Diving Back into Sealed

Posted in Limited Information on April 15, 2008

By Steve Sadin

The Shadowmoor Prerelease is just days away, and I can't wait. Shadowmoor is a new large set that will take us away from the tribe-centered format of Lorwyn Limited and into a brand new hybrid-filled format. While I'm excited about Shadowmoor, I'm a little bit sad that I won't be cracking many more Lorwyn (or Morningtide) packs after this Friday.

One thing to keep in mind when you open up your Sealed Deck at the Prerelease is that Shadowmoor's hybrid-heavy nature is going to make color decisions even more difficult than usual. There is absolutely no precedent for how to build a hybrid-heavy Sealed Deck.

Sure, Ravnica block had some hybrid cards, but it was much more of a "gold" set than a hybrid set. Shadowmoor is going to be the first hybrid set, and I don't know about you, but I'm pretty excited to see what that means.

Your First Sealed Deck

If you've never built a Sealed Deck before you might want to check out this excellent article by Jeff Cunningham on building your first Sealed Deck.

As much as I would love to be able to tell you exactly what you should do at the Prerelease when you open up your Sealed pool and see a Wasp Lancer, a Wilt-Leaf Liege, and a Burn Trail staring back at you, I can't. (Confused? Check out those cards and more in the Card Preview Archive.)

What I am instead going to do is tell you about how I look at colors when I am building a Sealed Deck.

Hurry Man... Before There's Still Time!

Time Stop
eBuilding a Sealed Deck properly takes time, lots and lots of time. I know that I want to put together dozens of potential builds before I finally settle on the one that I am going to do battle with for the next umpteen rounds. If there weren't a deck building time limit at tournaments then I would be able to look at every different possible configuration before finally settling on the one that's right for me.

Unfortunately (and fortunately), we do have to worry about time limits, and as a result we have to find shortcuts during our deck building process.

The first thing that I do whenever I begin building a Sealed pool is check its contents against those listed on the deck registration sheet. This is a pretty simple process that can save you a LOT of grief later.

The next thing I do is determine which colors have the potential to become a base color and which colors contain potentially splashable cards. In order to do this during my first run through the card pool I take note of three different things:

1) How many cards I'd be OK playing from each of my colors.

Every card that would be considered playable falls under this category. Sure you might not want to play all of the cards that get counted in this category, but the number that this category generates allows you to figure out what color combinations are physically possible.

For example, you might have seven awesome black cards and seven awesome blue cards, but if you don't have any other playable blue or black cards you simply aren't going to be able to play them both as main colors. Heck, if you only have seven of each you might not be able to play either of them as main colors unless you have another base color that can act as an anchor by providing you with a lot of playables.

When I am separating out my playable cards I will also organize them by mana cost. Sometimes you will have two colors that each have a bunch of good cards, but if neither of the colors have any two- or three-drops you're going to have to look elsewhere to fill out your deck.

2) How many cards I'd like to play in each of my colors

During this step I figure out which of my playable cards I actually want to play. While a Grey Ogre is always going to fall under the "playable" blanket, the odds that I will actually play it are pretty low.

3) Which cards I'm willing to work to play

In my final first run through step, I determine which of my cards are worth trying a little bit harder to play. This could mean a light splash for a banishing or two, or turning a somewhat weak color into a base color in order to support a double casting cost bomb.

Sometimes this simple process will practically build my deck for me (especially if my deck is pretty bad or very good). However, the most frequent outcome that I get when using this sorting process is that I will be able to eliminate an entire color and reduce another color to, at most, a splash. This leaves me with an average of 3.5 colors worth of options to build from. And let me tell you, building a deck from 3.5 colors worth of options is about nine times easier then trying to build a deck while looking at all of the colors.

Even if I'm not able to eliminate many inefficient options, this color by color evaluation makes the rest of deck building easier for me as I am able to spend my time asking important questions about how I want my deck to look, instead of wasting lots of time asking myself things like "I wonder if I have enough cards to build a black-white deck?"

When I am done with this initial evaluation process I put all of my cards and colors that are unplayable in a "do not look at" pile. I usually put this pile back in the tournament pack box.

I leave all the rest of my cards within easy reach throughout the rest of deck construction.

Dipping Our Feet in the Sealed Pool

For my example I used a Tenth Edition Sealed pool, built from five Tenth Edition booster packs. I chose Tenth because it allows us to look at colors as colors, without getting distracted by format-specific considerations such as storm or tribal.

Anywho, lets take a look at our pool!

Sealed Deck

Download Arena Decklist

Alright, let's try using my initial analysis for each of our colors.


This deck's blue is lacking in pretty much every way. There aren't nearly enough blue cards for it to be a main color. Only Sift, Counsel of the Soratami, Aven Windreader, and Rootwater Commando are cards that I would want to play in my Sealed Deck. In addition to lacking enough depth to be a main color, blue has no cards, with the possible exception of Sift, that are worth splashing for.

(Note that I am keeping track of all good cards with a star next to their name and all great cards with two stars.)

Playable count: 5
Good count: 4
Splashable count: 1 (Sift, barely...)

Diagnosis: This deck won't play any blue.


Much like the blue, this deck's white only has a handful of playable cards. And, once again, the playable cards aren't nearly plentiful enough, or good enough to try to build a deck around. To its credit, the white does have a Pacifism and an Angel of Mercy, which might be worthwhile splashes (especially with the Brushland), but the rest of the white can be forgotten.

Playable count: 10
Good count: 5
Splashable count: 2

Diagnosis: While it contains a lot of technically playable cards, white simply isn't strong enough to be a base color, but it is a definite splash consideration. I will pay close attention to my Pacifism, Angel of Mercy, and Brushland throughout deckbuilding.


