A recent trend I’ve noticed in Limited is that players tend to anchor their card evaluations in the context of previous formats, particularly those that they’ve played very recently. I noticed this particular trend very strongly during early Khans of Tarkir and Fate Reforged, where players seemed to rate cards like Force Away and Whisk Away too highly. I came to realize that we were coming in off the heels of Theros block—a format where Voyage’s End, Griptide, and Hubris were top commons. It took a little while, but by the end of triple-Khans draft, Sultai control with Rakshasa’s Secret had established itself as a very strong archetype by taking advantage of cards that players dismissed (or at least seriously underrated) going into the format.

We often see a similar trend where players evaluate cards for Sealed Deck based on how highly they would pick them in draft—overvaluing 2-drop creatures and combat tricks, and undervaluing big creatures and late-game cards.

In many ways I expect Modern Masters 2015 Sealed Deck to be a “normal” Sealed format where bombs, removal, and card advantage are much more important than early creatures. That said, the power level of the cards is so high that there will be some impressively synergistic pools—whether with metalcraft, spirits, tokens, or proliferate.

Let’s take a look at some of the cards in Modern Masters 2015 in context.

Color Hosers

At uncommon, Modern Masters 2015 contains some of the most potent color hosers available in. Celestial Purge and Combust are Modern staples, while Deathmark and Flashfreeze have seen intermittent play—but are certainly at a comparable power level to the others. As usual, green seems to have gotten the short end of the color-hoser stick, though Karplusan Strider is ironically the most maindeckable of these cards in Limited.

The color hosers raise an interesting question coming off the back of Dragons of Tarkir Sealed where Surge of Righteousness and Encase in Ice were not unreasonable maindeck choices. I recently played a Magic Online PTQ with maindeck Surge of Righteousness—and it stayed in my deck for a whopping seven out of eight total rounds.

That said, Modern Masters 2015 is very different from Dragons of Tarkir in that the colors are much more balanced for Sealed. You won’t be playing a format where 3/4 or more of your opponents will have black or red. The cards in other colors are simply too good.

Another factor to consider opportunity cost. In Dragons of Tarkir Sealed, playing Surge of Righteousness over a Sandstorm Charger is a substantial power-level upgrade, making the risk of having a dead card worth it. In Modern Masters 2015, you are much more likely to be replacing a card of comparable power level.

The Verdict: Don’t maindeck.

Counterspells

The non-Cryptic Command counterspells available in Modern Masters 2015 are Mana Leak and Stoic Rebuttal at common and Remand at uncommon.

I expect counterspells to be quite good in Modern Masters 2015 Sealed. There is a huge density of expensive bombs, and the format also appears to be hostile to aggressive decks. In addition, even some of the most focused linear decks rely on powerful synergies—so countering their key card will make the rest of the their game plan that much weaker.

It is overwhelmingly likely that your opponent will have an expensive bomb you want to counter in this Sealed format. I expect almost every single copy of Karn Liberated to see play, not to mention Elesh Norn, Comet Storm, Profane Command, Overwhelming Stampede, and Apocalypse Hydra.

If you can afford the double-blue casting cost, Stoic Rebuttal is the best of the three counterspells. You typically reserve this type of effect for a powerful late-game card, a situation where Mana Leak threatens to become ineffective. That said, Mana Leak is efficient, and a nice answer to the cheaper rares like Indomitable Archangel, Argent Sphinx, and Ant Queen. Mana Leak is also just fundamentally good against X-spells, of which there are multiple.

Remand is much closer to Boomerang than Counterspell in a long match of Sealed, and is probably not worth including in your deck. If you happen to end up with a UW fliers/tempo deck, feel free to play it, but I would avoid it in anything that wants to play the control role.

Given how good I think counterspells will be, keep in mind that Flashfreeze is a premier sideboard card—and one of the best possible answers to some of the aforementioned bombs.

