ealed Deck Week has made me realise how little I play Sealed nowadays. In the past, I would travel the country for a PTQ season, opening a Sealed Deck every weekend, relishing the Prerelease of each new set and the general thrill of cracking open a Sealed pool to see what goodies you've opened and how you are going to craft the pool into a winning deck. Now the only time I get to play Sealed is Day 1 of a Grand Prix, which isn't nearly as often as I'd like to, because I really enjoy Sealed.
I hear complaints that Sealed is really random, and it is true that it is probably the most random sanctioned format. Yet the only time its true randomness is felt is when you play a Swiss tournament with no cut to Top 8. This is because I feel that with enough skill every Sealed pool is capable of posting the X-2 or X-1-1 record (I've probably played somewhere between one and two hundred Sealed decks and looked at many more pools, and I think I've only ever seen maybe, just maybe, five unplayable pools).
In honour of the release of Tenth Edition, I'll take a look at a Ninth Edition league online. Unlike Block Sealed Deck, Ninth Edition has no themes running through it which means that building a Sealed deck is easier than normal because you do not have to assess a most of the cards' value based on how it interacts with other cards in the pool. Building a base set Sealed pool involves almost every element of Magic strategy that I have imparted in past articles, from quotas to card evaluation, and should set you all in good stead for Magic Game Day. Here's the pool we opened:
The first thing that we should be looking at are the artifacts and land that we open. Dancing Scimitar and Vulshok Morningstar are both going to be auto-inclusions in our deck, the first being a very solid creature with evasion and the latter being a bomb. It would take a madman to play a solo piece of the Urzatron, which leaves us with the colour-enabling Shivan Reef. As far as painlands go, the ones that tap for red are often the best as they let you splash in-demand removal. Now onto the colours:
What are the driving reasons for playing this colour? Master Decoy and Aven Flock are both powerful commons. Leonin Skyhunter is a great card which, as always, presents possible mana difficulties. Master Healer is a bomb that will jam combat in your favour for as long as he lives. He is also very splashable; unfortunately, there are no other cards worth splashing for, unless we end up light on playables.
The rest of the colour does nothing to excite the blood. We have two random, unnecessary Grizzly Bears in a format where Bears verge on the unplayable. Warrior's Honor is a poor trick and Foot Soldiers are nothing to call home about. Aven Cloudchaser is an above-average card, but still doesn't tip white into the must-play pile. After the two Masters, the colour dries up quickly and, unless the other colours turn out to be equally disappointing, will probably not be played.
This is more like it. Out of the seven playable creatures, six of them fly and the other is a great defender whilst the aerial assault attacks. Sift is one of the few cards in the pool that provides card advantage, and it does a great job at that. Dehydration is an awkward Assassinate, but will almost certainly be played because it deals with a lot of the larger creatures out there that blue often has difficulty with. Time Ebb is a phenomenal tempo card that also deals efficiently with any annoying creature enchantments, and will set the opponent back a long way for such a cheap cost. If we were to splash blue off the Shivan Reef, Sift and the inverse Repulse would likely be the only two cards we would consider.
The attraction of blue is the large amount of flyers, Sift, Time Ebb and the monster Air Elemental. Unless the other three colours are all very powerful, we will playing blue, which when combined with the two artifacts brings us to twelve playables.
Most of our black cards are playable, which is always nice; unfortunately there are only eight of them. The Bog Imp might scrape the cut if we're desperate, but I will not stoop that low just yet. There's a reasonable amount of quality here: evasion in the form of Razortooth Rats, hard-to-block creatures Nantuko Husk and Looming Shade and card advantage in Phyrexian Arena, Mind Rot, Gravedigger and Phyrexian Gargantua. Coercion is a reasonable card in this format where a lot of games are dictated by a bomb going the distance as there are fewer answers than threats.
The problem though is that, if combined with blue as it currently might be, there will be too few playables. We would also have a slight curve problem as we would be without two-drops. Let's see if the other colours have something to offer.
After we've sifted away all the unplayables, there really isn't anything of substance left. I would seldom ever play any of the non-Anarchist creatures unless I was desperately scrabbling to find cards to fill out my deck. As such we are left with the potential to splash it, but none of the three remaining cards are too exciting. There are few enough sorceries in our pool, none of them are really worth getting back and the only one we have in blue (taking the Shivan Reef into account) is Time Ebb, making for an eight-mana Vedalken Dismisser. Threaten is a card I've never really been a fan of and even less so in Ninth Edition Sealed where there is little tempo. This leaves us with Shock, which is a very unexciting splash, so we will put the red to one side for now.
