A step-by-step walkthrough taking a Ninth Edition Sealed Deck from pile of cards to fully tuned deck.

Sealed Deck Walkthrough

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Hello and welcome to Magic Academy! Last week I left you with a Ninth Edition Sealed pool.

In case you missed it, here is what we are working with:

Magic Academy Sealed Deck Pool

1. Sort the cards by color.

2. Filter out the junk

I move the junk and borderline cards aside temporarily. (Sacred Nectar, Reminisce, Sea's Claim, Mind Rot, Panic Attack, Reflexes, Overgrowth, Demon's Horn, Dragon's Claw, etc.)

3. Move the best cards up front

I move attractive cards to the top of each color. (Angel of Mercy, Pacifism, Dark Banishing, Razortooth Rats, Gravedigger, Blaze, Sift, Sift, Wind Drake, Llanowar Elves, Llanowar Behemoth)

4. First assessment

What hits me right off the bat?

  • The red's not going to work except as a splash. Even though Sandstone Warrior is a great card when you're heavy in red, I just don't have enough other good red cards to justify playing that many Mountains. Without Sandstone Warrior and Balduvian Barbarians we are left with Blaze, Anaba Shaman, and Hill Giant to consider.
  • Black has a solid selection but nothing really spectacular. It has no removal besides Dark Banishing and the powerful sideboard card Slay.
  • Green has solid creatures, but it doesn't have very many cards in total. It also seems a little one-note; just ground attackers and little else.
  • Our white looks pretty deep and has a couple of very good cards. Additionally, it is composed of good defensive cards, and flyers, a combination that is naturally synergistic. An obvious choice for a main color.
  • Blue doesn't offer much in the way of creatures, but it has a lot of passable cards and double Sift. Card advantage, like evasion, is another way to get ahead in a stalemate, and so I know this card would give my deck some mid and late-game staying power.
  • I also notice the Karplusan Forest. This would help me splash red, but only in a green deck.
  • No two colors look deep enough to play on their own. We will be playing three colors.

White looks like a must-play, and red already looks like a very promising splash. All three other candidates look like potential options for a second main color.

My first inclination is to try G/W/r (green and white with a red splash), since it looks like it would have a strong group of cards, and, considering green's fixers, I know the mana would be good.

5. First pass at a deck

I decide to give it a try. Here's how it looks:

Putting this deck on a mana curve reveals an ugly clump in the 4-drop.

The main problem here is that while white is pulling us in a defensive direction (note how many low-power, high-toughness cards we have), green is pulling us in an offensive direction (creatures that only attack on the ground). This does not look like it would be a cohesive deck.

If we assume that we will play white, then the green cards, which look good on their on, no longer seem helpful. Firstly, the creatures don't help the mana curve much. There's no help at 3 and help that we don't need at 4. Secondly, the green cards don't seem to suit the natural theme of the white cards.

6. Second assessment

So I go back to the drawing board.

What have we learned about our pool?

  • We have a ton of defensive cards (Oracle's Attendants, Sanctum Guardian, Bottle Gnomes, Samite Healer). We could abandon these, but since white has plenty of other cards that are good in their own right, we should first see if we can make them work for us.
  • Our card quantity also seems low. We could barely fill up a three-color deck with playables. This factor varies from set to set, and is a more regular occurrence in Ninth Edition Sealed than in the Expert-level sets.
  • If we play white and red, then we basically have enough 4-drops to go around already.

I see a few options:

White-black-blue (W/B/U): Blaze is good, but perhaps our deck's card quality is too low to afford such a simple splash. What about a more uniform W/B/U control/evasion oriented deck? We don't like to play three solid colors, but occasionally you will have to make such a sacrifice in stability in order to get the best deck possible.

White-blue with a red splash (W/U/r): Blue, with its flyers and card-drawing, traditionally has synergy with defensive cards, which we have in abundance. In this case, it only offers two extra evasion creatures, but the Sifts will also help us get to our flyers while the ground is stalled. The functional removal that the bounce spells (such as Boomerang) and counters (such as Mana Leak) offer is not too bad either.

