"I played in a couple of Sealed tourneys, but I got my butt handed to me."
Good! I can help you with that. (And if you’re saying, "Sealed deck? What’s that?", then read on, Macduff – you’ll need the help.)
Because Sealed deck play can be tricky if you’re a casual player or not used to the limited environment – the challenges of picking the correct cards, then building a good deck with it, then playing right with it can be overwhelming for the beginner, and that leads to embarassing finishes. I myself stunk up the joint in my first prerelease (Prophecy)… but I placed ninth out of eighty people in the Planeshift prerelease and won half a box, so it gets better with practice.
I don’t guarantee you’ll win, but I do guarantee you’ll do all right if you follow my rules. So let’s get started, shall we?
First of all, let’s do some reading. You made a good start by coming here… But now go read former editor Omeed Dariani Sealed primer at http://www.starcitygames.com/pages/magic101/courses/buildsealed.phpto get an idea of the issues that come up during Sealed. It’s quick, it’s short, and it gives you a brief overview.
And lastly, but most importantly, bop on over to the fine Mtgnews spoiler list and read the Apocalypse spoiler lists. I’ll assume you’re familiar with Invasion by now, but Apocalypse brings a hundred and fifty new cards to the game — and you don’t want to spend the precious forty minutes you’ll be given to build your deck reading the fine print on three booster packs’ worth of cards, desperately trying to figure out what each of them does. You don’t need to memorize everything, but get a rough idea of which cards you consider playable and which are unworthy crap in any environment. Keep in mind that spoilers are never 100% accurate, so there will probably be a few discrepancies between the spoiler and the actual card – for example, Urza’s Rage didn’t have the”couldn’t be countered” aspect in the initial Invasion spoilers.
Even though it’s a more casual environment, you’ll want to bring a pad and pencil to keep track of everyone’s life total. People forget sometimes, and it helps. Put one next to the bed.
Then go to bed early and get some sleep. Rest before the tournament is a good thing.
SO NOW YOU’VE GOT YOUR CARDS – NOW WHAT?
First thing you do is to break them down into seven colors – the five colors, artifacts, and gold cards. Then break those seven piles down into two subpiles – creatures and noncreature spells. Then decide what colors you want to play with. Apocalypse makes this a bit tricky, so we’ll get to that in a bit.
Sealed play is built on creatures, backed by enough tricks to force the creatures through — so you want to have a lot of creatures and a couple of tricks to protect or enhance them. As a general rule, you’ll want to go with 16 creatures, 16 lands, 8 tricks. That’s your deck. You stick to it. You will be tempted to create a sixty-card monstrosity, but I can tell you that you will lose. Badly. Trust me.
(And if you promise not to get all confused and puppydog-eyed, I’ll throw out some Secret Advanced Strategy for you: I tell beginners to use the "sixteen/sixteen/eight" rule because it’s easy for beginners to follow. It’s not a bad way to build a deck per se… But most Invasion block Sealed decks are kind of mana-hungry and tend to be three colors, and therefore require a bit more land to fuel them. A lot of the better Sealed decks I’ve built tend to be 16 creatures/7 tricks/17 lands, or even 15 creatures/7 tricks/18 lands. If you can remember, you might wanna use the 16/7/17 rule instead, but it’s not nearly as symmetrical.)
PICKING YOUR SIXTEEN CREATURES:
The creatures should be a mix of small and large creatures. As a rule, large creatures serve better on defense than offense, since a 6/6 behemoth can usually be chump-blocked but nobody wants to run into it. Creatures that tap (like the apprentices or Benalish Trapper) count as defense.
Your offense will consist of creatures with evasion: Flying, unblockability, critters that can tap to do damage, et cetera. In other words, creatures that either will be strong enough to break through your opponent’s defense or creatures that can sail about it. (My personal take is that a lot of Invasion Sealed battles are won in the air… Particularly with BIG STUPID DRAGONS!)
Generally, you’ll have one color that has creatures that are strong on offense and another that’s tight on defense. Make the core of your deck from those two and splash the third for a couple of cool cards.
One problem that you’ll frequently run into is an abundance of gold creatures: Blue/Black, Green/White, and so on. (There are also effectively gold creatures: For example, Angelfire Crusader is a 2/3 white flier, but it gets +1/+0 for each red mana you pump into it.) Generally, that’s not a problem, but remember that the idea is to have two main colors and a third and smaller "splash" color. If you build your deck right, you won’t be seeing that third color all that often — so if you throw in a bunch of creatures that need your splash color to work, maybe you should rethink your colors.
Keep an eye on your mana curve: Try not to make a deck top-heavy (all expensive creatures) or weenie-riffic. Look for early two or three-mana blockers to defend yourself with until you can get your more-expensive offense in gear. In fact, many pros make a point of building a deck with a mostly low-cost cards in order to rush their opponent.
