Owen’s a Win – PTQing with M11

This week I wanted to write an article about M11 sealed since it will be the format for the upcoming Grand Prix in Portland. After a disappointing performance at PT Amsterdam I played in the PTQ the next day and I felt that my sealed pool was interesting enough to write an article about. Despite the fact that I felt I had a very, very strong pool I think there is some things I did with it that are not immediately intuitive to your average player and looking back on it the reader and even myself could learn something from it. I guess a good place to start would be just showing you what I opened.

The Pool








The first and easiest thing you can do is eliminate green. Cultivate is tempting but it’s just so underpowered compared to the other colors we have, and besides Cultivate, Protean Hydra, and Giant Spider it’s all just average filler cards. I have been consistently unimpressed by green in both draft and sealed to the point where I can say pretty confidently that it is the worst color. I would have to have some of its best cards to consider playing it, cards like Overwhelming Stampede or Cudgel Troll.

As easy as it was for me to dismiss green because of a lack of playables, I think it’s just as easy to say this pool pretty much has to play blue. I have many playables and some of the strongest cards I have are blue. This shouldn’t really surprise anyone but I feel like blue is the best color in both draft and sealed, and my blue has almost everything I could want besides a Foresee and another bomb rare of some kind.

The Decks

When I look at my white the cards that stand out at me the most are obviously the 2 Blinding Mage. Next would be 2 Assault Griffin and then 2 Infantry Veteran. The first two are very strong and I would play them in any white deck but Infantry Veteran, although awesome in draft, is very hit or miss in sealed. You essentially have to build your deck around being very aggressive to take advantage of him best. If I were to play UW my deck would look something like this:

This is 24/17 so just cut whichever spell you like the least. The Excommunicate and Inspired Charge are the weakest cards in the deck but with 2 Veteran and 2 Silvercoat Lion they become better as you become more aggressive. In no way is this deck bad, but my honest assessment of it is that we can do better. For this build I opted not to include Cancel, Sorcerer’s Strongbox, or Harbor Serpent because they didn’t seem to fit the deck’s plan. Unsummon can be good with Scroll Thief and may well also deserve a slot in this deck, possibly over Alluring Siren or Gargoyle Sentinel. I don’t think this deck needs to splash Fireball either, mostly because it has plenty of playables and no manafixing or scry to help with that.

Next up is black, and after you cut the real crap from it you have these:


My ideal UB deck would look like this:

I like this deck better than the UW deck because it just seems to have a higher card quality; trading 2 Blinding Mage for 2 Doom Blade is a push, but turning the Silvercoat Lions into Black Knight and Child of Night is nice. Losing 2 Assault Griffin and gaining Gravedigger and Quag Sickness is an upgrade but not a huge one. To me the white and the black are pretty close, with black having the edge as far as a 2nd color goes, but neither impresses me that much.

Nether Horror got cut because I have a lot of 4 drops already, and Sleep was cut because I have 13 Creatures and only about 3 of them are aggressive. Sleep is a great card but it shines best in a UG draft deck and is usually quite bad in a UB sealed deck. Duress was the last card to go; it’s certainly playable but seemed worse than what I already had in the deck and I wanted 18 lands because of Fireball. Something to note: maybe it deserves a slot because if I can cast it the turn before I cast Platinum Angel I should usually win.

Lastly lets take a look at red. Im not going to mince words here: I ended up playing UR because I felt the red was the strongest of the other colors. After you cut the truly unplayable cards you have these:


Now we’re talking! Chandra Nalaar, Fireball, and Pyroclasm jump right out at me. Those 3 cards alone put the other colors to shame (besides black and its two Doom Blades) but after that the cards aren’t super amazing. I’ll show you what I played and explain why I included the cards I did and cut the cards I didn’t play.

1 Maritime Guard – I did not include him in any of my other builds because in my UW deck I was too aggressive for it and already had good creatures in the 2 drop slot (which was also true of the UB build). This build did not have a very good early game, he survived my Pyroclasm, which is nice, and I felt I had such a high card quality in Mind Control, Fireball, Chandra, Platinum Angel etc that all I really needed to do was survive until the late game and I was going to win. So, playing the weak 1/3 for 1U seemed like a good idea and he was useful for me over the course of the tournament. This may seem like a dumb thing to say but he is deceptively good against a card like Scroll Thief.

