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Here I Ruel – How to Build a Sealed Deck

With a Limited season and the Scars of Mirrodin release to come on Magic: Online upcoming, the timing seemed right to discuss Sealed deck strategy. I could have spoken of Scars Sealed in particular, as I’ve played a couple of prerelease events last weekend, but I’d rather wait to know the expansion a little more before I do so.

Today we’ll discuss about how to take the best of your six booster pack card pool.

Most people don’t like Sealed deck as they consider it is the most random tournament format there is, as the quality of a deck can vary a lot depending on the quality of the card pool you get. However, it is often less important than it is in draft, in which a pack can either strengthen your deck or your opponents’ depending the moment when it is opened.

Then of course I won’t say Sealed deck is the fairest format there is, but I still think it is one of the most skill-intensive ones. Indeed, even when you don’t have bombs, you can still beat decks with your 40 card pile’s own strengths. What actually makes the format complex is to be able to recognize those strengths and to build your deck around them. Before we start analyzing them, let’s first state a few basics about the things to do on a Sealed deck tournament.

The fastest way to register a deck is to open the boosters all at once, and to directly sort cards by color. Once it is done, sort it in alphabetical order so you can register faster, double check once you’re done, and so the person who will have to check your list will be able to do so quick.

Then, when you receive the deck you’ll be playing with, you should sort the cards by color. In the case of a format like Scars of Mirrodin Limited, many artifacts should be sorted as colored cards (Vulshok Replica should go in the red pile for instance). Once you’ve done so, you should make two piles for each color (playable/unplayable) or three (good cards//fillers/unplayable).

We’ll get back to the building process, but let’s first talk about the strong points you’ll be looking forward to find and about how you should be building your deck around them.

THE STRONG POINTS

Bombs
Having one card you can rely on to win games by itself is good. However, if you have at least two, the best thing is usually to try and build a control deck so you can make a good use of it. In order to do so, favor card advantage, removal and slow creatures better than aggro ones. For instance, in a control deck you rather like a 2/3 than a 3/2 or a 2/4 than a 4/2. Also, as control decks are meant to make games long, they can make a better use of splashes.

Removal
Unless you have an amazing creature base, you can’t afford not to run removal spells in Sealed deck. Not only do you often need the help of a removal in a Limited game, also will you face bombs more often than in draft. Therefore, the more removal spells you can put in your deck, the better.

Mana curve
Building a deck is not only about selecting the best 22 or 23 cards in your pool and adding lands. No matter how good those cards are, if you don’t play spells in the early game, you’ll usually lose. Therefore it is capital to play enough early drops in order not to give up the tempo to your opponent. A curve will usually look like:

lands: 17 or 18

1 mana spell: 0-3, accelerators (Llanowar Elves), removal spells, drawers (Spellbombs, Preordain) are needed, and so can be combat tricks, but you don’t need early guys as their impact on the board usually is extremely low.

2 mana spell: 4-5

3 mana spell: 7

4 mana spell: 6

5 or + mana spell: 4

Then of course the more card drawing and accelerators you have, the higher a curve you can afford. Also, it is important to have many 2 and 3 mana guys, so you don’t have to play removal spells on crappy creatures.

Mana stability
It’s better to play two colors if you can in order to limit the mana problems, or to splash a third one if it improves significantly your deck (bombs and removal mostly). Green is the color which allows splashing the most easily thanks to the support of fixers, but other decks can also afford splashes. However, the more aggro you are, the more you should value a stable mana, as the lack of tempo mana problems causes disrupt your deck’s strategy a lot more.

Concerning the numbers of lands you should run, it is usually 17 or 18. When I consider my mana very stable and/or when my curve is low, I run 17. However, when I am three colors and/or when I consider my deck strong enough to be much more scared of a being land screwed than land flooded (meaning most of the time), I rather run 18.

Then I usually cut 1 for every two non-creature fixers (Signet, Rampant Growth), but I don’t cut any for a Myr, as those get killed way too easily.

Creatures
You usually want to have between 14 and 17 creatures. Then this number depends on their strength, their curve, and the type of deck you are running. Basically, the more aggro you are, the more guys you’ll need, and on the opposite the more control, the less creatures you have to run.

Therefore, and unless you have many bombs and removal spells, you can’t afford to choose colors which don’t have enough playable creatures. And on the other hand, the more of those spells you get, the fewer guys will be needed.

Evasion
Their importance varies depending on the format in which you play them, but they usually have a pretty big impact. Sealed deck is the format in which the most games are stalled, and three best ways to unstall them are bombs, removal spells, and creatures with evasive abilities (flying, shadow, etc.)

Card Advantage
In a slow environment, which most Sealed decks format are, anything that is able to provide you card advantage is extremely useful.

