ast weekend I took on all challengers at the Gray Matter Conventions Magic 2011 Prerelease in Pennsylvania.
I opened the following pool:
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Often times when you are constructing a Sealed deck, you will have three, four, or even five colors that catch your eye enough to make you at least consider playing them.
I was fortunate enough to open an excellent deck that practically built itself.
My red, my green, and my blue were all pretty lackluster.
The last few cards that I cut were Silvercoat Lion, Excommunicate, Child of Night, Stabbing Pain, Holy Strength, the two Duresses, and the two Siege Mastodons.
The two Siege Mastodons were pretty easy to cut when I actually looked at all of my playable black and white cards together. It simply couldn't stand up to the competition unless I decided that I wanted to cut down heavily on my black.
But with two Quag Sicknesses, a Liliana's Specter, a Howling Banshee, and two Sign in Bloods, it just wasn't worth it for me to cut down on my black—especially as I only had two copies of Blinding Mage and a couple of spells that cost more than one white mana to incentivize me to cut down on my black.
If my deck were chock full of White Knights, then I might have felt a stronger pull to cut down on the number of black spells in my deck so I could run more Plains, but as it was it just wasn't worth it.
I did, however, have enough black-mana-intensive cards to want to stock my deck full of Swamps. Unfortunately, I couldn't cut enough white spells out of my deck to profitably change my mana base to ten Swamps, seven Plains and a Terramorphic Expanse.
Even if it seems like a somewhat frivolous exercise, I will always look at the fastest, but still reasonably constructed, deck that my pool can support. It only takes a few moments to do, and while it often won't pay off, if it does and you discover that you actually have a very good aggressive deck you can greatly improve your chances of winning.
This time I briefly toyed with an especially aggressive version of the deck that ran the Silvercoat Lion, the Child of Night, the Excommunicate, and (maybe) the Holy Strength. But I would have had to cut cards like Stone Golem, Safe Passage and the two Sign in Bloods to do that, and that didn't seem at all worth it to me.
Yes, I would have been able to win some games by getting off to a fast start with my extra two drops, but my deck still wouldn't have been quite fast enough to reliably clobber people early. I felt that I would ultimately come out way behind by adding the cheaper creatures. Many of the games that I would manage to win early, by virtue of my cheap creatures, would have been games that I likely would have won had they gone longer anyway (especially if I had cards like Sign in Blood and Safe Passage for later in the game).
Yes, I would have been able to stop myself from losing to a couple of extra aggressive starts from my opponents if I had the aid of those additional two drops, but in order to do that I would put myself in a far weaker position when games did go long.
Sign in Blood seemed like it would be a very good card in M11 Sealed. Especially when your deck already had a good early game, and some high-quality removal spells—I wasn't in any rush to cut it.
I already had a Steel Overseer (which was awesome), and I had a bunch of good utility creatures. However, not many creatures that sported high power / toughness, so Stone Golem seemed like it would be the wrong card for me to cut for a two-mana 2/2, or an Excommunicate.
Once I gave up on the two drops, I still strongly considered running my Excommunicate. In Magic 2011 there are a number of extremely powerful creatures like Magma Phoenix that you would jump through hoops if that meant you could get them off the board for a turn, and enchantments like Shiv's Embrace and Mind Control that you desperately want to be able to deal with.
If I wanted to run the Excommunicate I would have to cut my Safe Passage.
Safe Passage tends to be an excellent card to have access to in a deck that's a little bit light on spells. It helps you win races, prevent blowouts at the hands of cards like Fireball and Pyroclasm and lets you get some extremely profitable blocks in. I thought that Safe Passage was somewhat overrated in M10 Draft, and I wouldn't be surprised if many people choose to take it too highly in M11. But even if it isn't worth taking with one of your first few picks in a draft, it is a very solid card that is generally worth including in your sealed pool.
I ultimately decided to go with the Safe Passage in large part because I was afraid that I might get myself into some sticky situations with my two Sign in Bloods and my Howling Banshee eating away at my life total, so I wanted a card on hand that would let me stop my opponents' all out attacks.
