The biggest divide in competitive Magic is that between Constructed and Limited. In the professional ranks, like recently at Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad in Madrid, Spain, players have to play both. Each day of the Pro Tour starts with a booster draft and three rounds of play with your draft deck. Each day of the Pro Tour ends with five rounds of Constructed. Which is your favorite? Most players prefer Constructed. It’s always a challenge to master the current Standard format with cards entering the format every three months. At the same time, the results of every major competitive event provide new deck lists to explore for new ideas. Maybe you jump between decks in Standard or Modern or Legacy very rapidly because you are comfortable with all the archetypes and you’re simply looking for the best deck. Maybe you prefer sticking with one deck for weeks or even months at a time making only small tweaks to the design over time. Players who prefer Limited, either Sealed Deck or Booster Draft, do so because they love the creativity and the pressure of having to build a new deck in every tournament while limited to just a few card resources. Both Constructed and Limited have lessons to teach, both are fascinating and either can take all the time and energy you wish to spend on them.
What format, other than the combined Limited/Constructed format used at the Pro Tour, could bring these two groups together? The creative minds at Cascade Games have an interesting answer.
Full Box Sealed
After hearing about this interesting side event happening on Friday and again on Saturday at Grand Prix Albuquerque, I had to try it for myself on Sunday. There were twenty-eight of us willing to part with $120 to play Full Box Sealed with Shadows over Innistrad. Once we were all seated we were handed our product by an excellent and engaging judge from Southern California named Charles Ferguson. The first step, it might sound obvious, was to open all the backs in our boxes. We were given fifteen minutes for this task and we were warned not to waste any time doing any sorting during this time. He was right. It took just about fifteen minutes to open all thirty-six packs and stack up the cards. Then we get the good news, no deck registration would be necessary. Actually, Charles sort of messed with us, just for a minute, “threatening” to go get deck checklist sheets if we really wanted them. After collecting a mountain of empty booster wrappers, it’s time to build. We have one hour to sort our cards and come up with a deck of cards containing a minimum of forty cards. That’s right, Limited deck construction rules. That means that you can play as many copies of a spell as you have in front of you even if it’s more than four.
When the sixty minute clock started I saw players around me taking a lot of different approaches to sorting and evaluating their cards. While everyone sorted their cards into piles by color, one guy had three piles for each color, a pile for commons, another for uncommons and a third pile for rares/mythics of that color. Another guy went straight to his rares and mythics for guidance. As I sorted my massive piles of cards by color, Fiery Temper kept jumping out at me. Even after sorting by color, the tall stacks of cards provide an intimidating challenge for deck building.
My card pool is listed by color. In the interest of retaining your interest I’m “only” listing the rares and mythic rares. Commons I got plenty of. Obviously assume I have between two and five of every common in the set and at least one or two of every uncommon. If you squint really hard at the picture of the deck checklist you may be able to make out the exact numbers of a particular card. To reiterate, we did not have to fill out deck checklists for our Full Box Sealed tournament, but I decided to fill out this deck checklist sheet after I got back home to Dallas. I wanted to know what it would look like to register an entire box on one sheet. It’s pretty funny to look at:
Non-Basic Land Cards
Thirty-six packs containing fourteen cards each adds up to 504 cards in your pool. It’s literally easier to list the cards that I don’t have. Out of 282 cards from Shadows over Innistrad, not including basic land, my pool has all but thirty-eight of them. I have every non-basic land except for Drownyard Temple, Game Trail and Port Town. I have every multicolored card except for Arlinn Kord, Fevered Visions, The Gitrog Monster, Invocation of Saint Traft and Sorin, Grim Nemesis. The only artifacts I don’t have include Brain in a Jar, Corrupted Grafstone and Tamiyo’s Journal. I have all the white cards except for Archangel Avacyn, Bygone Bishop, Descend Upon the Sinful, Drogskol Cavalry, Odric, Lunarch Marshal and Thalia’s Lieutenant. The only blue cards in SOI that I don’t have in my box are Epiphany at the Drownyard, Forgotten Creation, Geralf’s Masterpiece, Jace, Unraveler of Secrets and Thing in the Ice. From black I’m missing only Asylum Visitor, Behold the Beyond, Ever After and To the Slaughter. I have all the red cards except for Devils’ Playground, Geier Reach Bandit, Goldnight Castigator, Spiteful Motives and Wolf of Devil’s Breach. The only green cards I don’t have in my pool are Inexorable Blob, Sage of Ancient Lore, Seasons Past, Second Harvest, Silverfur Partisan, Tireless Tracker and Ulvenwald Hydra.
Over the years, I believe I’ve gotten better and better at looking at sealed deck card pools with an unbiased eye. I believe that I’m able, for the most part, to look at the entire pool and correctly choose the direction for my deck that includes the best of the available cards and synergies. That’s all well and good when you’re looking at an 84-card sealed deck pool. This pool has 504 cards in it. How, in just one hour, are you going to assess all the possibilities and judge them fairly?
