fter playing umpteen games of Magic 2011 sealed—and a handful of draft matches—as a guest of Mauro Bongiovanni and Spellkeeper Events in Montreal, I can assure you that the format feels much more robust than any previous core set Limited environment. I am looking forward to opportunities to play with M11 in a competitive environment at US Nationals and maybe a Grand Prix. What is it that separates this format from previous iterations of the base set? Scry, baby, scry—and a couple of other things that I will address as they come up.
I had the chance to build two different Sealed pools in Montreal and they both featured engines that allowed me to sift through the top of my deck to make sure it contained lands or spells as needed. The first deck was black-red and was highlighted by the Viscera Seer / Reassembling Skeleton combo. With Viscera Seer in on the battlefield you can sacrifice the Skeleton to say yes or no to the top card of your deck and then pay to return the Skeleton and do it again. If you don't like the cards on top you can continue to push cards for as many times as you can pay to return the Skeleton.
Both cards were actually fine on their own. The Viscera Seer allowed me to "fizzle" my opponents' removal spells and sift through the top of my deck. That meant taking no damage from their Chandra's Outrage, no life gained on Corrupts used to kill my creatures, and Mind Control becoming "merely" a five mana removal spell. Reassembling Skeleton was a great way to bog down the ground in the early game and tie up the biggest creature in the mid to late game for just . Remember, while the Skeleton enters the battlefield tapped, that is irrelevant if you do it at the end of your opponent's turn.
Here is that first deck:
One of the persistent criticisms of core set Limited is that the format is utterly dominated by mythic rare and rare bombs but if you look at the deck I played there is nary a rare in my starting forty. Four of my six rares would have involved playing white and that just did not seem as promising as my black and red cards—besides, I wanted to test a theory I had about a change in commonality having an impact on the M11 Limited format.
I played Magic from about 10 in the morning straight through to 2 p.m. and beat plenty of decks with Baneslayer Angels, various Titans, and even multiple Stormtide Leviathans. The biggest factor for me was the change of Act of Treason from uncommon in M10 to common in M11. Easy access to that card makes it difficult for a deck to reliably stabilize behind a bomb rare without fear of having it turned against its caster.
With Viscera Seer, Fling, and Bloodthrone Vampire all sitting at common to combo with Act of Treason you even have a way to dispatch the card. There are other cards as well; I was playing one match and had a Mitotic Slime stymieing me and laughing at the Chandra's Outrage in my hand. At seven mana I drew Act of Treason and was able to steal the Ooze, attack with it, and then deal 2 to myself in order to end up with two 2/2 Ooze tokens mucking up the red zone on my behalf instead.
Actually, the cards that gave me the most problems with this deck were from the common and uncommon spots. The first is Whispersilk Cloak, which shut off all my removal and Act of Treason trickery—and even precluded me from blocking with Reassembling Skeleton. Either of the two abilities granted by this card would be relevant but with both of them it has quickly risen to one of my most hated cards in the whole set. I started Manic Vandal in both of my Sealed Decks almost solely to deal with this card.
The common that also gave me fits was Sacred Wolf. Well, not on its own, but Sacred Wolf with Shiv's Embrace and Sacred Wolf with Armored Ascension. I had no answers for either of these two combinations and dutifully handed over the packs each time I lost to the one-sided power of troll-shroud. It actually seems like a fine card to draft a deck around should you find yourself with an early Embrace or Ascension in your draft pile.
After playing for several hours with the deck above I took a break for lunch and built from a second pool of cards. This deck had "some" rares in it with a couple of planeswalkers and a long-standing core set denizen forming the backbone of a blue-black control deck that featured a single digit number of creatures and a couple of cards that were clearly there for style points.
Blue-Black Sealed Deck #2
Yeah, that is seven creatures—and none of them especially good at fighting. This deck was all about winning with Jace's Erasure—not a card I would normally play, but I wanted to try something different than the other straightforward deck I had been playing all morning. Plus, I have had a love affair with Feldon's Cane for as long as it has been around and having the opportunity to play with a strictly better version was not something I was going to pass up in back to back card pools.
I have often told the tale of my favorite Constructed deck, How to Keep an Idiot Busy. It is a deck that used multiple Feldon's Canes—eventually replaced by Gaea's Blessings—to recycle card drawing, removal and Jester's Caps to eventually deck an opponent. It is never quite clear to whom I am referring with the word idiot in the title of the deck, but I would certainly never say such a thing about any of my opponents. Idiotic or not, I wanted to see if I could defend some packs with this creature light build.
The deck performed admirably even if my energy level was flagging some as we limped toward a full work day of Magic play and I still had more than half of a box in my possession at the end of the day. I don't think I ever won a single game by attacking with my meager collection of creatures. I did get to ultimate Liliana in a few matches to use my opponent's creatures for the win. I also got to use Jace's ultimate for a handful of wins and got even more wins with his Erasure. I won another when I did six, eight, and then another six when I cast Fireball three times in one game thanks to my Elixir.
There is no chance that this deck would have performed nearly as well as it did without Crystal Ball—a card quickly becoming one of my favorites in the whole set. It would scry me to lands, Cancels, and removal. Once I had used my best spells I would shuffle them all back in with the Elixir and get right back to scrying for the best cards the top of my deck had to offer. One interesting application for the Ball was scrying for specific types of land. With a pair of Quag Sicknesses in my deck I wanted to find as many Swamps as I needed to kill my opponent's bomb rares—especially since they would be coming back for more.
Overall I was impressed with my first experiences with the M11 Limited environment. I saw a lot of different decks that presented different plans of attack and had a lot of fun. I was also impressed with Montreal in general. I drove up with a couple of friends and we spent the weekend sightseeing and sampling the local food. One place that stood out in particular was Schwartz's Montreal Hebrew Delicatessen. Call it the Katz's Deli of the North but instead of pastrami they serve smoked meat—smoked meat is similar to pastrami but does not have the same curing spices on the outside of the slab of meat. If you happen to find yourself in Montreal for one of Mauro's events I strongly suggest you make time to swing by Schwartz's to give it a try.
Nationals Season Update
You can read all about the Czech and Slovak Nationals courtesy of coverage by Sean Fitzgerald. On the Czech side of the room Petr Nahodil, with Red Deck Wins, defeated Lukas Blohon, playing Grixis, for the title. For Blohon his spot on the team was a continuation of what has been the best season for a Czech player on the Pro Tour so far this year. He came into the event with 20 pro points—good for a tie for 14th place—but jumps into the Top 5 of the Player of the Year race with his second place finish. The third member of the team is David Do Anh—last seen making the Top 8 of Grand Prix–Madrid—playing a Mythic Conscription deck.
Peter Nahodil's Red Deck Wins
Standard - 1st Place - 2010 Czech National Championships
David Do Anh's Mythic Conscription
Standard - Czech National Championship
On the Slovak side of the room Robert Jurkovik continued to post solid results. He had multiple money finishes last season and took part in the MOCS at Worlds. Jurkovic played White-Blue control to a spot on the Slovak National team but lost in the finals to Ivan Floch playing Turboland. Joining them on the team will be Patrik Šurab playing Mythic Conscription.
Ivan Floch's Turboland
Standard - 1st Place - 2010 Slovak National Championship
Robert Jurkovic's White-Blue Control
Standard - 2nd Place - 2010 Slovak National Championship
Patrik Šurab's Mythic Conscription
Standard - 2010 Slovak National Championship Team