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From 1-3-Drop to 12-3 (18th Place) at Magicfest Seattle, Part One

I was at Magicfest Seattle this past weekend. I played in Day 1A on Friday and got what I thought was a good pool, but dropped after going 1-3. I played again in Day 1B on Saturday and went 9-0, went 2-1 in my first draft, and 1-2 in my second draft. If I'd won the last round, I had a pretty good shot at making Top Eight since my tiebreakers were excellent (all my losses were to people who made Top Eight), but I was trounced quite soundly by Charles Wong piloting a strong Green/Blue/Black snow deck.

Day 1A

Here's my sealed pool from Day 1A:

White (13)

Enduring Sliver
Impostor of the Sixth Pride
Knight of Old Benalia
Lancer Sliver
Martyr's Soul
Segovian Angel
Serra the Benevolent
Stirring Address
Valiant Changeling
Wall of One Thousand Cuts
Wing Shards

Blue (16)

Blizzard Strix
Choking Tethers
Iceberg Cancrix
Moonblade Shinobi
Phantasmal Form
Phantom Ninja
Pondering Mage
Rain of Revelation
Scuttling Sliver
Smoke Shroud
2 Windcaller Aven
Winter's Rest

Black (16)

Changeling Outcast
2 First-Sphere Gargantua
Headless Specter
Mind Rake
2 Mob
Rank Officer
2 Return from Extinction
Sadistic Obsession
Sling-Gang Lieutenant
Smiting Helix
2 Warteye Witch

Red (16)

Bogardan Dragonheart
Fists of Flame
Goblin Champion
Goblin Engineer
Goblin Oriflamme
Goblin War Party
Igneous Elemental
Magmatic Sinkhole
2 Pyrophobia
Reckless Charge
2 Shenanigans
Spinehorn Minotaur
2 Urza's Rage

Green (11)

Conifer Wurm
Krosan Tusker
Mother Bear
2 Nimble Mongoose
Rime Tender
Saddled Rimestag
Savage Swipe
Springbloom Druid
Treetop Ambusher
Winding Way

Multicolor (5)

Eladamri's Call
Ice-Fang Coatl
Lavabelly Sliver
Munitions Expert
Thundering Djinn

Artifact (6)

Altar of Dementia
2 Amorphous Axe
Scrapyard Recombiner
Talisman of Conviction
Universal Automaton

Land (7)

Frostwalk Bastion
Snow-Covered Plains
Snow-Covered Island
Snow-Covered Swamp
Snow-Covered Mountain
2 Snow-Covered Forest

After sorting through the cards, it seemed fairly clear that Black should be the main color. The color had excellent removal, decent creatures, and a few sources of card filtering and card advantage. I tried to see if I could pair it with White so I could play Serra the Benevolent, one of the strongest White cards in the set, but the remaining White cards were quite underwhelming. I considered a Black/Green deck that splashed White for Serra, but that build only had eight Green cards, including three two-drops and three mana fixers (Springbloom Druid, Krosan Tusker, and Winding Way). I briefly looked at a Blue/Red build with Eyekite, Spinehorn Minotaur, and Thundering Djinn, but while that had a number of ways to draw a second card on my turn, it seemed like it would falter if I didn't draw one of the payoff cards, or if my opponent managed to neutralize it.

I then looked at Black/Red. While I didn't think the Red removal spells that do three damage were very good in this format, I figured that they could deal with the small fry and Magmatic Sinkhole, the pair of Mobs, and possibly Defile and Munitions Expert could take care of the larger threats. The build ran no Rares or Mythics, but that seemed like an expected outcome in a pool whose Rares included Goblin Engineer, Eladamri's Call, Altar of Dementia, and Scrapyard Recombiner.

Yes, I'm aware that Goblin Champion is not a good card, but I figured that it would allow me to put some early pressure on my opponent while I killed every creature they played, and I liked the tribal interactions with the other Goblins in the deck.

I did very poorly with this deck, going 1-3 before dropping. I lost round one to another Black/Red deck after getting stuck at two lands in game one and getting stuck at three lands in game three.

I lost round two to a Green/White/Black deck that played a Hexdrinker on turn five and immediately leveled it up to give it protection from instants when I was tapped out with a Defile and a Mob in hand. I drew a Pyrophobia on my turn, but that was not enough to kill the 4/4, and on his turn, my opponent leveled it up further to give it protection from everything. A Hexdrinker is a respectable card to lose a game to. Unfortunately, I lost game two to a Common, Answered Prayers, which not only did 15 points of damage to me, but also gained my opponent eight life over the course of the game. My opponent also had Birthing Boughs + Smoke Shroud to create a 3/3 flyer each turn, but that might not have mattered without the lifegain from Answered Prayers.

