Allocating Volcanic Geyser in Team Sealed, according to Steve Sadin

In his magicthegathering.com article today, Sadin writes:

So while that Volcanic Geyser would be a good fit in just about any red deck, it will probably serve a more important role in your team’s aggressive red deck (where it will frequently be used as a finisher) than in your team’s controlling red deck (where it will typically be used as an expensive removal spell).

This is so wrong, I just couldn’t resist writing about it!

An aggressive deck has a low mana curve and tries to finish off its opponent quickly. It really hates to remove opposing creatures for more mana than it cost to cast that creature – it prefers playing own creatures instead, or playing efficient removal like Searing Spear. Actually, the most advantageous play is often to use something like Kindled Fury to take out a blocker, than use leftover mana to bring another creature onto the battlefield.

An aggressive deck also has no inclination at all to pseudo-mulligan with an expensive card waiting in its hand, just so that it can, in the very late game (which it is set up to avoid in the first place), pay seven Mana to Lava Axe its opponent. It’s certainly not happy to pay five mana for a Searing Spear, and it will never be able to reliably pay six mana in time to get rid of a Sentinel Spider or Serra Angel standing in its way. Heck, it can not even be sure to reach five mana for a Turn to Slag, which for 5 mana actually deals with problems Volcanic Geyser couldn’t solve for six, and it is perfectly normal for a fast M13 draft deck to cut Turn to Slags, if it has too many of them at its disposal, since they are so clumsy! It would rather run Mark of Mutiny, for example.

Volcanic Geyser is a massively overrated card. Five mana for a Searing Spear, seven mana for a Lava Axe – how good is that? When the Geyser was promoted to the core set for the first time (1999, for Sixth Edition), it commanded some respect, because limited environments were much slower then – although, to be fair, not as slow anymore as the environments made up of the earliest core sets, when Fireball and Disintegrate were actually broken. By today’s standards, these x-spells are still strong, but nowhere near overpowered, and Volcanic Geyser is actually clumsy. I cannot think of a single realistic draft where I would ever want to pick it over Searing Spear (and when I try to make up an unrealistic situation, it certainly involves an extremely focussed control deck, not an aggressive deck at all)! Yes, it has the advantage of flexibility – it can be a Zap (without the card draw…) for one mana, a Searing Spear for five, or a seven-mana Lava Axe, or anything in between and beyond. This flexibility, however, doesn’t make it great – it is what it makes desirable at all in the first place!

Sure, an aggressive deck would usually play it, but it does not fulfill any essential function there – it is just a flexible card providing inefficient alternatives for a number of situations to cards you might not have at hand then. I can easily imagine situations when I would draft Mogg Flunkies over the Geyser, because those are, actually, essential for an aggressive strategy.

Now let’s take a look at the needs of a controlling deck. Certainly it also wants efficient removal, but it will try to avoid having to use it in the early game just to slow down the opponent – you can never get THAT much removal (especially not in Team Sealed), that this becomes a good plan. It will instead use its own cheap creatures for blocking, ideally stuff like Fog Bank or Augur of Bolas, but it will make use of Silvercoat Lion or Krenko’s Command without flinching. The control deck needs its removal to be reliable, to be able to deal with those opposing creatures which are giving it the most problems (especially meaning that they cannot be blocked by its defensive creatures, because they have evasion, or are too big, or threaten to win the game via another way than attacking). While efficiency is always desirable, the control deck is willing and able to wait a few turns and take some damage until it can deal with a threat, and it is essential for it to actually have a card which CAN deal with that threat at its disposal! The aggressive deck solves the issue of dangerous evasion or big lategame creatures via speed, helped by tempo cards like Mark of Mutiny. The control deck actually has to deal with every opposing threat and is thus thankful even for an inefficient way to do so. (Incidentally, in a dedicated control deck, Turn to Slag is much stronger than Volcanic Geyser, because there is very little with a toughness of more than five to deal with, and Slag is not quite as glacially slow to deal with big creatures – oh yes, and there’s the slight bonus of sometimes netting a Smelt on an equipment.)

You know, x-spells in limited were once renowned for their ability to finish the game. However, I am not sure that there EVER was an environment where this would have been their main function if people had built their decks correctly… Certainly, at the very latest with Sixth Edition, the ability to do damage to the dome had become a bonus tacked onto a flexible, but inefficient creature removal, and that has become ever more true the faster limited environments became, and is especially true with the especially clumsy Geyser. But even if you concentrate on that aspect of the card, you will find that, again, the control deck is able to make better use of it! Control decks have mana bases allowing them to reliably reach regions where a Geyser to the dome is not just a joke (let’s generously say, at five mana), but more importantly: They are dedicated to slow the game down and allow it to reach the late game at all! In a control deck, it is even possible (though still not too probable) to have enough mana to fuel the Geyser that it can actually outclass the good ol’ Lava Axe!

