While many players got to experience the joy of Guilds of Ravnica Limited last weekend at their local prerelease, I stayed home and battled in some Magic Online competitive queues instead. There’s a major difference between normal Sealed deck and the prerelease, with its seeded packs. You don’t get to choose your guild in a normal Sealed deck event, which leads to a much different experience.

Guilds of Ravnica Sealed is swingy. It suffers from the typical variance of Sealed Deck, such as whether you open good rares and uncommons, and whether you get the support cards to go with them. Guilds of Ravnica adds variance in getting the correct fixing on top of that. With Grand Prix Montreal coming up this weekend, here’s what I learned.

Mana Fixing

Though you can get lucky and open a Sealed deck that’s straight two colors, I found it rare to play only a single guild and not splash. With a guaranteed six Guildgates per pool, and the ability to open Gateway Plaza and shocklands among other fixing, it’s easy to splash outside of a single guild. This means that if you opened a primarily Dimir pool, but also a card like Status // Statue or Assassin’s Trophy, you will be likely to splash it if you have a couple of Golgari Guildgates.

Lockets have been controversial from what I’ve seen. Some people seem to love them, and others have gone so far as to say they’re unplayable. I’m right in between. While I’ve never considered playing more than one, I could see situations where I’d play a second. Usually this would involve a high fairly high curve. Lockets are different than normal mana fixing. I like to avoid playing them in my splash color unless the other half of the color is a dominant color.

For instance, if I’m Dimir and I’m splashing for a Ral, Izzet Viceroy, I’d like to avoid playing a Izzet Locket, and play an extra Mountain over it and a Dimir Signet in its place if possible. This gives me the ability to cash in the Locket later more reliably, and leaves me with the same number of red sources. If I only have an Izzet Locket, but also ten other blue and red sources, then I’m comfortable playing it because I have the ability to eventually cash it in.

As far as splashing goes, I’ve been pushing the limits with my splashing as far as my Guildgates and other fixing let me. I’ve often been four colors, and have been five a fair amount as well. I was generally pushed into five by exceptionally good green fixing, Chamber Sentry, or both. In this format I believe that greed is good.

I’ve seen a lot of hate on green in both Booster Draft and Sealed deck, but I haven’t had much trouble with it in Sealed. In fact, I’ve ended up green more than any other color, and I was fairly successful doing so. Generally, it comes down to opening green bombs like Trostani Discordant and having enough green-based fixing to go off in every direction. Cards like Urban Utopia, District Guide, and Circuitous Route open up a lot of doors. When I have enough of these, I’ll play green fixing with green filler and then I can include all of my most powerful cards and removal in my deck, even if they’re in all five colors.

Combat Tricks

In the six or seven Sealed pools I did, I never saw an aggressive pool of my own, but I did play against several very good Boros Sealed decks. Combat tricks are excellent with mentor creatures, both to push those creatures through and to cash them in for some extra damage and a +1/+1 counter on a different creature of the same size. I would avoid playing combat tricks in the midrange decks, as there’s so much removal and Sealed deck often isn’t about combat—it’s about winning with bombs and grinding out the opponent with value.

Selesnya can also be an aggressive guild, so it’s possible you may want to add combat tricks to lower curve versions of that guild, but a lot of my Selesnya-based Sealed decks were more midrange decks with good rares and cards like Sumala Woodshaper and Generous Stray. In these kinds of decks I’d avoid combat tricks because you’re not pressuring the opponent’s life total—you’re trying to flood the board and gain an overwhelming position or win with rares and mana sinks.

Auras fit into this category. There’s a ton of removal and bounce in this format, but in decks that are super low to the ground, you can play Maniacal Rage as both a source of damage and a bad way of removing a blocker. This will come up more in Booster Draft, but the Sealed Decks are there occasionally. Candlelight Vigil is the only other Aura that buffs a creature in the format. I normally leave that one in the sideboard as it’s expensive, so it won’t get under removal well, and it also doesn’t have a second use like Maniacal Rage.

Walls

I’m giving Walls their own section because usually I’m a fan of them. Wall of Mist was a card I loved in Core Set 2019, but in Guilds of Ravnica I am off playing the various Walls. Portcullis Vine is a fine inclusion if necessary. It can save some life early and be used for convoke, then later be cashed in for a card. But cards like Wall of Mist suffer for two reasons. First of all, there are various deathtouch creatures. While they’re not everywhere, it’s awkward to take damage from a small creature while you’re sitting there with a Wall in play.

Secondly, there are a ton of creatures with mentor. Mentor punishes Walls a great deal. Letting mentor creatures attack over and over, and grow various small creatures while you block with a Wall is a poor trade-off. It’s important that you can threaten to trade with either of the creatures. This way, you can trade off while they get one mentor trigger, then use a removal spell to get back to even on the exchange instead of letting mentor creatures get repeated value.