And by the way, if you get a Duskwalker or a Faerie Squadron or some other great creature that kind of sucks without kicker, DO NOT CAST IT UNTIL YOU CAN KICK IT. I’ve seen a lot of people do this, generally when I’m beating the living crap out of them. Save your mana until they’re appropriately big and scary.
PICKING THE REMAINING EIGHT SPELLS:
The remaining spells should fall into one of two categories: Tricks to save your creatures, and removal to get rid of your opponent’s creatures.
Tricks to save your creatures are usually instants that will save your guys from destruction: Take Repulse, for example: For two colorless and a blue, you can return a creature to its owners hand AND draw a card. This is a great trick with a lot of flexibility:
- You can bounce a blocker to get through those final points of damage.
- You can save your own creature in response to someone targeting it with a kill spell.
- You can stop your opponent from casting Armadillo Cloak on his creature by bouncing it in response, causing the Cloak to fizzle.
- Even sneakier, you can force an even creature trade in combat (where both creatures would kill each other), then put combat damage on the stack and Repulse your creature to your hand, saving him but killing the other guy.
- You could return a creature that has comes into play effects, like the Shivan Emissary, which kills a critter when it arrives…
You see how it goes.
Tricks generally have to be instants to work well, since you have to have surprise value. But they’re what generally win you the game. Other good tricks are Explosive Growth, which can save your creature or destroy one of his, or Tangle, which can completely hose an attacking opponent.
Removal is getting rid of creatures. Generally we’re talking direct-damage spells, enchantments that give minuses to creatures, or just plain burial effects – but don’t overlook effects that neutralize creatures, like Shackles. These don’t have to be instants, because all that matters is that some creature can no longer hurt your guys.
(Removal can sometimes take on strange forms — like Stun, which stops a creature from blocking for a round. But if they can’t block when you come in for that final attack, then you’ve effectively removed that creature AND won the game. Bonus.)
If you get a reusable source of removal or tricks, that can be a gamebreaker. See also: Smoldering Tar, Razorfin Hunter, Nightscape Apprentice/Shivan Emissary, and so on.
Also keep in mind that effects with drawbacks are VERY powerful in Limited. Nobody’s really thrown Magma Burst (where you can sac two lands and pay 3R to do three damage to two targets) into a winning Type II deck… But people will gladly blow two land to destroy two creatures in Sealed. The threats are inconsistent enough in Sealed that ANY threat or defense can work despite significant drawbacks, so don’t poo-pooh the wrong cards.
WHAT ABOUT ENCHANTMENT AND ARTIFACT REMOVAL?
Enchantments in Invasion can be real pains, and sometimes you have to get rid of them to win (Protective Sphere, for example, has saved many a player hereabouts), but it’s your judgement call whether you want to play with one in your initial deck, or whether you want to wait and see whether your opponent has any good enchantments and then sideboard a few in. Planeshift had some real game-shifting enchantments (like Lashknife Barrier, Planeswalker’s Scorn, Hobble, and Cloud Cover)… But you’re not playing with Planeshift cards in this tourney, and Invasion has weak enchantments anyway. On the other hand, Apocalypse has gamebreakers to mess with your head, so my advice is to pack maindecked enchantment removal and then side it out.
As for artifacts, there are practically no real powerful ones in Invasion or Apocalypse. So generally, it’s not worth it to play with artifact removal until you’ve seen your opponent whip out some sort of gamebreaking artifact.
OKAY, SO I’VE GOT A BUNCH OF PILES OF STUFF — HOW DO I BUILD THIS DECK?
Sealed is all about creature combat – so as a rule, you’ll want to go with a deck that is creature-heavy with 16 creatures, 16 lands, and 8″tricks.” In Invasion, generally you’ll have to build a deck with three colors in it – two main colors and a”splash” of a third.
This is where even big pros like Michelle Bush get confused – choosing between all of those lovely colors can be gruesome! And to make things worse, there are standard archetypes in Invasion Sealed…But they’ve all been blown away. Your best bet is to go with your good cards and pray for the best.
What are the good cards? Ideally, your deck will be all good creatures in your main color, with your splash color providing the tricks. It won’t work that way. But given a choice between strong creatures (critters with flying, unblockability, or really bizarre effects) or tricks, go with the color with the best creatures. All the tricks in the world won’t save you if you can just smash through everything he has.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
Big Decks. Don’t go a card beyond forty. It will be like slicing off your left arm, I know, but find the space to remove those extra ten cards. Your deck will be better for it.
Mana-Fixing Cards. Another common beginner’s mistake — to make up for having a big deck, they throw a lot of mana-fixer cards in there like Fertile Ground, Multani’s Harmony, the Cameos, and other crap cards.
To illustrate why this is bad, I’ll give this example: You have just had your last creature destroyed. Your opponent will now kill you in two turns with his creature unless you stop him. You draw… Fertile Ground. You die. The lesson is, only play with cards that will help you win. And mana-fixers, by and large, don’t. Really. If you never play with another Cameo again, it will be too soon. If you must play a mana fixer, make it a creature: Nomadic Elf, Quirion Elf, and so on.
