Because Sealed deck play can be tricky if you’re a casual player or not used to a 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 quite a few boxes, then came in third in my Judgment prerelease, so you do get better with practice.
Add this to the fact to that Legions is really breaking all the rules here, being a set composed entirely of creatures – meaning no sorceries, instants, enchantments, or artifacts – and you begin to see that really, you’re gonna be up the creek unless you get some help.
I don’t guarantee you’ll win… But I do guarantee you won’t be ashamed of your finish if you follow my guidelines here. 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 bop on over to the fine Mtgnews spoiler list and meet the cards you’ll be opening on Saturday. The good news is that unlike previous spoiler lists, which arrived early (archaeologists have recently discovered a spoiler list for Onslaught written on papyrus and sealed deep within a ziggurat, along with hieroglyphs that translated roughly as”This suxxorz”*), the Legions spoiler list only went up late Wednesday night. That means that nobody has time to memorize the cards, and in fact many people are just sitting around saying,”Hundroog! Hundroog!” and laughing.
Anyway, read about the cards you’ll be looking at tomorrow. There are a lot of people who say that spoilers take away the surprise (and a lot of the fun) of a prerelease, and I agree with them… But if you want to do well, wasting the precious forty minutes you’ll be given to build your deck reading the fine print on forty-five cards is not an efficient use of time.
In addition, this set is filled with tricky morph creatures that do whacky things when they’re flipped face-up – okay, not so whacky. Every set, there are five basic effects that Wizards grants to every new mechanic:
- Red gets a Shock effect (do some damage to something)
- Black always gets Dark Banishing (destroy a nonblack critter)
- Green always gets Giant Growth (make a critter bigger until the end of the turn)
- Blue always gets Counterspell (counter a spell flat-out – or, as has been the case lately, pay more mana or have it countered)
- White always gets Disenchant (destroy target artifact or enchantment)
Sure enough, each of Legions’ new morphs do these – so if your opponent is playing black and has a morph, don’t be surprised if it flips over and takes one of your guys with it. Likewise, if he’s playing red, it’s the late game, and he lays down a morph, chances are good that something’s going to take two damage.
So go read the set, paying close attention to the morphs and what the new ones can do. I’m not saying that you need to memorize them all – just read enough to know that there’s a common (Willbender) that can change the target of a spell or ability.
Also, get a rough idea of which cards you consider bombworthy. (If you don’t know, don’t worry – we’ll give you an idea later.) If you remember the cards that are worth building an entire deck around – like Akroma, Angel of Wrath or Graveborn Muse – then you’ll save some time later.
But keep in mind that spoilers are never 100% accurate, so there will probably be a few minor 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.
Then bop on over to blisterguy! That wacky New Zealander has written a great articles on the common tricks you’ll expect to see at the Legions prerelease.
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.
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. The general rule is to play with 16 creatures, 16 lands, and 8 tricks… But that’s utterly wrong, and if you’ve been playing that way you need to disregard it.
For one thing, the land count is all wrong. Onslaught and Legions are packed with big, expensive creatures – Legions more so than most. You need to have eighteen land at a minimum for this prerelease.
Secondly, with three Legions boosters’ filled wall-to-wall with critters, you’re going to want to use more creatures… And furthermore, remember what I said earlier about creatures that have spell-like effects when you turn them over? What do those count as – creatures or spells? No, you’re going to have to go with at least eighteen creatures in a Legions prerelease.
That leaves four slots for tricks – the non-creature cards in your Sealed deck.
(Of course, if you get a bunch of great tricks in your Onslaught booster – two Shocks, a Pinpoint Avalanche, a Cruel Revival, and two Solar Blasts – then feel free to cut a creature or two. But otherwise, stick to the plan.)
Picking Your Eighteen 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 creatures (like the Whipcorder) or deal damage to creatures (like Sparksmith, Dive Bomber or Catapult Squad) count as defense.
Your offense will consist of creatures with evasion: Flying, fear, unblockability, trample, 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 above it – in Onslaught, Severed Legion, Ascending Aven, Mistform Dreamer, and Screeching Buzzard are all staple evasion creatures.
(In Legions, many morph creatures are going to serve the purpose of tricks – you probably would be better off considering Skirk Marauder as a Shock that leaves a 2/1 body behind when it’s done – but that’s still good enough you’ll still want to add it to your deck! Ideally, you’ll want to have at least three or four creatures that act like spells.)
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; you really want to stay in two colors in Onslaught Limited if you can.
Now, Onslaught has a huge”tribal” theme, with plenty of effects that benefit from having a lot of the same kind of creature: The more Soldiers you have in play, for example, the better Catapult Squad will work. The numbers suggest, however, that most people will not open up enough of the same type of creature in a Sealed deck for them to be effective. Sure, if you have seven Beasts, throw in a Thunder of Hooves… But don’t build a deck that focuses around Skirk Fire Marshal when you have only six goblins. It’s better to have a more consistent deck than to create a deck that’s full of cards that do nothing if you don’t have a cleric in play.
