Adventures in Magic the Gathering: Sealed Draft

For the Super Sunday Series Championship 2015 in the weekend of the 24-25th January this year, Wizards of the Coast ran a slightly different limited format for part of the event: Sealed Draft. In Booster Draft, the way it works is that you draft 3 boosters to build a 40-card deck (including lands), and in Sealed Deck, the way it works is that you open 6 boosters to build a 40-card deck (again, including lands), and then you just play. But Wizards mixed the two together so that you opened 3 packs to build towards a deck, and then drafted 3 more packs to create your full pack and then go play and have some fun.

My previous experience with Limited in Khans of Tarkir block is with Fate Reforged Limited and Dragons of Tarkir Limited. They were decent experiences, but nothing particularly standout, and that’s fine with me since I look at Limited as less competitive and more for the fun of opening packs, drafting, and playing weird decks, which can sometimes work out well or just totally fall flat. So for this past weekend, I suggested the Sealed Draft format to my LGS owner. It is something that no one has played before, so I thought that it would be a great opportunity and an experiment as well. And I like to think that it worked out rather well inf act!

goblinheelcutterThe way that we handled the whole Sealed Draft format was that everyone got 2 packs of Khans of Tarkir, Fate Reforged, and Dragons of Tarkir. Then, once the draft pod was confirmed (with 10 people!), we sat down for the deck-building process. The draft portion happened first, and we went in the order of KTK FRF DTK. The drafting was rather mediocre I’ll have to say because I didn’t really open any good cards, and the cards I got passed were generally mediocre as well. That seems to be my “thing” for Limited, because whenever I draft, I never get anything good, and that kills me a little inside.

And its a tricky thing too, the card selection. There are numerous guides out there, and building a deck for Limited can be a real slog. Every expert has a different opinion and you just have to consider what the situation is on the ground when you start opening the packs. I read as many drafting guides as I can, and I make as much use of TappedOut’s Draft Simulator tool as well, but even then, I just generally can’t get the hang of things. To get better at drafting, I think you just have to play a ton of drafts and really get the feel for it in a real, live situation, and since I can only go to the store like once a month to play, my options are usually very few in that regard. And it probably didn’t help that my friend Raul was sitting next to me and he’s a beast at drafting usually, so that kind of skewed things a bit. This was like the second draft I’ve done sitting next to him and its always fun to talk about the cards afterwards, to see what our choices were and what we went with and so on.

Anyway, once the draft was done, we started to open the rest of the three packs (KTK FRF DTK) and then built the deck. I’d gone with a URgw deck in the draft portion and so I looked for any good cards that could fit with those colours and could be good on their own. I did get some goodies like Aven Sunstriker, Den Protector, Zurgo Bellstriker, Mastery of the Unseen, Pinion Feast, Press the Advantage and Echoes of the Kin Tree, and that made me reevaluate what kind of deck I wanted to build. With all the WRG cards I pulled from the packs, that necessitated a slight change in plans and I went with a RWg deck in the end. It had some good stuff in it, especially for the early game, but the late game was a bit of a toss-up since I didn’t really get any big late-game cards at all.

That Heelcutter up top actually turned out to be my MVP of the Sealed Draft. I pulled the card in every single match in all three rounds, and it did a lot of work for me in the early turns until my opponents managed to get them off the board. Dashing in a Heelcutter combined with its ability can make for a lot of damage if unanswered, and it was fun to just get around an opponent’s defenses like that. Plus in a couple of the matches I also happened to have a Pacifism on the board, and that thing plus the dashing ‘cutter was good for a good 9-15 or so damage without me taking anything. The best part was in the second round when I had a Pacifism on a flyer and the only other creature the opponent had on the board was a Sidisi’s Faithful which had not come down with the Exploit mechanic activated. Thankfully.

Another pair of cards that did a lot of work for me in the games were Temur Battle Rage and Volcanic Rush. The latter is a card that I’ve had a lot of success with in my previous Dragons of Tarkir Limited experience and it proved itself yet again. Given the nature of the games I played on Friday, I never had more than two creatures able to benefit off Volcanic Rush, but the card did a lot of heavy lifting regardless. And all those times it wasn’t that the power boost was what sealed the deal for me, but the trample additional effect that came with that extra 2 points of power for each creature. Now that’s serious damage. I even had a game where I combined Volcanic Rush with both a Conifer Strider and a Heelcutter. 12 points of damage right there, pushing into lethal for that game since my opponent was only able to chump block with weenies.

