“But what do I do, Ferrett?” Dmitri asked.
I had given Dmitri his first Sealed deck, and like most beginners, he had no clue what to do with this large pile of cards. Particularly if you’re a beginning player, the prerelease games can be intimidating. And isn’t the prerelease supposed to be fun?
Well, that’s why I’m gonna walk you through it.
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 embarrassing 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.
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 unofficial spoiler list and meet the cards you’ll be opening on Saturday. There are a lot of people who say that spoilers take away a lot of the fun of a prerelease, and I agree with them (and as an editor, I should warn you that I merely skimmed the spoiler to write this)… But if you want to be able to build a deck that will win you a game or two, wasting the precious forty minutes you’ll be given to build your deck reading the fine print on forty-five new cards is a sure way to lose.
Also, get a rough idea of which cards you consider bombworthy, and which commons that are above the cut. (If you don’t know, don’t worry – we’ll give you an idea later.) If you remember the powerful cards, then you’ll know instantly when the cards in a given color are above-average, saving you some critical 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.
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.
You’ve Got Your Cards – Now What?
First thing you do is to break them down into six colors – the five colors and artifacts. (Okay, you can go with seven piles if you get a gold card.) Then break those six 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.
(…okay, I lie. The actual general rule is to play with 16 creatures, 6-7 tricks, and 17-18 land. And if you can remember that, then you’ll be ahead of the game. But as a novice, the 16/16/8 rule will give you a fairly solid deck, if one that’s prone to more manascrew than it might be.)
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 creatures or otherwise lock them down 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.
For the record, beginning players routinely overemphasize defense over offense… and they have it backwards. The more aggression you have in your deck, the better your deck will usually do, and the best advice I ever got for Limited was “Shut up and turn ’em sideways.” If you have the slightest advantage, you should be pressing it with attacks, not giving your opponent time to recover.
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 if you can, unless you get a lot of Green’s mana-fixing cards (like Sakura-Tribe Elder or Kodama’s Reach).
Keep an eye on your mana curve: Kamigawa Block 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 that Myojin of Infinite Rage or Konda, Lord of Eiganjo out, you may have been smashed down to one or two life by smaller and more efficient creatures. They’re not as impressive, but tiny, efficient creatures like Kami of the Hunt and Nezumi Cutthroat are going to be your bread and butter. Look for early two or three-mana blockers to start the offense (or defend yourself with) until you can get your more-expensive offense in gear.
Picking The Remaining Eight:
The remaining spells should fall into one of two categories: Tricks to save your creatures (Strength of Cedars, Blessed Breath), and removal to get rid of your opponent’s creatures. Tricks generally have to be instants to work well, since you have to have surprise value, but reusable tricks attached to creatures are generally solid gold in the format.
Removal is getting rid of creatures. Generally we’re talking direct-damage spells (Glacial Ray), destroy effects (Rend Flesh, Rend Spirit), or effects that bounce creatures for long enough for you to sail in for the win (Consuming Vortex) – but don’t overlook effects that neutralize creatures, too. These don’t have to be instants, because all that matters is that some creature can no longer hurt your guys.
Mass removal is gold: Anything that can destroy multiple creatures at once is valuable (Hideous Laughter).
Removal can sometimes take on strange forms – like Dance of Shadows. It doesn’t seem like removal, but if they can’t block when you come in for that final attack, then you’ve effectively removed those creatures and won the game. Bonus.
If you get a reusable source of removal (usually attached to a creature), that can be a gamebreaker… But there aren’t many of them in Kamigawa.
Also keep in mind that effects with drawbacks are very powerful in Limited. No one ever used Magma Burst in a winning Standard deck… But people will gladly blow two land to destroy two creatures in Sealed, and they did quite frequently in Invasion Block. If you’re used to Constructed, where you choose you cards, you’re going to have to get used to the lower power levels.
Can You Give Me Some Examples?
Certainly. Here are what have usually been traditionally been the strong common cards in Kamigawa Block for Limited play:
Devouring Greed (direct damage, baby)
Kami of Ancient Law
Kodama’s Reach (mana fixing is very important)
Order of the Sacred Bell
Kami of Fire’s Roar
Hearth Kami (Artifact removal isn’t that important, but the efficiency is)
River Kaijin (an excellent defensive creature)
Peer through Depths (splice splice, baby)
Teller of Tales
What About Enchantment And Artifact Removal?
Don’t bother. With so many creatures and so few artifacts or enchantments, the chances of finding a good target for a maindecked Wear Away are slim. Keep it in mind for Game 2 if you see something worthwhile, though.
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. Never forget: “Not losing” isn’t winning. 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. Also see: Lifegain.
Creature-Light Decks. The all-counterspell deck seems like a good idea, but you’ll still spend the majority of your time in critter battles. Don’t try anything funny unless you know the format very well… which, since you’re reading this article, you don’t.
One-Card Decks. 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, The Unspeakable is very potent, but unless you have other blue cards to help you survive until you can cast it, you might lose. It may well be that, painful as it is, you need to leave your huge, flashy bomb behind and play colors with a more solid makeup.
What Happens If I Just Can’t Decide?
Words of wisdom from Sheldon Menery:
“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:
Count the Spirits and Arcanes.
Martin Dingler not only breaks down his cards by creature and spell count, but also by arcane and spirit count. This is a good idea, since this block has a lot of arcane/spirit-triggered effects – and if you have a lot of them, that can boost the power of your deck dramatically. At the very least you should use the spirit count as a tiebreaker on color choice, and it’s probably a good idea to try to look for some sort of a spirit-based theme first and then start breaking down the colors.
Remember What’s Not There.
This is a prerelease, which means you get no packs of Betrayers of Kamigawa. That’s right; no Ninjas, no Umezawa’s Jitte (thank God!), no Baku, no one-drop-sacrifice guys. It will alter the play.
It Is Not About Rares.
Yes, there are some guys who crack open a Kokusho 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 bombs. 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. Trust me, I know.
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 huge dragon comes a-knockin’. Sometimes you have to get beat down for a while early in Sealed in favor of getting your creatures out.
You will especially want to hold things back due to the new “Hand Size matters” mechanics. There are any number of cards that reward you for having four or more cards in hand – and so burning through your hand may cause severe problems later on when you’re low on gas. Which brings me to the next topic….
Decide What Sort Of Hand Size Your Deck Wants To Have.
If you have a deck that’s based on a fast weenie swarm, throwing in a bunch of the “four cards in hand” cards are, to say the least, counter-synergistic. Try to look at your deck as a whole and determine whether you want to go for a slow victory (i.e., playing out one threat at a time in an attempt to go for some slam-dunk), a sweep victory (i.e., laying out a lot of cards and then fuelling some four-cards-in-hand mechanic with the new sweep mechanism), or just a plain ol’ “Screw the new mechanics, I’m stompin’ your butt” victory.
Don’t just put everything out because you can. Hold some creatures back unless you really need them out. 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. Don’t be afraid to call someone over. In fact, you should insist on it.
The Here Edits This Here Site Here Guy