For reference, the card pool we'll be working with is:
The most important thing to do when you first crack open your sealed deck is simply to remove the cards that are never going to make it into your main deck. There are times when barely playable cards will still want to make the cut for various reasons but you'll always have some cards that will never be played.
There are lots of cards that I personally wouldn't ever want to play main deck but it would be far too time consuming to list reasons for all of them. Instead, here's a breakdown of the cards I'd immediately discard as being unplayable:
White: Terashi's Cry, Ethereal Haze, Quiet Purity, Horizon Seed.
Blue: Dampen Thought, Peer Through Depths, Field of Reality, Hisoka's Guard.
Black: Ragged Veins, Nezumi Bone-reader, Rag Dealer.
Red: Mana Seism, Sideswipe, Unnatural Speed.
Green: Gale Force, Joyous Respite, Heartbeat of Spring.
The next thing I like to do is to go through each colour and list the really good cards. Having a colour that has 12 playables is all very well but if they're all mediocre then you might want to draw your attention to the colour with 8 playables, but 2-3 truly excellent cards. This is a good way of doing just that.
White: Cage of Hands, Kabuto Moth, Mothrider Samurai, Konda, Lord of Eiganjo.
Blue: Soratami Mirror Guard, Soratami Rainshaper, Soratami Savant, Mystic Restraints.
Black: Befoul, Hideous Laughter, Rend Spirit, Gutwrencher Oni.
Red: Glacial Ray, Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, Ronin Houndmaster.
Green: Kami of the Hunt.
Artifact: Journeyer's Kite.
There are several things to note here. The first is that Green is very shallow in this pool and not only that but it also doesn't really have any amazing cards that draw you to playing it. I think it's safe to immediately dismiss green at this point and spend time focussing on the other four colours instead.
Strong, but the casting cost makes it wrong for this card pool
Red also isn't particularly deep but it does have a few nice cards. Kiki-Jiki has a very unfortunate mana cost so if we wanted to play it we'd probably have to be running at least seven mountains and it doesn't look like there are enough red cards to make that possible. The Glacial Ray is definitely a great card though and might be worth splashing, especially if many of the blue Arcane spells make the deck.
White is excellent, with lots of great cards and plenty of solid ones to back them up. It's almost certain that some white cards will make the deck. It's worth noting that many of the white cards can be easily splashed; indeed Konda himself might even be worth considering for a splash as you may well be able to see double white by the time you get to seven mana.
Black has some really nice cards but three of the best have double black in the casting cost. This means we can't really consider splashing for these cards, so if we want to play black we'll have to include it as a major colour instead. That might still be possible as there are a number of other decent cards that could make the cut.
Blue doesn't have anything that really screams to be played but it does have a lot of very good flyers as well as a removal spell in the Restraint and a lot of other cards that would go well in the deck.
It's likely that we'll play the Journeyer's Kite in this deck if it ends up being three colours. If you're just a two-colour deck then I normally wouldn't include it but when you have three colours it's nice to be able to spend colourless mana to go and fetch that land you need. It can also help out late game if you have numerous Splice cards, as you'll typically need a lot of mana to power them up.
Choosing the colours
Now that we've had a chance to look over the colours it's time to make a decision about which ones to play. For me, two of the most important things in sealed deck are removal and evasion. If you don't have removal you'll die to some nasty creature that you can't get rid of and there are a lot of nasty creatures in this set. If you don't have evasion then you basically just play a game of “whoever has the biggest creature wins” and this card pool isn't going to be winning that battle. Sometimes this battle can devolve into “whoever has the most creatures wins” or “whoever has the best finisher wins” but this deck isn't winning either of those battles either!
The way this deck will win will be through its good evasive creatures backed up by a little bit of card advantage and some removal. It definitely doesn't want to be playing a stalling game.
With that in mind I'd definitely play black here, and I'd also use either blue or white to give additional evasion and removal. The black cards that would make the deck are:
With Cursed Ronin being a possible addition later on. The white cards that make the deck look like this:
Cage of Hands
That's not a bad selection but in total that's still only 17 cards and even with the Journeyer's Kite and the Cursed Ronin we'd still have to splash a good number of cards from another colour. There's also a Devoted Retainer and Harsh Deceiver in there which are okay but nothing to get excited about.
