With GP Nashville this weekend, my playtesting has consisted primarily of Sealed daily events on Magic Online. Today I will show you some of the more interesting pools I had and point out some of the things I think I did well, things I did poorly, and things I would do differently given the chance. The first pool I want to talk about I thought was particularly interesting, so here goes:
The first thing you can do is quickly eliminate white and black as viable options based on a lack of quality cards. You can also easily determine that you have to play red as a main color because 2 Scrapmelters and 3 Turn to Slag give you amazing removal as well as a good way of producing card advantage. I think both green and blue are close, but when you compare the two colors in my eyes it comes down to 2 Tangle Angler vs. Argent Sphinx and Volition Reins, with both having about the same number of filler cards neither being just better than the other. I love Tangle Angler more than most but I think the blue is just stronger (despite the allure of the Copper Myr).
And I have been impressed time and time again by Volition Reins in Sealed deck despite it usually not being that great in draft and there are many reasons for this. I have seen in multiple draft videos on this site where someone opens a Volition Reins and says something like, “Well I think we all realize this isn’t like Mind Control in m11,” which I agree with. Most good draft decks have about 2 maybe 3 really solid targets for the Confiscate, and often you have to take a Chrome Steed when you aren’t metalcrafted just to not die, or a Saberclaw Golem that you can’t activate.
Basically most good draft decks will try to win with cheap threats and synergy (either poison or metalcraft). But in Sealed it’s a much different story. First, everyone plays all the removal they open in their six packs; since there are so many artifacts, there is a lot of flexibility in deck construction and to simplify it people should try to play to their pools strengths: removal and bombs. Second, not only does Volition Reins deal with opposing bomb rares, but when uncontested, it creates them! This week alone I lost to my own Steel Hellkite and Venser being stolen and won with my opponent’s Kuldotha Phoenix and Molten-Tail Masticore.
Once I decided I was going to play UR and I laid out all the cards that I knew I wanted to play, I realized it was quite top-heavy with many powerful late-drops which prompted me to add Wall of Tanglecord and Plated Seastrider thinking that if I could just stall early, I would have inevitability with such strong removal and rares. I usually try to avoid off-color Myr but with so many 5-casting cost spells and no cheap removal they seemed necessary, as well as Barrage Ogre and Darksteel Axe so I can make use of them late game. The 23rd card I added was Disperse which I do not always run in my blue Sealed pools but with 2 Scrapmelter and Myr Battlesphere I felt it would not be hard to get value from it. This was my final build:
I ended up going 3-1 with this pool and with the benefit of hindsight, I would cut Tumble Magnet. Basically every time I drew it, it was garbage and even in other Sealed decks where I’ve had it, it always seems to disappoint, yet I play it anyways because it’s a “good card.” It seems even worse than normal in this deck because yes I’m trying to stall but that isn’t what makes Tumble Magnet powerful. It’s at its best when you can end the game with an aggressive draw before it rots on the table with 0 counters. When you do use it to prevent damage, unless you can quickly swing the game in your favor, it’s usually out of desperation and just in general not a winning proposition. Also it is entirely possible that I should have cut Darksteel Axe, while yes this is also a very strong card it has very few good uses in this deck (at least the way I constructed it). Either way I 100% should have cut one of those cards for an 18th land as I felt light on lands in many of my rounds.
Here’s another pool:
This was another interesting pool and it saw me playing with some cards I long since dismissed as suboptimal. Again I doubt any of you would be able to argue that white and red are the weakest colors, and dismissing them based on power level alone is a quick time-saver (time management is key in deckbuilding since in daily events and grands prix alike you only get 20 minutes). Blue jumped right out at me as the best color with Volition Reins and 2 Trinket Mage with many strong ‘gets’ and the first glance at a GB deck looked quite poor, so I laid out all the blue cards I wanted to play and tried to see which color had the best synergy with it.
This time, just like last, I wanted to compare my best cards in each color to see which was most powerful, and it boiled down to 2 Slice in Twain vs. Skinrender and Necrotic Ooze. While Skinrender is much better than a Slice in Twain, I think that Kimbo Slice and Necrotic Ooze are really close with the green card probably being slightly better. The main reasons I chose to play black over green were Nihil Spellbomb as a small bonus for playing black, as this would make my Trinket Mages better, and my many metalcraft cards, Leaden Myr for on-color sweetness, Molten-Tail Masticore as a way of making my Necrotic Ooze a better threat, and the Bleak Coven Vampires seemed way better in this deck than they normally would be because my normal artifact count plus two copies of Trinket Mage to help. I would normally never play Memnite but with effectively 3 Darksteel Axe and a Strata Scythe I felt like it would be dead less often when I naturally drew it (this is also my reasoning for Darksteel Myr) and being able to act as a free metalcraft enabler with my Trinket action seemed too good to pass up. Yeah Trink is good with only one target a lot of the time but with two in my deck if I can give myself more options with them as well as staying power for when I draw 1-2 of my tutor targets later in the game so its rarely a dead draw, I will.
