This Week in Sealed: Dominaria Sealed Deck Gauntlet

Written by Jeff Zandi on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Limited

This Week in Sealed: Dominaria Sealed Deck Gauntlet

Jeff Zandi

Jeff Zandi is a level 2 judge and an eight-time veteran of the Pro Tour. He has written continuously about Magic for over eighteen years. His team, the Texas Guildmages, have the longest running regular game in history, meeting at his home every Tuesday night since 1996.

Sealed deck greatness was not achieved by your humble correspondent at Grand Prix Dallas-Fort Worth several weeks ago. I was well-prepared and fought bravely, but it just didn’t work out. I built three sealed decks that weekend and had some success with the two of them, but not in the main event. I remember a Magic mentor of mine once saying that you have to have a great deck, you have to play very well and make very few mistakes, and you have to get lucky. It takes all of these to do well in a Magic tournament. Not just a sealed tournament, any kind of tournament.

While Dominaria sealed deck doesn’t stay on many Magic players’ minds, and justifiably not, it remains on mine. Grand Prix Las Vegas beckons in just a few days. Isn’t that a Modern event? Get out of here, man, don’t you know who you’re talking to? While there is some sort of Modern meet-up in the desert on Friday and Saturday, I assure you the main event is the Dominaria sealed deck tournament that begins on Saturday and finishes on Sunday. As it happens, I will be playing cards on Friday in Las Vegas, but it will be the OTHER great card tournament that’s going on, the World Series of Poker.

Once a player gets his mind firmly wrapped around the concept that sealed deck is a skill-based format, it’s easier to understand how practice can be helpful the same way as it is in constructed Magic. If a little bit of practice is good, then more practice might be better. There’s more to it than that, of course. How you practice certainly matters. In constructed, it’s easy to see the value of repetition, grinding out game after game against different deck archetypes, different playing styles, in order to understand your own deck better. Sealed deck is always viewed differently. People tend to think that the only important skill in sealed deck is the ability to properly review the cards in the pool in order to choose the best possible combination to play in their deck. The best limited players in the world, and I’m not one even though I’d like to be and I work hard at it, will tell you that a card that you use one way in constructed can be used very differently in sealed deck. In other words, the play of the deck is as important as the construction.

How exactly would you do that? Play in one sealed deck tournament after another? That’s a very good answer. But you don’t always have to spend money in order to get better at sealed deck. You can keep your best sealed decks together and play them against other good sealed decks. You could even build yourself a gauntlet of successful sealed decks to practice against.

 

The Gauntlet

The first time I heard the concept of a gauntlet of Magic decks, I was at Origins in Columbus, Ohio, in the summer of 1998. Back then, before he was a poker millionaire, before he was a chef competing on television, David Williams was an up-and-coming Magic pro and a humble member of the Texas Guildmages. At some point during the weekend at Origins, Dave played in a gauntlet that had been set up by the O’Mahoney-Schwartz brothers, Steven and Dan. They had put together five decks. Each deck was sixty cards, no sideboards. You paid them five dollars to play against The Gauntlet. The challenge was to defeat each of their five decks in single game matches without losing. The prize was $100. The OMS brothers built their gauntlet decks to specifically beat certain kinds of decks, they had one deck that was set up specifically to beat mono red, for example. David beat The Gauntlet with a Tempest preconstructed deck.

More recently, it’s routine for a group of competitive players to have a different kind of gauntlet of decks. They assemble the popular version of top decks in a certain constructed format so that they can test their new deck designs against a somewhat accurate representation of the field. I do this myself. I try to keep all the most popular Modern decks built at any given time. I currently have sixteen Modern decks built, although some are not perfectly up-to-date and plenty of the decks contain proxies, for purposes of practicing multiple decks that contain many of the same cards. My collection includes a play set of all the cards in Modern, but you can only fully build a small number of different Modern decks with such a collection.

