Costa Success – Sealed Evaluations in M15

A few weeks ago I wrote an article based on some observations about M15 draft—which might be very useful for GP Salt Lake—provided you make Day 2. However, nine rounds of Sealed stand in between.

I think one of the biggest mistakes players make going into a big Sealed tournament is bringing all of their conceptions about draft with them. Drafting is great practice for Sealed in terms of playing games and learning the cards and interactions—but when it comes to deckbuilding, the opposite is true. I’ve see seen far too many Sealed decks chock full of 2-power two-drops and lacking in late-game power. Decks that would perform better if they were thrust into the middle of an 8-man draft.

In M15 Sealed, there are definitely some cards that change in value from draft, and some general trends to think about when you sit down for deck construction. Even if you’re not particularly invested in M15 Limited, many of these principles apply to any Sealed Deck format (particularly in the modern era of aggressive draft formats).

Bombs

Bomb rares are more prevalent in Sealed deck than in draft. In addition to opening twice as many packs, you are more likely to play any bomb that you openas you don’t have to pass up on one that isn’t in your colors like you might late in a draft. There will certainly be pools where you have a great rare or mythic and don’t play it. However, most of the time you will end up playing with the best rare in your pool, and should expect opponents to do the same.

What can we learn from this? (Aside from having more opportunities to complain.)

Answering Bombs

The most obvious solution is too place great value in the cards that outright answer bombs. In the case of M15, the best examples are cards like Pillar of Light, Plummet, Encrust, and Statute of Denial. These are all cards that sometimes don’t make the cut in draft. Pillar of Light and Plummet have matchups with very few or no targets, and Encrust and Statute are too slow against focused, aggressive strategies. In Sealed you can usually afford slower and more narrow cards, and are also highly incentivized to play them so that you don’t just concede to a bomb.

There are other classes of cards to include here as well. A number of the best cards in M15 are artifacts or enchantments (Scuttling Doom Engine, Soul of New Phyrexia, Burning Anger, and Spectra Ward come to mind immediately), so maindecking a card like Naturalize might not even be out of the question. Naturalize and Solemn Offering should be at the forefront of your sideboard plans.

Avoiding Bombs

Sometimes you’ll be faced with a Sealed pool where you realize in deckbuilding that you have very little in the way of answers to bombs. You don’t have access to any of the cards I listed above, or to more premium removal like Flesh to Dust or Devouring Light.

If you don’t think you can deal with bombs straight-up, it’s often in your best interest to build an aggressive deckeven if that goes against traditional logic. If you can find a way to be as far ahead as possible when the bomb comes down, you are much more likely to be able to power through it than with a slower deck. Evasive creatures and reach cards like Lava Axe are among the best ways to push past a board-stabilizing bomb.

The idea here is that with a weak pool, you are often better off building a deck that approaches the format from a slightly different angle, rather than just building a worse version of the deck that your opponents are going to have.

Playing for the Long Game

Sealed is defined by longer games, card advantage, and individually powerful cards. This is at odds with modern draft formats, which are often decided on the metrics of aggression and synergy. In draft, you can choose cards to build a focused deck that does the same thing every gamebut this isn’t a luxury that exists in Sealed. Even a Sealed deck that is slanted aggressively will need to play a late-game bomb or a big creature like Ancient Silverbackeven if it doesn’t really fit with the theme.

When you expect a long game, certain cards change in power level.

Two-Drops

Every deck (however controlling) needs a few early creatures. That said, in draft you are very likely to have a deck that will play every Bronze Sable you can get your hands onbut that doesn’t really happen in Sealed. In M15, unless you have a huge density of convoke cards, I would avoid playing too many early creatures that get outclassed on turn four and are bad top decks in the late game.

Card Advantage Spells

The most obvious examples are Divination, Mind Rot, and Restock. These are cards that often fail to make the cut in draft because they don’t impact the boardand the aggressive decks don’t really care if you out-card them as long as they kill you quickly. In Sealed, these cards are lynchpins, providing an opportunity for you to have a huge advantage come turn eight or nine. These types of cards are always great as long as they don’t cost too much in terms of tempo or lifewhich is much less likely to happen in Sealed Deck.

Situational Answers

Many of these cards fall into the same category as answering bombs, and also include things like Negate. In a slow game you can afford to have cards that are dead early but have a huge impact on the game later. Games of Sealed are more likely to devolve into setting up a specific situation—e.g. playing your 6-drop on turn 8 to protect it from a removal spell with Negaterather than a draft game where you try to trade cards efficiently to amass early board advantage.

Low-Value Combat Tricks

I generally dislike combat tricks in M15 Limited, but I think they are even worse in Sealed. Combat tricks are really good at pressing a board advantage into a life-total advantage early, but you rarely get to choose which card of your opponent’s they will trade for. In Sealed, early board advantage is less important, so these combat tricks provide less value and threaten to be a dead card in the late game. In addition, Sealed decks typically contain a higher density of removal spells, so the risk of blowout when using a combat trick is increased. I would considering playing Ephemeral Shields or Ranger’s Guile to protect a bomb, but really avoid playing Titanic Growth, Crowd’s Favor, or Gather Courage.

Strategic Sideboarding

Some Sealed pools will give the choice of a number of different color combinations to build from, which you may view as relatively close in the abstract. However, once you make your decision about which deck to play with in all of your game 1s, that certainly doesn’t mean that color combination is always better against your opponent. The green deck with 2 Netcaster Spiders and Plummet you thought was slightly worse might all of a sudden be your best change against a UW fliers deck.

Plenty of pools will be easy to build and have one or two colors that you can rule out immediately—but don’t be afraid to get creative and keep all of your options in mind, particularly when you feel like an underdog in the matchup.

An Example

On Magic Online I played in a PTQ Prelim—an M15 Sealed event that could let me play in a Magic Online PTQ this weekend. Here is the pool I’ve opened:
M15 Sealed2

This pool was pretty interesting because I had a base color that I knew I wanted to play (black), and then three reasonable support colors with various strengths. Red is abstractly the strongest support color, with Heat Ray, Lightning Strike and Cone of Flame(!) highlighting a number of other playables. However, one of black’s primary weaknesses in this pool is the lack of early defense, something that red doesn’t really help to shore up. In the end, a BR deck lacked a bit in early game and didn’t really form a cohesive deck.

The main allure of playing white with this pool is the card Spectra Ward, one of the absolute best bombs in the set. Aside from that, white has an array of early creatures, but no really powerful cards beyond the Ward.

Blue is probably the weakest color on overall power level to pair with black for this pool, but I think it forms the best deck. Research Assistant, Coral Barrier and Wall of Frost all pair really well with the evasive black creatures to hold down the ground defensively. Jace’s Ingenuity, Quickling, and Frost Lynx are all great cards, and can serve multiple roles in this deck. I like that I have the ability to go on the aggressive and close out games quickly while also being able to grind out opponents with two copies of Sign in Blood and the Ingenuity. I think Urborg is particularly good in this deck too at helping provide double-black for Sign and Blood while letting me play enough blue sources for the early creatures.

I don’t love this deck, but it definitely has the ability to win and has answers to a number of problem cards. There’s also some room to maneuver in the sideboard, though not quite as much as I’d like. I don’t really foresee siding into red or white in any matchups that are obvious right now.

Hopefully this article helped out any of you playing GP Salt Lake this weekend (or any of the M15 Limited MTGO PTQs that will be happening over the next month). Keep in mind that you should have separate strategies for Sealed and Draft when you sit down for deckbuilding.

Thanks for reading,

Matt Costa

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