Yawgmoth’s Whimsy # 339 – Four-Pack Sealed

Thursday, August 26th – Four-Pack Sealed is an interesting format, which feels like a good mix of Draft, Sealed, and Pack Wars.

I’ve been promising to get back to the UST for a couple of weeks, but the next matches involve some complex, slow creature decks (Boss Naya and Ghazi Glare) that will take time to assemble and much more time to play and document. I will get to it, but busy times. All I have been able to squeeze in is a handful of Four-Pack Sealed events. It is an interesting format, which feels like a good mix of Draft, Sealed, and Pack Wars.

Four-Pack Sealed is an online format, at least for now. The official rules are here. The format, in a nutshell, is:

* 8-man queues (which fire pretty fast, at least for M11)
* Entry fee is 4 packs, no TIX
* Players make 30-card decks from four booster packs
* Players play three rounds of Swiss
* Prize awarded on match wins: 5 packs for 3-0, 3 packs for 2-1, and 1 pack for 1-2

One huge advantage: playing out a Sealed event takes even less time than a draft, because you are skipping the time spent drafting. Deck construction time is a bit longer, but if everyone submits a deck early, you jump right to round 1 play.

That has to be the best part of the format for me — I can play competitive Magic in time slots into which I could not wedge any other type of event. I managed to fit a couple of Four-Pack Sealed events into my Saturday, working around chores and other commitments. The fact that the events were firing every five minutes or so helped. (M11 does slow down late nights on weekdays, and the Rise versions are firing very slowly. Still…)

These events replaced Six-Pack Sealed Swiss queues, which never fired. Well — almost never. Six-Pack Sealed events will still occur, online, in the four-round daily events, and as online PTQs. The Four-Pack Sealed events take place in the Sealed Swiss room on MTGO.

The biggest difference between Four-Pack and Six-Pack Sealed, besides the fact that having 50% more cards makes the Six-Pack pools a lot stronger, is that Four-Pack Sealed events use 30-card decks. This makes building decks quite interesting. Well, at least novel.

The Lands

The standard rule of thumb, when building decks, is to use 40% land. In a 30 card deck, that’s 12 land, 18 spells. The Wakefield School was 26 lands in a 62 card deck, which would equate to a 13/31 ratio. In M11, I have generally found that decks want 13 land. The mana curves tend to be a little high in M11, and you often need to cast six-drops as close to turn 6 as you can. That requires lands. I have even run 14 lands, but that was in a deck with a high curve and two Terramorphic Expanses.

The small deck size and low land count makes splashing tricky. With thirteen lands, you are probably playing 6/6/1. You may not see that splash land for a while, so splash cards need to be great late. They also need to cost just one colored mana. With so little land, and so many spells in M11 with double colored mana costs, I have often had to use my Terramorphic Expanse or Sylvan Ranger to fetch a primary color, instead of the splash land.

That said, the small card pools in Four-Pack Sealed mean that you often cannot avoid splashing. Just be careful what you splash for. Removal is always a good splash — but not if the removal is Chandra’s Outrage.

Moving on.


Scry is an amazing mechanic, and is great in Draft and Six-Pack Sealed. It is even better in Four-Pack Sealed. The format is a little bomb-driven, and scrying lets you find bombs and removal faster. Crystal Ball may be the best card you can have in the format. Between draws and Crystal Ball, you could conceivably look through your entire deck in six turns or so.

Foresee is really good in the format. So is Augury Owl. The one exception of Scry being excellent might be Viscera Seer, and VC does shine in two cases: if your opponent has Mind Control (or, to a lesser extent, Chandra’s Outrage), or if you have Viscera Seer and Reassembling Skeleton. In that case, you can scry for 1B at will.

Scrying is so good in the format that it makes Elixir of Immortality good. Generally, a three-mana lifegain artifact is pretty bad, but with Scry, you can waste removal early, then return it to your library via Elixir and expect to see the cards again this game.

Deck Basics

Four-Pack Sealed is pretty much like normal Limited. Removal is highly valued. Evasion is important. Combat tricks are not quite removal, but they are good in aggressive decks. Counterspells are also not quite removal, but they can be good in the right deck — and just wrong if keeping 1UU up means you don’t keep pace on the board.

Just like any Limited environment.

What is different is the value of very expensive cards. These are often marginal to unplayable in draft, but while something like Demon of Death’s Gate or Darksteel Colossus might be marginally playable in Six-Pack Sealed, it is unplayable in Four-Pack Sealed. The difference is in the ratio of the mana needed to cast the creature versus your total mana. Nine mana is probably three-quarters of your mana — which means you will have to have seen three-quarters of your deck before you can cast it. Even with a couple of Cultivates, that is a lot. Fortunately, however, almost nothing in the format costs more than seven mana, and seven is usually castable, especially with a Cultivate or so.

