(Metagame Archive) Sealed Pack Clinic: Infinite Crisis, Part 2

Alex Brown

For this week, I had promised a look at a terrible card pool I had at one of the Infinite Crisis Sneak Previews. Well, I accidentally wrote out the list for the wrong deck, so we will have to skip ahead a little! The pool listed below was likely the most powerful I had over the weekend, at least in the abstract. Unfortunately, in hindsight, I think I made a mess of it; well, at least my 2-2 and no prizes result would suggest that I did. In the end I think I played it too safe. Read ahead and see if you would have avoided my mistakes!

The Pool

JSA

Jakeem Williams, JJ Thunder

Chay-Ara ◊ Hawkgirl, Eternal Companion

Ted Grant ◊ Wildcat, Golden Age Pugilist

Kendra Saunders ◊ Hawkgirl, Eternal Heroine

Michael Holt ◊ Mr. Terrific, Renaissance Man

Captain Marvel, Earth’s Mightiest Mortal

Power Girl, Earth 2

Taking Up the Mantle

A Moment of Crisis

Justice United

T-Spheres

Shadowpact

Nightmaster, Jim Rook

Manitou Dawn, Spirit Shaman

Blue Devil, Sean Cassidy

Ibis, Prince Amentep

Dr. Occult, Richard Occult

Witchfire, Rebecca Carstairs

Blue Devil, Big Blue

Zatanna, Showstopper

The Phantom Stranger, Fallen Angel

The Oblivion Bar

Mystical Binding

Abjuration

Magical Conduit

Checkmate

Connie Webb, Knight

Surveillance Pawn, Army

Sasha Bordeaux, Knight

2 Retrieval Protocol ◊ OMAC Robot, Army

Black Thorn, Elizabeth Thorn

Graziella Reza, Knight

Amanda Waller, Queen

Elimination Protocol ◊ OMAC Robot, Army

Harry Stein, King in Check

Annihilation Protocol ◊ OMAC Robot, Army

Sasha Bordeaux, Autonomous Prototype

Secret Checkmate HQ

Rook Control

Checkmate Armory

Knights’ Gambit

2 Target Acquired

Traitor to the Cause

Knightmare Scenario

Villains United

Count Vertigo, Werner Vertigo

Alexander Luthor, Duplicitous Doppelganger

Talia, Beloved Betrayer

Zazzala ◊ Queen Bee, Mistress of the Hive

The Calculator, Evil Oracle

Sinestro, Villain Reborn

Mr. Freeze, Brutal Blizzard

Cheshire, Jade

Dr. Psycho, Twisted Telepath

Hunter Zolomon ◊ Professor Zoom, Sinister Speedster

The Calculator, Crime Broker

Grand Gesture

Return Fire!


Secret Six

Help Wanted

Rann and Thanagar

Rann

Thanagar

Legacy and Unaffiliated

The Penguin, Arms Merchant

Kilowog, Drill Sergeant

Mordru, Dark Lord

Eclipso, Jean Loring

Defend Yourself!

Deflection

End of All That Is

Multiverse Power Battery

Helm of Nabu

Amulet of Nabu

Looking at the JSA first, we clearly have several powerful cards. T-Spheres is ridiculous if you are in JSA, and several people tried to convince me afterward that it was ridiculous regardless of your affiliations. Captain Marvel, Earth’s Mightiest Mortal is an excellent character, and Michael Holt ◊ Mr. Terrific, Renaissance Man can be the cornerstone of a strong deck. Power Girl, Earth 2 is my favorite type of 6-drop, in that it is also decent as a filler 7-drop. Ted Grant ◊ Wildcat packs a lot of punch, and there is nothing wrong with Kendra Saunders ◊ Hawkgirl, Eternal Heroine.  Rounding them out, we have playable 1-drops in the form of Char-Aya ◊ Hawkgirl, Eternal Companion and Jakeem Williams, JJ Thunder.

Unfortunately for us, there just really isn’t much depth in the affiliation, particularly given that Captain Marvel has loyalty. Compounding this is the fact that our characters are not spread across the curve as much as we would like. Finally, we don’t really have any undeniable strengths in the non-character selection that would really push us to take a few risks. My verdict on the JSA is that they are only going to be good in this deck as splash characters.

