The Chump Block – Scarred for Life: A Scars Sealed Primer

Friday, October 22nd – Zach Jesse returns from the grueling grip of LSAT studying and makes his way into the world of Scars of Mirrodin Sealed. He made Top 8 of a Chicago PTQ and has played a few queues on MODO. See what he’s got!

Hello. Hi. How are you? Allow me to introduce myself.

Once upon a time, I wrote for this site you’re currently perusing: StarCityGames.com. Perhaps you remember my earlier canon of work and are quivering in your seat with glee, happy to see my triumphant return to the fast-paced, anything-goes world of Magic: The Gathering writing. Perhaps you don’t recall my previous articles, but have clicked on this one out of curiosity, quietly saying to yourself how someone so attractive could be writing about the current state of Magic. Whatever the case may be, welcome.

My normal shtick, as was the case all those months ago, was to brew up awesome, or at the very least, interesting new decks with which to battle. Unfortunately, the reason I’ve been MIA recently has been my shifted focus in studying for the LSATs. An exciting endeavor to be sure, but the process has left me sort of out of the loop with regard to Constructed Magic, and rather than throw out some mediocre slipshod decklists, I figured I’d rather talk about something that I have actual empirical evidence for: Scars Sealed.

I recently participated in the Chicago PTQ and subsequently went 6-0 locking myself for the Top 8 with a solid but by no means obscenely powerful Sealed deck. I’ve also played in a few online Sealed queues and through my trials hope to impart unto you at least a modicum of the knowledge I’ve gleaned.

Scars Sealed is a very interesting beast, and I feel aligned with many other people’s sentiment that it’s both an awesome and skill-intensive format. It may, in fact, be one of my favorite Limited formats ever for those specific reasons. The nature of the beast, having piles and piles of artifacts from which to choose, is the main reason for this phenomenon. I’d like to spend a moment talking about why this is as well as what ramifications it has for you, gentle reader, going forward into the brave new world of PTQs far and wide.

Unlike every other Sealed format to come before it, aside obviously from Scar’ namesake, your Sealed deck is rarely dictated by the depth of your colors. In an average Sealed pool, for example, you may open a bomb in a color that simply doesn’t have the support to justify running it. Your Sphinx of Jwar Isle might be awesome, but you’d be doing yourself a horrible disservice if you were forced to run it along Tempest Owls and Ior Ruin Expeditions just to reach a critical mass of playables.

That sort of bittersweet fortune rarely exists within Scars of Mirrodin Sealed. Carnifex Demon is the best card in your pool by a long shot, but you’ve got no other really great black cards? Run it. Because of both the high quantity and quality of artifacts that almost every pool is destined to have, splashing cards becomes so much easier. Not only is the above example a possibility, I’d say that it’s the norm rather than the exception to the norm. While splashing a double-costed card in a slow format is a possibility, the nature of the beast we’re currently tangling with allows us to run a huge number of “off-color” lands in order to be able to satisfactorily feel confident in running it. Consider the following “deck”:

1 Hoard-Smelter Dragon
7 Random white cards, one of which needs double white
15 Artifacts, none of which require any mana commitment to activate
7 Mountains
10 Plains

While such a pool is extraordinarily simplified from what you’re likely to see — you could have a Vulshok Replica in there, or perhaps some green cards which you’d like to work in — this example illustrates the infinite ease with which you can potentially play literally any card in your pool. When close to 100% of the cards you open are potentially playable, it puts a huge demand on the builder to come up with the best deck and subsequently rewards those players who are adept at building Sealed pools.

Not only is the ability to simply play whatever card you would like within reason, it’s further helped out by the decent mana fixing within the set. While traditionally, only those magicians that can wield the mighty power of nature from their fingertips have the ability to accelerate or fix their mana, in Scars of Mirrodin, this typically green ability is evenly dispersed throughout all of the colors via the Myr. Granted, you might need a little bit of luck on your side to be able to open the appropriate on-color Myr, but if you do, congrats! Your mana woes are lessened further still.

Finally, the “Terramorphic Expanse” of the set might be my favorite card, and I see few reasons for decks not to try and run as many Horizon Spellbombs as possible. Even if you can’t reap the extra card when you crack it, it still a) fixes your mana, and b) is an artifact. Most people I’ve talked to rightly decrease the amount of lands they have in their deck in proportion to how many mana-producing Myr they’re running, but I don’t think people are doing the same for the green Spellbomb, which I think is not only entirely possible and beneficial, but correct to boot.

