If you didn’t read my Building a better Sealed article, I suggest you do before you read this. Basically in that article I talk about how to build a good Sealed by prioritizing bombs, card advantage, and removal over curve and aggression. In this article I am going to elaborate on the reasons for that and how to correctly employ more mid- and late- game oriented Sealed deck strategies, so this article is kind of like a part 2 to that article.
Sealed and Draft
In my Grand Prix Portland report, I briefly mentioned that I was going to talk about why it is better to build Sealed decks and not Draft decks when you are playing in a Sealed tournament. Matt Nass also briefly mentioned this concept in his Portland report. Since Draft decks are generally “better” then Sealed decks, you might be thinking that doesn’t make any sense. When I call a deck better than another in Magic, usually I’m saying it’s faster, more powerful, or runs more smoothly and has fewer problems then the other deck. The only thing is that these aren’t the only traits that can make a deck win more. A deck can win more matches and be successful because it solves what the better decks are doing. One of the best examples of this I can think of in a tournament would be Pro Tour Kobe 04. It was known as the Affinity Pro Tour because Affinity was so much better than all the other decks that everyone thought it would completely dominate the tournament. What actually happened? It made up an extremely large percentage of the field, but only Jelger Wiegersma and I managed to Top 8 with it and it left plenty of very good players who played it watching the day2 action from the sidelines. Instead, different versions of Mono-Red dominated the tournament. These decks weren’t like the Mono-Red deck in current Standard with Lightning Bolts and Goblin Guides. They didn’t kill fast, and the burn they had wasn’t overly efficient or powerful. They dominated the tournament for two main reasons:
They had access to an abundance of good cheap artifact kill, so they were able to beat Affinity.
They didn’t rely on any artifacts themselves so everyone else’s artifact kill was useless against them.
Thus, they were the most successful decks, not by being the most powerful but by being able to beat the most powerful deck and by not being affected by what the other decks trying to beat the more powerful decks had to do.
Now it probably sounds like that was a paragraph about Constructed deckbuilding and not Sealed deck. After all, you only get to open 6 packs. If you’re like most people you are probably thinking you will be playing your deepest colors and wherever your bombs are and all this insight into deck construction might be accurate, but is probably of little real value. The thing about deck building or construction though, is that a few small changes make a world of difference. It could be as simple as running a Stone Golem and Siege Mastodon over an Elite Vanguard and Silvercoat Lion that turn your decks function from being a sweet powerful curve deck into a deck that is considerably slower but better against opposing Azure Drakes and Canyon Minotaurs. Since you only have 30 minutes or so to make your deck, these decisions can be extremely difficult. Just like how Draft pick orders are only good general guidelines but every draft is different and sometimes it’s right to take Assault Griffin over Chandra’s Outrage and sometimes it is right to take the Outrage just depending on how many creatures you have and if you have things that make your creatures better and more reliable, like Honor of the Pure or Inspired Charge. Every Sealed is different. Sometimes it is going to be right to play the Elite Vanguard and Silvercoat Lion and sometimes it’s going to be right to play the Siege Mastodon and Stone Golem.
While there aren’t exact answers to how to make your Sealed, what I can offer are concepts, guidelines, or basically just good thoughts for you to be thinking about during that brief 30 minutes that you have to make the key decisions that your entire tournament’s fate is resting upon. You need to try and understand the world around you. If everyone was playing Affinity, then clearly you would want to play all your artifact kill. If everyone has a Titan, then you are going to be more interested in playing your Cancel and your Doom Blade. In Sealed, most of your opponents will not have curve decks. They will have some removal, they will have an assortment of mid-sized creatures and they will have a bomb or two. If you make the general focus of your deck raw aggression by default, you make all their relatively underpowered creatures good. On the other hand when you make what I consider a “good” Sealed deck you can practically blank most of their creatures (blank = make worthless). You do this by winning the game through a few select cards that are difficult for your opponent to deal with. This might be a bomb rare, might be evasion, or this might be a recursive effect of some kind. A lot of the time you just win by default because you aren’t drawing small creatures which tend to be worthless in the late game and they are.
An obvious vulnerability of this strategy is opposing bombs. If your deck tries to end the game fast, you can beat your opponent before they can draw and/or play their Titans or what have you. If you are trying to win because your creatures are a little bit bigger than your opponents’, you are extending the games and you will have to be able to work through your opponents’ rares. This isn’t unacceptable, but it is something you have to keep in mind during deckbuilding. Cards like counterspells are much more important when you are employing these types of strategies than they are when you are playing aggro decks. Also, if you see your opponent has two bombs that your midrange Sealed really can’t deal with, don’t hesitate to board into something more aggressive. That said, most of the time if you design your Sealed for the mid- and late game, you will have an advantage.
That brings me to something else I want to talk about. Flexibility and sideboarding is extremely important in Sealed deck. I am not talking about sideboarding in Plummet versus their flyers; everyone knows how to do that. I’m talking about switching from blue/white to blue/green for games 2 and 3 so you can play your Plummet against their mostly flyers deck. Now more than ever, since the switch to Sealed pools using 6 boosters and not 5, you often have multiple playable colors that are close in power level. I usually find that there is one color that I almost always want in my deck because I have a bomb or two there, and it is also relatively deep. Most times the other colors will be fairly close though. Something like a single Plummet could be enough to move you from your white cards to your green cards if you saw an Air Servant and good solid flyers out of your opponent in game 1. You want to employ every weapon in your arsenal when playing Sealed deck; laziness isn’t going to help you succeed. I remember one time in an Onslaught block GP a long time ago, I played against Gary Wise. We had played fun games during the break and I knew had had double Slice and Dice and double Whipcorder in an all around very good red/white deck. My mediocre red/green deck didn’t stand much of a chance. I did have a Visara the Dreadful in my sideboard. It is one of the best rares in the set and completely unbeatable for a red/white deck. The reason it was in my sideboard though, was because I had exactly two total playable black cards. It was like some sort of sick joke. One Visara and one Crypt Assassin and that was that. So I clearly couldn’t play black. After Gary stomped me game 1, I sideboarded in Visara and 7 Swamps and boarded out 3 Mountain 3 Forest and two random red/green cards and beat him with Visara in at least one, if not both of the next two games. You really can never go too far when it comes to putting yourself in a position to be able to win (without cheating).
More often than not, it is better to build a Sealed that is looking to win in the mid- to late- game and not in the early game. You can win a lot of very easy games if your creatures are just overall better than your opponents’. When building your Sealed, it is better to plan to win through better creatures and your bombs than to plan to win through naked aggression. The main downside to this strategy is it will result in a less focused deck which isn’t a good thing in and of itself, but it will net you flexibility. You do want to incorporate that flexibility into your plans and make use of it. With weeks or months to test and practice, most good Magic players can make a good deck, but with only 20-30 minutes, it can be difficult even for some of the game’s best players. If you try and keep these concepts in mind while building and playing your deck, you should be able to increase your success in Sealed deck tournaments.