Amonkhet Sealed is among the better Sealed formats I’ve ever played. Normally, I don’t play much Sealed after the first few weeks, but to this day I still enjoy the format. A large part of this is a depth of commons and uncommons that work best together under certain synergy-driven guidelines.
Those synergies will be better in Draft, but they still come up in Sealed, and you can build your deck with them in mind. The Trial + Cartouche combination is both obvious and powerful, and can pull you into certain combinations when building your Sealed deck. A more subtle example would be the choice to include Spidery Grasp in your green deck. If you are playing a bunch of ramp and big expensive creatures then I’m not in love with the card, but if your deck is low to the ground with a lot of exert creatures, then suddenly it’s quite good.
The other aspect of the format I enjoy is that the rares are very good but often beatable. There are plenty of answers for a bunch of bombs, even such silly cards as Glorybringer. You should open up some decent ways to interact with your opponent across your 6 packs, and finding a way to play a Final Reward or Cast Out isn’t too hard. Often you’ll just be playing that color, but there’s a lot of fixing in the format relative to other Sealed formats (disregarding gold sets like Khans) and you can even splash when you’re not in green via Evolving Wilds or heaven forbid Painted Bluffs. I know Bluffs doesn’t look very good, but it’s not nearly as bad as everyone makes it out to be, and if you need to splash a Cast Out in a deck with no other way to do it, just put that card in your deck. A 5-mana Cast Out will still be very good in this deck!
The two easiest ways to get a direction for your first build are the rares and gold cards you open. If I have a Destined // Lead, you can bet that I’ll look to see if I have more reasons to be G/B because it’s such a pull to that combination. After considering these two factors, you can realistically narrow down to 2-3 main colors and start to get a sense as to which color pairs to look at first. I like to look for a few key commons and uncommons in each color because they can dictate what types of decks you can build and the ways that color will play out. For example, green decks that have access to Gift of Paradise can play to the ramp-and-splash-bombs plan more easily than pools without it.
These three cards can radically alter the types of white decks you can build. Fan Bearer gives white decks a ton of reach but also a stabilizing creature. This effect is unique and offers flood insurance for Sealed games that go long. You’ll often be able to use the card to tap down two key blockers on the final turn of the game (one on their turn and one on your turn), turning it into a kind of double-removal spell.
Gust Walker is one of the best ways to attack in white. We’ve seen this card do work again and again in Draft, but its power isn’t particularly synergistic outside its interaction with untappers. It’s just a power common with pushed stats and it will always be great. It does play out slightly differently in Sealed though in that you’ll get to exert with it over more turns because the games are slower.
Binding Mummy is interesting because if you have access to 2 or 3, you might be able to build a synergy-driven deck. It’s one of the only commons that actually matters for that deck, so it’s a good indicator to look for. Without it, you usually won’t care about your Zombies and embalm creature at all outside of their stats, unless you are extremely lucky and open up multiple uncommons and rares like Lord of the Accursed and Liliana’s Mastery.
Blue is extremely shallow, and you’ll almost never play it as a main color. You can, however, have a good defensive base in another color and wield the blue cards as key finishers. Aven Initiate and Shimmerscale Drake offer ways to win board stalls with flying, but you need ways to stay alive. I’ve traded Aven Initiate with small ground creatures and, trust me, it’s not a good place to be.
This means U/R will be the least common color pair for blue because red is so all-in on aggression.
U/G decks are often ramp-based, and plan to win with bigger creatures than your opponents can muster.
U/W is also mostly a good-stuff deck, but in my experience this deck isn’t too common. If your good white cards are aggressive enough, you’ll more often pair with a different color, and white isn’t particularly defensive to support the all-flyer plan.
Lastly, U/B is a possibility but relies on higher rarity cards much like its corresponding Draft deck. If you have Drake Haven or other great payoff cards alongside an abundance of cyclers, by all means go for it. When you are in that type of deck, Seeker of Insight is one of the best cards you can have, and is the common that can push you in this direction if you’re on the fence about building a spell-based blue deck.
It’s strange to see three spells as the key black commons I look for, but that’s just what black is best at in this set. There are some good supporting cast creatures like Soulstinger that are also fantastic, but for the most part black’s creatures are deep, focused on a midrange plan, and interchangeable. What isn’t replaceable are these three spells.
Let’s start with Final Reward. This is the common I most want to open in Sealed because it’s going to stop whatever nonsense bomb or problem creature your opponent presents in almost every situation. What’s more, the card is splashable. If your opponent is playing a U/W deck and has a Swamp in play, you should assume that they have a Final Reward on the splash until proven otherwise.
