Here I Ruel – How to Build a Sealed Deck

With a Limited season and the Scars of Mirrodin release to come on Magic: Online upcoming, the timing seemed right to discuss Sealed deck strategy. I could have spoken of Scars Sealed in particular, as I’ve played a couple of prerelease events last weekend, but I’d rather wait to know the expansion a little more before I do so.

Today we’ll discuss about how to take the best of your six booster pack card pool.

Most people don’t like Sealed deck as they consider it is the most random tournament format there is, as the quality of a deck can vary a lot depending on the quality of the card pool you get. However, it is often less important than it is in draft, in which a pack can either strengthen your deck or your opponents’ depending the moment when it is opened.

Then of course I won’t say Sealed deck is the fairest format there is, but I still think it is one of the most skill-intensive ones. Indeed, even when you don’t have bombs, you can still beat decks with your 40 card pile’s own strengths. What actually makes the format complex is to be able to recognize those strengths and to build your deck around them. Before we start analyzing them, let’s first state a few basics about the things to do on a Sealed deck tournament.

The fastest way to register a deck is to open the boosters all at once, and to directly sort cards by color. Once it is done, sort it in alphabetical order so you can register faster, double check once you’re done, and so the person who will have to check your list will be able to do so quick.

Then, when you receive the deck you’ll be playing with, you should sort the cards by color. In the case of a format like Scars of Mirrodin Limited, many artifacts should be sorted as colored cards (Vulshok Replica should go in the red pile for instance). Once you’ve done so, you should make two piles for each color (playable/unplayable) or three (good cards//fillers/unplayable).

We’ll get back to the building process, but let’s first talk about the strong points you’ll be looking forward to find and about how you should be building your deck around them.

THE STRONG POINTS

Bombs
Having one card you can rely on to win games by itself is good. However, if you have at least two, the best thing is usually to try and build a control deck so you can make a good use of it. In order to do so, favor card advantage, removal and slow creatures better than aggro ones. For instance, in a control deck you rather like a 2/3 than a 3/2 or a 2/4 than a 4/2. Also, as control decks are meant to make games long, they can make a better use of splashes.

Removal
Unless you have an amazing creature base, you can’t afford not to run removal spells in Sealed deck. Not only do you often need the help of a removal in a Limited game, also will you face bombs more often than in draft. Therefore, the more removal spells you can put in your deck, the better.

Mana curve
Building a deck is not only about selecting the best 22 or 23 cards in your pool and adding lands. No matter how good those cards are, if you don’t play spells in the early game, you’ll usually lose. Therefore it is capital to play enough early drops in order not to give up the tempo to your opponent. A curve will usually look like:

lands: 17 or 18

1 mana spell: 0-3, accelerators (Llanowar Elves), removal spells, drawers (Spellbombs, Preordain) are needed, and so can be combat tricks, but you don’t need early guys as their impact on the board usually is extremely low.

2 mana spell: 4-5

3 mana spell: 7

4 mana spell: 6

5 or + mana spell: 4

Then of course the more card drawing and accelerators you have, the higher a curve you can afford. Also, it is important to have many 2 and 3 mana guys, so you don’t have to play removal spells on crappy creatures.

Mana stability
It’s better to play two colors if you can in order to limit the mana problems, or to splash a third one if it improves significantly your deck (bombs and removal mostly). Green is the color which allows splashing the most easily thanks to the support of fixers, but other decks can also afford splashes. However, the more aggro you are, the more you should value a stable mana, as the lack of tempo mana problems causes disrupt your deck’s strategy a lot more.

Concerning the numbers of lands you should run, it is usually 17 or 18. When I consider my mana very stable and/or when my curve is low, I run 17. However, when I am three colors and/or when I consider my deck strong enough to be much more scared of a being land screwed than land flooded (meaning most of the time), I rather run 18.

Then I usually cut 1 for every two non-creature fixers (Signet, Rampant Growth), but I don’t cut any for a Myr, as those get killed way too easily.

Creatures
You usually want to have between 14 and 17 creatures. Then this number depends on their strength, their curve, and the type of deck you are running. Basically, the more aggro you are, the more guys you’ll need, and on the opposite the more control, the less creatures you have to run.

