This past weekend I chose white twice in M15 Sealed. I went 5-0, 5-0, for an undefeated 10 matches at Troll Trader in Truro.
This article is for those of you looking to be king of the card table at your next core set Sealed tournament. The principles stay the same year after year, so you only have to learn it once to have an edge for forever.
I recently wrote about using core set Sealed principles in Theros Block Constructed for a cash finish in Manchester, but I haven’t actually played core set Sealed since Grand Prix Oakland last year (which flew me out to Valencia). I feel like I have a pretty good grasp on the format.
If you copy from this article, you’re not really copying from me—you’re copying from Kai Budde, Ben Stark, and others. I am a big fan of stealing things that I like from great players and adding it into my game. Seems like the best way to get better to me.
You Are in Control
First things first: we need to erase the stigma that Sealed Deck is a lottery. I used to think like this too and it was unproductive. Let’s control what we can control.
There are stronger pools and there are weaker pools, but that is out of our control. We need to field the best possible strategy from the pool we have.
When it comes down to it we are playing Magic. We have to build a deck and we have to play it out. Sometimes it will be easier and clearer than others, but if we’re playing in Sealed Deck tournament we should try to win, and that means focusing only on what we can control.
Cost Sort Your Deck!
I am shocked and appalled when I see people build Sealed Decks without cost sorting. This is true of Magic in general but extremely necessary in Seale.
What’s the difference between a 5-mana Rhino and a 2-mana Bear? Which of these cards is better? We are only going to find out by cost sorting our deck and seeing how many 2s we have and how many 5s we have.
We might have no 2-drops and the Bear is way better, or we might have tons of 2-drops and really need a 5-mana play.
If you cost sort you will have a massive edge in a field of non-cost sorters. You will have greater potential to curve out and your opponent’s will have more clunky, do-nothing draws.
Be that Guy Who Always Plays Second
Play second in core set Sealed. This isn’t some “rogue TWoo” strategy. All the pros do it. Every core set. All of them.
You might be the “play second” guy in your store but you can be smug in knowing that not only do you have an advantage but you would fit right in with the pros.
In 7 rounds of Sealed in Oakland and 10 rounds of Sealed this past weekend only 1 out of 17 opponents chose to draw first. None of these players were pros, as it just wouldn’t happen.
Why Draw First?
Sealed is not about blitzing the opponent out. Sometimes you hit your curve and it happens, but that’s rarely the case.
Most games of Sealed drag—there are holes in curve, lots of trades, lots of combat. It either ends in a slow race or a total grind. Having an extra card is huge here.
Take the extra card. Don’t choose to draw second. Even if you have a lot of nice early drops. They’re awesome on the play but they’re also awesome on the draw when you’re up an extra card.
I think the average player mulligans way too often in general and especially so in core set Sealed.
Do not mulligan if you don’t have to. Think about keeping 1-landers and 6-landers. If there’s a hole in your curve or you’re missing a color, so what? This is Sealed and you have time to draw a card every turn.
This might backfire as keeping a hand missing things is a speculative. But mulliganing is also speculative. You for sure have 6 or less cards to work with and you might not have a better hand. You probably have a 6-card (or fewer) hand that isn’t going to kill fast, and if it’s not going to kill fast then just take an extra card.
Any time you get to draw first AND your opponent mulligans in Sealed it becomes really hard to lose. You are up 2 cards off the bat and you are not getting blitzed out. You will have time to use those 2 extra cards.
This is an easy-mode strategy. This is not about playing tight. This is about being up 2 physical pieces of cardboard to start the game merely by drawing first and not mulliganing. This is a pro strategy and I recommend stealing it.
Play 18 Lands
Playing 18 lands is also standard practice among Pros. It has been for over a decade, dating back in my memory to Kai Budde in the early 2000s, but it’s possible he stole it from someone to come before him.
There are times to play 17 lands, but that’s usually with additional mana ramp, such as a green deck. The point is to play a lot of mana sources (18+)—mostly to get mana-screwed less and mulligan less. There are always ways to avoid flood by putting mana sinks in the deck.
It’s tempting to jam all these spells, making it hard to cut the last few. It’s easier to think like you are going to play an 18-land deck to begin with and add 22 spells from there. This way you get an 18-land deck with a curve that looks like an 18-land deck, rather than a 17-land-type deck where you are adding an 18th at the last moment.
An 18-land-curve deck is going to play bombs. After all this is Sealed, and that’s what it’s about a lot. But if you don’t have rare 7-drops there are usually big fatty commons or uncommons to choose from and it’s worth it to have access to a couple.
Perhaps even more important to an 18-land deck is access to mana sinks. A mana sink is something that you can dump any amount of mana into turn after turn. It could be equipment or creatures with activated abilities. Wizards always prints cards like these and you should value them highly in your pool—they should even pull you into colors.