Shadowpact seems like a much stronger team. We get three excellent plot twists in Mystical Binding, Abjuration, and Magical Conduit. These cards are powerful enough to cover holes in our character selection if need be. This is almost fortunate, as the Shadowpact character suite definitely seems to favor quantity over quality. Both Blue Devils are excellent Sealed characters, but otherwise we get some distinctly average selections. Witchfire, Rebecca Carstairs is decent, but I feel that cards like Zatanna, Showstopper and Dr. Occult, Richard Occult are not as strong in Sealed.

We have enough of a character base to work with. All nine characters are at least good enough to provide bodies for our powerful team-stamped plot twists. Even Nightmaster, Jim Rook is okay in this sort of deck, as not only is there less pressure on him to arrive on turn 1, but he also can attack like a pseudo 2-drop with enough Magic plot twists lying around. At this stage I think we are going to be thinking of Shadowpact as one of our main teams, though hopefully our second team is a bit better in the character department.

At first glance, Checkmate seems chock-full of goodness. We get four average-to-good 2-drops, even if one has loyalty—reveal. We have double Target Acquired and a Knightmare Scenario to buff up our characters. On top of all of this, we do have a relatively strong mid-game with the excellent Amanda Waller, Queen, Harry Stein, King in Check, and the OMAC Robots.

I spent an extraordinarily long time thinking about how far I could push Checkmate in this deck. The major issue I had was that, to get the most out of them, I had to move away from my conservative curve plan (which I talk about at the beginning of Part One of this series). Cards like Amanda Waller, Queen and Harry Stein, King in Check demand that you are more flexible in your recruitment philosophy. This would mean that I would probably want to run several 1-drops in my deck to get the most out of this plan. This was not all bad, as then I would get access to the very powerful but situational Traitor to the Cause. Checkmate was definitely an option, but I knew that if the characters made the deck, they would dominate it, and I would lose power from other teams. So before I went any further, I looked at the last decently sized team, Villains United.

My initial surprise at having only one team-stamped plot twist—good or bad—gave way to an understanding that this was not a team I needed more blue or green gas from; this was where I needed the red cards to come through. Thankfully, they did, with decent characters all the way along the curve. Mr. Freeze, Brutal Blizzard and Sinestro, Villain Reborn are game-winners in Sealed.

It was pretty clear, then, that Villains United would provide a mercenary-like commitment to my cause, plugging holes so I could utilize the Shadowpact or Checkmate non-character cards to better effect. Still, I like to be thorough, so knowing that I had Villains United to fall back on, I thought I would try for a build of sheer power first, squashing Shadowpact and Checkmate together.

Before I could do that, however, I needed to make sure that my generic pile didn’t push me in one way or the other. I was pleasantly surprised to see both Rann and Thanagar in my pile, though later on I would realize that I needed actual Team-Ups more, as I had so much power that was team-stamped. Justice United was one Team-Up, and although I like at least two, I guess you have to deal with what you’ve got; besides, Rann and Thanagar are nothing to complain about. Defend Yourself! is an excellent Sealed card, and after seeing Return Fire! in action earlier, I would always consider that, too. I am a big fan of cards like Deflection in Sealed environments because you need to access every avenue of interaction you can find to determine the better player. Brick-walling someone is the ultimate moment of triumph. Amulet of Nabu rounded out the playables from this pool, though Penguin, Arms Merchant, Kilowog, Drill Sergeant, and Mordru, Dark Lord could play filler if I went into bad curve mode. So really, in conclusion, I had a lot of depth to go into bad curve if I wanted to, but Rann and Thanagar made the Checkmate deck seem worth a run straightaway.