I won round three against a Blue/Black Ninjas deck that had Fallen Shinobi and Future Sight, and that splashed Green for some snow goodness, including a Conifer Wurm that killed me game one when I was at 13 life since my opponent was able to activate it twice with multiple snow permanents in play.

And then I lost round four to a Blue/Black Ninjas deck that splashed White for some additional removal. To allow myself to feel better about my abysmal performance on Day 1A, I will point out that I won game one, that he had a turn two Ingenious Infiltrator on the play in game two, and that I got stuck on two lands in game three. However, the truth of the matter is that I completely misbuilt the pool. In addition to choosing the wrong colors, I also ran insufficient lands. I thought my deck was aggressive enough that I could run 16 lands and a Talisman, but I almost always wanted more mana, especially because of the pair of First-Sphere Gargantuas. And even if 16 lands were sufficient for this deck, one of the Mountains should have been a Swamp.

An important lesson I learned from my Day 1A experience was that having tons of removal in Modern Horizons sealed does not automatically mean your deck is good, and that you don't necessarily want too much removal that does three damage (my deck had five such spells). While there are certainly creatures you have to be able to deal with, using a removal spell on a Faerie Seer or an Elephant token feels like it sets you back a card, as does using two removal spells to kill Rhox Veteran, Conifer Wurm, or Rotwidow Pack.

If I were rebuilding this pool today, I would build a Black/Green deck splashing White and Red for Serra the Benevolent and Magmatic Sinkhole (and the flashback cost of Smiting Helix). While I don't like splashing a double-White card, Serra the Benevolent is one of the strongest cards in the set and there are few answers to its ultimate ability (pretty much just Winds of Abandon and Dead of Winter). The double splash is aided by the Talisman of Conviction and also brings in two snow-covered lands to go with Rime Tender and Conifer Wurm.

Day 1B

Here's my sealed pool from Day 1B:

White (12)

Dismantling Blow
Gilded Light
Impostor of the Sixth Pride
Irregular Cohort
Recruit the Worthy
2 Reprobation
Rhox Veteran
Stirring Address
Trustworthy Scout
Wall of One Thousand Cuts
Wing Shards

Blue (12)

Choking Tethers
2 Faerie Seer
Mist-Syndicate Naga
Moonblade Shinobi
Phantasmal Form
Rain of Revelation
Spell Snuff
String of Disappearances
Watcher for Tomorrow

Black (14)

Cabal Therapist
2 Changeling Outcast
Diabolic Edict
Dregscape Sliver
2 First-Sphere Gargantua
Headless Specter
Putrid Goblin
2 Ransack the Lab
Venomous Changeling
Warteye Witch

Red (15)

Alpine Guide
Bladeback Sliver
Geomancer's Gambit
2 Goblin Champion
Goblin Matron
Igneous Elemental
Magmatic Sinkhole
2 Reckless Charge
2 Spinehorn Minotaur
Urza's Rage

Green (19)

Ayula, Queen Among Bears
Bellowing Elk
Crashing Footfalls
Elvish Fury
2 Frostwalla
2 Mother Bear
2 Nantuko Cultivator
Nimble Mongoose
Rime Tender
Savage Swipe
Scale Up
Springbloom Druid
Twin-Silk Spider
Unbound Flourishing
Weather the Storm
Winding Way

Multicolor (6)

Etchings of the Chosen
Ingenious Infiltrator
Nature's Chant
Ruination Rioter
Thundering Djinn

Artifact (4)

Amorphous Axe
Arcum's Astrolabe
Birthing Boughs
Sword of Sinew and Steel

Land (8)

Barren Moor
Hall of Heliod's Generosity
2 Snow-Covered Plains
2 Snow-Covered Swamp
2 Snow-Covered Mountain

Easy pool, eh? I built a Green/Blue deck from this pool, splashing Black for the Ingenious Infiltrator and the Graveshifter.

