Eastbourne or Bust

By Laurie Glover


This adventure started with a scene that will be familiar for anyone who travels by public transport for Magic events – a cold and dreary morning with a rail replacement bus. The destination this time was Eastbourne, and there was quite a journey. I was heading down alone, but expected to bump into a couple of friendly faces at the venue anyway, so grasping a coffee closely, I ventured out into the bleak autumnal morning.

I arrived in Eastbourne with good time to spare and the store was mere seconds from the train station, but I somehow still managed to take the long way round. Eastbourne is home to the Mana Gaming team, a well organised gaming team that spans the south east and beyond – run by the indomitable Sonny Irons. I was greeted by a sea of Mana Gaming hoodies as I walked in, suddenly I felt a long way from safe shores until people started to introduce themselves and Sonny sat down with me for a quick chat about the format.

It was the weekend of release, and a good a time as any for some competitive rules enforcement level (Comp REL) sealed – the judge for the day swiftly reminded us that as it’s release weekend we receive an additional 15 minutes deck building time, to which there was clearly a few relieved faces.

At Comp REL sealed is a little different from pre-release weekends, there are deck-lists and pools are registered as they’re opened – there’s a lot at stake after all! We started to crack packs and register the pools, I was quietly envious of the recipient of the pool I opened as I registered it, it clearly had a strong lean towards Red and two Repeating Barrage felt like very strong removal.

Making the Best of It

My pool was split between B/W due to strong removal in both with some decent creatures on curve, but none of the important enabling cards such as Glorifier of Dusk or Deathless Ancient or a U/G Merfolk deck without much early game action and no removal in colours. I opted to play 3 colours, something I’m still against in this fixing light format – but, needs must.

The Judge called time on deck-construction and we sat down for 4 rounds of Sealed with a cut to top 8 for draft.

Round 1 – vs Chris on Grixis Pirates: WIN

Chris had made his way down from Essex for the event and was keen to get his day started, his deck was aggressive early on but I curved out well and managed to win with a Tempest Caller to tap his board out and swing for lethal.

I sideboarded in the Shore Keeper from my pool to keep some of his early pirates off of my life total, but I kept a hand that was perhaps overly risky and he played aggressive pirates effectively and beat me down before I could stabilize with larger creatures.

Game 3 was longer and grindier, drawing 3 cards off of the Shore Keeper late game was a nice restock to my hand and Herald of Secret Rivers combined with Explore on my Sunrise Seeker got fatal through and I took round 1.

Round 2 – vs. Mike on GW Dinos & B/W Vampires (and maybe a Hostage Taker): LOSS.

Adanto Vanguard did a lot of work in game 1 as Mike mulliganned down to 5, and had no early plays. Jade Guardian added to my beating power until he used Legion’s Judgement on my Adanto Vanguard as I attacked, I paid the 4 life and passed the turn. THEN we clarified that the spell was Sorcery speed, and had to call a judge. We backed up the game play and resolved it all correctly before moving on. The game ended swiftly with Mike being unable to get much action going.

Mike surprised me when he presented a pile of cards in entirely different coloured sleeves, ‘Er, is that a different deck?’ I sheepishly questioned. He confirmed, I shrugged and he played first.

The deck was much more rounded, I saw why he switched out. It went wide in the early game then used Anointed Deacons to make aggressive attacks with tokens to try and force unfavourable trades. Game 3 was much of the same, and I got vampired out – I could tell he’d regretted registering the first deck given how much stronger the second one was. A creative trick for the playbook though, changing your entire deck.

Game 3 vs Harriet on Naya Dinos: WIN

Game 1 I mulliganned to 6, the hand felt ok but perhaps a little slow – I didn’t think a random 5 would be much better. She made Otepec Huntsmaster on curve and then managed a turn 4 Charging Monstrosaur. Ouch. Turn 5 she played Regisaur Alpha and gave it haste from the Huntsmaster. That game was over.

