Excitement for Kaladesh is now looming on the horizon, but there are still some good Eldritch Moon events waiting to happen. If you’re like me, then Magic Online PTQs featuring EMN Sealed are a great place to get in some honed practice. Additionally, GP Louisville is almost here, and although Team Sealed and regular Sealed are different, mastering normal Sealed and Draft helps you understand the shape of the format. You’ll also have a better sense when to use removal and tempo spells, and when it’s better to save them for a big, otherwise unbeatable bomb. In my experience, there are two types of successful Sealed decks in EMN, so let’s dig into each one.
The Removal Deck
This deck doesn’t come together all that often but when it does, it can be brutally effective. Reid Duke tweeted this about his deck that fell under this category:
Went 8-3 in the Sealed MOCS. I was on the draw every single game of the tournament.
— Reid Duke (@ReidDuke) August 22, 2016
I think generally it’s correct to play, but Reid’s point of drawing when you have enough good cheap answers is smart. Games of EMN Sealed can be over quickly, but I’ve found that to be the exception, not the rule. More typical is your average “Sealed game”: trading resources, building up a board, and big bombs/emerge creatures taking over on turns 6-10.
When you have more removal than usual, you need a plan to stop everything your opponent is doing in addition to furthering your own agenda. I’ve fallen into the removal deck trap more than once: staring at a 2/3 across an empty board, a Murder in my hand, and my life total slowly dwindling. You still need access to creatures so that you aren’t forced to waste premium removal on otherwise manageable threats. In addition, if your plan is simply to answer every threat your opponent plays, it’s not a particularly good one. For that to work you need to draw the exact number of answers to your opponent’s threats and hope that they flood out before you do. Having access to card advantage or virtual card advantage in the form of big creatures or repeatable effects like Tooth Collector or Topplegeist is important to help alleviate this concern.
If you determine that you will be able to stop your opponent’s plans throughout the game, you’ll still need to think up ways to win. Counting on one big bomb isn’t particularly reliable unless it’s something tough to answer like a Dark Salvation for X=4 or more. Deploying a large creature like Gisela, the Broken Blade is a good path to victory, and does win a bunch of games, but if your entire plan is casting it at some point in the game and winning solely because of it, you need to think again when step A is prolonging the game. Adding extra turns to a game naturally gives your opponent more draw steps to find answers for your bombs, so come ready with a plan that addresses that.
You’ll often want to include extra top end to make sure you have enough ways to win the game. The best way to do this is to include big stabilizing creatures like Drownyard Behemoth that can start attacking after they defend for a turn or two. Emerge creatures are particularly fantastic at taking over games because they allow you to pack more high end without truly disrupting your curve. Note the difference between that plan and stabilizing with Watcher in the Web. While Watcher is very good at stabilizing, that’s about all it does. It’s important to balance between answers, stabilizing creatures, and ways to win the game while building these removal-centric decks.
Synergy is the Key
The other successful deck in EMN Sealed is based around synergy. Most pools aren’t going to have access to 5-8 removal spells within 2 colors and so you’ll need to have effects that scale better than whatever it is that your opponent is doing. This plan is very different than what was successful in SOI Sealed where your plan was to win via pure efficiency, a late game fueled via Clues, and punishing stumbling with Werewolves. Let me show you a few examples of decks built to maximize synergy:
This is a UR spells deck that looks to control the midgame then go over the top. It achieves that through Rise From the Tides or card advantage and selection. It also has various combos built in, like Wharf Infiltrator and Reckless Scholar, which can discard extra creatures to make 3/2s when the Infiltrator is unable to attack. Additionally, the self milling turns on graveyard-enabled cards like Spontaneous Mutation and Rise from the Tides while also increasing the selection of what Shreds of Sanity can grab. Beyond that, there are some high power creatures relative to their costs which are simply synergistic with the various burn spells and combat tricks.
That said, this particular deck has a few issues—namely, a lack of 2-drops and a difficult time answering a truly large threat from the opponent. In this format that’s almost a deal breaker since emerge creatures are among the in the format. Most pools have limited answers, so if you can land a quick Wretched Gryff while getting value off sacrificing, you should have a relatively easy time flying to victory. For that reason, I think UG emerge is the single best strategy in the format, though of course this is Sealed, so you can’t exactly pick and choose what you open. Remember when sorting your pool to be sure to put the emerge creatures in their appropriate colors since they’re a decent pull to the color and you might otherwise think a color is weaker than it really is.
Here’s another build of that Sealed pool, again built around synergy:
I ended up registering this deck over the UR deck for this event. Note that it has more 2-drops, which gives it a more functional curve. It also has more hard removal, though overall has fewer answers. I tried to maximize synergy like UR rather than having purely great efficient threats, though Sigarda certainly doesn’t hurt in that department. Notice how different this GW deck looks compared to a GW deck from triple-SOI Sealed. There aren’t abounding Clues, Werewolves, and unbeatable 4-drops. Rather, it has to work at what it’s trying to accomplish, but that synergistic angle gives it a lot more power than someone who builds their deck by just including all their cards that look decent.
First, there’s Lone Rider, which can easily steal a game. It’s a little less good in Sealed than Draft simply because there will be more answers. Bloodbriar actually has a lot of combos in this deck, and to push it further I ended up switching out the Confront the Unknown for a Lunarch Mantle last minute. That change also helps the Lone Rider, and I’ve found flying an extremely effective tool to take over a game. Lunarch Mantle turns any dorky creature into a game winning threat, and while Confront the Unknown is a good card, as your only Clue generating spell, it’s a bit lackluster.
Where the synergy really shines in this deck is the token package. It floods the board easily and can buy time until it draws one of its 2 copies of Borrowed Grace. I normally think It of the Horrid Swarm is pretty mediocre, but I included it in this deck to go wide, which won a good number of games. There’s also a Spirit subtheme, which helps provide life through Apothecary Geist, which conveniently transforms Lone Rider, and at the same time generates a sky force that combines particularly well with Borrowed Grace.
There are of course a few cards here that aren’t particularly synergistic. The most glaring example is the inclusion of Cultist’s Staff, but it’s present for a reason. It gives you a way to advance the game when your plan isn’t working. Sealed games in this format are mostly about getting the biggest unanswered threat in play and Cultist’s Staff helps achieve that goal nicely. There are some games with synergy-driven decks like this GW one where you simply never draw a Borrowed Grace. In fact, that’s the biggest downside to building around synergy, since some of the cards aren’t as good by themselves. The key is to make sure enough of them are good together that you minimize the chances of drawing a weak card overall to have them shine collectively. If you do that, your deck will still be more powerful than the cost of including a card that isn’t always as great on its own.
This format is quite different than its predecessor, but that points to the fact that Sealed can be a dynamic format, and challenges the idea that Sealed isn’t that skill testing because it’s about opening great bombs. That, of course, still matters and drastically improves your chances of doing well in an event, but beyond the fact that you can’t control what you open it’s important to remember that what makes a successful deck changes from format to format, and being informed will give you a huge edge.