Creature-Light Decks. The good players will swarm you unless you REALLY have a lot to back it up – and you probably don’t.
Heavy Counterspells. My initial mistake. I had four counters in my deck, and nothing to do once something hit the table. Don’t rely on counters to stop the big threats, because you might not have them when you need it.
Lots of Enchantments. Unless you have enough creatures to enchant, OR said enchantments serve as tricks or removal, they’re dead weight.
Heavy Card-Drawing. My other mistake. I forgot that unless I had something good to draw INTO, I was pretty helpless.
Lifegain. You’re not playing multiplayer, here.
Really, Really Expensive Spells. I never built up the eight mana to play the Avatar of Woe that I got in the first prerelease, since I always got killed before I built up the mana to pay for it – learn my lesson. Urza’s Rage is very potent, but you can’t count on getting the twelve mana you need to play it. It may well be that, painful as it is, you need to leave it aside UNLESS it’s in a deck that would play red anyway. Then again, it’s great removal and a strong signal to at least splash red. Likewise, getting a Dragon is not a universal signal to go in those colors; I have, regrettably, left two dragons behind in my Sealed career, and rightfully so in both cases.
If the majority of your spells tend to be expensive (three or above), you may wish to play with 17 land.
WHAT HAPPENS IF I JUST CAN’T DECIDE?
Words of wisdom from Sheldon Menery, local Sealed guy and judge:
“If all else fails, take your green and red critters and go for the beatdown.”
YOU MAY FORGET THIS, BUT I’LL TELL YOU ANYWAY –
ADVANCED STRATEGY AND PLAY TIPS FOR SEALED:
There are some new archetypes going on, and Saturday should be interesting. If you’ve played enough Limited, you already know the current archetypes… But that’s going to be erased for one day (and one day only) as Planeshift steps out to give sway to Apocalypse. (Remember, you get three packs of Apocalypse now; no Planeshift. Woo!) As a result, you no longer have to worry about:
- Battlemages stripping cards from your hand and destroying Acolytes;
- Those damn gating creatures that keep bringing everything back at the worst times;
- Frickin’ Magma Burst, Flametongue Kavu, Caldera Kavu, and Tahngarth being opened up, all by the the same kid who stomps over you by accident;
- The white mage crippling your offense with Hobble and Lashknife Barrier.
As a result, red is a lot less strong and black gains a bit in power — especially when you add in the bunch of enemy-colored cards. Enemy-colored decks will be very strong, since you’ll never see more Apocalypse packs than you will now and people will build them just for the "cool" factor.
Me, I’m hoping to get a strong Green/Black deck to pick off my opponent’s creatures and swarm in with Penumbras. But that’s just me.
Look For Synergy.
There are a lot of surprise plays that a creative player can come up with in Sealed. Examples I’ve seen:
* Using a kickered Explosive Growth (creature gets +5/+5 until end of turn) to make someone’s creature huge, then Agonizing Demising it (creature is destroyed, and the owner takes damage equal to its power) for the win.
* Using a Tidal Visionary (change creature’s color until the end of turn) in conjunction with an Urborg Shambler (all black creatures get -1/-1) to kill off a lot of tiny guys (“Oops! It’s black! It’s small! It dies!”)
* This one is from Sol Malka: He combined Juntu Stakes (creatures with power 1 or less do not untap) with multiple Mournings (creature gets -2/-0) to ensure that he could Mourning down any big creatures, then lock them under with the Stakes.
You won’t necessarily see these examples when you’re playing, but you can come up with your own cool tricks. Invasion Limited is all about synergy.
Hold Your Spot Removal.
A lot of novice players will just blast away at anything that comes out – and they’ll be really sorry when that 4/6 flying,”return a creature every turn” Reya Dawnbringer hits the board, or that Draco out of nowhere smacks them about the head and shoulder. As my friend Jeff”Jamovin’ ta Cleveland” Moeller says,”Sometimes you have to get beat down for a while early in Sealed deck in favor of getting your creatures out.” My personal advice: Don’t start worrying about your life totals until you hit 14 or so. You can take a few hits for the team.
Don’t just put everything out because you can. Hold some creatures back unless you really need them out. There is a chance that everything might get wiped away, so only commit totally when you’re sure you can win.
For God’s Sake, Ask.
There are a lot of new cards, and nobody’s really sure how they all interact yet – except the judges. If all of the judges are like the magnificent Sheldon (who runs a fine tourney), you have nothing to fear. Don’t be afraid to call someone over.
Sometimes You Eat the Bear, Sometimes the Bear Eats You.
There is a large luck element to Sealed, and occasionally you’ll just get a deck where, as Sean McKeown puts it,”God hates you.” Don’t get discouraged.