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By: MarcosPMA, Marcos Rodriguez
May 11 2019 4:21pm
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Hello and welcome to another edition of Sealed Success!  I must apologize, I will not be beginning my matches for my sealed leagues today.  I've been doing some introspection and some of my playing habits/tendencies and figured it would be good to talk about the ones I need to fix and adjust.  One of the most important things we can do as not just Magic players, but human beings, is to do a self assessment and adjust when needed.  We sometimes get caught up in a rut or fail to improve even as we obtain new information that would normally lead to growth.  In an ideal world we should constantly adjust and reflect as we take in new information and reassess whether our past thoughts/ideals/motives are good or bad.  I like to believe as we age we grow more empathetic as we begin to truly process and understand how the world works and how people outside our station live in it.  In that same vein, as we get more experienced with Magic we should adjust our way of thinking and be open to new, different ideas.

Below are some things I've realized I needed to change, as well as some things I've changed in the past that serve me better now.  There's a few things I've discussed in passing, but never have actually sat down and talked in detail about and I'd like to expand on those thoughts.  What about you?  What have you changed about your play style or way of thinking?  Have you taken time to objectively assess your skills and see if there's need for improvement?

"If they have it, they have it"

Very early in my days of playing Limited playing around combat tricks was not something I did at all.  My line of thinking was "if they have it, they have it and at least now it's out of their hand."  That's not necessarily a bad way to look at things some amount of the time, but it's harmful if that's the way of thinking every single game.  At a base level a combat trick will always be used to gain an advantage in a combat but that's not how they're played.  Each combat trick is different and how much value you get by using it depends on the combat itself.  If I use a Giant Growth when my opponent blocks my 2/2 with their 2/2, I traded for a card which isn't really worth a card these days.  If instead I trade my Giant Growth for their 4/4 creature with a relevant ability, then I have done something useful.

The bigger issue that came from not playing around combat tricks is me having a narrow mindset and not adjusting my thought about how the game should be played.  I accepted certain outcomes as reality and denied myself the opportunity to have agency over the situation.  If I thought my opponent had a Divine Verdict and would use it on my bomb creature, I would walk right into that situation because not only did I feel it would happen no matter what I did, I also thought I was wasting my creature by not attacking.  Eventually I got to a point where I learned I needed to play the game more strategically and assess if I needed to be more patient with the way the game was progressing or to take the calculated risk of getting blown out.

There are instances where you need to force your opponent to have the trick or they lose, and in that situation you have a good enough reason to put yourself in a potentially bad outcome.  But, if the situation is where you're not immediately winning if they have the trick then you should wait and see if they're willing to use it on something else, or only make attacks/blocks when they don't have the mana for it.  The broad lesson to be learned here is: have an open mind when it comes to any situation and make a choice based on all the information you have.

"Always play 2/2 for 2"

In the past I've held the stance that a 2/2 for 2 is playable, even if it's on the weaker side of playable.  More recently I've come to the conclusion that a vanilla 2/2 for 2 is not playable, and in some cases is not worth a card.  As creatures get better and we add more triggers that function like spells, we have to reevaluate how good a vanilla creature is and what it can do for us in sealed/draft.  In some cases this comes down to context within a given format, but generally speaking I think we've moved past the point where a 2/2 for 2 is an acceptable choice.

I was playing a game where I had a Goblin Assailant in my hand and my opponent played a Wall of Runes and I felt I lost out on a card, almost like I took a mulligan because my opponent played a creature that could invalidate it very easily.  In this situation I was playing a deck which wasn't very aggressive, but I wanted a card at 2 mana to give me a functional curve if I wanted to have that type of draw.  Whether or not my opponent played a Wall of Runes isn't the only issue here, I played a card just because I wanted my deck to look a certain way, and not because it was worth having in my deck to begin with.  The Wall of Runes only made me realize the "worth" of Goblin Assailant, which isn't very much.

