Two weeks ago, we took a look at Magic‘s Sealed Deck format and went over some basic techniques when constructing a Sealed deck. Last week, we opened six packs of Shadows Over Innistrad and applied some of the initial techniques we learned in the first article to begin building a Sealed deck from the pool of cards we opened.
This week, we’ll continue to use the guidelines presented in the first article to see if we can finalize a solid deck from this challenging pool.
Now that we’ve organized our cards by colours and types, let’s review our bombs and our removal in each colour. This will give us a stronger idea of where our deck should be heading.
There’s really not a lot to work with here. I like Pious Evangel and think of it as a strong card but it’s not enough on its own to merit playing White. Our only hard removal here is Puncturing Light and it’s conditional at that: It won’t be helping us at all in the late game. Our strength in White, as mentioned in the previous article, lie in our combat tricks and enchantments: Expose Evil, Survive the Night and Tenacity as well as Gryff’s Boon and Hope Against Hope can be great cards in the right decks. That being said, this pool of White cards doesn’t have an end game nor a way to strongly interact with our opponent’s board. I feel we should set White aside as suboptimal.
Ouch. On paper, Blue looks even worse than White does. None of these cards are game winning bombs. None of these cards act as hard removal. We should probably just set Blue aside as suboptimal and move on, right?
Hold on a second. I’ll admit, Blue may initially look bad. If we look closer at the cards, however, there’s a bit of a control game hidden in our pool. I particularly like our two copies of Stitched Mangler and our two copies of Uninvited Geist. The Manglers are stronger than they look and can stall our opponent while the Geists can become very aggressive if they manage to transform into Unimpeded Tresspassers. Another thing we can’t overlook is our fliers: Niblis of Dusk, Stitchwing Skaab and Stormrider Spirit all provide solid air support, both offensively and defensively.
As with White, we have no hard removal here. What we do have, though, is plenty of ways to draw cards. Ongoing Investigation is incredibly strong by turning damage into card advantage. Vessel of Paramnesia replaces itself. Jace’s Scrutiny is a fine combat trick that also replaces itself. Catalog draws us cards and enables Madness. Pieces of the Puzzle can look for removal and fuel our graveyard. Even though I previously mentioned I’m not crazy about Gone Missing, it can still remove a permanent from our opponent’s board temporarily, slowing them down and allowing us to Investigate. As I mentioned last time, I like to play my bombs, draw into my bombs and win the game, in that order. Blue can allow us to do all that. It may not be ideal but I’m not giving up on Blue just yet.
Fantastic. I’ve added Tooth Collector to our removal because there’s a surprising number of X/1s in the format. Furthermore, a Delirious Tooth Collector will warp combat math. He’s strong enough to be listed there.
Markov Dreadknight is the very definition of a bomb. He’s a big flying creature that can get bigger and enable Madness, one of the set’s main mechanics. Cards like Dreadknight are exactly what we’re looking for when we talk about bombs.
Last week, we also saw that our Black creatures were strong and our two Merciless Resolves can help us draw into our bombs and removal. Black is still at the top of my list of colours to play.
Devils’ Playground is very strong but as far as bombs go, it’s certainly on the weaker side. I’m happy running it, but I’m not happy that this is one of our strongest cards. I would have much rather opened something like Flameblade Angel. In all honesty, I feel the strongest cards in our Red pool are the two Breakneck Riders. 3/3 for 3 with massive upside? We absolutely want to run those.
Our removal is very good, if very conditional. Dual Shot is fantastic in the early game, not so much late game. Inner Struggle sometimes ends up being a dead card when you face down creatures with unfavourable non-square stats (creatures where the power and toughness aren’t equal). The rest of our Red pool isn’t fantastic either, so I’m apprehensive about it but I think we’ll keep it as a possible final colour.
Soul Swallower can be very difficult for our opponents to deal with… if we can enable Delirium. Unfortunately, that doesn’t look like a strong strategy in our Green pool on its own. Green’s complete lack of removal here is another strike against it. We really wanted a Rabid Bite or at the very least a Moonlight Hunt, especially since we have a few Wolves and Werewolves in Red and Green.
