One of the great dilemmas of the Sealed article is that readers want to know the best build, and to acquire the skills to make the best build possible, out of their 75 cards and basic land. If you know that you’re an excellent control player who knows how to use your removal spells properly, but make math errors when assigning attackers, try to play a control build. If you excel at turning guys sideways, then build a beatdown deck that suits your taste. But in this series and any other Sealed deck article, the goal is to find the theme that will be most effective in the environment and run with that, regardless of personal preference. This behavior fits Spike to a tee, and Johnnies and Timmies reading this series should be aware of that.
What’s more, in every Sealed build, there is one true build. One that, taking out the issue of play style preference, is the best. If there was ever a point I walked away from reading Zvi, it was that there’s always a right play and a wrong play. The optimal play is not always the one you expect it to be, but there is always a right play and a wrong play. (In the case of Sealed builds, there are many, many, many wrong plays.) That’s what this series hopes to illustrate to you, the reader.
As a general rule, I don’t write about Prerelease events. Players get such a large card pool that it’s very easy to build a halfway competent deck, and throwing together a concoction of utter brokenness will frequently happen. Sometimes, it’s essential to know the format and how to take advantage of everyone else’s mistakes. Way back at the Scourge prerelease, when everyone was playing cards with an average mana cost of five in their prerelease deck, I ran a R/W beatdown deck with 12 Grizzly Bears. No one could keep up with the savage beats. The only guy who beat me had an Exalted Angel, three Fierce Empaths to tutor for it, and… a foil Exalted Angel. That match wasn’t pretty.
I do like drafting at Prerelease events. I took the plunge and joined a Japanese RGD draft. My tactic was to take mono-colored guys, mana fixers and removal from Ravnica, grab the best Izzet and Gruul men, and clean up with Simic.
If you’re planning to run Simic/Gruul/Izzet beats, strongly consider having a Terraformer. He makes Gigadrowse and Leap of Flame much more easy to replicate. I tip my hat to Leap of Flame, which turns any matchup with decent sized men into a slaughter.
(I sat in and shadowed a few practice drafts with Ryouma Shiozu and Ryou Ogura in preparation for Prague. Ogura ran the same strategy twice and had good results, while Shiozu went Golgari/Gruul/Rakdos and seemed to be doing well with it.)
Moving right along…
- 1 Barbarian Riftcutter
- 1 Benevolent Ancestor
- 1 Bramble Elemental
- 1 Caregiver
- 1 Drake Familiar
- 1 Golgari Rotwurm
- 1 Hunted Lammasu
- 1 Infectious Host
- 1 Nightguard Patrol
- 1 Ordruun Commando
- 1 Root-Kin Ally
- 1 Screeching Griffin
- 1 Siege Wurm
- 1 Skyknight Legionnaire
- 1 Stone-Seeder Hierophant
- 1 Surveilling Sprite
- 1 Terraformer
- 1 Undercity Shade
- 1 Vedalken Entrancer
- 1 Agent of Masks
- 1 Burning-Tree Bloodscale
- 1 Gatherer of Graces
- 1 Ghost Warden
- 1 Orzhov Euthanist
- 1 Orzhov Guildmage
- 1 Restless Bones
- 1 Silhana Starfletcher
- 1 Skeletal Vampire
- 1 Beacon Hawk
- 1 Freewind Equenaut
- 1 Minister of Impediments
- 1 Sandstorm Eidolon
- 1 Soulsworn Jury
- 1 Utvara Scalper
- 1 Vigean Graftmage
- 1 Seal of Doom
- 1 Cremate
- 1 Boros Signet
- 1 Chord of Calling
- 1 Clinging Darkness
- 1 Consult the Necrosages
- 1 Cyclopean Snare
- 1 Disembowel
- 1 Dogpile
- 1 Dryad's Caress
- 1 Flight of Fancy
- 1 Followed Footsteps
- 1 Incite Hysteria
- 1 Instill Furor
- 1 Last Gasp
- 1 Leave No Trace
- 1 Moldervine Cloak
- 1 Muddle the Mixture
- 1 Perplex
- 1 Psychic Drain
- 1 Putrefy
- 1 Rain of Embers
- 1 Scatter the Seeds
- 1 Surge of Zeal
- 1 Vigor Mortis
- 1 Wojek Siren
- 1 Pillory of the Sleepless
- 1 Pyromatics
- 1 Repeal
- 1 Runeboggle
- 1 Azorius Signet
- 1 Brace for Impact
- 1 Leafdrake Roost
- 1 Overrule
- 1 Plumes of Peace
- 1 Rakdos Riteknife
- 1 Steeling Stance
Your work is cut out for you. In the immortal words of Mickey Mouse, let’s get busy. (Though it’s less likely that parents are going to picket me for promoting immoral behavior.)
