Feature Article – Sealed Deck Disconnect

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Building the perfect Sealed deck is a fine art. Sure, there are times that you get all the good Green and all the good Red, but even then there are decisions to be made. Steve Sadin believes that, along with the usual card power concerns, building a successful Sealed deck relies on understanding exactly what type of deck you need. If you’ve three byes at your next Grand Prix, the art of building a Sealed deck can be radically different to those building to ensure PTQ success. Intrigued? Then read on!

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There is a pretty big difference between building a Sealed deck for a PTQ (or a Grand Prix with 0-1 byes) and a Sealed deck for a Grand Prix at which you have three byes. Because of this difference, there is a pretty big disconnect between the Sealed deck advice that many pros offer and the Sealed deck advice that many top PTQ players offer. The reason for this isn’t that either the PTQ players or the pro players are necessarily wrong in how they would build their decks, it is just that the objectives that each of these types of players need to reach are very different.

For a player at a GP with three byes you are looking for an x-2 or better… this ranges from 2-2 or 3-2 (in played matches) at some of the smaller APAC GPs to 4-2 at most American and European GPs. At GP: Daytona Beach, I’d be pretty happy if I went 4-2 Day 1, successfully making it to the draft day and insuring myself some money and, at the very least, a Pro Point. Whereas if I started 4-2 at a 100+ person PTQ I’d be pretty disappointed with my finish, as that would put me out of Top 8 contention and in a position where I would need to go 1-0 or 2-0 just to win some packs.

The only result worth shooting for in the Sealed deck portion of a PTQ is a Top 8 berth (you can worry about winning the tournament once you are there). In order to achieve a Top 8 berth you will, in almost all cases, need an x-1-1 record. On your way to that record you will probably have to play against at least one player who you would consider good that has a weak but consistent, or powerful but inconsistent, deck, at least one player that you consider good with a good deck, and at least a couple of players with decks that you consider good or even great. So, in order to have a reasonable shot to make the Top 8, you want to play a deck that can consistently beat weak decks, has a reasonable chance against strong decks, and has answers to as many different types of bombs as possible.

Whereas if you are building your deck for a GP in which you have three byes, you are probably much more concerned with having a consistent deck that will have a (relatively) easy road to x-2 and a decent shot at x-0 or x-1.

So what does this mean in deck construction? Well, there are certain concessions that I am willing to make in GP deck construction that I couldn’t in good conscience make at a PTQ. For example, if I have a Disenchant effect available to me at a PTQ I will very frequently run it, as I don’t want to get destroy by an otherwise unanswerable bomb. Whereas in a GP I will very, very, rarely consider starting a Disenchant effect under the reasoning that I am willing to accept dropping a game to uncommonly-seen bombs because I am not willing to have a dead card in a tight match against a top player. It is much easier to come back from having a dead or suboptimal card in a PTQ, as you are likely going to be able to make up that difference by playing better than, or at least as well as, your opponent. If you are up against a Tsumura, a Kurihara, or a Hoaen, it’s going to be very difficult to come back from being down a card.

The difference between how I would build a deck for a PTQ and how I would build a deck for a GP might be as small as 1 or 2 cards, it might be exactly the same, or it might be radically different. It all depends on what resources are available to you.

For a GP I want a consistent, solid deck with little to no dead cards. Playing two colors with a good curve and the chance for a light splash. If I have an off-color all-purpose answer, such as Oblivion Ring, I will usually leave it in my board. I will also leave my Disenchants and other matchup-dependent cards such in the board.

For a PTQ I want answers for everything. I will almost always play a Disenchant, and I will play a matchup hoser or two if it is at all reasonable. I will usually only play two colors if my deck is very good, very bad, or contains all the answers that I need. My third color will usually only be a slight splash, but I am not opposed to playing a solidly three-color deck if I have the mana to support it. If I have an off color all-purpose answer, like Oblivion Ring, and it is at all reasonable for me to run it, I will.

Times where I would build my deck the same way for a PTQ or a GP are when my deck contains a couple of all-purpose answers such as counterspells or Oblivion Ring.

Times when I would only build my deck a couple of cards differently are when I have a good/reasonable deck with attractive, but specialized, answers/hosers. For a GP, I would leave these in the board. For a PTQ I would try as hard as I could to make room for them.