Note that most of the removal in this set is splashable while good rares like Glorybringer, Archfiend of Ifnir, Vizier of Many Faces, etc. are all double-costed. There are some exceptions of course, but I think that’s an interesting design space because it means many pools can find ways to have more answers but can’t play every rare they open. This also leads to more meaningful choices in choosing color pairs.
Splendid Agony is just very good and can completely wreck combat while also serving as a reasonable removal spell. -1/-1 counters are a bit worse in Sealed than in Draft because there are fewer aggressive decks, but on the other hand that just gives you more time to find the perfect spot to cast the card later on when it’s at its most powerful.
Wander in Death is practically a game plan unto itself. Black decks that contain this card alongside other grindy advantage cards will outperform in mirrors, but also have a better plan any time they stabilize. These decks want to aim for the long game, largely in part to the relatively weak early game black creatures bring to the table. In addition, the card just brings back your crazy Sealed bombs.
I’ve been aggressive with my picks here, but if you are going to have a successful red deck it is going to have to be all-in. That’s really all red wants to do in this set, so it’s not a big sell for Sealed. I don’t think you should actually play red all that often because of this, but when it’s correct your deck will be extremely good. A lot of Sealed decks hope to cast their powerful spells and rely on the slower nature of the format to get to that point. A good red deck ignores all of that nonsense and just beats down before any of it matters.
On the flip side, when you play a red deck that isn’t powerful enough, you’ll be making a huge mistake. Essentially, you’ll play against a deck that goes slightly bigger than you every round, and you’ll never be able to deal the final points of damage. Commit to the aggro and you won’t be disappointed!
I’ve had a lot of success with a secondary aggressive deck to board into when I’m facing a slow mirror with my primary deck. Obviously, your aggressive build won’t be polished or it would have just been the deck you submitted, but it can still be good enough to steal games, and does so even better when your opponent doesn’t see it coming. A good time to do something like this is if you’re playing a G/B mirror but your opponent beats you with a Rhonas and Archfiend of Ifnir in game 1. You decide you just don’t have the tools to beat those cards, and certainly don’t go over the top, so you board down and crush ’em! This should just be another tool in your Sealed toolboxy. AKH is particularly effective for it because the delta between the aggressive decks and slower decks is so large.
The converse is also true, though less often correct. Let’s say you’re playing an R/W mirror but you just get completely outclassed in card quality. You can board into a slightly slower deck to try and go bigger than your opponent, even if that means switching colors. I do want to caution you about this for a couple of reasons. The first is that if you’re playing a red deck, it was because it was focused and powerful, and it was right to do so in the first place. The second is that it’s easy to board up and get curved out on and die. Don’t let either happen to you!
Cartouche of Strength still baffles me to this day. How is it so good?! Whenever you open one of these, it’s a huge pull to green. I still like Final Reward more in Sealed, whereas the inverse is true in Draft, but it doesn’t really matter in the end because both cards are fantastic. It’s also an enchantment, which is important because one of the good green decks plays all the Cartouches, Trials, and Benefaction of Rhonases it can reasonably cast. Gift of Paradise helps with that plan, but is also just great and can let you splash bombs without any synergy constraints.
Remember how I mentioned the double-cost bombs in the set? That’s partly why Gift is even more important. If you have 2 Gifts and a Benefaction of Rhonas, you can actually splash anything, including Glorybringer or Archfiend of Ifnir in your G/x deck. I’ve played a Lay Claim in a Jund deck off 2 Gifts as my only sources, and it was simply fantastic.
Greater Sandwurm is more emblematic of the suite of expensive cards you want to ramp to in your green decks. Ideally you’ll have better things to do, but you usually want to add any Sandwurms you have as well because it’s easy to ramp a lot with nothing to ramp to. Because they cycle, there really is very little risk and I’m happy playing 5 or 6 expensive cards as long as 1-2 of them are Sandwurms.
There is a more aggressive green deck that tries to curve out, but it relies on a narrow subset of green’s commons and needs them all in the pool to actually work. What’s more, cards like Initiate’s Companion and Watchful Naga are awesome in this shell but pretty bad in the ramp decks. This means it’s pretty easy to build a green deck containing ramp cards, these aggressive creatures, and ramp payoffs, but you really want to be more focused if your pool allows it. While there isn’t an abundance of synergy in Sealed, this set has enough that you can maximize your build thanks to the depth of options.
I’ve only scratched the surface here, but hopefully it gives you an idea of how to get more out of your average Sealed pool. There’s a lot more to the format than simply playing your best cards (though opening good bombs and removal spells still helps). Practice is the best way to improve, but after reading this, that practice should be more focused, and you’ll be well on your way to mastering this Sealed format.