he Pro Tour Qualifier season for the inaugural Pro Tour of 2011 is several weeks old and it seems like we are learning something about Scars of Mirrodin Limited with each and every week that passes. At the close of each weekend a different draft archetype has been trumpeted as the best deck—from white-blue flyers, to infect, to Furnace Celebration decks. There are still two months of opportunities for players to earn an invite and airfare to compete in Pro Tour–Paris and who better to talk to than a handful of players who have already been the recipients of a metaphorical Blue Envelope.
Tom 'The Boss' Ross
Tom "The Boss" Ross burst onto the competitive scene last season in Honolulu and cemented his place in deck-building history as the innovator of the breakout deck of Pro Tour San–Diego, the eponymous Boss Naya, which carried him to 9th in that event. The 27-year-old "sometimes game developer, all-time gamer" hails from the preposterously named Bossier City, Louisiana. Worlds will mark his 12th time playing on the Pro Tour and with his PTQ win in Lafayette, Louisiana assured himself an opportunity to make it a baker's dozen.
Tom Visconti is a 23-year-old student from Long Island, New York who will be headed to his second Pro Tour when the 2011 season rolls around. Both times he has qualified it has happened through the PTQ circuit, adding this Limited win to a Constructed win in Extended with Boat Brew. Tom started playing the game after picking up gold-bordered World Championship decks after getting into trading card games through other card games at the start of the millennium. He began PTQing regularly around Shards of Alara block and attributes his success to being a regular Magic Online player.
Ali Aintrazi is making a second appearance in The Week That Was, hot on the heels of winning Virginia States with Lighthouse Control a few weeks ago. The 23-year-old student from Mint Hill in Matthews, North Carolina is widely known as a Constructed specialist after his success in the Star City Open Series and for putting Turboland on the metagame map in Standard. This is his third Pro Tour Qualifier win and he will be playing in either his third or fourth Pro Tour when he gets to Paris. Ali is invited to play in Worlds based on his rating but has expressed that a student's salary might not suffice to get him to Japan.
Tim Bulger and his Madison teammates.
Tim Bulger is a 24-year-old professional poker player from Minneapolis with a Grand Prix trophy on his mantle—or at least visitation rights to the trophy he shares with Brian Ziegler and Takanobu Sato for winning Grand Prix–Madison. He has been playing Magic for more than a decade and has played on the Pro Tour a handful of times. He recently became motivated to qualify for the Pro Tour again when his friend Gerry Thompson moved back to Minneapolis. After grinding through a 500-person event online only to lose in the Top 8 he decided to try his hand at the "smaller" live PTQs.
BDM: When you opened your sealed pool did you know that it could be honed down into a Top 8 deck or did you have concerns about how the deck would build/perform? And what were the cards that shaped your decisions?
Bulger: No doubt in my mind. Molten-Tail Masticore, Skithiryx, and Carnifex Demon.
Aintrazi: It was a very solid deck. I knew it would put me in the Top 8. Even though I got made fun of all day for "splashing" True Conviction. Skinrender, Glimmerpoint Stag, and Steel Hellkite.
Visconti: I would be lying if I said my pool was weak in any way. It was somewhat removal-heavy and had quite a few strong cards. I guess you could say I was pretty confident I could Top 8 the event. Two Galvanic Blast, Arc Trail, Skinrender, two Sylvok Replicas, and Contagion Clasp set the tone for my deck. Oh, and a Molten-Tail Masticore, that card is pretty decent.
Ross: I was so frustrated at my pool the first thoughts that ran through my head were wishing for a better one at the next close PTQ in Hattiesburg, MS. It had none of the cards I like to play and every direction I tried to take it had design holes. I took every second of deck-building time and still built it wrong. I fumbled around match one but pulled it out and then got crushed match two. Afterwards, instead of staying dejected or reciting my sad story I sat at an empty table and reevaluated my pool for the remaining 30 minutes of round time. This really helped me make good sideboard plans for opposing the infect and red-white metalcraft pools around the room—the two most popular builds.