I started my Dominaria sealed deck gauntlet with a couple of decks that played well during the prerelease weekend. I got more decks a week later from a sealed deck PPTQ that I played in and reached the top eight with. I also built some sealed decks at home as a way to get some play out of my own booster packs. It’s not important where the decks come from, it’s just important to get a collection of different decks that are consistently good. Then, when you bring home a sealed deck that you feel good about, or a sealed deck you built on Magic Online, you can test your deck (after you assemble its cardboard parts) against your sealed deck gauntlet.

This gauntlet of Dominaria sealed decks has gotten a tremendous workout since I built it. It’s not like I just sit at my desk all day doing nothing but playing sealed deck games. I actually do other things, work things. Honestly, really I do. However, when I need a break, even just a ten or fifteen minute break from something else, I turn to the sealed deck gauntlet and play one quick match. I play these matches without sideboards. I don’t even keep the sideboards for my more proven decks. When I introduce a new deck to the gauntlet I do keep the rest of the new deck’s card pool available in case it turns out that the deck needs to be built a different way to improve it.

It’s important to introduce new decks to the gauntlet. At the same time, you can’t just have an ever-growing gauntlet that gradually takes up more and more space. That’s where the ladder bracket comes in.

The Ladder Bracket

The first time I ever heard of a ladder bracket was in competitive bowling. Apparently after one or two days of competitive bowling, the players going to the last day are ranked and this ranking is referred to as the ladder. On the last day of competition the bottom player on the ladder plays a match against the next player on the ladder. The winner then takes on the next player on the ladder, and so on. The player on top of the ladder doesn’t play until the finals. I have no idea if it’s bad to have played several matches in a row before the final match in a bowling tournament or if all that play helps you get ready for the final match.

Once I have my group of eight sealed decks arranged in what I think is the correct order, worst to best, I just start playing matches. The number eight deck plays against the number seven deck. The losing deck is now the number eight deck, then the number seven deck takes on the number six deck, and so on. When I introduce a new deck, it starts with a match between the new deck and the number eight deck. If the new deck loses that first match, it’s not eliminated from the ladder on its first try. On the second lap through the ladder, which for the moment has nine decks in it, the deck that loses the battle between number nine and number eight is eliminated from the ladder. It’s cruel, but it allows any new deck two chances start a winning streak.

After a number of trips through the bracket, I’ll seed the eight decks, using their ladder ranking, into a single elimination bracket and play out the matches to decide a new ladder ranking. This is a good way to make sure that you don’t have a situation where your number three deck is just never able to beat the number two deck, for some matchup-specific reason. Or maybe the number two deck is truly excellent but, for matchup-reasons, just can’t beat the number one deck in multiple attempts.

In this particular instance, after I was somewhat satisfied with eight sealed decks culled from several people’s prerelease experiences and the top eight of one sealed deck PPTQ, I decided to add another crop of decks all at the same time. The impetus was Grand Prix Dallas-Fort Worth last month. I decided to add eight more decks to my gauntlet all at once. I used my GPT sealed deck from the day before the GP. I did not use my GP sealed deck that went 1-2 and was put out of its misery. I did use my 3-0 sealed deck from later that Saturday at a GP side event. I used Seth Manfield’s 8-1 day one sealed deck. I used Aaron Tobey’s 9-0 day one deck. Finally, I used four or five of the undefeated GPT sealed decks from GP Beijing which took place the same weekend as GP Dallas-Fort Worth.

I took these sixteen decks and created a single elimination bracket. I used the results of this single elimination bracket to rank my new ladder bracket with all sixteen decks. Then I went to work starting at the bottom of the ladder. This time, however, I would eliminate the losing deck from the first round of each trip through the new ladder bracket until I had just eight decks remaining. So the first time through the new ladder bracket, the number sixteen deck, a BW+R undefeated GPT deck from a guy named Zhou won 2-1 over number fifteen, another undefeated GPT deck from Beijing, a GBR+U deck played by a guy named Dong. Dong’s deck lost and was eliminated. Zhou lost in the next round to Peng’s GWU deck. Peng’s deck is still in the bracket today. The first trip through the ladder bracket starting with sixteen decks, the winner was Xiyuan’s UW deck defeating a BW+U prerelease deck built by a pal of mine, Maitland Griffith.