1 Alluring Siren – A friend of mine asked me why I knew to play Alluring Siren in my sealed deck. This was just experience with the card across multiple sealed decks with him on Magic Online; she always impressed me. In this deck she did not disappoint; the two Azure Drake were awesome with him at eating Runeclaw Bears and Barony Vampires. She just allows you to set up really favorable board positions if you have creatures that fight well in combat and I feel I did. After 2 Azure Drake I have Harbor Serpent, Water Servant, and Gargoyle Sentinel for eating smaller creatures, and even Scroll Thief. Thief plus Siren may not seem like a combo but it’s much easier to get him through to draw that extra card when you have control of who attacks you each turn. Lastly, a cool trick I never got to use with her is that he says “Target creature attacks YOU this turn if able” so you can use her to protect Chandra in a pinch.

1 Cancel – This one should be obvious to anyone who has played a good amount of M10 or M11 sealed, since one of the keys to sealed deck is to play whichever colors best exploit your bombs, and Cancel fights that quite well. Plus, the value of a card like Cancel can skyrocket when you have Platinum Angel.

1 Harbor Serpent – As I previously mentioned, I think blue is the best color in sealed and I think its pretty hard to even argue otherwise. A good way to evaluate Harbor Serpent in my eyes is to just call him the “Bog Tatters of M11.” If that didn’t help let me explain, in Zendikar sealed, black was far and away the best color to the point where at GP Minneapolis they had to make an announcement that they ran out of swamps because so many people chose to play black. When such a high percent of the field is playing black the Tatters effectively read 4B 4/2 unblockable, and when you add in that it didn’t die to Hideous End (a card everyone would play in their black deck) it became a really strong maindeckable card. This was not obvious at first but after a while it became standard for people to always run almost all of their Bog Tatters in sealed. Harbor Serpent seems similar to me in this regard; when both players are playing blue he is easy to turn on and can quickly end the game.

Cards I did not play

1 Gravedigger – I believe that most people would have tried to play Gravedigger in this deck because it’s just a good card and I’m already splashing black, but it would be a mistake to do so. First, because I have so few creatures that I’m willing to trade off early in the game, unless I draw Ember Hauler I can never cast him on turn 4 where he would be strongest in this deck. I have an almost unbeatable late game in terms of card quality so I didn’t want to include a card that could potentially lead to more mulligans and make my early game worse in exchange for a high powered late game card.

2 Ice Cage – At GP Gothenberg I had one of these in my deck and as I asked players I respected for help with my pool I got some really golden advice from Ben Stark who told me Ice Cage is straight up unplayable in sealed deck. I defended my choice to include it with what I thought was sound logic ‘if you wait to cast it until they have no cards in hand its obviously very good’ but he was correct when he told me that all players play all their equipment. Equipment just makes Ice Cage look embarrassing, and either they play their equipment early in the game and the Cage is useless or you can shut something down with Ice Cage and they randomly topdeck a piece of equipment later and kill it. Because it’s core set and because it’s sealed the games go long and this is all but inevitable.

1 Sleep – I feel I explained why sleep is weak in UB and the same reasons apply to this grixis deck. I have so few creatures and the ones I do have don’t hit hard, this will just make my opening hands worse and be generally disappointing.

1 Diminish – This is a card I have grown to hate more and more as I see it played. The reason is that Diminish loses to everything, and by that I mean like every single layering rule works against Diminish, so it’s easy to get trumped. You pump Nightwing/Nantuko Shade 3 times and I Diminish it, it’s a 4/4 still. You Giant Growth your Giant Spider and I Diminish it. Too bad, it’s still a Giant 4/4. You put Warlord’s Axe on Squadron Hawk and I Diminish it and it’s still a 4/2 angry bird. The same applies for Auras like Armored Ascension and Volcanic Stength. Diminish isn’t actually unplayable; I like it with Prodigal Pyromancer or Triskelion or other cards that can ping and I would even run it if I had upwards of 3 Scroll Thief, but overall I try to avoid this card if I can.

2 Vulshok Berserker – Another card I have been unimpressed with, since the only thing he actually does well in combat is block Juggernaught and after that you will be forced to trade down. When I say trade down I mean you will almost always be spending more mana on your Vulshok Berserker than your opponent will be spending on whichever creature he trades with, like Silvercoat Lion, Runeclaw Bears, Aether Adept, or Child of Night. And trading 4 mana guys for 2 mana guys is just not where you want to be; it only takes a couple trades like this for your opponent to be swimming in stock mana advantage.

1 Berserkers of Blood Ridge – This card just sucks. I used to have him on my list of cards I will always play in a deck with his colors but he just puts you in such bad spots. First, a 4/4 for 5 really isn’t all that great, and second in a deck like mine, as I’ve said before multiple times, my late game is just so powerful I don’t need to try to kill them fast I just need to survive and the Berserker does this job the worst of all.