Let's look at the blue cards instead:
That's not including Hisoka's Defiance, which I'd definitely consider playable. This is a little better. We have eleven blue cards here and although it's creature light the Sift Through Sands will just help draw you into more creatures so it isn't as bad as you might think. Putting these alongside the black cards would give a total of 19 cards and with the addition of the Kite would mean only a three card splash is needed and this is much more manageable. I also like that all five of blue's creatures have (or can gain, in the Deceiver's case) flying. It's a shame there's not a simple River Kaijin that would stall the ground for a few turns but you have to work with what you get.
The abilities of the Soratami are all excellent and I've used all of them to win games numerous times. The Mirror Guard in particular has an ability that is often over-looked. It's rated highly as a four mana 3/1 flyer, which is obviously correct, but I've used its ability lots of times to win games that I might not otherwise have won. Returning a single land to send a Wicked Akuba through for some serious pain in the late game is a personal favourite of mine.
With the black and blue cards together the deck looks like this:
I think the obvious colour from which to draw our splash is white. The best cards in the colour are easily splashable and the Cloudcrest Lake eases the addition of white into this deck.
There are however four cards that are potentially worth splashing here and they were all listed amongst the best white cards above: Cage of Hands, Kabuto Moth, Mothrider Samurai, Konda, Lord of Eiganjo.
Splashing Konda in this deck is a tricky decision. I actually think he's a fantastic card to have in sealed deck but his Indestructability isn't always relevant in a format where we have both Cage of Hands and Mystic Restraints capable of dealing with him. The few times I have got him into play however he's dominated the field and there aren't really any regenerators that can hold him off indefinitely. I'd add Konda to the main deck in favour of the Waking Nightmare but I'd be prepared to sideboard him out if I were facing a blue-white player. If someone suggested leaving him out in favour of something that's easier to cast I wouldn't disagree with them.
So, adding those cards and including the lands gives a final listing of:
As I said before this looks creature light with only 12 in the deck but with the Sifts and Reach replacing themselves it actually works out like you're playing 13 or 14, which is a bit more reasonable. You also have a lot of removal in this build and with both Cage and Restraint you have the chance to deal with opposing Soulshift cards and even the ridiculous Dragon Legends without triggering their effects.
The mana is about as good as you can hope for in a three-colour deck with both the Lake and the Kite aiding the splash.
Too tough to splash?
Now looking back at Mike's build from last Wednesday we can see that he chose the same three colours but he weighted his colours a little differently. I can certainly see why he favoured the white, as the Hundred-Talon Kami and Kami of Ancient Law are both nice solid creatures and are probably better than the black ones. The problem I have with this build though is that the black cards that are splashed become very difficult to cast. Having only three Swamps to support both Hideous Laughter and Befoul will make them hard to cast unless the Kite shows up to help out. Although I am also splashing a double-coloured white card I have an extra source of white due to the Lake and I think that Konda is much more of a late game card than Befoul or Hideous Laughter are.
I think the build I've presented here is a little more consistent but perhaps a little less powerful. However, when you are building a deck that has to live through seven or eight rounds of swiss I believe consistency is very important. If you lose 2-3 games in the day to bad coloured mana draws (on top of the usual mana-screws & mana-floods that we all live through) then you probably won't be making the top eight.
Mike chose not to play either the Sifts or the Reach Through Mists but I think they play a nice role in the deck. I like the fact this deck has the two Sifts to help smooth out your draws and to help find the better cards in the deck. There's also the possibility in my build of Splicing either Hideous Laughter or Consuming Vortex onto them if you make it to the late game.
I'm not quite as pessimistic about this deck's chances as Mike was. Although it's lacking any real bombs of its own it does have plenty of good evasion and a lot of removal that can help deal with opposing bombs. It also has quite a lot of card advantage and in any long games the extra cards you draw from the Counsel and the Sifts could easily help you swing it.
I hope these two different approaches to this sealed deck have been useful to you. I'll probably go through another deck in the near future so you can see these theories applied to a different pool of cards. Speaking of which, what do you think of this kind of article as help for the current PTQ season?
[The survey originally included in this article has been removed.]
Good luck at the PTQs!