Sealed Deck Solution

Posted in Feature on November 15, 2006

By Frank Karsten

Last week I left you with a league Sealed Deck pool, and I promised I would show my build today, and my thought process behind making it. The first thing I did was to remove the unplayable cards such as Clockspinning. Then I sorted the cards by color and put the multicolor cards in between their respective colors, in order to get a good overview:

I eliminated white quickly. White contained no bomb rares to attract me to that color, and it wasn't very deep either. It merely offered eight average filler cards, which did not compare well to the power level of the other colors. That was the easy part. But which of the remaining color combinations is the best one?

Before I start looking into that question, let's deal with another issue first: splash a third color or no? I know splashing is very tempting, and there is a good reason for this of course. A three-color deck contains more powerful cards than a two-color deck. Where a two-color deck plays a filler card like Deathspore Thallid, the three-color deck includes Rift Bolt instead. If I decide to splash something, I want my splash cards to have very powerful effects; an excellent creature removal card such as Lightning Axe would classify. As a rule of thumb, I tend to play at least two cards of a splash color (because I don't like to destroy my manabase for just one splash card) with about three mana sources for that color. Make sure you do not splash early drops (for example, Looter il-Kor), because you cannot expect to be able to consistently cast them on turn two with only a few Islands in your deck. Furthermore, you should not splash cards with a double casting cost (for example, Sudden Death), because the game is usually already over by the time you find your second Swamp.

Even though splashing a color can improve the overall card quality in your deck, there is a catch that is in my experience often overlooked: a three-color deck has a less consistent mana base, since it needs to draw more land types to function properly. The probability of getting bad color mixes of mana and spell is elevated in a three-color deck. For example, you might occasionally hold your splashed Rift Bolt all game long and lose without drawing a red source. In that case, you would have been better off by playing a two-color deck with a filler card such as Deathspore Thallid instead of Rift Bolt; at least you would've been able to cast that one. Or imagine you have two Mountains and one Swamp in play and stare at your Tendrils of Corruption and Sudden Death in your hand, wondering why you decided to weaken your mana base by splashing red. Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to say you should never splash. I am just pointing out its major downside. Games can definitely be decided on color screw.

Often you have to make a trade-off between a more consistent two-color deck and a more powerful three-color deck, and it's not a clear-cut decision. Rather, it is influenced by a lot of factors, so let's take a look at the things you have to take into account. First, splashing is more attractive when you can splash for amazing game-winners. For example, I would not go out of my way to splash a mere Rift Bolt, but I would do everything in my might to include Disintegrate in my deck. Splash cards have to be top-notch and have to fill holes in your deck.

The second thing you have to remember is that splashing becomes more viable when you have mana fixers such as Prismatic Lens and when the cards in your main colors do not have hefty color requirements. I'll illustrate that last (vital) point with an example. Imagine you have a red-black deck and are considering a blue splash. If all spells in your main colors cost a single black or red mana, then all you need to draw is one land of each of your basic land types and you are set. However, if many of your black and red cards require double colored mana (for instance, Dauthi Slayer and Orcish Cannonade), then splashing becomes less appealing. You might draw opening hands such as Dauthi Slayer, Orcish Cannonade, Gorgon Recluse, 2 Island, Swamp, Mountain, which is pretty awkward. Lastly, if playing just two colors would imply running chaff cards such as Sage of Epityr (thumbs down!), then splashing becomes better, since it will significantly improve the power of your deck. On the other hand, if you have to cut perfectly reasonable cards such as Tolarian Sentinel for your splash cards, the increase in power does not measure up well against the relative decrease in consistency.

