For the last few weeks, we’ve discussed the BTT Draft format. We’ve explored some of the less-drafted archetypes and talked about the positive results we can have by keeping our options open. Today, we’ll be taking a look at the other side of the Limited coin. Sealed Deck is a format that invokes the ire of many players that are newer to competitive play. Many assume that one’s success is entirely dependent on the power of the cards they open. Sure, there’s a positive correlation between opening well and performing well, but there’s a lot more to Sealed than what we open. Many of the game’s greatest players have higher win percentages in sanctioned Sealed play than in any other format. We’ll be discussing some of the complexities of Theros block Sealed in an effort to improve our chances in the upcoming Pro Tour Qualifier format.
were covered here, so be sure to read through that, especially if this is one of your early forays into Sealed strategy.
We need to talk about deck construction. We should separate our cards into piles by color and take out all the cards that can’t trade for a card of our opponent’s. (A card like Aqueous Form might make our final deck, but it’s confusing to include it in a stack of playables when we’ll only be playing it alongside multiple Flamespeaker Adepts or a lot of large green monsters. Ordeals that are usually very strong will only be good if we have a lot of toughness or creatures that cost 2 or less.) Then, we should sort our cards by converted mana cost and write down how many playable creatures we have in each color. This will usually narrow down our options. We’ll have a few color combinations that work, and we can lay out those decks and decide which one gives us the best chances of winning. Try to have some vision—imagine what it will be like to play each of the possible decks.
We should be playing forty cards. We’ve had this discussion before, and it’s incredibly difficult to justify mathematically reducing our chances to draw all of our best cards. It may be difficult to make the last cut, but it’s going to be difficult to win if we don’t.
Normally, we would say that the number of creatures we need to be playing is malleable based on what we want out deck to be doing, but in Theros block Sealed, we really need to be filling our deck with as many creatures as possible. We should usually be playing every on-color bestow creature, even Cavern Lampad. We want to be using the bestow mechanic if possible when we play these cards—the value and curve-filling potential of bestow fits beautifully into the plan we should have for Sealed Deck.
Sealed Deck forces us to constantly evaluate the board and envision how combat will play out, and that rewards us greatly for playing around our opponent’s tricks. For example, it’s not uncommon for an opponent to pass the turn with 4 mana available and two colors (one of which is white) available to him or her while he or she has a grip of cards. In these situations, we should be attacking with every creature except our best creature. This forces our opponent to either use his or her Divine Verdict on a random dork or acquiesce to wasting a full turn.
Remember that we can write down the tricks that our opponents play, and we shouldn’t be shy about doing so. We can play around most tricks when playing Sealed, our opponents won’t be curving out or putting together powerful synergies as often as they might be when drafting. Let’s discuss how we’ll be playing around different kinds of tricks.
Countermagic is a lot better in Sealed than in Draft because it gives a player outs to bomb rares or mythics, and our decks won’t be as curve-centric as they’ll be when drafting. Let’s assume we know that our opponent has Dissolve in his or her deck—he or she played it in the first game and countered our Nessian Asp. Now, in Game 2, our opponent passes the turn with Dissolve mana available. What we do next is dependent on the board state and our hand. We can simply make our attacks and pass the turn back if we have an instant in hand or we’re ahead on the board. However, if we’re behind on the board, we probably want to either be attempting stabilization with an instant on the opponent’s next turn or, if that’s not an option, we can play the worst card in our hand that takes away our opponent’s ability to attack profitably.
Instant-speed pump spells can make for some big swings in limited, often resulting in a good amount of card advantage. We should be offering trades with our creatures that cost 3 or less early and often when playing Sealed in an effort to push our opponent to use his or her pump spells as one-for-one removal that takes up his or her entire turn. We shouldn’t be double- or triple-blocking our opponent’s huge guy unless we absolutely have to—instant-speed removal or pump spells could cause a game-winning disaster to occur. We should be waiting to double- or triple-block for when we have an instant-speed pump spell, removal spell, or bounce spell of our own. This way, when our opponent attempts to pump his or her huge creature or kill one of our blockers, we can still make the trade we want with our pump spell or pick up powerful tempo and card advantage with our removal or bounce spell.
We’ve already discussed how countermagic and bestow creatures are better in Sealed, but there are a lot of cards that oscillate in power level when playing Sealed Deck instead of Draft.
Ordeals are very good, but in Sealed, they often give our opponent big opportunities to “get” us. Ordeals are obviously ridiculous if our deck features a bunch of Vaporkin and Nyxborn Shieldmates, but that’s not usually going to happen. We should be playing Ordeals when we have a good number of heroic creatures or an aggressive curve, but we shouldn’t assume that these cards should automatically make the cut in our list.
Ray of Dissolution, Artisan's Sorrow, Unravel the Aether, and other instant-speed Disenchants are great ways to pick up valuable card advantage in a format where it’s hard to find. We should be very happy about the first one of these cards in our Sealed list, and we shouldn’t be terribly worried about our deck if we have to play a second one of these cards. It’s very easy to pick off a bestowed creature during combat and ride that single play to victory in this Sealed format.
Monstrous creatures like Nessian Asp and Ill-Tempered Cyclops are already quite good when drafting, but they’re even better when playing Sealed deck. These cards further encourage us to play with eighteen lands by giving us additional mana sinks. They fill multiple slots on our curve in that same way bestow creatures do. We should be very happy to include any and all on-color Monstrous creatures in our deck.
Grindy cards become much better in Sealed, too. Odunos River Trawler and Pharika's Mender are huge reasons to play W/B or B/G—or to splash one half in the case of Pharika's Mender. We’ll usually have more time to trade and knock heads with our opponent, and the Gravedigger effect is really hard to beat in Sealed.
Mana sinks like Scholar of Athreos become incredible in Sealed. There are a lot of turns in the later portion of many games, when both players are navigating the board without really using their mana. Having a sink like Scholar of Athreos makes the game swing massively in our favor.
There’s a lot more to Sealed Deck than many players assume. The format encourages and rewards vision and intuition more than any other Magic format. We should play a bunch of Sealed Deck in the coming weeks to prepare ourselves for the upcoming PTQ season. Be sure to share your thoughts on the new Sealed format below!