While I have Pro Tour 25th Anniversary on my mind, my next two tournaments are both going to be Core Set 2019 Limited: GP Sacramento and GP Minneapolis. I spent some off time jamming some Core Set 2019 Sealed deck, so I wanted to share with you what I’ve learned.

The Speed

This format isn’t as slow as Dominaria Sealed was, but it’s still pretty slow. In my experience, the 2-drops are much like they were in Dominaria in that they’re fairly underwhelming. They don’t do very much work because they have no evasive abilities, and it’s hard to push little ground creatures through in this format. While I want some 2-drops to stifle some of my opponent’s faster curve-outs, I like to build my deck mostly in a way to be able to play a longer game. This is a format where the 2-drops don’t play as well late game outside of rares like Dismissive Pyromancer, Thorn Lieutenant, or the mythic uncommon Dryad Greenseeker. In Dominaria we had kicker, so you could play some 2-drops and other cards that scaled well into the late game like Ghitu Chronicler. In Core Set 2019, you have to be more careful about playing too many 2-drops since they get out classed quickly.

Since the cheap creatures aren’t great at attacking as the game continues, the games tend to drag out for a little while.

Bigger is Better

Big, high mana cost creatures like Colossal Dreadmaw are actually quite good in this format. The games tend to come down to who can stick the biggest threat and connect with it until the game ends. What this also means is that if your pool is shallow, and even in some cases when it’s not, playing cards like Oakenform or even Knight’s Pledge to complement your weaker creatures can turn your two mediocre cards into one powerful creature. Some of the removal in this format is focused on the toughness of the creature, such as Electrify and Strangling Spores, so you want to aim to enchant creatures who can dodge appropriate removal, if possible. Normally, I like to avoid playing Auras and combat tricks in Sealed deck because everyone usually plays as much removal as they can, but in this format so many of the bottom end cards of your deck will be not doing anything later that it’s worth forcing them to spend removal on a weak creature after getting a hit in so you can stick your big threat. Normally, I play combat tricks over Auras because they leave you some play and are stronger against sorcery speed removal. In this format, I like Auras better because having a lasting threat is more valuable than winning a particular combat.

There’s a lot of ways to punish small creatures in this format, specifically 1-toughness creatures. Cards like Oreskos Swiftclaw, Child of Night, Cavalry Drillmaster, and Viashino Pyromancer are all liabilities against cards like Omenspeaker, Goblin Instigator, Doomed Dissenter, Skeleton Archer, and of course the most punishing of all, Plague Mare. I try my best to avoid playing 1 toughness creatures, especially when I see these kinds of cards in my opponent’s deck.

Don’t worry about having too many high end plays. Obviously within reason, but I’ve had success with three 7-drops in my deck, and six to eight total cards that cost 5 or more. Be reasonable and don’t start your curve at five, but I’m comfortable with a higher curve in this format.

Flying

Games commonly end in two ways in this format. Big creatures dominate the battlefield, or flying creatures go unblocked long enough to close the game out. This is usually pretty obvious in Sealed, but in this format it’s a big draw to a color to have big flyers like Horizon Scholar or Volcanic Dragon to play those colors since they outclass the common flyers and can dominate the battlefield. This means that if you’re a green deck that can play a long game, cards like Plummet become maindeckable, though I’d stick to a single copy, and Giant Spider is excellent at prolonging a game.

Use Your Removal Carefully

Since the quality of cards is so low in this format, it’s important to line up your removal and creatures well with your opponent’s threats. For instance, it’s worth taking a hit or two from an Oreskos Swiftclaw if you have a 3-drop creature in hand to trade with it, and hold your Shock for a Snapping Drake if it’s going to be a problem.

If your opponent casts a Volcanic Dragon and you have the chance to Essence Scatter it but also have an Electrify in your hand you can untap and cast, it might be worth taking a hit to Electrify the Volcanic Dragon and have an Essence Scatter available for a later creature with higher toughness, even though it may not be the most mana efficient play. Unchecked threats are how the games end more often than not, so it can be worth using your life total as a resource in the right situations.

Sideboarding is Important

Sideboard into cards that outclass your opponent’s cards. Sometimes my big green creature decks don’t want Giant Spider when I’m playing cards like Colossal Majesty, but when I play against Snapping Drakes I’ll side them right in. By the same token, if my opponent has all beefy green creatures and I have Giant Spider in my main deck and have the option to put a bigger creature in my deck instead, I’m going to do that. So let’s say that I get in a situation where my opponent has shown me a pair of Centaur Coursers and a pair of Bristling Boars, and I have Giant Spider in my deck, but an Oresk’s Swiftclaw in my sideboard, I’m going to make that swap. The Swiftclaw can trade off or attack into all of those creatures whereas my Giant Spider can merely block the Centaur Courser while having no effective attack or block against the Bristling Boars. Having your cards line up effectively, and either trading up or bricking off multiple of your opponents cards, is a great way to get an edge in this format.