White-black with a red splash (W/B/r): Black's creature's fit much more smoothly into white's mana curve than green's creatures did. Black offers us another hard removal spell in Dark Banishing, and a couple more evasion creatures.

White-green with black and red splashes (W/G/b/r): In our W/G/r build, the mana was excellent but the cards didn't come together. Perhaps we could stretch our mana a bit further to fit in our best black cards and make a solid deck.

Let's try them out.

7. Second pass at decks

Here's what W/B/U might look like:

The mana curve definitely looks better, but the deck still doesn't quite look good enough to warrant both stretching our mana and cutting Blaze. The black cards turn out to be a bit underwhelming. Gravedigger, Dark Banishing, and Razortooth Rats are all fine, but the rest is junky: Foul Imp is hard to cast, Spineless Thug and Ravenous Rats are at their worst in this defensive deck, and Giant Cockroach and Blackmail are just unexciting cards in general, no different here.

The deck begins to look more promising if we trim it down to W/U/b, using only Dark Banishing, Gravedigger, and Razortooth Rats, but it is difficult to say if such a splash would be better than the obvious red for Blaze.

One final note is the powerful sideboard card Slay, which is an additional incentive to go black.

Let's try something else and see if it looks any better.

Both the mana curve and mana requirements look reasonable. There aren't as many evasion creatures as we would normally like in this type of deck, and some of the ones we do have (Suntail Hawk, Dream Prowler) are a bit subpar, but the deck has synergy and good late game potential (card advantage, evasion creatures).

Although this build looks more sensible than W/B/U (the curve and cards are as good, but easier on the mana), we have the same problem here of the black cards not quite working.

This deck doesn't look bad – the basics are all there – but it doesn't look to be much more than the sum of its parts.

The card quality's much closer to par now, but not with any overflow – there's not much room to work around. We still have the 4-drop clump, and the mana looks like it would have to be fairly sketchy.

U/W/r seems like the way to go – solid mana, solid curve, good late game, general synergy. There're some cards I wouldn't want to normally play, but at least they work well together (bounce/counters), and in the deck's overall strategy.

8. Tinkering

After my first shot at building the deck, just laying it out, here's what it looked like:

Now let's finesse.

18 land seems right, over 17, considering that I'm three colors and don't have much more that I even want to play. That said, if it turns out in a later stage that my mana requirements are easier than I thought, I might throw in a 23rd card.

Since I only have twenty cards to play, I'll have to add at least two from the others, and maybe more if it seems like another card would work better than one I already have.

Let's check the rejects. Here are the cards that seem like possible inclusions: Bottle Gnomes, Dream Prowler, Wanderguard Sentry.

Because I am a little bit short on 3-drops (I only have three), I decide to go with a Bottle Gnomes. Another defensive spell helps motivate me to include Dream Prowler as well – which has a measure of evasion if I have nothing else, and blocks well if I need it to.

I decide to switch out Hill Giant for Wanderguard Sentry in the interest of mana requirements, and since I don't really need the 4-drop anyway.

Here's the list before working on mana:

1 Anaba Shaman
1 Angel of Mercy
1 Aven Cloudchaser
1 Aven Flock
1 Blaze
1 Boomerang
1 Bottle Gnomes
1 Dream Prowler
1 Mana Leak
1 Oracle's Attendants
1 Pacifism
1 Remove Soul
1 Samite Healer
1 Sanctum Guardian
2 Sift
1 Skyhunter Prowler
1 Suntail Hawk
1 Time Ebb
1 Veteran Cavalier
1 Wanderguard Sentry
1 Wind Drake

Density

Question: Why not Crafty Pathmage, Angelic Blessing, Holy Day, or Peace of Mind?

Arguments could be made for the inclusion of any of these cards on the basis of relevance to this deck's game plan. Although they might be good sideboard cards for particular matchups, including them in the maindeck would be a mistake. One reason to explain why is through a concept I call density.