Now we’re ready for the second trip through the bracket, now with only fifteen decks. The number fifteen deck, Zhou’s BW+R deck, lost to the number fourteen deck, Aaron Tobey’s 9-0 day one deck from GP DFW, which was GW+R. Just like that, Zhou’s deck is eliminated. The winner of that trip up the ladder was again Xiyuan over Maitland.

Tobey’s 9-0 GP deck was the next to be eliminated in the third trip through the ever-shortening ladder, defeated by my BG deck from the GP Trial. Xiyuan won in the finals, once again over Maitland’s deck.

I just kept battling these decks over and over until there were just eight remaining. Eight trips and ninety-two matches later, I proudly share the survivors of my Dominaria sealed deck ladder bracket, the battle-proven members of my sealed deck gauntlet.

The Eight Surviving Sealed Decks

I shared this deck with you a couple of weeks ago in my preparations for GP-DFW. This PPTQ was just a week after the prereleases and we were all still figuring out the format. The key to the deck is Traxos and a dozen ways to untap him. The other win conditions are a pair of Serra Angel. As an old Magic player, I’m thrilled to see Serra Angel be so relevant in 2018. She was once the sole win condition in control decks back in 1994 and 1995. She was much less useful in her run of core set appearances since Magic 2010 forward.

There is a danger in playing cards that make your deck worse just in order to support some other card in the deck. Would there be two Short Swords in this deck without Traxos? Probably not. The Swords are *fine* but not really that good. They do go well with the turn-two filler creature Mesa Unicorn. Without Traxos, at least one of these Swords would be on the sidelines, probably replaced with an eighteenth land. D’Avenant Trapper doesn’t get much love but it’s a very good common in the white arsenal in general and much better than that in a deck with Traxos. With both in play, historic spells both untap Traxos and tap an opponent’s creature. Evra, Halcyon Witness is a very good card but hardly ever a bomb.

Seth gets by with just four legendary permanents to enable his legendary sorcery Yawgmoth’s Vile Offering. This deck gets most of its wins from Helm of the Host. One time it was an army of Pardic Wanderers, another time it was a skyful of little 1/3 Pegasus Coursers. It says a lot for Seth’s skill as a player that he went 8-1 with this deck because I did not experience a similar win-rate with it. Suffice to say that Helm of the Host takes over games and Shalai, Voice of Plenty is a very good card even if you have absolutely no intention of ever activating it.

If it seems like this deck is trying to do too much, you’re not wrong. Still, the deck has proven itself through repeated battles. I stand by the mana base, it does a better job of getting Verix Bladewing onto the battlefield kicked on turn seven than it does getting Steel Leaf Champion onto the battlefield on turn three. The triple-mana spells in Dominaria definitely are a trap in limited formats, but the prospect of turn one Llanowar Elves, turn two Steel Leaf Champion was irresistible. It does work out a decent amount of the time. Seventeen land is just right for this deck, and stretching for one black card in Slimefoot, the Stowaway, is perfectly fine with one Swamp, Grow from the Ashes and a Skittering Surveyor. Adventurous Impulse helps a little bit as well. There aren’t that many white cards in the deck but four Plains helps make D’Avenant Trapper and Aven Sentry possible on their “natural” turns of three and four. The deck wins most often with the inevitability of Forebear’s Blade and Slimefoot’s tokens.

