Magic: The Gathering is a game of questions and answers. Your deck asks questions of your opponent, and if he doesn’t answer them, he loses. He, in turn, will ask you questions, and you need to have prepared your answers in advance, or you will fail your midterms and drop out. A recent Standard tournament highlighted this nicely for me. Against U/B control, I saw an opponent assemble, on turn four, a 6/6 monstrosity with Double Strike, Protection from Green and from Black, and Flying. After this had resolved, the control deck had no viable main-deck answer, and promptly lost. I happen to know that there was also no available answer in the sideboard, either. Said sideboard now contains Geth's Verdicts. I want to talk today about how considering questions and answers can help us when we are playing Sealed. Also, I’ll talk about considering cards for main decks, what to splash, and which colors to run.
Sealed, much more so than Draft, is about the bombs. It is unlikely that you open a streamlined, synergistic pool, and so, you rely more heavily on your big, powerful cards. Innistrad is no exception to this. These cards tend to be rares and mythic rares, although gems can be found in the uncommon slots as well. Bombs pose big questions to your opponent: “Can you deal with me and soon? Because if not, I will eat you for dinner and save your ribs for a snack later.” Some of the most powerful rares in Innistrad Sealed include Bloodline Keeper, Daybreak Ranger, Garruk Relentless, Mayor of Avabruck, and Olivia Voldaren. If I have one of these (or a number of other powerful cards) in my pool, I will bend over backward to try to somehow fit it into my deck. Doing this will ensure that I will be able to ask questions. If you ask no questions, you will lose. The bigger the question, the deeper the opponent has to dig to answer it.
Let us consider Bloodline Keeper. I have lost more games in Innistrad Sealed to this card than to any other. It barely matters what the rest of the board state is once he has resolved. If he goes unanswered for long, his minions will come to suck your blood, and you will die a rather unpleasant death. He is particularly powerful in Sealed because he dodges a lot of the available removal. He does not attack, thus negating Rebuke and combat tricks like Spidery Grasp. He is too small to be Smote, and even Bonds of Faith is not helpful against him. This narrows our answers down to Claustrophobia, Brimstone Volley, Harvest Pyre, Corpse Lunge, and a few more. As Bloodline Keeper is only a rare, we can expect to see him a few times during a large event. Therefore, when building our pool, it is worth considering what answers we have available to us for such a strong card. If I am thinking about splashing either Red for Brimstone Volley or White for Bonds of Faith, I will lean toward the Red splash. Of course, it’s rarely that simple. We may have an Invisible Stalker in our deck, making the Bonds of Faith splash more tempting. What I’m saying is to keep an eye on your answers, and remember what questions you might expect to come up.
Speaking of removal, it is among the most valuable commodities in Limited, and it should be a big dictator of what colors you run. Removal comes in a variety of flavors. Rebuke is among the best options in the set. Combat tricks count as removal—especially Spidery Grasp, which I am completely in love with, since it deals with the pesky flyers my opponents insist on playing. You should look at where your removal and your bombs are in your pool to help make decisions on which colors to run. I will often splash a third color in most pools just to run a few extra removal spells. Since Sealed is so bomb-orientated, you should hold your removal for as long as you can. It would be a shame to burn a Vampire Interloper that you could eventually block with a Chapel Geist, only to lose to a Bloodline Keeper. I see a lot of removal being wasted early. The fact that you can kill something doesn’t mean you should.
I remember that when taking my undergrad exams, I hedged my bets. In one exam, based on previous records, I guessed which bits of the course were going to be covered, and I therefore had to review less material than I would otherwise have needed to. Obviously, that was the year they decided to buck the trend, but I digress. Innistrad Sealed has now seen extensive play, and we begin to see a picture emerging. It is a picture where White is very strong, and therefore, a large number of decks in a given tournament will be expected to play it. Blue and Green are snapping at White’s ankles and will often be found teaming up with it. Red and Black are less popular. Using this information, we can plan our deck out ahead, like I did with my revision. I played an online PTQ for Honolulu just last week. One of my best decisions while deck-building was to main-deck Urgent Exorcism. I think that in all of my ten matches, my opponent was playing either Blue or White, if not both, and each of those colors has multiple relevant targets for the spell. I used it to kill a significant number of 3/3 flyers, and I never boarded it out. My deck was slightly more ready for the questions, because I had used previous information to hypothesize what I was going to be tested against. These little edges in Limited are really important.
Unfortunately, in Limited, you sometimes receive a pool that is rather lacking in questions to ask your opponent. In these times, it is best to question your opponent with speed and aggression rather than a late-game bombtastic rare. You can often cause an opponent some quite serious problems simply by building your deck as aggressively as possible, with multiple 2-drop creatures and evasive flyers to quickly nibble down his life total. This will work especially well with some finishers, like Rally the Peasants, Feeling of Dread, and Nightbird's Clutches. It is surprising how many games you can win just by rapidly dropping creatures and pushing them into the red zone.
I hope that this has given you some cause for thought, and I wish you luck in any upcoming Sealed events. I shall leave you with a question: In Innistrad Sealed, what is the strongest creature, and what is the best removal? I’d love to hear your thoughts below. Next time, I will be taking a look at Legacy from a new player’s perspective.