If this is your first prerelease tournament, or you don’t play Sealed often, then this is the article for you. Sealed deck play can be tricky if you’re a casual player or not used to the environment – reading this article (and the ancillary reading) will ensure that you don’t embarrass yourself like I did. Hoo boy, did I stink it up in my first prerelease.
First of all, 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.php to get an idea of the issues that come up during Sealed. I’ll give you slightly more concrete advice on deckbuilding in a second.
And lastly, but most importantly, bop on over to http://www.metropolisusera.com/Firenze/Trans/planeshifting.htm?
action=view_c ategory&database=magbox&category=0 and read the Planeshift spoiler lists. There are going to be a ton of new cards out there, and you don’t want to spend the precious time you’ll be given to build decks reading the fine print on a hundred cards, desperately trying to figure out what each of them do. Don’t 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. 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.
Remember the Golden Rule: 16 creatures, 16 lands, 8 tricks. That’s your deck.
Sealed is all about creature combat, so let’s talk about what a good creature in Sealed is.
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. Your offense will consist of creatures with evasion: Flying, unblockability, critters that can tap to do damage, et cetera. In other words, creatures that will break through your opponent’s defense. (My personal take is that flying is particularly strong in Invasion. A lot of my games have been won or lost over air wars. Particularly with BIG STUPID DRAGONS!)
Generally, you’ll have one color that’s 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.
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 Falter from Urza’s Block – if they can’t block when you come in for that final attack, then you’ve effectively removed them AND damaged your opponent. Bonus.)
Also keep in mind that effects with drawbacks are VERY powerful in Limited. Nobody ever played with Troubled Healer (sac a land to prevent two damage) in Masques Block Constructed, but getting rid of a land to protect a creature made it a must-pick in Sealed. The threats are inconsistent enough in Sealed that ANY threat or defense can work.
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 as of this point 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.
As for artifacts, there are practically no real powerful ones, and by and large Invasion’s artifact removal is substandard anyway. 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! If you’re strong-willed and confident, feel free to pick and choose the best creatures from your deck and throw it all together.
But if you tend to waver, people have found that there are a couple of classic deck archetypes in Invasion Sealed that work effectively. To make your life easier (and to help you waste less time in the measly 45 minutes they give to slap together your deck), you might want to bring this article along as a cheat sheet. See if you can build any of these types of decks from your card pool:
Universally viewed as a very strong deck in Invasion Limited and the choice of many pros, this choice features a lot of creature removal combined with limited counterspell support and card drawing. Many people look to see if they can build this type of deck first, and it’s fairly easy to play. If you have a bad memory, just try to go with Black/Red/Blue. After all, I do it and Rizzo does it – and look at our stellar success on the pro scene!
Four or Five-Color Green.
If you have a lot of green "mana fixer" cards that provide you easy access to all sorts of mana (Harrow, Quirion Elves, Nomadic Elves, Utopia Trees, Fertile Ground), then you can go with a green-based deck that sports the best of every color card. Splash in your black removal, your blue counterspells, your white protection, your red beef, and go to town. Cards that rely on multiple land types for power (like Strength of Unity) are GREAT with Harrow. Make sure you put a lot of Forests in to avoid landscrew, though.
Mass Destruction Stall.
There are a lot of small green and white creatures that tap other creatures (Benalish Tapper, Thornscape Apprentice, Stormscape Apprentice) for the cost of a white mana. Generally it’s a bad idea to go with these guys, because you’ll be spending all of your mana stalling their threats while they just cast bigger ones and eventually overwhelm you. But if you have a mass removal card, like Rout or Obliterate, and can combine it with some way to stall your opponent and force him to overcommit in order to try to punch through your defenses, then you can force them to put all of their guys out while YOU hold back. Then, once he’s suitably extended, clear the board and start laying a bunch of smackdown. (Chances of seeing this are less likely to happen now that you only get one starter deck of Invasion, but you never know.)
Sometimes you don’t get anything big or any great spells. Just take a lot of small, aggressive creatures and hope to overwhelm your opponent by numbers.
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.
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.
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:
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 – heck if enough of you email me with your own "cool tricks I pulled off during the prerelease," I may write an article about you. What the heck, email me!
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. As my friend Jeff "Jivin’ Wit’ Jermaine Jackson" Moeller says, "Sometimes you have to get beat down for a while early in Sealed deck in favor of getting your creatures out."
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.