This is what I ended up with:
I went 3-1 with this deck and if I could go back I would probably play a Tumble Magnet over the Tower of Calamities, this card is a Sealed bomb and can single-handedly take over games like no other card but it just isn’t right for this deck. On paper I thought it would be a perfect fit with Darksteel Myr and Wall of Tanglecord to stall and with 2 mana Myr and 2 Spellbombs even with 16 lands I expected to flood out some making it awesome but it just never worked out that way. Bleak Coven Vampires kills people a lot faster than you would think when you can consistently metalcraft it, and I just wasn’t playing really long games with the deck. The round I lost game 1 and 3 were very similar involving mulligans and drawing Memnite and Tower of Calamities when they were almost complete blanks. But when this deck worked, it was really savage; I was just completely steamrolling my opponents with fast draws, card advantage, and good removal. I opted not to play any of the 3 Tumble Magnet because as I previously mentioned, it has always been pretty marginal for me and if I can find a reason to cut it from future Sealed decks I will, though I do still think it is very good and a high pick in draft where you can choose to play a more aggressive strategy that it rewards.
Sticking with my theme of trying to make life simple for myself, I set aside the blue and green cards because they had little to nothing to offer. Unfortunately this pool is a bit older so I didn’t get a chance to screenshot the finished product but ill try to explain what I was thinking when I built the deck I did. Right away I convinced myself I had to play black for Grasp of Darkness and Skithiryx among other things. When I laid out my BW deck it had about 29 playables with a bad mana curve and the Glint Hawks seemed really bad with so few cheap spells to take advantage of them whereas my BR deck was a lot more fluid with a good mana curve and my best removal spells. My final product looked like this:
I thought the Lux Cannon would be fine with a Contagion Clasp to make it a little faster some of the time but it was still overall pretty bad. I went 3-1 with this pool but I got very lucky overall, and this was far from the optimal build of this pool, I got blinded by my rares and could have easily built a much better RW deck. If I could go back I would probably play this:
It’s entirely possible that Saberclaw Golem would be better than Necropede or the sb Leaden Myr would be better than a land, but overall this build of the deck is miles better than the original. I don’t usually play Barbed Battlegear but it fits well on the many 2/2 flyers in the deck and Kemba/Sunspear Shikari so I believe it deserves a slot, the same can be said for Trigon of Rage which I don’t love in Sealed, but can’t be ignored with 2 Glint Hawk and 3 Snapsail Glider.
I briefly mentioned in my explanation of why Volition Reins is average in draft and a premium card in Sealed, and it says a bit about the difference between draft and Sealed. I mean it when I say they are quite different because in Sealed you will face decks with a higher density of removal and they will always have between 1-3 bombs. This is not specific to this format as much as it relates to almost all Sealed deck formats that you should be very conservative with your removal and always try to have that extra Arrest or Turn to Slag left in your hand to deal with a potential top decked Hoard-Smelter Dragon. Some underrated cards I’ve found are Sky-Eel School and Alpha Tyrannax because though they may be a little on the expensive side for draft (though both still being playable) they shine in Sealed because they have more than 2 toughness so they can dodge 90% of the creature removal like Embersmith, Contagion Clasp, Fume Spitter, Instill Infection, and so on – and they aren’t artifacts so they cant be Shattered. In short, if you don’t have an Arrest or a Turn to Slag you’re gonna have a tough time stopping the Tyrannax. I like Tel-Jilad Defiance a bit more than most too, because most Sealed decks play about 14-17 artifacts because it’s just smart to do so. This makes it a lot stronger in Sealed than in Draft, where some draft decks have 7 artifacts and even most average metalcraft decks run 12-14. I think the biggest reason people underrate Alpha Tyrannax and Tel-Jilad Defiance is because they are green and such a low percentage of Sealed decks in this format play green while also not being infect so these cards get ignored.
I hope this exercise improved the way you think about building Sealed pools and feel free to tell me what you liked and didn’t like about this approach. Either way, wish me luck at the GP this weekend!