The Toughest Strixhaven Sealed Pool I’ve Ever Seen, And How I Built It

Some Sealed decks build themselves. Then there is Ryan Saxe’s latest. Follow along and practice for this weekend’s Strixhaven Sealed Arena Open.

Pop Quiz, illustrated by Matt Stewart
Pop Quiz, illustrated by Matt Stewart

Last week I asked for people to send me some hard Sealed pools. I got messages on Discord and Twitter, including comments on the Tweet above. Today, we will go over my process building the hardest Sealed pool I was sent, probably one of the hardest pools I have ever seen. If you would like to try it yourself before reading what I would do, or just open up the full pool to look over while you read, you can view it here.

In my previous article, I mentioned that the first things I look at with any Sealed pool are the rares and the cards with learn, as well as the corresponding suite of Lessons. So, here they are:


Blex, Vexing Pest Velomachus Lorehold Elite Spellbinder Gods Willing Wandering Archaic Furycalm Snarl Silverquill Command

My first thought is that these are set up quite nicely for some sort of Mardu Midrange deck. Before we commit, let’s look at the cards with learn and Lessons first.

Learn Cards

Guiding Voice Pop Quiz Pop Quiz Enthusiastic Study Enthusiastic Study First Day of Class First Day of Class First Day of Class Rise of Extus Rise of Extus

Usually I am hoping for an easier suite of cards with learn, as the good ones in this pile (Pop Quiz, Rise of Extus) don’t belong to a supported college. While Guiding Voice and Enthusiastic Study can be good, they are best in an assertive deck, which this pool likely struggles to support given the lack of two-drops. Given this, I actually think playing Dimir or Azorius is totally in the discussion, especially given the rare white cards.


Start from Scratch Start from Scratch Containment Breach Pest Summoning Spirit Summoning Environmental Sciences Environmental Sciences Expanded Anatomy Introduction to Prophecy

No Fractal Summoning, Inkling Summoning, or Elemental Summoning hurts a lot. Spirit Summoning and Pest Summoning create tokens of much lower impact. But double Environmental Sciences is extremely nice. Without a huge density of learn cards and with two copies of Environmental Sciences, it is likely I will start the first copy in my maindeck if I end up splashing.

First Builds

As I wrote in my article this week describing how I approach Sealed, the first deck I build is always the one that plays the most rares and cards with learn I can. The one thing I am certain of related to this pool is that the correct build is base-black. The removal in black is just better than the best cards in any other color. Rise of Extus pulls me to black or white more strongly than anything else in this pool, including the rares. And, looking at white, there just aren’t enough playables.

This deck is my baseline deck. It has a ton of power and a ton of removal, but it still has some problems. Mainly, I’m not sure that green, as a base color, brings anything to the table. Splashing Bookwurm, and potentially a few other green cards, could make a lot of sense. I will explore every single color that pairs with black. I just started as Witherbloom because that is what felt intuitive in the pool.

However, before I look at the black decks, I need to check to see if the Lorehold aggro deck that utilizes Enthusiastic Study is in contention. One of the useful parts of building that greedy baseline first is that it clearly demonstrates to me that I have a better option in my pool than the deck below, so I can move on from trying to build an aggro deck.

Exploring Builds

When the best assertive deck you can build has a curve this bad, you know it’s time to move on. White provides zero aggressive two-drops, and that’s basically the story with trying to go aggressive. A more midrange variant of red could be okay, and likely pairs with either black or blue.

This deck is a great example of a bad Sealed deck. It’s playing a bunch of commons and a couple of rares, but the deck doesn’t really accomplish anything. It has assertive and non-assertive draws, but it feels like it’s just a mediocre flyers deck. Luckily, Rakdos looks reasonable, which is expected given the black removal spells.

Here we have a reasonable curve, good removal spells, reasonable mana, and splashed bombs. I’m not a huge fan of the lack of defensive bodies on curve. Illustrious Historian and Silverquill Pledgemage are fine, but I feel like the Prismari Pledgemage is a better card to play that role. Initially, I didn’t build the deck including Prismari Pledgemage because I didn’t think the mana could support it. Looking at the deck, I think it probably can if it just gives up on playing Bookwurm. I think this is fine, especially given the extra threats and potency to Silverquill Command.

I like this deck quite a bit. That said, I could be convinced to cut one copy of Illustrious Historian for a more impactful spell, especially to help the Prismari Pledgemages attack. However, I still don’t think this deck ends up better than our baseline Witherbloom deck. It might be, but only marginally at best.

I think Dimir is going to be much better. Looking at this Rakdos deck, it seems to be lacking in the form of card advantage and selection. Pop Quiz, Curate, and Strategic Planning provide that. Given the density of black removal, I’m not sad to lose Deadly Brew or Pigment Storm. Dimir, like Witherbloom, also uses the Campus lands well, which is quite nice.

My Best Build

It took me almost two hours to dissect everything this pool had to offer and eventually conclude that this Dimir-base five-color deck was the best thing I could come up with.

What makes me confident that this is the best option is the Pop Quiz as early card advantage. My initial Rakdos deck played Blex so that the backside for card advantage was an option, since it was lacking on that axis. My initial Witherbloom deck felt like it needed to splash Zimone for card advantage too. This deck seems to have it all, and hence I don’t feel the need to play Blex or Zimone.

This build has a great curve, great interaction, great card advantage, and multiple top-end threats to end the game. There are even a few flyers to make Expanded Anatomy a potent Lesson. That said, I could see Blex, Zimone, Frost Trickster, Elite Spellbinder, Silverquill Command, or even another copy of Waterfall Aerialist being correct to try to squeeze into this Dimir deck.

If you think there is a better build than what I came to, Tweet yours at me. Just click here, build the pool, and click “Publish” to get a link that shows your build.

Best of luck this weekend.