Mastering Dragons Sealed

Posted in Event Coverage on May 9, 2015

By Peter Rawlings

The introduction of Dragons of Tarkir promised to shake up the Limited format. Gone are the cycles of multicolored common morph creatures and ample mana fixing of Khans of Tarkir. In their place: dragons, dragons and more dragons. Atlantic City is the first Limited Grand Prix with the new set in the mix, offering pros the opportunity to put to the test any lessons about the format they picked up in the crucible of the recent Pro Tour in Brussels.

Before the release of Dragons, it was much easier to play a three-color deck because there was more fixing available in the form of the common dual lands, and uncommon tricolor lands sprinkled throughout Khans of Tarkir, said David Ochoa, fresh off a strong showing at Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir, where he posted a 5-1 finish in Limited. “Now you only have two packs of Fate Reforged for fixing, with the occasional copy of Evolving Wilds in Dragons, which is just not as good.”

“I try to aim for a two-colored build with my pools,” agreed No. 10 Shahar Shenhar. When Khans of Tarkir was still in the format it was much more likely to be able to play a full three-color deck or even a five-color deck with a lot of morphs. “Now the format feels more like a core set, with slightly better mana fixing.”

Since you have fewer morphs and less mana fixing, “the format is slower now, and it's easier to stumble,” Ochoa said. “You're going to have games where you don't play your spells on time as often, which makes for longer games where cards with a higher power level are going to be more successful.” In short: your bombs and rares take on increased importance now.

“I don't want to be to aggressive with my build, because it's not that aggressive a format,” agreed Shenhar. The exception would be a pool that happened to have an abundance of good red cards that might enable a more aggressive slant, he said.

So when first looking at a sealed pool, players should look for their rares and other strong cards that provide an incentive to move toward certain color combinations, Ochoa said. He was presented with the following sample sealed pool, that had four such standouts.

Sample Sealed Pool

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The cards that caught Ochoa's eye were—fittingly for Dragons of Tarkir—three big, creature-destroying fliers in Dragonlord Atarka, Deathbringer Regent, Archfiend of Depravity, as well as the Standard-powerhouse Mastery of the Unseen. Given the strong black rares, the two builds that were most attractive to Ochoa were Blue-Black and White-Black.

Shenhar agreed, pointing out the depth of the blue commons and uncommons as well as the strength of white with two copies of Enduring Victory and Mastery of the Unseen. Between the two of them, there was no question that black cards would need to be in the deck.

David Ochoa

In addition to granting access to an excellent high-end, black is generally the strongest color in the format, Ochoa said. It tends to have an abundance of strong removal and a deep creature base, he said. In descending order, Ochoa then prefers red, blue, white and green.

“Green is generally going to be the weakest color in this format because, while you have a lot of creatures, you don't have many good spells,” he said. A lot of the tricks green does have are cards with the fight mechanic, such as Hunt the Weak, which can cause players to get blown out by a removal spell on their creature.

Ochoa's builds of Blue-Black and White-Black looked like so.

David Ochoa - Sample Sealed Build #1

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David Ochoa - Sample Sealed Build #2

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The last card to make the cut in the Blue-Black build was Updraft Elemental. In Sealed, players can often use their knowledge of the format to anticipate the most likely composition of their opponents deck, and use that to make their decision, Ochoa said. Since decks featuring a healthy assortment of white, blue and black fliers are likely to be popular, Updraft Elemental, while not especially powerful, can be a fine 22nd card, he said. Similarly, cards like Rending Volley can be main deck considerations.

The Blue-Black build would ultimately get the nod over White-Black, Ochoa decided. While Mastery of the Unseen can win games on its own and is more powerful than anything blue has on offer, the next tier of blue cards is stronger than those in white, he said. For instance, Stratus Dancer and Silumgar Sorcerer are better than Silkwrap, and Silumgar's Command is also a draw towards blue, since most players are unlikely to play around the rare two-for-one, he said.

Shahar Shenhar

Shenhar's build of Blue-Black, the deck he ultimately decided he would run, was quite similar to Ochoa's. While white had certain advantages, it also would require including cards like Center Soul and Artful Maneuver, rebound spells that he would prefer to leave on the sidelines.

Shahar Shenhar - Sample Sealed Build  #1

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Anticipate is also really good here,” he said. The card's value can vary a lot depending on the power level of the rest of deck, he said. In pools that are reliant mostly on commons and uncommons it is only decent, but it scales up in power in correspondence with the quality of a deck's bombs. Since this pool has excellent such bombs in Archfiend of Depravity and Deathbringer Regent, Anticipate would be good, he said.

While Shenhar agreed he would start with the Blue-Black deck for Game 1, he noted that the White-Black build could be well worth switching into against more aggressive opponents. Two-mana spells like Soul Summons and creatures like Sandcrafter Mage and Sandsteppe Outcast could help hold down the fort, buying time for a big, old Dragon to hit the table and lock things up.

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