he weekend before last, I took on challengers at Gray Matter's New York City Prerelease, and I opened the following Sealed pool:
Steve Sadin's Prerelease Sealed Deck Pool
When I began looking at this pool, I was immediately drawn to the green. Between the two Harrows and the Khalni Heart Expedition. I was going to be well prepared to play pretty much any number of splash cards, all the while taking full advantage of any landfall effects that my pool could offer.
The most notable landfall card in my pool was the Prerelease card itself, Rampaging Baloths, which I was lucky enough to pull a copy of that I could actually play. While Rampaging Baloths is one of the most powerful cards in the set even if you don't have any unnatural means to enable landfall, with two Harrows and a Khalni Heart Expedition it becomes absolutely nutty.
I had been eyeing green-blue landfall strategies since the moment I first set eyes on Windrider Eel in the Visual Spoiler, and with my many enablers, this looked like it would be a perfect opportunity to give it a whirl.
After some tinkering, I decided that I wanted to play a green-blue base that consisted of roughly the following:
1 Kraken Hatchling
1 Welkin Tern
1 Khalni Heart Expedition
1 Into the Roil
1 Greenweaver Druid
1 Umara Raptor
1 Timbermaw Larva
1 Merfolk Seastalkers
1 Windrider Eel
1 Living Tsunami
1 Summoner's Bane
1 Rite of Replication
1 Khalni Gem
1 Territorial Baloth
1 Zendikar Farguide
1 Eldrazi Monument
1 Shoal Serpent
1 Rampaging Baloths
I would add to that a splash consisting of either 2 Burst Lightnings, 1 Journey to Nowhere, and a Pitfall Trap, or 3 Heartstabber Mosquitoes, 1 Hideous End, and a Disfigure.
I laid out both versions of the deck, and they each had their merits. I was leaning towards playing the red and white splash main deck because it lowered my curve and made it more difficult for me to get blown out by fast draws. I could then sideboard into the black version against decks where the games were going to go extremely long and I was going to need to grind out an advantage.
In these versions I could play all of my most powerful cards, and the colors weren't an issue. So what could possibly be wrong with this deck?
The problem was that it was too slow.
Sure, if my opponents gave me enough time to get into the game I would probably whomp them. But if I stumbled even a little, or if they came out particularly quickly I would have no shot.
With that in mind, I knew I had to look at other builds.
Making Things Faster
Often you will have to make concessions with your Sealed Deck, but before you do you should always be sure to explore your other options. Sure, you might think that the first deck that you gravitate towards in a Sealed pool is the way to go, and you might decide that you want to spend a few minutes with it to make sure that you know exactly how you would build it before you start looking at other configurations, but it is very difficult to hurt yourself by doing a bit of extra experimenting.
Once I took a look at each of my colors organized by converted mana cost, I decided to look at white as my main color.
I tried to put together a green-white-red deck, but the mana was kind of awkward for what I wanted to do. Yes the Kazandu Refuge and the Graypelt Refuge helped a lot, but it still wasn't enough to make things run smoothly.
There simply wasn't a way to make a coherent white deck that had green and red in it. The support cards just weren't there.
While I could have played green as my second color, my only real reason to do so was for mana fixing / landfall enablers, and there isn't much of a point in that if I wasn't going to go for a very color-intensive deck. I could have played red as my second color, but that wouldn't have offered me much outside of easy access to my Burst Lightnings and a couple of cheap creatures. To top that off, once green is relegated to a splash, it actually offers very little save for a Territorial Baloth and the tough-to-cast Rampaging Baloths.
I peeked at a black splash, but that was similarly underwhelming.
Then I looked at pairing by blue with my white.
Zendikar Sealed Deck
The moment I put this deck together, I could tell. This was the right way to build the deck. It will take some time, though, before I get a better sense about some of the specifics. Maybe I should have played my Explorer's Scopes or my Bold Defenses?
I would have been perfectly happy piloting one of the slower, more powerful green decks, and I probably would have done fairly well with one of those builds. But by taking the time to further explore my pool I was able to discover an extremely powerful deck which was plagued by far fewer weaknesses than the most powerful deck that I could have put together.
Sure I would have liked to have been able to splash red in this version of the deck, but it would have been much too costly to do so. My mana was iffy enough as it was with my many and cards. I really wanted an 11th Plains and an 8th Island in my 17-land deck, so adding a third color was off the table even with my Khalni Gem.
I lost my first couple of games to Marsh Casualties, but after that the deck wound up playing very well. My deck had a large enough contingent of Allies that I would occasionally get an absolutely nutty draw, but I didn't have enough Allies that I could do that consistently. The majority of the time I would simply come out fast, get a bunch of damage in, then finish things off with my evasion creatures.
I would lose when I stumbled, allowing my opponents to take the game over with their more powerful cards before I really started doing anything, my opponents were able to withstand my early rush and then take over, or when my opponents resolved a game breaker such as Marsh Casualties.