In some scenarios this has meant me switching colors completely to get an advantage. If my black-red deck was almost as good as the green-red deck I submitted but I got two Skeleton Archers and a Plague Mare against a W/R aggro deck with a bunch of 1 toughness creatures, I’m going to make that switch. If I happen to play against a control deck that has a lot of creature removal and countermagic, and I have a Millstone in my sideboard, I’m likely to just throw it in my deck as it can close out a game pretty easily against reactive decks. In this format, it’s important to use all parts of the buffalo, as they say.

Bombs

This usually goes without saying in Sealed, but you should go out of you way, more so than usual even, to play your best cards. If I open a card like Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants or Patient Rebuilding, I’m going to go out of my way to play these cards and make it work. There’s formats with a flatter power level where this isn’t the case, but this is not one of those formats. Play your best cards outside of extreme circumstances.

Card Draw

Card advantage is excellent in a format with weaker creatures trading off a lot and when your best card is so important to draw. Divination and Sift are excellent cards I never cut from blue decks, and regardless of how aggressive my deck is in Sealed, I never cut Arcane Encyclopedia. Even looting effects have a ton of value, like Tormenting Voice. While it’s not actually netting you cards, discarding excess lands or small creatures that have little value later in the game to find better cards is like gold. The same holds true for a card like Macabre Waltz that can upgrade your cards into your high value creatures later in the game.

Counterspells

Counterspells are premium in this format. The games can drag on, and you can waste your mana holding them up in the middle of the game without getting super punished for it. Having that Cancel for your opponent’s best card is easily the difference in winning or losing a game. Make sure to pay attention to what important cards your opponent has in the first game to plan out your sequencing in the following games.

For instance, if your opponent has a Vivien Reid, you need to counter spend your early turns getting on board rather than hold up that Cancel and then hold up the Cancel when it’s relevant. Don’t fall too far behind, but don’t worry about not using your mana if your life total isn’t in danger. Mind Rot is an excellent card in Sealed deck that falls into this category, as it can get rid of some of your opponent’s higher value cards at a low cost.

Enchantment/Artifact Removal

I usually don’t like maindecking them, but I’m open to it when necessary. The card quality drops off quick, so having a Naturalize that may only kill a Thopter token or Skyscanner when it could kill a Chaos Wand or Patient Rebuilding instead of playing an additional bad 2-drop isn’t a huge downside and may be a leak in my deck building. Reclamation Sage is a card, for instance, I’ll almost always main deck while Naturalize I’m mostly going to just sideboard in.

Splashing

Splashing is usually fine, but I tend to like to only do it when I have fixing or a fair amount of card draw and card selection, or the payoff is huge. For instance, if I open Banefire, it’s going to end up in my deck, period. If that means that I have to play two Mountains and an extra land than I’d want otherwise with no other fixing, I’m going to do that. But if my splash is just a Horizon Scholar, a high cost flying creature with an excellent enter the battlefield ability, or a solid removal spell like Hieromancer’s Cage, I’d like to make sure that I have at least one dual land in my deck to splash it because the ceiling is much lower than it is on Banefire, so the cost of having inconsistent mana is likely not worth the payoff. I’d say about half the time I end up splashing a third color in my decks and rarely end up with more colors, but it does happen since Manalith and Gift of Paradise are both available.

Play or Draw

My default in this format is to choose to draw. The games tend to go long, having removal when you need it is important, and it’s not often I’m racing. There’s a lot of life gain attached to cards like Liliana’s Caress so you can usually afford to be reactive. On the other hand, some of best cards in the format are much better on the play. Planeswalkers, for instance, want you to put them into play before the opponent has assembled an offense, and if you have a lot of card draw like multiple Divinations and Sifts, playing first is usually my go-to strategy. It’s much better if you’re going to draw an extra card a turn with Arcane Encyclopedia to not fall behind and make up the cards as the game progresses.

These are some of the things I’ve learned preparing for GP Sacramento and GP Minneapolis. Overall, I don’t like this Sealed deck format as much as Dominaria. While the Draft format is still reasonable, the power level of cards being so low at common and so high at rare makes it difficult to craft a winning strategy without opening powerful cards. Without kicker to improve the quality of some of the commons later in games, you’re often at the mercy of what you open. What do you think about Core Set 2019 Sealed deck?