Sealed for Full Flavor

Posted in Serious Fun on December 8, 2009

Have you ever baked cookies, brewed coffee, or grilled a burger? Some smells are both uniquely aromatic and unmistakably telling. One smell that virtually every Magic player knows is the smell of a freshly cracked pack—that unique blend of paper, ink, and coating carrying a distinguished scent that seems to have stayed consistent through the years. It's a sweet and spicy scent that evokes feelings of both comforting familiarity and excitement of the unknown. Each pack is a unique bundle all its own.

Naturally, as you may have guessed, I love cracking packs. There's quite a few of us who, for lack of better things to do at times, will help others crack their packs just to get a quick and cheap, if fleeting, fix for our addiction. Opening booster packs is one of the first primal urges that I acquired as a Magic player. Though at the time I skipped booster packs and opened what were called "Starter Decks," that feeling of furtively glancing over all of the new cards was always something to look forward to.

However there are a lot of different purposes that booster packs can serve aside from being opened outright. I've seen packs used for trading, collateral on borrowing cards, and payment for food and drinks. Primarily, though, packs serve as the de facto currency for Limited games. Without them you can't join, with them you can try your hand, and having a box to share with your friends means that you can play any time.

    99 Problems but Fun Ain't One

Kelly Digges wrote about Pack Wars (a.k.a Minimaster) which is a really great way to open a few packs between friends. It's fast, fun, and often extremely surprising—good for a few solid games. Kelly also wrote about Drafting which is less random (you get to pick the cards you play with) but less forgiving (when you're not on the up-and-up on what's the bees knees) and puts you squarely in the pilot seat for crafting a deck. Another popular Limited format is one that, you guessed it, Kelly wrote about about multiple times: Sealed deck created from a pool of cards generated by some booster packs. However, after searching for his breakdown on how Sealed works I found that it didn't exist (huzzah!). While Sealed may be just as well known as Booster Draft, I'll resist the assumption that everyone must already know Sealed.

Sealed Deck

Rules Rundown: Sealed is a deck construction variant where you construct a deck of at least 40 cards, including basic lands, using a limited (hence, Limited) card pool as well as any number basic lands. The source of the pool can vary, with six or seven Booster Packs being the most common. Additionally the four-of restriction on an individual card is lifted: you may use any number of a given card that you have available in your pool.

Pros: Sealed has many unusual properties that make it an interesting format. Everyone starts with the same base and chances to open any given card, mitigating the all-too-often-encountered differential between "those with every card" and "those with scant few cards." Since there is reduced control over the cards available for building a deck, Sealed games are often slower than Draft, which allows slower decks to potentially develop well.

Sealed also plays very well with a plethora of formats (Two-Headed Giant, Free-for-All multiplayer, and even Planar Magic—the world is your oyster). Even in a tournament setting, at the lower rules enforcement levels (RELs, so you know the acronym) you have open construction—the ability to change you deck, entirely if desired, at any time you're not actively playing. At higher RELs, you can change your deck between games, but have to put it back the way it started for each match.

Cons: Sealed can be a lot like Pack Wars / MiniMaster, but supercharged—sometimes you get a lot of really great stuff and other times you whiff, which can make it tough to feel out a solid deck. With randomness amplified in both directions it can feel unfair when you open a very weak pool to use and the obvious remedy of buying an entirely new pool may not always be an option.

While luck is involved, the fact that Sealed is a competitive formats means there is a lot of discussion around "correct builds" and "optimal choices," which can discourage some players from having fun with it. Discussing someone's deck isn't always a great conversation piece.

Now that we've cleared that away, it's time to get down to business. Just what are we going to do with Sealed? Let's take a look at leagues.

Sealed leagues are, traditionally, all about duels. You win games, advance in standing, and pursue the prize. This is a perfectly great way to go (in fact, the common and normal way as well) but, like everything else, the guys (and gals—get out there and represent!) I play with on Thursdays spice things up and take something solid and reshape it into the extraordinary.

    The Circle Is Now Complete

Since I've started writing I've picked up a little more recognition than before around the card shop (though, interestingly enough, more Friday Night Magic players recognize me as a writer than do Casual Thursday attendees). After joining in the discussion on "What format do we want to encourage through December and January?" I was asked to take charge of it. When I joined them I was but the learner; now I am the master.

With the end of the year season always being full of vacations and everyone being a little busier than normal, I proposed a Sealed league as the format—easy to pick up on any given week, and a refreshing change from the EDH we all love. But regular Sealed league just wouldn't do. So I cooked up a point scheme for players to work within, with the reward being access to the Wizard's Play Network promotional cards that we received not too long ago. And, to top it off, you could either join with a Sealed pool from Zendikar or Magic 2010—each being tallied separately.