Times when I would build my deck radically differently are when I could build a consistent, good (but not great) deck with few answers to bombs, or a slightly less consistent deck with solutions to most bombs. For a GP I would play the more consistent deck. For a PTQ I would play the deck with more answers.

Let’s look at the available x-0 GP decklists to see how pro players with three byes built their decks, and compare it to how non-pros with fewer byes built their decks. Decklists with sideboards are available from GP: Bangkok. Decklists with no sideboards are available from GP: Kitakyuushuu


Paulo had three byes, and received a very good and relatively easy-to-build deck (his Blue and Black cards are far better than his other colors), and he took full advantage of this. Instead of a Sealed style deck, Paulo got to play a Draft deck. He is solid in two colors, with two counterspells, only a couple of fillers, and Shriekmaw, Cryptic Command, and Cairn Wanderer as standouts.

Tiago was also playing with three byes, and also playing a U/B deck that was more akin to a draft deck then a sealed deck. It also had two counterspells.

If I had been building this deck for a PTQ, I definitely would have taken advantage of the 3 Vivid lands that Tiago left in his sideboard to splash, at the very least, Briarhorn and the 2 Mudbutton Torchrunners (to go with the 2 Fodder Launches).

Kenji built a great, consistent B/R deck with a lot of removal and a great curve.

Can you imagine sitting down against Kenji and spending the entire game with a useless Disenchant in your hand?

I’m sure you can… it’s not that unreasonable a situation to be in, if you play in enough GPs, PTs, or MTGO queues.

Now think about how often you will win that game.

Sure, you will mulligan a certain amount of the time, but inflicting an extra mulligan on yourself is just backbreaking, especially if your opponent is very good.

Is it just a coincidence that Paulo and Taigo’s decks look so similar? I don’t think so. This type of deck is a recipe for success at a GP at which you have three byes. Olivier Ruel x-0ed day 1 of GP: Brisbane with a B/R deck that he wasn’t that impressed with, but was very fast and very consistent. Kenji Tsumura just x-0ed Day 1 of GP: Kitakyuushuu playing an excellent B/R deck with a great curve and 3 Lash Outs. In the first three Lorwyn Limited GPs there have been four pros with three byes going undefeated, and every one of them has been playing a two-color deck without any splashes that looks almost exactly like a good draft deck.


Junya had one bye for this GP, but he got ridiculously powerful deck that he was able to pilot to an undefeated record. It features Profane Command, Garruk Wildspeaker, and a bunch of removal. If I received a card pool that was this strong I would have tried as hard as I could to keep it to two colors, as one of the few ways that I could see myself losing with a deck this good is if I had mana problems.

Jun had one bye for GP: Kitakyuushuu. The mana in this deck is really rough, playing the WW Cloudgoat Ranger off four Plains and a Fertile Ground. While we can’t see Jun’s sideboard it is pretty clear that he chose to play all of his best cards, including a number of bombs and a wealth of answers.

Hiromasa also had one bye for GP: Kitakyuushuu. This deck is insanely good, featuring two Shriekmaws and a Profane Command to go along with great mana, a great curve, and a ton of answers.

While the pros who x-0ed these GPs all went for consistent two-color decks, the three non-pros – Hiromasa Imagawa, Jun Young Park and Junya Iyanaga – who x-0ed Bangkok or Kitakyuushuu (the x-0 decks from GP: Brisbane Day 1 are unfortunately unavailable) all featured at least three colors, very powerful cards, and a lot of answers.

I recognize that there is a risk that I am taking too much anecdotal evidence as factual evidence. But it is clear to me that there is a difference between the types of decks that have the best success ratio for PTQs and GPs at which a player has zero or one bye, at and decks for GPs at which a player has three byes. What you have to do to consistently beat players at the PTQ level, and what you have to do to have a good chance to beat the best players in the world, is different. Often drastically different.

Take care,
Steve Sadin

PS: Junya Iyanaga is probably really good. He took the trip from Japan to Thailand to play in GP: Bangkok, for which he only had one bye. I’m not sure exactly how difficult or expensive this trip is, but Junya clearly thought it was worth it and made good on his decision, posting a Top 8 finish.

A Top 8 finish with only one bye is pretty impressive, but it would be easy for people to say things like, “He just got lucky,” or “Oh, he just got a busted Sealed deck.”

So he came back two weeks later and won GP: Kitakyuushuu, beating Olivier Ruel and Shouta Yasooka in the Top 8.

Watch for Junya Iyanaga… he could be the real deal.

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