Bombs, And How To Beat Them

Nick Eisel, the #1 ranked Magic Online Limited player and recent 5th-place finisher at Grand Prix – Philadelphia, encountered three separate Turn 4 Exalted Angels in his Sealed deck matches at Philly, and beat two of them – despite the fact that he couldn’t remove them from the board. So how do YOU beat the bombs when you have nothing? Nick’s willing to share his secrets on breaking Onslaught Limited….

So there you are, in round eight of an Onslaught limited PTQ for Chicago. Your record before the round was an unstable 5-1-1, which obviously meant you’d need to win your last round to assure yourself a spot in the top 8. Your deck, although solid, was lacking the bombs that seem to characterize the format, and really is nothing to write home about.

Your opponent is Scrubby McScrubberson, as you can tell by the way the kid can barely shuffle his cards, literally pushing them together with the effort of a fourteen-year-old girl.

“I’ve got this,” you tell yourself as you try not to laugh at your seemingly futile opponent.

Soon after the die roll, the match begins. Your deck produces a nice curve of guys, and removal for the few creatures Scrubby actually attempts, and you quickly take game one of the match.”What a joke,” you think to yourself as you shuffle up for game two, not even thinking about picking up your sideboard. Scrubby goes first for game two, and you keep a hand with one land of each of your two colors, and five decent spells. Drawing first, you should be fine, right? Usually, yeah – I mean it’s not the type of hand you mulligan or anything…

But your third land doesn’t show up until very late, and Scrubby has you on the ropes. Slowly, through his errors, you start to plow your way back into the game. About the time you’re going to take full control though, he drops his bomb: Visara The Dreadful. A few turns later, your board is gone and Visara is bashing you for five to take game two.

Frustrated, you flip through your sideboard, not really concentrating on the cards you’re seeing, and instead fuming about your ridiculous manascrew and Scrubby’s extremely lucky Visara. You put your sideboard back down without bringing anything in and shuffle like a madman, trying to assure yourself a better draw for game three. I mean, c’mon – how could you lose to this bimbo? He even played first in sealed deck!

Game three begins, and your draw is much better, as you begin to dominate the board from an early standpoint. Going into the mid-game, you have a grip of decent”removal” spells (like Pacifism) and a definite advantage on the board through the sly morph tricks you’ve been pulling on poor old Scrubby.

And then it comes – the nasty Visara again, here to ruin your plans. You drop your Pacifism on it, and hope to race. It’s not to be, however, as he gums up the ground with random men, and shoots yours down with Visara one at a time. Quickly you are overwhelmed, and you sign the match sheet hastily before leaving the table in a quiet rage. You hurry off and rant to your friends about how lucky your opponent was, not even acknowledging that it was most likely a match you could have easily won.

Bombs, and How to Beat Them

Everybody knows what a bomb is: It’s that card that just ends the game when it’s been cast (or when its full effect has been achieved). Also, as everybody knows, Onslaught is full of these types of cards in the rare and uncommon slots. Some prime examples being the Pit Fighter Legends, like Visara and Rorix, or others like Exalted Angel or a more classic type of bomb like Akroma’s Vengeance. These cards are everywhere… And your success in the sealed deck and draft formats depends on your ability to play around or muscle your way through these bombs.

One of the early mistakes that I see a lot of players make is that they totally discount their chances of winning a match because their opponent has card X in their deck. This is absolutely ludicrous, considering that they actually have to draw this card and also be able to cast it. Don’t ever count yourself out of game based on someone having a certain card. Low confidence will always correlate with low win percentage in my book. Just remember that this”bomb” they have is just a Magic card like any other; it’s not some heavenly piece of cardboard that is absolutely impossible to deal with. There are, in fact, many things you can do to prevent it from stealing games from you.

I am going to outline what I think are the major areas of your game, where you can do everything possible to decrease the chance of losing to a certain overpowered card. This isn’t to say, however, that bombs don’t steal match wins – they definitely do. All I’m trying to get across is that there are a number of things you can look at more closely in an attempt to minimize these”stolen” wins.