Tricks
Any trick card such as countermagic, bounce spells or pump spells is in theory able to be as strong as a creature removal, and will often be harder to see coming.

Let’s say you have a Sealed deck with no bombs. It’s of course a handicap, but you have to build your deck so opponents also have handicaps against you. For instance an average but consistent 2 color aggro deck may face one of the best decks in the tournament, but it will often have an advantage on mana, tricks and evasion. Also, it will punish the opponent’s mana issues pretty quickly.

CHOOSING THE RIGHT ARCHETYPE

22 or 23 good spells, even with a good curve, don’t necessarily make a good deck. It is paramount to think in terms of global synergy in Limited in the same way as you would with a Constructed deck.

You should try and avoid mixing synergies. For instance it is unadvised to run a few infect guys when most of your creatures deal regular damage, or to play walls in an aggro deck (except if you run UW evasion in which case it can hold the board while you race).
Thinking in terms of synergy will help you deciding which cards go in the deck or not, but also how to play during the games. Let’s say for instance you have a control deck and open with a 2 mana 2/2 when your opponent does the exact same start. In a control deck you’d rather keep your guy in defense than starting a race, while you will play the opposite way with an aggro deck.

So how do you decide which one you should run? The best way to decide it to look at the best reasons to play each archetype:

Control
I tend to think that, in general, it is better to try and build that kind of deck. However, building decks for long games mean bombs will play a bigger role than in a regular one. Therefore, the best reason to play control is to have cards which can win games on their own. If you have at least two, control is usually the option, but if you have one or fewer you’ll need lots of removal spells and card advantage providers in order to run it.

However, some cards which are not bombs are still winning conditions you can rely on. They can be big flyers, landwalkers, big guys, and regenerators.

You don’t need that many guys (12 to 14 can be enough), but you need several early blockers as well as a minimum two or three winning conditions. I usually run 18 lands in this kind of deck because I don’t want to miss a land drop, and even though I have card drawing which mean I’ll often draw lots of lands, I see it as an opportunity to splash pretty easily.

Aggro
If you are short in bombs and/or in removal spells, it is better to try and avoid long games. The best ways to do so are to have a solid aggro base, supported by a solid mana base (either 2 colors, or 2 and a splash for removal spells). In this kind of deck, any trick spell (Boost spell, prevention spell, bounce spell) can be as good as a removal spells. In a two color deck 17 lands can do, but if I have to splash without fixers, I’ll usually run 18 as well.

BUILDING THE DECK

Now back to the moment when your cards are piled by colors. Take the playable cards pile, and separate creatures and non-creature spells. Then class each pile by casting cost. The colors you will decide to associate must depend on the following:

-the number of playables: if a color has 10 or more cards including very good ones, it is likely to be the deck’s core.

-bombs: even if they are in bad colors, always keep in mind they can be splashed.

-synergy: poison cards go together, same goes for flyers, card drawing +removal spells. Also, and this is very important, cards which are supposed to be synergistic can’t be too expensive. For instance you should not run a 4 mana and a 5 mana metalcraft cards if most of your good artifacts also cost 4 or more. Otherwise, you won’t be able to take the best of each card.

-the curve: no matter how good cards can be, if you don’t have a well balanced curve (see above), the deck is not playable.

-removal spells: even though you can put a color apart while building because it is just too weak, put the removal spells aside as you they can always be splashed.

-fixers: the colors which have fixers can’t be neglected as they are what will make your deck stable. For instance, even if your best cards are red and blue, the best choice can be to play blue/green splash red if you have a couple of Cultivate and several green playable guys. This way green will provide the mana and the creature base, and blue and red will provide the winning cards.

In the next weeks I’ll analyze Scars of Mirrodin more specifically, when both you and I know the format a little better. Until then, I hope this advice helps!

Thanks for reading, and have a great week!

Oli

26 thoughts on “Here I Ruel – How to Build a Sealed Deck”

  1. Welcome to channelfireball Oli!

    I am a huge fan of limited and sealed, and this was definitely one of the best articles I’ve read on the subject in a while.

  2. Solid article! I am so glad I discovered Channelfireball when I did, it’s really helping my game as I try to take the next step. Good article!

  3. I like tihs better than most of the other sealed articles because it shows what you do to get to your conclusion not just your conclusion which i sometimes have problems understanding how you got there. Welcome to the Site!

  4. Hello,

    I say “Monsieur” RUEL.
    Your article is near perfect.
    Good job LSV^in grabbing this one to your team.

    Vive la France ^^

  5. In the prerelease I had 7 bombs in my pool (2x chimeric mass, 1x precursor golem, 1x quicksilver titan, 1x venser, 1x darksteel juggernaught and 1x ratchet bomb).