The Verdict: Maindeck

Enchantment Removal

There are very few enchantments in Modern Masters 2015. Arrest/Narcolepsy at common and Oblivion Ring/Pillory of the Sleepless at uncommon are the only ones that I expect to see consistent play. As a result, you should keep that Kami of Ancient Law on the sidelines unless you have the Spirit synergies to make a 2/2 Spirit-Grizzly Bear worth it. That said, the fact that three removal spells in Modern Masters come in the form of Auras make cards like Otherworldly Journey and Apostle’s Blessing better. Apostle’s Blessing is normally the type of card I like to leave on the sidelines in Sealed, but Otherworldly Journey looks to have enough other applications to see consistent play.

The Verdict: Don’t maindeck

Artifact Removal

Unlike enchantments, Modern Masters 2015 is filled with artifacts. Metalcraft is a main theme of the set, so there will be the occasional match where artifact removal is absolutely premium.

That said, only Alloy Myr and Blinding Souleater stand out to me as common artifacts that will almost always see play in Sealed.

However, there are enough powerful uncommon and rare artifacts that you should keep Sundering Vitae, Terashi’s Grasp, and Smash to Smithereens at the front of your sideboard. Blue and white are the artifact colors as well as the colors with the most enchantments—so I expect Grasp and Vitae to be great against most blue/white Sealed decks.

Combat Tricks

Modern Masters 2015 does not appear to be a Sealed format based around one-on-one creature combat. The majority of games will be decided by big, splashy effects—and even the creature decks are based around swarms of tokens or by building an unbeatable board state. Cards like Blades of Velis Vel, Mutagenic Growth, Brute ForceWings of Velis Vel, and Mighty Leap should basically never make your deck. Some token decks will play with Sigil Blessing or Fortify, but you should avoid these cards unless you are really dedicated to that plan. Establishing a board advantage via combat tricks is not going to be a very powerful plan in Modern Masters 2015 Sealed, and there are so many removal spells and splashy effects to punish you.

The protection spells (Vines of Vastwood and Apostle’s Blessing) are a bit more interesting because of how bomb-centric and removal dense the format is. Protecting your bomb from the one removal spell that they held on to may be an important plan in some matchups.

The Verdict: Avoid at all costs

Equipment

I expect this to be the most controversial part of my Sealed review. In attrition formats, many people view equipment as valuable because “it makes anything into a threat.” However, if your opponent is planning on killing every creature you play, starting down a card because you played an equipment is often a dangerous proposition. There are many strategies that reward playing equipment—tokens, metalcraft, WR double strike, but in many decks I expect equipment to be a bit underwhelming.

When you factor in that most pools will play all their removal and a few 6-mana bombs, you wind up with a deck that has 10 or 11 medium-sized creatures and should probably take a longer at look at whether or not it really needs that Darksteel Axe. If you have tokens, Spikeshot Elder, or Reassembling Skeleton you should by all means play it, but I fully expect Darksteel Axe and co. to be among the most overplayed cards in “normal” Sealed decks.

The Verdict: Take a closer look

Small Creatures

Coming full circle, this is not a Grizzly Bear format. Between swarms of tokens, 4-mana bombs, and lots of 2- or 3-mana ramp spells, I expect these creatures to get outclassed quickly.

There will be aggro decks that exist in sealed, but I find it unlikely that they will contain Gnarlid Pack or Sickle Ripper. Instead they’ll be based around double-strike, metalcraft or spirits.

Even cards like Cloud Elemental and Vampire Lacerator that have been above the curve for creatures in other formats will probably fall by the wayside in favor of cards that are more focused on getting to and winning the late game. From what I can see, aggressive Sealed decks will be either a 9/10 or a 2/10. Don’t be the latter.

The Verdict: Avoid them

Early reports seem to be that many Modern Masters 2015 Sealed decks turn into 5-color good stuff. Between lots of common ramp and mana fixing and the presence of the Ravnica bouncelands, playing all of your good cards is easy and advisable when trying to keep up with everyone else. That said, be aware just in case you open a great artifact or proliferate pool, which are usually held together by multiples of specific commons and uncommons.

I’m excited to try these ideas out in the Thursday/Friday bounty events in Vegas and the Grand Prix itself. Hopefully I’ll see you there!