how they view Sealed Deck now that Theros is around. Turns out while some things have changed, many of the old rules still apply.

    "You want cards that can affect the board at multiple points in the game," Fennell said, breaking the ice on the first question. This advice was nearly identical to advice that Fennell had given me when I spoke with him at length at Grand Prix Houston, a Return to Ravnica Block Limited event.

    "You want cards like Scholar of Athreos, which you can play on turn three to block, but can end up draining an opponent for four or five over the course of the match. You want bestow creatures, which you can play on curve or bestow onto a bigger creature if you draw them later in the game. I think that's what you want."


    Seth Manfield echoed the sentiment, adding a rehashing of some of the most basic rules of Sealed Deck.

    "After looking at your pool, you're going to be able to usually rule out one or two colors that you're going to play, so you really don't have to look at all five," he said. "Then, you just want to do the same things you always do: find your bombs, your removal, and the best curve you can from within that. Standard rules still apply."

    Fennell interjected with a caution about simply looking for your best two colors, however.

    "A lot of time people will have two colors that have good cards at the same mana costs," he said as a warning. "Blue and green tend to do that a lot in this format. So you'll have all of these great four and five drops, but you won't have anything to fill out the lower end of your curve. Once you decide what your best color is and what it does well, you want to pick the cards that are going to complement that best."

    Newly-elected Hall of Famer Ben Stark had a slight departure to think about, one that was clearly more tailored to the thought of Theros.

    "I think monstrosity cards are really good in Sealed Deck," he said. "Being blue, for example, is traditionally good because you are able to gain advantages. Like how Essence Scatter is good on turn two and good on turn ten. I feel like now it is red and green that gain the advantages, and they're good on turn four and turn ten."

    It has been a common theme so far this weekend that monstrosity really drives the format. Size really does matter, and it comes in droves with the monstrosity creatures. But it's more than that. It's the threat of inevitability that they really represent, and Fennell did an expert job of explaining why that is so important to a Sealed Deck environment.

    "If both of you kept a reasonable hand, the opening draws in a game are more or less a stalemate," Fennell explained. "It's whoever topdecks better from turn two to turn ten or eleven."

    Stark picked up the ball from here.

    "That's why you want cards that are both good whenever you draw them and good in the late game," he said. "Sedge Scorpion is the perfect example of that kind of card. If you draw it early, you get in for a few points and then trade with their four drop. If you draw it on turn eight, you play it and you trade with their eight drop. It does everything you want a card to do in Sealed Deck: it interacts with opponents at every stage of the game."


    "And there are a lot of cards in Theros that do that," Manfield added. "Monstrosity, bestow creatures...those are all cards that do that."

    If you consider the early part of the game more or less a stalemate, the inevitable winner will be the player that draws the cards that are able to affect the game the most upon coming into play. That's why it is so disheartening to draw lands and Grizzly Bears on turn ten or eleven of a stalemate. They don't really do anything at that point. Cards with monstrosity, however, provide value at all stages of the game. If you draw them early, they hit the table and do what normal creatures do. If drawn later in the game, they are still useful do to the monstrosity mechanic. If you are sitting on seven lands and draw a Nessian Asp, you didn't topdeck a 4/5, you topdecked an 8/9, a significantly bigger deal. By the same token, drawing that seventh land when you already have an Asp in play is like drawing a card that gives your creature +4/+4, a very powerful draw indeed.

    "It's very hard to get mana flooded in this format," Fennell continued. "It seriously takes like ten or eleven lands before you actually start to get mana flooded."

    "You're just constantly doing things with your land," Stark added.

    "Normally you are flooding out when you hit eight lands," Fennell explained. "But my deck, for example, doesn't even really get rolling until I hit seven or eight."

    "All of the decks are really like that," Stark confirmed. "In Sealed Deck, there isn't really a straight beatdown deck the way that people think of it. People are always under the impression that when they're applying pressure and attacking the opponent that they're playing beatdown. Beatdown is different when you're bestowing your cards onto five drops and sending them in. You aren't going to have a handful of two drops and pump spells and Falter-effects in this format."

