This is a cautionary tale, please don’t do this at home kids!
Have you ever been at a sealed event, opened what you thought was an insane deck, and gone “OH YEAH, EASY 6-0 HERE I COME” then proceeded to get crushed without really knowing why? That happened to me this weekend in a sealed event where I opened multiple planeswalkers, a god, and all playable rares and proceeded to play my way to a glorious 3-3 record. Sealed is definitely a format I don’t really prepare for and a combination of some bad luck as well as bad deck building was enough to sink my chances. First, here’s the pool I was presented with:
2 Angel of the God-Pharaoh, Dauntless Aven, Desert of the True, Disposal Mummy, Djeru’s Renunciation, Forsake the Worldly, 2 God-Pharaoh’s Faithful, Impeccable Timing, Oketra the True, Renewed Faith, Sandblast, 2 Steadfast Sentinel, Sunscourge Champion, Unconventional Tactics, Winged Shepherd
Aerial Guide, Ancient Crab, Aven Reedstalker, Essence Scatter, Eternal of Harsh Truths, Hour of Eternity, Illusory Wrappings, Ipnu Rivulet, Proven Combatant, Pull from Tomorrow, Riddleform, Shimmerscale Drake, Striped Riverwinder, Tragic Lesson, Unsummon, Vizier of the Anointed
Desert of the Glorified, Dune Beetle, Liliana Death’s Majesty, Liliana’s Defeat, Marauding Boneslasher, Painful Lesson, Pitiless Vizier, Ruin Rat, Scrounger of Souls, Torment of Hailfire, Torment of Venom, 2 Wretched Camel
Blazing Volley, Blur of Blade, Defiant Khenra, Desert Cerodon, 2 Desert of the Fervent, Gilded Cerodon, Khenra Scrapper, Kindled Fury, Manticore Eternal, Manticore of the Gauntlet, Net-Crop Entangler, Puncturing Blow, Warfire Javelineer
2 Beneath the Sands, Benefaction of Rhonas, 2 Bitterbow Sharpshooters, Choke, 2 Feral Prowlers, Frilled Sandwalla, Greater Sandwurm, 2 Harrier Naga, Initiates Companion, Oashra Cultivator, Pride Sovereign, Sixth Sense, Spring//Mind, Trial of Strength
Samut the Tested, Unraveling Mummy, Bontu’s Monument, Dagger of the Worthy, Oketra’s Monument
The first thing that caught my eye was that, obviously, our pool is not lacking in bombs. Pride Sovereign, Oketra, and Liliana are all cards that can win games singlehandedly, and Torment of Hailfire is a card I’ve found to be just a shade behind those. In addition, we have another (albiet much weaker) planeswalker in Samut and a pair of strong blue card advantage rares that are quite strong in Pull from Tomorrow and Hour of Eternity. With a lot of options and only 20 minutes to build, here’s what I looked at and what I missed initially and the major mistakes I made:
First look: GUxy
On first glance, green seems to be the deepest and has four pieces of fixing. My first take was looking at going pretty deep with a blue/green base with some white for Pride Sovereign and Oketra and splashing a mountain for Samut and the Warfire Javelineer. The problem with this is that it strands two of my best cards in Liliana and Torment of Hailfire and has basically no removal to speak of (more on this later). It did give me a number of insane card advantage pieces, but with four fixers I felt like I could do better.
Second look: U/R
After looking at various four color builds, I noticed something: my pool has almost zero removal! My pool could almost make some kind of blue red spells midrange…thing work. The problem was my curve was pretty topheavy (6+ 5cc creatures/spells) and I still didn’t have great removal and the Warfire Javelineer looked decidedly mediocre with only 6 or so instants and sorceries. The creature heavy nature of my red cards also made Riddleform worse, though that was less of a concern. Mostly, I felt that blue red didn’t take advantage of the power level of the rest of my pool. I probably spent more time than I should’ve here but having an easy 23 playables was pretty enticing.
Third Look: GW
This deck didn’t take long to dismiss. Mediocre, situational removal (and not much of it!) plus being short on playables and no clear path meant I thought I couldn’t just run a straight two color deck.
Fourth look: Gbwx
This is ultimately where I ended up (mostly due to running out of time). I was still looking to take advantage of the power that Liliana and Torment of Hailfire offered me and this looked like a good way to run the green fixing and depth while retaining the power of the black and white cards. Black’s best cards all cost double black and by using it as a base color that wouldn’t be as big a factor since I was still planning on playing a single mountain to splash Samut. This also let me play the majority of my removal since splashing Sandblast and Impeccable Timing was an option. I ended up on here with very mediocre deck with lots of ramp (but still bad mana), little top end, and very weak removal and lost matches to Scarab God, Pride Sovereign, and multiple Dauntless Avens.
So what did I do wrong with deck construction? A lot of things, so let’s start from the beginning. My first mistake was becoming overly attached to my bombs. Yes, Liliana and Hailfire are ridiculously powerful cards but the black support was simply not very deep. If I were playing black it would have to be paired with another color that was very deep and probably in a two color shell, else the mana would be miserably bad. I would also want any black deck to be reasonably aggressive to take fullest advantage of Torment of Hailfire rather than durdle around until I can cast it for X=10.
Second, I got too overly attached to mana curve. While I did lose a game to an insane curve of Bloodrage Brawler -> Hooded Brawler -> Magnaroth, most of the time sealed games aren’t going to go like that. The majority of sealed decks are going to have moderate to decent curves and it’s often ok to have a somewhat wonky curve as long as you have ways to make up for it (like…accumulating advantage from a planeswalker).
Last, but definitely not least, I forced myself to add my removal rather than letting where my removal is help guide what I built. The only colors with multiple removal spells were red and white and I should have been playing one (if not both) of those as main colors because simply put the removal I have is just not good enough to splash for. Green looks like it provides a lot of depth but a lot of that is from mediocre color fixing and mediocre creatures and it would have just been better to eschew the green altogether in favor of more consistency and a more even power level rather than try to force a 3-4 color deck and play all my bombs but also have a lot of do nothing’s. Playing green also let me trick myself into thinking the mana is actually good enough to play a ton of cards with a BB mana cost that were just going to be too difficult to cast without running 8-9 black producing lands. I should have probably been on a red/white deck splashing green or perhaps an aggressive-ish black/white deck (also potentially splashing green).
All in all, this was a good learning experience to not blindly follow mantras like “play your bombs!” or “just play all your removal!” and served as a reminder to always think through your options with an open mind: bombs, removal, and curve are all good things but you don’t always need all of them to win. It was also a good reminder that, no matter the format, preparation is good. And with that…I’m going to go join some sealed queues on MTGO so I can be prepared for my next sealed pptq. Until next time!