The other impact of 30 card format is that mill decks appear more attractive. M11 also has some common mill cards, including Tome Scour and Jace’s Erasure. In a best case scenario — something like Tome Scour turn 1, Jace’s Erasure turn 2 and maybe Foresee turn 4 (relevant because Jace’s Erasure triggers on any card drawn) — the opponent will be decked in about seven turns. On the flip side, if your deck is devoted to milling, it probably is not as good at controlling the board, and most decks can goldfish faster than turn 7. Of course, if you can combine milling with a lot of board control, it could work — but beating with creatures also works if you have board control.

Personally, I have faced a couple mill decks, and beaten them all. The one time I tried a mill strategy was after sideboarding, in a mirror match against another UW deck. We both had lots of Blinding Mages, Azure Drakes, and Pacifisms — so we ended up with a huge creature stall game 1. Game 2, we both added in Erasures, as 31st cards, and mine hit first. Other than that, however, I have not seen mill decks work consistently enough to win out. That said — a lot of people try them.

Other gimmick decks — like the Act of Treason / Fling / Bloodthrone Vampire decks – can work, sort of, but you have to open exactly the right pool. Multiples and combos like that can happen, but you are opening just 40 commons, and the set includes 101. You could easily see zero Acts and zero Flings in any given pool. (By comparison, an 8 player draft opens 240 commons, so you can expect multiples of any given common.)

In this format, as in M11 Limited in general, I like Naturalize effects. (Side note: I started to call them Disenchant effects. I wonder what portion of readers remember Disenchant from when it was in the main sets? It was Time Shifted — before that it was last in Seventh Edition… Whatever.) I don’t always maindeck it, but it is close. Look at what the card kills: Crystal Ball, Mind Control, Pacifism, Whispersilk Cloak (which is a nasty surprise), Juggernaut, Stone Golem, Armored Ascension, Gargoyle Sentinel, Warlord’s Axe, Ice Cage, Shiv’s Embrace — not to mention a half dozen rares. Naturalize is often the 17th card, as is Solemn Offering. Acidic Slime, War Priest of Thune, and even Manic Vandal are all auto-includes if I am in those colors. Just be careful with the Vandal — while the others all have “may” abilities, the Vandal will smash your own stuff if nothing else is around.

Here’s a quick check on the value of colors in the format. If I’m Green I maindeck Plummet, because of all the fliers. If I’m Red, I’m about 50/50 on maindecking Combust, and always side it in. Deathmark is a common 17th card, and comes in against most decks. Celestial Purge, on the other hand, is never maindeck, and only occasionally comes in out of the sideboard. That’s because UW fliers is a scary opponent, and Red exists mainly as a splash color.

Let’s take a more thorough look at the colors. I’ll clump the cards, but with the caveat that any time you try to define categories for a spectrum, you get some arbitrary results. For example, a card that scores 2.499 rounds down to 2, while an almost exact math that scores 2.501 counts as a three. That said, I’ll still group the commons and uncommons as

Great: Great / Bomb, etc.

Auto: Always makes the deck if you are in the color.

Filler: Filler / Chaff / 17th card — also strong but situational sideboard cards.

Avoid: Something is probably wrong if these are in your deck.


Great (Commons // Uncommons): Blinding Mage, Pacifism // Serra Angel

Auto includes: Assault Griffin, Cloud Crusader, Safe Passage, Stormfront Pegasus, Wild Griffin // Armored Ascension, Condemn, Roc Egg, War Priest of Thune, White Knight (but not unless you are heavy White.)

Filler: Excommunicate, Infantry Veteran, Inspired Charge, Mighty Leap, Palace Guard, Siege Mastodon, Solemn Offering // Ajani’s Pridemate, Celestial Purge (sideboard goodness), Elite Vanguard (so close to auto).

Avoid like the plague: Ajani’s Mantra, Goldenglow Moth, Holy Strength, Silvercoat Lion*, Tireless Missionaries

Note that Squadron Hawk is not on the list. I still don’t know where to rate it. If you have great equipment, like Sword of Vengeance, then even one might be playable. On the other hand, even if you have three, they are only 1/1s — and three slots in a 17 or 18 card deck is a lot.

I also expect that a lot of people are probably disagreeing with Silvercoat Lion being unplayable. In my experience, the best scenario I have seen is him doing a miniscule amount of damage, then trading with a 4/2. If you are playing 2/2s because you are feeling threatened by 4/2 ground-pounders, something is going wrong.