If a sealed has obvious synergy (read: nuts infect) then it's easy. With an average or bad pool I tend to let my fixing and removal guide the way. The cards that most shaped my direction were Silver Myr, Trinket Mage, Embersmith, Galvanic Blast, and Hoard-Smelter Dragon. Those were my only red cards ... not deep but my sealed deck simply had to have some form of card advantage and removal. I ended up running the Soliton and Heavy Arbalest that I got. Most of the time they did nothing at all, but the one time that I got it assembled I managed to survive and beat Venser, the Sojourner through roughly ten activations.
BDM: How many colors do you expect to play in Scars of Mirrodin Sealed? Do you play more colors because of the ability to wait for your mana with colorless spells or do you try to keep the mana really tight in one or two colors?
Ross: I've never been able to get one, and don't see it happening outside getting something like Koth of the Hammer and Strata Scythe with deep artifacts and red. I like to stick to two with one color being more dominant as opposed to an even split. With Myr and removal like Shatter, Galvanic Blast, Arrest, Revoke Existence, and Sylvok Replica I don't mind a subtle third-color splash. Also regarding land count: jamming off-color Myr to cheat on lands is a big mistake I often see.
Visconti: In this format I feel like you should be greedy because generally you only have around ten colored spells. Of course if your pool is deep enough to be a strong two-color deck you go with that. An aggressive deck should stick to two colors as well in order to stay consistent and have a good start. This format is very bomb-heavy and as such your deck needs to be very powerful or very consistent in order to do well.
Bulger: I like to play two and try to keep lands at 15/16 with four or five mana Myr. I have played one color once—didn't work out as planned.
Aintrazi: I am very greedy when it comes to sealed—especially if I have mana Myr. I really want to play all my removal and bombs. I will almost always branch out into three colors unless I have two really solid colors.
BDM: It is Infect Week here at Dailymtg.com—have you seen anyone implement infect successfully in Sealed? What does it take to go down that road?
Ross: Early in the format I died to poison far more often than combat damage. The trend that I saw was an underestimation for how quickly poison can add up and how surprisingly a card like Tainted Strike or Untamed Might can just get ya. Then players began playing around the tricks and the infect rage died down a bit. Now it's more tapered-off and players know (or should know) what it takes to build one correctly. It's about blending the right number of pump effects and infect cards. As for me, I haven't played poison yet in sealed. A pool that would convince me to do so would have something along the lines of a rare like Skithiryx, about ten infect creatures, about four pump spells like Darksteel Axe and Untamed Might, and hopefully good uncommons like Slice in Twain, Skinrender, or Contagion Clasp.
Bulger: I tried once or twice—takes a really good open or some Tainted Strikes. It seems a little difficult.
Aintrazi: Oh yeah, I have seen tons of people pull it off. Having Skittles—Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon—alone will allow you to go infect. If you don't have it, I believe you need around ten creatures with infect in order to pull it off.
Visconti: That was actually one of the big decisions I had to make building my sealed deck for the Pro Tour Qualifier. I had the Hand of the Praetors, three Plague Stingers, Ichorclaw Myr, Untamed Might, Asceticism, and a couple other random infect cards. If you want to play strong infect in this Sealed format you need to have at least two-thirds poison creatures in your deck. Also, a decent amount of them need to be difficult trades (Plague Stinger, Ichorclaw Myr, Cystbearer). Have a couple tricks that go well with the deck, too. I decided not to go with infect because the rest of my cards were so strong but you could have definitely made a case for playing infect.
BDM: When you sat down to draft what was your game plan and how did that work out?
Aintrazi: To take whatever color/strategy was open. I tried going infect but quickly saw I could not do that. I usually pick cards in this order: bomb, removal, creatures with evasion, efficient spells (like Equipment or Spellbombs) then whatever else is left like vanilla creatures. I ended up going red-white metalcraft.
