This weekend brings us both the Sealed Arena Open on MTGA and two MOCS Showcase Opens on MTGO, which are possibly the biggest open entry tournaments so far this year. This piece is going to focus on Strixhaven Sealed, with the assumption that readers are familiar with Sealed as a format in general. I’m also going to focus on Best-of-Three specifically, as Best-of-One is only available on Day 1 of the Arena Open and is something you can skip entirely if you want by playing the Best-of-Three option. With that in mind, let’s get right to it!
The most important thing about Strixhaven Sealed is how much it’s defined by learn and Lessons. The card advantage from learn often lets even the more aggressive decks in the format play a grindy, long game well.
As a result of this, the format as a whole does tend toward being slower, with a lot of decks having excellent late game. That said, Strixhaven is still a Sealed format where your curve matters. Unlike Kaldheim, where foretell gave decks the ability to spend their mana early and catch up in the mid-game, not having a turn two play will often lead to falling behind against more aggressive decks and not impacting the board on either the second or third turn will likely lead to falling too far behind against almost any deck.
Beyond the importance of learn, need for a curve and the general late-game focused nature of the format, there are a few miscellaneous notes on the format I’d like to share before getting into more specific decks. Perhaps most notable of them is the ability for most decks to very easily splash with Environmental Sciences, leading to almost everyone getting to play the most powerful bombs in their pool.
Large tokens, both off Lessons and otherwise, are a big part of this sealed format, and as a result, uncommon and rare bounce spells like Aether Helix and Quandrix Command are close to removal in many spots. Similarly, Bury in Books, which gets rid of tokens for good, and uncommon Mystical Archives like Eliminate and Claim the Firstborn, which care about mana value, are all better than they would be in other Limited formats. A final miscellaneous note on the format is to play your Campuses – the difference in late game between a deck with Campuses and a deck without is night and day.
Broadly speaking, the archetypes that show up most often in Strixhaven Sealed are white-based aggressive decks and green-based late game decks generally playing at least three colors. While these are the primary directions pools lean in in this format, there are a lot of non-standard decks that end up being correct in various pools, due in part to how much access to learn/Lessons shapes the way your deck is built, and in part to the sheer number of different cards that can fundamentally alter the way a deck plays, thanks to Mystical Archives. I’ll be going over how to find these builds and what a few of them look like later, but I want to start by characterizing the two main archetypes of this format.
The white-based aggressive decks are fairly straightforward: they generally involve a good curve and plenty of combat tricks. In terms of when you want to be playing these decks, they are among the strongest decks in the format; the issue is more one of there actually being enough cards to actually fill out a deck like this without needing to stretch for playables.
Good Lorehold aggro decks are particularly rare because the gold Lorehold cards are not all conducive to aggressive builds, which often makes it difficult to make playables in those colors. In contrast, the Silverquill gold cards are largely just good in Sealed in general, making the Silverquill curve-based decks rely slightly more on high card quality and curving out than on combat tricks.
The notable uncommon that’s a pull to this archetype is Reflective Golem in a pool with learn combat tricks, as Golem paired with either Guiding Voice or Enthusiastic Study will often pull you far enough ahead to just win the game on the spot.
Finally, as with all decks in this format, your aggro decks can often splash for free if you have enough learn and an Environmental Sciences. This Lorehold deck from a pool I had a few weeks ago is an excellent example of a combat trick-based aggressive deck, really leveraging its double Twinscroll Shaman and Reflective Golem, while also being able to very easily splash for Shadrix Silverquill thanks to copious amounts of learn and an Environmental Sciences in the board.
Strixhaven Sealed #1 by Kabir Karamchandani
The other major archetype of this format is the (largely) green based lategame deck. For reasons I will get into below, these decks are most often based in Quandrix colors, so I’ll be referring to them as UGx decks, even though they may sometimes only be one of those two colors.
These decks are generally a little more complicated to build but there are, broadly speaking, three aspects that dictate how good your deck will be: card advantage, interaction and top-end. While I don’t mention early-game or curve here, that’s not because they aren’t important, but rather because they are so important there isn’t much to discuss. If your deck doesn’t have at least a passable curve and early game, it’ll be bad with almost no exceptions.
In a format where the fixing allows almost every deck to play all their best cards, being able to interact is crucial, so many of your UGx decks will splash for removal. One of the reasons some pools may stray away from a Quandrix base is to get more mana-intensive premium removal in other colors, such as Rise of Extus and Mage Hunters’ Onslaught.
Beyond the obvious removal spells, as in most Sealed formats, counterspells are quite good. Since so many late-game “creatures” are actually sorceries like Leyline Invocation and Serpentine Curve, Negate is actually the premium of the counterspell options, with Test of Talents coming in second. For the same reason, Reject is unimpressive, as it often doesn’t counter really important threats in the mid and late game. In general, if your UGx decks are really lacking in quality interaction, then you may struggle to keep up with the scarier threats from opposing decks, no matter how much card advantage you have. Below is an example of a UGr deck that had extremely high card quality but underperformed because it was unable to answer opposing bombs.
Strixhaven Sealed #2 by Kabir Karamchandani
Card advantage and top-end are closely related for UGx decks in this format, with enough of one sometimes being able to substitute for the other. Ultimately, these both serve the purpose of winning the late game for your deck. Both of these are things that Quandrix does extremely well, which is the primary reason most decks in this archetype end up in Quandrix.
While the card advantage aspect of this is fairly obvious, Quandrix in particular has tools to have an excellent late game by having a lot of its early creatures grow more impactful in later turns. Reckless Amplimancer, Scurrid Colony and Vortex Runner, among others, are all potent threats in the late game, and this often gives the UGx decks inevitability even outside of card advantage, as their early creatures remain good draws in the late game.
