THS: Memorizing the instant-speed tricks

Most of the analysis I do here is focused on draft. However, we have a Sealed deck PTQ in Seattle this weekend, so I will use this week to focus on preparing for Sealed deck tournaments. I will try to write a post each day this week.

There are 4 important ways I prepare for Sealed PTQs:

  1. Build Sealed decks from pools, either by opening packs, using sites like to generate Sealed pools, or finding articles online that have Sealed pools. Opening packs has the advantage that you get practice with actual physical cards. You also get to practice building a deck under time constraints, and it’s easy to take the deck with you so you can play against other people and solicit opinions on your build. Using an online Sealed deck generator also lets you practice building a deck under time constraints. Many of these sites are free and allow you to play against opponents online, so it’s easier to get experience playing the deck, but it’s a bit more difficult to ask for opinions on your build. Articles have the advantage that they are often accompanied by the deck the author built from the pool, some commentary on the choices made, and how that build performed in an actual event.
  2. Play with the deck you build. This allows you to develop a sense of whether the format is fast or slow, so you can build decks accordingly and consider whether you might want to play first instead of drawing first as in most Sealed formats. You might even develop a sense of the Sealed metagame, e.g., most Scars of Mirrodin Sealed decks were R/W, so you could often maindeck cards that were particularly strong against those colors.
  3. Memorize the list of tricks (instants and creatures with flash) in the format.
  4. Figure out whether any cards that might be considered sideboard cards in a different format are playable maindeck in this format.

While #1 and #2 are very important, there are plenty of sites offering Sealed pools and analysis of possible builds. Moreover, nothing is a substitute for actually getting some experience building/playing some Sealed decks yourself. So I will focus on #3 today and #4 later this week.

2 months ago, I’d posted a list of the tricks in the set. What’s the best way to memorize this list and recall them quickly (since we don’t have the luxury of infinite time during a tournament)? I always start by making sure I know the number of tricks per color: white has 6, blue has 10, black has 7, red has 6, green has 7, and there are 3 multicolor tricks. If you ignore blue and multicolor, the rest have a pattern of 6, 7, 6, and 7, so the totals are easy enough to remember. Part of the reason it is useful to know the total number of tricks in each color is that it allow me to verify whether I’ve considered all the possibilities in certain crucial game states. When practising my recall of the tricks, it also allows me to easily determine whether I remembered all the tricks in a given color. If I didn’t, I refer to a printout I carry of the list of tricks. Doing this regularly helps me increase the speed with which I can recall the tricks available given the mana my opponent has open.

Another thing I do to help my recall of the tricks is to categorize them into 5 categories: creature removal (including bounce), non-creature removal, combat tricks, countermagic, and other (usually card draw). Removal that kills both creatures and non-creatures gets classified as creature removal since creatures are usually the most important permanents in limited formats. Combat tricks are spells that you should be aware of when entering combat, e.g., pump spells and other enhancers, spells that let you temporarily neutralize opposing creatures (tap, reduce power, Fog), and flash creatures. Here’s what available in each color:

  • White has 6: 1 creature removal spell (Last Breath), 1 non-creature removal spell (Ray of Dissolution), and 4 combat tricks (Gods Willing, Battlewise Valor, Dauntless Onslaught, and Divine Verdict, sorted from low to high converted mana cost, irrespective of rarity).
  • Blue has 10: 2 creature removal spells (Voyage’s End and Griptide), 3 combat tricks (Lost in a Labyrinth, Triton Tactics, and Breaching Hippocamp), and 5 countermagic (Annul, Swan Song, Stymied Hopes, Gainsay, and Dissolve).
  • Black has 7: 4 creature removal spells (Dark Betrayal, Pharika’s Cure, Hero’s Downfall, and Lash of the Whip) and 3 combat tricks (Boon of Erebos, Cutthroat Maneuver, and Rescue from the Underworld).
  • Red has 6: 4 creature removal spells (Spark Jolt – 1 damage, Magma Jet – 2 damage, Lightning Strike – 3 damage, and Boulderfall – 5 damage) and 2 combat tricks (Titan’s Strength and Coordinated Assault).
  • Green has 7: 1 creature removal spell (Shredding Winds), 1 non-creature removal spell (Artisan’s Sorrow), and 5 combat tricks (Warriors’ Lesson, Savage Surge, Defend the Hearth, Feral Invocation, and Boon Satyr).
  • Multicolor has 3: 1 non-creature removal (Destructive Revelry), 1 combat trick (Horizon Chimera), and 1 other (Steam Augury). Note also that the multicolor tricks all involve blue, red, or green. In fact, each of the 3 combinations (UR, RG, and GU) is represented once in the multicolor tricks.