Now let's apply my "rules" to the sealed pool at hand, to see if there is a viable splash color. First, let's see what the colors would offer as splashes. Red only offers Rift Bolt (Conflagrate is mediocre and Orcish Cannonade is double red). I don't like to destroy my mana base with a single-card splash (unless it is Demonfire or Firemaw Kavu), so red is out of the question. Black offers Assassinate, which is not as good as it seems because you cannot remove potential blockers, and that's it again (Tendrils of Corruption and Sudden Death require a lot of Swamps in the deck, which is unfeasible for a splash color). Definitely not good enough. Blue is a reasonable splash option, as you get Errant Ephemeron and Fledgling Mawcor(Ancestral Visions is not a good splash card, because it is good in the early game, not when you topdeck your Island on turn eight). White is still bad in this pool; splashing a mere Amrou Seekers isn't worth it. Green is a semi-viable splash option, as it offers Wurmcalling and maybe Havenwood Wurm. So blue and green are valid options, although they do not offer truly exceptional bomb-tastic cards.

Now, let's check the mana fixers. We only have 1 Chromatic Star, 1 Prismatic Lens, and 2 white storage lands that we're not going to play as the white cards are bad. I don't like to rely on Chromatic Star for my splash cards, since I usually tend to sacrifice it on turn three in order to dig deeper in my deck. Sure, Chromatic Star still helps, but you can't count it as a full source. That just leaves Prismatic Lens. In other words, far from an overabundance of mana fixers. Furthermore, with cards like Dauthi Slayer, Orcish Cannonade, Fathom Seer, etc. in the pool, you want to run as many lands of your main colors as you can, which further invalidates splashing. Moreover, you will have enough playables in all non-white two-color combinations, so splashing is not a necessity. All things considered, I prefer to stick to two colors and keep a consistent mana base.

Wow. I'm actually baffled at myself for managing to write five full paragraphs on the topic of splashing colors, but I think it is an important topic that doesn't get a lot of press. Many people who posted their build of this deck in the forums dipped into a third color, and I do not think that is a wise decision for this particular sealed deck. Some pools want to play two colors, whereas others need three. I highlighted some of the issues that influence that decision, and based on those I dare to state that you should make a consistent two-color deck out of this pool. So, let's look at all the non-white color combinations and select the best one.

The deck has fine removal and card advantage, but there are some problems. On the one hand, the deck is slow, sporting cards like Mystical Teachings. On the other hand, it tries to play a contradictory fast game with tempo cards such as Temporal Eddy. Another problem of the deck is its horrible creature base, which is stocked with weak creatures such as Voidmage Husher and an off-color Fortune Thief (which is basically in there to keep the opponent guessing). Blue-black is not the worst, but I'm not thrilled yet.

This deck looks okay, although still not terribly exciting. You have some removal and a bunch of decent fatties. Furthermore, the deck sports a minor Saproling token theme with Deathspore Thallid and Savage Thallid, which have good synergy with Pendelhaven Elder and Herd Gnarr. Unfortunately, the deck has to run two off-color morphs in order to keep a smooth curve, plus half of the green cards are quite mediocre.

The major strike against this deck is that it contains no removal. In a bomb-laden sealed deck environment, you really have to be able to deal with opposing utility creatures. The deck has a solid mana curve, decent-sized creatures, and some card advantage, but without access to removal cards I don't think you will win a lot of matches. By the way, note the place where I put Drifter il-Dal, the suspend cards, and Wurmcalling in the mana curve; that is the turn where you usually play them.

This deck holds all the good removal cards in the available pool, and that's of course a very good thing. The creature base is average, but you usually can't expect much out of red/black creature-wise. This deck includes Empty the Warrens for its synergy with the suspend cards and Coal Stoker. I also incorporated a minor Sliver theme with Bonesplitter Sliver, Basal Sliver, Ghostflame Sliver, and Fury Sliver. I must say, this deck looks quite solid, certainly the best option so far.

I had to include two off-colors morphs in order to get to enough playables and to get a smooth mana curve, but it's not that bad as you can get lucky with Prismatic Lens or Chromatic Star. Hardcasting Fledgling Mawcor in a non-blue deck has got to be fun. The deck has minor synergies, for instance between Pendelhaven Elder, Herd Gnarr, and Empty the Warrens. Furthermore, the deck holds a fine mana curve and some removal, but for some reason it just doesn't feel very powerful.

