I went to a sealed PTQ in Seattle last weekend, and before the event some friends were holding up Reid Duke’s excellent articles on Khans Sealed as the de facto guide to the format. Now, Reid is obviously an extraordinary Magic player, so when I tell you that I have a private rivalry with him please don’t take that to mean that I don’t like him. (Also, don’t take it to mean that Reid has a rivalry with me: I’m pretty sure he knows my name, though.) One time, on the Top8Magic podcast, BDM described Reid Duke this way: “He’s so nice he makes GCB look like an asshole.” So, I hope we understand each other about my private rivalry.

Anyway, back to Reid’s article and my PTQ deck. Here’s what I was handed:

Khans Sealed

Let’s try out Reid’s technique with my shiny new sealed deck, shall we?

1. Do your best to play with your bombs.

According to Reid’s qualifications for what a bomb is, we don’t have any. Our rares are:

  • A couple very good if-you-cast-them-early cards (Rakshasha Deathdealer and Trail of Mystery), both of which need our deck to facilitate them being good.
  • A pair of Threaten-bears, which are powerful but certainly not bombs.
  • A sacland.
  • Necropolis Fiend: a card that looks kind of like a bomb but is slow to impact the game, requires a ton of delve-food, and actually just isn’t a bomb.

Ok, so no bombs. What now?

2. Do your best to play with your card advantage spells and your premium removal.

Here we go!

Huh. That’s not a terribly exciting list. We may have to fill in with non-premium removal. Maybe we have a bunch of fixing so we can at least play what we have?

3. Examine your mana fixing in the context of the bombs and premium cards that you’d really like to play with.

Our multicolor lands are:

  • 2 U/W duals (one is a Flooded Strand)
  • 1 W/G dual
  • 1 W/B
  • 1 R/B
  • 1 U/B
  • 1 G/B
  • 0 triple-lands.

No triple lands, and our duel lands produce very little green or red mana. White/black/blue would be the simplest to access here, but that won’t let us play either of our cheap pseudo-bombs or any of our premium removal.

So far, Reid, I’m a little frustrated. Your sample sealed deck seems like maybe it was just really, really good! You played Duneblast, Sagu Mauler, Grim Haruspex, and Surrak Dragonclaw. You left a Butcher of the Horde in your sideboard. Butcher of the Horde would be the best card in my sealed deck hands down! But perhaps I’m jumping to conclusions: we haven’t even finished the process yet: let’s soldier on.

4. Make the rest of your deck two colors.

Well, this seems plausible at least! I’ve got lots of mono-colored cards. Black, red, white and blue all seem to offer a healthy dose of reasonable filler. Green looks pretty weak with an excess of Hooting Mandrills, some bad morphs, and not much else, but if I paired it with black I could get both the Trail of Mystery and the Rakshasha Deathdealer into my deck, and there’s plenty of black to fill in. I’m guessing this is what Reid would recommend, because I at least get those two pseudo-bombs. We need blue and red for our Treasure Cruise and Master the Ways, but there’s really nothing pulling us into white. That means we can’t use or four white dual lands, leaving us with just three duals. We’ll probably want a banner to help out, and that Sultai Banner fits the bill perfectly! Here’s what I came up with:

Reid's Build (Totally Not Reid's)

Land (18)
Bloodfell Caves
Dismal Backwater
Jungle Hollow

Creatures (13)
Disowned Ancestor
Rakshasha Deathdealer
Alpine Grizzly
Ruthless Ripper
Kin-Tree Warden
Sidisi’s Pet
Mystic of the Hidden Way
Krumar Bond-Kin
Abomination of Gudul
Bear’s Companion
Swarm of Bloodflies
Necropolis Fiend

Spells (9)
Trail of Mystery
Savage Punch
Sultai Banner
Master the Way
Bitter Revelation
Treasure Cruise
Incremental Growth
Rite of the Serpent

What do you think?

Yeah I agree. It sucks. I did not register this deck at the PTQ: it has 1-2 drop written all over it. It offers a couple of great potential draws, but mostly it is hoping to fight it’s way to a late game that it has no business being involved in — a deck with real bombs just gets more time to draw them and we have very few ways to beat those bombs. Our mana is fragile, our delve capacity is overtaxed by just two cards, and we have no Duneblast to save us.

So, what did I register instead? I looked at my pool and saw that the late game was not promising (see steps one and two of Reid’s technique), so I looked for a way to get underneath the slow decks popularized by articles like Reid’s. Cheap creatures, evasive creatures, anti-blocking effects, burn: these are things this pool has access to. I tried R/U/w first, but found the creature count a little shallow. R/W/u looked more promising:

GCB's Build (Totally GCB's)

Land (18)
Flooded Strand
Tranquil Cove

Creatures (15)
Ainok Bond-Kin
War-Name Aspirant
Horde Ambusher
Jeering Instigator
Ponyback Brigade
Krumar Bond-Kin
Mystic of the Hidden Way
Bloodfire Expert
Canyon Lurker
War Behemoth
Efreet Weaponmaster
Mardu Warshrieker
Alabaster Kirin
Summit Prowler

Spells (7)
Defiant Strike
Ride Down
Feat of Resistance
Act of Treason
Smite the Monstrous
Arrow Storm
Set Adrift

Here we have nine red sources, eight white sources, and three blue sources: much more reliable. Our only blue cards are two morphs and one Set Adrift, chosen over Master the Way because this deck is about emptying its hand, and the card combos very well with our three Threaten effects. The Krumar Bond-Kin and Ponyback Brigade are just being played as Gray Ogres, but we can throw in the Bloodfell Caves and Scoured Barrens over a couple of basics and get some value out of them! We end up with a very efficient deck that knows what it wants to do, and optimizes some of the good-not-great cards we have like Arrow Storm, Ride Down, and Jeering Instigator.

Something this deck does have in common with Reid’s sample deck is that it was only a whisper away from making the elimination rounds: I started 6-1 but couldn’t take a draw round eight, and lost very close games one and three to miss the cut. I think this sealed deck would be considered below average by many people who open it, but I’d be happy to play eight more rounds with it. If you can build an aggressive deck with reliable mana in this sealed format, you can beat lots of decks with superior card quality by taking away the time they need to assemble their awkward mana bases.

I described Reid’s article as ‘excellent’ above, and I think it is. However, I think his system for Khans sealed is much more limited than he presents it as. In Khans sealed, you will often see a pile of cards with a broad selection of very powerful stuff and a confusing mix of mana fixers to go with it. In those cases, Reid presents an excellent framework for maximizing your deck’s potential. However, do not think the majority of pools match this pattern, and if you try to use the Duke technique when you don’t have the cards for it, you’re going to have a frustrating day.

Ultimately, Khans is a lot like every other sealed format: there are no perfect formulas for a correct build. If there were, Magic would be that much less fun.

One little tool to add to your Khans toolkit, though: take a look at the sealed deck picture above, specifically at the pile of gold cards. I’ve sorted them so the colored mana symbols line up in a particular way that makes it much easier to understand where the clan overlaps are amongst your powerful gold cards. It’s a simple trick but it can tell you a lot about your pool, and where you might be able to go with it.

Gabe Carleton-Barnes has been playing Magic for over 20 years, mostly as a PTQ grinder and intermittently as a Pro Tour competitor. Currently based in Portland, Oregon, where he is an Open Source web developer by day, Gabe lived in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, for three years. While there, he failed to make a documentary about competitive Magic but succeeded in deepening his obsession with the game. Gabe is now a ringleader and community-builder for the competitive Magic scene in Portland, wielding old-timey slang and tired cliches to motivate kids half his age to drive with him to tournaments.

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