With the current PTQ season being Theros/Born of the Gods Sealed Deck, I thought this might be a good time for an exercise in Sealed deck building. So, I generated a random Sealed pool, three Theros and three Born of the Gods boosters, for our building pleasure.
Here is the pool:
The first thing I usually do when building a Sealed deck is separate the playables from the unplayables. I also use the term “playable” relatively loosely. For instance, a card that you very rarely play, or would greatly prefer not to play, I’d still consider to be playable.
Here are our playables:
Let’s take a brief look at each color individually:
Right off the bat we can see that white has a couple very good cards in Hundred-Handed One and Wingsteed Rider. However we can also see that we only have nine total white cards. While only having nine total cards of a color isn’t always a complete death blow, in this case it is. The two best white cards both have double-white in the casting cost, which means they will be difficult to cast. Also the monstrous activation on Hundred-Handed One requires three white mana. In addition, the dropoff to the next best card, Gods Willing, is pretty big. It’s a shame that this is the pool in which we have a Temple of Enlightenment, as that would make it easier for any deck to play a white splash, but here it’s just not possible.
The blue looks very good. It has a premium rare in Prognostic Sphinx and two copies of Thassa’s Emissary, which is one of the best uncommons in Theros. It has some very nice tempo, which complements the Thassa’s Emissaries very nicely. Two copies of Sudden Storm and a Retraction Helix can help clear the path to get in with the Emissary and draw additional cards. Stratus Walk and Archetype of Imagination can both give Thassa’s Emissary evasion and are decent cards on their own merits.
The black provides three premium removal spells in Asphyxiate, Lash of the Whip, and Pharika’s Cure. Black also has Eater of Hope, which is a very powerful card if you’re able to cast it. At seven mana, it’s a good finisher in a slower, more controlling deck, but it is powerful enough that we might be able to include it in other types of decks as well. Gray Merchant of Asphodel is one of the best commons in Theros, and will be a great addition to a controlling or aggressive deck.
Red is highlighted by two copies of Lightning Strike, the best red common in Theros, a Bolt of Keranos and a Fall of the Hammer, the two best red commons in Born of the Gods. Akroan Conscriptor is another card that we should keep a close eye on as it can win a game on its own in the right circumstances. The lack of quality creatures in red is a bit of a concern, but the top end is so good that it is definitely a realistic option.
The Green has a lot of cards, but not many particularly good ones. Hunter’s Prowess is great, but after that it’s just a Nylea’s Emissary, a Graverobber Spider, and a hodgepodge of mediocre creatures. There are a few passable pump spells; Aspect of Hydra (if heavy green), Feral Invocation, and Mortal’s Resolve, but that isn’t enough to make us want to play a color. Given that there are really no highlights, we should feel comfortable eliminating green as an option at this point.
Shipwreck Singer is our only gold card, but it is so good that I have in the past referred to it as a “mythic uncommon.” This gives us a huge incentive to play blue/black, if the rest of the deck is adequate. Bronze Sables and Anvilwrought Raptor are all cards that we’d prefer not to put in our deck, but are acceptable filler cards if we need them. Temple of Enlightenment, or any scry land for that matter, is nearly an auto-include for a deck that contains either color of mana that it can produce.
That leaves us with blue, black, and red. In situations like these where we essentially have three colors to choose from, I find it most useful to lay out all three possible decks and see which one I believe to be the best. Let’s start with blue/black:
When building a blue/black deck in Theros/Born of the Gods limited, it’s almost always going to be a control deck. While this deck can certainly have draws like a tempo deck, because of two copies of Thassa’s Emissary and Sudden Storm, in general it is going to want to play a control game. Even the tempo draws, because of a lack of early aggressive creatures, are going to end up netting us a lot of extra cards, but are rarely going to allow us to win the games very quickly.
I would consider Triton Fortune Hunter, Scourgemark, and Stratus Walk to be the three most questionable cards in the deck. The three notable omissions are Viper’s Kiss, Thassa’s Bounty and Flitterstep Eidelon. Viper’s Kiss is okay, but pretty situational and a little weak. It’s slightly better than Eye Gouge because of its ability to deal with something like a Nessian Asp by preventing it from going monstrous, and also can sit in play to give devotion for Gray Merchant of Asphodel. Flitterstep Eidolon is just a little too gimmicky in this deck. Yes, it’s great on Thassa’s Emissary, but the whole deck is great with Thassa’s Emissary. Also, it’s six to bestow, and we don’t really have any other good targets for it and rarely are going to care about having a 1/1 unblockable. Thassa’s Bounty is just expensive, although I do often like to play one in my control decks.
Scourgemark is the weakest card in the deck, but at least it draws two cards in combination with the Triton Fortune Hunter, and also provides one devotion for Gray Merchant, as well as being able to “cycle” early on.
17 or 18 lands is an interesting question in this deck. Since we want to hit four lands on turn four so badly, and since we’re basically choosing between an 18th land or a Viper’s Kiss/Flitterstep Eidolon, I think 18 land is definitely the way to go here.
When evaluating a control deck in limited there are a few very important things that we need to look at:
First of all, let’s look at cards that allow us to control the board, such as creature removal spells, bounce spells, or sweeper effects. In this deck we have the four black removal spells and we have Retraction Helix. Having two copies of Sudden Storm is also relevant as there are many decks that have the game plan of creating a giant monster, by using heroic and/or bestow, and attempting to ride it to victory. Although we aren’t “racing” in a traditional sense, like an aggressive deck would, often times Sudden Storm will allow us to keep that creature under control long enough to win the game or to find a more suitable answer.