Here’s a complaint you can laugh at:”I don’t have enough good creatures to fill out my deck!” In past formats, people used to have a lot of good spells but not enough creatures to bring the pain. You won’t be hearing that tomorrow. Heh.
Keep an eye on your mana curve: Onslaught is filled with a lot of very large and very pricey creatures – which are great when they do hit the board, but by the time you get Visara the Dreadful or that oh-so-tempting Krosan Cloudscraper out, the little guys may have smashed you down to one or two life. Again, however, remember that morphed creatures serve a double-duty; they’re three mana, and they’re whatever creature they become when you turn them over.
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.
Picking The Remaining Four:
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 Sunfire Balm, for example – this is a great trick with a lot of flexibility:
- You can save your own creature in response to someone Shocking it.
- You can turn an even trade in combat into a lopsided blowout.
- You can turn an even trade in combat into a slight blowout, and draw a card.
- You can cycle it to draw a card when you have no creatures and desperately need to find one.
- You can force someone to take a couple of damage from their Sparksmith for no reason at all.
You see how it goes.
Tricks generally have to be instants to work well, since you have to have surprise value. (Remember what we said about creatures serving the purpose of tricks, though; try to have at least three or four creatures that can do something Tricky as well.)
Removal is getting rid of creatures. Generally we’re talking direct-damage spells (Shock), bury effects (Cruel Revival), or effects that give minuses to creatures (Infest) – but don’t overlook effects that neutralize creatures, like the old’ standby Pacifism. 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 Dirge of Dread or Wave of Indifference, which stops all your opponent’s creatures 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.
Also keep in mind that effects with drawbacks are very powerful in Limited. No one ever used Magma Burst into a winning Type II deck… But people will gladly blow two land to destroy two creatures in Sealed, and they did quite frequently in Invasion Block. 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.
Can You Give Me Some Examples?
Sure! Limited expert Nick Eisel, who is both the #1 and the #2 player on Magic Online (don’t ask), has ranked the Top 5 common cards in Onslaught drafting. (He didn’t talk about uncommons or rares because you won’t see them as often.)
Now, this is a Legions-heavy environment, so these same picks might not necessarily apply when you add Legions to the mix… But it will give you an idea of what cards pros look for when they’re building decks – low cost, big effects, and cycling – as well as what category they fall into.
Red’s Best Onslaught Commons:
- Sparksmith (Yes, it damages you, but it destroys every morph on the table repeatedly!)
- Solar Blast (Removal)
- Shock (Removal)
- Pinpoint Avalanche (Removal)
- Erratic Explosion (More removal)
(Yes, it’s all pretty much burn – what does that tell you about the importance of removal? Slice and Dice, an uncommon, is widely considered the best first-pick for a deck that you can have.)
Black’s Best Onslaught Commons:
- Cruel Revival (Removal)
- Nantuko Husk (While the Husk does not technically have evasion, its ability to swell to huge sizes with a couple of creatures makes it a monster in combat)
- Swat (Removal)
- Severed Legion (Evasion)
- Screeching Buzzard/Dirge of Dread (Evasion)
(Again, note: Two removal spells, three evasion creatures, and a spell that gives creatures evasion.)
Green’s Best Onslaught Commons:
- Snarling Undorak (Massive offense, and a reusable trick to save or pump creatures)
- Wirewood Savage (Beasts are so good, and this 2/2 is good on its own)
- Krosan Tusker (Offense and cycling)
- Barkhide Mauler (Offense and cycling)
- Spitting Gourna (Defense and offense)
White’s Best Onslaught Commons:
- Pacifism (Removal, sorta)
- Gustcloak Harrier (Evasion)
- Daru Lancer (Offense)
- Dive Bomber (Evasion and removal)
- Glory Seeker (Popular because it’s a tempo card – your 2/2 can trade with your opponent’s expensive morph guy)
Blue’s Best Onslaught Commons:
- Ascending Aven (Evasion)
- Mistform Dreamer (Evasion)
- Mistform Wall (Defense, plus it just kills everything with Lavamancer’s Skill on it)
- Riptide Biologist (Defense)
- Choking Tethers (Evasion)
Note that aside from Cruel Revival, which just flat-out kills things, none of these guys costs over four mana. (Okay, some of green’s creatures are five and over – but they can be cast for less, or cycled away.) You want to use the cheapest, most powerful creatures.
What About Enchantment And Artifact Removal?
Don’t bother. With so many creatures and so few artifacts or enchantments, a Naturalize is almost guaranteed to be worthless in Game 1. Keep it in mind for Game 2 if you see it, but most of the good enchantments are rare in Onslaught, and nonexistent in Legions.
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. Onslaught, generally you’ll have to build a deck with two colors in it.
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.