Our White has its strong points. We’ve got four fliers including Hunted Lammasu. I don’t actually like playing out Hunted Lammasu in the early game, preferring to sandbag him for when the opponent’s blown most of his removal. But if we have enough means to kill that pesky 4/4 Horror, then we’ll be much more willing to throw the Lammasu out there. Screeching Griffin flights off Snapping Drakes, but is one mana short of being excellent. Freewind Equenaut, on the other hand, is a card you should keep your eyes on. (Eyes, Ocular Halo… man, that would be one sweet combo. I’d keep that little trick in mind when drafting triple Dissension on Magic Online.) Beacon Hawk helps ability guys untap, and is a decent blocker in the late game.
To help gum up the ground, we’ve got Soulsworn Jury, Benevolent Ancestor, Ghost Warden, and Nightguard Patrol. I’ve been rather impressed by Soulsworn Jury and his ability to handle irritating bomb creatures. He’s probably the best counterspell in Ravnica Limited, after Remand. Ghost Warden has nice interaction with the Beacon Hawk. We’ve also got Steeling Stance, which will help us send our fliers through thin air defenses, and Caregiver. Caregiver’s value goes down in RGD draft, since he can’t stop as many Radiance spells aimed at your men anymore, but she’s still well worth considering in Ravnica Block Sealed. Leave No Trace looks like a potential 23rd card, so we’ll keep that in mind.
The Blue doesn’t look too shabby, but there aren’t any standout performers. Vedalken Entrancer makes a good wall and provides a slow kill mechanism. Terraformer’s a Grey Ogre that fixes mana and makes Replicate much easier, but we don’t have the Replicate spells. Repeal is an excellent combat trick. Flight of Fancy wants to be attached to your fatties, so we’ll see if we can find suitable targets. Last comes Followed Footsteps. With one less pack of Absolver Thrulls, Followed Footsteps is more likely to stay on the table than in Ravnica-Guildpact sealed. Yes, it’s a handy bomb, but it’s slower than mud.
You want creature control? Black’s gonna give it to ya. Seal of Doom makes its long awaited return. It’s backed by Disembowel, Clinging Darkness, and Last Gasp. You’ve also got Orzhov Euthanist and the utterly ridiculous Skeletal Vampire. So what if we’re creature-light? Their threats are toast.
Our Red cards are uniformly awful. Just looking at this pile cheapens me. Pyromatics is tolerable, but I can’t bring myself to like any of the others. Sandstorm Eidolon is overpriced for its effect. Utvara Scalper might be passably decent in a Gruul mirror match to sate bloodthirst, but that’s about all it’s good for.
Green brings us several big fatties and that uncommon powerhouse, Moldervine Cloak. Moldervine Cloak is worth putting up with shaky mana as a single fourth color card, that’s how amazing it is. It’s still not an auto-include, though. We’ve got two mild-mannered cheap men, Gatherer of Graces and Silhana Starfletcher. With only two convoke enablers, playing Scatter the Seeds isn’t going to be easy. If you do manage to get Scatter off nice and early, Bramble Elemental, Root-Kin Ally, and Siege Wurm smash face. We even have Chord of Calling at our disposal, though its triple green bothers me. Green will require a very heavy commitment to make worthwhile.
Before diving into gold cards, it’s clear that we’re not going to play Red unless we see something utterly, completely amazing. Jaws will have to hit the floor in order for us to consider playing with Mountains. Black has the best lure, but the other colors have their charms.
As it happens, I can dispose of Boros, Izzet, and Gruul in a single paragraph. Boros Signet isn’t anything to complain about, and Skyknight Legionnaire will always make the cut in any deck that makes a serious commitment to the guild. My friend Jesse loves Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion, and double strikers in general, even going so far as to play it in a W/R Wildfire deck, but even he’d give it a pass with so many bad Red cards. Burning-Tree Bloodscale is quite reasonable when you’ve got efficient two- and three-drop attackers, but he’s useless here.
If Julia Child spent ten years at work with a Rakdos Riteknife, maybe it’d pay off. I’m not patient enough to appreciate such a delicate dish. I don’t think I’d play it even if it cost one mana to equip as opposed to two.
