I wrote last week that I was getting a bit worn out of this current draft format, and that I might do something different this week. Luckily, DWD had something different in store for us! Today marks the start of the first month-long sealed league, which means I’m going to have to change the title of my weekly posts!
The prize support is much improved from the previous limited event. We get a total of 11 packs: 8 to start us off, plus one new pack each week to help bolster our deck. Finishing in the top 100 will get you 15 more packs, plus a premium legendary! Even if you don’t quite get there, the top 1,000 will get 10 packs and a premium rare, which is 21 packs worth of value, plus the premium, all for your 10,000 gold entry fee. That’s more like it!
I don’t know for sure how Eternal sealed will play out, but I have a decade and a half of Magic sealed experience from which to pull. I don’t have time to build the deck, then jam a bunch of games for this week’s article, so instead I’m going to go into a bit of detail about how I approach sealed in general, then discuss my particular build for this week. I’ll play a bunch of games this week and discuss the gameplay in next week’s article.
Sealed is not draft
In Magic, if you are a constructed player who looks at a pair of decks, you might not be able to tell which one is the draft deck and which is the sealed deck. They’ll both look like inconsistent garbage to you, most likely. And you’d be right about that. However, as someone who primarily plays limited, I bet I could guess which was which with a pretty darn good hit rate.
Sealed decks are markedly weaker than draft decks, as a rule. Of course, sometimes you’ll open the nuts, but removing the agency of choosing each card naturally means that the pools will be disjointed and not high on synergy. That leads me to my first major point:
Decks are bad. In some sense, everything else I’m going to say stems from this, but don’t lose hope if you wind up playing a few real stinkers. Everyone will be. It’s simply the nature of the format. Again, you could spike a sweet pool and have 34 playables in your factions, but if you did that, you don’t need my help!
So. Decks are, generally, bad. Again, if you are a constructed player, any limited deck looks bad to you. However, draft decks can lean on synergies that sealed decks really can’t. In draft, if you need some dinosaurs to bond out your Bellowing Thunderfoots, you can prioritize those over non-dinosaur playables in your factions. In sealed, you don’t get to do that, so you’re stuck with the (probably too few) dinos that you open in your 8 packs. Even with how synergy-driven Dusk Road is, it’s going to be tough to build a deck that consistently turns on your Ally and Bond cards.
I should note that the Explorer-Sentinel dynamic is particularly egregious in sealed. It was already tough to draft a deck that actually made this shine, but your Sentinels want both other Sentinels (bond) and Explorers (ally), while your Explorers want both Sentinels (ally) and relics! That asks you to balance three card types, which will be extremely tough to do in a sealed format. If you choose to go this route, best of luck!
Avoid aggro. Aggro is a synergy deck. It might not look like it, but you do need a critical mass of cheap threats and ways to punch through before you have a good aggro deck. Your dorky 2/2s for 2 have synergy with each other because, if you don’t draw a bunch of them in the early turns, they are going to do very little for you. For this reason, aggro tends to be quite bad in sealed. You just aren’t likely to have the curve you need to play an aggressive deck. I’ve done it before, and had success with it (shoutout to my undefeated Iroas, God of Victory deck at the Journey Into Nyx pre-release where I picked black!), but it’s rare that it comes together, and I would always start my builds by looking for a playable non-aggro deck. It’s only when I can’t find a playable midrange or control deck that I start looking toward building an aggressive deck.
Expensive cards are much stronger. This is the logical follow-up to the previous point. If aggro is bad, games go longer, and more expensive cards become more attractive. In draft, there are lots of 7+ power cards that I would never, ever look at. In Sealed, those cards are the ones I’m looking at to carry my deck. In my pool, I opened a Lavablood Goliath (9FF 6/6 that deals damage equal to its attack when you play it). In draft, I’d never, ever play this card unless I had an insanely good reason, and the only reason I’d take it is that it’s a legendary worth 800 shiftstone. Most draft games don’t even go 9 turns, and you’re not even likely to hit 9 power until well after that. In sealed, however, I think this card is much closer to playable, maybe even good. I’m interested to see how it plays out.
