I have been meaning to write a little something for the Kaboom website for quite some time. I’ve talked about it with Will at least a half dozen times, but lately it has been hard enough to find time to play MTG, let alone write an article on the subject. Still, I find myself thinking about it nearly every time I sit and draw seven (and mulligan to six, and too-often to five) and I can’t think of a better time to get it done than after a GPT win.
Last week Kaboom hosted a Sealed Grand Prix Trial for Grand Prix Baltimore. In addition to the free wins at stake for GP Baltimore, Kaboom added two packs per person to the prize pool. All in all the tournament drew about twenty players to crack packs and sling spells. While I could go into detail about the individual matches I played and the decks I played against, I really want to talk about the format in general.
So far I have really enjoyed Khans Sealed (and Limited in general) and it seems that opinion is a common one for most players. I think what I enjoy most is the diversity of the deck design, both in Sealed and Draft. The game plan available to players is much wider than it was in previous blocks. In most blocks there is a clear and decisive “best” way to build your deck. I don’t necessarily mean individual archetypes, though they tend to fit into the overall “best” game plans somehow. In Theros, for example, the steps to winning any limited event were: 1. Cast a creature. 2. Make him huge. 3. Never ever block with a creature you were not willing to lose. In Khans there are certainly superior and inferior strategies, but there are so many powerful ways to build a deck that a capable player can pilot almost any decently built deck to victory.
I think there a few reasons for this shift. The reintroduction of Morph into the format was more impactful than I thought it would be for a number of reasons. The common and uncommon dual lands provide more mana fixing than we’ve ever had in a Limited format, and those are in addition to Banners, mana fixing creatures and fetch lands. And while every set seems to have an underpowered color that feels like the runt of the litter, the colors in Khans feel equally playable as either a supplemental piece or primary base of the deck. The power level of the multicolor cards often means a player can lean on the complimentary aspects of a color without being hampered too much by its weaknesses.
I honestly believe any of the above reasons is worthy of an entire article, and maybe if readers enjoy my ramblings here I’ll write another on one (or eventually all) of them. But when you put them all together they add up to a set that is radically different from its predecessors and makes it possible to build tempo, agro, midrange or long grinding decks without immediately putting yourself at a disadvantage against the field. The big bodies that feel like walls now have outlast, which essentially means they gain utility once you’ve balanced the battlefield and want to take up the offensive. Perhaps the biggest and most important evolution is the flexibility in color choice made possible by the dual lands.
There have always been a few areas that separate the solid Limited players from the novices; evaluating card power, picking up on signs while drafting and formulating an overall game plan for the deck come immediately to mind. But what most frequently separates the wheat from the chaff seems to be color discipline. I cannot count the number of times I have seen players “splash” red in their sealed deck for a dragon that costs XRR, or play three basic lands in their deck for the single off-color Mythic Rare they opened. Almost inevitably these players wind up holding a bomb in their hand they never manage to cast or draw two of those three mountains when all they really needed was another swamp. The abundance of dual lands in Khans, especially at common rarity, dramatically reduces the need for color discipline. Players can now play a three or even four color base and splash for a fifth color without being punished as they might have for playing a third color in M15. This helps mitigate the gap between the Spike and Timmy players, at least enough to allow the less competitive players to play a reasonable and enjoyable match with the bombs they desperately want to cast.
All in all I think Khans appeals to players because of its flexibility. Not only is it dramatically different from the sets we’ve grown accustomed to, but it balances skilled play with fun play in a way that appeals to all Magic players. Whether you want to play two color agro, five color surprise (that’s a lot of Morph) or anything in between, the designers for Khans of Tarkir found a way to make anything possible. Draft picks are relevant almost to the last card and Sealed pools seldom require you to exclude powerful cards with little or no in-color support. Khans Limited formats offer Magic players exactly what they want, a competitive environment requiring skill and encouraging big, fun cards.
A few notes about the GPT itself:
Eriks Apelis, a player I already liked as a person, earned a tremendous amount of respect from me during the GPT. Eriks had as potent a card pool as I’ve seen in KTK sealed, but suffered absolutely horrific luck against me in both Swiss and elimination play. I’ve never had an opponent handle a rotten run of luck with the class and sportsmanship he displayed. Serious Kudos.
The only feeling better than Skull-hunting a Duneblast out of your opponent’s hand is doing it again game two.
My opponent in the finals, Josh Peek, is the same person who initially invited me to car pool to Baltimore, offered me a place to stay during the GP (for free) and opened/registered my sealed card pool (he thought it was terrible). As far as I know, his offers still stand.