Ever since I first started playing Magic about 11 years ago, I’ve enjoyed playing Limited more than I’ve enjoyed playing Constructed. I don’t dislike Constructed—I enjoy playing Magic in general, regardless of the format. However, I’m always excited to show up to a draft or a Sealed tournament, not knowing what cards I’m going to be playing with. I’m definitely not the only person who feels this way. Most people I know enjoy drafting more than they enjoy playing Constructed formats. One area where I do differ from many others, however, is in my love for Sealed.
The Sealed Deck format probably generates the most complaints from players. If you’ve been to any Sealed Deck events, whether it be a Grand Prix, a Pro Tour Qualifier, a Release Event, or a Prerelease, you have undoubtedly heard people complain about opening up a terrible pool of cards, or losing to someone with an excellent pool of cards. You might have even been one of the ones complaining (it’s okay, I’ve been guilty of this as well). Since Sealed gives players less control over the cards they play with than Constructed or even draft, it’s natural that people will complain when they don’t like what they get. I’ve definitely been on the receiving end of some terrible card pools before, but I’ve also done well with enough really bad pools (and done poorly with enough really good pools) to realize that there’s a lot more to Sealed than just the cards you receive.
My best tournament performances have been in Limited events, where most of the tournament is Sealed. The only Grand Prix Top 8 to my name was at a Limited Grand Prix, and 3 of my 5 PTQ wins have been Limited as well. Needless to say, I’m extremely excited that the upcoming PTQ season and next weekend’s Grand Prix Boston—which are both Limited. I truly enjoy the process of building a Sealed deck, and in order to build one correctly, it’s important that you enjoy the process no matter how underwhelming your card pool. If you can learn to focus only on building the best possible deck with the options you have, your performance at Sealed Deck tournaments will improve.
There is seldom a single optimal build for any given card pool, and it is usually possible to build a Sealed deck in a variety of ways without ever being sure which one is best. The ways that different players will build any given Sealed pool will sometimes differ by one or two cards, and sometimes players will even have completely different opinions about which color combination to use.
Regardless of differing opinions, there are certain concrete strategies that will help you get close to the best possible deck. I’m going to discuss my strategy for building an interesting M13 Sealed deck that I opened in a Magic Online Daily Event. Overall, this was a difficult pool to find the best build for, and I would be interested to hear your thoughts in the comments. Regardless of whether or not you agree with the deck I finally settled on, I hope my thought process while building this Sealed deck will be helpful.
The first thing I do is try to identify any color that jumps out as the strongest. This typically involves looking for any bombs or removal that draw us to a particular color. In this pool, there is quite a lot of removal, but not any notable bombs that would pull me toward a certain color. If we look at the rares, the biggest “bomb” in this pool is probably Staff of Nin, but I’ll be playing that no matter what color combination we choose. Disciple of Bolas is powerful, Yeva, Nature’s Herald is good but not amazing, and the two Void Stalkers are decent as well.
The removal doesn’t really help us find a color yet either, since white has Oblivion Ring and double Pacifism; black has Cower in Fear, Essence Drain, Crippling Blight, and double Murder; red has Volcanic Geyser, Flames of the Firebrand, and Searing Spear; and green has two Prey Upon. In this pool it’s easier to try to remove a color first by finding the overall weakest color.
Blue is definitely the weakest color in the pool. The two Void Stalkers and two Encrusts can count as mediocre removal, but beyond that there is little to work with. There are a few other decent creatures, but nothing beyond that at all. Blue is out. The next color we can (partially) eliminate is white. White is extremely shallow and doesn’t have many playable cards, however the two Pacifisms and Oblivion Ring are definitely worth splashing.
If we are going to splash white in this deck, there aren’t any other white cards I want to add. When considering cards that you might splash, it’s important to note whether or not the splashed cards are good cards to cast in the mid- to late turns of the game. Since you may not draw the appropriate mana early on in the game, you want to have your splash be relevant when you are eventually able to cast it. Pacifism and Oblivion Ring are both premium removal spells that can stop any creature regardless of its size, and thus key in the late game.
After this analysis, I can isolate black, red, and green as the colors to decide between. It’s rare in most Sealed formats to play more than two colors, although occasionally two colors with a third as a splash works out well too. Between black, red, and green, black seems to be the most powerful of the colors. The black cards in this Sealed pool that will almost always make the cut are:
I usually end up playing Ravenous Rats, but it’s never high on the list of cards that I want to play in the main deck. When we’re done with the main shell of the deck, we should re-examine Ravenous Rats to see if we will want to play it after all. Crippling Blight is another marginal black card that I will play most of the time. Since we already have so much removal, it might be better as a sideboard card in this deck, but we will look at it again at the end to see if we want to play it.