Play your bombs, removal, and flyers (and warcry units!). This seems like baby’s first limited advice. I want to emphasize it, though. In draft, you can often cut some of these things for curve or influence considerations. Flyers, in particular, aren’t as critical to your average draft deck. However, in sealed, it’s almost always correct to play as many of these things as is reasonably possible.
In draft, it’s often too greedy to splash for a powerful card, or to play those expensive cards I discussed earlier. In sealed, you get to let your greed consume you. Because your opponent’s deck will generally be pretty slow and inconsistent (as will yours), you can play all those big, dumb beaters and go over the top. Games will often stall out, and the person to draw the biggest, dumbest stall-breaker will win. Flight Lieutenant (7J 4/4, Empower: All your stuff gets flying this turn) is a fantastic example of a card that goes from nearly-unplayable in draft to a pretty damn good finisher in sealed. In draft, you might not even get to your eighth power, and your opponents will have plenty of ways to deal with your units. In sealed, you will hit eight a lot more often, and the board is likely to be nice and clogged. Playing Lieutenant and a power will often be enough to win the game on the spot.
Now, you might be thinking that this is just reiterating the previous point about expensive cards. However, bombs aren’t necessarily expensive. Unseen Commando is a bomb. Rooftop Vigilante is a bomb. Both of those cards cost 3, but they represent the ability to just take over the game. In sealed, your opponents aren’t nearly as likely to have a way to remove these guys, and you should be trying to fit as many of these cards into your deck as possible.
Flying units are also quite powerful in sealed. Vainglory Patrol isn’t quite bomb status, but it’s very powerful simply because your opponents will only have so many ways to interact with flying threats, and it can close out a game pretty quickly when your opponent can’t deal with it.
Warcry also seems exceptionally strong, again because opponents are going to have fewer ways to deal with a big threat. Slap a few warcries on a 4/4 and suddenly you have something your opponent can’t ever beat. In that same vein, I actually think regular weapons are probably a lot better than they are in draft (and they are usually strong there).
If you can’t go high, go low. Yeah, I know I said aggro sucks. But if you have a pool that tops out at 5-drops with no prospect of closing out a game that stalls out, you’re going to be even worse off if you try to play a neutered midrange game. If you don’t have any trump cards of your own, your best bet is likely to be to make sure your opponents can’t leverage theirs. It’s a last resort in all but the nuttiest of aggro pools, but it is something you should consider if you open a very mediocre pool.
Even if you don’t necessarily build the most aggressive of decks, if you lack finishers, you should try to make plays that shorten the game. Take more gambles like betting on your opponent to not having the pump/burn to kill you if it means you can kill them next turn. A+Space even if it means your opponent gets to eat a unit or two, if it allows you to set up lethal a turn sooner. Sure, they might have that pump/burn spell or a way to stop you from winning on your next attack, but you probably weren’t winning if the game went longer anyway.
How I approach a sealed pool
I used to do a lot of competitive sealed events in preparation for Pro Tour Qualifiers in Magic. In these situations, you get handed a sorted, registered pool and have a relatively short time (I believe it was 30ish minutes?) to build and register your deck. Fortunately, we don’t have those kinds of time constraints in the digital space, but my approach to sealed hasn’t changed from those early days.
I’ll immediately sort by
color faction, then pick out the best cards, the ones that pull me toward playing that faction. If there is a faction that has a disproportionate amount of these premium cards, I will look closest at that faction. If any of these premium cards are splashable, I will keep those in mind.
Then I go through each faction and do a rough cut, only cutting the jankiest of jank. I do this so that I can get a playable count. If a faction has a low playable count without something incredible to pull me in, I’ll eliminate it from consideration.
I then look at the power curve of my remaining factions. While I harped on how much slower sealed is, that doesn’t mean I want to be doing nothing until turn 5. I want to at least check to see what each faction looks like on the curve. If I notice that one faction has a particular lack (i.e., no 3s), I will look to see if there is a faction that compliments it well.
At this point, there should be a pair of factions that stand out as the best. Sometimes there are three, but I almost definitely have cut two of them by now.
