Last week I played some Theros Sealed.

Despite my love for limited I have never really took the time to explore Sealed. To me, drafting was dynamic and exciting—I loved watching my deck take shape in real time.

Meanwhile, Sealed was kind of like one of those cooking competitions when everyone gets handed a basket of random ingredients. You can either luck out and whip up a delicious casserole. Or you could be one of the poor saps that gets handed a nice portion of pig snout and grass clippings and told to cook Thanksgiving dinner. Where was the skill, I wondered, when your deck was dictated by something out of your control?

That being said, I knew I would find some answers online. After digging around a bit, I find the motherlode: an incredible M14 Sealed seminar ran by LSV and Ben Stark.

Apparently, I can sit through an hour of MTG content, but lose interest five minutes into calculus. And I even took notes, something I hadn’t bothered to do since midterms.


More notes than I took in the last week of classes combined.

In short, he brings up several interesting points, especially his analysis of playing first vs. drawing first. That’s the kind of subtle but important distinction that new Magic players like me don’t really pick up on. I’ve always chosen to play first by instinct. And if you think of it like chess, it makes sense. From turn one, white dictates the flow of the game.

If anything, MTG has a lot of those seemingly counterintuitive moments. It’s frustrating at times, but I love it.

Drawing first lends you a distinct advantage: one more card. For my recent round of MODO games, I played second eight times, my opponents each choosing to take initiative when they won the dice roll.

Choosing the procrastinate on writing my column until Tuesday gives me a pretty neat opportunity. Every Tuesday, MODO has a M14 single-elimination Sealed event for the entry cost of two tickets. An excellent opportunity to put theory into action.

This is what my pool looked like for my first event:


I’m immediately disappointed. I have a few mid-level bombs in the form of Garruk’s Horde, Enlarge, and Opportunity. But not much else. I am, however, intensely amused by the double Syphon Sliver, which would be almost comic if it wasn’t so soul-crushing.

Following the LSV and Ben Stark’s advice, I separate all of the playable cards and focus in on three colors.



I eventually settle on this GB list:


It’s not very interesting and, in all honesty, pretty bad. I didn’t know what other options I had. I suppose I could have considered playing a slow blue variant, but that color was crucially low on actually decent cards.

I manage to take game one with surprising ease, although my opponent later admits that he got mana flooded.


In game two, this happens:


Big daddy Jace wipes me clean for two easy wins. If we were on a cooking show, my opponent’s basket had caviar and champagne while I fielded half a zucchini.

That being said, I made an error after forgetting to sideboard in my Bramblecrush. This wouldn’t be as embarrassing as it is if Ben Stark did not directly say “It’s also worth nothing that Bramblecrush kills Planeswalkers.” I guess my note-taking skills need some work also.

Since the event is single-elimination, I’m out. I wish my opponent the best (although he loses the next round, probably to something like double Archangel) and move on to the next event.

This is what my next pool looks like:


Again, no super mega bombs. And again, I’m stuck between multiple colors. But my blue looks really strong. Opportunity, Air Servant, Water Servant, and Domestication is no joke. Throw in Divination, Cancel, and Archaeomancer for more pain.

In the picture I have a UB deck tentatively set up, but in the end I run with UW. I valued Seraph of the Sword over Sengir Vampire as a flying finisher. And Pacifism/Banisher Priest over Quag Sickness/Liturgy of Blood for removal. And for some reason, Pay No Heed and Brave the Elements ended up being blowouts on several occasions. Funny how things work out.

My opponent is running an average RB deck. I notice the multiple copies of Wild Guess he’s running, although it doesn’t appear he has any specific bombs. We trade wins. Game one he gets the better of me after I can’t deal with his Chandra’s Phoenix. Game two both Servants slam him down for a fast win.

Game three: Sometimes I write myself notes during the match so I have something to refer back to when I write this post.

The only thing I have scribbled is HOLY SHIT.

At turn 12, this is the board state:


I’m at five life with two Nightwing Shades bearing down on me. I can block one indefinitely with Seraph. But the other has me on a two turn clock.

What happens? Sensory Deprivation and Pay No Heed are lifesavers. I counter his second Accursed Spirit with Cancel and recover it with Archaeomancer. Then Domestication.

It helped that my opponent’s clock was quickly running out. But he didn’t have the reach to break through my wall of defensive creatures.

If anything, that game was a turning point for me. A revelation of sorts. It was the kind of game that makes your pulse quicken. A brutal grind, especially in the later turns, when a misplay or misclick spelled certain death. All in all, a pretty bad position for an absentminded and relatively un-clever person like me. I have no idea how I held it together.

So I’m 1-0. At this point, I realize my chances of winning the next matches are slim to none.

My prediction ends up coming true:


I get dominated in two games by a strong UG deck. He had strong creatures, card advantage, and tempo. Without a lasting answer for his Howl of the Night Packs and Garruk’s Hordes, I succumb, defeated but happy.

The biggest lesson I learned is that deck building in Sealed is really hard. Sure, there are a few obvious bombs. But attempting to evaluate a group of commons in one color over some in another was nigh impossible. LSV talked about not being afraid to completely restructure your deck during side boarding. But at this point, I don’t think I have the skill to do that.

One day, though. If this column proves anything, it’s that making a bunch of mistakes, practicing, and learning from pros helps your gameplay immensely. Even if you have to take notes.

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