For as long as I can remember (not that long apparently), every Limited Grand Prix has been a week before a Pro Tour. As a result, I play every Limited Grand Prix with zero Sealed Decks under my belt. With GP Orlando falling in the middle of Pro Tours, I’ve finally gotten a rare opportunity to test Sealed Deck for the event. This preparation was spread out across a few weeks because of a recent MOCS monthly event, so I got a good deal of practice. Let me bestow upon you some of the kernels of wisdom I’ve acquired throughout the process.
1) A Good Curve Is Important
Normally, Sealed is slow and grindy, and playing a good mana curve isn’t as important, but Aether Revolt is a little different. This format can be quite aggressive.
First of all, much like Kaladesh Sealed deck, there are still power Vehicles that can take over games single-handedly, and end them quickly. Renegade Freighter was the menace of Kaladesh Sealed, and is still around now in lesser numbers, but Untethered Express and Irontread Crusher have taken the freight train’s place in Aether Revolt packs.
Games with Vehicles that go unchecked usually turn into races because the Vehicles are so much bigger than other creatures, and because you need to tap creatures, crewing leads to less blocking. When games turn into races, it’s important to get power on the board, and this requires having a reasonable mana curve.
Revolt also discourages blocking. Trading 3/3 creatures on your opponent’s turn 5 has a high cost when they are threatening to revolt a Lifecraft Cavalry immediately after combat. With less blocking, it’s much more important to curve out to either force your opponent to make these awkward blocks and turn on your own revolt, or so that you can get them dead before they can force you into a similar position. Though, I find myself willing to make trades on the opponent’s turn more often when I have removal in hand that can take care of a Lifecraft Cavalry.
There are also cards like Ridgescale Tusker, Dawnfeather Eagle, and Destructive Tampering. These cards heavily incentivize you to have as many creatures as possible in play when you cast them, again, making a good curve extremely important.
2) Naturalize Effects Are Excellent
In a format loaded with powerful artifacts like Vehicles, you need good ways to remove them. It’s Sealed deck and everyone is going to play their powerful artifacts, so you’ll almost never go a game without a target. Cards like Pacification Array and Untethered Express will be in 100% of the decks in which they are opened.
How many artifact or enchantment removal spells should you include in your deck? I noticed that when I first started I was happy with exactly one and content sideboarding into more. I realized this was the case because I happened to have a lot of black decks with multiple Daring Demolition during this early stages of testing. Daring Demolition has the ability to take out a Vehicle or artifact creatures, and these are generally the targets you’ll be looking to aim a Decommission at anyway.
In decks with multiple Daring Demolition or Tidy Conclusions I will generally be happy with one artifact removal spell. In decks without Daring Demolition I’ll likely play a second artifact removal spell because it’s just so important to remove Vehicles like Untethered Express or Aethersphere Harvester.
3) Expect to Face More Bombs than Usual
Kaladesh block is an artifact-themed set, and with that come colorless bombs such as Walking Ballista, Aethersphere Harvester, and Untethered Express. Of course, these cards will always end up in their owners’ decks when they are opened, but this isn’t the only reason you’ll be facing more bombs than usual.
Another reason you’ll be facing more bombs is that artifacts can fill out decks, putting fewer constraints on how decks can be built. When I open my Sealed Decks on Magic Online, I immediately do a rarity sort to see my most powerful rares. I also look for powerful colored uncommons like Ridgescale Tusker and Vengeful Rebel. These kinds of cards draw me into these colors and I can fill out my decks with playable artifacts. So when you play against an opponent, they likely looked for their most powerful colors and built a deck around them. Usually, a color has to be deep enough for you to be able to play it in Sealed. In Aether Revolt Sealed, you just have to figure out what the most powerful colors are because you almost always have enough playable cards to play around your bombs.
And lastly, you’ll be playing against more bombs than usual because it’s relatively easy to splash in this set, which brings me to my next point…
4) Don’t Be Afraid to Splash!
I didn’t do an exact count, but I would guess that I played roughly 40 Sealed Leagues. I’d say that in just under half of them I splashed a single card in a third color, and in only one of them did I play 4 colors.
Renegade Map makes it easy to splash powerful colored cards, especially when you get multiples. My typical splashes are cards like Quicksmith Rebel, Quicksmith Spy, Release the Gremlins, or a card like Ajani Unyielding. These cards are all incredibly strong, and with a Renegade Map and a single other “free source” of colored mana such as Prophetic Prism, I will almost always include them—but I’ll usually limit that to splashing just one color. Other times I may splash a single removal spell, or a better-than-average gold card like Dark Intimations or Maverick Thopterist.
I splash most often in my green decks. Unbridled Growth combined with Attune with Aether and Wild Wanderer make it easy to put another colored card in my deck at the cost of a single basic land. Green is definitely the color I played most and I believe the strongest color, making splashing common and suggested—just don’t go too deep.