As a result, a UGx deck may well be able to win long games without good top-end threats by just burying opponents in card advantage, or without much card advantage if enough of the deck stays relevant into the late game. Of the two, card advantage is definitely the more crucial effect, but with sufficiently strong Quandrix pools, like the one below, you may be able to play a UGx deck without much.
Strixhaven Sealed #3 by Kabir Karamchandani
Finally, a note on the composition of these decks: while these decks are often based Quandrix, this is far from always the case. There are not only cases of them not being blue, but also cases of them not being green (though they will almost certainly be at least one of the two). This primarily happens when you have an Environmental Sciences and plenty of learn, which allows you to build a grindy deck with easy splashes even outside of green.
A notable factor of Strixhaven Sealed is the large number of different and unusual decks that the format has. A result of this is that almost any pool requires building multiple different decks. On Magic Online, you have the freedom to build as many of these decks as you want. On Arena, you’ll be restricted by time, but it’s still generally a good idea to try several different builds.
My recommendation when building a Strixhaven pool is to start by identifying your rares and mythics, and then by identifying your learn cards and lessons. The former will help you identify whether your pool has any rares or mythics that you would want to center your deck around, either in terms of raw power or in terms of synergy.
Once that’s done, figuring out your learn and Lessons will both let you know which colors your most powerful cards are, and let you know whether you have free fixing with Environmental Sciences and ways to learn for it. Some amount of pools are decided in this stage itself, as there is a strong incentive to play your best rares as well as your best Lessons. Once you have the information from this part of deck building, it becomes easier to look at gold cards, followed by monocolored cards, and process your various options.
As a rule of thumb, I would recommend trying to build at least one white aggressive deck and one UGx deck with each pool, just to see what they look like. Beyond that, I would recommend exploring at least four or five different builds with each pool.
What these look like varies vastly based on pool, and while many avenues to explore are fairly obvious, my one note would be not to restrict yourself to college color pairs as your base. Relatively often, your strongest cards will be in a pair of colors that aren’t a college combination, and this is particularly powerful because it allows your splashes to be more powerful (for instance, a UB deck could splash both Quandrix and Witherbloom cards with a green splash), and it gives you access to more campuses that are partially on-color.
Once you try several builds and determine which one is best, be sure to have your second best option easily accessible or memorized, particularly if it has a drastically different game plan from your Game 1 deck. This allows you to sideboard into that deck more easily during your match, should its game plan line up better against what your opponent is doing. While you can save the deck on Magic Online, to the best of my knowledge, you’ll need to rebuild it entirely on Arena, so it’s best to have a good understanding of what your various decks look like so that you can make the swap in the time allotted for sideboarding.
I’m going to spend this section looking at a couple of unconventional builds from pools and go over what makes them appealing or the correct build. This is not supposed to be a comprehensive look at builds in the format, or even representative – its main purpose is to demonstrate the existence of unconventional builds in the format, and hopefully help you find them in your own pools.
My initial temptation is to build a base green deck and use Cultivate to splash and ramp towards the deck’s more powerful spells. After a few matches with the deck, however, it became clear that the deck would most certainly be best served as almost a combo deck, playing mediocre creatures and spells that allowed me to stall and draw through my deck until eventually winning with Approach of the Second Sun, Magma Opus or Crackle with Power.
What was notable about this build was that it had multiple cards that won the game on their own in the late game and were extremely hard to interact with. As a result, card quality in the rest of the deck was not as much of a concern as staying alive and finding my best cards, and the resulting deck did very well once I found it.
While this pool may not actually be a particularly difficult build, it’s a great example of a powerful, rare-shaping a deck. This was another deck that played close to a combo deck, with me getting several wins with Exponential Growth combined with Vortex Runner. Having that finisher allowed me to change the way I played.
With the Mystical Archives, there will likely be a similar power level of synergy in a decent amount of pools, which allows you to build an otherwise mediocre deck with some unconventional way of going over the top of most of the grindy decks in the format. This is not to say there aren’t other sorts of unconventional Sealed builds, but unique combo-eque ways of finishing the game like Approach of the Second Sun and Exponential Growth are worth mentioning because they should be relatively easy to spot if you are looking for them.
Despite sideboarding being an incredibly important part of Sealed, I have surprisingly little to say on it for Strixhaven specifically, as I haven’t found all that much unique to this specific Sealed format.
Much like any Sealed format, you should definitely be making adjustments to your deck between games, and this mostly takes the form of bringing in specific targeted removal, shifting cards to line up better with theirs, changing your deck entirely or adjusting the speed and curve of your deck. The last of these is the only one that isn’t particularly straightforward, and what this looks like simply involves recognizing that some of the concerns you have going into the first game of a match may no longer exist.
Notably, if your opponent is on a really slow and controlling deck, you can perhaps afford to take out some concessions to aggression, and similarly, you can afford to give up some late game for early interaction if you’re confident you’re favored in the long game.
Strixhaven is an incredibly complicated Sealed format and there’s ultimately far more to learn than I could convey in a single article. That said, I believe this piece should have captured the format as a whole reasonably well. Below are several of my Strixhaven Sealed pools, as well as my final build for each of them, in case you want more examples. Not every build is exactly correct, particularly those from earlier in the format, but they’re all broadly in the direction I would like.
Strixhaven Sealed #4 by Kabir Karamchandani
Strixhaven Sealed #5 by Kabir Karamchandani