With the Arena qualifier weekend coming up, Innistrad: Midnight Hunt Sealed is suddenly the most important format, so I’m here to guide you through what I found to be one of the most challenging Sealed formats in the last year.
The most obvious defining feature of Midnight Hunt Sealed is how aggressive and curve oriented it is as a format. Unlike both Kaldheim and Strixhaven Sealed, this is a format where you need to have not just a couple, but several two-drops. This is in no small part caused by decay being in the format, as the 2/2 Zombies are tacked onto cards that would be fine without them for the most part, and provide decks with a bunch of incidental damage to close out games quickly. As a result, should you fall behind early, most decks will likely be able to close out the game before you catch up.
This ability for aggressive decks to slam the door is exacerbated by the presence of flashback and disturb. In most Limited formats, an issue with aggressive decks is that they simply run out of cards to play in the late game.
However, both of these abilities give decks things to spend mana on in the late game, ensuring that even most aggressive decks are using their mana and affecting the board into the late game. This also leads to cards that offer raw card advantage at the cost of not impacting the board performing far worse in this set than they would in most. Cards like Curse of Surveillance and Vivisection, which cost a lot of mana to draw cards but not affect the board, are nearly completely unplayable in this set, and are not how you should be looking to structure your decks’ late game. You should instead be trying to do more immediately impactful things in the late game than your opponent, and I’ll go into more detail on this later in the piece.
The final general takeaway for this format is that splashing is far weaker than it usually is. Not only does the curve-based nature of the format disproportionately punish stumbling on mana, but the cards that fix mana in this set are often below rate when it comes to impacting the board and will generally lead to your falling behind. This is exacerbated by the rewards for splashing also being somewhat less than they often are, as the format has a lot of good removal and generally powerful commons and uncommons, leading to the powerful cards you splash often not being enough to shift the course of the game on their own.
As a result, while you do sometimes splash in this set, it will generally end up happening only if you have enough incidental fixing without having to put bad cards in your deck. Since there’s no common land cycle in Midnight Hunt, this means decks that splashes will crop up only in pools with multiple Evolving Wilds/rare lands, or in pools that have powerful enough green to incentivize playing it as a primary color, and green mana fixers to go with it.
I will preface this section with a reminder that the issues with expectations in draft don’t apply in Sealed. In Midnight Hunt, for example, red has certainly underperformed, and blue overperformed, and in draft this may lead to your taking blue cards higher because you expect to see better blue cards in the future. In Sealed, however, you get all your cards together, and this means you can base your decisions entirely on the cards in your pool rather than worrying about future card quality.
With that out of the way, a majority of good decks in this format will be in Esper colors (blue-black, white-black or blue-white). I would strongly recommend trying a build of each of these decks in any pool that seems like it might support them. Each of these colors has strengths that are particularly well suited to Sealed and mitigate the weaknesses of the other colors. Black has excellent removal in this set, which positions it well since it’s still important to remove opposing bombs in Sealed. Blue just has the highest raw power level of colors in this set, and a lot of cards at common that are excellent rate and provide incidental card advantage in some form.
Finally, white has a lot of flyers, which are important in a Sealed format with a lot of board stalls, and has a good amount of removal that is mediocre in draft but quite good in Sealed. While these color pairs won’t always look the same, as this Sealed format isn’t one defined by archetypes, here’s a quick look at what each of them are generally about.
Blue-black is defined almost entirely by card advantage and quality. Blue has card draw, and black has removal for opposing bombs, so you just end up able to cast more powerful cards than your opponent into the late game. Many of the blue cards generate incidental decayed tokens, and this pairs well with several cards across both colors, allowing you to turn those tokens into card advantage.
Midnight Sealed UB by Arya Karamchandani
Blue-white as an archetype is almost always a deck looking to win with flyers, often getting two-for-ones along the way with cards with disturbed. White’s conditional removal works particularly well with this game plan, as you aren’t looking for an efficient answer to opposing threats, rather, you just need to stall till you win the game in the air.
Midnight Hunt UW Sealed by Piper Powell
Finally, black-white is a color combination that is extremely strong but defies categorization: you generally just end up winning with some set of powerful cards or the other, leaning on the oodles of removal these two colors provide you with. Since you don’t have the raw cards of blue, you’ll often need some other way to secure the late game, and what this is will vary pool to pool (I go over the different types of late game in this format in the next section).
Midnight Hunt BW Sealed by Arya Karamchandani
Between the three Esper color combinations, you’ll likely have the correct build for over half of your Sealed pools. Unfortunately, there’s little common ground between most builds of other colors in this Sealed format. The times you will veer toward one of these archetypes are when you have extremely high card quality in red or green, either in the form of bombs or several premium lower rate cards. I would caution against playing a shallow color just for one or two good bombs, as the average card quality in this format is very high, and a weaker deck with a few bombs will generally lose to a deck with a collection of good cards and a decent amount of removal.
With the ability for almost all decks to keep casting spells into the late game, the way you gain an advantage in that section of the game is unlike most sealed formats. Good decks either provide a fast or evasive clock, have powerful cards as their top-end or work to deny their opponents card advantage into the late game. There’s some bleed over between these categories, and I’ll go into the details of what each of these look like below, but it’s important to note that decks without any of these are essentially unplayable.
However, there’s no place in this format for midrangey decks with few to no flashback cards or other card advantage, with just a bunch of solid playables but no bombs or other card advantage. Nor is there room for decks that need to take turns off in the mid game to play slow card draw that doesn’t affect the board.
The first category of these decks is decks that present a clock. This is fairly straightforward, as all Sealed formats have a few aggressive decks, and this one is no exception. Decks with absolutely no lategame are rare however, and you want even the fastest decks to have some use for their mana in the mid to late game.
Much more common are the decks that leverage flyers to present an evasive clock through a late-game board stall. The number of disturb flyers in the set at common and uncommon make this the go-to option for most blue-white decks in particular, and these decks should be able to present far more flying threats than opponents have answers. This is also the only category of deck that can get away with just a few answers to opposing threats and bombs, as your plan is to apply pressure either early or in the air and ignore a lot of what your opponent is doing.
The next category of decks are those with powerful top-end. This one is fairly self explanatory and generally consists of bombs and sometimes powerful cards of lower rarity. While these cards aren’t going to be enough to make up for a lower quality of deck in general, they do allow you to get away with a deck full of decent to good rate cards and removal with the plan of using these cards to close out the game.
Finally, there are some decks, primarily across black and white, that play a long game by denying opponents late game card advantage with graveyard hate and exile. With the abundance of removal that some pools end up having, graveyard hate is often the last piece these decks need to ensure that you remain ahead through the late game by answering the most impactful threats and denying your opponents the ability to use disturbed and flashback to keep casting spells in the late game.
Midnight Hunt Graveyard Hating Sealed by Arya Karamchandani
With all of that done, here are a few final miscellaneous tips on the Sealed format, and good luck in the qualifier!
- Hands without a two or three-drop in this format aren’t just bad, they’re completely unkeepable.
- Combat tricks are better in this Sealed format than most, but that still just makes them mediocre rather than bad.
- Near-unplayably bad card advantage: Vivisection, Curse of Surveillance, Secrets of the Key, Blood Pact, Dryad’s Revival, Mysterious Tome.
- Passable to good card advantage: No Way Out, Crawl From the Cellar.