OBC Sealed: What Went Wrong?

When did the bombs start mattering in Sealed more than anything else?

There’s something wrong when your opponent plays the following:

Turn 1: Forest, Chatter of the Squirrel.

Turn 2: Mountain, Werebear.

Turn 3: Forest. At the end of your turn, Elephant Ambush.

Turn 4: Attack with the Squirrel, Elephant, Werebear. Cast Rites of Initiation, pitching 4 cards to put the Werebear at threshold. Take 20 points of damage.

There’s something wrong when 90% of your wins consist of the following play:

Turn x: Battle Screech. Flashback Battle Screech.

Turn x+1: Overrun. Take sixteen-plus points of flying damage.

There’s something wrong when your opponent Think Tanks a Wonder into the graveyard and attacks you for twenty-three points of flying damage. On turn 7.

Anybody would be excited to see their decks go off this fast in Constructed – but this, my friends, is Odyssey Sealed Deck.

Somewhere along the line, in Wizards’ attempts to change the Magic environment, they’ve destroyed my favorite format.

What happened?

I don’t have the wherewithal to build various sealed decks from past sets and compare them side-by-side with Odyssey sealed decks; I only have fond remembrances of a format I used to enjoy playing, which I can compare against my recent frustrations. So, you’re just going to have to settle with my biased impressions.

The first thing you really need to understand about the sealed deck format is that it is the casual player’s game. How many Pro Tour regulars do you hear talk about sealed deck? How many strategy articles do you see on how to build a sealed deck?

Okay, now look at your casual Magic-playing friends. How many of them get really excited when a sealed deck tournament rolls around? When you get together with your buddies to play Magic, how many of those gatherings are spent playing sealed deck?

If you answered "few" to the first two and "many" to the last two, you might be enlightened by my words. Please read on. If your answers aren’t the same, I encourage to see how warped my perception might be.

The Sealed format, whether or not created for this purpose intentionally, is the perfect venue for casual players. I don’t like using the word "casual," because it breeds a sudden misconception into most people’s minds, especially avid Constructed tournament players. For some reason, the word "casual" always gets associated with "scrubdom.” This is a horrible misnomer. Many casual players are quite competitive, and, if given a good Constructed deck, can beat the snot out of 75% of the religious weekly Type II players.

So what, pray tell, is a casual player?

Let me first ask you a few questions:

1) Do you enjoy the Magic scene (tournament and non-tournament), but can’t find time to play more than two or three times a month?

2) Do you like bringing home new cards all the time, but can’t justify spending more than $20 here and there on Magic cards?

3) Do you know the rules well enough to have a challenging game with other people, but don’t even want to think about how Opalescence interacts with Humility – or any card, for that matter?

Sorry to break the news to you, but if you answered”yes” to more than one of the above, then you are indeed a casual player. I warn you to keep this revelation a secret, or you’ll be spending the rest of your days in persecution. Trust me on this one.

Can you see the synergy between casual players and sealed deck players?

This is me. This is why I only played sealed deck for the past several years.

Despite rumors to the contrary, sealed is fairly skill-intensive. You have to understand how to build a deck: Rating creature abilities, packing useful spells, keeping a clean mana curve. Then there’s playing. Some might argue that playing sealed is a little bit more simplistic than playing Constructed. In some ways, decisions on what to cast and when aren’t constricted by the deck your opponent is playing. In other ways, you have a lot more possibilities to weigh during combat, because you don’t know what your opponent might have. Should you send your Phantom Centaur with Arcane Teachings into battle against an opponent with five white mana untapped? Although you could do seven damage in one fell swoop, what are the chances he or she is just waiting to throw Second Thoughts at your creature? Is it worth sending your 1/1 Squirrel at your opponent who has a 3/3 blocker ready in the hopes they will fall into a Muscle Burst? Or maybe that they won’t call your bluff and you’ve gotten another point of damage through?

Because sealed deck does require skill, the more you practice the better you become at it. However, the big advantage of sealed deck for casual players is that it doesn’t take all that much practice. Constructed requires you to know how to play your deck against a field of other constructed decks. Building and testing against those decks takes a lot of cards and a lot of practice. With the introduction of each new expansion, it means more cards and more practice.