This deck wants to win with Traxos but doesn’t have as many historic helpers as the BW deck in 8th place. The strength of this deck is its removal suite. It’s funny that on prerelease weekend we didn’t know if Bloodtallow Candle was any good or not. Now we know it’s an automatic must-play in almost all sealed decks. Because this deck has Traxos, it’s great to have two copies of the Candle, just remember not to play one on turn one. You might draw into Traxos in the early turns and need Bloodtallow Candle to untap the big guy. It’s incredible how often you use Fiery Intervention and Blessed Light to destroy, respectively, artifacts and enchantment.

This deck plays two Forests and no mana-fixing spells in order to splash Tatyova, Benthic Druid. That’s how good card draw can be in this format. By the latter parts of half of this deck’s games it has Tatyova in play. One thing that buys this deck time is a pair of Syncopates. Most of the time, it’s all about countering an exiling an early important spell like a Skittering Surveyor on turn three or any number of four-drops. When this deck is stuck on two lands for a turn or two or stuck on three lands for a turn or two, watch out. This deck can sit back and counter something significant with Syncopate. The best card in Joe’s deck, as with Seth’s deck, is Helm of the Host. Academy Journeymage is extremely good in this format, and putting the Helm on Journeymage is cuckoo nutty! Sentinel of the Pearl Trident is strictly filling a hole here, and usually breaking my heart as I mistake it for Academy Journeymage. You would play Dauntless Bodyguard and Pegasus Courser anyway, but the fact that Tetsuko Umezawa makes them unblockable is extremely useful. The problem with Pegasus Courser is often that the creature it gives temporary flight to can hold its own against your opponent’s flyers but the Courser itself cannot. Tetsuko Umezawa solves that problem.

My man Maitland splashes blue for Teferi and Cloudreader Sphinx with two Islands and a Skittering Surveyor. It works perfectly well, he never wants one of his Islands until turn five. It’s a perfect example of a tightly-confined third color splash. It wouldn’t be right to splash for just a 3/4 blue flyer but once you’re splashing for Teferi, which I’m sure is correct, you might as well bring Cloudreader Sphinx along for the ride. This deck and the three that follow it are a level above the previous four decks. All four of these decks are hard to beat. Yes, Maitland has three powerful mythic rares in the deck. Don’t be hatin’!

Even though Dominaria is all about the long game, all about the grind, all about the late game win condition, check out what Maitland can do early. Turn two Knight of Grace, turn three Knight of Malice, turn four Kwende, Pride of Femeref. This sequence allows you to attack for twelve on turn four. Most opponents have a blocker by turn four, but that doesn’t lessen the impact of this very easy to achieve early game chokehold. The more often that this deck deals a bunch of damage in the early game the easier it is for one of his two Thallid Omnivores to take over the game late.

The thing I love about Phyrexian Scriptures is that it lets you dig out of a bad start where you might have missed a land drop on either turn three or four and didn’t draw any cheap creatures. This is the Wrath of God that you can afford to play early and still gain important card advantage with. Main deck Invoke the Divine is rarely a dead card and is an amazing answer for an early game Traxos on the other side of the board. I have never been disappointed with Rite of Belzenlok. I love that this card only costs four mana. I find it easy to give up one or two of my 0/1 Cleric tokens before the giant 6/6 flying token arrives. I have yet to run out of creatures to sacrifice to the Demon token. Every bad thing can happen to the Demon token that happens to any of the rest of your creatures. Of course a bounce effect is the worst thing, but it doesn’t happen often enough to sour me on this saga. I love the way this card can work in conjunction with Phyrexian Scriptures if you need to play them back to back. I like that Phyrexian Scriptures doesn’t mess with either of the deck’s other mythics, Teferi and the Weatherlight. The only card in the deck that I don’t know quite what to do with is Demonic Vigor. It is useful but I’m sure it’s the worst card in the deck.

This deck is one of forty-four Grand Prix Trial winners from Grand Prix Beijing. While the coverage team in Dallas (Fort Worth, obviously) chose not to share their best sealed decks from either day one or from the GPTs, the team in Beijing came through with the knowledge. I searched through these GPT winners and built what I thought were six of the best. Of those, two have survived the rigors of the Gauntlet, this third place deck and, spoiler alert, the number one deck.