While this ability to play your heavy hitters with relative ease is certainly good news, it follows that there’s bad news: your opponents can as well. Not only are your opponents likely to try to cram in as many bombs and as much removal as practically feasible, but many incredibly powerful cards are artifacts themselves. Contagion Engine, Steel Hellkite, Wurmcoil Engine, Molten-Tail Masticore—these are just a few of the cards that, if opened, I can’t imagine cutting from any potential deck whatsoever. Clearly, the fact that Wurmcoil Engine is a solid card in Limited isn’t breaking news, but the point I’m trying to convey sort of is: you should expect to face, on average, a much higher density of powerful bombs from each and every opponent than you might normally in a given Sealed tournament. Although it seems a bit extreme, perhaps even laughable, I think it’s not too extreme to actively think to yourself when building your deck, “How do I ever expect to beat Card X?”

A final point I’d like to make before we move on, one that I’ve somewhat touched on already, is that you (and your enemies) are going to have a handful of artifacts from which you must pare down to a modest 23 or 24 or 25 playables. As you build your decks, I imagine you’re going to find yourself in a similar situation to the one I found myself this weekend: “I have sooo many playables.” Unlike in some Sealed decks where I’ve had to scrape together the dregs of a color in order to reach a motley crew of 23, it’s not unlikely that you have to start cutting from a starting lineup of thirty or more cards. This abundance of good cards is bound to have a lot of fun niche role players — cards like Culling Dais — that while not intrinsically powerful by themselves, can lead to interesting interactions on the board — say, with Myr Propagator — which in turn require you to analyze your pool much more closely than you might be used to.

What cards are there that might be diamonds in the rough? How similar is card A to card B in function, and do I need or want both in my deck? The result of all this deliberating is that (presuming you haven’t run out of time because of all these decisions) decks have the potential to be more highly synergistic than a Sealed deck might normally be. This doesn’t always mean that you need gimmicky interactions to win; it does however mean that you should certainly be thinking about your deck’s overall game plan in a similar way as you might when drafting a deck.

Here’s my build from this weekend’s PTQ, which highlights a few of the above points:

PTQ Sealed Deck

11 Plains
3 Forests
2 Mountains

1 Copper Myr
2 Ghalma’s Warden
1 Glimmerpoint Stag
1 Golem Artisan
1 Kemba’s Skyguard
1 Myrsmith
1 Oxidda Scrapmelter
1 Palladium Myr
1 Perilous Myr
2 Snapsail Glider
1 Steel Hellkite
2 Sylvok Replica

1 Galvanic Blast
1 Heavy Arbalest
2 Horizon Spellbomb
1 Origin Spellbomb
1 Revoke Existence
1 Rusted Relic
1 Strata Scythe
1 True Conviction

Relevant Sideboard
1 Glint Hawk Idol
1 Dispense Justice
1 Wall of Tanglecord
1 Myr Propagator
2 Blight Mamba
1 Cystbearer
1 Acid Web Spider

Before I get into the specific choices for the deck (and yes, there’s at the very least one glaring error that I made), notice my mana base. I’m playing a whopping three Forests, and literally zero green cards. The green mana in the deck is 100% for activating my Sylvok Replicas and getting value out of my Horizon Spellbombs. Even though I eventually cut the green cards that I was tempted to run, the green mana in the deck stayed because it was just so easy to maintain a healthy mana base with the cards I had. If you think about it, I’m not even a three-color deck. I’m just a two-color deck that happens to gain an advantage if I have access to a specific third color. While I certainly don’t advocate splashing four or five colors without some insane support, this set is likely to show us just how malleable our mana bases can be in order to support the cards we want to play.

As for the specific cards I chose to play, I opted for the current build because I felt like my best shot for winning was being as aggressive as I reasonably could while maintaining my high impact cards. Most of my dudes were, at any given point, larger than my opponent’s, which allowed me to often bash with impunity. Certainly nothing of earth-shattering relevance here, but I wanted to mention why I made some of the decisions that I did when building the deck and how I came about understanding that some of my choices were a bit off.

Perilous Myr for example, was boarded out in almost every game. Normally, I feel like the Aeolipile on legs is a great card, deterring attackers in the early and late game alike; however, his mere existence was counter to my game plan as a whole. I wanted to be attacking! Fortunately, I noticed the Glint Hawk Idol sitting in my board, a card that I happened to casually overlook when I was building my deck and that almost certainly would’ve made it in had I been more vigilant.