Now, I just look at various builds and splashes to choose the one that I feel balances consistency and raw power the best. This is the hardest part. You’ll probably have to just do this by feel and sheer experience. I will say that, if you’re torn between a consistent deck of medium power and a slightly more inconsistent deck with a higher power ceiling, it’s generally correct to err on the side of power.
My event pool
1500 words later, it’s time to take a look at my pool and my process. Here is what I opened, sorted by faction (click to enlarge):
The next step was to pull out all of the cards that I thought were very powerful, including forms of removal, that actively pulled me toward their faction. Here’s where I ended up:
The first thing that jumps out at me is that there are zero primal cards here. Not even a primal multifaction card. At this point, I give primal a once over, which confirmed that there was nothing there that is really worth playing. I kissed primal goodbye. In hindsight, I think that Slushdumper maybe deserves to be in this list, as he can dominate a board if you have enough yetis, but it wouldn’t change my analysis of Primal. It’s garbage in this pool.
The next thing that I noticed was that there are only two mono-Time cards here. Frenzied Omnivore needs TT. There are a couple of multifaction time cards in Shadowlands Bonepicker and Purify, both of which I would consider splashing in the right deck (Purify most of all; removal is king!). Marisen’s Disciple is also splashable. It’s a 2/2 flying body that comes with a free 2/2 ground dork attached. What’s not to love?
Noticing that Time seems fairly weak here, I took another look at it. Sure enough, there isn’t much there. Certainly more than Primal, but there just aren’t many reasons to be in Time. It has a lot of medium playables, but no removal outside of the Omnivore. I kept the splashable cards in mind as I went forward, but Time is effectively eliminated from consideration as a main faction.
So I’m down to Fire, Justice, and Shadow. Of these premium cards, Shadow has the fewest. I also notice that most of my removal is located in FJ, in the form of the numerous relic weapons, plus a Flame Blast and a Frontier Confessor. Confessor turning a little flyer into a little ground-pounder or silencing a big mana-sink threat like Xenan Guardian is as good as removal in a lot of situations.
Shadow has a pair of evasive threats in Vainglory Patrols, along with Slimespitter Slug, which is an absurd bomb in many situations. I’ve lost count of how many games that thing has swung from un-loseable to un-winnable, or vise-versa. In sealed, where the most likely way to lose is an unanswered flyer, Slimespitter seems like a grade-A bomb. Recycler also seems like a great card to pair with flying threats.
Next, it’s time to look at various builds. I noted that I have a Praxis banner, which means I could splash a Time card or two in a Fire deck. That’s actually a big help if I’m short on playables because of Flame Blast, which is going to be very difficult to play if I am forced into three factions.
With that in mind, the first thing I looked at was a FJ-splash-T build that takes advantage of the double Sword of Icaria and efficient FJ threats.
I really like this deck for sealed. There’s plenty of removal, courtesy of the relic weapons, and a reasonable curve of efficient units to pressure the opponent. There are a few flyers (remember, Marisen’s Disciple counts), along with a few weapons to slap on them. It has a reasonable top-end without getting too top-heavy. Lavablood Goliath, Flame Blast, and Flight Lieutenant should do a good job closing out a game that stalls out.
The weakest cards in this deck are probably Warhelm, Wanted Poster, and Barkeep’s Friend (and, to be honest, maybe the Goliath. Good luck getting me to not play it, though, at least in the first week).
All of those cards are better than they probably look, though. I mentioned above how warcry is even stronger than normal, so Warhelm gets a slight bump. Wanted Poster is a weak card in general, but I’ve got a billion relic weapons to help me hunt down that fugitive. Barkeep’s Friend sucks, but it still kills anything with 4 health or less, which is good enough for sealed.
My unit count is a little bit low. If I could cut Warhelm for an average 2- or 3-drop unit, I would without hesitation. However, the only real option in that slot was Rampart Protector, for which I just didn’t have enough valkyries.
If I had to lock this in right now, I wouldn’t be sad. Considering some of the reactions I’ve seen on the subreddit, I’d be thrilled to have a playable deck. However, there are other builds out there. Can I do better? What about Shadow, which has Slimespitter Slug, Execute, and a pair of Vainglory Patrols?
