The mysteries of Khans of Tarkir Limited have given way to strategies and maps. Players know what they want to find in Sealed pools, and they know how to make the most of what they open.
Our sample Sealed pool is a bit all over the place, but creates interesting questions that need answered. Here were the highlights:
Eight nonbasic lands covering the spectrum of colors, but plenty of red and white.
It's the texture, however, the makes the difference. That's why we caught up with World Championship competitor, and twentieth-ranked, Josh Utter-Leyton to see what he thought of things.
Coming off a long week in Nice, France it'd be easy to think that players like Utter-Leyton would take a break. "I haven't been home yet," he explained. "It's just another leg of the same trip. I'm staying with David Ochoa and Joshua Cho. Ben Stark is here too." He, like many of his fellow travelers from the event, were up early and on site well before their round byes called for. The running joke leading up to grand Prix Baltimore was, of course, that 'Nice was no longer being nice.'
If it affected Utter-Leyton's clarity on the format it wasn't apparent from his breakdown.
"It's very simple: You want rares and lands to cast them," Utter-Leyton explained. The pithy summary sounded simplistic, but it was a truth visible across many of builds being put together nearby, as well as in the Grand Prix Trial winners from the day before.
"It's really hard to line up the spells you want to cast and the lands that can cast them," he continued, generalizing the difficulty presented in the average pool. "The power level of the commons is flat: They're pretty interchangeable. The power level of the rares is so much higher. Games are decided not just by who has rares, but who can cast them. When you stumble a little bit you're just dead."
It was that grim ending Utter-Leyton was looking to avoid with every build. "First thing I look at the lands," he said. "This pool is off to a great start: Eight lands, and based mostly around Jeskai. If we're playing red we have lots to cast whatever. My fixing for red is free: any red cards I can just play. We don't have Abzan."
Is there any particular ranking to the colors? "In Sealed, generally you're not just playing a color or clan," Utter-Leyton said. "You're playing a four or five color deck, all the rares you can." Utter-Leyton, however, did have a ranking in the abstract from his experience in Draft. "White is certainly the best color, and all the white rares are absurd," he said. "White's commons are probably the best at common. Blue and green are the two worst colors, so it's probably white, black, red, then blue and green." Why so down on blue and green? "I think Sultai and Temur are the worst of the two clans. They have the worst themes. You want just a couple delve cards in your deck, and setting up and playing delve cards just isn't what you want to be doing. Temur is just a bunch of big creatures. The 4 power theme is fine, but it's mostly just a bunch of big guys after that."
Of course, abstractions aren't what matter in Sealed. "Once you have your deck the ranking is completely irrelevant," Utter-Leyton said. "You're just playing whatever your mana has." Indeed, once he finished looking at the lands his tune shifted slightly. "Well, we have lands but nothing to cast with them. Even if we want no other red cards we'll be playing these," he said, pointing to Arc Lightning, Ashcloud Phoenix, and Mardu Warshrieker. "Unfortunately, we don't want to be playing any other red cards. Leaping Master is great. Bloodfire Mentor isn't exciting because it isn't a morph. It doesn't do anything special. The two-drops I'd definitely be playing if I'm base red, but I can just splash the Phoenix for free."
As he shuffled his nonbasic lands around he went further. "There's so many white lands here I can play any white card for free. I'll probably play some white removal, likely not the creatures."
Utter-Leyton was keen to play morphs. Why? "A deck of all morphs, rares, and removal is a great deck, especially in Sealed where it's not important to have two-drops," he explained. "Your curve can start at three. Things like Unyielding Krumar only have a turn or two where it's the biggest thing on the board. Going morph, morph, unmorph, unmorph is going to be better."
He began to assemble the march of morphs available. "I know I'm going to be playing these cards," he said, pulled aside the nonbasic lands, "and the blue morphs. With three blue nonbasic lands I can just jam all these for sure. From there I think I'll play Savage Knuckleblade even thought there's no green fixing. It's just the best card in the pool. This deck looks like it's going to be all morphs."
One trio of cards that was never in the mix of what Utter-Leyton was building was Bring Low. As both removal and an instant, it seems like the kind of card that's vital to Sealed decks. Utter-Leyton didn't even touch it. "Removal's not good because it's removal," he explained. "Removal is great when it's killing something that costs more than it. You're usually spending four mana to kill their morph they played for three mana. It also isn't killing the things you need it to kill, like when you're drawing it off the top. It's certainly a playable card, but it's completely replaceable. It's the definition of a filler card: I'd much rather just play my own morph than kill theirs."
Looking over what green had to offer took Utter-Leyton in a different direction. "I take it back: I'm probably not going to be playing the Knuckleblade," he said. "There's just no reason to stretch to green when I already have these cards to play."
"I'm probably just building Jeskai and splashing black cards," Utter-Leyton said. "I want to splash Utter End and Murderous Cut. The deck definitely needs removal that just kills anything. I could play Kill Shot and Smite the Monstrous, but the other cards are just absurdly good. I also want to play the Bitter Revelation. I'm building this as a control deck to just kill all their creatures and draw extra cards along the way. It's why I'm not too interesting in all these Force Aways and Set Adrift: I'd rather just have removal at that point."
"This [deck] is like a six out of ten. I'd certainly trade my deck for it!" Utter-Leyton said. "This deck is about the norm in that had a bunch of lands and can cast a bunch of morphs. Its removal is good. It's not the Duneblast and Wingmate Roc deck, but it's above the average. I'd be interest to see how somebody would build the green deck: It'd probably be better cards but with worse mana. I'd definitely look at that before submitting this."