Sealed deck? It’s grounded in the basics. Deckbuilding strategies don’t change. Combat strategies don’t change. With each new set, you can use the same principles and still find yourself in the winning bracket. You might find yourself spending some time understanding the usefulness of the more bizarre cards… But you’ll have that figured out by the end of the first tournament.

Let’s assume that everything I just said in the last two paragraphs is true. If that is the case, then after about eight years of playing, shouldn’t I find myself always on the winning side of a tournament, slowly starting to find myself competing for the top slots?

I was for a while. I used to be the Queen of "Vach’s Basement.” For a few weeks out of the year, I would pummel many a wary friend with my sealed deck for the evening. I could beat the typically better and more knowledgeable players in my group. I was a Sealed force to be reckoned with. Even on the tournament scene, I could usually muster up a record of 5-2, 4-3 on particularly bad days. I held the basement title through Tempest, Saga, Masques, and even the start of Invasion.

Then came the rest of the Invasion. The foundations of Sealed started to crumble. It wasn’t a matter of finding the best colors to play with; now it was color combinations. Great cards were rendered useless because you couldn’t muster up the right combination of colors.

Along came the bombs. It was just a few Dragons and hungry purple Hippos here and there, but any one of those could signal an undeserved demise.

Odyssey turned these twists into omens for the future of sealed. Bombs were a regular occurrence in the rare slot, and started sneaking their way into commons and uncommons. Cards started requiring a combination of other cards to become useful. Synergy was key to making a deck work.

How can these few changes turn Odyssey sealed into an abomination – an affront to all things casual?

Luck is much more of a factor. There has always been some semblance of luck in sealed deck, based on the nature of combinatorics and randomness. On the whole, though, most of the cards were fairly balanced. Maybe about 10% would receive junk or an unbeatable deck. With the introduction of more bombs and stronger reliance on synergy, you’re now relying not on just getting decent cards, but the right combination of decent cards. For example, Basking Rootwalla, Wild Mongrel and Arrogant Wurm are decent on their own – but together in the same deck, or even in the same draw, they become monstrous. Getting the right combinations and bombs equals nothing other than luck.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard so many people walk away from a tournament saying they had a pile of junk as I have at Odyssey Block sealed deck. Sealed hasn’t turned into a total luck-fest, but it has made an impact. So let’s say the luck factor increased from 10% to 40%. Aside from someone like me who has no chance when it comes to relying on luck, casual players like to win hard-fought battles. There isn’t anything enjoyable about playing Aboshan, Cephalid Emperor, and then winning the next turn by attacking for twenty points of damage.

Okay, there is some warped sense of accomplishment about slaughtering your opponent in one turn. It still isn’t as fun as taking them down a few points at a time until you finally, with some combination of attacks, tricks and spells, manage to wipe the entire board of all but your last creature with trample that gets through for the final three points to the head.

That still leaves 60% of decks out there that should act like normal sealed decks, correct? Not quite. Deckbuilding has become a little more challenging. Synergy now plays a big role in the development of a sealed deck. Understanding when Rites of Initiation or Blazing Salvo should be used in a deck. Finding the right combination of cards that will make Sadistic Hypnotist devastating when it hits play.

Why should casual players fret about dealing with synergy in sealed? Finding good synergy between mediocre cards is not easy. It requires experience with the cards, both playing and experimenting. In short, it requires practice.

Practice. The big wall that separates the casual player from the pro player. The pros already have their constructed and booster drafts. Why relegate sealed to them as well? They aren’t the ones who will populate a game store on a Saturday evening to play in sealed if there isn’t a Limited Pro Tour around the corner. They aren’t the ones who are going to buy the tournament packs off the shelves to play with at home.

The casual players are.

We are also the ones who will cackle excitedly when we open a Bearscape or Squirrel Mob. We are the ones who will find a deck to play Alter Reality in when we get home. We are the ones who really cherish the rares we get to go home with at the end of the day. Even if no one else likes New Frontiers, you can bet the casual player will appreciate it.

What do you do if you come home with Mudhole, Dwarven Shrine, and Decimate? I can’t even convince an eight-year-old that Decimate is worth playing.

So what have you done to us, Odyssey Sealed? You’ve encroached on our talents as casual players. You’ve relegated our tales of hard-fought battles to luck of the draw. You reward our hard-earned dollars with cards we even consider unplayable. We have no choice but to abandon you,


You give us our format back!