Now that we’re selecting actual cards for the deck, we will add cards from among the artifacts. The only artifacts that I am certain I will be playing in this deck are:
Even though we are playing black, I do not consider Ring of Xathrid to be a card that we want to automatically play. In this type of deck, we may not have much use for it. We have so much removal that our creatures won’t really have to brawl in combat. Also, with so much removal, we will probably end up relatively creature-light, especially if we decide to go with the white splash. This means that we don’t want possible do-nothing cards like Ring of Xathrid in a deck where we want draw removal and creatures at all times. At the end, we should re-examine the marginal cards like Ring of Xathrid to see if anything has changed to warrant its inclusion.
The choice between red and green as the second color in this deck is not an easy choice by any means, since both of these colors are very powerful. Green is definitely the deeper color with roughly 10-12 cards that we would be happy to play in the main deck. Red is definitely a little more shallow, with only 6-8 cards that would probably make the main deck cut. Of note is that we don’t really need the depth that green offers since we can easily get more than enough good playables by splashing the three white cards. Though we don’t need the depth that green has, it would make for a much more consistent deck if we don’t splash the white cards.
Red has some really poweful cards such as Volcanic Geyser, Furnace Whelp, Mindclaw Shaman, Bladetusk Boar, Searing Spear, and Flames of the Firebrand. The creatures here aren’t very impressive compared to the removal suite.
Green definitely has some good individual cards too, such as [card yeva, nature's herald]Yeva[/card], Rancor, Acidic Slime, Mwonvuli Beast Tracker, two Prey Upon, and two Elvish Visionary. Although the Elvish Visionaries aren’t quite at the same power level as the rest of the cards, they are important cards to help with consistency. They combine well with other cards we would be playing, such as the black exalted creatures, and the one Rancor. Mwonvuli Beast Tracker can only fetch two creatures, but they are both great. You can curve Mwonvuli Beast Tracker into a four-drop by searching for Spiked Baloth, or you can go get the Acidic Slime if you need to use it to destroy a troublesome permanent. The rest of the green cards are just durdly creatures that don’t really do much besides enter combat.
Since no matter what we do with this card pool, we will have plenty of removal, we should play the color that has the best creatures. In this case, green has much better creatures than red. Although I normally try to avoid playing green since it is often nothing but creatures, Rancor and the Prey Upons really put it over the top. We are pairing it with black, which gives us plenty of powerful spells to work with, so we don’t have to worry as much about heavy creature draws. So the green cards we want to add for sure are:
At this point in the deckbuilding process, we have 21 cards in our deck. Since this is a two-color deck, and our overall mana curve is pretty low with quite a few two-, three-, and four-mana creatures, I would want to stick to playing 17 land in this deck. There are many Sealed decks where I am happy to play 18 land, but this is not one of them. Double Elvish Visionary will also help us hit our land drops on time.
Since we are running 17 land, we have two more cards to add from among the marginal choices. Our choices are:
Like I mentioned before, in this kind of deck I’m not a huge fan of playing either of the Rings in the main deck. All the creatures are too important here, and since we have quite a lot of removal we don’t want to have to cut removal for the Rings either. Plummet falls under the same category as Crippling Blight, which is just excess, situational removal. Although I’m usually content to main deck either of these cards, this deck just doesn’t need the extra removal when it won’t always be very good. Between the three remaining creatures, I want to avoid the Vastwood Gorger since it is rather expensive in this 17 land deck, and I strongly feel that more cheap creatures are very important here. Between the two exalted creatures (Duty-Bound Dead and Duskmantle Prowler) as well as the Rancor, Ravenous Rats is actually more than just a pointless 1/1 in this deck. Just like Elvish Visionary, Ravenous Rats becomes a value creature that can do its share of the work in combat as well. Yeva’s Forcemage is also good as an early creature in conjunction with exalted, and it even happens to go well with the aforementioned Ravenous Rats and Elvish Visionary since it fits that curve perfectly.
For the mana base, our two colors are relatively evenly distributed. However, we want to make sure we hit our early green creatures, especially the Elvish Visionaries. The Visionaries will help us get through our deck faster and make our mana more consistent, so 9 Forests and 8 Swamps should be correct. Here is my final deck:
Because of the many options available in this Sealed pool, this was a pretty difficult one to figure out. There are many other options available here such as BRw or even UBw. This may not be the best build for this deck, so I’d really like to hear your opinions in the comments.
Thanks for reading,
greyknight7 on MTGO