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 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.
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.