Prevention Decks. Onslaught has some ridiculous damage prevention cards, and you’d be a fool not to play with some of the more powerful ones if you crack ’em. But don’t forget: “Not losing” isn’t winning. The all-cleric deck doesn’t really have a way of winning – and unless you have some big, powerful creature that can punch through for the game win, don’t go overboard on the”Ha ha! You can’t hurt me!” effects.
The lesson is, only play with cards that will help you win. If they can’t hurt your opponent or save your butt from your opponent’s thrashings, leave it out.
Creature-Light Decks. Ha. Like you’ll have one.
Heavy Card-Drawing. My other mistake. I forgot that unless I had something good to draw into, I was pretty helpless. Onslaught has a lot of”rearrange the top four cards of your library” effects; unless you have some killer card that you must get to in order to win the game, these effects aren’t as impressive as they look.
Lifegain. You’re not playing multiplayer, here. See also,”prevention decks.”
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. Yes, Silvos, Rogue Elemental is very potent, but you can’t count on getting the three colorless mana and three forests 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 green anyway. Then again, having a power card like that is a real signal to go into heavy green.
One-Card Decks. Onslaught is filled with”bomb rares” – single cards that can swing the entire tempo of the game and turn a loss into a win. However, remember that your bomb is but one card out of forty. If your cards support Silvos, absolutely! Throw him in! But if the rest of your green kind of sucks because you have no other big creatures, you’ll probably do better to leave him behind in the sideboard.
(Yes, it’s like chiseling your arm off with a greasy spork. I know. I’ve opened two Reya, Dawnbringers in the same deck, and didn’t play white. But I wanted to.)
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:
Be Sure To Have Black Or Red In Your Deck.
Black or red are the only colors with real removal, so you want to make sure you use them if you can. Green/white is widely considered unplayable, and most people try like hell to avoid blue/white, since a single Sparksmith can kill you.
In draft, the pros value the cycling lands very highly because they make the late-game all action. You drew another land? Whoops, I cycled it and got the removal I needed! Likewise, there’s no sense sitting on a card you can’t use right now when you might draw a better one immediately. If you can’t use it, ditch it.
Value Cycling Cards Slightly Higher.
Pros love Barkhide Mauler and Krosan Tusker because they’re good in the early game (pay 2 or pay 2G: draw a card) and good in the late game (as big, nasty beatdown bashers). Learn the lesson, and play as many cycling cards as make sense.
There Are No Fog Effects.
If you attack with everything, there is still no card in the set that prevents all combat damage for the turn, the way that Tangle or Moment’s Peace did. If you have a chance to go for the throat, take it.
It Is Not About Rares.
Yes, there are some guys who crack open a Visara and get very lucky. However, the bulk of your deck will be made out of the workhorse commons, and a solidly-built deck can beat a sucky deck with one or two bomb rares. There are people who whine and moan and say that it’s all about getting the rares… And they are the ones who have no talent. They are idiots. Tell them to go home, because trust me when I say that you can open all the bomb rares in the world and still suck.
Slivers Are Probably Not A Bad Idea.
…And will be more prevalent in the prerelease than ever before. With three packs of Legions, chances are good that people will open workable Sliver decks – keep it in mind when deckbuilding (hint: Mistforms fill in gaps!), and especially keep it in mind that you’re likely to run into at least one Slivery concoction.
The Amplification cards are overcosted, and offer you an ugly choice: Either play nothing in the first four turns, holding on to cards of a certain creature type in order to get a hugely-amplified creature, or play out all of your critters at once and get no amplification at all. Don’t bother with it.
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 Voice of the Woods comes a’knockin’. As my friend Jeff”Jabrone” Moeller says,”Sometimes you have to get beat down for a while early in Sealed deck in favor of getting your creatures out.”
…Except With Morph, Early In The Game.
There are enough good morph creatures that it rarely hurts to kill a Morph creature on turn 3. Sure, your opponent might have played a lousy morph to draw your fire… But on the other hand, if he’s playing with crappy morphs, isn’t that better for you? Let the pros debate the head games; you can just blast away.
Block Red And Black Morphs, Don’t Block White And Green.
Red and black’s morphs tend to morph into large things that have nasty effects when they do combat damage – Haunted Cadaver, Skirk Commando – whereas white and green tend to morph into unsettlingly-large creatures that can destroy anything, like Exalted Angel and Snarling Undorak. If your opponent’s playing red/white, God have mercy on your soul.
Don’t just put everything out because you can. Hold some creatures back unless you really need them out. Onslaught doesn’t have a lot of answers to large creatures, but there are multiple global removal spells that wipe out the little guys, many of them commons or uncommons – there is a strong chance that everything might get wiped away in the course of the game, 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.
Remember That Your Opponent Has To Show You His Morph Cards At The End Of The Game.
Some people cheat. They suck. Don’t let them get away with it; they’re supposed to show you their cards, so make ’em show.
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.
* – Yes, I know, ziggurats and hieroglyphs are two separate cultures. Shaddap.