Now, dueling every week seemed a little low on the "Crazy Fun" scale, so the way to earn points tilts in a different direction: play multiplayer games. There were a few base rules:

  1. Earn one point for losing and two points for winning a duel.
  2. Earn two points for losing and four points for winning a multiplayer game, awarded to an individual (Free-for-All multiplayer) or each member of a team (Two-Headed Giant, Emperor, etc.).
  3. Earn half a point for knocking a player out in a multiplayer game.

Formats like Emperor and Two-Headed Giant (and, well, just about every multiplayer format) generally take longer than standard Magic so the points are skewed towards these formats, making them just as time-efficient as dueling. And, to top it all off, these formats also have ways to earn bonus points. For example, in Emperor you earn one point for personally defeating the Emperor in addition to your team getting the four point win bonus.

    Building Blocks and Packs that Rock

While this two-month adventure is just getting started (and having a few final kinks worked out as a group—we're a protectively democratic bunch) I wanted to share the other major advantage of encouraging all the different formats: open deck construction. Without the need to register decks and other heavy-duty card tracking, everyone is free to change their decks—lands and all—whenever they'd like to outside of a game (even between games if they really wanted to). Instead of just having one deck to work with, we can rebuild decks constantly as our needs change. A deck to be played as an Emperor would be very different than one for a free-for-all multiplayer brawl, just as both would be different from your average dueling deck.

Here's my five-pack Zendikar card pool for the first two weeks (we're adding a pack on the third, fifth, seventh, and ninth weeks).

Styborski's Sealed Pool

Download Arena Decklist

Now that is a pretty nice pool to work with! There are awesome control cards in Day of Judgment and Roil Elemental, some neat synergy between Quest for the Holy Relic and double Kor Outfitter, and one copy of just about everything that can count as removal: Disfigure, Burst Lightning, Hideous End, Marsh Casualties, double Slaughter Cry, and more!

There are a lot of potential decks with this pool. Here's some of what I've cooked up so far:

Aggro Deck for Duels

Download Arena Decklist

There isn't a lot to say about this kind of deck: lots of solid creatures and removal. In fact, it's actually very boring: play dudes, kill potential blockers, swing with dudes, win.


I've been itching to get Emperor games going. With the powerful control cards I opened I should be able to sit back as an Emperor and run with something like this.

Control Deck for Emperor

Download Arena Decklist

This deck certainly doesn't come out the gates quick but does provide some late-game oomph to get the job done. Once you hit six lands, three of which are hopefully Islands, you can slow down and being to hold lands back, waiting to see if one of your Lieutenants falls. Roil Elemental and consistent land drops, especially with an Adventuring Gear floating around, means you can just take your opponent's creatures to win with. Kor Hookmasters allow you to help your Lieutenants by locking down problematic creatures, and the Kor Skyfishers let you repeat either a land drop or Hookmaster. Sphinx of Jwar Isle is the flagship of the many flyers available, meaning that if your Lieutenant were to fall you may just have an aerial alpha strike waiting behind the gates. If not, dropping a kicked Tempest Owl should do the job just fine anyway.

General multiplayer presents a bevy of options, with strong picks in every color. I generally favor green for the rarely short supply of creatures with sizeable girth to work with and blue for the many options it invariably presents ... which is why I'll be packing this for my multiplayer games.

Multiplayer Madness for Sealed

Download Arena Decklist

There's probably a better way to work the lands out but I feel that the Day of Judgment is both a greedy splash and unexpected reset button. Green provides a little beef for an otherwise anemic team of little blue fliers, bit the top-end blue bombs in Roil Elemental and Sphinx of Jwar Isle will wreak havoc on otherwise ordinary boards.

The deck is also 41 cards. Something can probably be cut to make the deck 40 cards but I just couldn't bring myself to find it—I like the deck as it is.

    Crack the Pack

I'll be keeping running documentation on some of the more amazing exploits in my Sealed league (join us every Thursday at Dream Wizards in Rockville, MD if you're close enough to make it) as well as sharing a deck list here and there—I've lost track of the number of decks I've taken home from drafting or Sealed and then fleshed out into new 60-card wonders.

So take a crack at some Sealed for multiplayer or share your best stories from a previous play at it—like certain alien robots, in Sealed there's much more than meets the eye!

Latest Serious Fun Articles


January 5, 2016

Hedron Alignment by, Bruce Richard

When I first looked at my preview card, I couldn't really wrap my brain around it. The card does so much that I wasn't really understanding its value. Kind of a "forest for the trees" thi...

Learn More


December 29, 2015

Eternal Pilgrim by, Bruce Richard

When religious belief turns into religious fervor, things get problematic—particularly on Zendikar. When the Eldrazi were originally imprisoned, stories were told to ensure no one would t...

Learn More



Serious Fun Archive

Consult the archives for more articles!

See All