To sum it up:

1. Volcanic Geyser is inefficient. Aggressive decks do not want inefficient cards.

2. Volcanic Geyser is reliable removal. Control decks need reliable removal much more.

3. Volcanic Geyser is flexible. Control decks, being reactive, value flexibility higher than aggressive decks, which prefer a strong focus.

4. Volcanic Geyser can finish a drawn-out game. Control decks are much more likely to get into drawn-out games (they also will be able to pour more mana into the Geyser, but that is evened out by the fact that aggressive decks usually need to deal less damage to finish their opponent).

The example itself probable wasn’t too well thought out – I’m not sure if anyone will ever get a Teamed Sealed pool which lends itself to building an aggressive red deck AND a controlling deck able and willing to use double-red spells, but in the unlikely case that someone does, allocating Volcanic Geyser to the control deck should be a no-brainer.

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5 Comments on “Allocating Volcanic Geyser in Team Sealed, according to Steve Sadin”

  1. jashinc Says:

    I agree.
    Additionally the main problem with fireball is that it can be a two- or even a three-for-one which is much more important than its finishing abilities.


    • That’s a bonus, but actually a small one – the only realistic option is paying 6 mana for 2 damage each (useful, but not spectacular at all). 4 mana for 1 damage each will very seldom be useful, and 8 for 3 each or 6 for three times 1 damage even less. In most cases, and in practically all limited environments it was in, Fireball was used to remove medium or big creatures 1 for 1 (something Disintegrate does better). Okay, something which sometimes happened was overpaying on the removal of a small evasion creature to deal 2 extra points to its controller… In the end, I believe the difference in value between Blaze and Fireball is almost marginal.

  2. atog28 Says:

    Generally, I also agree, but there are some issues. First, I don’t know if “build one powerful deck and two good ones” is valid in the first place. And thinking of it, I am certain that a topic like Team Sealed Strategy is doomed for failure. I mean, he doesn’t even give us a sample. There is no pool in this article. Just generic babble which would be fine introducing any magic strategy article.

    What do you do if you have three bombs in one color. Make one deck which features all of them? What if they are spread over three colors and every one costs two colored mana in their mana costs? How do you fit bombs for control / aggro deck if you have mixed ones? In reality, all these aspects are vital for a team sealed event, and I haven’t been prepared by what he declares to be an Introduction.

    You have some flaws in your reasoning if you take draft experience and apply it to sealed events. Because in sealed, you play what you get (which is, while also true for drafts, not selectible for example between a Mogg Flunkies and a Volcanic Geyser). Interestingly, Mogg Flunkies is also inefficient as it can be unreliable. So far, it matches Volcanic Geyser and still I’d rather have Mogg Flunkies in an aggressive deck.

    Where we are aligned is that Volcanic Geyser is overly hyped. I also wouldn’t consider maindecking it if I hadn’t to. And having more efficient cards would fulful that requirement.

    I’m still thinking about the one powerful, two good phrase as I don’t lose the feeling that this is wrong when calculated (and feels wrong when executed at a tournament). There is this one bomb you can’t deal with before you die. Sealed cookies often crumble that way, so I would tend to spread my winning percentages.

    Say you have one powerful (70% win) and two good (50% win) decks. Maybe 70% is already to high and it’s more like 60%, but however. If every team would build it this way, it may even out… maybe my feeling is wrong or its just my starting calculation. Maybe somebody can contribute on this.


    • Where is my long, well-thought out comment, WordPress?


    • Fuck. Okay, second try:

      I used draft picking priority only to illustrate desirability of cards in certain decks. However, team sealed decks are actually much more akin to draft decks than normal sealed decks: You have fewer cards overall per player (meaning fewer rare/mythic bombs), but more cards per color (leading to much more focussed decks). Thus, card evaluations for draft are similar to those in Team Sealed (but both differ significantly from sealed evaluations).

      There is no M13 limited environment where I would not maindeck Volcanic Geyser, though – it will always make the cut unless you have a ridiculous draft table (with seven other players staying completely out of Red, for example), and if you find yourself with a Team Sealed deck willing to cut it, you should very probably instead build an additional red deck.


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