How do you build a winning sealed deck? That’s something I’ve had on my mind recently, as Born of the Gods release events are in full swing online, offering great value in the sealed queues—or, as I’ve dubbed them, “valqueues”—and with Grand Prix Montreal and Philadelphia on the horizon, both of which I will be traveling to.

I made day two at two GPs last year, Pittsburgh and Vegas, and I really want to keep that streak alive—and to do that, you have to be good at building, playing with, and playing against other sealed decks. Drafting skills are of course necessary if you make it to day two, but until such time—they are useless.

A lot of people who disdain sealed deck format think that there’s just one way to succeed: open bombs. And while of course your life can be made really difficult by opening the classic triple-dual-land, Heroes’ Podium pool, opening sick Limited bombs isn’t necessary to win at sealed deck—nor is opening bombs the only thing you have to do; you still have to build and optimize your deck.

Case in point is this pool from a valqueue I played in last weekend on MODO (click on the image to make it bigger):

Sweet RW Brimaz deck 3-1

As you can see, I ripped some sick Limited bombs, with Brimaz, King of Oreskos the marquee headliner. I got some other great on-color rares, too, in Felhide Spiritbinder and Soldier of the Pantheon; strong uncommons in the form of Akroan Conscriptor, Everflame Eidolon, and Vanguard of Brimaz; and good, cheap removal in Fall of the Hammer and Lightning Strike.

Pretty much all you could ask for, right? That’s true. And the deck wasn’t that hard to build, as I very much wanted to play both red and white. But I did have a number of key decisions to play once I tossed the 20 or so snap-includes into the deck, and started hunting around for my final three or so cards.

You’ll notice that neither Pharagax Giant (which either Lava Axes the opponent or is a 5/5 for 4R) nor Labyrinth Champion are in the deck. As for the latter, that’s basically because it’s just not a very strong card, despite the nine ways I have of targeting it. And Pharagax Giant isn’t great either, but I could see it topping the curve of a super-aggro RW draft deck.

But this deck, while aggressive, isn’t that. It’s definitely got a higher curve than your ideal RW aggro deck, with a pair of fours and fives that I really want to play. And then we get to the Evangel of Heliod. Evangel isn’t a fantastic card, but it is able to end games that have gotten a bit stalled out, which can happen in sealed deck. You really want a card or two that can break open stalemates, even if they are slower than you would like. Sealed deck in general is a slower format, so you can lean on the top of your curve a bit more.

My other stalemate-breaker is Glimpse the Sun God, which also has the benefit of being able to trigger Vanguard of Brimaz and Akroan Conscriptor (after declaring attackers being the ideal time to do so, in the latter case).

You’ll also notice Rise to the Challenge (combat trick) and a second copy of Fearsome Temper (aura) in the board. You could totally make an argument for including both of these in the deck, but in general, in sealed deck, I don’t like to go below 16 creatures—especially in a build where I want to be turning max dudes sideways all the time. The two Rollickers and Shieldmates don’t always act as guys, either, so you can end up—if you bestow these onto other creatures—having fewer creatures than it looks like your deck actually has.

In the end I settled on Titan’s Strength, Dragon Mantle, Fall of the Hammer, Lightning Strike, Fearsome Temper, and Portent of Betrayal as my non-creature cards, in addition to Glimpse the Sun God. Why this mix? Because in general I value diversity when I am filling out my non-creature spells. Think about this: Would you rather have a hand with 2X Fearsome Temper in it, or a Fearsome Temper and a Titan’s Strength? I’d definitely say the latter, because it gives you options—options to do different things, at different costs, in response to different situations.

Plus, throughout the course of a sealed GP, you are going to be facing many different colors of decks—and Fearsome Temper, while great against certain decks, is very weak to blue and, to a lesser extent, black decks. So if I face a blue deck with lots of Unsummon effects, as I surely will at some point during the day, I am not going to be happy if I have both Fearsome Tempers in my deck for game one. Sure, I can board them out for game two, but I’d rather sort of “pre-sideboard” in order to give me a better game-one matchup against these decks.

That’s the same reason I left Rise the Challenge in the board. I already had combat trick Titan’s Strength in the deck, and I didn’t want to lose one of the other tricks for a similar-ish (but more expensive) combat trick like Rise to the Challenge.

The value of a card like Portent of Betrayal goes up slightly in sealed deck as well, for the simple reason that people are more likely to be led by their bombs in this format, which means that your Portent is going to have more strong targets than in your average draft.

In retrospect, while my choices detailed above are sound, I don’t think I fully optimized this sealed deck—at least not for a GP main-event build. I think that subbing out one of the Nyxborn Rollickers for Priest of Iroas could be correct, as it gives me a maindeck answer to problematic and bomby enchantments like the god weapons and strong auras, which you are surely going to be seeing in the latter rounds of day one, if you are doing well. It’s often correct to maindeck some form of enchantment removal in your draft decks, and that goes double for sealed.

I also think I might should have maindecked Excoriate or Divine Verdict—but probably not both, as you really start to deplete the deck’s critical mass of creatures if you do so. I also kind of hate both of these removal spells, and it would have pained me to include one of them in my maindeck—but that doesn’t mean it would have been right to do so. I also don’t quite know what I would have replaced for these—perhaps Portent of Betrayal, given that (to follow my argument earlier) I already had a similar effect with Akroan Conscriptor, whereas Excoriate or Divine Verdict would have given me a unique effect my deck didn’t already have.

What do you think? Would you have maindecked either of these last two cards? If so, which cards would you have cut for them? Do you have any specialized sealed-deckbuilding strategy, Theros-specific or no? Share it in the comments!

Oh, and this deck did pretty well—I went 3-0 with it until the finals, when I lost in a close and fun three games to GW monsters; his guys were just bigger and hit harder than mine (and Brimaz didn’t show up to the party in this match, either). As for Brimaz, that dude is stone insane. There were a couple games where I got him out on curve and basically did nothing the rest of the game except protect him, using Fall of the Hammer and Rise to the Challenge (after the board). That is definitely one of the cards I want to open most in Montreal and Philly, and lord knows there are going to be some nutty Brimaz and Elspeth decks out there, routing the top tables. May god protect and save you against these nuclear bombs—or, better yet, may he let you wreak havoc with them yourself.

23/17 is a Hipsters of the Coast column focused on Limited play—primarily draft and sealed, but also cubing, 2HG, and anything else we can come up with. The name refers to the “Golden Ratio” of a Limited deck: 23 spells and 17 lands. Follow Hunter at @hrslaton.

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