This deck's black is very solid. It has 11 playable cards, with only the Megrim eliciting a definite no. The Deathmark, while not great, is better than you might think as a LOT of Tenth Edition Sealed Decks play green. That being said, I still don't want to maindeck it. The most attractive part of the black is certainly the Sengir Vampire.

The Sengir Vampire comes with a double black requirement, meaning that if we want to play it we are going to need to play black as a main color. Fortunately, Sengir Vampire is powerful enough to allow black to edge out a color that would otherwise be slightly better.

Another thing to note about the black is that even if it doesn't become a main deck color, it will often be worthwhile to sideboard it in if the opponent is playing black because of the Bog Wraith, not to mention if they are playing white or green to turn on Deathmark.

Playable count: 11
Good count: 6
Splashable count: 1 (Essence Drain)

Diagnosis: Black is a very good candidate for a base color, especially if my other base color has a lot (13+) of playable cards.


The first thing that jumped out at me about the red was, obviously, the superstar Blaze. No matter what my deck will end up looking like, it will include the Blaze. The Pyroclasm and the Shock also jump out at me as splashable cards.

Lava Axe*


Playable count: 10
Good count: 9
Splashable count: 3 (Shock, Pyroclasm, and Blaze)

Diagnosis: In addition to the three awesome removal spells red also has a couple of decent creatures, this leads me to believe that red could be a pretty good second color.


This deck's green is both good and incredibly deep. It contains 14 cards that I actively want to play in a Sealed Deck. The only green cards that I am not willing to consider for my deck are the Wall of Wood and the Elvish Berserker.

Tangle Spider*


Playable count: 14
Good count: 14
Splashable count: 1 (Hurricane)

Diagnosis: Green seems like an easy choice for a first color. Not only does it contain a lot of playable cards, most of them are very good.

Another reason why green will be an easy inclusion in the deck is that green contains a lot of creatures, which our other potential base colors, red and black, do not.

Let's not forget our artifacts and lands.


The Mind Stone will make the cut in any deck we end up playing, meaning that we will only need to find 21-22 other playable cards for us to have a complete deck.

The Whispersilk Cloak is OK, but it's nothing that I'm excited about playing, and the Colossus of Sardia is just way too expensive for consideration.

Playable count: 2
Good count: 1


Brushland will make splashing white literally twice as easy as it would be otherwise (we'll only need to play one physical Plains if we want to splash white now).

And we're done with our first run through!

Putting it all together

Alright, now that we know what we are working with, let's roll up our sleeves and get to work building our deck.

The first thing that I know is that I am going to be playing Blaze, Hurricane, Mind Stone and 18 lands. Now, nineteen mana sources might seem like a lot, and there is a simple reason for that. It is a lot. This deck wants a lot of mana in order to X-spell opponents out. Additionally, the Mind Stone can be cycled if we are in need of a spell, making this decision even easier.

The next thing I know is that I will be playing green as a base color. I know this for a couple of reasons, but the most obvious one that my initial counting process revealed to me is that the only way I would be able to put together enough cards build a complete deck without base green is if I played practically all of my red and black cards and splashed a color.

Black-Red Splashing Green

Download Arena Decklist

And just as I expected, this version leaves me with way too many marginal cards for my liking. Scathe Zombie, Vampire Bats, Fists of the Anvil, and Dross Crocodile?

No thank you!

Let's instead try some decks with green in them.

Green-Red Splashing White

Download Arena Decklist

This deck is very good. It has a great curve, great removal, and great finishers.

As good as this deck is, I have a feeling we can do better.

Green-Black Splashing Red

Download Arena Decklist

I think we've got it!

This deck is able to edge out the green-red-white version thanks to the overwhelmingly powerful Sengir Vampire.

The hardest decision that I had to make when building this deck was to not splash the Shock. Sure, Shock is very good, but adding it would force us to play a third Mountain AND we would have to cut something very good, such as Dusk Imp or Giant Growth. I decided that marginal power increase just wasn't worth making our mana worse.

Bonus Exercise

When you are building a Sealed Deck the difference between a color being an awesome base color and barely playable can hinge on as little as a single card.

In order for a single card to affect your choice of colors it doesn't have to be that great in the abstract; it merely has to satisfy a role that would otherwise go unfilled.

Now let's take a look at the same card pool, but instead of Relentless Assault we have Shivan Dragon.

Shivan Dragon

Suddenly we're willing to try a lot harder to play red as a base color.

Before, our Sengir Vampire acted as the trump that tipped the scales from red to black. Now with Shivan Dragon in the picture, the scales tip waaay in red's favor.

Suddenly we go from playing a green-black deck with a little bit of red to playing a green-red deck with a little bit of white:

Green-Red Splashing White

Download Arena Decklist

I decided to cut the Flamewave Invoker from the previous version because, with the addition of Shivan Dragon, we now have more then enough awesome finishers.

This deck is better than the green-black splash red version of the deck in practically every way. Better mana? Check. Better spells? Check. Better bombs? Check. Better creatures? Thanks to Shivan Dragon, check!

Now lets try switching the Shivan Dragon back to a Relentless Assault, and switch the Sengir Vampire to a Sleeper Agent.

What happens?

Suddenly we find ourselves playing the green-red splash white deck that we almost wound up playing with our initial pool, but decided not to thanks entirely to Sengir Vampire.

Color Counting with Shadowmoor

Unfortunately, this method won't be exactly translatable to Shadowmoor Sealed. However, it is easily adapted as hybrid mana cards can be counted along with each of the colors that are in the mana cost (be careful not to double-count any of your cards if you use this method!).

I'll be at the NYC Prerelease all day on Saturday. So if you're going to be at the NYC Prerelease I'll see you there!

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