As I mentioned last week, Green’s early aggression looks great, but I’m not sure it’s enough for us to want to run it, especially since our finishing bomb is conditionally dependent on us filling our yard. I think I’m comfortable setting Green aside as suboptimal.
Oh yeah. Forgot we have that Sorin guy. Hopefully all this fixing we’ve got can help us run him.
So we’re down to Black being strong, Red being okay, Blue being okay and White and Green are out. Let see what each of these decks would look like.
I feel like this would be our strongest build for Black-Red and it’s pretty good. Six pieces of removal plus Tooth Collector. Merciless Resolve draws us into our bombs and Breakneck Rider makes our aggressive starts that much stronger.
What I don’t like are those two Hulking Devils. I guess they’re okay if we’re on the offensive, but they trade down too easily with their horrible 2 toughness. The other thing I don’t like is that four of five of our 1 and 2 drop creatures have 1 power. If we’re trying to be aggressive, we sure can get stonewalled by creatures with big butts pretty quickly. We also fold to fliers and control decks. If they have any way of preventing us from attacking, our Neck Breakers end up doing nothing.
I don’t know if I’m sold with this build either. We only have three pieces of hard removal and two pieces of tempo removal with Gone Missing. The card draw is nice, but it’s not great.
The obvious problem here is our creatures. We’ve got a tower instead of a curve. A 1 drop, two 2 drops, 2 four drops, one 5 and one 6 drop… EIGHT 3 drops. This means our games won’t really start until turn 3 and we’ve got to hope we don’t get stuck on mana. I’m sure an argument could be made to cut one of the 3 drops and add the Lamplighter of Selhoff. Lamplighter is a solid card that works nicely with our Stitched Manglers and Stitchwing Skaab, but I wasn’t convinced it was enough to warrant running it in the main deck. I would definitely bring it in if I felt I needed stronger defence.
I do feel our Unimpeded Trespassers combo very well with our Neck Breakers, but that requires a lot of set up to get there. Overall, another okay build.
Now this is a deck! First off, let’s address the obvious questions: How can we run Sorin, Grim Nemesis and why in this deck and not the others? The answer is the same reason we’re running Ongoing Investigation here and not in the Blue-Red build: Our land fixing. Port Town taps for White or Blue meaning I’m comfortable running Sorin with Port Town and an additional Plains for the splash. Likewise, Ongoing Investigation is great on it’s own, but it’s better when we can run Foul Orchard to splash Green for the activation cost. The key with these two splashes are a matter of timing: Ongoing Investigation is fine in the early game and once we draw our Foul Orchard for the Green, it gets better for the late game. Likewise, we’re okay running Sorin on the 1 Port Town, 1 Plains splash because he’s a 6 drop. We don’t need Sorin in our early game and with the amount of card draw we have, the chances of us finding our W lands in the late game are very good.
This deck isn’t running as much removal as the Black-Red version, but I feel the removal here was the most impactful half of the Black-Red build. With the addition of Sorin’s -X ability which removes a creature and gains us life, I’m pretty confident with our ways of interacting with our opponent’s board.
Running Niblis of Dusk, Crow of Dark Tiding, Stitchwing Skaab, and Markov Dreadknight as our air support in the main deck, I’m perfectly content moving Stormrider Spirit to the sideboard and running Lamplighter of Selhoff main to combo with our Stitched Manglers, Crow of Dark Tiding, Stitchwing Skaab and even the zombie created by Ghoulcaller’s Accomplice when he finds himself in the graveyard.
I also like Magnifying Glass here. It helps us ramp to our late game cards quicker, helps us with our mana sinks in the late game and allows us to draw more cards if we end up stalling in the mid-late game.
Overall, I like the balance of card draw, bombs and air support and that Blue-Black gives us our deepest sideboard when compared to the other combinations. Had I opened this pool at a Sealed event, this is most likely the deck I would have run.