I have to admit that since hearing about the Full Box Sealed event the day before I have been fixated on two decks, red/black madness and mono blue mill. Joe put the bug in my ear about a blue deck that does nothing except bounce opposing creatures and mill cards into the opponent’s graveyard. I like that idea very much and I imagined yesterday that not much more would be needed than two copies of the uncommon Manic Scribe and, of course, a fast path to delirium. Blue has some good cards to help with that plan. As for red/black madness, a judge from Dallas, Brian Leonard told me that while working on Saturday’s Full Box Sealed tournament he saw a red/black deck with either six or seven copies of Fiery Temper. All I want to do is open upwards of four Fiery Temper and go to work!
While sorting my cards, I saw so many Fiery Tempers that I figured I must have at least six. The actual number was five. Still exciting. I also have Olivia, Mobilized for War. Suffice to say that the first deck I wanted to build was red/black madness. I didn’t think I would need the entire hour to build just one deck, but since I knew this was the deck I was most interested in I put most of my available time into building and tweaking it.
Full Box Madness
As a plan B, since I still had time left on the clock, I tried to find the best mono white, or nearly mono white deck that I could from my pool. It was Always Watching, and maybe the good removal of Declaration in Stone and Angelic Purge, that sent me down this path.
Full Box White
And finally, yes, I built a blue mill deck. When I finally got around to playing practice games with it I learned it wasn’t very good. The bones are there with two Manic Scribes, Fleeting Memories and the mythic rare gift of Startled Awake. Engulf the Shore was another rare gift for the deck. I shouldn’t have worried so much about Sleep Paralysis and should have played Vessel of Paramnesia to (a) help mill out my opponent and (b) help me have delirium for the Manic Scribes.
Full Box Mill
Playing Full Box Sealed Games
One of the biggest challenges to building decks with a 504 card pool is knowing that all of your opponents also have 504 cards. There was no way to know how fast the format would play out. The answer, it turns out, is very fast. All of the decks are fast, not just the madness decks. Mono red, or red and black, can also propel a very speedy Vampire deck. Mono white is very fast in this format as is green/white and green/red. The format is so fast that I don’t see how you ever get to play a five-drop much less anything heavier than that. It’s fast enough that a precious red rare finisher like Burn from Within is better off on the sidelines. You just aren’t going to get that much land into play in most of these games.
The format plays so fast, it’s like you were in a booster draft where everyone was cheating and somehow each player has six rares in their deck. Of course, these players aren’t cheating, unless you consider opening thirty-six packs to play sealed deck cheating.
While the decks are very powerful, their design is tremendously constrained by the speed of the format, at least with Shadows over Innistrad. The format produces decks that are better than sealed deck or even booster draft decks, on average. Does it feel like constructed? Yes and no. The process of building the decks feels very much like constructed. Everyone has all the commons and uncommons, you just don’t know how many of each they might have. The rares and mythics are all that really separates the resources available to each player. The decks don’t look or play like constructed decks.
In a normal limited game, when you see your opponent play a couple of white creatures early, you might imagine the possibility that they could have a rare like Always Watching in their deck. You shouldn’t consider it too much of a possibility, however, because of the relatively small pool of cards your opponent had access to. In Full Box Sealed, things are different. Rares and mythics move players into the direction of a particular deck many times, and in Full Box Sealed each player has over three dozen rares and mythics. I think that you have to assume your opponent has the archetype-defining rares in whatever deck they are playing. Mono white? Better believe they have Always Watching. Obviously it’s easier and more likely that they have the rare that goes with the kind of deck they are playing than the substantially harder to open mythic rare, but in Full Box Sealed a significant number of red/black deck have Olivia in them. There’s a good chance the white/green deck has Sigarda, and so on.
Run as this event was, as a sanctioned event run at a semi-casual level, without deck checklists, you could change your deck from round to round as long as you “only” used the cards from your enormous 504 card pool. This created an interesting dynamic. When I lost in round two to an impressive young lady from San Francisco, I was able to do more than learn from her red/black deck, which was better than mine, I was able to change my deck to be a lot more like hers. This might happen in a prerelease sealed deck tournament occasionally, when you learn from an opponent that you misjudged one or two cards. In this case, I had the ability, and the materials, to virtually change my red/black deck to mimic hers. I didn’t do that, exactly, but I jotted down some of her choices and went to work changing my deck before round three to use quite a few of the cards she was using in her deck.
This format feels a lot like the way constructed Magic felt when I first started playing over twenty years ago. Each player had a certain collection and those collections were likely to contain a few hundred cards, not tens of thousands of cards. Also, those collections were likely to contain a lot of the same cards. There were a lot fewer sets twenty years ago, after all. Full Box Sealed feels a lot like that. With 504 cards in your “collection” you have the supplies needed to build whatever kind of deck you like to play.
