With Magic release weekend and GP Atlanta about to begin, we felt new players might want some advice on the basics of building a sealed deck.  This week JB brings you his thoughts.

Building a Sealed deck can be an exciting process. But it can also feel daunting or even overwhelming for a player new to the format.  –The Professor, Tolarian Community College

The first prerelease I attended was for Avacyn Restored. I distinctly remember opening my 6 packs, looking down at the cards, and not having the slightest idea about what to do.  After putting together a deck comprised of small creatures and no removal, I learned some of the basic fundamentals of building a sealed deck by trial and error: getting creamed.

Both games of the first match ended swiftly. I emptied my hand by turn 4 and couldn’t get around my opponent’s 3-,4-, and 5-drops (creatures with converted mana costs of 3, 4, and 5 respectively).  To add insult to injury, my opponent used removal spells to pick off the last of the tiny creatures before swinging in for massive amounts of damage.

After the match, she looked at my deck and identified the problems – way too many small creatures, no removal, and an excess of cards that had no impact on the game. While we reconstructed my deck using the rest of my pool, she taught me the importance of building a deck with a curve and how to prioritize cards.

“Think of it this way,” she said, “you are the captain of a sports team, and you have 23 positions open in your first string.”
“I don’t play sports.” I retorted.
“Okay… you are the director of a musical production, and you’re about to assemble your cast…”
“Go on…”
“And the cards in your pool, think of them as individuals who want to be a part of your show. Your job is to put together a cast of cards that perform well on their own and sound awesome together.”
“Fabulous!” I exclaimed.
“But you only have 23 roles. The other cards you don’t cast, think of them as understudies that can fill in if there’s a problem with your top performers.”
“Got it!”
“And one more thing – and this is off metaphor – but you should main deck removal spells that destroy, exile, or pacify your opponent’s bombs.”

Thus, the off-Broadway production of Avacyn Restored: The Musical came to my local game store, and Malignus, with his supporting cast, slayed.

Whether you might be a sports fan, or into musicals, or something entirely different, the first rule of sealed deck construction is this:

Always play your best cards.

Your best cards are going to be buried in a stack of other ones, so here is a guide to fishing them out and putting them into a deck that sings!

Step 1: Sort your cards as you open them by:

  1. Color
  2. Gold-Cards
  3. Artifacts/Colorless
  4. Lands
  5. Rares/Mythics

I like to sort my rares and mythics into a separate pile because often the power level of the pool is at the top. I always start building my first several deck variations trying to connect as many of the most powerful cards as possible.

It’s tempting to marry the rares and mythics as they’re opened, especially planeswalkers.  But for now, keep them off to the side.  You may find that the planeswalker is a total prima donna, and they won’t work well with the other cards in your pool.

Gold cards are often more powerful than their mono-colored counterparts. They, too, can pull you into colors while you are making your initial deck builds.  I like to keep them separate as potential build-arounds.

Step 2: Separate your playables from your unplayables and identify your strongest colors.

There’s a hidden cost to cards in your sealed deck – the cards themselves. Each card costs you a slot among 23 open slots.  We have to become disciplined deck-builders to sift through the pool and make the best selections.

An efficient way to see the potential of your sealed pool is to begin by eliminating the cards that are unplayable. Go through each of the five piles and read each card – ask yourself if the card is good enough to occupy a slot in your deck. If it is, put it in the playable pile.  If it’s not, put in in the unplayable pile.

Admittedly, this is an oversimplification of the most challenging and daunting aspects of the format, especially for new and casual players – card evaluation. There’s so much depth to the game that it’s not easy to dismiss a card based on a single reading. It’s hard to know what’s good from what’s bad, especially if you’re at a prerelease playing with the cards for the first time.

What helps me determine if a card is playable is using the B.R.E.A.D. method:

B- Bomb
R- Removal
E- Evasion
A- Abilities
D- Dirt

Bombs are cards that your opponent must answer, or they will lose the game.  Bombs are often creatures, but occasionally a card like Ongoing Investigation or Citadel Seige will generate so much value that, left answered, will eventually give you a game-winning advantage.  Bombs are win-conditions and should be your highest priority while building.  

Removal spells are cards that answer your opponent’s bombs and their other creatures.  Every color has it’s own flavor of removal spells, so make sure you look through each of your stacks and note which colors have the best removal.  Some examples of removal spells are unconditional destroy effects like Murder, enchantments that don’t allow the enchanted creature to attack or block like Pacify, counter spells, or spells that let you exile, like Anguished Unmaking and Declaration in Stone.

Generally, it’s good to keep your non-creature removal spells for the sideboard – like cards that destroy artifacts, enchantments, and lands. You can sideboard these into your deck if your opponent has a several non-creature permanents that you need an answer for.

