Tuesday, April 16, 2013

MTG Sealed and You: The Basics

Hey everybody! If you are reading this, pat yourself on the back –stumbling through the labyrinth of the internet, feet weary and sore, you have found Dragon’s Den blog for all things Magic: The Gathering. My name is Lyon, and if you’ve played much Magic at the Den, chances are you’ve spotted me. Today, we’ll be discussing the ins and outs of Sealed. Since Sealed is the primary format of a prerelease (and prereleases are super duper fun), knowing this format is essential to participating in one of the best casual tournament settings Magic has to offer. We’re going to discuss the basics: what Sealed is and how you can best tailor your deck to not only have a blast at the prerelease, but also hopefully take home some additional packs while you’re at it!
At its core, Sealed is a very basic concept: you are given 6 packs. You open these packs and make a 40 card magic deck (lands are provided, so don’t worry about that). That’s it. Like many things in gaming, the nuances of it are what can give it more depth, and knowing those nuances is the difference between staring down handfuls of unorganized cards and preparing your weapon of destruction for the tournament.
The upcoming Dragon’s Maze prerelease is going to function a little differently, but it’s not cause for alarm. In fact, it should be pretty fun! When you sign up, you will only receive 4 regular packs of Dragon’s Maze instead of the usual 6. The other 2 packs will be 1 pack of a guild of your choosing (any of the 10 bicolor combinations in Magic), and 1 pack of a guild allied with the one you chose. These packs will have cards only belonging to those guilds in them, so it’s important to pick guilds that have colors you think you might want to use.
Okay, so that’s the easy stuff. The most challenging part of Sealed for many players is what to do once you’ve opened all of your packs. Let’s cover some sound advice and also discuss what to avoid! Note that there are no 100% foolproof formulas for victory. If there were, the game wouldn’t be fun at all! The following advice is merely to better your chances of having a fine-tuned deck that will play in a way that (hopefully) won’t make you pull your hair out in frustration and curse your “bad luck”.

  • First thing first: lay out your cards in a way that is organized and makes sense to you. Just like writing an essay, having an “outline” for your deck can be really helpful. Some useful ways to organize your cards are by color, by casting cost, and by usefulness. Before you begin building, it’s important to see how many actually playable cards you have in any color (or combinations of colors). You’d be surprised how much you might “see” about your cards and options simply from doing this!

  • Make sure that you know have an idea for the ‘proper’ amount of cards vs. lands. While this may vary depending on the player or card selection, there are a few general guidelines for your spells / lands ratio for Sealed (and Draft) decks. First, no matter how tempted you are to go over, you should try your hardest to keep your deck to 40 cards. Statistically, it will give you the best chance to draw the cards you want. Second, my base rule is 23 cards / 17 lands for an average deck. If you have mostly cards with very low mana costs (and few, if any, cards with higher mana costs), 24/16 is your best bet. Similarly, if your deck has a lot of high mana cards and not a lot of “mana ramp”, 22 /18 should be fine. Deviating too far from these ratios may result in too many games of either drawing too few or too many lands. You don’t need me to tell you why this is frustrating!

  • Make sure your deck has a ‘plan’, but also that the plan is good. While a little bit of everything is a good thing, your deck should really fit one a few archetypes, or things you want your deck to be doing. This decision should have less to do with what you “want” to do when you build decks ‘normally’ and more to do with what your packs are telling you. Did you open up a lot of fast, aggressive creatures? Aggro might be your plan. Did you open up a lot of counterspells, creature removal, and a few larger creatures that can finish up a game? Control is probably the way to go. What do both of these things have in common? You are evaluating your deck based on ALL of the cards, not just a few (or one that you really like). It is better to have a deck full of cards that all work together than a deck with one or two REALLY good cards and a bunch of . . . “meh” to support them.

  • Don’t feel like you have to use the guild you chose a pack from. If you chose Rakdos (red and black) as your guild for the prerelease, but the rest of your packs had very few playable red and black cards, that color combination might not be right for your deck. Instead, look to see which colors have the quality and quantity you will need to succeed.

  • You don’t have to include every rare you open! While it can be tempting to fall back on a formula like rarity = power level, it’s more important to play with cards that can functionally win a game of magic. For example, in a Gatecrash Sealed tournament I would include  a Disciple of the Old Ways (common) over an Unexpected Results (rare) almost every time. One is an aggressive creature that beats many others in combat, while the other is a sorcery that will not function better than simply drawing a card that affects the game directly.

  • Don’t include cards in your deck simply because they are “on-color”. Even if your deck has a lot of powerful cards in any given color, don’t put in bad (underpowered or very little use) cards to fill in those last 2-3 slots you need to make your deck 40 cards. If you have enough good cards in a 3rd (or sometimes 4th) color, it is often better to “splash” (put in lands to support) for that color for 4-6ish strong cards. In Dragon’s Maze and other sets where you will have access to lands which tap for more than 1 color, this is particularly powerful if you have the special lands (like guildgates and the rare shocklands) to support it.

There’s certainly a lot more to say about both deck-building and playing in Sealed (and other formats), but these core basics can take you a long way. Future articles will talk about other formats, more specific strategies for formats, and Magic theory. Most importantly, future articles can discuss whatever you want to know more about, so please leave comments, feedback, and suggestions! I hope to see everyone at the Dragon’s Maze prerelease, ready to kick some butt and have a great time. Remember, the most important rule of Magic is to have fun
See you next time (but not really because I can’t see you through the computer – I’ll have to trust you’ll be there),
Lyon, Golgari Lich Lord


  1. The Golgari Lich Lord knows how to write. I wouldn't mind seeing a longer article on drafting basics and draft deck construction strategy (what to do once you drafted all those horrible cards).

    I will comment that the coloring on this site is horrible, and the font makes me want to assault my laptop monitor.

  2. I hear that The Golgari Lich Lord was planning to write a follow-up article in response to the cards he pulls in the prerelease event for Dragon's Maze.

    The colors are being worked on!

  3. The article for my specific card choices and pool from the Prerelease sealed is already submitted and waiting for editing/approval! An in-depth draft guide is DEFINITELY on my to-do list, as it is my favorite format for Magic. Thanks for the comments!