Building Your Sealed Deck Correctly

Many people write articles for StarCity and other strategy sites about how to properly build a given sealed deck. I really don’t think it helps this article that much to do a sample deck and how to build it, because that’s not really the focus today.

But I do want to make note of the fact that beating broken cards in limited formats begins with building your own deck correctly. You can learn everything about sideboarding or playing as best you can to keep your opponents’ bombs from coming into play… And none of it will matter if you’re not building your sealed deck right to begin with. I’m not really going to get into detail about it, but generally two colors with a two or three-card splash is the way to go – especially in this format where you have so many colorless three drops to help you stay alive through a colorscrew.

I also believe that the number one fact you need to come to realize about this format is that you better have removal in your deck or you’re gonna lose. And no, Pacifisms alone are not good enough; if you’re playing blue/white, blue/green, or white/green, or any color combo lacking true removal, you’d better splash some black or red kill like Lavamancer’s Skill, Cruel Revival, Shock, or Solar Blast… Or even Sparksmiths of your own. If you don’t, don’t come crying to me when you lose a damage race to Wellwisher or have your entire board devastated by Sparksmiths or Lavamancer’s Skill. There’s far too much utility in this format to build your deck in a way that it is completely incapable of dealing with it.


There are many types of bombs, which leads to many different obscure sideboarding solutions to deal with them individually. The first type is a gigantic creature that is clearly undercosted and features very explosive abilities. Onslaught has a lot of these creatures that will end the game in a hurry if you don’t provide a solution.

Let’s say for example your opponent has a Silvos, Rogue Elemental, or a Rorix Bladewing. You can – and should – sideboard in normally sub-optimal cards like Sandskin, Mistform Mask (make it a wall), or even something more obscure like Circle of Solace to deal with these things.

Granted, the Circle is a rare… But I’m just trying to get the idea across that in between games you should look through your sideboard with an open mind, seeking any possible solutions to your opponent’s power cards.

Visara, in particular, is a tough customer, being that its ability goes far beyond just bashing your face with enormous power and toughness. A good idea in some situations like these would be to board in a splash for a removal spell or two that can take care of the huge beast. Another would be to board out one of the colors in your maindeck for a color that is better equipped to deal with a situation when Visara is going to enter play. A good example of this would be to bring in two swamps and a Cruel Revival, or something of that nature to handle the Legend if she manages to make it into play.

The next type of bomb card you are likely to face at some point is a Sweeper effect. Sweepers have always been incredibly powerful in Limited formats because people will often overextend into them, or they can help you deal with a creature that is very problematic to remove otherwise. Onslaught again has a lot of these types of effects, from Akroma’s Vengeance to Starstorm to Slice and Dice to Infest. It’s very important to know when you have extended far enough that you have a board advantage, but not so much that one of these cards will tear you apart. These cards are harder to board against, simply because you need to have a counterspell or some way to strip it out of their hand in order to actually stop it… Though, something like Discombobulate or Ixidor’s Will (if you have a decent amount of wizards) is a good call to bring in for this type of situation.

However, the best way to neutralize a sweeper is through correct play. Always keep in mind that there are a lot of effects like this in the format, and you should never really overextend unless you have definite knowledge that they don’t have something like this (namely, you know their decklist).

Finally, we have the random bomb cards that don’t really fall into a sweeper or giant creature category. These cards vary in their spell types, but basically provide some huge effect on the game. Some good examples would be a bomb spell like Insurrection or Dragon Roost or Aurification. A lot of these cards are enchantments, so in that case you should board in your Demystifies or Naturalizes to handle them – and in the case of a really expensive spell that will just win the game upon its resolution, such as Insurrection or Biorhythm, I recommend sideboarding in a card like Blackmail. Blackmail is ideal for counteracting these cards, because by the time they are about to cast it they will have three or fewer cards in hand and you get an excellent bomb removal agent for just one black mana.

There are lots of obscure sideboard cards that can help you in each situation, and I’ve really only hit the tip of the iceberg with my examples here. The point is that when you’re sideboarding, consider the types of cards your opponent has, or could have, and make sure you’ve done everything you possibly could to configure your deck correctly for the matchup.