This reminds me of Reckless Reveler in Born of the Gods, a card I played more than I would have liked and gave me the same feeling I did as with Goblin Assailant.  Sure, I could in theory use Reckless Reveler for something more than a 2/1 for 2, but reality was I had a 2/1 for 2 in my deck and that did very little for me past turn 2.  I would play it on turn 2 and then either my opponent would have a 2 drop with actual text or play a 3 mana creature and my creature be immediately outclassed.

Now, I want to stress that this isn't simply me realizing or thinking a more expensive creature is better than ones that cost less.  While yes, it's true that almost any 3 mana creature is better than a 2 mana creature, some 2 mana creatures can outclass other 2 mana creatures even though they cost the same.  Imagine playing a generic 2 mana creature and your opponent playing Martyr of Dusk.  You can't make a trade there because your opponent gets the 1/1 token and you have nothing.  In fact, the play pattern there is not engage Martyr of Dusk in combat until you get a 3 toughness creature to make up for your 2 mana creature.  

The broader goal of this section is to say: creatures are better now, don't settle for vanilla creatures.  Unless the format dictates you have a more aggressive curve, play the good cards first and then adjust if you need to.  2/2s for 2 just aren't really playable anymore.

"Sealed is slow, always play for the late game"

I may have not said it in those exact words but the sentiment has generally been the same through the years: sealed is slow, play for the late game.  If I've learned anything doing this column is that there are no absolutes and context matters in every situation.  You can't play a strategy you're not equipped to follow, even if that strategy is said to be the winning one.  I've always had the following as core tenets of Sealed:

  • Play your best cards
  • Play your best removal
  • You won't always curve out
  • Your opponent will play their best cards
  • Your opponent will play their best removal
  • Your opponent won't always curve out

Something that I've not said explicitly but felt was always implied was: play your best strategy because your opponent will do as well.  Whatever strategy you employ in Sealed can't be decided before you even open up the cards because your cards will dictate what you're able to do.  If you find yourself in M14 Limited where blue was the best color and they tended to be a bit on the slow side, you can't build a bad blue deck and ignore a perfectly serviceable red/x aggro deck.  We need to be realistic about what we can and can't do, then put ourselves in a position where we do what we can best and ignore everything else.

Where I've gotten away from this type of thinking is putting myself in the default role of the "control" deck and trying to outplay people because that's the "optimal" way to do it.  In the cases where taking this stance is the wrong stance, it comes across as me trying to act smart just to feel smart.  I feel I've played some sealed leagues in recent memory where I've tried to figure out the best way to build a deck within a certain playstyle (aggro, control, etc) and not letting the pool tell me what it can do best.    If a pool doesn't have all the removal it needs then I'd either play the weak color that does have it or splash for it even if the splash is really bad.  Instead I should play more assertively and put myself in situations where the lack of removal is less likely to come up.  If the pool collectively stops at 5 mana then I need to play to that and not force myself to play longer games than I need to.

The real lesson here is to recognize the situation you're in, play to whatever strengths are available, and don't be something you're not.  Sealed may be slower than Draft, but that doesn't mean it's slow.

Conclusion

I would say the general takeaway from all this is to be flexible in your thinking and to have no sacred cows because each situation is going to be different.  Sacred cows represent an inflexible way of thinking and even if those sacred cows are correct and true to have, not having the chance to question them is going to affect you negatively at some point.  I look back at games I've played and I know I could have played differently and even won them if I was open to other ways of thinking.  Part of this is having a positive mindset about things, and another part is having the initiative to think more deeply and be willing to learn more.  There is always room for improvement no matter what you're doing in life.

Next week I'll be back with actual War of the Spark content as I've had a little more understanding about how the games play out and what play patterns come up.  On a base level the uncommon planeswalkers don't cause too much of an issue, the rare/mythic ones can and the thing to watch out for is one player having a snowball advantage.  If one player is able to continually parley one advantage to another and have those incrementally increase then it's too much for the other player to overcome.  Oddly enough, this is what games with uncontested planeswalkers turn into.

Thanks for reading!