    Another of the very Theros-specific considerations for Sealed Deck is that of enchantment and artifact removal.

    "In this format, it's really good to have a couple of ways to deal with artifacts or enchantments, mostly enchantments," Manfield said to push the conversation forward. "There is always going to be some sort of enchantment in play, so the ability to kill them, especially at instant speed, is a very big upside. Naturalize is usually a sideboard card, but it'd be worth a maindeck slot in Theros. A lot of times, the main plan for these decks is to win through a bestow creature, and it just hoses that plan."


    The reason why is easy to see considering the strength of bestow. There will almost always be a target for a card like Artisan's Sorrow, just as Manfield said. As an instant, however, it allows you to make possibly the only play in Sealed Deck that can actually gain you card advantage against bestow: blocking an enchanted creature and killing the Aura before damage. That situation alone (which has the potential to occur far more often than you may think) makes the instant-speed enchantment removal quite powerful in Sealed Deck. Also, many of the biggest bombs in the format are able to be killed by enchantment removal, providing you an excellent hedge against some of the more powerful cards you are sure to face over the course of a day of play, especially in the later rounds at the top tables.

    That was the parting shot I got from my oracle of Theros Sealed Deck knowledge. Hopefully now you have a greater understanding of what really matters in this format, and, more importantly, why. May you take this knowledge and prosper, young ones. Go queue up for a Sealed Deck event on Magic Online or something and go smash some faces courtesy of three of the top Limited players on the planet!




     

  • Round 9 Feature Match – Scott Molasky vs. Timothy Thomason

    by Nate Price

  • All that's gold doesn't glitter if this match was any indication.

    "If you want to cover something a little more exciting, I understand," a dejected-looking Scott Molasky sighed as I sat down to the table. "Seriously, I'm not sure how exciting this will be for you. Three of my opponents have made big mistakes against me, and that's how I've gotten my wins. I don't really count them."

    Considering how the first game of this match went, it was easy to see why he was so down on his chances in this match. Timothy Thomason's high-powered rares just dominated his side of the board. Molasky had gotten the early advantage thanks to a pair of Emissaries, from Purphoros and Erebos, but they soon bit the dust thanks to Thomason's Agent of the Fates and a little help from Battlewise Valor. Hundred-Handed Ones soon followed, providing Thomason with a monstrous attacker into Molasky's now empty board. To add insult to injury, Thomason recruited the services of Elspeth, Sun's Champion, who brought three additional creatures with her. Molasky just shrugged and took his beating, ending a quick Game 1 in unceremonious fashion.

    "See what I mean," Molasky Eeyored as he picked up his cards for the second game.


    Scott Molasky

    Molasky's start was better in the second game, running Akroan Crusader into Tymaret, the Murder King. Thomason had a reasonably fast start himself, running a Tormented Hero into a Bronze Sable.

    "You have a two-drop, too," Molasky laughed?

    On his next turn, Molasky caught a glimpse of things to come, dropping a Disciple of Phenax into play and seeing the following trio of cards in Thomason's hand.


    "I don't really like any of those," Molasky laughed before taking the Onslaught.

    That information was crucial a couple of turns later when Thomason attacked with a Hundred-Handed One. Molasky had a Stoneshock Giant trapped under a Viper's Kiss, the Murder King, and his Disciple in play. After walking through the possibilities, he decided that all Thomason had was the Battlewise Valor he knew about and opted to triple block. He was correct, and Thomason effectively ended up hitting himself with a three-for-two trade, leaving the board at relative parity.

    Into the void, Molasky began adding the beef. Wild Celebrants and Erebos's Emissary came down, each poised to take a large chunk out of Thomason's life total. All Thomason had for defense was his Tormented Hero and a Scholar of Athreos. Things got even worse when Molasky added a Nighthowler to his Disciple. Their combined power was enough to push through the life-draining Scholar to drop Thomason to 1. Then, all he had to do was sacrifice a creature to return his Tymaret to his hand, replay it, and throw another creature at Thomason to send it to Game 3.


