Yorke on Games #31: In League: With Bolas

You might not know it, but I’ve just been through an eight-week journey through the burning sands of Amonkhet. The Face to Face Games Sealed League just came to a close last night with its Top 8 Megadraft finals, and boy was it a doozy: my face feels sunburnt; my tongue cracked. Today I’m going to tell you some of the more outstanding stories in terms of play experience, fun, and accomplishment that happened in the past two months… but first, I’m going to talk about what Sealed League is for our uninitiated readers.

What is ‘Sealed League’?

Sealed League is a style of play which defies traditional definitions by embracing these two apparent contradictions: it’s both a ‘Limited Constructed’ and ‘casual competitive’ format.

Sealed League is ‘Limited Constructed’ in that we have a 4-of rule for copies of any card in a deck (like Constructed play), but allow the use of non-Standard-legal Invocations that are opened (like Limited play). We have 60-card decks (like Constructed), but start out with a Sealed card pool of 6 booster packs (like Limited). So it’s a hybrid format.

On the other hand, Sealed League is ‘casual competitive’, since we have Top 8 Finals (like competitive play), but have no time limits on matches (like casual play). Also, we hold our opponents to a high standard of play, allowing few or no take-backs (like competitive), but use an honor system to help each other get our matches in (like casual). So it’s somewhere between kitchen table Magic and FNM levels of intensity.

If that sounds like something you’d be interested in trying, be sure to join us for the July 16th HOU league launch (details below)! We’ll be glad to show you the ropes. Now, back to material aimed towards our more enfranchised readership…

The League Lore

Naturally, I’ll start with some notable stories from my perspective (and, as I eventually came 2nd place in the tournament, I suppose my words carry a little more weight than usual).

I started off with a slow but strong Golgari build: [card]Sandwurm Convergence[/card] and [card]Cruel Reality[/card] were my main finishers in my opening pool, and pretty much everything else in the deck was a speedbump for my opponents to waste resources on, until I could drop one of my game-breaking enchantments.

However, as players take losses and add packs to their pool, the league starts to favor decks that can close out a game earlier than turn 10. In other words, I sorely needed some early defense in order for my deck to remain viable.

Since you obviously can’t control what you open, league play kind of pushes you toward cherishing each little in-color resource your boosters give you. In my case, upon taking a loss from Tim Martoni (who came in 6th), I cracked open an Eldritch Moon booster in his presence that yielded both a regular and foil version of this odd little guy:

My league deck put up a ‘spirited’ defense

After this addition, 1/30 of my deck was [card]Permeating Mass[/card]! That’s a whopping 3.3%! Opponents would often use removal on it just so they wouldn’t have to read the rules text to figure out what was going to happen post-combat. This was, of course, precisely what I wanted to occur.

Whenever it hit an opponent for 1, I would make highly amusing jokes such as: “I just got through for MASSive damage!” In short, I made sure that there were lots of reasons for wanting to get it off the table.

The mirror match that nobody asked for

But in the end, even Permie couldn’t save me when I faced off against Amir Hassan (7th place) in a decisive [card]Sandwurm Convergence[/card] vs. [card]Sandwurm Convergence[/card] matchup. He dropped his a turn before I dropped mine, but I had a slight edge on life totals, so it was essentially a standoff. I topdecked [card]Cruel Reality[/card], and felt like I had gained the edge, but there was so much meat on the board by that time its effect was imperceptible. Growing impatient, I went all-in with my Wurm token army against his Wurm token army, resulting in many (presumably slimy) deaths. However, Amir had some concealed lifegain and a fistful of removal, which meant that he could save enough of his offensive force to clean me out on the crackback.

After that, I went for a low-curve Selesnya build with tons of lifegain that snuck me into the finals. Not a very glorious path, but effective.

Best in Show: Deconstructing the Most Successful Deck

Before the finals, there was no question that Richard Koffler (4th place), with his ‘Knowledge is Power’ deck (list shown below), was the dominant performer in the league.

Richard won 16/23 [70%!] of his matches in the main (pre-Top 8) portion of the league tournament. It was a fearsome machine of extraordinary killing efficiency. As I commented to our Facebook discussion thread at the time: “It’s Richard’s league: the rest of us are just living in it.”

That fact may, or may not, have had something to do with this little gem Richard opened at the beginning, and kept in his deck throughout:

Pact with value

Remember that format-defining card, [card]Sandwurm Convergence[/card]? Well, Amir joined the league later than Richard and hadn’t yet found out about his prized [card]Pact of Negation[/card]. Amir happily attempted to resolve his Convergence on a tapped out Richard. That match… didn’t go well for Amir.

