For those that don't already know this past weekend was Grand Prix Ottawa, and yes I came out on top. My goal is to break down exactly how it happened, along with my thoughts on the archetypes I drafted and my sealed pool. I know that usually, I write about constructed, but I also have a passion for limited, and have put a lot of work into Khans Limited in particular.


Day 1 (7-2):

Let's start with Day 1, and yes this means Sealed. While I do prefer Drafting to Sealed, I am aware of how different the two formats are, and of course in a Grand Prix you can't Draft until making it out of a long day of Sealed. The decks which seem to yield the best results in Khans Sealed are the ones that have the best late game, along with a reasonable manabase. In some cases this means going four or five colors, but this doesn't need to be the case. Abzan was the most popular wedge played because it suits itself to having a good mid-to-lategame. The outlast creatures are a big reason for this. Here is the deck I built:

Creatures:
1 Disowned Ancestor
1 Archers' Parapet
1 Highland Game
1 Mardu Skullhunter
1 Tuskguard Captain
1 Mer-Ek Nightblade
2 Longshot Squad
2 Krumar Bond-Kin
1 Swarm of Bloodflies
1 Sultai Scavenger
1 Woolly Loxodon
1 Hooded Hydra

Planeswalkers:
1 Sorin, Solemn Visitor

Spells:
1 Abzan Ascendancy
2 Savage Punch
1 Debilitating Injury
1 Dragonscale Boon
1 Suspension Field
1 Abzan Charm

Lands:
2 Scoured Barrens
2 Plains
6 Swamp
8 Forest

Notable sideboard cards:
1 Dead Drop
1 Crater's Claws
2 Smite the Monstrous
1 Ainok Bond-Kin
1 Kill Shot
2 Rakshasa's Secrets
1 Rugged Highlands
1 Bloodfell Caves

I was very happy to receive what I believe is quite a good sealed pool. It was pretty clear that I wanted to be base Abzan, and it has a few bombs as well. There are so many good rares in Sealed that it is easy to look at the deck and say "wow, he has Abzan Ascendancy, Hooded Hydra, and Sorin, Solemn Visitor," but the majority of the sealed decks I played against had a number of rares as well. The most difficult part when building this deck were some of the card choices.

To start there are 14 creatures here plus Sorin, Solemn Visitor, which is a number I was pretty happy with. I could see maybe cutting one creature, as I did side one out a reasonable amount, but there wasn't a ton of wiggle room with the creatures. I did have the option to add more good white cards to the deck, but didn't because of how tight the mana was. I felt like I was already pushing it by playing four white cards, and only four white sources. Another option was to play what many people would consider a "free Crater's Claws" because I do have two red gainlands I could splash the Crater's Claws off of. The splash is of course not free at all because two sources isn't a lot and I didn't want additional lands which came into play tapped. It was still a difficult decision though, because of how powerful Crater's Claws is, and that if you are splashing single card it should be a great lategame card, like Crater's Claws.

Perhaps the most difficult choice I made was leaving Dead Drop in the sideboard. In retrospect I think that I probably should have played it because of how powerful the card is, but here is my reasoning for not including it: First, I don't have great ways to get cards into the graveyard, and two of my spells are enchantments which will just sit in play. I also already had one delve card, and delve cards do get worse in multiples. I decided I wanted to hedge more towards beating the aggressive decks that could be playing cards like Ponyback Brigade, even though I think those decks are generally worse than the slower decks. The last reason is that I would need to cut a card. It is easy to look at the sideboard and ask why a certain card isn't in the deck, but remember you do need to cut something for the Dead Drop.

My record Day One was 7-2. I lost to two five color decks I played against, which I knew could be tough matchups, though one came down to a top decked Sultai Charm to hit my Suspension Field and bring back his Efreet Weaponmaster. This was round nine so I was a little deflated to have two losses, but I felt very comfortable going into the Draft portion.


Day 2, Draft 1 (3-0):

Looking at my Draft Pod the only other person who I knew well was David Ochoa, but he was sitting across the table from me. This was one of those drafts where everything just seemed to fall into place nicely, and I was in the right seat at the right time. I took a Butcher of the Horde as my first pick of the draft as, although it is a three color card, the power level makes the risk of taking it worthwhile. I followed up with an Abzan Battle Priest, and a pair of Scoured Barrens. Then when I saw a Ponyback Brigade I could see that Mardu was clearly open.I continued to take the gainlands aggressively because I knew that in order to win I would need to draw all three of my colors. I was fortunate enough to not only receive a second pick Ankle Shanker, but I also got one eighth! This is pretty unusual, and it seemed I was the lone Mardu drafter at the table. I ended up splashing an Abzan Guide off two green gainlands because I felt in a deck with double Ankle Shanker the Abzan Guide could be a very valuable attacker to help win racing situations.