The four main elements one looks for in Limited are removal, evasion, card advantage, and fatties. The whole pool is light on removal, card advantage is light if we veer away from black, luckily blue is packed full of evasion, and green, as per usual, is rammed full of boombooms. It has no fewer than five large guys that help bulk out the fattie quota. We have two pieces of great acceleration which will help us get to our fatties faster, and the Rampant Growth will help us splash a third colour should we need it. A side note on the underrated Llanowar Behemoth—this guy is ridiculous! He is almost completely unstoppable, he's a 5/5 minimum the turn you make him and from then on he gets bigger and bigger at will. He certainly falls into the bomb category.
The curve is spread thin, but it should complement the blue, which is where I think this pool is going. Partly because they are the colours with the most power, but mainly because they are the only two colours that have enough depth to not splash or run underpowered filler. The biggest problem with this combination is that it lacks removal, but so does virtually any combination in our pool. There are two builds worth looking at: straight blue-green and a version splashing for Threaten and Shock. Master Healer is a possible splash option, but he's not the best splashed card in the world (as you want your splash to do something the turn you rip the coloured mana to cast it) and red is an easier splash thanks to Shivan Reef, whilst also providing the deck with some much needed, if not too powerful, removal.
If we choose not to play green, then we will be forced to run a UBr deck which will look something like this but with one more card cut:
Looking at this in more detail, I would probably cut the Anarchist and run eight Swamps, seven Islands, two mountains and the Shivan Reef for the mana base. This deck lacks any early game, which isn't so important in Ninth, but it is still not too wise to fall too far behind too early. Playing three colours is never the best plan in the world, and here our third colour is far from strong. We are also running Phyrexian Arena and Looming Shade off only eight black sources, which is not good. The curve is also a little light at the top end. I find that lots of Ninth Sealed games last for a very long time, allowing you to get maximum use out of expensive fatties, meaning that you can increase the heavy quota to more than what you might normally play.
Though this deck has several faults, it is still eminently playable, but now let us see what green has to offer instead of black when it's paired with a red splash:
I like deck much better than the previous one. For a start, we now have a couple of things we can do on turn two, and this deck has the feeling that it will just keep dropping huge or evasion creatures until the cows come home. Both pieces of acceleration fit right at home here, helping us get to our big guys faster, and the Time Ebb seems like it will have more of an impact taking out a crucial blocker at the right time.
I'm just not sure the red does enough here. I'm playing the red spells over Elvish Warrior and Scaled Wurm, both of which are fine in their own right. Shock is always fine and will help us deal with what are normally trouble cards for blue-green like Anaba Shaman, but I also have a feeling that even though without it the deck would have nothing to do about the Shaman, I somehow feel like this deck can just ignore it. Apart from the Wood Elves, nothing dies to the pinger and everything is either too big to care or flies and won't be blocked anyway.
I feel that Threaten adds even less here. Sure, much like Time Ebb, it will provide a huge tempo shift, but it will not deal with the problem. The Ebb, in contrast, forces them to spend their next turn recommitting their guy to the board, whilst taking away one of their draws. Also, in most games of Ninth, the ground tends to bog up really quickly, which is why Grizzly Bears are bad, and the Threaten will not have too big an impact here because they will often have random dorks lying around to chump block. If we take a flyer, they tend not to be the most devastating target even though our flyers will be able to get through, they tend not to have the most power, and it probably won't be a big enough life swing. As you may have guessed, I really do not like the card.
Instead of splashing, we gain more consistent mana (although it was never that bad to start with) and another fattie. The Elvish Warrior may not be very good, but he will help to stodge up the ground so our evasion creatures can get the job done and, if we're unreal lucky, we may even be able to play him on turn two and get some beating of our own done. I was hesitant to play the Scaled Wurm, especially on top of the Rootbreaker Wurm, but after playing a few games with the deck I felt he more than earned his place. Sealed is even slower than Draft and I always found time to play him and he always ruled.
One further option we should be aware of is that if we come across a troublesome enchantment, as I did against Worship in my first match, we can board in the Aven Cloudchaser and Master Healer along with two plains. Here's the final deck I ended up playing, which had little trouble going 4-1, losing a close game against an opponent who ripped a well-timed Flame Wave in the two games he won.
Best of luck,