That wraps up our three part look at Sealed deck construction! I hope you had as much fun with it as I had. It was certainly more challenging to write then I originally anticipated, but I’m glad I was able to share these tips with all of you. I would love to hear your thoughts on the series and what your feelings may be on the final deck choice. Would you have also run the Blue-Black version? Would you have opted for the Black-Red or Blue-Red? Perhaps something else entirely? Leave a comment in the Comments section below!
JP Vazquez – Optimum Jank
Last week, we took a look at Magic‘s Sealed Deck format and went over some basic techniques when constructing a Sealed deck. If you haven’t read last week’s article, a lot of what we’ll be talking about here has already been covered there in greater detail.
This week, as promised, we’ll be opening six Shadows Over Innistrad packs and constructing a Sealed deck using the techniques we learned last week. Without further ado, let’s crack these packs!
Diving Into Our Pool
Let us start by skipping right to our Rares and Mythics, because I know that’s what all of you are really interested in. Here’s a look at our loot:
Well, in terms of monetary value, opening three intro pack rares is financially underwhelming, but I believe Sorin, Grim Nemesis balances a lot of it out. Port Town is nice because real estate in Magic will always be worth something, and Brain in a Jar has been ticking upwards since SaffronOlive posted his Mono Blue Brain in a Jar Standard deck. We’re not looking at crazy value, but I’m not going to complain. In terms of running them in our deck, I’m a little nervous that four of these cards have double-coloured costs. This means splashing any of them might prove too difficult, so we better hope that we either find ourselves strongly in one particular colour or that our mana-fixing turns out to be fantastic.
It’s time to look at the meat and potatoes of what we’ve opened. Last week, I mentioned that the first thing you should do when tackling a Sealed pool is to separate your cards into their respective colours. Your next step should be to break down each colour into two different piles: your creatures and creature-producers into one pile and non-creature spells into another pile. For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to immediately combine those two steps for this article.
Not fantastic. We only have six creatures or creature-producers here and an overabundance of combat tricks. Puncturing Light is a solid removal spell but unfortunately it is also our only removal spell. I absolutely love Gryff’s Boon and Tenacity but I don’t think either of those cards are strong enough to pull us into playing White. Pious Evangel is another personal favourite, but in no way would I consider him a bomb, nor a card that would pull me into White. In fact, I think our strongest White card is Sorin, Grim Nemesis, which is more accurately multicoloured. Hopefully our Black will be stronger to balance out this weak White pool if we decide to go WB. Alternatively, perhaps we can get away with simply splashing for Sorin? White may be very strong overall in SOI, but this pool of cards isn’t strong nor deep enough for us to commit to at this point.
Hopefully Blue will save us from catastrophe…
Hmm. Not particularly exciting, but not bad either. I feel like our Blue is going in two different directions: On one side, we have a bit of a control mill strategy buried in there. On the other side we have the foundation of an evasive aggro strategy through our creatures with Flying or Skulk. We have card draw with Catalog as well as a few ways to Investigate using cards such as Jace’s Scrutiny and Gone Missing. As I mentioned last week, prioritizing card draw helps us draw into our bombs. Unfortunately, our Blue is a little lacking in that department: Nothing here screams “game finishing bomb”. Perhaps we can use Blue in conjunction with another colour that has more powerful bombs? Gone Missing is another strike against Blue for me. While it nets us a Clue token, I’ve never been thrilled by this 5 mana sorcery Time Walk effect. It has underperformed for me whenever I’ve played it, so I’m not thrilled with the idea of running one, let alone running two. Overall, Blue has problems but it’s not terrible, so it’s definitely in contention.
Let’s move onto our Black.