Peng Jiaqi may not have all the rights available to him that we have here in Dallas-Fort Worth, U.S.A., but one right he did earn was the right to byes in rounds one and two of GP Beijing. He did so with a hell of a good green/white deck splashing just four blue cards, two of which require two blue mana. Zahid, Djinn of the Lamp really doesn’t require two blue mana, he enters the battlefield almost every time by way of his alternate casting cost. He solves that problem by playing three Islands along with Navigator’s Compass and Adventurous Impulse. I can’t believe how I’ve come around on Adventurous Impulse. It’s my second favorite turn one play after Llanowar Elves (not seen in this deck). Adventurous Impulse might not be as good as Elves on turn one but it stays a solid draw throughout the game, which Llanowar Elves does not.

This deck is just one nightmare after another, and its colored mana problems are no worse than any other deck in the format playing more than two colors.

Traxos can start trouble as early as turn four. There might already be Voltaic Servant in play to auto-untap Traxos. Not scared yet? Cool, how about clamping On Serra’s Wings onto Traxos? The enchantment untaps Traxos and ensures that this massive monster will no longer be taxed with tapping to attack. If Shalai, Voice of Plenty is in play at the same time, opponents won’t be able to target Traxos. Late games are controlled by Verdant Force, a real blast from the past. Icy Manipulator just solves a ton of problems. The blue cards put this already-good deck way ahead. Tatyova gets you free cards late in the game. Cloudreader Sphinx lets you see the future and Zahid, Djinn of the Lamp, controls the skies. Finally, the coup de grace, In Bolas’s Clutches takes away from your opponent whatever is making it hurt. Stealing a creature is fun. Stealing an Icy Manipulator or Helm of the Host, is straight up sick.

I seem to run into Mr. Lim a great deal lately. He became the reigning champion of the Hunter Burton Memorial Open in February and I’ve been a part of two sealed deck tournaments with him since then, first as a head judge at a Modern Masters 25 PPTQ that Lim won, of course, and then as a competitor in the Dominaria sealed PPTQ in which he built this deck.

Lim is a careful limited player, he prefers control, he prefers the slow, deliberate winning strategy over a sweaty and desperate aggressive design. Here he goes again. Yes, he opened some serious bombs in his pool. Karn, Phyrexian Scriptures and Darigaaz, probably in that order. There is a lot more to the deck than that. He’s doing two things with his mana base that I don’t think we’re all going to be able to agree on. He’s playing forty-one cards, something I never agree with. There’s no such thing as a limited deck with no cuttable cards. He should have cut something, maybe the eighteenth land, maybe something else. He has a Skittering Surveyor, which everyone can get on board with, as well as Adventurous Impulse, a card most people can get on board with. How do you feel about Llanowar Scout? I’m on board with the Scout. I am able to tell the difference between a card that equals mana, which the Scout is not, and a viable two-drop that occasionally lets you play a four-drop on turn three. While the Skittering Surveyor could not possibly be cut from this deck, the deck wants access to four colors for god’s sake, he could have cut either the eighteenth land, Llanowar Scout or even Adventurous Impulse.

We’re not quite done with the mana base. This is a rarity, a *successful* sealed deck that isn’t splashing a third/fourth color, it’s a truly three-colored deck splashing a fourth color. The mana is almost evenly split between green, white and black. Lim has one-two-three-FOUR cards that each require two black mana, so he has six Swamps. The book would say he needs seven or eight black sources, but there’s that Skittering Surveyor and Adventurous Impulse, I guess. Considering how much black mana he needs, and how important green is for getting the whole business underway, it’s hard to see what the role of Shanna, Ship’s Legacy. This might have been the card that should have been cut. When I play with this deck, and there’s no doubt that I’ve played five times as many games with Lim’s deck than he did at the PPTQ, I go ahead and play Shanna on turn two when the opportunity occurs. There are a number of reasons. This is clearly not the most important creature in the deck (it might have been cut if I had received this card pool). Sure, in this scenario, it’s a 1/1 for two mana on turn two. I like the idea of following it on turn three with Yavimaya Sapherd and then swinging with Shanna for three damage.