Next, let’s be sure that we have enough early plays to develop a board presence, so that we aren’t simply overrun by creatures before we have a chance to establish control. In this particular deck we have five solid defensive cards that we can cast on the second turn. Pharika’s Cure and Nullify, although mana intensive, are both great defensive cards and can stop an early onslaught. Shipwreck Singer is probably the best two-mana defensive card in the entire format. Omenspeaker’s 1/3 body helps us control the ground while also smoothing out our draw so we can further our game plan in subsequent turns. Nyxborn Eidolon is very good at filling the role of an early blocker.
I wouldn’t consider Viper’s Kiss or Eye Gouge in this build because we already have so much creature removal and can’t afford to cut creatures for more conditional creature removal. In a deck with very little creature removal, you would be more likely to play conditional removal, simply because you are more likely to need it.
The closest decision is between Cyclops of One-Eyed Pass and Labyrinth Champion. We only have five ways to target one of our own creatures to trigger heroic. We also have another, more powerful heroic creature in Akroan Conscriptor. I also find Labyrinth Champion to be a little overrated in general. Since you can’t even play him until turn four, by the time he gets going, the opponent is often playing threats bigger than he is able to deal with. In a removal-heavy deck, I tend to value cards with high power and low toughness more highly than I would in a “normal” deck. The Cyclops is usually a bit weaker because our opponent is able to trade off any run-of-the-mill, 2-power creature for him. However, with a lot of removal, the Cyclops will more often get through and deal a large chunk of damage. Once the Cyclops connects once, it is more likely our opponent will have to either spend a spell on the Cyclops, which is fine, or trade a more valuable creature for him. Also, the value of the Cyclops goes up because the deck has two Act of Treason effects; Portent of Betrayal and Akroan Conscriptors. When you take your opponent’s blocker or blockers to make an alpha attack, the high-power, low-toughness creatures really shine.
There is also an argument for not including Eater of Hope. Ultimately, I think that this deck needs a little reach. Sometimes, when our opponent is able to stabilize, we will be able to come back over the top with the Eater. Given that our choices are either Eater of Hope, Nyxborn Rollicker number two, or Labyrinth Champion, I think Eater is best.
The most notable strength of this deck is that it is overflowing with creature removal spells; Asphyxiate, Pharika’s Cure, Lash of the Whip, Weight of the Underworld, two Lightning Strike, Bolt of Keranos, and Fall of the Hammer. Almost any deck with that much creature removal is going to be a reasonable option.
This deck also has a major weakness; its creatures. Given that the game plan of this deck is going to have to be to clear the path and attack, it could use a little more meat. It has 13 creatures and only three of them have power greater than two; Akroan Conscriptors, Cyclops of One-Eyed Pass, and Eater of Hope. Eater of Hope is, of course, a late game card and Akroan Conscriptors really isn’t in the deck to be an attacker himself. Of course we are able to use bestow creatures to make our own creatures a little bigger. The problem is, the bestow creatures we have really do make our creatures literally “a little bigger.” Despite all our removal, I believe that this deck will find it too difficult to close out games fast enough to utilize the removal spells to their maximum potential. It will often get the opponent low with some early flurries, but they will eventually be able to stabilize and win the game, because the deck doesn’t have much to close people out.
As you can see, I decided to include Labyrinth Champion this time. While I do think he’s overrated in general, there just isn’t a better choice in this deck. We do have seven ways (nine if you count the Sudden Storms, which comes up, though not that often) to target him this time, as opposed to five before, so that gives us a little more value as well.
This is another case where the 18th land is more valuable than the 23rd card. Again, we really want to hit our fourth land on turn four.
The next logical choices to include are another Nyxborn Rollicker, Portent of Betrayal, or Spark Jolt. I am reluctant to play two Rollickers in this, or any deck, barring a deck with a ton of heroic, simply because of the possibility of actually drawing both of them. Nyxborn Rollicker is a low-impact card, and drawing two of them can make it very difficult to win a game. One is okay, especially considering if we put it on any of our three heroic creatures we can make up the card. Also, we have a chance to make up a card by putting it on a Thassa’s Emissary that would otherwise have been blocked. I like Portent of Betrayal quite a bit, but it serves a role that is too similar to Sudden Storm in this deck. Three of that type of card is just too many, as you don’t want your hand to be flooded with them early in the game and Sudden Storm is the better of the two. Spark Jolt is just not a very good Magic card. It can be good in certain situations, but this deck is powerful enough that I’d rather we just hit our land drops.
The red and black are very similarly complementing the blue. Both provide the removal spells we need, and both provide some creatures. The black provides a little bit better stability and late game, while the red provides a little bit more tempo. I am tempted to declare that I’d play the blue/red deck just for the chance to bestow Thassa’s Emissary onto Akroan Conscriptor, take their only blocker, attack and draw a card!
The blue is clearly the best color, and after looking at the red/black deck, I would definitely play the blue. The red removal is cheaper, but overall the removal packages are close to a wash, with a slight nod to red. The black creatures are much better, thanks largely to Shipwreck Singer, but Gray Merchant and Eater of Hope don’t hurt either. The rest of the two decks are very similar to each other. Blue/black tends to fit my personal style better, which I think is very important. If you’re evaluating two decks that you feel are close, using personal style or preference as a tie breaker is very reasonable. For these reasons, I’d give a slight nod to the blue/black deck.
I hope you found this exercise useful. If there are any questions you have about any of the builds, or suggestions for things I could have done differently, please mention it in the comments. Good luck at your next PTQ and hopefully I’ll see you in Portland!