Sealed Deck gets kind of a bad rap.
I've heard people refer to it as being luck-based, putting a lot of emphasis on which rares you open and less emphasis on your skills as a Limited player. I'm here to tell you that it's simply not true. Sealed Deck can be an absolutely skill-testing format, and I even know it's the favorite of quite a few professional players. Owen Turtenwald once told me that it's his favorite form of competitive Magic, period.
We're going to talk about Battle for Zendikar Sealed Deck today, but before we do, I need you to promise me that you'll keep an open mind about it. And yes, I know that you once opened a sealed pool with no good rares in it and felt like you had no chance to win. Limited Magic does carry with it an inherent level of variance. Sometimes things aren't going to go your way, and there won't be much you can do about it. The quicker that you truly embrace this as the truth, the quicker you can focus on the things you can actually change.
In reality, there is a ton of skill in Sealed Deck, and, for the prepared player, a lot of advantage to be gained. A Sealed deck is much more than the sum of its parts. It's not just a pile of powerful cards. And while it's usually not as cohesive as a Draft deck will be, the cards will still be interlocked in a single strategic effort. There will be different cards here than the ones you'll see in most Booster Draft decks too.
Battle for Zendikar Sealed Deck
The first big assumption you should make with any Sealed Deck format is that it will be slower than its Draft counterpart. Basically, since you don't get to draft your mana curve, it will often be clunky. You just won't have those decks with that perfect curve, and you shouldn't expect to.
You also should adjust your expectation of what your opponent will be up to. In Booster Draft, you have to assume that your opponent may be able to play a creature on turns two, three, and four some percentage of the time. In Sealed, that situation is far less likely.
And you should plan accordingly. One way you can adjust is by recognizing that a critical mass of two-drops just isn't necessary like it is in Draft. In Draft, you want the two-drops either so that you can beat down consistently, or so that you have things to do in the early game to prevent yourself from being run over. But in Sealed, it usually behooves you to largely ignore the two-drop slot and instead focus on the more impactful cards that typically cost more mana.
This expectation adjustment also applies to how synergistic your deck ends up being. For example, in Draft, you may have a devoid strategy that has 20 colorless spells in the deck by the time you submit your final list. In Sealed, this will rarely be the case, and you should be prepared to play the most powerful cards you can cast. There isn't as much need to have a super-synergistic deck.
You'll usually focus more on individual card value as a necessity. Don't forget to look for the great synergy deck, as they do sometimes come together even in Sealed, but just keep in mind that they are rare and you'll usually be doing without them.
In Battle for Zendikar, you'll most often play two colors with a splash for a third. Ideally you'd prefer to have two main colors and a powerful splash for a few cards of the third color rather than a straight-up three-color deck.
Your baseline will be eighteen lands in Sealed, same as it is in Booster Draft for this format.
Whether to play or draw first is a point of contention within the Limited community. There is a compelling argument to be on the draw, in that you are more likely to hit your land drops and cast your huge spells on time. Also, you are less likely to get punished by a great curve-out in Sealed. That said, the counterargument of being on the play is that if you do hit those land drops, you can be the first player to make the big board-affecting plays and force your opponent to react, which has a lot of power in it.
I've been tailoring it to my opponent, which means I'll usually be on the play if given the choice at the beginning of the match but am willing to change gears if it makes sense given the matchup.
One super interesting subset of cards exists in this set and kind of throws a wrench in the works when it comes to Sealed Deck: the Eldrazi. Specifically I'm referring to the big common and uncommon Eldrazi:
In this set, though, since there are such powerful late-game spells at common and uncommon, things play out a bit differently than they normally would. Most pools will have access to some number of these cards. Are they good? Should you play them?
Let's run down how to group these colorless curve-toppers.
Deathless Behemoth would make the main deck in virtually every Sealed deck I play.
Bane of Bala Ged costs seven mana, but pays you back for it and can be a game-ender in the right situation.
Breaker of Armies is the most expensive of these three—costing eight mana—but it pays dividends when it performs its namesake action on your opponent's creatures. This guy is a legit board-stall destroyer and demands an answer almost immediately.
Ruin Processor is quite strong, and will even see some play in decks that can't consistently get the life-gain effect by processing a card. The size is right for the price.
There are other creatures that get better in Sealed than they are in Draft. Since the pressure isn't as strong to be a fully synergistic deck, you can play some of the cards that are reasonably costed but often end up in the sideboard of Draft decks.
Like these, for example:
None of these are particularly resonant in Booster Draft, but they all hold their own in Sealed Deck. It's not that these are particularly great cards, although Murasa Ranger is a nice mana sink in the late game. They are cards that you'll often ignore for Draft, but shouldn't for Sealed.
As in Draft, creatures with flying remain excellent, and most of the blue-white flyers archetype is intact as well. Keep an eye out for that deck while building—it's quite strong.
And Don't Forget
Since bombs are still an important part of the ecosystem that is a Sealed Deck tournament, you'll want to have as many answers to them available as you can get your hands on.
Cards like Mire's Malice, Transgress the Mind, Spell Shrivel, and Scatter to the Winds all go up in value a ton in Sealed Deck. Mire's Malice is particularly good, because your opponent will often plan on casting some huge, expensive creatures. When you force them to discard two cards, they have to discard either lands (which buys you a ton of time) or the creatures themselves (which means you won't have to deal with them later), neither of which is appealing to your opponent. Which means it's good for you.
You'll run your normal removal suite, but don't be afraid to expand out into less-conventional ways to deal with the big bombs if you feel like your pool is a bit short on answers.
Sealed Deck is an important format for tournament players. If you go to a Limited Grand Prix, or want to qualify for the Pro Tour via a PPTQ, you'll need to be good at Sealed. Practice building pools and you'll start to see trends. Once you get the patterns down, you'll improve dramatically and give yourself the best chance of winning that next tournament.
Until next week!