A Brief Introduction to Attrition
This deck performed extremely well for me. I had enough good aggressive creatures like Stormfront Pegasus and Infantry Veteran to steal some quick wins. I had Serra Angel, Ajani Goldmane, and Vengeful Archon to take over games single handedly with (and two Gravediggers to get my top flyers back should they meet an unfortunate end at the hands of a Doom Blade or it's ilk).
I was very impressed with the Sign in Bloods. Along with my two Gravediggers and my Liliana's Specter, my Sign in Bloods allowed me to play, and win, the attrition game with ease. The fact that the rest of my deck was chock full of cheap efficient creatures, removal spells, and some bombs made pretty much every one of my trades, which were on the surface fair deals for both players, very profitable for me.
But not every deck can effectively play the attrition game, constantly making one for one trades with your opponent and hoping to come out ahead in the end.
I was ecstatic pretty much every time one of my opponents on Saturday attempted to trade their way to victory against me as I knew that I had all the tools necessary to win that game.
If your deck doesn't have many (or any) good ways to generate card advantage (think things like Sign in Blood, Gravedigger, Jace's Ingenuity, Magma Phoenix, and, to a lesser extent, Cultivate) then you are going to have to think twice before you freely trade cards with your opponent.
This doesn't mean that you can avoid trades entirely, just that you should strongly consider game plans that don't involve attempting to deplete your opponent's resources by making a bunch of trades.
Often times you don't have a choice, and it is absolutely the right play to make, or at least offer trades to your opponent. For example: if you are playing a green deck and you have the opportunity to attack with your Sacred Wolf into your white-black opponent's Blinding Mage, that is a trade that you simply have to offer.
Yes, your opponent could be setting up a Gravedigger to "punish you" for your attack, but if you aren't going to take that attack you really aren't giving yourself much of a chance to win anyway.
Pretty much the only way it would make sense to hold back your Sacred Wolf in that type of situation would be if you needed it to enable some other card such as an Overwhelming Stampede or a Shiv's Embrace.
It should be noted that you will pretty much always be forced to make at least a few trades with your opponent, but just be sure to carefully consider what you have in your hand and in the rest of your deck before deciding what trades you are going to make.
If you have a bunch of Gravediggers and Sign in Bloods to put you way up on cards, then trade away. But if you have a bunch of Lava Axes and Giant Growths to help you win races, then you should try to poke around for every opportunity you have to punch in some extra damage, even if that comes at the expense of your own life total.
For those of you who haven't been around for too long, Infantry Veteran might not look too menacing. A one mana 1/1 that can make an attacking creature a little bit bigger. So What?
Infantry Veteran actually tends to have a very large effect on the board, making blocking very difficult for your opponent for only a single mana.
If you open up the game on Infantry Veteran plus Stormfront Pegasus, as I did many times last weekend, you will be able to put your opponent under a lot of pressure really fast. If you then put a couple of average creatures on the ground, your opponent is going to have a lot of trouble blocking profitably.
Heck, even something with an unimpressive body like a Gravedigger becomes a reasonable attacker if you have an Infantry Veteran on your side.
Ice Cage Interactions
Sometimes it's easy to get a little bit confused when you are looking over the board.
One of my opponents on Saturday put an Ice Cage on my Infantry Veteran instead of my Serra Angel because he thought that I would be able to shatter the Ice Cage with it. If you take a moment to think about it, you'll be able to see why that wouldn't work. You need to attack with a creature in order to pump it with Infantry Veteran, and Ice Cage makes your creature unable to attack.
Be aware that while creatures like Blinding Mage and instants like Giant Growth can get rid of an Ice Cage at the drop of a hat, neither Alluring Siren nor Infantry Veteran can do anything to an Ice Cage on one of your creatures.
If you missed the Prerelease last weekend, or you are simply looking for some more Magic 2011 action, check out your local store's schedule and hit up a Launch Party this weekend.