2 Combust – It may have been a mistake not to include one of these into my main deck because I explained (under Harbor Serpent) that blue is likely the best and most played color. Still, I believe it’s important to understand the risk vs. reward between the two cards. This biggest risk with Combust is sometimes you will have no targets for it and it will be an effective mulligan, whereas Harbor Serpent is still a 5/5 to stall the ground with, and still teams well with Alluring Siren. Even when my opponent is BR or RG, I can even just assemble the 5 island-urzatron myself and have a 5/5 with no words on it, which is fine.

I’m confident I built this sealed deck correctly within 1-2 cards and only 1 of my matches was even remotely close. I just ripped through the sealed portion, going 6-0-2 on my way to t8 of the PTQ where I drafted a decidedly average deck which made for a quick exit. I am very interested in seeing how anyone in the forums feels I misevaluated some of the cards I did or did not play, or even how any of you would have chosen to build it. Because with sealed deck (and MTG on the whole) we can only get better by looking back and reflecting on things we did well and things we did poorly. I hope even the people who will post NICE DECK! Or ‘must be nice’ or whatever will have read the article and at least take away one thing from it or consider how I built my deck and how they can build future decks.

Owen Turtenwald

36 thoughts on “Owen’s a Win – PTQing with M11”

  1. Now Owen T knows how to write an article about Sealed (unlike a Darwin Kastle, no offense). Great stuff. I would’ve built it almost the same and great insight on the M11 and Sealed format.

  2. Great article. Find it kind of funny that you have an article on vintage tezzert and core set sealed.

  3. This article was much appreciated. GP Portland this Saturday will be my first GP and any extra advice I can get on the format is super helpful. Thanks man.

  4. good read. i also though that UR splash Doomblades was obviously the best deck to build out of this pool but I really appreciate and got alot out of your explanations about what you didn’t play.

    For example, the Berserkers were in my build but I think I agree with you now that the card is not suitable for a control deck like this. it would just idiotically ram into a bad block and either die or do nothing.

    i’m not entirely convinced i agree with you about Ice Cage though. its not like there’s a whole pile of Equipment in M11, just Warlord’s Axe at the common slot. my usual procedure with it is to play it game 1 and board out it for a random dork (some marginal 2 drop like Maritime Guard or whatever) for game 2. this way i get an opportunity to trick an opponent into bringing in bad targetted spells like Holy Strength that he thinks he can beat my Ice Cage with.

  5. I read this entire article and I enjoyed it, and I do think there were probably a few difficult decisions that people may just write off because of the strength of the pool, etc. So thank you for writing this article.

    That being said: must be nice.

  6. i would played:

    -1 Maritime Guard
    +1 Combust

    i believe you have enough early defense in that deck. guard is ok against fast white decks but gets owned by mage and veteran while combust is much better at fighting them.

  7. Owen,

    That comparison between Bog Tatters and Harbor Serpent was just sage, and the comparison displayed the value of analysis across sets in any format. Great article; I hope you write more about sealed in the future as I feel its a format that is underrepresented in the Magic blogosphere as of late. I’m hoping I can consume more content like this that will help me increase my Magic knowledge base with the Scars sealed PTQ season coming up.

    Keep it up dude. Also, didn’t get a chance to tell you in person, but loved the threads at Nats. Cedric did you right.


  8. Whenever I come across one of these articles, I always begin by accessing the pool and building my own deck before reading on. It’s good practice but more importantly it makes you read the rest of the article completely different as you now have a preference for each card choice. In this case, when Owen begins to argue for Maritime Guard – one of 3 cards that were not in my otherwise almost identical build – his reasoning teach me that much more.

    I’d advice any reader who wants to improve his or her game to do this. Build your deck, compare it, understand how it differs, and why. This will seriously improve your sealed deck building skills.

  9. Protean Hydra + (un)holy strength = infinite lols.
    But bad cards are bad.
    Although i would’ve been tempted to splash for the Hydra. I saw all those mages and all those doom blades and i said to myself ‘c’mon dub-sylvan ranger, c’mon dub-sylvan ranger,’ but with only a cultivate your options are (pun intended) limited.
    I personally really like green’s ability to facilitate multicolor decks, but i agree that its cards (perhaps for that reason) are the least impressive.

  10. Finally someone that likes Alluring Siren. All the other authors on this page hate it so much.

    A very nice article keep them coming.

  11. Wait.. i can’t count.. so annoying that you can’t edit comments :). There already are 18 lands, obviously.

  12. I mean, I guess it’s the nuts sealed pool. Nothing wrong with that.

    I guess U/R/b is the right build, as you’ve suggested. I mean, are you going to *not* play Chandra or Mind Control, when they’ve got at least a decent supporting cast?