Trying to work Shadowpact into Checkmate, I came up with this skeleton of characters:

Nightmaster, Jim Rook

Surveillance Pawn, Army

Connie Webb, Knight

Sasha Bordeaux, Knight

Manitou Dawn, Spirit Shaman

2 Retrieval Protocol ◊ OMAC Robot, Army

Black Thorn, Elizabeth Thorn

Blue Devil, Dan Cassidy

Graziella Reza, Knight

Ibis, Prince Amentep

Penguin, Arms Merchant

Harry Stein, King in Check

Witchfire, Rebecca Carstairs

Elimination Protocol ◊ OMAC Robot

Dr. Occult, Richard Occult

Amanda Waller, Queen

Annihilation Protocol ◊ OMAC Robot, Army

Blue Devil, Big Blue

At this stage, I left the non-characters out because I knew that I had enough power there to cover the other eleven slots. I have to admit I was sorely tempted to run this deck, but in the end I thought that the character curve was just too haphazard to take the risk. If I had a few more 1-drops and some better 3-drops, I might have taken the plunge, but in the end I thought my pool was good enough elsewhere to play bad curve. The power of these cards was very difficult to assess so early in the format, and now that I know the power of Harry Stein and Amanda Waller, I might think much harder if confronted by this sort of pool again. Still, without a reasonable late game to play for, I think this deck just needed a bit more punch in the early game to work properly. So, let’s look at Checkmate and Villains United to see if we can fill out a better deck there.

Talia, Beloved Betrayer

Sasha Bordeaux, Knight

2 Retrieval Protocol ◊ OMAC Robot, Army

The Calculator, Evil Oracle

Zazzala ◊ Queen Bee, Mistress of the Hive

Graziella Reza, Knight

The Penguin, Arms Merchant

Sinestro, Villain Reborn

Elimination Protocol ◊ OMAC Robot, Army

Harry Stein, King in Check

Amanda Waller, Queen

Cheshire, Jade

Mr. Freeze, Brutal Blizzard

Annihilation Protocol ◊ OMAC Robot, Army

Dr. Psycho, Twisted Telepath

Hunter Zolomon ◊ Professor Zoom, Sinister Speedster

Sasha Bordeaux, Autonomous Prototype

The Calculator, Crime Broker

Again, there are definitely enough plot twists to facilitate this build, although they do lean heavily on guys being affiliated with Checkmate. Unfortunately, at the time, I thought there was a lot wrong with this list. I felt that Harry Stein was too much of a liability in a straight curve deck without protection, and I didn’t like Amanda Waller as a mere 4-drop, either. On top of this, my late game was actually terrible. Simply put, the 6-drops are mediocre, and the 7-drops require more synergy than my deck was prepared to give them. This deck was meant to facilitate the great non-red Checkmate cards I had, but I think it did a pretty poor job at that. Consider my moot non-character count:

Plot Twists

Justice United

Grand Gesture

Defend Yourself!

Return Fire!

Deflection

Knightmare Scenario

2 Target Acquired

Locations

Rann

Thanagar

Secret Checkmate HQ

Pound-for-pound, my cards are excellent, but they don’t gel very well. The Checkmate pumps are good, but I need to be able to target anyone with them, and I only have one pure Team-Up to ensure this. Rann and Thanagar are great, especially for making those plot twists better, but not actually teaming-up is a bit of a problem for such a team-stamped deck.

I wasn’t satisfied, so I tried another build, Shadowpact/Villains United.

Characters

Blue Devil, Dan Cassidy

Manitou Dawn, Spirit Shaman

Talia, Beloved Betrayer

Ibis, Prince Amentep

Zazzala ◊ Queen Bee, Mistress of the Hive

The Calculator, Evil Oracle

Witchfire, Rebecca Carstairs

Dr. Occult, Richard Occult

Sinestro, Villain Reborn

Cheshire, Jade

Blue Devil, Big Blue

Mr. Freeze, Brutal Blizzard

Hunter Zolomon ◊ Professor Zoom

Zatanna, Showstopper

Dr. Psycho, Twisted Telepath

The Phantom Stranger, Fallen Angel

Plot Twists

Justice United

Grand Gesture

Deflection

Mystical Binding

Return Fire!

Defend Yourself!

Magical Conduit

Abjuration

Locations

Rann

Thanagar

Equipment

Amulet of Nabu

When I was looking this deck over, I considered it the most consistent deck I had. The characters are slightly more solid than in the build before, and they have a little more defensive presence. I was running out of time, so I convinced myself that I should just play the safe choice—so I ran this. I was a bit skeptical about running an off-affiliation 7-drop simply as a beater, so I decided to just run an extra 6-drop and take evens if able. I filled out my curve with Kilowog, Nightmaster, and The Penguin.