Play Style and Mana Curve

One of the more vague things to explain is how to beat bombs simply by never allowing them the chance to come into play – or rather, have them be too late to have their usual impact. Mana curve is always an important consideration when building your deck and sideboarding, and possibly even moreso in Onslaught limited than the past. This is because there is a general flood of three-drops due to morph creatures of all shapes and sizes, and therefore makes a two-drop like Glory Seeker much better than it would normally be.

Anyway, if you build your deck with a good curve, you should be able to get fast enough draws to pressure them into a situation where their bomb creature is not as effective as it should be. When you know your opponent has a monster creature like Visara, you need to do everything you can to take control of the tempo of the game. It’s sort of like Sligh back in the Jackal Pup days, you wanna curve out your guys and clear theirs out of the way, and sometimes it requires a bit of overextension. The real problem comes when they have mass removal spells and bomb creatures, because they can strip your assault and lay their guy and go to work. Most of the time you have to throw caution to the wind, though, and just hope your attack is quick enough to put them away before bad stuff starts happening. I mean, it’s definitely easier said than done due to the fact that you can just get a slow hand or something… But all too often I see players giving their opponents extra draw steps because they aren’t playing in a manner to put their opponent away (by not being as aggressive as they should be)… And giving someone with Visara extra draws is just asking for trouble.

Let’s take a case in point from my own recent experience against Exalted Angel to try to make it easier to get this point across. Beating cards like this requires more than just playing correctly; you’ve gotta have a sound plan and be able to execute it. At GP: Philly, I was faced with the situation of my opponent playing an Exalted Angel face down and then morphing it up on turn 4 on three separate occasions, on two different matches on Day 1 (which was indeed Sealed Deck).

In none of these situations did I have any answer to the face down creature, let alone an answer to the actual Angel when it was morphed up on turn 4… Yet I managed to win two out of three of these games.

How, you ask? It’s not an easy thing to do, let me tell you – but it requires knowledge of every card in your deck to determine a plan that will enable you to somehow race this eight-point life swing every turn. In the situation I lost, I merely didn’t have the tools to even be in the game, let alone outrace the stupid angel… But in the two I won, I used the same method based on the contents of my deck. Both times I had out a turn 3 Nantuko Husk, and used the Frightshroud Courier on it to give it fear, and at least negate the angel’s lifegain while I built up enough man for the final few strokes. Then I used two Screeching Buzzards to prevent the angel from gaining life for two turns (by blocking it and saccing to the husk before damage), and on the final turn my math paid off by drawing the last needed creature in one game and a Shock in the other to finish my opponent off with a huge husk.

Beating these broken creatures in limited isn’t rocket science or anything; you’ve just gotta learn to see the big picture and plan accordingly.

Fighting Fire with Fire

This is pretty much common sense, but I think it still holds a place and is relevant to talk about – and by common sense, I’m saying that when you build your sealed deck, you want the power level to be as high as possible without seriously compromising your mana. You do things like splashing your own bombs (i.e. Quicksilver Dragon, Glarecaster, etc), or splashing a means of bomb removal (again, Cruel Revival).

Or it can be just as simple as playing the two colors that have the most gamebreakers when you have three equally deep colors. (Obviously, there are exceptions in overall deck synergy, but in general this is better.)

The other thing you can do is play to increase your bomb’s effectiveness and hopefully decrease your opponents. This is especially easy when you get a Wrath effect; you can manipulate the tempo of the game in your favor by getting them to overextend. It can also be done with the creatures through drawing out their removal before you drop your bomb, and saving yours if possible. It’s a game of cat-and-mouse and changes depending on what cards are involved, but you can do a good deal to improve your position by visualizing the matchup and how the game will play out.


Beating bombs in sealed deck is a combination of many things, but it really all comes down to playing correctly and giving yourself every opportunity to deal with them through proper use of your deck and sideboard. And, most importantly, remember that no card is unbeatable, and no matchup unwinnable. The bomb.dec is just as capable of getting manascrewed or flooded as you are – which is another reason to do everything you can to improve your chances of winning the match.

Email me with questions, comments, flames, and the like:

Nick Eisel

Team CMU

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