Here is the deck:

Creatures:
1 Ruthless Ripper
1 Mardu Hateblade
1 Seeker of the Way
1 Jeering Instigator
1 Watcher of the Roost
1 Mardu Hordechief
1 Mardu Warshrieker
2 Alabaster Kirin
1 Abzan Battle Priest
1 Butcher of the Horde
2 Ankle Shanker
1 Krumar Bond-Kin
3 Ponyback Brigade
1 Abzan Guide
1 Sultai Scavenger

Spells:
1 Debilitating Injury
1 Bitter Revelation
1 Rite of the Serpent

Lands:
3 Scoured Barrens
1 Blossoming Sands
1 Rugged Highlands
1 Wind-Scarred Crag
5 Swamp
4 Mountain
3 Plains

Yes this deck only has three spells in it, one of which is Bitter Revelation. This deck wouldn't be very good without the Ankle Shankers and Jeering Instigator to help force through damage. Yes there are three copies of Ponyback Brigade but no Rush of Battles or Trumpet Blasts, as I simply took the cards I saw. The power level of this deck is extremely high, and the deck pretty much built itself. The coolest play I made was when I flipped up my Jeering Instigator to target my opponents Meandering Towershell (Durdle Turtle) and I was able to keep it under my control for the entire game after attacking with it and exiling it. In the end this deck performed amazingly, and I didn't lose a game with it.


Day 2, Draft 2 (2-0-1):

First pick, first pack I had what I believe is a tough decision. The pack was a little underwhelming, so I knew I was going to be taking either Ruthless Ripper or Debilitating Injury. I took Debilitating Injury, but as it turned out I would have rather had the Ruthless Ripper. The power level of these cards is close and I'm still unsure what the correct pick actually is. My deck ended up with three copies of Debilitating Injury, and since they do lose a little value in multiples maybe I should have taken the Ruthless Ripper. My second pick was Armament Corps, third pick Throttle out of a weak pack, and then I was super happy to see a fourth pick Kin-Tree Invocation. Kin-Tree Invocation is secretly one of the top uncommons in this limited format because of all the high toughness creatures. While it is true that you do have to draft around it a little bit, paying two mana to make a 5/5 is pretty good. My deck ended up being basically a straight Green/Black Control deck, splashing a couple white cards and a blue card. Here is what it I registered:

Creatures:
1 Disowned Ancestor
3 Archers' Parapet
1 Rakshasa Deathdealer
1 Glacial Stalker
1 Alpine Grizzly
1 Tuskguard Captain
1 Longshot Squad
1 Armament Corps
1 Krumar Bond-Kin
1 War Behemoth
1 Hooting Mandrills
1 Tusked Colossodon

Spells:
2 Kin-Tree Invocation
3 Debilitating Injury
2 Bitter Revelation
1 Throttle
1 Rite of the Serpent

Lands:
1 Opulent Palace
2 Blossoming Sands
1 Jungle Hollow
1 Dismal Backwater
6 Swamp
5 Forest
1 Plains

I love how this deck turned out, as it has everything this type of deck should have. I was lucky enough to get a Rakshasa Deathdealer which is of course at its best in a deck with a ton of both green and black mana sources. Don't be fooled by there being four different colored cards in the deck, the mana is actually very good (nine green sources, nine black sources, three white sources, two blue sources). Morphs are also very easy to splash because they still do something even if you don't draw the color to un-morph them. The three Archers' Parapets and the Disowned Ancestors make the Kin-Tree Invocations into bombs. The Bitter Revelations are also great here because it is pretty easy to create a stable board position with so many plays on turn two. The reason why I played 17 lands rather than 18 is because the curve is actually relatively low. I was quite happy to keep two land hands with the deck, and was rewarded for doing so. The goal, was not to flood if possible. This archetype can be very good but does need a few things to come together, like the copies of Kin-Tree Invocation, Archers' Parapet / Disowned Ancestor, and the Rakshasa Deathdealer. I was happy to be able to draw the third round of the draft, into Top 8.