A card's density is the extent to which that card can win the game on its own (either by damage or by providing overwhelming card advantage). Some cards have a high density, and others have a low density.

Examples of high-density cards:

Meloku the Clouded Mirror, Thieving Magpie, Ballista Squad, Spined Wurm

Examples of low-density cards:

Steel Wall, Coercion

While cards that are very dense are generally thought to be better than cards that are not, a good deck uses a balance of these cards. I remember how great Steel Wall was in a deck with a bunch of flyers. Cheap bounce is good as long as you're making use of the tempo advantage with some solid creatures. Too many high-density cards would be clunky and redundant. On the other hand, try drawing a hand with a Peace of Mind, a Bottle Gnomes, and a Crafty Pathmage, and you'll find yourself unable to put any sort of pressure on even a manascrewed opponent.

You will want your deck to be thoroughly robust. Neither clunky nor flimsy.

With this in mind, we assess this deck as being generally low-density. While it's synergistic (evasion creatures and strong defensive creatures), the defensive creatures are much stronger than the evasion creatures. This is a characteristic of most Ninth Edition Sealed pools, and it's especially true with this one. We are really looking to make the most of our cards here, and this is one reason I don't think the deck can be diluted much further with any of the four cards listed, all of which I would classify as being low-density.

(Angelic Blessing is a bit of its own case. It's an especially bad fit here. An aggressive deck can get more value out of the card, both because it can be played on a bigger creature than what we have in here, and because those strategies seek to do early damage and then finish with a card like this, rather than control the board and finish slowly but surely with evasion creatures).

(Steps 9, Final Check, and 10, Mana, often occur together. In this case, I reversed them, since I realized something after finishing my mana.)

9. Mana

I'll keep it basic:

Let's just see what we're working with. Having only an Anaba Shaman and a Blaze, and with a couple of Sifts to dig, I could probably get away with just two Mountains. That said, three is likely closer to the right number. Four seems like it would be too many.

White has ten spells, two of them cheap with heavy mana requirements. A lot of early game stuff.

Blue has eight spells, and they are much more geared to the late game. That said,

Mana Leak, Remove Soul, and Boomerang can all be played as early as turn two to good effect.

If I'm going to play 3 Mountains, and it seems like I want a bit more white than blue, and I have 15 slots left over, why not just play 8 Plains and 7 Islands? Looks good.

10. Final check

One last check. Is this working?

The blue and white still definitely seem like the best way to go. The blue has a natural synergy with our especially defensive white, and the mana curve works.

Examining the deck as it is now, (playing a bit more red mana than we probably need, no longer playing the Hill Giant), I see a very clean potential swap.

Rather than play Blaze, Anaba Shaman, and Bottle Gnomes, we could switch Mountains for Swamps and play Dark Banishing, Gravedigger, and Razortooth Rats – the U/W/b that looked good but didn't make as much sense until now. Blaze, of course, is the more powerful card, but as a group I think the splash card's powers are very comparable.

To me this is the most difficult decision of this Sealed deck: whether to go U/W/b or U/W/r. That said, I feel both “U/W/x” decks (white-blue splashing some other color) would be very close in power, so one can't go too wrong.

An additional note is that after sideboard the black build had access to the powerful sideboard card Slay. Even if we do decide to go U/W/r, we could change to U/W/b for the second game. On the other side of the coin, if we decide to go U/W/b, they can change to U/W/r after sideboard if our opponent has black creatures to block Razortooth Rats and render Dark Banishing less effective!

In the end, by a narrow margin, I decide to stick with the U/W/r. Not only does red's splash seem slightly better than black's, red seems better in Game 1. This way you're still able to bring in black if you need the Slay for game 2, but there's no possibility of having less powerful cards against a black opponent Game 1.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. As the complexity of the set increases, so will the complexity of the build at hand.

Goodbye for this week, and join me in January when we'll start on something fresh.

Jeff

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