Brian Holland

by Aaron Graham

With this short a turnaround from Ravnica Allegiance release to playing in the Grand Prix, it’s impossible to do all the research yourself. Put yourself in Facebook Chats or Discord servers with other Magic Fest players. Discussing your own play findings, and agreeing/disagreeing with others, is a much more efficient crucible for leveling up your Limited play.

Even as the spoilers for Ravnica Allegiance were coming out, I was in multiple chats where we discussed the merits of particular cards, high draft picks, Limited bombs and Constructed standouts. All of these happened before we’d even touched a Ravnica Allegiance card.

Without the luxury of weeks or months of Sealed events and Drafts, I went for quantity over quality to get a broad feel for the Sealed format and its relative speed. Playing about 10-15 Sealed events between MTG Arena and MTG Online, I was able to build a wide variety of pools and see what worked and what didn’t. This helped inform the sort of decks I could build; and I tried everything from 15-land Aggro to 17 lands, 2 locket 5-colour control decks. In Sealed I found that the games would often grind to a halt, slowed down by board stalls and decided by bombs.

In the few Drafts that I was able to do around the Sealed practice, I found the decks to be significantly more focused. Aggro decks were more aggressive, 5-colour decks had better mana, and the control decks had a more cohesive game plan. Gate-matters decks were also on our radar as a powerful plan to build around.

Grand Prix Sydney

You very rarely feel fully prepared for a tournament, and Sydney coming so soon after Ravnica Allegiance’s release really exacerbated that. Luckily at the Magic Fest, there are events called Last Chance Trials in which players can win Byes for the first and second rounds of the main event. Last Chance Trials vary greatly in size, but usually are a four to five round tournament, with only undefeated players winning the Byes.

This year, I had no Byes from Planeswalker Points, so I was keen to get some physical Magic practice in a Last Chance Trial after weeks of digital-only practice.

I unfortunately ended up playing in four Last Chance Trials, or Grinders, throughout the day. My first pool was low-impact, no bombs, and I built a shaky 3 Colour mana base that was run over by an Azorius fliers deck in the first round. My second deck was full of bombs, with two Gruul Spellbreakers and a Hydroid Krasis, with great mana to be able to support the full three colours. Unfortunately my opening hands didn’t comply and I was slain by Orzhov value, never drawing any of my sweet rares, and I was 0-1 in two consecutive events!

Another couple of bad beats later and I was 4 physical Sealed pools deep and with zero byes to show for it. It’s difficult in positions like this to not get mad at the format- but a combination of variance, and some slight misplays from me, meant I had not much to be mad at, and I was glad for the practice.

It was a 9am start the next morning after a healthy breakfast and three coffees, and I sat down to register my pool with a very modest 528 players.

My pool was mediocre to say the least, with 4 of my rares being very questionable Enchantments- Cindervines, Smothering Tithe, Verity Circle and Font of Agonies. My other two rares were Judith, the Scourge Diva and Bedevil, great cards but hardly game-breaking bombs. Judith is at her best in focused aggressive decks which can take advantage of going wide and the extra damage-on-death she provides, which is hard to execute with a limited Sealed pool. Bedevil is a strong removal spell, but its restrictive mana cost means that it’s barely better than Get the Point in the same colours. It doesn’t even let you Scry 1!

My pool ended up taking advantage of some strong Orzhov synergies, with lots of Afterlife creatures and a few ways to sacrifice them, and a splash for Judith, Bedevil and a copy of Skewer the Critics. The deck I registered was grindy, and was supposed to be favoured the longer the game went, but had no real draw for going long other than some card advantage spells. This is unfavourable in Sealed, as people will build their decks around the bombs in their pool, which they’re more likely to draw as the game goes long. My only ‘bomb’ was a copy of Angelic Exaltation, which, when landed, allows you to grind through your mediocre creatures while still staying defensive.

A friend of mine looked at my pool between rounds and judged a 16-land aggressive Rakdos to be a better build with Judith, Bedevil and Skewer. The deck also had a few one to three drops, so that I could be more proactive against 3+ colour decks. I ended up sleeving 17 cards which I changed after game 1, dependent on matchup, and whether I was on the play or not.

After beating another Perth player in the first round who had some mana issues, I lost three rounds to some good players with decent decks, knocking me out of contention for day 2. There were some small mistakes, but it often felt like if I stumbled or if I flooded late I had no way of catching up. I was disappointed with my main event result, but not too disappointed, as Sealed has a high amount of variance, and I’m not even sure the best player in the room could have made a cohesive Day 2 deck out of my pool. The lack of power and synergy meant that it was possible I just played a more risky 3+ colour deck to use my creatures across those colours, but it would have just meant losing to my lands even more than normal!

After 6 rounds and discussing the decks and strategies that were doing the best, a common theme oozed out of the good and bad beat stories. In particular, the three cards Biogenic Ooze, Ethereal Absolution and Hydroid Krasis were incredible; difficult-to-deal-with threats that completely took over games, even when their users were very behind on board. In fact, from speaking to some judges watching the top tables, after 6 rounds, the only undefeated decks contained at least one (if not more) of these three cards!

My weekend was salvaged by a strong showing and some prize winnings in Sunday’s MCQ, with a solid removal-heavy Orzhov deck with Ethereal Absolution at the top of the curve. After losing my third round to an End-Raze Forerunners and a transformative sideboard, I was out of contention for the Top 8 draft. I made a sloppy play to die to the Forerunners, but I was so far ahead I didn’t expect to die from 11 life! I ended up at 4-1 in the event, which is an awkwardly placed 19th in a field of 160+ players, but I left with more than a booster box in prizes.

We then drafted all evening for even more prizes, and a particularly great match against a friend of mine was my 15-land aggro deck against his Persistent Petitioners mill, which came right down to the wire. I burned him out (with one card left in my deck) from 11 life in one turn: a combination of sacrificing Ill-Gotten Inheritance and Fireblade Artist, Skewer the Critics, and two Spear Spewer activations.

It was also fantastic watching a few Perth players make deep runs into Day 2. In particular, Tim Rasmussen who placed 14th in the whole event. Congratulations Tim!

If you aren’t deep into competitive Magic, MagicFests also have a huge bill of events firing all weekend, regardless of your format preference.

Grand Prix Sydney was advertised six months in advance as Limited (Sealed Deck on Day 1 and Draft on Day 2), and many players skipped the event as they weren’t interested in the format of the main event. I think this is a big mistake, as MagicFest weekends now have almost more to offer other than the main event, with Drafts, Modern, Commander, 2-Headed Giant, Legacy and even Vintage and Highlander tournaments happening constantly, with their own prize pots on the line. MagicFests are truly the best time that I have playing Magic, as you get make a holiday out of the best hobby in the world!

If you haven’t been to one yet and you love Magic, I couldn’t recommend them more.

Interested in playing more Magic? Contact your local Good Games store today and ask them about Magic events and learn-to-play sessions!