While I went 9-0 with this built, I still think it was a couple of cards off. In particular, I found myself making the same three changes for almost every postboard game:

  • Barren Moor was replaced with the second Snow-Covered Swamp because if my only Snow-Covered Swamp ended up in my graveyard due to Winding Way (or an opponent's Iceberg Cancrix), then I would have to wait to draw the Barren Moor and then wait another turn before I could play either of my Black spells. Also, my deck had enough card filtering and card advantage that I was more interested in being able to cast my spells right away instead of occasionally cycling an excess land.
  • Elvish Fury was replaced by String of Disappearances because my deck had very little other removal. String of Disappearances isn't great removal, but my deck had enough source of card advantage that it could afford to spend a card to gain tempo or to avoid falling behind. Also, it had enough ways to use excess mana that it didn't need the Elvish Fury as a mana sink.
  • Bellowing Elk was replaced by Twin-Silk Spider because it could block Faerie Seers and prevent Ninja decks from gaining an early (and often unrecoverable) lead. It also works better with Scale Up, which won me a few games when overloaded.

I don't consider the Rime Tender a mistake; while I only had one snow land maindeck, it was a good target for Savage Swipe, occasionally enabled a turn three Ninja, and once even provided much needed mana in a midgame situation where I was recurring Faerie Seer and/or Watcher for Tomorrow to sift through my deck. The Eyekite also fulfilled many of the same functions, providing a more reliable enabler for my Ninjas in exchange for not being very good with Savage Swipe. I only had a couple of ways to actually draw cards (Watcher for Tomorrow and Winding Way don't technically draw you cards, and Ingenious Infiltrator draws you the cards at the end of combat), so the Eyekite was essentially a third (but vastly inferior) Faerie Seer.

Many people looking at this decklist may attribute my 9-0 record to the Rare and Mythic bombs, and Mist-Syndicate Naga and Ayula, Queen Among Bears certainly pulled their weight. I had many opponents who weren't able to answer Ayula right away. I also realized after the first couple of matches that she was often better when played on turn four and followed immediately by a Mother Bear :) However, I only cast Crashing Footfalls on turn one once all day, and Sword of Sinew and Steel was just a Vulshok Morningstar against many of my opponents.

I feel like the true all-stars of this pool were actually the Watcher for Tomorrow and the pair of Faerie Seers. They provided the deck the consistency needed to put up a 9-0 record, and their enters-the-battlefield effects could be reused with Ninjutsu. They put so many lands on the bottom of my deck over the course of the day that I could easily have lost a couple of matches due to manaflood without them. There was even a game where I played a Springbloom Druid and chose not to sacrifice a land because I didn't want to shuffle my deck :)

Here's a quick overview of the nine rounds, during which I lost only three games:

  • Round one: Won in three games against a Green/Blue deck that was splashing White.
  • Round two: Won in two against a Blue/Black Ninjas deck with Ingenious Infiltrator.
  • Round three: Won in two against a Black/Green deck with Hexdrinker!
  • Round four: Won in three against a Green/Blue snow deck that was splashing Black. Lost a game to Conifer Wurm.
  • Round five: Won in two against a Blue/Black Ninjas deck that never really got going and only did three damage to me across both games.
  • Round six: Won in three against a Black/Green deck that was splashing Red. He switched from a Red splash to a White splash (for Winds of Abandon) postboard.
  • Round seven: Won in two against a Blue/Black deck.
  • Round eight: My opponent was playing a Blue/Black deck with Mob, Twisted Reflection, and 2 Defiles. I won a very drawn out game one, and game two was a draw after extra turns, so I won the match.
  • Round nine: Won in two against a Black/Red deck, which was my Sword of Sinew and Steel's first chance to truly shine.

It is worth noting that every opponent I played other than the last one was playing a combination of Blue, Black, and Green. White and Red were only splashed by those players, never run as a main color. Of the nine decks I faced, four were Blue/Black, two were Black/Green, two were Green/Blue, and one was Black/Red.

This was my first 9-0 at a Magicfest (or Grand Prix), and my photo and decklist were part of the event coverage.

I have to say, I was very happy with the addition of a second Day One at Magicfest Seattle. Many people who had poor sealed pools on Day 1A were happy to have a second shot at Day Two with a different pool. And while I can't blame my pool for my poor record on Day 1A, it was still good to have another chance. There were also several players who qualified for Day Two on Friday (Day 1A) with a 6-3 or 7-2 record, but who chose to play again on Saturday (Day 1B) to see if they could improve their record going into Day Two. They were happier, I was (obviously) happier, and the tournament organizer made more money, so it mostly seems like a win-win and I hope the practice continues.

I will continue with my experience drafting Modern Horizons on Day Two of Magicfest Seattle in a subsequent article.

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