    Timothy Thomason

    "Stop it! That's not right! I get my only actually aggressive draw, and you get yours, too," Molasky chided as the final game opened. Just as in the previous game, both players blazed out with the same one-drops, prompting Molasky's facetious tirade. By the fourth turn, both players had three creatures on the board, and the fireworks truly began. Thomason's creatures included Agent of the Fates, which are very good against the Murder King, who needs sacrificial pawns to be truly effective. As such, he was the first sacrifice to go away. Molasky added a Cavern Lampad to his Akroan Crusader, prompting Thomason to Battlewise Valor in response, before Molasky could get his token. Still, the Crusader represented an unblockable Lightning Bolt every turn against Thomason's red/white deck. Combined with the Gray Merchant of Asphodel in Molasky's hand and the Tymaret in his graveyard, the end of the game seemed clearly within reach for Molasky.

    Thomason did have something to keep things interesting. Insatiable Harpy provided a crucial lifelinking attacker to protect his dwindling life total. Down to a mere 4 life, the Harpy kept him from dying immediately, but the Tymaret still gave Molasky a form of inevitability. But Molasky wouldn't need the extra time. The top of his library gave him the Portent of Betrayal he needed to steal the Harpy and attack for the win, a win that he still denied that he deserved after the match.

    "I have no idea how this deck went 9-0," he said to Hall of Famer Ben Stark, who dropped in to check in on him after the match. Originally hailing from Florida, Molasky has known Stark since "before he learned to play." Stark took a look through Molasky's deck, nodded at some parts and grimaced at others.

    "Yeah, your deck isn't really a deck that I would have guessed would go 9-0," Stark admitted, "But it does have a bunch of cards that are really good in Sealed Deck. Good job."

    So despite his "jank deck," Scott Molasky was able to defeat Timothy Thomason 2-1 to go to a perfect 9-0 and advance to Day 2.




     

  • Saturday, 9:30 p.m. – Sealed Deck Exercise 1 - The Player

    by Mike Rosenberg

  • Earlier in the day, we showed you a Sealed pool that one of the players had to build from at this event. Now, it's time to reveal who it was.


    Ben Stark

    The player who had to work with this build was none other than 2013 Hall of Fame Inductee Ben Stark, the No. 2 Ranked Player in the world right now. Here is the deck that he built out of his Sealed pool.

    Ben Stark
    Theros Sealed Pack – Grand Prix Oklahoma City 2013


    If you got a chance to build your own deck out of today's Sealed Deck Exercise, then some of you may have instantly gravitated towards blue-black due to Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver, a card many would consider a bomb to open in Limited.

    Stark, however, was less impressed with his deck for the day. "I didn't have the option to play the best deck in the format, which I think is Green-Red Monstrosity." He mentioned that the second best deck for Sealed, Green-White, was also unavailable.

    In fact, coming to blue-black was rather simple. He went through his red cards first, found nothing that could stand on its own in Sealed, then found the same awaiting him in green. With blue-black featuring cards that are solid, he had only one choice in his mind. "You're always going to play Griptides, and Sea God's Revenge is probably the best card in Sealed," he said.

    As for his planeswalker...

    "Ashiok certainly gains you a lot of life while they try to kill it," Stark noted. He honestly didn't expect it to perform beyond that though, as his general opinion is that most planeswalkers are overrated for their strength in Limited. However, sometimes he just stuck an Ashiok on the third turn, and with Griptides and Sea God's Revenge to back it up, Ashiok could go the distance.

    Did you end up with a similar deck to what Ben Stark built? Let us know! And if you'd like to see how he and the other Top 25 Ranked Magic players plan to approach Theros Booster Draft, check back tomorrow as we bring you in-depth coverage of their drafts.




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