This deck also doesn’t look too bad at first glance; however, I think it’s weaker in a few key places. First off, it’s even higher on the unit-dependent cards, in that it’s running Sleeping Draught in addition to the three weapons.
Second, the Shadow playables were just a little more thin than Justice, forcing me to play things like Stonepowder Heretic, Recogulator, Sleeping Draught, and Affliction. Now, none of these are unplayable per se, but they certainly don’t excite me without some synergy. I don’t mind a single affliction, but being forced to play the second is really underwhelming.
I do gain one flying threat, trading Unseen Commando and Tandem Watchwing for two copies of Vainglory Patrol and a Scavenging Vulture. I also get to play Recycler and Execute, but I also lose out on Frontier Confessor and the two copies Sword of Icaria, which is a bit of a downgrade. Slimespitter Slug in place of Flight Lieutenant is the major payoff. I won’t deny, Slug trumps Lieutenant handily in terms of a top-end threat. However, I’m not sure it’s enough to overcome the losses in the early game.
At this point, if I was forced to choose, I’d still lock in the first list. But we’ve got infinite time for this event, so let’s keep iterating. I can’t possibly cut Fire, can I?
The short answer is no. The long answer is that I lack a sufficient number of playables in straight Argenport. I can’t easily splash Time without the Praxis Banner, so if I’m going to splash, it should probably be the faction that gives me 4 removal spells plus a Recycler.
This build has all the flying units I could want, which is actually a major plus. Rampart Protector seems playable with five valkyries in the deck (I’m not counting Lieutenant here), but I think “splashing” five Fire cards with no fixing is a bit ambitious. I’m still playing some relatively weak cards like Spiked Buckler and Sleeping Draught, but they aren’t atrociously bad either. Sleeping Draught seems fine as a “counterspell” for removal on my flying dorks.
For completeness, what if I try out the other permutations of FTJ? Here’s the FJ-splash-S deck.
Ah, yes, the classic 7-7-4 power base. Worth noting that I gain Execute in exchange for losing Flame Blast. You simply can’t reliably play a FFF card in an almost-three-faction deck like this one. Maybe I should be greedy here and play the Blast over something like Warhelm, but I’m not thrilled with the power base to begin with. I did discuss how I like to shoot high in sealed, but that is a little ambitious even for me. It could be correct, though. Experience will tell.
This deck obviously has the highest ceiling of the decks I’ve looked at. However, I just think the power base is too terrible to make this a viable option. If I had a few shadow fixers, I would be all about this build.
The Final Verdict
It was close, and the addition of more cards later on may change my mind, but I believe that the first build that I looked at is the way to go for the first week. Praxis Banner is what pushed it across the finish line. I didn’t quite have enough playables to make a good 2-faction deck, so I have to splash something. I only had two pieces of fixing in my pool, and one of them was a Hooru Banner. Primal is atrociously bad in my pool, so that leaves me with my single sad piece of fixing.
The fact that Praxis Banner lets me play an extra Fire source is where the real value lies. Flame Blast is a powerful card, but the triple-fire requirement means I’m hesitant to play it in a deck with fewer than 9 Fire sources. Praxis Banner lets me hit that threshold and still play enough Time sources to splash my two cards. Stonescar-splash-Time would be my second choice, for the same reasons, but I feel that my Justice units are just, on average, better than my Shadow ones. Having some 3/3s for 3 is nice when you are able to clear your opponent’s units with your relic weapons and keep up the pressure.
So that’s what I’m going to be battling this week and how I got there. I hope that this article was helpful for anyone who has little or no experience with sealed formats. It can be disheartening to see people who open three bomb legendaries while you’re over here scuffling around with maybe a playable rare or two, but the beauty of sealed comes from making something out of seemingly nothing. I have 0-2’d with the most beautiful of pools and top-8’d Pro Tour Qualifiers with complete garbage pools. If you can keep calm, recognize your best path to victory, and build a deck to capitalize on it, you can polish that turd of a pool into a diamond.