My first Grand Prix was in Atlanta in November of 2015. The format was sealed. Leading up to the main event, I approached Battle for Zendikar sealed the same as I would Battle for Zendikar draft, presuming that the draft synergies/strategies were relevant in sealed. After many hours of practice, I had high hopes that I was going to crush it!
At the head judge’s signal, the convention center was filled with the crinkling sound of packs being opened, anticipation at an all time high, players cooing with reserved exclamation as they opened a chase rare or a mythic bomb. My first pack contained Prism Array, a rare that was often the last card passed around at a draft table (one Friday Night Magic I was passed a full playset). I opened the second pack and pulled a Defiant Bloodlord. My stomach churned – another unplayable rare. The rare in my third pack was Emeria Shepard, and it felt like the packs sprouted tiny fists that began punching me in the gut. The player sitting across from me registering my pool apologized. Meanwhile, the woman sitting to my left opened a Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. The guy on my right pulled a Scalding Tarn expedition, the second he’s opened this weekend, he boasted. I looked down at my pool full of undesirable green spells and unplayable rares with crushing disdain.
Building a sealed deck is a challenging proposition. The unique format requires players to build a forty card deck only comprised of cards opened across six booster packs. Many Magic players would rather sort through their Core Set commons than cough up the relatively steep entry fee and play the booster pack lottery. Yet, prereleases, PPTQs, and Grand Prixs are packed with eager players willing to accept this challenge.
I used to believe that success in the format was solely based on getting lucky with the cards I opened. But I consistently see the same people at the top tables of sanctioned sealed tournaments playing Magic. Surely the success of these players who consistently post wins can’t be attributed to luck alone. There has to be something different in their approach to the format that gives them an advantage over sealed’s notorious variance.
The difference between limited and sealed is bigger than most people realize. – Luis Scott Vargas, Limited Resources, Episode 310
To be better sealed players, the first thing we have to consider is how we approach the format. Unlike constructed formats where players have their pick from the best of thousands of cards spanning months, even years, of Magic history, a sealed pool is limited to the 84 random cards from 6 booster packs. Whereas constructed formats allow months or longer for a player to design and fine-tune their decks, a sealed player is allotted 30 minutes to build a 40 card deck from the cards in their packs. The overwhelming majority of cards opened in a given sealed pool won’t be constructed-playable, so our means of evaluating the cards in our pools has to adapt in order to see where the best cards are. Put another way, sealed players are alchemists tasked with turning the garbage cards into gold!
While the differences between constructed formats and sealed are quite obvious, many limited players approach sealed as they would a booster draft. After all, players acquainted with the power level of commons and uncommons can quickly recognize the best cards in their sealed pools based on their drafting experiences. This is a big advantage! However, a sealed pool (6 packs) being one quarter of the size of a draft pool (24 packs) means that a sealed player has a much more limited pool of cards to build their deck with. The reason why strategies that are good in draft don’t usually work out in sealed is due to there not being enough playable cards in the sealed pool to hit critical mass. Whereas a draft player has greater access to cards of a certain archetype across the 24 packs being passed around, a sealed player is strictly limited to cards in the 6 packs they open.
Forcing a draft strategy in sealed pool can be catastrophic. Let’s take a look at the sealed pool I registered at Grand Prix Atlanta: My GP Atlanta Pool
I went with R/W Allies splashing green for Veteran Warleader, played my first match, then dropped. I hated the deck. The allies archetype that won me many a FNM drafts wasn’t enough to impact the board in a meaningful way. The big enablers were targeted by my opponent’s removal spells, leaving me with a bunch of weenies that didn’t amount to anything worthwhile. While I was trying to get the synergy to go off with a very limited number of payoff cards, my opponent was developing her board with better creatures eventually casting Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. Still reeling from the smite of the pack gods during deck registration, I may as well have added “with salt” next to the marked drop line on the Round 1 match slip.
I was the first to join the ranks of those who had “terrible pools” at the Haterade cooler and berated my deck for the rest of the day. When I got back to the room, I noticed that Limited Resources posted a podcast addressing Sealed play in Battle for Zendikar. The hosts said that, although green was terrible in draft it was quite good in sealed. They also said that most the synergy in drafting wouldn’t be applicable in sealed for the reasons stated above.
After listening to the podcast, I revisited my pool to find that the cards were actually much better than I thought they were. But due to my narrow approach to the format, I couldn’t see these lines during deck registration that morning!
Dropping out of the main event after the first match is my single biggest regret in the time I’ve been playing Magic, and I hate to think of how many other magic players who are disenchanted with sealed because they approach sealed like I used to.
It’s my hope that through this series of articles, videos, and sealed pool studies many Magic players, both new and experienced, will find useful information that can guide them to making the most out of their sealed pools and experiences playing the format.
Most Magic formats have their own dedicated forums where cards and strategies are discussed, debated, and compared. I’ve scoured the internet searching for a source devoted to Sealed. Unfortunately, the little information available is dispersed across hundreds of disjointed articles or mentioned in tiny, unadvertised soundbites in thousands of podcast hours. In an effort to share my findings and to become a sealed player myself, my friends and I have created a home base for the format. Welcome to Sealed Fate!
In the next several articles, we’ll look at:
• How to Build a Sealed Deck
• When to Splash
• Card Evaluation
I’ve also invited some of the best sealed players I know to contribute to the series with format-specific insights, like sealed pool studies in the current block and live-streaming sealed construction and play.
Thanks for reading!