I also boarded out Heavy Arbalest every single match as well. It was a card that I think I was overvaluing, especially since there was a time when I was planning on running infect creatures to wield it sinisterly. I tended to board in one of two cards: Dispense Justice and Wall of Tanglecord. Wall of Tanglecord is a card that I generally like, but that, again, didn’t really fit with what I was trying to do. I tended to bring it in when I felt that my opponent might be able to effectively race me — be it with a mass of flyers or large ground-pounding hunks of metal.

Dispense Justice is an interesting card. I’ve generally been less than impressed with the ability to dole out Justice in Draft as it’s both easy to play around and ineffective if your opponent sees it coming, and while removal is removal, it again was rather incongruent with what I needed my deck to do as a whole. What the white instant does accomplish, however, is deal with very hard-to-deal-with pests. Molten-Tail Masticore and Skithiryx are both extraordinarily hard to deal with, and occasionally Dispense Justice will be literally your only out to the card, and you just have to hope that your opponents don’t see it coming. While I had it in my hand several times throughout the day, I only actually ever cast it once the entire tournament, and it was against myself!

The Poison Deck

Along with many other people, I feel that trying to force poison in Sealed is a risky gambit. I think “Don’t play poison in Sealed” is a bit extreme and close-minded, but in order to build the infect deck, a lot of things need to come together conveniently. While not a Sealed-specific note, it merits reiteration: for every non-infect creature with which you water down your deck, the more of an uphill battle you’re creating for yourself. Playing with two very contradictory strategies means you’re battling on two fronts, and it makes blocking decisions for your opponent slightly easier. Presuming you don’t open “bombs” (Putrefax, Hand of the Praetors) what sort of pool might lead you into that sort of direction? I offer this as a potential example:

There are quite a few infect dudes in there, and mostly quality ones at that. No Vector Asps here! There are a total of 10 infect creatures here (if you count the Trigon), which I think is probably on the low side. Ideally, I think you’d want even more, especially multiple Plague Stingers, Cystbearers, or Tel-Jilad Fallen, but the Corpse Cur pair is a certainly solid addition.

What sets this middling pool over the edge, however, is its support cards. There’s perhaps no better card in your quest to poison someone than Untamed Wild, and this deck has two of them. It only takes one time playing with or against that tag-team combination to know why they go so well together, as it often leads to the “Oops! I guess I win” blowout from nowhere.

Nim Deathmantle is another card that just screams value. Pumping your dude, providing evasion (sort of) and built in resistance to death is a good deal for any deck, but when you’re suiting up an infect creature, it becomes infinitely scarier. As a rare, I wouldn’t expect to open it too often, but being able to abstractly evaluate when an already solid card gets even better is a good skill to practice.

There are other cards that increase in value in concert with infect as well: Painsmith, Grafted Exoskeleton (a card I’m not particularly fond of, but is certainly at its best in the “infect with other random dudes” deck), Bladed Pinions. The fact that there’s a decent amount of removal in this pool (and I count both Fume Spitter and Tel-Jilad Defiance in this category) makes me feel like infect could certainly be a possible outcome here.

One subtle bonus for this pool that leads me toward the infect deck: there are literally no mana-producing Myr here. While this may certainly be the exception, it’s absolutely worth noting since Myr often make the backbone of a successful metalcraft deck, whereas they play much more of a supporting role in the poison deck. On the other side of that coin, however, is the fact that there’s little reach in this deck (read: cards that proliferate). Inexorable Tide and Thrummingbird aside, there’s no way to force through those last counters other than alpha-striking.

However, even with all the signs that say, “Infect is a viable strategy now,” we have bombs in every color that say “Okay, so what?” If we are to run infect, presumably we’re G/B, which means that our Scrapmelters, Arrests, and the like will need to sit this one out. Even many of our solid artifact creatures — Rusted Relic and Chrome Steed for example — are less effective in this strategy, and it seems like a waste to essentially throw away an otherwise solid pool. It’s certainly possible to splash the Arrests or the Scrapmelter and the Shatter, but there’s literally zero mana fixing in this deck, which makes me less inclined to go that route even though we could essentially play the Mamba and Untamed Wilds as our only green cards.

I’d be very interested in seeing how you’d build this deck, primarily because I feel like there’s multiple different ways with which one could throw it together. Post your builds in the forums along with questions, concerns, or constructive feedback you might have.

Thanks for reading
Zach Jesse

[email protected]

Zoochz on MTGO