I only went 2-2 with this deck, but I learned quite a bit along the way.

Nightmaster was okay. I thought he would be awesome, but the fact that you must pay endurance whenever you play a Magic plot twist hurts more than you think. Blue Devil, Dan Cassidy was excellent, with his endurance loss almost irrelevant since you always lose him at some point, getting the endurance back with interest. Manitou Dawn is relatively weak in Sealed. Both of my losses came from having characters with undersized ATK values in the early game and being dominated because of it. I should have played a random 3 ATK / 2 DEF like Sasha Bordeaux, Knight over her. Talia was okay—doing everything that was required of her as a 3 ATK / 3 DEF 2-drop—so no complaints.

Clearly, Ibis could be better in a more focused deck, but he is still a risk, as was the case when I was blindsided against another Shadowpact player who managed consistently to be at less endurance than me while gaining mammoth board advantage. Zazzala was nothing special, but being a 5 ATK 3-drop is good, and her concealed status can save you a character on evens. The Penguin was surprisingly good as just an average guy, as I was able to turn him into a force with Amulet of Nabu and Thanagar in one of my victories. I haven’t changed my mind regarding The Calculator, Evil Oracle—he is very, very good.

Witchfire was again fine for me, although Dr. Occult seems more like a Draft card. Vanilla 7 ATK / 7 DEFs are a bit lame. Kilowog, Drill Sergeant was weak. I had him in as a placeholder and thought he would at least hold his own in combat, but he was outclassed every time. He could stun guys, though. I was never able to get Sinestro, Villain Reborn to be good for me, but I saw it own people all day in the hands of others . . . so that’s probably my fault.

Cheshire was actually quite good, as the aim of bad curve just seems to be survival. I don’t know where she fits into the Villains pecking order as a whole, as she is a lot like Crystal Frost was in Secret Society: a niche character in an overly strong slot. Blue Devil, Big Blue was decent, but not as good as I’d hoped, as you can lose on the sixth turn before he leaves play (although I did up the funk with a hot Calculator play, bouncing this guy to save a game). Mr. Freeze, Brutal Blizzard is scary good.

In the deck I ran, my 6-drops were disappointing. Hunter Zolomon did almost nothing for me, and I could never really afford to pay for Zatanna, Showstopper’s ability. Dr. Psycho, Twisted Telepath did me more harm than good. The Phantom Stranger, Fallen Angel was adequate, and never a dead draw.

Some people like Thanagar better, but I like Rann a lot. Fortunately, the only time I ever drew both was just before I recruited The Penguin! Otherwise, both did the job I envisioned they would. Justice United was obviously good, though I found Grand Gesture to be a little too narrow for my tastes. Deflection was not as good in this deck as it had been for me before, but I still think it is excellent for the slower format that is Sealed Pack. Mystical Binding was always good. I am glad I came around on Return Fire!, as it helped me out a bit, even if I never slyly won a game exhausting my 6- or 7-drop. I think it may be too slow for Draft, however. Defend Yourself! was fine and acquitted itself well enough for me to always want to play that sort of effect. Magical Conduit was incredible, as even paying 10 endurance to send a 2-drop into a 6-drop meant that I saved endurance by then going down the curve for the rest of the turn. I wish I had drawn it more often. Abjuration seemed strong, but I was never able to brick-wall anyone with it. Amulet of Nabu was solid as expected.

Overall, I think Shadowpact is overrated for Sealed Pack by some players. Like every team, there are good cards and bad cards, but I feel that you are putting yourself at a severe disadvantage paying endurance all the time. It’s a unique strategy, but you need to get a pretty big payoff because it is always good for your opponent. One of the games I lost was because I didn’t have any choice but to pay endurance to stay in the game. 

I wish I had played one of the Checkmate variants, as I just lacked power too often. If you want to win a Sealed Pack tournament, you absolutely must beat some extremely powerful cards along the way. I don’t think the decks I proposed before the one I settled on were too radical; at least, the second one wasn’t. I definitely lacked options at times where I really needed them. More than anything else, it was the Sneak Preview, and I should have just gone for the wackiest combination possible!

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