A recurring problem with the blue decks seems to be that you have to play a lot of mediocre cards. This is because blue has a couple top-notch cards (Looter il-Kor, Errant Ephemeron, Fathom Seer, Fledgling Mawcor), but after that the quality quickly deteriorates. Blue is not deep. Nevertheless, this deck still looks fine. You have card advantage, removal, and a mana curve with okay creatures.

I have to say that this was a pretty difficult sealed deck pool. All the color combinations I just looked at looked are viable, and they were all very close together in power. It was definitely a tough call, but I went for red-black. Most of this was based on an inexplicable intuition, but I'll try to explain some of my reasons. All the blue decks contained too many weak cards for my liking (Tolarian Sentinel, Drifter il-Dal, Think Twice, etc.) and looked a bit underpowered. Green offered some fine creatures, but no truly exceptional cards. Red and black contained a fine mana curve, solid cards, and a lot of creature removal. That made for a good combination in my opinion, so my final build was:

League Sealed – Final Build

Download Arena Decklist

I played 9 Swamp and 8 Mountain, because Dauthi Slayer and Tendrils of Corruption wanted lots of Swamps in the deck. To give you an idea of the last couple slots, the 22nd addition was Thick-Skinned Goblin and the 23rd card was Deathspore Thallid. I like a solid mana curve with two drops. The final cuts (the cards that I did not play) were:

  • Two-Headed Sliver: Even though my deck features a Sliver theme, I don't think that my Sliver theme is strong enough to play this guy. Often, it'll be a useless 1/1 for two mana, which is awful.
  • Gorgon Recluse: I don't have any discard outlets, and that severely weakens the card. If I had had just one discard outlet, I would have played it, but now it's just a sideboard card against green decks.
  • Faceless Devourer: It can backfire since I play Dauthi Slayer myself, plus its low toughness makes it vulnerable. Great sideboard card against Looter il-Kor and the like, but I don't like it main.
  • Curse of the Cabal: Simply not a good card. It is slow and doesn't do much.
  • Fledgling Mawcor: With just one Prismatic Lens and Chromatic Star, I didn't feel the odds of running it out face-up were high enough to play it over superior creatures. Still a good sideboard card against lots of 1-toughness creatures though.

I played the deck in league #842027. This is how my matches went:

Round 1: Gatyapyon

I get stomped in my inaugural league match. I lose one game to mana flood and another game to mana scew, although I will admit his big fat green creatures would've been quite a problem to deal with even if I had drawn a better distribution of lands and spells.

(Lose 1-2)

0-1

Round 2: roger82

I win a very close damage race against Urborg Syphon-Mage because I have Sudden Death at the right time, preventing him from draining me in response. Game 2, I am off to a bad start as my Deathspore Thallid is ambushed by Ashcoat Bear. He quickly gets the upper hand with the amazing Firemaw Kavu, which basically is a 3-for-1, but I am still able to recover. My game plan is based on depleting his life total with the unblockable Corpulent Corpse while chump blocking his big fat green creatures, but an Assassinate puts a stop to that plan, and I succumb to his Durkwood Baloth and friends. In game 3, his Vhati il-Dal stalls the board for a while, but when I draw my third Swamp for Tendrils of Corruption, I can clear the way and smash through his defenses.

(Win 2-1)

1-1

Round 3: Gammard

Empty the Warrens
In the early turns of the first game, we basically trade removal against each other's creatures. I net some card advantage with Deathspore Thallid and Orcish Cannonade, and when the dust settles I still have a Keldon Halberdier left, which soon puts the game away. On to Game 2. I look at my opening hand - which includes Keldon Halberdier, Empty the Warrens, and Chromatic Star and know right away that I am in for a fun one. I suspend the Halberdier on turn one, then draw into a Rift Bolt and suspend it on turn four. In the upkeep of my fifth turn, I unsuspend both red cards, then proceed to follow them up with Chromatic Star and a nice Empty the Warrens for 8 tokens. Yeah, I won that one.