Our Dimir options aren’t half bad. Perplex lets us tutor for Seal of Doom, Consult the Necrosages, Minister of Impediments, and occasionally works as a cheap counter in the early game. Consult the Necrosages doesn’t get a lot of love when standing next to Compulsive Research on the disco’s sidelines, and that’s a mistake. Consult can help you hit Hellbent or attack your opponent’s hand, or it can draw two. That’s a lot of versatility for three mana. We’ve got Psychic Drain as a supplement to Entrancer’s milling, but I’ve never been happy playing the card in Sealed.
Golgari tries to entice us with Golgari Rotwurm and Putrefy, but I’m not biting. Seeing how expensive our Green cards are, I’d be much happier with a Shambling Shell over the Rotwurm. The Rotwurm is much more efficient, yes, but there just aren’t enough early men to make Golgari worthwhile. We’ve got lots of creature kill as is; Putrefy would be merely gilding the lily.
If I want to see bleeding, leave the Rakdos’s knife at home and call the Orzhov Syndicate. Agent of Masks and Orzhov Guildmage nip away at the opponent’s life while putting you ahead. Pillory of the Sleepless may not be as versatile as Putrefy, but its pinging add insult to injury. We’ve even got an Orzhov Basilica to cheat on mana.
The Orzhov’s courtroom bosses, Azorius, make a fair case for their inclusion. Plumes of Peace and Minister of Impediments remove threatening creatures. You’ll take a while to get the job done, but you’ve got all the guys it takes to win in the long haul. A Signet makes me smile. Overrule’s life gain sounds really solid here.
Simic makes a token appearance with a single card, Leafdrake Roost. (I can hear you groaning already.) It’s worth splashing for a long game, but we’ve already got a glut of late game cards as is.
Lastly, we’ve got a ridiculously expensive Cyclopean Snare. It’s not worth your time or money. Yes, with infinite mana this could work as a Gigadrowse on all your opponent’s creatures. Don’t even waste your time thinking about it.
Appealing to taste, there are two clear builds for the deck. And one’s wrong. One clear route to take is Golgari/Orzhov. The Green beaters look nice at first, and new players who aren’t familiar with control decks would feel right at home playing those Green men coupled with all of Black’s excellent removal spells. But that isn’t the right call here. RGD’s three drops and four drops are going to put too much pressure on most players before they can develop their board, and a single removal spell will ruin that deck’s day.
No, the route of cheaper, more redundant men and more removal is the path we’re going to take here. We want to run W/U/B. We have a much more forgiving mana curve.
Our choices look like this.
2cc: Beacon Hawk, Ghost Warden, Orzhov Guildmage, Surveilling Sprites, Clinging Darkness, Last Gasp
3cc: Benevolent Ancestor, Freewind Equenaut, Minister of Impediments, Nightguard Patrol, Orzhov Euthanist, Soulsworn Jury, Terraformer, Vigean Graftmage, Consult the Necrosages, Perplex, Pillory of the Sleepless, Plumes of Peace, Seal of Doom, Steeling Stance
4cc: Hunted Lammasu, Screeching Griffin, Vedalken Entrancer, Flight of Fancy, Repeal*
5cc: Agent of Masks, Disembowel*, Followed Footsteps
6cc: Skeletal Vampire, Overrule*
* Every X spell needs an arbitrary cost that you’ll usually play it at. This is where I peg them.
** It’s a creature, really. A slow, bumbling creature, but a creature nonetheless.
It’s easy to cut the Screeching Griffin and Flight of Fancy. We’ve got enough fliers. Caregiver and Surveilling Sprite get the axe for being too small and not doing enough. After a few more cuts, here’s what I end up with.
2cc: Beacon Hawk, Ghost Warden, Orzhov Guildmage, Azorius Signet, Clinging Darkness, Last Gasp
3cc: Benevolent Ancestor, Freewind Equenaut, Minister of Impediments, Nightguard Patrol, Orzhov Euthanist, Soulsworn Jury, Vigean Graftmage, Perplex, Pillory of the Sleepless, Plumes of Peace, Seal of Doom
4cc: Hunted Lammasu, Vedalken Entrancer, Repeal
5cc: Agent of Masks, Disembowel, Followed Footsteps
6cc: Skeletal Vampire, Overrule
We don’t have that many spells over three, so we don’t need too many Signets to ramp up. I want to cheat on mana, so I’ll run 15 lands with two Karoos and a Signet.
That’s all for today, folks. As usual, please bring your thoughts to the forums and tell me if my card evaluations are horrible, or if I made an atrocious mistake, or even if you and I thought exactly on the same wavelength. Thanks for reading.
Shoutouts go to Jesse S. and Tomi Toiviainen. A guy whose family name I can never remember how to spell correctly, and a guy who can’t have his name ever properly pronounced by Japanese people.