Draft may be Magic‘s most popular Limited format, but it is by no means the only one. Sealed is a Limited format which is played at Pre-releases, Launch events, PPTQs and Grands Prix. If you’ve ever contemplated playing Magic competitively, chances are, you’ll eventually find yourself staring down at a Sealed pool.
There are a lot of people that dislike Sealed tremendously because of its higher variance. The “luck factor” of opening a strong pool versus a weak one as well as the constraints of building a deck from a more haphazard pool of cards frustrates some. For others, that higher variance is exactly what excites them when playing the format. Making sense of the randomness presented to you in a Sealed pool can be a challenging and enjoyable puzzle to solve. Let’s take a look at the basics of Sealed Deck construction and go over a few strategies I’ve developed playing the format.
Sealed is a Limited format, which means you must build and play with a deck constructed from a limited supply of cards. Sealed is played by opening six booster packs and building an at minimum 40 card deck from the 90 cards you opened. You may only use the cards found in those six boosters (your Sealed pool) with the exception of Basic lands, of which you can have any number in your deck.
Typically, you’re looking to run a deck with 23 spells and 17 lands. If your deck happens to curve lower and be more aggressive, you might consider running 24 spells and 16 lands. Likewise, if your deck is more geared towards control with a number of cards on the higher end of your curve, it’s common to run 22 spells with 18 lands.
When building your Sealed deck, you’ll want to pay attention to your mana curve (or curve for short). Make sure that you have a good number of cards to play at each turn of the game. In most Sealed formats, the 2 converted mana cost (CMC) and 3CMC cards are typically the most important to consider when fine-tuning your deck. You want to have strong cards in those slots because those will allow you to respond to early game challenges while at the same time help you develop toward your late game. A common mistake for beginners is focusing on high mana cost bombs and stuffing as many as they can into their decks while ignoring or playing filler for their 2-3 drops.
The struggle players face when building a Sealed deck is narrowing down their 90 card pools to an optimal 22-24 cards. There is no “set method” or “definitive formula” for how to approach building a Sealed deck and knowing how to parse the information overload of a Sealed pool is a practiced skill. Each player may approach any one Sealed pool in completely different manners. That being said, there are a few steps you can take which can make things easier for you when constructing a deck.
Please note: The following are techniques that work for me when building my Sealed deck. They are by no means a definitive “How To” guide. If something I do works for you, feel free to use it. If it doesn’t, keep trying other methods, as it’s important to find what works for you!
The first thing to do when opening your packs is to sort you cards into their correct colours. Typically, I’ll have 8 piles: White, Blue, Black, Red, Green, Multicoloured, Artifacts/Colourless, and Lands. Getting your cards into piles will give you a quick visualization of how many cards you have to play with in each colour.
I’ll typically separate my creature spells and creature producers from my non-creature spells and lay them out on a curve – from 1CMC to 6+CMC.
What do I mean by creature producers? Some cards aren’t creature spells but they make creature tokens. Dance with Devils and Devil’s Playground from Shadows Over Innistrad are great examples of what I mean by creature producers. Dance with Devils is an Instant and Devil’s Playground is a Sorcery, but they make creature tokens. Spells such as those are added to my creature count.
I typically try to run 15 creatures and 8 non-creature spells plus or minus one or two depending on the deck I’m playing. If I notice I have a colour with a smaller pool of creatures, that might sway me away from playing the colour. For example, if I’ve got a small number of White or Green creatures – the two colours I tend to associate with having the strongest creatures overall – I might opt to set those colours aside unless the creatures in my pool are amazing. On the flip side, I would consider running Blue even if I have fewer Blue creatures because I tend to value Blue’s non-creature spells higher.
The strongest cards in your pool are what we call “Bombs”. After sorting by colour and type, take a look at what you feel are your biggest bombs. The trick here is not to force a colour just because you’ve got a powerful card in that colour. If you have the means of splashing an off-colour bomb, however, that’s an important factor to consider when deck building.
Also known as “having a game plan”. A lot of players will vaguely define this without actually explaining what this means.
You need to figure out what your deck is doing (i.e. does it have some sort of synergy, some sort of method of winning the game) and you need to figure out how you can get to the cards you want to draw. Bombs are amazing to have, but they’re useless if they’re stuck in your deck. When building your deck, you need to think about what you want to be doing until you have a way to draw into your bomb. Do you have enough early creatures to gum up the ground battles? Do you have a way to interact with fliers who try to go over the top? How can you break up a board stall? Can I draw cards to find my bombs? Can I filter cards? Search for cards? These are the questions you need to ask yourself.
Overlooking one of these factors can be detrimental when trying to build a solid deck. I once opened an incredibly strong pool, only to build a deck that didn’t have any answers to flying creatures. It was only after losing my first two rounds to stereotypical WU Skies decks that I realized I hadn’t factored in a strategy to deal with fliers when building the deck.
Most importantly, I firmly believe that getting to your bombs quicker in Sealed is far more important than having a synergistic deck. Removal is sparse and building a deck with strong synergies is more difficult to accomplish in Sealed. This means that building a deck that finds a way to get to bombs quicker is probably a better idea than focusing on building a deck with cute interactions that might not win you the game. My goal when playing Sealed is: Get to my bomb. Stall out until I can get to my bomb. Win the game. In that order.
Because synergistic strategies are more erratic in Sealed, if someone has built a deck with strong synergy or a strong interaction, it actually becomes exponentially more powerful. This means that if I see my opponent putting together pieces toward a strong interaction, my game plan shifts to disrupting it by any means necessary.
As with any format in Magic, removal is key. Try to pack in as much removal as possible into your deck. If you don’t have removal, throw in extra creatures or extra disruption. When building your deck, consider that your opponent will be building toward their plan and look at what cards you have that can be used to disrupt that plan.
The biggest obstacle I see most players struggle with is over-complicating their decks. They run four colours when they would be fine with two. They run cards they know are great in Draft but aren’t as great in Sealed because they don’t have the synergy to go with it. They run a weaker colour over a stronger colour that they should have been playing because the stronger colour meant running one or two weak cards.
Don’t miss the forest for the trees. Do you have a solid creature count? Do you have bombs? Do you have removal? Can you get to them? That’s what you should be focusing on. Just because you may have to run a weak card in a strong colour doesn’t mean you have a bad deck. It just means you have a weaker card in a stronger deck. Here’s the secret: Everyone has weaker cards in their decks. It’s the nature of the format.
Next week we’ll take a look at a Shadows Over Innistrad Sealed pool together. We’ll see if we can apply some of these strategies to that pool. If you have any question or comments, leave a comment in the Comments section below!
JP Vazquez – Optimum Jank