  13. Article was good, you made an obvious choice interesting to read about, and for the 1 or 2 “up in the air cards” made good arguments for. I know I would have definatly played at least 1 MD combust simply because my meta has 50% of the sealed deckers playing UW skies, its like they play it regardless of the rest of their pool. All that said I would preferred an article recaping your draft in top 8 if thats where you did more poorly, it would be interesting to see and comment on.
    Thanks for the article.

  14. Yea, the build seems fine. You didn’t mention, which I would do in a heartbeat, siding in 2-3 plains + 2 blinding mages for long, slow atrition matchups (which happen ALL the time in m11 sealed, esp since everyone plays blue so everyone’s deck is slow).

  15. Good article. Good deck. But there are some choices, which i think, were bad(at least not good). Mainly it’s Sorcerer’s Strongbox… If it would be 6 mana draw 3, then i would play it, but it usually turns out to be something like 10mana draw 3 cards with suspend 3… It’s too slow and expensive for your deck. On five – six lands, you have a lot of other things to do, than spent 2 mana every turn, just for flipping coin. Don’t misunderstand me, Sorcerer’s Strongbox isn’t that bat. This build just wasn’t the right home for it. (For example in UW skies it’s amlost autoinclude.) The other cards are Alluring Siren and Maritime Guard, but there are not any much better cards, that could replace them. Cards i would consider playing instead of them are: Gravedigger, Child of Night, Combust(s).

  16. Thobi: Sorcerer’s Strongbox takes an average of 2 activations and 8 mana. Drawing three cards in good in removal heavy decks like this and relatively bad in UW aggro.

  17. i’d probably go wrong and run Graveddiger instead of that vanilla 1/3, but your reasons are stronger than mine. I’ll point them out anyway.

    I’d run Gravedigger for quality reasons, since your deck seem to have such nice targets!

    …and thats the end of my ‘reasons’ 🙁

  18. That sealed pool is just insane lol. Also, I would definitely play Ice Cage over Maritime Guard.

    Maritime Guard suffers from the same problems as Ice Cage, while not having the significant upside that Ice Cage has. If your opponent has equipment or pump, your Maritime Guard is just as worthless, while Ice Cage has the significant upside of just blanking a bomb creature or a Blinding Mage or whatever. If your opponent is playing a hyper aggressive deck with lots of bears and no infantry veterans you can board the Guard in, or if you see equipment you can board the cage out, but I would almost always rather have the cage than the Guard.

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  20. As I’m on the Bus down to Portland for the GP, it’s nice to have a solid strategy article to read about M11 sealed. Thank You, Owen.

  21. Dan, Dustin. I wasn’t speaking about power of cards, that you can draw…. I was pointing to another thing: In UW Skies you don’t have a lot of five and six drops, unless you are really lucky – Serra Angel, Baneslayer Angel; or unlucky – Siege Mastodon. So you don’t mind spending two mana, because you still can do something else.

  22. Can you please decide whether aluring siren is male or female?

    “1 Alluring Siren – …multiple sealed decks with HIM on Magic Online; SHE always impressed me. In this deck SHE did not disappoint; the two Azure Drake were awesome with HIM at eating Runeclaw Bears and Barony Vampires. SHE just allows you to set up really favorable board positions if you have creatures that fight well in combat and I feel I did … Lastly, a cool trick I never got to use with HER is that HE says “Target creature attacks YOU this turn if able” so you can use HER to protect Chandra in a pinch.”

  23. Yeah the politically correct “him-her-hin-her” pronoun thing is really jarring and annoying, especially when the gender of the subject is clear on the card. Even if it weren’t, it’s still obnoxious to read. If you’re really *that* afraid of offending anyone, just always use “she” and “her”. That will satisfy PC needs while also not bitchslapping the eyes of anyone reading.

  24. I think i would play a Combust and here’s why: it shores up your tough matchups. This deck is well equipped to beat Green and Red, but may have trouble against a good aggro deck

  25. I learned some good things from this article and ive only ever played sealed once, so its probably my weakest format. thanks!

  26. i would not have played harbor serpent. i would have wanted to play my blinding mages, but i think your colors were correct. i really enjoyed your explanation for not including grave digger. It explains why sometimes he under performs in my drafts decks, and i just didnt understand why.

    in the end, this write up helped my understanding a sealed quite a bit.

  27. @Jan please explain? Else I’ll just say another crappy comment from a wannabe pro.
    Owen, thanks for the article and even with a strong pool and fairly straight forward path you gave enough content to provoke thought. Thank you.

  28. I enjoyed the article. Thanks for writing!

    I think your pool was pretty awesome but your thought process was interesting to read.

    IMHO, I would have put at least 1 combust main deck.

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