Great (Commons // Uncommons): Foresee // Air Servant, Mind Control, maybe Jace’s Ingenuity.

Auto includes: Aether Adept, Augury Owl, Azure Drake, Cloud Elemental, Harbor Serpent (a bit worse with fewer lands in decks), Ice Cage, Mana Leak, Negate, Preordain, Scroll Thief // Water Servant, Wall of Frost

Filler: Cancel, Diminish, Maritime Guard, Merfolk Spy, Phantom Beast, Unsummon // Alluring Siren, Call to Mind (unless you have some great cards to return), Flashfreeze, Sleep.

Avoid like the plague: Armored Cantrix, Jace’s Erasure, Tome Scour

A note on Armored Cantrix: it is so very much worse than Siege Mastodon. Both cards are generally used as walls while evasive creatures win the day. The difference is that Siege Mastodon deals three damage. The elephant kills meaningful creatures, like Canyon Minotaur, and trades with Juggernaut. The Cantrix does not.


Great (Commons // Uncommons): Gravedigger, Doom Blade // Rise from the Grave (maybe?)

Auto includes: Assassinate, Child of Night, Liliana’s Specter, Mind Rot, Nightwing Shade, Quag Sickness, Rotting Legion, Sign in Blood, Stabbing Pain // Black Knight, Corrupt, Howling Banshee, Rise from the Grave.

Filler: Barony Vampire, Bloodthrone Vampire, Bog Raiders, Disentomb, Duress, Nether Horror, Unholy Strength, Viscera Seer // Deathmark, Diabolic Tutor

Avoid like the plague: Blood Tithe // Liliana’s Caress, Relentless Rats

A note on Stabbing Pain and, to a lesser extent, Hornet Sting: A fair number of x/1s want to die. Stormfront Pegasus, Awakener Druid, Royal Assassin, etc. Even cards like Child of Night and Elite Vanguard need killing sometimes. However, Stabbing Pain can also tap a Baneslayer Angel before declare attackers, which is why I generally maindeck it. That said, Stabbing Pain is not really an “auto include” — it, like Black Knight, are generally in, but don’t always make the cut.


Great (Commons // Uncommons): Lightning Bolt // Fireball

Auto includes: Chandra’s Outrage, Manic Vandal, Vulshok Berserker // Earth Servant, Ember Hauler, Fire Servant, Prodigal Pyromancer, Pyroclasm, Shiv’s Embrace.

Filler: Act of Treason, Arc Runner, Berserkers of Blood Ridge , Canyon Minotaur, Fiery Hellhound, Fling, Goblin Piker, Lava Axe, Thunder Strike, Volcanic Strength // Chandra’s Spitfire, Combust (great sideboard card)

Avoid like the plague: Bloodcrazed Goblin, Demolish (although it can be valuable as a SB card), Goblin Balloon Brigade, Goblin Tunneler, Incite, Pyretic Ritual.


Near Great (Commons // Uncommons): Cultivate, Sylvan Ranger // Acidic Slime

Auto includes: Garruk’s Companion, Giant Spider, Greater Basilisk, Spined Wurm, Yavimaya Wurm // Awakener Druid, Cudgel Troll, Duskdale Wurm, Garruk’s Packleader

Filler: Hornet Sting, Naturalize, Primal Cocoon, Runeclaw Bear, Giant Growth, Llanowar Elves, Plummet // Autumn’s Veil & Back to Nature (sideboard), Nature’s Spiral, Prized Unicorn

Avoid like the plague: Brindle Boar, Dryad’s Favor, Fog, Hunters’ Feast, Wall of Vines

Again, these categories are just approximations. Calling Berserkers of Blood Ridge and Canyon Minotaur filler doesn’t mean the cards are that different. I have often maindecked both, and I’ve left both sitting in the sideboard.

Artifacts & Lands:

Great: Crystal Ball

Auto-includes: Juggernaut, Terramorphic Expanse, Whispersilk Cloak

Filler: Stone Golem, Sorcerer’s Strongbox (strong filler, especially if you roll well), Warlord’s Axe

Avoid: Angel’s Feather & cycle, Elixir of Immortality, Ornithopter, Voltaic Key

I’ll finish with a card pool. I wish I could give you the one with double Fireball, double Chandra’s Outrage, double Lightning Bolt and double Doom Blade, but an opponent had that one. I did have one with Primeval Titan, and won that event. This one, though, is more interesting. I won the first, then threw away the second match to an amazingly bad misplay / misclick, and the third match to mana screw — but my build was prone to that problem. My build should have been 2-1. Do you think there is a 3-0 build in there somewhere? Tell me in the forums.


