Reflecting Ruel – Discovering M11 Sealed

Monday, August 16th – M11 Sealed is more enjoyable than M10. With Grands Prix and PTQs ahead, Sealed strategy is vital in the coming months. Oli believes Sealed is the most skill-intensive format ever devised… do you agree?

If you’re planning on attending a Grand Prix or a PTQ any time soon, you’ll have to compete in M11 Sealed. Traditionally, I tend to think of Sealed as the most skill-intensive individual format ever created. Indeed, the key in Sealed is to identify where your strengths are, and to build your deck around them. Bombs are, of course, very important, but many other aspects (such as creature removal, creatures, curve, number of playables, fixers, and so on) have to be taken into consideration in order to build a deck correctly. And this is a lot more complex than drafting, or than adapting a Constructed decklist you’ve netdecked.

However, M10 Sealed was probably the worst format I’ve ever played, as it had far too many bombs and not enough ways to deal with them. I was extremely worried when I’ve heard M11 would be used for PTQs and GPs, and also for Pro Tour: Amsterdam. Thankfully, after a couple of weeks of intensive M11 Limited testing, I feel a lot better about the new Core Set. There are a few reasons why M11 is a lot better for Limited than M10 ever was.

First, uncommon bombs have less of an impact. Overrun has turned into a rare. Armored Ascension and Mind Control can be dealt with a lot more easily (as there are a lot of bounce and Disenchant effects). Dragon Whelp and Howl of the Night Pack haven’t been reprinted. Cudgel Troll suffers a lot from Green’s global weakening (we’ll get back to that later). Also, with Mana Leak, Blue has now an army of counters that helps it handle bombs a lot more easily.

Next, the cards and mechanics are more complex, making the games a lot more interesting. Tricks are back in the game, and so are cards draw spells (Foresee, Preordain, Jace’s Ingenuity), which make control strategies a lot better. Bombs can be overpowered by card advantage, and also by tempo (Aether Adept, Mana Leak, Inspired Charge). Even sideboarding becomes more important, as there is a host of Disenchant effects, Combusts, and other cards of this type.

Let’s now focus on a few basics about the format:

The Colors


Green is traditionally the most played color in Sealed, for two reasons.

a) It has fixers.
b) It has the most playables (mostly guys of all sizes).

The fixers are still here (Cultivate, Sylvan Ranger), but the creatures are pretty bad, and the color should remain in your sideboard most of the time.


Also, pretty low on playable cards, Red will mostly be played as a support color (a second color or a splash) for its removal options (Lightning Bolt, Fireball, Pyroclasm, Chandra’s Outrage).

If you have either Red or Green bombs, of course, it can be a whole different story, but you’ll need several cards in the same color to support these bombs, and the problem of these two colors is that they will often be short on quality cards.


No particular strong point, but a fine jack of all trades. Removal spells, guys, curve, and playable cards… Black has them all.


The strongest color in Sealed by far. It has card advantage, it gains a huge benefit from the appearance of Scry (it’s hard to get bad draws in a Preordain, Augury Owl, Foresee deck), and it has a lot of tempo cards (Sleep, Aether Adept, and the surprisingly good Unsummon). Also, Countermagic hasn’t been this strong in Limited since Invasion block. In a globally slow format, Mana Leak and Cancel will always shine, and Negate and Flashfreeze are more than decent themselves. When you can expect most good Sealed decks to have Fireball and/or Mind Control, you’ll rarely regret a main-decked Negate.


Less removal than Black, but still about as good, thanks to an abundant number of creatures (many of which are flyers) and strong sideboard cards (Celestial Purge, Solemn Offering, Roc Egg against Green decks, Safe Passage against Red decks when you don’t have it main deck).

My favorite colors in M11 Sealed:

1 — Blue, and it’s not close
2 — White and Black tied
4 — Red
5 — Green

Sideboard / Main Deck Cards

They Must Be Played

There are not many way to target Ice Cage in the format. Prodigal Pyromancer remained an uncommon, and Green has Giant Growth, but Green isn’t that good. And anyway, against a Green deck you’ll play it on a big guy, as you should have time to figure if they have a pump spell by making the right blocks. The card’s biggest weakness is Blinding Mage, but that’s still only one common.

Harbor Serpent may not look very sexy, but it avoids lots of removal, and it has the potential to win on its own against the strongest color of the format.

Negate is a must in the format. If you have multiples, you don’t necessarily have to play two or three, but a Blue Sealed deck will usually aim for a control strategy, and countermagic supports that pretty well. In that kind of archetype, the creatures you drop in the late game will often be the most important, and they will be easier to protect with a counter when you have a lot of mana.

