While I’ve yet to draft the set as of the time of writing, I’ve done approximately ten Sealed leagues, and I’m enjoying the format a great deal. With GP Dallas only a couple of weeks away, here’s what I’ve learned about Dominaria Sealed deck.
If you’ve looked around at all or played the format, it’s no secret that Dominaria Sealed is slower than normal Sealed deck formats. Blocking is easier, and most of the 2-drops can be bricked by a single 2/3 creature, or at worst trade with them. This means a 3-mana 2/3 has a lot more value than it did in previous sets, and I don’t mind playing them.
Adjusting for the speed of the format is natural for me, since I’ve played older formats that are similar to this before, but the most significant adjustment I’ve noticed is that I can be more patient with removal. In faster formats, your opponent gains traction by coming out early and using cheap removal and combat tricks to fight through your bigger creatures, or the 2-drops just trade up with the 3- and 4-drops.
Since your 3-drops can block more successfully in this format, it’s easier to stifle an aggressive strategy. This means that I’ll hold off on Vicious Offering facing down a 2-drop if my hand contains ways to brick off the 2-drop. Casting Vicious Offering on a Mesa Unicorn and not having a removal spell left over for Serra Angel at the top of the curve is an easy way to lose in this format.
Since the speed is slower, it’s okay to have a higher curve. It’s not as important to play a bunch of 2-drops in your deck. In fact, there are serious diminishing returns on 2-drops if your 2/2s can’t punch through a 2/3 easily. If your deck doesn’t have a lot of 2-drops but can play a couple of 3-mana 2/3s, that’s fine. Don’t include 2-mana 2/2s in your deck just because you’re concerned with your curve unless you’re trying to win early or don’t have ways to block opponent’s 2-mana 2/2s.
Get greedy with your kickers. In a slow format, it almost always becomes a grind. Be patient with cards like Territorial Allosaurus if it’s not going to break a ground stall or if it’s likely to eat a removal spell immediately. There’s a lot of common removal in this format, so being able to get 2-for-1 and finally stick that one threat your opponent can’t answer is important.
Power is Important
Power level is important in this format. There are no two ways about it. Games go long and often don’t come down to tempo, so the power level of your spells will translate directly into wins. This is exactly why you have to be patient with your kickers that can create value. Casting a Krosan Druid on turn 3 to protect your life total is basically getting the kicker for free, but don’t just cast Caligo Skin-Witch on turn 2 into an empty battlefield. Make sure that you’re going to be blocking with it before you just play a vanilla 1/3. Since there are a lot of cards with kicker, opponents tend to sit on cards in hand until they can pay the kicker cost, allowing you to hit some pretty powerful spells with the Witch.
With the power level of your cards being so important, you should be splashing much more often than you’d expect. I avoid splashing in a few of the aggressive white-based decks I have, but almost always splash in my slower decks. With so many powerful gold cards, it’s nearly impossible not to. Fixing isn’t great, and unless the power level of your deck is outrageously high, I’d avoid a card like Navigator’s Compass. Just play an extra land of your splash color. In fact, I almost always play 18 lands in this format both to have enough colored sources, and because there are plenty of ways to use mana.
As far as splashing is concerned, it’s often correct to go deeper than I’m comfortable with. Mana bases like 8/7/3 are common for me, splashing up to three cards of a single color and occasionally splashing two different colors like In Bolas’s Clutches or Verix Bladewing when I have a pair of cards like Grow from the Ashes or Gilded Lotus. The games tend to go so long that you can eventually cast these powerful splashes and take over the game.
Play or Draw?
This is the question I’ve been asked the most about Dominaria Sealed. We’re so used to choosing to play, and the times we choose to play and we’re wrong are so few that it’s a good default setting.
I think people make the opposite mistake in this format. Choosing to draw is reasonable, but there’s at least one requirement I have when choosing to draw.
First, you have to have a reasonable amount of removal. If you’re not going to interact with your opponent then you should not be choosing to draw. You choose to draw when you want the extra card on each of your turns, both to make land drops and to have more cards to be able to react to the opponent. If you aren’t going to react, it’s much better to be the one attacking first. The more cheap removal you have the better for this strategy. I typically want at least four to five removal spells if I’m going to choose to draw.
If your deck has removal, the next check mark is that you have a high curve. If you’re trying to beat down your opponent you should always choose to play. Low-curve aggressive decks should virtually never choose to draw. If you’re a high-curve control or midrange deck with removal, I often choose to draw in this format. If I had to guess, I’m choosing to draw about 50% of the time now, and historically that’s much more than usual.