5) Less (Land) Is More
I have advocated for playing more than 17 lands in most recent formats, but Kaladesh block is a rare exception. There are far fewer mana sinks than usual and a lot of removal and deathtouch creatures that trade up on mana. This means that you need fewer lands to operate than you normally would. Add to this cheap cantrip effects like Implements and Unbridled Growth, and it’s much easier to hit the necessary land drops, and thus also flood out.
For this reason, I generally play 16 “lands,” counting Renegade Map and Attune with Aether as lands. Now if I have 3 or 4 Renegade Maps, I’ll play one more mana source than I would have because Renegade Map still costs a mana and a full turn to play and sacrifice when you draw it off the top of your deck. I find myself sideboarding out a land in a lot of my top-heavy decks in this format on the draw, even when I do play 17 lands, because flooding out is one of the easiest ways to lose.
6) Combat Tricks Are Better than Expected
I often avoid playing combat tricks in Sealed deck, but Aether Revolt Sealed has proven to be different. Decks with a good curve (see #1) that can pressure an opponent make good use of combat tricks, forcing your opponents to make obvious blocks to protect their life total, letting you use a combat trick to push through damage while taking out a large creature.
In Aether Revolt, a lot of the removal, and all of the hard removal, is sorcery speed. Daring Demolition, Chandra’s Revolution, Caught in the Brights, and Prey Upon are all examples of common removal in this format that can’t be cast at instant speed, while only Shock and Cruel Finality are instant speed—both relatively easy to play around.
Keep in mind, though, that there are still some instant speed removal spells in Kaladesh to worry about, such as Welding Sparks or Tidy Conclusion, but often the opponent is forced to use instant speed removal on their own turn anyway for fear of turning on revolt on your turn. This all makes it difficult to get blown out casting a combat trick. For this reason I don’t mind playing a single copy of Highspire Infusion in my deck, especially if I have a card like Aetherstream Leopard that can make good use of the leftover energy. Built to Last and Blossoming Defense are also solid combat tricks.
With Vehicles, creatures, creature removal, and artifact removal in my deck, it’s sometimes hard to fit combat tricks, so I don’t always play them, but I’m never unhappy to play one, whereas in past formats I would have been reluctant to include any.
7) Mana Sinks Are Overrated
So for my controversial opinion of the day, I have been unimpressed with mana sinks in Aether Revolt Sealed. In a format with so few mana sinks, you’d think they’d be auto-includes. But unless the mana sinks are built into creatures, I don’t like to play them.
Cards like Whirlermaker and Planar Bridge are simply just too slow for the format. These cards have abilities that take over games when they’re grindy, but in the typical game they are just too expensive for the effect.
Even a card like Fabrication Module is worse than advertised in this format. The early mana investment makes it difficult to stay ahead on the battlefield, and adding a +1/+1 counter per turn is too slow of an advantage for 4 mana in most games. I play Fabrication Module about half the time I open it when I need a way to close the game or when I have energy synergies to pair it with. I’ve heard others say that Fabricaton Module is a must-play—I’m much more skeptical about putting a clunky artifact like this in my deck without some good reasons.
But Cogwork Assembler, on the other hand, is an auto-include in every Sealed deck. This card can affect the board when you cast it—although its just a 3 mana 2/3, it still attacks and blocks, and then takes over a stalled game later by copying the best artifact on the battlefield. Multiple times I’ve been forced to kill my Multiform Wonder with its own ability because a Cogwork Assembler simply outmatched it.
The cycle of Automatons can be used as mana sinks later and don’t take up a full turn in the middle of the game to cast, though they are still pretty underwhelming early and I rarely play any of them, except perhaps Welder Automaton as a curve filler.
8) Multiple Ways to Build the Same Pool
Paulo wrote a great article about one of the Sealed pools I opened during testing. I had three conversations open on Facebook at the time I opened the pool, with different Platinum Pros, and I asked them all which version of the deck they thought was better, giving them three choices. Owen Turtenwald, Oliver Tiu, and Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa each gave me a different answer.
The fact of the matter is that some of the builds are so close that it’s too difficult to tell which is better. With artifacts in the mix, you end up having some flexibility in deck building, allowing you to make trade-offs like a worse curve for more powerful threats, or more removal for worse creatures.
This flexibility lets you sideboard into different decks from game to game. Opponent low on removal? Board into the deck with the best threats. Opponent has powerful, must-answer threats? Board into the deck with more removal. Be prepared to build more than one deck for an event. Carefully look over all the options and build the best versions of multiple decks in between rounds if there isn’t a huge drop-off in deck quality.
I’ve had a lot of fun testing Aether Revolt Sealed deck despite some claims that it’s not a great format. I think there are a lot of interesting decisions to be made in deck building, as I often find myself with too many playable cards instead of too few like you might in a normal Sealed Deck format. If there’s anything you think I missed or disagree with, sound off below!