With our wedding fast approaching and an ongoing global pandemic leaving us gym-weary, my fiancée and I bit the bullet: we bought a Peloton. I mention this because, as a Peloton owner, I need to bring it up at least once per conversation, but I also wouldn’t mind winning $2500 this weekend. Weddings and fancy bike shoes are expensive. Fortunately, that’s the exact prize for Day 2 of the Arena Open.
While people are raving about the Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty (aka NEO) Draft format, you’ll need to navigate a Sealed pool before ever getting to your Pack 1, Pick 1. Having just wrapped up my twentieth pool, let me assure you there are vast differences between Sealed and Draft in NEO. Here’s my best advice on how to pay off the expensive gym equipment in your life.
Choose the Best-of-Three Queue
The consensus among the math community is that your path to Day 2 is much easier in the Best-of-One queue. It’s your neighbor with a snowblower who wakes up at 6 AM every morning, compared to Best-of-Three, which is an unruly frat house without regard for its sidewalk. Going 4-0 in Best-of-Three is no small task, but I’ll be giving it my best shot. Why?
NEO gives decks many potential lanes. Some decks simply aren’t going to run impactful artifacts, so I need to adjust aggressively after Game 1. People may have incredibly fast starts, so I may need to shift into an entirely different deck. Running three or more colors can be taxing on a manabase, so I’d rather have a match to work that out rather than taking an automatic loss if my deck starts a game on fire.
I don’t begrudge anyone who opts for the Best-of-One lane, but if you’re feeling confident about your ability to sideboard and know the format, I’m higher on Best-of-Three than I’ve ever been in an Arena Open.
Go for the Gold Cards
NEO Sealed bears a lot in common with the set it replaced on Magic Online (MTGO)’s Limited Qualifiers: Modern Horizons 2 (aka MH2). Broadly, you’re looking to jam a bunch of powerful cards and worry about the synergies later, but only the strongest, most linear decks are two colors. While this was an easier feat to pull off in MH2, with artifact duals floating around like bingo balls in a retirement home, you do get some assistance here.
First, you will score some help from a full cycle of gainlands and, with any luck, an Uncharted Haven or two. Second, colorless fixing isn’t awful thanks to Ecologist’s Terrarium and Network Terminal, especially when you’re tapping the former with the latter’s ability. Third, you’re likely to be base-green and should have access to at least one of Grafted Growth, Greater Tanuki, or Commune with Spirits at common.
I’ve had a ton of luck with these green piles, but I decided to look at the last 500 decks that went 7-X on 17Lands for fun. 253 were two colors, the remainder either including a splash (or more) of an additional color(s). Compare that to Innistrad: Crimson Vow, where 318 decks were strictly two colors, and it seems clear that, like SeaWorld or a Gallagher show, you’re looking to get in the splash zone.
Maindeck Your Sideboard
Typically, Disenchants in Sealed are like cowboy hats: one is fine for special occasions, but definitely not required. In NEO? I’m yelling “Yee-haw!” and packing in as many as I can fit, partner. I can’t remember the last match I had where a Saga didn’t enter the battlefield. While it hurts to give your opponent two Forests off a Boseiju Reaches Skyward, I’m giddy if I can prevent Branch of Boseiju from running amok.
Where I’m less on board for this strategy is when we’re talking about discard spells. I love me a Virus Beetle or three, but Reckoner Shakedown and Kaito’s Pursuit have left me unimpressed thus far. They’re only coming out of the sideboard when an opponent shows me they’re being Gordon Gekko-level greedy Game 1 with The Kami War or a card in the Invoke cycle.
You’re Not Part of the Turbo Team
Sealed isn’t usually the kindest to aggressive decks, but it’s downright punishing to them in NEO. The best of the fast archetypes is Dimir Ninjas, relying heavily on evasive one- and two-drops to help power out their mysterious team. Unfortunately, you’re stuck with what you open on Saturday, and I’ve found that pools have an imbalance with enablers and payoffs too often to make the deck hum.
If there’s one color I’m completely uninterested in, it’s red. In a recent MTGO League, I opened Ogre-Head Helm; Goro-Goro, Disciple of Ryusei; Risona, Asari Commander; Raiyuu, Storm’s Edge; and a Lion Sash to top it all off. That deck struggled to go 3-2.
Your big issue is that your Saga game tends to be much weaker than other colors (I’m looking at you, The Shattered States Era) while also leaving yourself open to ninjutsu while you pursue attacking. I’ve found stabilizing much easier than having reach in this format. Red runs out of gas more often than my buddy T-Burn in high school.
With longer games, be on the lookout for ways to recur value. Colossal Skyturtle (or, even better, Shigeki, Jukai Visionary) plus Season of Renewal can be a devastating loop. I’ll start a Reito Sentinel in a pinch.
With channel and ninjutsu making combat a nightmare, I’m big on instant-speed interaction that can help you out in a pinch. This means that while Assassin’s Ink is premium in black, I’m more likely to run a copy of Debt to the Kami, too. Wanderer’s Intervention has impressed me so far.
My favorite curve-topper? Imperial Oath. I’m reckless with it, splashing off barely responsible numbers of gainlands.
Good luck this weekend, everyone. We’re always lucky to get an Arena Open in Limited, so have fun and splash irresponsibly.