After you know your opponent’ deck a little better and discover that neither player is coming out of the gates fast, it’s much more reasonable to decide to draw, even if you have less interaction.
Artifact and Enchantment Removal
This is a format with a ton of artifacts and enchantments. Powerful Sagas and cards like Icy Manipulator are common. For this reason, I like to have at least one Naturalize effect in my deck, and often another way to interact with artifacts and enchantments. For instance, if I have a Fiery Intervention or two in my deck I will still play a Broken Bond without hesitation. If I have only a Broken Bond or Invoke the Divine in my deck I’ll play the second copy if my playable count is low, but I tend to avoid the second otherwise, because drawing dead cards can easily cost you a game. If you see some high value targets, by all means bring in the second or potentially third Naturalize effect.
Card draw and card advantage of any kind is great in this format. I almost never cut a Divination or Dark Bargain, and will often play at least one copy of Soul Salvage in my black decks. There’s so much removal, and the games without bombs almost always come down to who has more spells, so any way of generating advantage is good. If your curve is really high with powerful cards, Soul Salvage is less necessary because it’s more a way to generate more threats.
Equipment and Auras
I generally don’t play anything but On Serra’s Wings for Auras. Cards like Arcane Flight could be uniquely good in aggressive decks, but with the amount of removal and bounce in the format I don’t want to fall victim to a 2-for-1.
Equipment cards, specifically the commons, aren’t great unless you’re attacking early and often. Jousting Lance is good on offense, and a way to punch your bears and smaller flyers through bigger blockers, but Short Sword is low impact. If you’re not one of the aggressive decks, leave the Equipment in your sideboard.
The rare Equipment are all much more powerful, and I would almost always play them.
Removal is always important, but it’s critical in a format designed around powerful legendary creatures. Since you’ll generally have a couple of playable artifacts in your pool, it’s easier to choose your colors. You’ll often want to play the colors that have your bombs and/or removal spells.
If you don’t have on-color removal? Splash some. Adding an Eviscerate or a Blessed Light to your two-color deck with a single piece of fixing is reasonable if you’re not comfortable with the amount of removal you have. Just make sure you have some, because your opponents will have a creature that can singlehandedly take over the game.
Flying is Important
There are a lot of board stalls in this format. The ground gets gummed up with small creatures and Saprolings, and the bigger creatures tend not to have trample. I’ve never attacked with so many 20/20s in my life and not dealt a single point of damage. I never thought I’d say that I miss Colossal Dreadmaw, but here we are. This means that flying creatures are at a premium. Aesthir Glider might not look like much, but it’s a way to get damage in through a ground stall, so don’t be afraid to play it. If a bomb isn’t taking over the game by itself, flyers are a good way to chip away at the opponent’s life total. I’ve often noticed that the biggest flying creature left on the battlefield belongs to the player who’s winning.
Now if you have a powerful ground-based deck, it’s important be able to react to flyers. If you’re a card or two light in your deck, consider that Pierce the Sky you had in your sideboard to kill opposing flyers. The games often go long, so if your opponent has only a couple of targets, you’ll still be likely to take down something of relevance.
Combat tricks are traditionally worse in Sealed because your decks tend to be less aggressive and streamlined. This rings even truer in Dominaria Sealed deck. Winning a combat isn’t as important as it usually is because most of the creatures are small and the more powerful creatures are what end up mattering. If you push your 2/2 through a 3/3, there’ll be another one the next turn. You’ll find yourself fighting on this axis only to watch your opponent kick a Krosan Druid and be back at 20 before you know it.
If you’re unlucky and have a bottom tier pool, you may have to build your deck more scrappy and aggressive, but I think most of the time it’s best to play whatever powerful cards you open and avoid this strategy.
While I don’t generally play combat tricks, when you have some powerful creatures to protect such as Lyra Dawnbringer, Adamant Will can play the role of combat trick as well as a creature protection spell from a card like Eviscerate. The rest of the combat tricks I tend to leave in my sideboard unless I’m one of the rarer, more aggressive decks in the format.
This is what I learned about Dominaria Sealed deck. Dominaria Sealed is exciting and fun, but the power level of your pool can really impact your results for better or worse. While I’ll be shifting my focus to Booster Draft until the Pro Tour, I’m still excited to play some more Sealed at GP Dallas. See you there!