When you play with this deck, or when you play against this deck (I’ve done both), the deck can look pretty terrible in the early turns. There’s just not much going on in many cases. It’s all part of Lim’s plan. He’s building towards a difficult-to-beat late game. If you haven’t had the pleasure of playing Karn in limited, let me share its beautiful simplicity. You just play it as soon as you are able. Turn four, for example, and your opponent has two power, or maybe even three power in play and you don’t have any creatures in play? Yup, go ahead and play Karn and get yourself a free card. It’s probably going to be a land. Your opponent won’t want you to have a free creature or removal spell. Karn is now at six loyalty. Your opponent is not likely to kill it. Sure, it would be great if you had some defenses up when you play Karn, and I’m quite sure Lim isn’t going to raw-dog his Karn onto the battlefield with no other creatures on his side, I’m just trying to explain that even the “worst case” scenario with Karn on turn four is actually pretty good. When a card is good in the worst case scenario you know you have a real bomb.

What this deck really proves is that in Dominaria sealed you can and should play to all your best cards, even if your mana base has to be a little funky in order to get there. I believe Lim told me that if Darigaaz had simply been a big flying trample Dragon, he might not have stretched to a fourth color to include him. It’s the ability for Darigaaz to return to the battlefield over and over again. He gave me my only loss in the Swiss rounds with Darigaaz after I had survived Phyrexian Scriptures and had dealt with Karn. I’m happy to report that Josu Vess never landed on the battlefield kicked against me with eight menacing pals.

When you play a sealed deck like Lim’s, you are not only trying to control the game in the sense of holding off your opponent’s forces and eliminating their most important weapons, you are actually controlling time itself. Once you are building towards cards like Darigaaz Reincarnated and Josu Vess, you start dealing with inevitability. It’s not if you will get ten lands, including three Swamps, it’s when. Josu Vess is the best reason that Lim has for playing eighteen lands.

This is the winningest deck in the gauntlet so far, having ended up on top of the ladder bracket eight out of nine times since it was added. Liu Xiyuan won his GP Trial in Beijing with this beautiful two color deck with an array of very good rares but fewer actual bombs than many other decks. Only sixteen land! Sixteen land and a Skittering Surveyor. Everyone plays Skittering Surveyor but nobody else is cutting a land for it. With these GPT winners, we were not able to see the sideboards. I’m sure his pair of Aesthir Gliders, first printed in Alliances in 1996, are in here because he wanted to stick with two colors.

Sixteen creatures is actually a lot for this format. Obviously two-drops don’t make the cut very often, although the four that Xiyuan is playing all see a good amount of play in sealed. The idea is to have a lot of candidates for Blackblade Reforged. This may be the real reason for the Gliders. The Gliders also help make Zahid, Djinn of the Lamp a possibility on turn four. I first saw Zahid as simply the twenty-fifth anniversary edition of Mahamoti Djinn. Now I know that this card’s alternate casting cost is actually the way it enters the battlefield in most cases.

The real triumph of this deck is its simplicity and its ability to beat all the other decks without so many bells and whistles. The deck gets colored-screwed almost never. Hard removal? Just one Blessed Light. The biggest bomb is definitely not Blackblade Reforged or Zahid, it’s absolutely the uncommon In Bola’s Clutches. This deck doesn’t look like much but it just wins over and over again against more complicated, more bomb-ridden decks.

