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Keeping the Faith (PTQ Top 8)

Written by LegitMTG Staff on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Limited

The PTQ season is now in full swing, which means you are most likely playing Modern. I say most likely because Magic Online breaks the rules and has Return to Ravnica Sealed as an option on a few occasions. This past weekend was one such occasion and I participated in the massive 583-person PTQ. An outrageous number for sure, but nothing I haven’t overcome before.

Let’s break down my Sealed pool and see how I managed to break through for another online Top 8.

Building Time

This is not exactly a bomb-ridden Sealed pool. There is one standout rare in Mizzium Mortars alongside triple Annihilating Fire. This makes quite the removal suite that normal Sealed pools simply don’t have. I discover there aren’t enough black or green cards to support the red, but almost every white card is playable. Boros was an initial consideration for deck construction, but since we are in the realm of Ravnica and not Gatecrash, this means I’m not getting any powerful gold cards.

Although the Boros deck has the most playability, it lacks true power in the form of board threats. Not being able to apply pressure while I’m burning away my opponent’s creatures means I will most likely fall victim to either a bomb or a hexproof common in Rubbleback Rhino. This brought me to the only other logical conclusion in Selesnya. The good news is that I get mana fixing, a decent amount of populate effects and triple Centaur’s Herald to boot.

I have realized over my many years of playing experience is that Sealed games generally take much longer than draft. You really need to hit every land drop and have removal for opposing bombs to succeed in any Limited format. You also want something to dump your mana into for the likely event of being flooded some games. To meet both of these goals while playing just Selesnya, I opted to splash black for Korozda Guildmage and Launch Party. The splash won’t really hurt my main colors as my cardpool contains double Golgari Guildgate which will really help with color consistencies. The powerful Guildmage will allow me to take over a game in a late game scenario where I have a lot of lands.

Without further ado, this is what I submitted to earn a 9-1 record and first place after Swiss standings.

We only have 10 creatures, but with our spells we have a virtual 14 without counting the double Knightly Valor. We have a few combat tricks, which is always essential in any good Selesnya deck, and three kill spells gives us an answer to opposing bombs. The mana is good with 10 white, nine green and three black sources. This deck is very solid and is truly only lacking a bomb card or two like Collective Blessing or Armada Wurm to put it over the top.

When playing in Sealed it is always imperative to know the card pool. If you are playing Return to Ravnica Sealed and you don’t know what your opponent can have at all times, then you most likely get blown out at some point. An easy example is if you’re playing against an Azorious deck with four open mana and nothing on the board. You have a Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage in play. Do you attack? Well what can he have? Eyes in the Skies, Hussar Patrol or a postcombat Avenging Arrow are all commons that come to mind. These are things that end up determining an outcome to a game.

That Guildmage left unchecked will most certainly beat your opponent. Here I would precombat cast a non-relevant spell to see if they are holding up mana for a counterspell like Cancel or Syncopate. If they have the counter, then you are free to attack and get your two points of damage in. If they let it resolve, I would just pass the turn knowing I utilized my mana for the turn and my opponent didn’t. This is one of the many tricks that can help you reach a Top 8.

Another common thing that comes up in every Sealed format are the bomb rares. When you are 1-0 or 2-0, you most likely won’t run into too many bombs. But in the late rounds against a Rakdos opponent, expect cards like Mizzium Mortars, Pack Rat or Desecration Demon to make an appearance. These are all high-powered rares that swing games in the controller’s favor and usually provide free wins. In most cases, these sort of decks lean heavily on their rares. Recognizing and respecting the potential of a bomb can be the difference of a win or a loss. (Sometimes it doesn’t matter how well you play or predict what your opponent is going to do. When that happens you just have to brush it off and move on to the next tournament.)

Top 8

Normally this is where I would transition to my breakdown of rounds and what I played against. But because Limited isn’t exactly exciting to recreate board states with play-by-play, I thought it would be better to break down my pick choices in the Top 8 draft. You can walk along with me with the draft viewer.

Pack 1

Pick 1 — Stab Wound: Splatter Thug is the only other option. The best common in the set clearly is Stab Wound.