White: (5 creatures)
1 Blinding Mage
1 Cloud Crusader (2WW)
1 Holy Strength
1 Pacifism
1 Roc Egg
1 Silvercoat Lion
1 Solemn Offering
1 Squadron Hawk

Blue: (7 Creatures, counting the Leviathan)
2 Augury Owl
1 Cancel (1UU)
1 Harbor Serpent (4UU)
1 Jace’s Erasure
1 Maritime Guard
2 Scroll Thief
1 Sleep (2UU)
1 Stormtide Leviathan
1 Tome Scour

Black: (8 creatures)
1 Black Knight (BB)
2 Bloodthrone Vampire
1 Child of Night
1 Deathmark
1 Duress
1 Nantuko Shade (BB — pump B)
1 Nether Horror
1 Reassembling Skeleton
1 Rotting Legion
1 Assassinate
1 Doom Blade
1 Rise from the Grave

Red: (7 creatures)
1 Bloodcrazed Goblin
1 Goblin Piker
1 Goblin Tunneler
1 Berserkers of Blood Ridge
1 Canyon Minotaur
1 Cyclops Gladiator (1RRR)
1 Ember Hauler (RR)
1 Lightning Bolt
1 Pyroclasm

Green: (4 creatures)
2 Autumn’s Veil
1 Plummet
1 Primal Cocoon
1 Garruk’s Companion (GG)
2 Giant Growth
1 Llanowar Elves
1 Obstinate Baloth (2GG)
1 Sacred Wolf

Artifacts and Lands:
1 Dragon’s Claw
1 Juggernaut
1 Rootbound Crag
2 Terramorphic Expanse

I noted the tough casting costs and the creature counts. The creature counts, however, are deceiving. The seven Red creatures, for example, include the three goblins. While I may play Goblin Piker on occasion, I am never going to play Bloodcrazed Goblin, etc.

(Pretend there’s lot of white space here, for you to think about building the deck.)

I tried pretty much every combination.

Blue was the first cut. I was not going to play five Islands — and certainly not enough to active Harbor Serpent quickly. Stormtide Leviathan was uncastable — which left me with a color full of 1/xs.

Red was my auto-include. Cyclops Gladiator was my one legitimate bomb. Ideally, you put him under a Whispersilk Cloak, but that was not an option with this pool. The best I could do was to play the Giant Growths and hope to get lucky.

Black was also good. I figured my main colors would be RB — although I could also see playing just a Black splash for Assassinate, Doom Blade, and Rise from the Grave. However, when I tried to make the mana work for both Cyclops Gladiator and Nantuko Shade, I gave that up. You cannot play both, not in 30 card decks.

Green had the two Giant Growths. They would let me smash through with the Juggernaut and Cyclops. Maybe. Obstinate Baloth also seemed good, if you ignored the mana cost.

White was the other option for a splash. I tried playing the Blinding Mage, Pacifism, Solemn Offering and Roc Egg. That might be a better build, but I’m really torn. When I assembled it, it just felt too clunky. RBG felt better, but in hindsight, I’m questioning that a lot.

Here’s what I played. The mana for this would be just plain ugly, except for the Rootbound Crag. That was what finally convinced me to go Rgb instead of Rbw.

Deck as Played:

1 Assassinate
1 Doom Blade
2 Giant Growth
1 Lightning Bolt
1 Pyroclasm
1 Rise from the Grave

1 Berserkers of Blood Ridge
1 Canyon Minotaur
1 Cyclops Gladiator
1 Ember Hauler
1 Garruk’s Companion
1 Juggernaut
1 Llanowar Elves
1 Obstinate Baloth
1 Sacred Wolf

6 Mountain
4 Forest
1 Rootbound Crag
1 Swamp
2 Terramorphic Expanse

Or should I have played this?

Alternative Build #1:

1 Assassinate
1 Doom Blade
1 Lightning Bolt
1 Pacifism
1 Pyroclasm
1 Rise from the Grave
1 Solemn Offering

1 Berserkers of Blood Ridge
1 Blinding Mage
1 Canyon Minotaur
1 Cyclops Gladiator
1 Ember Hauler
1 Goblin Piker
1 Juggernaut
1 Llanowar Elves
1 Roc Egg
1 Squadron Hawk

8 Mountain
2 Plains
1 Swamp
2 Terramorphic Expanse

That’s ugly, too.



“one million words” in the MTGO Four-Pack Sealed queues, at least for now.