Lessons Learned

The first lesson that the gauntlet teaches me is that repetition is good. I know I’ve said this before, which is a little ironic. The more times I turn over these decks and play games with them, the more quickly and more accurately I am able to assess certain game situations. You get better at assessing the strength of opening hands. I’m not about to argue that practicing by yourself is as good as playing against another human being, but it has more value than a lot of people think. The repetition, however, is absolutely valuable. It’s as simple as this: at some point you realize you’re not guessing anymore. The things you learn from repeated play stay with you.

Opening hands make a big difference in this format for a couple of reasons. Because these games go longer and require more land in play to make late games possible, opening hands with mana helpers like Llanowar Elves, Skittering Surveyor are excellent. A powerful opening hand means something different in a format where there are few aggressive decks. A primary test of this format is your ability to take an opening hand as far as it can go. As far as powerful cards in your opening hands go, they are only as powerful as your ability to deploy them on time. Traxos is sick on turn four unless your deck doesn’t have enough historic spells to immediately make him dangerous. The triple-mana cards like Benalish Marshal, Goblin Chainwhirler and Steel Leaf Champion, trap you in a number of ways. If you have one of these in your opening hand and, say, two of the lands needed to play it, you’ll tend to want to keep the hand. You could be terribly disappointed to have this “cheap” powerful card stuck in your hand. You’re always serving two masters in this format, the task of getting a lot of lands into play, and the task of putting threats on the board. These are some of the things that dog you while considering an opening hand.

I’ve learned that the ability to play these decks is actually a separate thing entirely from building the decks. That’s obvious since I didn’t build most of these decks. When you look at a sealed deck and see things in it that you don’t think you would have played, it’s easy to discount the other guy’s choices. When the other guy’s deck wins a lot you learn to respect their deck-building decisions even though they differ from your own.

The primary test of these decks is how to take the opening hand as far as possible. When you play limited you really want to have a pretty good handle on what all the card are in your library at any given time. Playing this gauntlet, it was a little harder to remember what was in each deck. One thing that helped was pile shuffling each deck face up one time before the match followed by some face down riffle-shuffles.

One issue with the opening hands of Dominaria sealed decks is whether you can afford to wait for more land to show up or else play your spells for their lower, non-kicked value. You often are making these decisions, to a certain degree, as you look at your opening hand. Then, you might be pleasantly surprised by more land showing up just in time, or your opponent’s board developing slower than they may have hoped.

Dominaria sealed deck is unusual because so many decks can use up their entire library during a game. Usually, if you’re in danger of running out of cards, it’s because things are going your way with a card like Karn, or Teferi, or even Tatyova.

As splashable as this format is, as forgiving as these long games can be with respect to playing three colors, I’m convinced the best Dominaria sealed decks are either purely two colors or two colors with the smallest possible splash. Among the largest number of games played with this gauntlet, the best deck, over and over, has been Xiyuan’s white/blue deck with no splash. There’s no question that this format often rewards you for playing the third color in order to include the greatest number of powerful cards from your pool. You just don’t want to take it for granted that you’ll get all your colors.

Perfecting a Form

The more sealed decks that I bring to the gauntlet, the more the cream rises to the top, the stronger the decks in the gauntlet wind up being. After a while, I have a collection of sealed decks that are clearly better than what an average sealed pool can produce. It’s not all about rares and mythics, but a lot of it is. I don’t want to make the mistake of thinking that my play is getting better just because I have better cards in my deck. That’s not the point of the gauntlet. The point of the gauntlet is to have a credible way to smash lots and lots of somewhat meaningful games in the sealed deck format without paying twenty or twenty-five bucks each time. Yes, I feel a little foolish sometimes when I’m searching my collection for the cards to build someone else’s successful sealed deck. It’s worth it, though. It’s a way to have some fun while filling in the holes of whatever else I’m doing, and I hone my sealed skills at the same time.

A constructed gauntlet represents the different archetypes in a format. A sealed deck gauntlet is more about the perfection of a form. This is what the Japanese call mastery. The continuous, humble pursuit of something you can never achieve, perfection.

I hope I see you in Las Vegas.

Thanks for reading.

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