Pick 2 — Mercurial Chemister: Unfortunately for the player to my right, he timed out and took a Horncaller’s Chant over the very powerful Mercurial Chemister. It’s an obvious and straightforward pick for me.

Pick 3 — Izzet Charm: This was a close pick because I wanted the Blustersquall and possibly the Blood Crypt to help me splash the Stab Wound. In the end I went with the versatile Izzet Charm.

Pick 4 — Annihilating Fire: An easy pick over Steam Vents and Tower Drake so early in the draft.

Pick 5 — Lobber Crew: Not really sure how my Izzet deck would shape up in the form of aggressive or control, so I wanted something that could fit both roles. Izzet Guildgate was a close second pick.

Pick 6 — Doorkeeper: Potentially leading toward a slow and grindy Izzet deck, the Doorkeeper would help protect me through the early game. Looking back, I would rather have had Essence Backlash.

Pick 7 — Izzet Guildmage: Finding a Guildmage Pick 7 makes me feel like I am one of only two Izzet drafters at the table. I really wanted the Civic Saber, which is one of the best cards for an aggressive Izzet deck.

Pick 8 — Viashino Racketeer: Only truly playable card left in the pack. That Coursers’ Accord hanging out in there scares me.

Pick 9 — Chorus of Might: Another good card that shouldn’t be there.

Pick 10 — Guttersnipe: Somehow still a very good pack, and we find a gem.

Pick 11 — Tenement Crasher: We gladly take a potential top end to our curve. I’m wary of another Chorus of Might still in the pack.

Pick 12 — Mizzium Skin: Still finding playables this late is always a good sign.

Pick 13 — Dispel: They just keep coming!

Pack 2

Pick 1 — Frostburn Weird: This pack was really hard. With the potential to switch gears and play Isperia, Supreme Judge, I opted to stay with my Izzet Aggro plan and took the Weird.

Pick 2 — Inaction Injunction: Not exactly what I want to be taking for a second pick, but it fills an important role in the archetype.

Pick 3 — Pursuit of Flight: A very important card for my deck. I’m not afraid to take it over Runewing here to guarantee myself one.

Pick 4 — Stealer of Secrets: This is a really close pick over Syncopate. I’m light on three-drops almost halfway through the draft and just had to pick him up.

Pick 5 — Vassal Soul: A solid flyer and another three-drop. After taking him, I really wish I had that Civic Saber from earlier.

Pick 6 — Faerie Impostor: A rough pack here, but the only other playable is Batterhorn. I figure I’ll get more value out of the Impostor.

Pick 7 — Korozda Monitor: Not a single playable card for me. I opt to hate a solid green beater out of the pack knowing how late those Chorus of Mights have been going around.

Pick 8 — Goblin Rally: A really good card in conjunction with Dynacharge that can also buy us a lot of time. Counterflux was a close second as I’m still lacking a hard counter late into Pack 2.

Pick 9 — Security Blockade: Another dead pack. Starting to get a bit worried, I take the Blockade because it prevents the damage when I’m trying to sneak in the last few points.

Pick 10 — Essence Backlash: A solid pick for a damage-hungry Izzet deck.

Pick 11 — Towering Indrik: A good blocker I don’t want green decks to have.

Pack 3

Pick 1 — Voidwielder: The only real option in a lackluster pack.

Pick 2 — Goblin Electromancer: Taking the Electromancer over the Injunction. Needing to solidify my curve, there’s really no other option.

Pick 3 — Splatter Thug: A really sick pack. If the Thug wasn’t there, I would have taken the Stab Wound and splashed black for double Stab Wound. But I didn’t want to hurt the consistency of the deck.

Pick 4 — Gore-House Chainwalker: A really good pack for me, but unfortunately nothing will come back around. The Chainwalker offers the best pressure and gives me another precious two-drop.

Pick 5 — Frostburn Weird: The good packs keep coming. They are just a little late because again I won’t get anything back the second time around. I take the Frostburn Weird because it’s just so good against Rakdos and Selesnya. Guttersnipe is a close second.

Pick 6 — Runewing: My four-drop slot is still pretty empty with just an Essence Backlash. I take [card]Runewing over Vassal Soul.