The main thing is play 18 lands, choose to draw first, and keep. This will give you a massive edge on the field.
Now that we’ve talked about what is true of all core set Sealed—18 lands, draw first, keep—let’s move on to the specifics of M15 Sealed and my prerelease experience.
Here is the first deck that I played to 5-0:
And here is the second deck that I played to 5-0.
Both decks are basically the same and started the same—choosing white.
Not only is the effect insanely powerful but it’s also really satisfying for how tactical it is. It lets you feel like you are making decisions on a deep level. You get the option to trade your life for any number of resources: board position, damage across the board, whatever.
If your opponent doesn’t see it coming, it throws their plan totally out the window. Gaining 19 life is ridiculous and if they were throwing resources at your life there’s no hope of coming back.
If they do see it coming they aren’t in a much better spot. What are they going to do? Not attack your life total? Give you more time? What if you have it?
The card is just busted.
Picking a Second Color
We picked white so we know we are going to have a white bomb and deep support. Usually there is a stacked color like this that makes for an obvious choice, and it’s especially easy in a prerelease where you get to pick.
Now we need to pick a second color. The most obvious way to pick a second color is to look for the best removal and powerful cards, but I usually go about it a different way. I am looking for cards to fulfill specific mana curve needs.
For example, neither white deck had 4-drops. I like 4-drops a lot in Sealed so I am going to be pulled to the color that has the best 4-drops. Cost sorting like this can lead us to our second color, which could be green because of awesome 4-drops.
In both decks I found that our base white had great options for early drops and tricks, but neither of them had much good late-game besides our Archangel. We are missing late game so we should pick our second color based on that.
Having a good late game in Sealed could mean 7-drops but even better are flexible mana sinks—cards that give us an effect for 4 mana or 100. This way we can adjust our mana use depending on if we are flooded or screwed.
I found green to offer the best mana sinks. When looking at both decks you can see most of the green cards are mana dumps.
Sunblade Elf sold me on green instantly because this card is an insane bomb in my eyes. It’s a 2/2 for 1 mana. Already way ahead of the curve. But the pump effect can take over the game by the 5th turn.
Roaring Primadox was totally crazy for me. It provided unlimited gas going long with Resolute Archangel, Kalonian Twingrove, and Spirit Bonds. It also combo’d nicely with the commons Living Totem and Tireless Missionaries out the board.
I don’t remember Primadox being this good in the past, but it’s fantastic in this format and the mana sink that this deck needs.
This card isn’t the most exciting but it’s a late-game mana dump. It can take over the ground if you have nothing else to spend your mana on. It’s also a common, which goes to show you that every pool should have mana sink options.
LIke Sunblade Elf it is a great early play and a great late game topdeck. Cards like this really protect us from both screw and flood.
Brawler’s Plate was amazing for me all weekend. Cards like this are always great in Sealed because of the slow dragging games. If you have one in your pool it should almost always be in your deck.
It looks clunky but this is Sealed deck and it is powerful. Historically underpowered cards like this can dominate Sealed formats—Mask of Avacyn in Innistrad for example.
Since this is an uncommon and Brawler’s Plate is a common I think Naturalize is a reasonable main deck card. However, I didn’t play Naturalize, and never faced these cards as they were rotting in my opponent’s sideboards.
These clunky artifact mana sinks can sleep but they should get more attention.
Will-Forged Golem is an extremely flexible card—it can fit into any deck and its mana cost is adjustable. This is another card that protects from screw and flood.
This Golem in particular is extremely good. Siege Wurm is great and I think 6 convoke for a 4/4 is better than 7 convoke for a 5/5 but there’s more to it than that, even. Obviously this card can go into any deck but it is also a great blocker for the common intimidate creatures.
Will-Forged Golem impressed me a lot and I would expect to pick it highly in draft.
Netcaster Spider seems to be the best common 3-drop and one of the best 3-drops available. It’s a solid ground creature that can totally halt air attacks, trade up, or trump cards that cost more.
It also cost 2G, not 1GG, which makes a huge difference. Our mana draws are going to be all over the place in Sealed, and the difference in consistency is crucial. I always try to avoid early double-colored cards unless there is a high pay off, because alternatives like Netcaster Spider are much more consistent.
Core Set Sealed
Core Set Sealed is a really fun and skill-testing format. I haven’t been challenged at it in a while because of how much of an advantage I have over the average opponent. I would like to be challenged by having the average opponent be better and that’s why I wrote this article.
• You are in control
• Cost sort your deck
• Play 18 lands
• Draw First
• Keep 7
• Play Magic
Good luck and have fun!