The exception here is formats that are dominated by non-creature permanents. Main-decking enchantment removal in Theros never was a risky proposition, and I’m assuming artifact removal in my top 23 will mostly be useful when we go to Kaladesh this weekend.

Evasion consists of creatures with abilities that allow them to evade your opponent’s defenses.  I’m a huge fan of creatures with flying. Flying wins games! Keep your eye out for creatures with menace, trample, skulk, and other evasive abilities, and look for enchantments and equipment that add these abilities to your creatures.

Abilities are other creatures that may not have evasive abilities, but will round out your curve.

Dirt is the lowest of your priorities.  These are cards that don’t belong in your main deck.

You don’t have to make separate piles for each of these categories and spend valuable build time debating with yourself whether or not any given creature is a bomb. That’s not the point!  You want to clear your pool of all the Dirt so you can focus on building your deck with playable cards.

Step 3: Identify your deepest color

Your deepest color has the most playable cards, however there can be cases where to other colors offer significantly more powerful options. In those instances as long as there are enough playable cards then you can combine those colors and leave your deepest color in the sideboard.

Step 4: Form your mana-curve

Lay out the creatures in your deepest color in columns according to their converted mana costs starting with the least expensive. Note where your curve is lacking creatures in each column (see table below) or where there is an excess of creatures.

Step 5: Select a secondary color that fills in your curve.

Most sealed decks are two colors. A mono-colored deck is often diluted with Dirt to keep the deck true to it’s color, and decks that run 3+ colors have significant problems getting the right color mana to cast their spells on time.

We’ll explore splashing for a third color at a later time, but for this basic introduction to building a sealed deck, let’s keep it simple!

The typical sealed deck’s mana curve for creatures will look like this:

CMC 1 0-1 creatures
CMC 2 2-3 creatures
CMC 3 & 4 3-4 creatures
CMC 5 2-3 creatures
CMC 6+ 0-1 creatures

Constructing your sealed deck according to this curve will add consistency to developing your board with high-impact creatures during your first several turns.

If you play too many creatures that have a low casting cost, you will empty out your hand early and run out of gas.

If you play too many creatures that have a high casting cost, you’ll have nothing to do in the early turns of the game while your opponent, who built their deck according to the curve above, will be playing a creature on every turn and attacking your defenseless board.

It’s recommended that you play a minimum of 15-18 creatures in your sealed deck.

Step 6: Add non-creature spells

Artifacts, enchantments, and removal spells go here. Note the impact that these spells have on your curve.  If your non-creature spells add a bunch of weight to your high-end, consider cutting the spells for leaner combat tricks or more creatures.

I usually don’t play more than one piece of equipment or one aura in my sealed decks. Equipment is only good if it’s attached to a creature, and the cost to equip adds a substantial burden to your resources for the turn.  Auras on the other hand can’t generally be reequipped if the enchanted creature leaves play – as they usually go straight to the graveyard.  If you enchant a creature with an aura and your opponent uses one removal spell to get rid of the creature, you’ll be down a card.

Use caution with auras!

Step 7: Explore your options

Play the field! Don’t settle on the first deck you build! Look at other playable cards across your colors and see if there are other potential decks that can be built.

I avoid choosing my final deck until I’ve examined at least three other potential decks. My final decision is informed by which build has the best curve, bombs, and removal, in that order.

If you are torn between two decks, pick one and then keep the other one intact to sideboard into between games. You are allowed to sideboard as many cards as you’d like from your pool.  That means you can potentially play with an entirely different deck than what you played in your first game.

Step 8: Add lands

Count the total number of mana symbols in the casting costs of your spells. The color with the most symbols is your primary color.  Add 9 basic lands of your primary color to your deck, and 8 basic lands of the secondary color.

As you play more Magic you will learn what percentage of land to spells you need for your deck.  The 9/8 is a general safety valve however some common sense should tell you if 10/7 is correct or if your curve sits high if 18 land would be more appropriate. There are also some sealed decks that contain several cards with two like-symbols in their casting costs. If your deck contains several of these cards, you may want to take out a spell and add an 18th land.

Playing with more than 40 cards

Don’t do it. Your deck needs to be as lean as possible, and the leanest possible deck is exactly 40 cards. Adding extra cards, even just one or two, means having to draw extra cards before you can get to your bomb or your removal spell.

For more tips on constructing a sealed deck, I recommend the Professor from Tolarian Community College’s video, Introduction to Sealed Deck Construction 101.  I hope this article was useful to you. Feel free to leave your comments below, or tweet us at @MTGSealedFate.

Thanks for reading!