In later weeks, in a different match, I witnessed Richard fight through a resolved [card]Sandwurm Convergence[/card] of Amir’s for the win, even while his [card]Archfiend of Ifnir[/card] and [card]Angler Drake[/card] were both essentially blanked by the card. Richard cycled all the Wurm tokens out of existence care of his idle Archfield, and then swung in with a Cartouche’d [card]Dune Beetle[/card] to finish Amir off. Crazy stuff.

The other league players were consistently impressed with Richard’s power to open in-color mythics and build them seamlessly into his deck. There was one absolutely brutal game where he eventually beat my turn 3 Rhonas with his unexpected turn 3 Kefnet (armed with [card]Cartouche of Ambition[/card]). Who brings a Cartouche to a god fight, seriously?

Anyway, here’s Richard’s decklist, a specimen of a league-dominating deck in its prime (in case you’re wondering what such a thing might look like):

2 Evolving Wilds
11 Island
10 Swamp
3 Cartouche of Ambition
1 Cartouche of Knowledge
1 Cruel Reality
2 Essence Scatter
2 Final Reward
1 Galestrike
2 Hieroglyphic Illumination
1 Pact of Negation
1 Pull from Tomorrow
1 Splendid Agony
2 Trial of Knowledge
2 Angler Drake
1 Archfiend of Ifnir
1 Baleful Ammit
1 Doomed Dissenter
1 Dune Beetle
2 Gravedigger
1 Hekma Sentinels
2 Horror of the Broken Lands
1 Kefnet the Mindful
2 Pitiless Vizier
2 River Serpent
1 Ruthless Sniper
1 Seeker of Insight
1 Shadowstorm Vizier
1 Vizier of Tumbling Sands

Not counting basic lands, Richard’s rarity count looks like this:

5/60 = rare / mythic rare [8%]

11/60 = uncommon [18%]

23/60 = common [38%]

This rarity pyramid is exactly what you’d expect in a well-designed league deck: there are about twice as many commons as uncommons, and about twice as many uncommons as there are rares and mythics.

In terms of mana cost, the average card in the deck is around 3.7 mana: but this is slightly inflated due to the fact that so many cards are intended to be cycled, rather than played outright. In reality, it’s probably a lot closer to 3, which isn’t completely aggro, but isn’t completely midrange either.

I will absolutely copy and paste this curve into my HOU Sealed League deck, and recommend that you do the same.

Amonkhet Sealed League: Wrapping Up (Pun Intended)

The Amonkhet league was a league of firsts. It was, for example, the first tournament where we needed to go to a third set of tie-breaking criteria to decide the Top 8. In Week 7, there were multiple eliminations, resulting in fewer than 8 players remaining for the finals. There were two players in particular who had won the same number of matches, and also had the same number of perfect 2-0 victories: so they elected to duel each other to determine which was worthy to enter the finals. In the future, we will have a further criterion, total number of matches actually played, which will help us break such (very rare) ties.

Of the multitude of people who was eliminated in the last week of play, one was this gentleman:

Michel Jutras, our AKH Sealed League Champ, with coveted ½ horse trophy

So congratulations go to Michel (1st place) for making his first Top 8, for sticking it out in a very competitive main tournament, and for winning the Megadraft finals 3-0 with his Izzet tempo-based deck.

Myself, I had to settle for 2nd place with my bizarre Orzhov artifacts matter build. In one notable match, my [card]Pale Rider of Trostad[/card] recklessly chucked my third land out of hand (I would never see another for the rest of the game), then galloped all the way to victory with a [card]Shard of Broken Glass[/card] in one hand and a [card]Honed Khopesh[/card] in the other. I had to be sedated after that one. Skulk FTW! Hey, that’s gotta be a first too, right?

For those who want to see the full set of league tournament results, and/or are curious about league history, I include the following table (yellow highlights indicate the now-defunct one-day league program). Who knows: maybe you’ll be seeing your name in lights there in a couple of months!

Hour of Devastation Sealed League: Looking Ahead

The full ruleset for the upcoming Hour of [card]Devastation[/card] league can be found below. It should answer any lingering questions new players might still have about the format. Hope you’ll join us: the new league launches at 10:00 AM on July 16th, 2017, at Face to Face Games Montreal!