The Origin Story
I caught up with Liz Peloquin from Cascade Games after GP Albuquerque and talked to her about Full Box Sealed. She said that her group came up with Full Box Sealed while brainstorming new formats to try out at the PAX South gaming convention back in January. They debuted Full Box Sealed at that event and received rave reviews from the players. The gang at Cascade Games has been refining the format ever since. One notable change was to add the time at the beginning of the event for doing nothing but opening packs and cleaning up the empty wrappers. This move is key, actually, both logistically and for helping players calm down from the high associated with having so many packs available to them. They took Full Box Sealed to PAX East and it was again a great success.
Running a Full Box Sealed Tournament
Charles Ferguson, from Southern California, is the judge that got our Full Box Sealed event started on Sunday afternoon in Albuquerque. He’s a big guy with an unusual combination of energy and poise. I was impressed by the way he was able to communicate the rules to the twenty-eight of us in the back of the crowded convention center without sounding strident like a drill sergeant. He blended the fun of the format with the fact that it was being run at a non-Competitive level without deck checklists while still reinforcing the need for us to follow the rules and not cheat. He walked the fine line between fun and following rules just perfectly. Not only was Charles good at running a side event in the midst of the Grand Prix chaos all around him, he also knew his stuff. I watched him make some judge calls in the first two rounds of play and he was sharp as a tack. Players complain endlessly about the bad judges they run across, it’s a good idea to remember the many times when your judge is actually better than average.
Talking to Charles after the tournament, he said that he learned some things about Full Box Sealed by running this event. He said that players need more room than usual, that the table numbers for a Full Box Sealed tournament need to be spread out a little further than usual. That makes good sense. He said the most important thing about the fifteen minute period for opening the booster packs was clearing up all the empty wrappers. Our smallish side event with twenty-eight players rapidly ripped open over a thousand booster packs. That’s a lot of trash, and the trash takes up the precious space that the players need for sorting and building.
Even with fifteen minutes for opening packs and one hour for sorting and building, Charles told me that many players reported needing more time. Imagine if you had to register your card pool, or even your starting deck? Challenges aside, Charles believes the format is very much for real and will be added to the Magic Tournament Rules document with its next update. That inclusion would indeed make Full Box Sealed a “real” format.
Where Does This Format Go From Here?
I had a great time playing Full Box Sealed and I highly recommend it. I want to do it again soon. At the same time, I don’t think it does everything you want from a limited format. Frankly, it’s pretty easy to figure out how good the red/black madness decks and even the mono red Vampires/madness decks are. These decks don’t actually need you to open any good rares and these decks don’t care much what rares the opponent opened, either.
I think Full Box Sealed is an excellent and fun way to explore a new set, and in that way it was perfectly suited as a special side event at Grand Prix Albuquerque, taking place just two weeks after the arrival of Shadows over Innistrad. Another thing that you have to like about Full Box Sealed is the sort of big-shot factor that goes along with it. Hey, everybody, look at me! See this box? I’m playing sealed deck with the whole thing! Also, clearly I’m a baller because I’m playing a sealed deck tournament that costs over a hundred dollars!
Another good thing about Full Box Sealed is that you don’t have to listen to players complaining about how terrible their pool is. This is something you hear constantly at normal sealed deck tournaments. I happen to believe that players are often disappointed simply because they didn’t open the nutso rare or mythic that they wanted, that their sealed pool may be quite playable despite their complaints. Nevertheless, you hear this complaint all the time at normal sealed deck tournaments. It didn’t happen one time while opening our cards for Full Box Sealed.
After playing with all the decks I built and even building some others, I’m starting to think that a full box is actually too many cards. The card pools are almost too similar when each person opens thirty-six packs. This is supposed to be the ultimate brewer’s format but if played over and over again, I think we would see a very predictable metagame develop. Possibly too predictable.
Also, I like Competitive play and this format doesn’t lend itself very easily to the necessary confines of high level play. Registering 504 cards is quite a chore. It took me almost an hour to enter the pool onto a deck checklist sheet and that was after the time needed to sort by color and then alphabetize each color. A compromise might be found. What if you only had to register your rares, mythics and commons/uncommons that you had four or more of? Is halfway registering any better than just not registering? Maybe this format is just better off in the fun and casual category.
I have another idea. As cool as it is to open an entire box of cards for sealed, maybe we could have almost as much fun with a little less. What if there was a “Super Sealed” format that used either twelve packs (one third of a box, twice the normal number of cards for a sealed pool) or even eighteen packs (half a box, three times the normal number of cards for a sealed pool)? Doubling or even tripling the pool of regular sealed deck might be just the thing to give brewers more cards than usual to explore for sealed deck while being few enough cards that the format could be played at Competitive level with proper deck checklists (and the deck checks that would then be possible in the tournament). As much fun as it was to open an entire box, I’m interesting to find out what it would be like to open twelve or eighteen packs.
The bottom line is that it’s fun to open MORE packs than normal for sealed deck. The challenge of opening more cards and making more decisions is a lot of fun and blurs the line ever so slightly between Limited and Constructed.
Thanks for reading.
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