None of my opponents' decks were built so that they could consistently deploy an early-game force that could compete with my early game, which featured two Kazandu Blademasters, Welkin Tern, Cliff Threader, and Kor Aeronaut.
I was able to win a number of games that went late thanks to Living Tsunami, Eldrazi Monument, and Merfolk Seastalkers, all of which are quite capable of taking a game over by their lonesome.
Exciting Ways to Do Unexciting Things
Magosi, the Waterveil deserves some extra mention. At first I was irrationally excited by this card. I saw all of the good that it could do. If you and your opponent are in a board stall, where it isn't really safe for either of you to make any attacks for fear of a big counterattack, Magosi, the Waterveil will completely turn things around for you.
At the end of one of your opponent's unexciting turns, you activate Magosi, the Waterveil to put a counter on it, giving your opponent another likely to be unexciting turn.
If you have something good to do, you could cash in your extra turn immediately, maybe sneaking in a few points of damage with your evasion creatures and then leaving everything back on defense on your second turn. Or you might just bank your turn, preventing your opponent from ever making too big of a move until you can find a time to put your extra turn to good use.
Now, my Prerelease pool wasn't one that could take advantage of those types of situations, but it was able to take advantage of the fact the Magosi, the Waterveil gave me an extra landfall trigger. I won several races by getting another landfall trigger for my Windrider Eel and my Adventuring Gear.
I lost a couple of damage in a couple of games because I was unable to play my preferred spell because Magosi, the Waterveil comes into play tapped, but all in all it wound up being better for me than any of the lands in the Teetering Peaks cycle would have been.
I found Grappling Hook to be quite underwhelming. I figured that with my relatively low curve I would want something powerful and mana intensive to help me close out the game.
Don't get me wrong—Grappling Hook did win some games for me, but the majority of the time it sat in my hand unused, or on the board unequipped because my opponent had a removal spell ready the time that I spent a turn equipping it to one of my more reasonable creatures.
Now you might not lose an extra card when a creature that has a piece of Equipment attached to it gets killed, but you do lose a ton of time. If your opponent Hideous Ends the Windrider Eel that you equipped your Grappling Hook to, you will have spent a total of twelve mana over three turns on something that your opponent spent a mere three mana to deal with.
For the kind of mana investment that Grappling Hook requires, it doesn't offer enough oomph for me to want to spend a draft pick on it, or even play it in the majority of my Sealed pools.
The Explorer's Scopes in my pool didn't strike me as particularly exciting for my white-blue deck because of my relatively low curve, and they seemed weak in my green-blue-X builds because their curves were too high .... But they did pop out at me as having a lot of potential in decks that curve out more normally. In addition to being able to ramp you up and smooth out your draws, Explorer's Scope triggers your landfall, which can be extremely valuable.
Adventuring Gear was awesome for me, and while it's no Trusty Machete, it's certainly better than a rusty machete. (I'm sorry, I couldn't help myself with that one. You actually have no idea how many puns I hold back on a week-to-week basis.). I think that Adventuring Gear will show itself to be a fairly high draft pick, and an almost automatic inclusion in Sealed pools.
Blade of the Bloodchief has a lot of potential. At almost any point in the game it will make combat extremely awkward for your opponent. The fact that it costs only to cast and to equip means that you will usually be able to reequip it without cannibalizing your turn, a trait which is of upmost importance for a piece of Equipment to have.
Be ready to move Blade of the Bloodchief around frequently. While it can be okay to put all of your eggs in one basket, if you have the freedom to share Blade of the Bloodchief's +1+1 counters amongst several of your creatures, you should be able to ensure yourself an advantage even if your opponent has a well-timed removal spell.
Blazing Torch is a very straightforward card that is pretty much exactly as good as it looks. You wouldn't want to spend one of your first few picks in the draft on this, but once you get to about picks three through five, this will start to stand out as a very attractive option.
Spidersilk Net seems like it's going to be an important role player in slower decks and in decks that need a way to deal with evasion creatures. While you shouldn't waste an early pick on this card, you should feel free to pick it up late in a pack if none of the other options are very appealing.
Trailblazer's Boots has applications as a potential sideboard card, if you know that your opponent has several nonbasic lands, and you know that you're going to need a way to break through late in the game, and you're confident that you can get to the late game, and .... A ton of things have to go right for Trailblazer's Boots to even be decent. Yes, it's better than a basic land or a Trapfinder's Trick, but you shouldn't go at all out of your way to pick up Trailblazer's Boots.
Trusty Machete is almost certainly the best piece of Equipment in Zendikar. Blade of the Bloodchief might seem flashier, but Trusty Machete has the ability to take over a game very early or give you that extra oomph you need to win a race late.
There are no doubt times when Blade of the Bloodchief will be better in the middle of a drawn-out game, but the majority of the time it just won't be able to hold a candle to this uncommon piece of Equipment.
I would feel quite content to first-pick a Trusty Machete, and I would be very happy if I got passed one.