Note that both white and green have 1 creature removal spell and 1 non-creature removal spell, with the rest being combat tricks. Black and red have 4 removal spells each, with the rest being combat tricks. Most pump in the set is +2/+2 (Battlewise Valor, Dauntless Onslaught, Savage Surge, Feral Invocation). Boon of Erebos also increases power by 2, but regenerates the creature instead of increasing its toughness. 4 of these 5 are common, while Dauntless Onslaught is uncommon. Cutthroat Maneuver and Coordinated Assault, both part of the previously mentioned cycle of uncommons, increase power by 1. Titan’s Strength is +3/+1, and the rare Boon Satyr’s bestow ability grants +4/+2.

One thing you’ve likely noticed that can help you remember some of the tricks is that each color in Theros has a combat trick at uncommon that affects 2 creature: Dauntless Onslaught, Triton Tactics, Cutthroat Maneuver, Coordinated Assault, and Warriors’ Lesson. In addition to paying attention to cycles, it can also help to think about what effects each color usually has access to, since most sets include variants on a number of staples. For instance:

  • White usually has some creature removal, enchantment removal, and pump spells. It also usually has a spell like Divine Verdict that only affects attacking and/or blocking creatures, and a spell like Gods Willing that gives a creature protection from a color.
  • Blue usually has access to bounce, neutralizing spells, flash creatures, countermagic, and card draw.
  • Black usually has removal and some tricks.
  • Red usually has removal and some pump effects, most of which enhance power and grant first strike in leiu of enhancing toughness. Red also usually has instant-speed artifact removal and a rare effect like Shunt, but neither of these are present in Theros.
  • Green usually has flyer removal, artifact and/or enchantment removal, a couple of pump spells (one of which usually offers a permanent pump, usually in the form of +1/+1 counters, but in the form of a +2/+2 enchantment this time), flash creatures, and a Fog variant.
  • Multicolor spells offer effects that are available to either color, but tend to prefer effects that are available to both colors.

Next, let’s look at the mana curves and rarities of the tricks:

  • White’s has 1 trick that costs 1 mana, 2 tricks that cost 2 mana, 2 tricks that cost 3 mana, and 1 trick that costs 4 mana. I’ll abbreviate this here as 1/2/2/1. Because of white’s distribution of tricks across rarities, white will have 13.1 tricks in the average 8-person draft.
  • Blue has 4/3/1/2, with 18.3 tricks in the average 8-person draft (10.7 if you exclude counterspells).
  • Black has 2/1/1/1/2, with 12.3 tricks in the average 8-person draft.
  • Red has 3/2/0/0/1 (the last one actually costs 8 mana, not 5, but this pattern is easier to remember and there aren’t very many 8-mana tricks), with 11.9 tricks in the average 8-person draft.
  • Green has 1/2/3/1/(1) (the (1) refers to Boon Satyr’s bestow ability), with 12.3 tricks in the average 8-person draft.

From this we can tell that blue has the most tricks if you include counterspells. If you exclude counterspells, all the colors have access to roughly the same number of tricks. Blue and red also have the most number of tricks that cost 2 mana or less.

I hope these strategies help you memorize the tricks in Theros, and that this helps you do well at the tournament.

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