Many people think Sealed is a great equalizer and that they stand a better chance at large tournaments against the pros. But if you think that way, then it isn’t true. You have to think differently when you’re playing and building a Sealed deck if you want to succeed.
1. Shut Up and Listen
At the start of the tournament, the judges will seat you for a player meeting to explain things. Shut up! You need to listen to what the judges have to say. They are there to give you information, including how to register your deck, where to pass your pool once it has been registered, the number of rounds in the tournament, where the basic land station is located, and even who the head judge is if you need to make a rules appeal. This information is to help you keep from getting unnecessary game losses and should be followed exactly as the judge says.
2. Don’t get Attached
When you open a Sealed pool at a large tournament you will be passing it to someone else after you register it. Open all your packs before looking at the cards so the judges can collect all of the garbage lying around. Making their lives easier is a good thing. Don’t worry about what’s in that pool. Make sure you sort the cards by color and then alphabetically. Don’t be one of the four jerks in the room who think it’s funny to shuffle the cards up after registering the pool. Also be sure to let a judge know if you make any mistakes in registering the deck because they will help you correct it. Once everyone is done registering the pool they opened, the judges may collect them all and redistribute them or even just have you pass them a few times.
3. Identify Your Deck
Once you get your Sealed pool don’t just go straight to the rares and mythics. This will hurt you while you’re trying to build your deck. I suggest sorting each color by cards that push you into a color, unplayables, and cards that could occasionally make it into your deck. Once you do this, compare your good cards in each color and whether you have enough good cards in a color to consider playing them. Usually you will have an uneven distribution of colors, and you can rule out one or two colors automatically. Don’t be sad about not moving a bomb out of the equation. It still might get played after you figure out the rest of your deck.
Here’s a fairly average pool just for practice.
It’s pretty apparent with this pool that you should go Selesnya because there’s just not much in the other colors. Here’s how I would build it so you can compare:
G/W Return to Ravnica Sealed
This deck seems like it could be very aggressive with the right draws, but also has a lot of late game because of the pair of Vitu-Ghazi Guildmages and triple Coursers’ Accord. I wouldn’t be super happy about this being my pool, but I wouldn’t be unhappy either.
4. Don’t be Greedy
You may think, “Wow, everything is so good! I’m going to run four or five colors!” Don’t. You will lose a lot to mana screw over the course of a large tournament by trying to force too many colors because consistency is the key to a good Sealed deck. Try to limit yourself to two base colors, and maybe a splash for a third. How many cards you should splash for is usually only two to four, and they shouldn’t have double- or triple-black in their mana cost if your deck is green and white.
Here’s an example of a Sealed pool that would make you want to be greedy.
This pool is insane, and pretty evenly distributed across all five colors. I won’t lie, I created this pool as an example. You could probably go any direction you wanted and do really well with it because there are no unplayables. Here’s what I would do:
B/R/u Return to Ravnica Sealed
I went Rakdos with blue for Mercurial Chemister and two Teleportals, which gives you the best chance to have the game over before your opponent gets to their bomb. I went with only 16 lands because there are three mana ramp spells and the curve of the deck is actually pretty low.
5. Sometimes You Get Screwed
Sometimes your pool is really bad. I mean really, really bad. Don’t worry, there’s still hope for your tournament. When your pool is bad you have to pick the most consistent and aggressive strategy you can. If that means 15 Grizzly Bears and three Giant Growths, then that’s what you play. Many of your opponents will stumble on their mana and do less consistent things, and this will allow your hateful bear army to get you the win.
Here’s an example of a pretty lousy pool.
But not all hope is lost. Here’s how I would build it:
G/W/U Return to Ravnica Sealed
This build breaks the rule of what I said about splashing a color, but sometimes you have to do so when you don’t have enough playables. This is about as aggressive as this pool would allow. Sometimes you have to get lucky with your mana, but with two guildgates, a Gatecreeper Vine, an Axebane Guadrian and a Azorious Keyrune, there shouldn’t be too many problems.
6. Recheck Everything … Twice
Nothing is scarier than when the judge walks over to you at the start of your match and asks you to come with him. Usually it’s going to result in a game loss because of an error in deck registration. Make sure you check everything on your list to make sure it’s correct, and then check it again. I’ve been on the downside of these penalties, and I lost the match because of it. Don’t think you’re special and don’t need to recheck it. Everyone makes mistakes.
7. Read Everything
I’ve lost countless games because I didn’t know how a card worked. The easiest solution is to read it. If the player doesn’t have it in play and you need to know what a card does, don’t hesitate to call a judge to show you the Oracle text of the card in question. Losing because you can’t cast your sorcery-speed removal on their turn is bad and something you should actively try to avoid. Reading the cards every time may also allow you to make a play you otherwise wouldn’t consider. Just don’t take forever or your opponent may call a judge on you for stalling.
8. Play Your Best
Make sure you play your best regardless of how good or bad your pool looks. Sometimes you win by simply outplaying your opponent. You should never get overconfident about the game being in your favor because it often leads to losing to cards you didn’t expect. You should always be recording life totals with a pen and paper to avoid any discrepancies, as they happen frequently. If you keep distractions to a minimum it will help you play your best, so stay hydrated and try to get food when you’re hungry between rounds.
If you remember these basic rules, you should find yourself doing significantly better during your next Sealed tournament.
Thanks for reading,
@joshuamilliken on Twitter
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