Shell-shocked from my beating I shuffled up and chose to play first – Natural Shaper Shaper of Nature?does good work for me with a Wayfinder on curve and I take over the game in quick order. Natural Shaper is a real cornerstone card, it takes over very quickly in the face of a lack of removal.

Game 3 was close, she had me to 2 life and I had a Shaper of Nature out on 4 – she tried to Legion’s Judgement it, so I removed the +1/+1 counter in response to stop the kill spell. With 11 mana in play I had multiple activations and card draw each turn and managed to close out with a Tempest Caller.

Round 4 vs Chris on B/W Vampires: LOSS

I was keen to lock up Top 8 and could Draw with my opponent to do so, I offer Chris the Intentional Draw but he opted to play as Booster Prizes were based upon Swiss Standings and Top 8 was only for the Regional Pro Tour Qualifier Invite. We set up for game 1!

My Adanto Vanguard offered some protection in the early from his removal heavy deck, but eventually I was overcome with Vampire tokens. His own Vanguard was doing similarly good work, I positioned to a place he would have had to pay 8 life to keep the Vanguard and after having paid 4 to make it indestructible I pushed with a Slash of Talons to see if he wanted to pay the extra 4. He didn’t and it hit the graveyard and I kept my creature. A reasonable 1 for 1 for a creature that’s hard to remove and I picked up 4 damage in the process. But, in the long run it wasn’t enough.

Game 2 was a risky hand, the type you shouldn’t keep if you need to win this match to lock up top 8 – but, I’m not always a wise man, so I kept it. And, naturally, I paid for my hubris. A strong early board presence was enough for him to attack through my blocks, even picking up a few good trades he was far enough ahead to maintain pressure and secure the win.

I finished 2-2 in Swiss with a deck that felt under-powered for most of the day. There’s a lot of variance in Sealed, and it’s easy to miss which deck you should be playing with newer sets. That’s something I need to get better at ahead of GP Liverpool at the end of October!

I sat down and started to look up train-times back, when they announced top 8.

Better Lucky Than Good…

Quite cheekily, I’d scraped in to 7th spot on good tie-breakers, I felt a surge of love for my opponents who had clearly done better than I had and got ready for the Top 8 draft. The top 8 was composed of 6 Mana Gaming players, myself for Chaos Cards and one lone Yellow & Purple Axion Now hoodie.

If you were to ask me which 3 cards I’d like to see first in my rare slot of a pack, it would be Regisaur Alpha, Vraska, Relic Seeker & Hostage Taker – and it just so happened that I’d opened a Vraska. Easy first pick.

The issue with Vraska is that G/B doesn’t feel like a good colour combination to be in, so I opted to try to play either Pirates (B/U or B/R) or Merfolk U/G and splash either way for the Vraska. The next two picks were both great Merfolk creatures, but quickly the colours dried up and I found myself for a second time today, regrettably being pushed deeper into 3 colours.

Despite a messy draft I felt like the deck was ok, I think another explore creature or two – and a Vanquish the Weak and we’d have been in a great spot. I was paired against the Legend of English Magic that is George Channing for the Quarter Finals.

Quarter Finals vs George Channing: LOSS

We sat down and I fan-boyed for a few moments before we started. I stumbled on mana after a reasonable keep, he developed a sailor of means and loaded it up with mark of the vampire. It swiftly beat me down, 1/4s are tricky enough to answer let alone a 3/6 lifelinker. Adding a pirate cutlass is additional value – all with Dive Down to back it up incase of removal spells.

Game two was similar, I was able to stabilise with vraska but he answered her with a mark on a sailor. He loaded up two marks, but I didn’t top deck either of my contract killings to deal with the threat and he swiftly beat me down finishing the game on 64 life after some chump blocks my side.

I left the venue with a man crush on George Channing and a few boosters for my efforts – and a sense of that today I had been lucky rather than good. Still, there’s always next week.

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