The Top Eight Draft

This was by far the strongest group of players I drafted with at the Grand Prix, and I have gotten a chance to play against a few of them. I wasn't exactly what archetypes Sam Black liked to draft, but I knew that I would need to follow the signals he was giving me if I was going to have a successful draft. My first pick of the draft was Icy Blast over Mardu Hordechief. Believe it or not I seriously considered taking the Hordechief. I believe that Icy Blast is somewhat overrated and the Hordechief fits into better decks in general I think, but in the end I just took the rare that can win games by itself. My next pick was Opulent Palace, as I already had a blue card and I like taking lands early in order to stay flexible. The fact that I had an Icy Blast and an Opulent Palace doesn't mean I felt committed to draft one particular archetype, I still wanted to continue taking the highest quality cards for my first few picks.

I third picked Highspire Mantis. Highspire Mantis is one of the best cards in a deck with both red and white, and it seems to be a signal. While there were definitely other options, I felt like I could happily take the Highspire Mantis and move towards drafting Jeskai. I then took a Mystic of the Hidden Way before receiving what I think was a pretty late Hordeling Outburst. I snapped it up right away, and thought there was potential for a token based deck still. I received a Wetland Sambar and then a very late copy of Ponyback Brigade. The Ponyback Brigade was so late that I almost felt obligated to at least consider adding some black to my deck, but I really didn't have the lands I wanted to be able to play all these colors. I got two very late copies of Trumpet Blast in pack one, and I figured I would only be able to play blue if I received blue fixing, which didn't happen.

Yes, I abandoned blue entirely despite spending three early picks taking blue cards, and another on the Opulent Palace. If I was going to make use of the two Trumpet Blasts I knew I wanted the Ponyback Brigade in the deck. This led me to take an early copy of Scoured Barrens and Wind-Scarred Crag, to make the manabase look a little better. I couldn't spend too many picks on lands though, because I was short on playables after abandoning so many picks from my first pack. I knew I had the key cards for a Mardu Tokens deck though and that is what I focused on. I was able to pick up another Hordeling Outburst and Ponyback Brigade as well as a Rush of Battle to further the token theme. Pack three I actually took a Mardu Warshrieker over Crackling Doom, because my mana was a little stressed and I wouldn't be able to cast the Crackling Doom consistently, whereas with red as my base color the Mardu Warshrieker could act as a bit of mana fixing. I was lucky to get some extremely late Leaping Masters to not only fill up my two-drop slot, but give the deck enough playables.

Here is the deck:

Creatures:
1 Ainok Bond-Kin
1 Watcher of the Roost
1 Ainok Tracker
1 Bloodfire Expert
1 Canyon Lurkers
1 Jeering Instigator
4 Leaping Master
1 Mardu Warshrieker
1 Highspire Mantis
2 Ponyback Brigade

Spells:
1 Rush of Battle
1 Arrow Storm
1 Barrage of Boulders
2 Hordeling Outburst
1 Defiant Strike
2 Trumpet Blast
1 Utter End

Lands:
1 Scoured Barrens
1 Wind-Scarred Crag
9 Mountain
4 Plains
2 Swamp

I was a bit worried about the fact that there are a number of mediocre cards in the deck, but I certainly had a gameplan based around the token generators. The mana actually ended up alright, as I had plenty of red sources for the two Hordeling Outbursts. The funny thing is that the Barrage of Boulders was the last card I added to the deck, and it was definitely the MVP. The deck doesn't have a ton of ways to trigger ferocious which is why I didn't want to play it originally, but in the idea of casting Barrage of Boulders and following it up with a Trumpet Blast or Rush of Battle was enough for me to maindeck a copy.

The deck played beyond my expectations as I was able to deal huge chunks of damage out of nowhere. While on the surface this is an aggro deck, it also has a lategame plan which your opponent needs to respect. In the quarterfinals on turn five I unmorphed a Ponyback Brigade and then cast double Trumpet Blast on my turn, to kill my opponent Lucas Siow, who was sitting at 20 life. The archetype is explosive, and has a lot of working pieces. Optimally in order for the deck to be good you do want at least three token generators and then the Trumpet Blasts and Rush of Battles will come around pretty late. Every point of damage is important, as was exemplified in the final match against Neal Oliver. Mardu Tokens is an archetype which can be a lot of fun to both play and draft, so I highly recommend taking Hordeling Outburst early and moving in.

Thanks for reading,

Seth Manfield