(Win 2-0)

2-1

Round 4: Manwe

Game 1, I have some early pressure, and I'm setting up a huge turn with double suspend in my upkeep, planning to follow it up with Coal Stoker and a huge Empty the Warrens, but I don't actually need those Goblins. My opponent is mana screwed and can't deal with my fast creatures. Game 2, he ambushes a well-sized creature of mine with Viashino Bladescout, which is pumped by Primal Forcemage. Quite a neat trick indeed! He then proceeds to smash my board with Sulfurous Blast and buybacks Wurmcalling a couple times for the win. Game 3 is decided in an unfortunate manner on turn four. He does not have a lot of Magic Online experience and makes an interface mistake. When he gets to paying echo on his Basalt Gargoyle, he taps three mana and then clicked on the card. The problem is that the game interprets clicking on the card as, "Ah; you want to activate the +0/+1 ability." That leaves him with just two mana available, so he can't pay the echo and mana burns for 2 to make it sting even more.

"The correct way to handle echo is to wait until the ability resolves, then tap the mana and click 'OK.'" The correct way to handle echo is to wait until the ability resolves, then tap three mana and click "OK." You do not have to click on the card at all. I guess we all learn by mistakes. No one knows all the ins and outs of the interface right away, and I am putting up this play in the hope that new players will read this and won't make the same mistake in their games. Now, you might think that mistakes like these can only happen on Magic Online, but I clearly remember a real life example. In the finals of the Dutch National Championships 2000 (yes, a long time ago), Roel Dols played his Stompy deck against Jesse Cornelissen. In the decisive game, Roel played Albino Troll on turn 2, and on his next upkeep he tapped 2 mana and said "I'll regenerate my Troll." After Roel drew his card, Jesse was kind enough to point out that he had forgotten to pay the echo, so the Troll went to the graveyard. That play has been a classic in the Netherlands ever since, and it's a real life example of a "misclick."

(Win 2-1)

3-1

Round 5: rakux

He has a Sliver deck, including hits such as Two-Headed Sliver and Sidewinder Sliver. He has good Slivers like Psionic Sliver and Telekinetic Sliver to beef them up, but the problem with the Sliver strategy is that if your good Slivers are destroyed, you are left with a bunch of random vanilla 1/1s, which will not win you the game. My deck has a lot of removal, so you can guess what I did. For game 2, I board out my Bonesplitter Sliver and Fury Sliver, since I do not want my opponent's Slivers to improve. I keep in Ghostflame Sliver and Basal Sliver to leach on his Slivers, and win relatively easily.

In hindsight, I was happy with my red-black choice. Maybe playing Gorgon Recluse instead of Deathspore Thallid maindeck would've been better, since I lost a match to big fat green creatures, but apart from that I believe I built my deck well. I also asked Pro Tour Prague Top 8 competitors Rasmus Sibast and Quentin Martin for their opinion, as well as Hall of Famer Raphael Levy and the stealthy Jelger Wiegersma. They all agreed that red-black was the best color combination and made versions that only differed 1-2 cards from mine, which hopefully lends credit to this build.

(Win 2-0)

4-1

Any Standard decks?

You might be wondering why I spent an entire article on Sealed Deck construction, without covering cool new Standard decks. It's almost like this was a misplaced Noah Weil's Limited Information article! The reason for this is that last week there were no Constructed Premier Events on Magic Online, due to the Time Spiral release events. I simply had no decks to report on yet. And since MTGO was all about Time Spiral sealed last week, I figured this week was a good time for an in-depth sealed deck article.

However, if you want a head start on the Standard Premier Events, I can direct you to my new deck-o-pedia thread (down right now for maintenance, but check back soon), where you can find an overview of the Standard metagame with Time Spiral. Every archetype has a decklist that I personally selected out of the State Championships Top 8 lists, because it is either a representative version or a particularly good-looking version. Speaking of Champs, did you know that the top 5 most played "timeshifted" Time Spiral cards were Akroma, Angel of Wrath, Call of the Herd, Tormod's Crypt, Gemstone Mine, and Disenchant? If you hadn't dusted off your old versions of those cards yet, you'd better dig them up again soon.

Since this week will hold the first Time Spiral Constructed Premiers on Magic Online, I leave you today with a promise that next week's article will hold an abundance of cool, innovative, and interesting Standard decklist. I'm already looking forward to seeing what the online players will come up with.

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