Green may not be fantastic, but it is still one of the colors with the most creatures. Generally, most guys in Sealed decks are either Green, Blue, or White. In these conditions, it is hard to miss with a Deathmark.

Manic Vandal is rather good, as there are a lot of good common and uncommon artifacts in this format (Crystal Ball, Gargoyle Sentinel, Juggernaut, Stone Golem, Sorcerer’s Strongbox, the equipment), and most decks run one or two copies of such things. And anyway, a three-mana 2/2 can still have an impact on the board even if its trigger ability happens to be useless.

They Can Be Played

Solemn Offering and Naturalize are more than decent fillers, but they are hard to fit in a deck. Indeed, you’ll first try to find room for guys and then removal, and there won’t be many spots left for the other spells. Either card will be good as a filler, or in a control deck (which can afford more spells with no immediate impact), but they are not necessary.

Green may be weak, but it is still popular. Red may be pretty bad by itself, but it is quite common to face a Fireball splash, so Flashfreeze will rarely be totally useless. But if it is only here for a splash, Negate would be a lot better, and the chances it is a blank are a bit too high for Flashfreeze to be played.

More than the card itself, what I like about Duress is the option to gain information on what my opponent is holding, and to be a few plays ahead of him. The card is decent, but like the Disenchant effects, you don’t have many spots for the non-guy-non-removal spells.

I’m not exactly sure whether Combust should definitely be played main deck or not. As I mentioned earlier, Blue, White, and Green are the colors with the most guys, but Blue is more to be feared for its spells than for its guys, as opposed to White and Green. That’s why I wouldn’t mind playing Combust, but it wouldn’t go automatically into my main deck the way a Deathmark would.

At first I used to run Plummet in the main deck, but I think the card should remain a strong sideboard option and nothing more. Once again, a control deck can afford to be holding cards not doing anything for a while, but aggro can’t. However, if you have lots of guys but are short on removal spells, Plummet should make it in.

They Should Stay In The Sideboard

Roc Egg is pretty good against Green/Black or Green/Red decks, which almost always have to get through it in order to attack for value, but it is so bad against Blue, White, and more generally non-Green decks that I wouldn’t waste a slot on it in the main deck.

Red and Black are not known for the strength of their guys, and there are only a few commons you would actually like to handle. Last week I played in a seven-round Sealed tournament in Belgium, and I went undefeated. I thought my two sideboard Celestial Purges would be one of my deck’s strong points, but in the end I did not board them. Not even once.

Stabbing Pain and Hornet Sting are decent sideboard cards against White decks or against Ice Cage, but they don’t kill nearly enough guys to be in the main deck.

I would consider Volcanic Strength in a very fast aggro deck with a lot of one- and two-drops, but this kind of deck is marginal in this format, and Red is not popular enough for Mountain-walking to have a sufficient impact game 1. The card is decent, but once again, it’s not a creature or a removal spell.

Finally, Back to Nature is an amazing sideboard card against UW, but it will be useless too often to be considered anything but a sideboard card.

The Slowness Of The Format

M11 Sealed is pretty slow. As a result, most cards which give you card advantage / tempo are good, which makes some cards better than they might seem.

Aether Adept is obviously good, but if you manage to build a very aggressive deck, Excommunicate is nearly as strong.

In such a slow format, Countermagic is almost as strong as removal. There are so many examples of countermagic that it is hard to play around every one of them. Do you really want to wait for seven mana to play Foresee? When they could have Cancel or Negate?

Any scry spell will improve your start, and then keep you drawing one land or more in the late game, giving extra draws. A card like Augury Owl is not just decent. It is actually very strong.

Most decks should be three colors. In a slow match up, you have more time to develop your mana. In the end, the power of such splashable and powerful cards will often make the difference. Therefore, especially if you are playing a two-color control deck (UW, UB, or UR generally), adding a splash for one to three cards (Fireball / Lightning Bolt, Doom Blade, Pacifism / Condemn, for instance) will usually be the smartest call. If you’re aggressive, even though a splash may not be necessary, you’ll often still take it. Indeed, a Green deck will often want to make good use of his fixers, a Blue deck will be able to improve its draws though scrying, and any deck with Terramorphic Expanse should splash Fireball.

Next week I’ll give you more tips about M11 Sealed, including a few deckbuilding examples. Until then, thanks for reading, and have a great week!

Olivier Ruel