  • Player registration. The start date for the Hour of Devastation league is 10am, Sunday, July 16th, 2017 at Face To Face Games Montreal. The registration fee is $30, which includes prizes and the six packs of the starting card pool, payable at the store counter. No matches played before that date will count towards the final results. New players may join the league until July 25th (however, outstanding matches not resolved by 5pm Sunday, July 30th will count as auto-losses).
  • Deck construction. Upon joining the league, players will open 6 boosters of Hour of Devastation to make their league card pool. Only cards in this pool, and basic lands, are legal for league play. No trading of league cards is allowed for the duration of the league. Players will construct a 60-card deck from their league pool. The maximum number of copies of any card in a league deck is 4 (not including basic lands). Card pools will be registered on a checklist, which will then need to be checked and signed by another league player before being deposited at the league drop-off box at the counter of Face To Face Games (this should also include a player’s email address in order to receive essential league updates). If at any time a player is discovered to be using cards from outside their league pools in their league matches, they will be considered eliminated from the league and forfeit any prizes they would have earned.
  • Playing matches. Players are required to play a minimum of 3 best-of-three game matches per week, and are allowed a maximum of 6 matches, but may never play more than 3 matches in excess of the current minimum required number. This means that in Week 1, players can play between 3-6 matches; in Week 2, 6-9 matches; Week 3, 9-12 matches, and so on. Players are not permitted to play against the same opponent more than once per league week. Players who fail to reach the minimum number of matches per week will be penalized with automatic match losses for any missing matches, starting at the end of Week 2. Players who exceed their maximum number of matches per week, or who play against the same opponent more than once in a week, will have those matches struck from their record, opened cards related to those matches deleted from their league card pool, and will be issued a warning. If a player’s overplaying behavior is not corrected after one warning that player will be considered eliminated from the league and forfeit any prizes they would have earned. Similarly, unsportsmanlike or other abusive play will not be tolerated in the course of playing league matches, and a player engaging in such behavior will either be issued a warning or be immediately eliminated, depending on the severity of the behavior.
  • Reporting matches. The winner must complete a match report slip (available at the Face to Face store counter), indicating the winning and losing players’ names, the date, the match result (e.g.: 2-1 / 2-0), and the cards contained in the pack opened by the loser, as witnessed by the winner. Match reports must be put in the league drop-off box at the store before the 5pm deadline on the Sunday of each week to count toward the current week’s minimum play requirement. The loser of each match may take a ‘punishment pack’: that is, the loser may open an unopened standard-legal booster pack in the presence of the winner, and add the contents to their league card pool, which the winner records. Before the loser’s next match, they may use these new cards to improve their deck. The maximum number of punishment packs that can be added to any player’s league pool is 10. Records of all league match results for each week of play will be published via the Facebook group and/or email list, along with a list of remaining players, and those players’ win percentiles to date.
  • Player elimination. When a players loses their 11th match, they are eliminated from the tournament (a match report slip must still be filled in by the winner, indicating the loser’s elimination) and can play no further matches. Players who do not play their minimum number of matches will automatically take losses (without punishment packs) until they reach that minimum: these auto-losses will count towards a player’s total number of permissible match losses [this is also known as the ‘Johnny Rule’].
  • Optional formats. Optional formats (such as ‘Two-Headed Giant’, ‘Star Format’, and ‘Best-of-Five Games’ and more) are supported for regular league matches, if agreed upon by all players in advance and use only cards from the players’ league pools. Players must indicate on their match report slip if they decided to play an optional format. Multiplayer matches require multiple slips: a 5-player Star game, for example, would count as 4 matches being played (the winning player would claim 4 match wins, and the other players would take 1 loss each).
  • Top 8. League winners are determined by elimination. When only eight players remain in the tournament, we will move to the league finals event as soon as possible (in the event of multiple players being eliminated during the same week, resulting in less than 8 players remaining, tie-breakers for Top 8 will be decided first by [A] total # of matches won, then [B] total # of perfect 2-0 wins, and then [C] total # of matches played if necessary). The precise date of the finals is decided when a consensus is reached or, if this is impossible, a date is approved by a 75% [6/8 player] supermajority of the Top 8 (any other urgent in-tournament alteration to the ruleset must be approved by the same percentage of players). In the finals, the Top 8 players will retire their league decks and receive a free MegaDraft, drafting one 1 booster from each standard-legal set (alternately passing packs left, then right; pack choice for draft may be altered if prize pool is insufficient). No seeding will occur; seating and pairings will be randomized. Players will build a new 60-card deck from their MegaDraft pool and play 3 best-of-three Swiss rounds to determine their ultimate ranking in the tournament. Players unable to attend the finals can pick up their draft sets at the store counter at a later time; however they will be given auto-losses in their finals matches and will not be eligible for additional prizes or higher ranking.
  • Final prizes. The Hour of Devastation league sponsor, Face To Face Games Montreal, has offered a prize pool of 2x boosters for each participating player + 24 packs toward the final MegaDraft in the league finals. Most of these packs will go to providing the cards for the MegaDraft; the remainder will be distributed among the Top 4 players according to their final rankings [in a 4:3:2:1 ratio, or as close as possible].