Pick 7 — Electrickery: An unexciting pack, but at least I get an Electrickery. They come in handy when facing Turn 2 Pack Rat.

Pick 8 — Hover Barrier: Not planning on maindecking this one, but it’s a great board option against aggressive decks.

Pick 9 — Dynacharge: Not the best card in the world, but is an all-star paired with Goblin Rally.

Pick 10 — Cancel: Finally a hard counter. I’m very glad I got this.

Pick 11 — Stealer of Secrets: Somehow this gem is still in the pack. I gladly took this fourth pick last pack, and have no problem taking it 11th this pack.

Pick 12 — Fall of the Gavel: A card I really don’t want to play against, and something I can technically board into.

The strategy is to just be aggressive. There’s a lot of evasion in the deck and with a couple removal spells to clear the path, this is definitely one of my favorite archetypes. Ideally this deck would like another Pursuit of Flight and either a Blustersquall or Teleportal. Sometimes we have to work with what we are dealt. (Find the entire Top 8 decklists and standings here.)


He gets a Turn 5 Hypersonic Dragon and hits me with a well-timed Cyclonic Rift in Game 1. I manage to stage a comeback and push through exactly lethal with Dynacharge overload copied via my Nivix Guildmage.

It’s Hypersonic Dragon again in Game 2, but this time he has a buddy in Sphinx of the Chimes. On top of that he also draws his Cyclonic Rift. It’s too many rares for me to overcome and I fall victim to his oversized flying monsters.

Game 3 is a very close back-and-forth tempo game. I’m stuck on four lands while yet again he has his Turn 5 Hypersonic Dragon. While on six lands, he attempts to end the game before I can finish him off by blowing his Cyclonic Rift on my Runewing. Facing lethal the next turn, my Guttersnipe does hard work as I use my Izzet Charm to take down one of his Goblin Electromancers and bring him to five life. I untap and cast Annihilating Fire for the last five points of damage thanks to Guttersnipe.


Game 1 goes a little something like this. Turn 2 Gatecreeper Vine. Turn 3 Axebane Guardian. Turn 4 Coursers’ Accord. Turn 5 foil Collective Blessing. Well crap …

Game 2 is much of the same when he has a Turn 6 Collective Blessing again alongside a vigilant Concordia Pegasus via Knightly Valor. I have the Cancel for his Blessing, but was unable to find a second Island to cast it. My Frostburn Weird has been holding a Pursuit of Flight and was really going to town on his life total with a Guttersnipe hanging around before the Blessing was a factor. I have him at 10 life before the Blessing and team of vigilant creatures drops me to near lethal amount. I take the damage and don’t chump block so I can play to my out.

Want to hear what my out is? Inaction Injunction his Pegasus and draw an Island to jump my Frostburn Weird before casting Annihilating Fire at his face for exactly lethal. (Three from Weird, two from Injunction via Guttersnipe, five from Annihilating Fire) What do I draw? An island. Damnit! Stupid … Imbalanced … Rares!

Now what?

After such a devastating loss, what does someone do? I have become almost numb to such losses because I have more PTQ Top 8s than anyone I know. I’m at well more than 20 and have learned that being angry and upset doesn’t change anything but your mood toward the game. So after this loss I had some friends come over and we played some Settlers of Catan until the wee hours of the night. It was fun and relaxing. It helped me completely forget about the PTQ loss and I even won a bunch of games. Always immerse yourself in friends if you can following a tough loss. It gets your spirits up and doesn’t allow what could have been linger in your head.

My endless journey to stay on the Pro Tour continues. February 10 is a PTQ in Tampa, which I’ll be looking to take down with something that isn’t Affinity. If I can’t find something I like, I’ll go right back to my trusty robots no questions asked. The day after that I’ll be flying to Montreal to prepare for Pro Tour Gatecrash. My preparation will include playtesting new Standard with Matthew Pratser, Patrix Cox, David Sharfman and Ali Aintrazi. When I’m not doing that, I’ll be doing as many Gatecrash drafts online as I have the opportunity of doing. Fun times will be had for sure and I hope we break the format wide open.

John Cuvelier
MTGO: Gosu.
Twitter: @Jcuvelier

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