Counterspells/Hand Disruption

I’ve never seen counterspells be better than they are in Guilds of Ravnica Sealed. All of them are excellent. The format comes down to whoever sticks the biggest threat or gets the most value out of a single card, whether it’s something like a giant March of the Multitudes or a Citywatch Sphinx that goes unanswered. Disdainful Stroke and other counterspells are excellent at preventing this. In my experience, even the good Boros aggressive decks are forced to play with some expensive spells to help them close the game, and Disdainful Stroke is still serviceable against them. I never thought I’d be happy to play 4-mana counterspells in Limited, but I’ve even been loving Devious Cover-Up. All of its functions have been relevant, too. Exiling jump-start cards or recursive threats like Kraul Swarm or Blood Operative has been important in some games, and shuffling cards back into my deck to increase spell and threat density in matchups that can get grindy has been extremely relevant. Dimir and Izzet decks are threat light, so bringing back your small amount of relevant threats can be important.

Hand disruption is also very playable. I’ve been impressed with Thought Erasure to the point I started to add a copy of Never Happened to my Sealed decks. I was skeptical that Pilfering Imp would be good, but it has over-performed for me. These effects force through your own big threats, and provide answers to your opponent’s, and while I prefer the counterspells, all of the Thoughtseize effects are very playable. There are also so many cantrips that these cards are rarely poor top decks like they would be in a lot of Limited formats.

Play or Draw?

One of the questions I’ve been asked most is if I play or draw. This is deck dependent for me and I’ve been mostly choosing to draw. When you have a bunch of colors and are pushing the boundaries of splashing it’s more important to have the extra card, both to recover from mulliganing and to find your extra colors. Adding to this, jump-start pays you off for having extra cards to discard. If I have a planeswalker, I’d generally want to be on the play to increase the odds that I play it on an empty battlefield, but I’ve been choosing to draw more and have had success doing so. Again, as I always advise, I generally choose to draw only when I have at least a few removal spells and if I’m not an aggressive deck. If you have a good Boros deck with mentor creatures, you’re much better off being on the play. But if you’re one of the various other archetypes, choosing to draw is OK.

Enchantment/Artifact Removal

There are not enough artifacts and/or enchantments for me to want to main deck most of the enchantment or artifact removal. Even a card like Sprouting Renewal feels too weak for me to main deck, though I’d consider it if I needed a playable. Crushing Canopy is a completely serviceable 1-of. There are enough relevant flyers and enchantment-based removal spells that having a single copy of Crushing Canopy means it will usually not be left stuck in your hand. It’s worth noting that there are cards like Conclave Tribunal and Status // Statue that can give you outs to good enchantments like Experimental Frenzy and Dawn of Hope.

Win Conditions

Big ground creatures can be good sometimes, but they also tend to be easily stifled by small deathtouch creatures like Hired Poisoner and Pitiless Gorgon in addition to normal removal spells. Ideally, you can win with flying creatures, but there are not actually that many, and there’s enough removal and reach creatures, so it’s hard to win in the air. Generally, I tend to win games of Sealed with effective mana sinks.

Cards like the Guildmages are ideal, but even common creatures like Devkarin Dissident and Passwall Adept can break ground stalls. Ledev Champion is an excellent way to sink your mana, but there are also some good rares I try an include whenever possible. Experimental Frenzy, Dawn of Hope, and Chamber Sentry have all over-performed for me and against me. Play Chamber Sentry in any deck, even if it’s two colors. If you have it in a three- or four-color deck you should try and make it so you can produce five colors at some point, whether it’s with an extra off color Guildgate or two, or some Gateway Plazas and Urban Utopias. Chamber Sentry can be an excellent way to close out a gridlocked game when you get to the bottom of your deck if you have some outs to return it. All of these mana sinks are very splashable in decks playing a long game, and I’d likely go out of my way to splash the better ones.

Tips

  • The more jump-start you have, the more strongly you should consider drawing first.
  • Play first when your deck has a lot of mentor creatures.
  • Play more lands the more jump-start you have. Don’t make the mistake of playing 16 lands because you have three Radical Ideas that can help you hit land drops. Extra lands can be cycled with jump-start, so make sure you hit your land drops so that you can play more spells.
  • Play fewer lands if your deck’s high end is made up of convoke creatures. Creatures are also mana sources here, so flooding out and casting a 6-mana Siege Wurm is not a recipe for success.
  • Make sure you always hold an extra card in your hand when you can. There are cards like Disinformation Campaign, Burglar Rat, and Discovery // Dispersal that can punish you if your last card is relevant. In addition, you want to be able to cast your jump-start cards twice in the late game if you draw them, so being able to cycle that extra land with a Radical Idea later can be extremely relevant.
  • Against non-aggressive decks try to get the most out of your answers. Don’t worry about using your life total as a resource to make sure that your Deadly Visit gets their Siege Wurm or Citywatch Sphinx if you can deal with their smaller creature in a turn or two.

Guilds of Ravnica Sealed can be quite swingy. There are a lot of powerful multi-color cards and sometimes you won’t get the correct fixing to play what you want to. The format is a delight to play, and all of the new mechanics are excellent for Limited. Well, other than undergrowth, anyway. My favorite guild to play is definitely Izzet, because jump-start cards make it difficult to flood out. What’s your favorite guild?