Therefore, and unless you have many bombs and removal spells, you can’t afford to choose colors which don’t have enough playable creatures. And on the other hand, the more of those spells you get, the fewer guys will be needed.

Evasion
Their importance varies depending on the format in which you play them, but they usually have a pretty big impact. Sealed deck is the format in which the most games are stalled, and three best ways to unstall them are bombs, removal spells, and creatures with evasive abilities (flying, shadow, etc.)

Card Advantage
In a slow environment, which most Sealed decks format are, anything that is able to provide you card advantage is extremely useful.

Tricks
Any trick card such as countermagic, bounce spells or pump spells is in theory able to be as strong as a creature removal, and will often be harder to see coming.

Let’s say you have a Sealed deck with no bombs. It’s of course a handicap, but you have to build your deck so opponents also have handicaps against you. For instance an average but consistent 2 color aggro deck may face one of the best decks in the tournament, but it will often have an advantage on mana, tricks and evasion. Also, it will punish the opponent’s mana issues pretty quickly.

CHOOSING THE RIGHT ARCHETYPE

22 or 23 good spells, even with a good curve, don’t necessarily make a good deck. It is paramount to think in terms of global synergy in Limited in the same way as you would with a Constructed deck.

You should try and avoid mixing synergies. For instance it is unadvised to run a few infect guys when most of your creatures deal regular damage, or to play walls in an aggro deck (except if you run UW evasion in which case it can hold the board while you race).
Thinking in terms of synergy will help you deciding which cards go in the deck or not, but also how to play during the games. Let’s say for instance you have a control deck and open with a 2 mana 2/2 when your opponent does the exact same start. In a control deck you’d rather keep your guy in defense than starting a race, while you will play the opposite way with an aggro deck.

So how do you decide which one you should run? The best way to decide it to look at the best reasons to play each archetype:

Control
I tend to think that, in general, it is better to try and build that kind of deck. However, building decks for long games mean bombs will play a bigger role than in a regular one. Therefore, the best reason to play control is to have cards which can win games on their own. If you have at least two, control is usually the option, but if you have one or fewer you’ll need lots of removal spells and card advantage providers in order to run it.

However, some cards which are not bombs are still winning conditions you can rely on. They can be big flyers, landwalkers, big guys, and regenerators.

You don’t need that many guys (12 to 14 can be enough), but you need several early blockers as well as a minimum two or three winning conditions. I usually run 18 lands in this kind of deck because I don’t want to miss a land drop, and even though I have card drawing which mean I’ll often draw lots of lands, I see it as an opportunity to splash pretty easily.

Aggro
If you are short in bombs and/or in removal spells, it is better to try and avoid long games. The best ways to do so are to have a solid aggro base, supported by a solid mana base (either 2 colors, or 2 and a splash for removal spells). In this kind of deck, any trick spell (Boost spell, prevention spell, bounce spell) can be as good as a removal spells. In a two color deck 17 lands can do, but if I have to splash without fixers, I’ll usually run 18 as well.

BUILDING THE DECK

Now back to the moment when your cards are piled by colors. Take the playable cards pile, and separate creatures and non-creature spells. Then class each pile by casting cost. The colors you will decide to associate must depend on the following:

-the number of playables: if a color has 10 or more cards including very good ones, it is likely to be the deck’s core.

-bombs: even if they are in bad colors, always keep in mind they can be splashed.

-synergy: poison cards go together, same goes for flyers, card drawing +removal spells. Also, and this is very important, cards which are supposed to be synergistic can’t be too expensive. For instance you should not run a 4 mana and a 5 mana metalcraft cards if most of your good artifacts also cost 4 or more. Otherwise, you won’t be able to take the best of each card.

-the curve: no matter how good cards can be, if you don’t have a well balanced curve (see above), the deck is not playable.

-removal spells: even though you can put a color apart while building because it is just too weak, put the removal spells aside as you they can always be splashed.

-fixers: the colors which have fixers can’t be neglected as they are what will make your deck stable. For instance, even if your best cards are red and blue, the best choice can be to play blue/green splash red if you have a couple of Cultivate and several green playable guys. This way green will provide the mana and the creature base, and blue and red will provide the winning cards.

In the next weeks I’ll analyze Scars of Mirrodin more specifically, when both you and I know the format a little better. Until then, I hope this advice helps!

Thanks for reading, and have a great week!

Oli

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