Busting Sealed

Posted in Event Coverage on May 31, 2015

By Marc Calderaro

There were more Sealed pools opened today in Las Vegas than any other sanctioned Magic event in history. Most of us fantasize about the dream pool, but here, someone must have made it happen. I went hunting for the best Sealed pools I could find; not just for the sheer awe, but to learn more about the important aspects of this fleeting format. The big question was: Is the dream synergy deck even possible? Canadian Jon Stern went so far as you say “you never have the fully synergistic deck.” This statement is fairly common, but is it accurate? I sought to find out.

During the run-up to this weekend, the Sealed scuttlebutt was five-color. There was too much draft-laden synergy in the set, people said, diluting the available colors for Sealed play. So it was thought the best strategy was to put together the best five(ish)-color control you could. Loaded with removal and powerful creatures, it was the best likely way to go. As Pascal Maynard said about his own pool, “It’s Karn Liberated, Comet Storm, and 21 fillers.” But this is not an event for “likely.”

I talked to four players who all acknowledged they received very strong pools. Two of them, Ben Stark and No. 2–ranked Sam Black, were the top-tier multi-color strategy, while Matt Severa and Mani Davoudi were two unicorns. They built sleek, synergy-laden two-color decks, and have been stomping people all day. Be forewarned. I will be talking about some clumps of cards that are pretty swoon-worthy. And though it’s easy to eye-roll about not getting it, just statistically someone has to get the crazy stuff; the difficult part was finding out who got it.

There were rumblings about Vancouver-ite Mani Davoudi’s deck percolating around the halls, but it was pretty mysterious, and often elusive. I would hear about a fleeting card or two, and I couldn’t seem to find Davoudi in the sea of people. With basically eight Grand Prix going on, finding anything or anyone is a Herculean challenge. I finally caught him as pairings were being posted—only getting a minute or two with him—and even when I saw the deck, it was only for an instant. Like that one photo of Bigfoot. But, man, was it beautiful. Just like that one photo of Bigfoot.

Davoudi’s deck had two copies of Scatter the Seeds, two Scion of the Wilds, and a Spectral Procession, which were joined by a Selesnya Guildmage, a Wilt-Leaf Liege, and an Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite to top it off. Add a few dollops of removal—an Oblivion Ring here, a couple Sunlance there—a couple solid cards like Kozilek's Predator and some Nest Invader, and the deck basically built itself.

“It was real easy to build,” Davoudi said, “... at least the first twenty cards.” He was ecstatic to get the dream synergy build.  He hadn’t had time to test much for Sealed: “So I was really glad I didn’t have to built any of that five-color stuff.” He has solid token generation and all the rewards for generating those tokens. I mean, even his bombs are synergistic with his build—as if Elesh Norn needed to be better!

Madisonian Matt Severa’s list was even more straight forward.  “Well, I have, like 18 artifacts. And two Cranial Plating.” Severa is a man of few words. “It looks like a draft deck,” and a really good one at that. Though Severa is fairly light on removal, his methodical deck barely needs it. Though he’s understated about it, Severa well understood the likelihood of the pile of cards he had received.

“We’ve been practicing Sealed for a while now, and it’s rare to see a two-color deck this good.” He continued, “Even then, I’ve seen like one or two tokens decks. Not any build like this.”

The two were hanging around the top tables all day, and understandably so. Unicorns should be leading the charge.

 When it came to the realists, like Black and Stark, they both said it what made their decks so good was the mana. Whether you get to (or have to) play the full five colors is totally dependent on what lands you receive. “The bouncelands are extremely important,” Stark said. Because you want to play a threat-dense pool, bouncelands like Simic Growth Chamber, can allow you to cheat on a land or so, while fixing your colors too.

Pro Tour Paris winner, Ben Stark is playing 16 lands, including two on-color bouncelands and two cyclers. When you have cards like Profane Command, Mirror Entity, two Pelakka Wurms, and a Savage Twister, you’re going to play all of them if you can. And whether you can will come down to lands. After giving a dissection of his land split and his Fiery Fall and Sylvan Bounty, Stark said, “It’s pretty much perfect.”

“I love Sealed formats that are multi-colored, rather than two-colored.” Stark continued, “Whether you go three-color, four-color, or five-color is hard, and it’s lots of fun.” This was a sentiment players like Jon Stern echoed exactly. It’s a skill-testing format, and you get rewarded if you pass the test.

Second-ranked Sam Black went even a little further when he talked about the lands. He had visions of playing 15 land with five bouncelands. Although he was only able to play three, they still supported his Savage Twister, Karn Liberated, multiple Guildmage (both Dimir and Selesnya), and a truckload of removal.

Black was extremely happy with his pool (which Stark said he put in the top 2% of all pools), and was happier to get it than he would have with one of the linear decks. “I think the super-linear decks are a little overrated. They all,” he paused, “have bad matchups. I mean, even if I had the best artifact deck, I’d still want a second deck to side into when they bring in all their artifact removal.”

Despite Black’s apprehension to the synergy strategy, it was working like charm for both Severa and Davoudi.

After my whirlwind tour of the tournament, which took me back and forth across the seemingly endless hall, with seemingly infinite players, I found four decks filled with all the power that Modern Masters 2015 has to offer. And with the help of these cards, each of these players hope that this weekend they can make Magic history.

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