    I went U/W with a controlish approach with slow guys like sky-eel school, lumengrid drake and slow removal like qiucksilver lash.

    I almost lost in the 1st round (2-1) to an aggrodeck with glint hawk and sunspear shikari. In the second round the same thing happends, I lose the 1st match and then decide to sideboard out the slow stuff för 2x glint hawk, neurok invisiomancer and such (basiclly i lowered the mana curve radically).
    After that i lost all in all 2 games in the next 4 rounds, and was unbeaten and clear winner of the swiss.

    This partly contradicts what Olivier says, so I’m curious as to why it happend. I feel that if you have a lot of expensive bombs (at least in this format), you should try to put pressure on your opponent and then finish him off with the bombs, rather than letting him race you and put you in a position where a bomb might not save you.

    Im very curious about this contradiction, anyone have a constructive answer?

  6. @Ullis A control deck, while focusing on card draw and removal, needs to be able to handle an early creature rush. The win condition is largely incidental (though of course the stronger it is, the more reliably it wins you the game). Even a deck with all the best bombs in the format still needs something to do reliably in the first few turns of the game or it just loses on tempo. So as Oli said you need cheap 3 toughness guys to stave off the first assault. If all you are doing is using slow stuff then of course you lose, as you are giving the aggro decsk 3-4 free turns.

  7. @Ullis: I think Oli addressed this in the section on playing control. “You don’t need that many guys (12 to 14 can be enough), but you need several early blockers . . .”

  8. @Ullis ; imho it’s easy to answer you:

    casting cost of the spell you’ve named:
    2x chimeric mass = 4/5 (to cast it with profit, let’s say at least 4 or 5)
    1x juggernaut darksteel = 5
    1x venser = 5
    1x precursor golem = 5
    1x quicksilver gargantuan = 7
    1x ratchet bomb = 2

    ruel was already giving you the answer with the part of the article about the curve:

    “4 mana spell: 6
    5 or + mana spell: 4”

    6 of you 7 rares was 5+, so only with that you’re above the number of 5+ mana spell you should play most of the times…and i’m supposed that the rares weren’t the only 5+ spells of your deck. Plus, most of them (venser and juggernaut in particulary) doing pretty much nothing if in the first 4 turns you’ve casted about one/two spells.

    Ah, gargantuan and ratchet bomb are not really the bombs you’ve maybe thought they are. For me are both 3.5/5 spells. (maybe in sealed gargantuan is a 4, in draft 3.5 is his rate.) Most of the time with the bomb you’ll get a 2×1, sometimes a 3×1 or a good 1×1 (when you kill a casting cost 4 or 5 threat). For example, steel hellkite, that have a simil effect, it’s way better ’cause it a huge creature and it slowly (not so slowly, in fact) completly clear the opponent’s board.

  9. Great sealed primer; very efficiently written, easy to comprehend and makes a lot of sense. The specifics such as deck construction number estimates are very helpful for me as someone returning to the game after a long hiatus and looking to play in Scars sealed. Bravo!

  10. Oh obv….

    Anyway, I love this site. So much more useful content than others. Nice intro to sealed. It can be challenging to build a good deck, and you mostly went over it. Perhaps something more specific would be helpful, like an actual sealed pool with how you would build it, how you did build it,what you would change, underwhelming strategies. Also, choosing to play first or draw and how that might change depending on the format and your overall strategy. I had a few people give me the ‘huh?’ when I told them id like to draw first. How do you feel about scars draft, I suspect its a bit too fast to draw first, as a lot of cards favor agression.

  11. Interesting how Ruel emphasizes the mana curve in sealed while Stark wrote that the mana curve has very low priority.

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  13. Talk about a crash course in limited. Wish I would’ve seen this article a couple of years ago when I was just starting, most of us have had to learn these rules the hard way… Anyways great article for those that are new to limited.

  14. Curve is always important but i think the other article was saying that curving out creatures turn after turn is not as important in sealed since aggro decks are harder to build in sealed than in draft

  15. Is it ok to run 16 lands if your have a couple of myrs and your curve ends at 4 or 5 with maybe one 6 drop?

    Cos in many situations i find myself mana flooded and this loses me the game quite often.

    And congrats on making the channelfireball team

  16. This was a great article. I’ve played a lot of sealed, but I think like most players I go 2-2 or something like that more than I want to. I think the best part of this article was the concept of choosing cards that make sense for your deck and playing that way.

    M11 in a vacuum for instance Silvercoat Lion is better than Palace Guard but in a deck with a lot of flyers like Squadron Hawk the guard can help hold down the ground against stuff like Garruk’s Companion or Scroll Thief.

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