Bulger: I opened an infect rare and went with it. Cut it super early, passed as many Myr as possible to force metalcraft around me.
Ross: I've come to find that in drafts following a different format like Sealed that players gravitate towards the archetype that they've already been playing. At PT–Honolulu Brian Kibler favored Esper, the Jund players wanted Jund, and I was first-picking Wild Nacatl. The other default is the take removal early and let the rest fall into place. This thinking led me to believe that people would either first-pick red cards like Galvanic Blast, Shatter, Oxidda Scrapmelter, go into metalcraft early, or force infect. I knew the land station for the sealed rounds had run out of Mountains and had a mound of Islands left over. I've had the most experience with red-white metalcraft in drafts thus far but figured I would stay open for the first few pick.
Visconti: I love being as mono brown as possible in my first pack in order to leave me open to the colors that flow. If you set yourself up with strong artifacts like Chrome Steed and Glint Hawk Idol your deck will come together easily no matter the colors that flow. That said, I do have a preference to white as I tend to favor aggressive metalcraft decks in this format.
Considering such, I was thrilled when I opened my first pack and saw a Tempered Steel in the rare slot, as that is exactly the kind of card I want to lead my draft with, which was followed by a Rusted Relic and a Glint Hawk Idol. Fourth pick dropped a Trinket Mage in my lap and then a Lumengrid Drake. I got a few gifts from pack two in a late Grand Architect (probably hands down the best reason to be in blue) and two Glint Hawks. Pack three was pretty mediocre but I picked up a late Memnite to go with the Trinket Mage and Glint Hawks, and saw a few Riddlesmith going around.
BDM (at Tom Ross): Have you found blue to be under-drafted in general? What pick was that Volition Reins? I have been seeing them go around very, very late.
Ross: It was very, very late. Sometime around pick six of the first pack. That's when I knew blue was open. The first few packs were light on blue but once I saw the Volition Reins I went into blue and never looked back. With infect and metalcraft being the central themes of Scars of Mirrodin Limited it's easy to see how blue can get overlooked.
1st Place - Louisiana - Lafayette - 10/23
BDM (at Tim Bulger): What is the trick to drafting infect in this format? What are the cards that tell you it is not getting cut off from the right?
Bulger: I like to take the infect Myr over most things, if you don't get the two-drops it is pretty tough to pull off.
BDM (also at Bulger): How was Mindslaver for you?
Bulger: Very good, got it like fifth or sixth pick and figured it's a game over once it gets active with all my infect.
1st Place - Illnois - Chicago - 10/16
BDM (at Ali Aintrazi): How good was Liquimetal Coating in your deck? Was it there more in terms of turning on metalcraft or for the combo with your Shatters? Did you Shatter anything exciting in the Top 8?
Aintrazi: Holy crap let me tell you! I blew out one of my opponents because I turned three big creatures into artifacts and blew them up with Shatters and Revoke Existence. Not to mention having it in play almost always guaranteed me metalcraft whenever I wanted it. The biggest things I shattered were an Alpha Tyrranax and Molder Beast.
BDM: Anything else you guys want to add?
Aintrazi: I miss my Time Warps! Bring it back in Magic 2012!
1st Place - North Carolina - Greensboro - 10/23
Visconti: This is a really fun Limited format and really difficult to build the optimal deck because there are so many synergistic cards that you cannot value most cards in a vacuum. Practice makes perfect if you want to win a Blue Envelope to Paris. Most importantly of all, make sure you're having fun. If you're not having fun playing Magic, you're doing it wrong.
1st Place - Connecticut - Hartford - 10/30
Ross: This is by far the hardest Sealed Deck format. I've done about ten now and can honestly say I've misbuilt them all. Some cards are better than others but for the most part deck building is making judgment calls over which subtle synergy is better than another (and the set is full of them).
Find a Qualifier Near You!
Find a Qualifier Near You!
Good luck to everyone at the Pro Tour Qualifiers!