HOLY COW. I’m in love with these Black cards. It has everything we want. It has creature recursion with Sanitarium Skeleton and Ghoulcaller’s Accomplice. Skeleton also works well with Markov Dreadknight, Sinister Concoction and Merciless Resolve, allowing us to either discard it or sacrifice it then bring it back to our hand to use it again later. Concoction and Murderous Compulsion provide fantastic removal and as a bonus even work well with each other! Furthermore, we’ve got a genuine bomb with Markov Dreadknight: An evasive creature that just gets bigger and synergizes with all of our Madness cards. Playing Black also gets us half way to playing Sorin, Grim Nemesis. Unsurprisingly, Sorin is extremely powerful in Limited and is absolutely what we’d like to be running if we can. This pool of Black cards may not be very deep – what we’ve got is most likely what we’re going to run in our deck – but what we’ve got packs a hell of a punch.
At this point, I’m highly favouring Black. Let’s see if Red rocks me.
Let’s get the negative out of the way first: we don’t have a lot of cards here to play with. The positive is that most of the cards that we do have are great. The removal in particular is fantastic. Dual Shot for early threats, Inner Struggle for late threats, Lightning Axe for whenever. Combined with our Black removal, we can remove all the things all the time. That being said, if we decide not to play Black, we’ve only got three non-creature spells here, which doesn’t give us much wiggle room. Devil’s Playground is always incredibly annoying to play against so running it here is a definite yes. As far as bombs go, though, it’s definitely on the lower end of the bomb curve. The two Breakneck Riders will be fantastic in any aggro strategy and Howlpack Wolf has over-performed every time I’ve played it. That being said, Insolent Neonate, our lackluster 2 drops and our three vanilla Hulking Devils as the only 4 drop creatures we have are all incredibly meh. Red feels like it simply can’t make up its mind if it wants to be awesome or awful.
One last colour to go. Drumroll, please!
Two drops for days. And good ones at that. The Veteran Cathar is backbreaking if we can find more Humans. Unfortunately, it requires us to be running White to activate its ability and our White pool wasn’t incredibly strong to begin with. We still might be able to pull it off if we can use Loam Dryad to splash. As far as bombs go, Soul Swallower is pretty solid and becomes an “absolutely must be dealt with creature” if we can activate Delirium… which might be a problem. Within Green, our only way to fuel Delirium looks like Vessel of Nascency. With three cards reliant on Delirium, we’ll have to pair Green with a colour that could help fuel our graveyard, which would most likely mean pairing it with either Blue or Black… or both. The most interesting thing to note here is our abundance of creatures with higher toughness at each point of the curve, including our 3-of vanilla five drops. Apparently, our pool loves vanilla creature (a term used for creatures with no additional abilities). Unlike the Hulking Devils, I’m much more positive on running the Thornhide Wolves. They’re perfectly fine top end cards that easily stonewall most other creatures when played on the defence. Once again, like Red, the biggest drawback to running Green is its lack of non-creature spells and especially its complete lack of interaction and/or removal.
Let’s wrap this up with our multicoloured cards, artifacts and lands.
We’ve got three Rares/Mythics in this group, but it’s only Sorin that’s standing out as something we should absolutely try to run. Since our Black looked particularly strong, Sorin is tempting me toward running him no matter what, even if we have to splash the off colour White just for him. With our weaker number of non-creature spells throughout our pool, Brain in a Jar doesn’t really look fantastic here. What I do like, however, are the Magnifying Glasses. They’re not overtly powerful but I have seen them run away with games in a number of control decks. If we end up in a more control, less aggro type of deck, I definitely think we should try running at least one.
Our lands might help us ever so slightly with fixing. We’ll end up knowing more once we start finalizing our deck, but for now, I’m going to remain optimistic that Port Town will come in handy. If we end up in UB, Port Town will definitely help us with our Sorin splash.
It looks like we’ve opened quite a challenging pool to navigate! Next week, we’ll take a look at the different colour combinations and see which ones look strongest. Until then, I’m very curious to hear from you: Which colours would you go into? What do you think you would build from this pool? Did you see something that I might have missed in my card evaluations? Let me know in the Comments section below! Don’t forget to be here next week to see what we end up building in our final installment!
JP Vazquez – Optimum Jank
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