coniferstriderEven just Temur Battle Rage did a lot of work for me. In round 3 game 1, I had an early board state where my Zurgo was opposed by the weeniest of all creatures, a Typhoid Rat. Getting past a 1/1 deathtouch creature can be a pretty daunting prospect, especially if you have fat creatures on your side of the table. Now, admittedly, the Dragons of Tarkir version of Zurgo isn’t all that great to be honest, in the context of his Khans of Tarkir version where he was the mighty Zurgo Helmsmasher, the leader of the Mardu Horde and a beefy 7/2 creature who grew with each attach basically. But still, 2/2 for a single point of mana? That’s pretty good odds. Now obviously, I didn’t want to trade off the Zurgo so easily, and so I used a Temur Battle Rage on him when I went on the attack. Trample damage would have been awesome of course, but I settled for keeping my Zurgo alive, and it proved to be a good decision since Zurgo followed up with 2 more turns of damage before losing to a nasty Sabertooth Outrider with Formidable activated. That was a sad moment indeed.

Even otherwise however, Temur Battle Rage on a Conifer Strider or a Heelcutter? That’s priceless I think. Again and again in every game I seemed to be drawing just these handful of creatures and spells. They kept working for me again and again, doing a lot of work in the first 6-7 turns until my opponents stabilized (round 1 game 2 I got my opponent all the way down to 3, while I was at 18, before he bounced back big time). I never saw my precious Den Protector or my Mastery of the Unseen. But that was fine because these games finally convinced me that I’m definitely way better off by including red in some form in my draft decks. Cards like Heelcutter, Volcanic Rush and Temur Battle Rage are just too good in that regard.

echoesofthekintreeThis is another card that saw moderate success for me on Friday. Often times however it ended up being a decision between activating the ability here versus casting a white creature, which was usually Champion of Arashin. Go for more damage on a particular creature or cast my second (or perhaps even third) creature in case things go south for me? Getting white mana-screwed in almost half of my games certainly didn’t help at all, but just the presence of the card often proved to be a deterrent for my opponent, and that in itself was beneficial. I’m not all that good with bluffing to be honest, something I intend to improve on as much as I can given my other limitations, but it is also true that sometimes your flukes can work. And that happened more often than not on Friday.

In general, taking the experience as a whole and given that I’ve played only a meager two draft FNMs to date, I have to say that I like Sealed Draft as much as Booster Draft. Sure, the deck-building takes longer and you have to make more painful decisions as well on what to cut and what not to cut, but it is still a fun process. Lot of people in the draft pod remarked that their deck choices changed when they opened their second set of packs. That’s the nature of the game. One bomb card can change your outlook considerably, especially if you happen to open any significantly good dragons in this format. Like, one of the cards I opened in my second pack of Fate Reforged was Channel Harm, which is an incredible card by all accounts. It is expensive yes, but it is also amazingly good when you get to really go off too. In round 3 game 2 I had a situation where I was faced with Thunderbreak Regent and a Sabertooth Outrider against my lonely Champion of Arashin. I got Channel Harm to go off, denying my opponent the benefit of something like 11 or 12 points of damage. And then I redirected all of that damage on to his Thunderbreak, which was a really messy card for me to deal with anyway, especially since I didn’t have any flyers on the field or in my hand even. I took only about a third of the damage I would have otherwise, traded the Champion for the Outrider and took out the Thunderbreak. Pretty good trade there I think.

channelharm

And this is the thing you know. You can do so much in a format like this. The interactions are all really crazy, and you never quite know just what you will be faced with. I had a hell of a time playing the games on Friday, and I hope that everybody else did too. Olivier, the store owner, asked everyone what they thought of the format and everything, and I was quite relieved to hear positive comments. It is quite a different format than regular Booster Draft or Sealed Deck, incorporating elements of both as it does, and it can make for unexpectedly longer setup times, but at the end of the day, as long as it is something people have enjoyed, its all good.

Hopefully, we can run something like this in a couple months or so. The next major Limited format is going to be for Magic Origins in July, when the new set comes out and people move on from drafting DTK DTK FRF to ORI ORI ORI. That will also be a grand time for the Standard format since it will be the last time that we will have EIGHT entire sets in play at the same, the Theros 3-set block, Magic 2015 core-set, the Khans of Tarkir 3-set block and Magic Origins. Really cannot wait for that! Spoilers should begin towards the end of June, right after my birthday, so I’m definitely pumped for that!

In the meantime, thanks for stopping by and hope you all try out Sealed Draft as well. I had fun in the format and hope that you do too! Oh and you should definitely check out Adrian Sullivan’s most recent article for StarCityGames.Com, 6 Ways To Improve At Limited. Adrian Sullivan is one of the most prominent players of the game, a regular on the pro-circuit and also a frequent top-level player at SCG Opens and Wiards GPs etc. And he always has some great advice to give so I would definitely recommend that article.

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