Before Grand Prix Cleveland last month, I tried to find some time to brush up on the Fate Reforged sealed format, but ended up not being able to. I rationalized it by telling myself that I had drafted quite a bit, and that practicing sealed didn’t really gain you much.

Of course, I knew this was foolish—sealed is a format you need to practice just as much as any other—and I was punished for my lack of preparation with pretty much my worst GP finish of the last five years. Sure, some of that was bad luck, but some practice would have helped me.

So with Grand Prix Atlantic City on the horizon, I want to make sure I don’t make the same mistake. Day One of GP AC is Dragons of Tarkir sealed, which comprises four packs of Dragons and two of Fate Reforged—and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise: There’s been some misinformation on this topic, and even the great LSV swore the other week on Limited Resources that the format was three packs of each.

I tried to get an IRL session going last weekend, but unfortunately folks were busy, and so I had to settle for an online release sealed event. Now, online is of course a great way to practice, but I really recommend that you spend some time with your friends, actually cracking packs and building sealed pools IRL. It’s just so much different to build paper pools than digital, mostly for the reason that online it’s much, much easier to sort all your cards, as well as see them at the same time. Still, online sealed isn’t nothing, and so I dove into my pool.

The first thing I did was sort by rarity. Initially I was a little bummed, as my rares were spread across four colors, and included some junkers in the form of Living Lore and Crucible of the Spirit Dragon (which is not to say that you can’t play either of these, just that they don’t get your heart pumping, either).

But when I sorted by color, the strength of green and white—which I was already leaning towards because of Avatar of the Resolute, Surrak, the Hunt-Caller, and Mastery of the Unseen (kind of the stone nuts in sealed)—became readily apparent, with a pair each of Misthoof Kirin, Glade Watcher (a pet card of mine), and Stampeding Elk Herd giving the colors some heft.

So I built GW, and pretty much liked what I saw. (I briefly took a look at RW, in order to be aggressive and play War Flare, but losing the strong green rares was just unacceptable.) Black had some good cards but was pretty shallow, and blue was fine but a little all over the place. Here’s the deck:

4-11-2015 GW Dragons sealed #1 build with lands

As you can see, I didn’t have a ton of difficult choices to make; Lurking Arynx is fine, I guess, but my other five-drops were much better, and I didn’t want to fuck around with Sage’s Reverie or Abzan Runemark, despite having Graceblade Artisan in my deck.

One aura I do like, though, especially in a smashy build such as this, is Glaring Aegis. The card isn’t overpowered by any means, but it does so many things (well, two) for just a single white mana, that the value is there.

One card that has consistently underperformed, though—in fact, the whole cycle has—are the megamorph dragons. I don’t think I ever flipped Herdchaser Dragon up from being face-down—that mana cost just seems so prohibitive—and playing it as a 3/3 flier for 5G is pretty lame. With the possible exception of the black deathtoucher and the white lifelinker, I think this cycle is actively bad. Sure, play the cards as 2/2s for three if you want to, but don’t feel like you are putting them in your deck to play “a dragon.” You’re not.

A few more notes on specific cards:

  • I realize it looks marginal, but I actually really like Servant of the Scale in a GW bolster-y deck such as this. +1/+1 is a real thing, and Servant led to some of my more busted starts. (A couple of times I even went Servant into Avatar of the Resolute, which felt unfair.) The modular nature of the card means that it almost has persist, in a way, as it’s +1/+1 counter is going somewhere else so long as you have another creature out, which in this deck makes already beefy dudes even beefier, and continues to get you along the road to formidable.
  • I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love Glade Watcher. Once I went T2 Watcher into T3 Sandcrafter Mage into T4 another Watcher (turning on formidable) and crunching for six. On T5 I played my fifth land, played a morph, activated both Watchers, and smashed for nine. My opponent did not win that game. And, sure, that’s some best-case mentality thinking, but Watcher holds the ground early, represents more than a third of formidable, and goes on the attack for pretty cheap.
  • The Misthoof Kirins were fantastic. Those cheap megamorphers are really want you want to be doing in this format, I think—not durdling around with not-even-all-that-giant dragons.
  • Press the Advantage was backbreaking. My guys were already big enough that they were demanding double blocks, and when that happened I was able to fire off Press and basically just win the game.
  • Glaring Aegis did what I wanted it to. I never got to go off by attaching it to Graceblade Artisan, but a man can dream.
  • Avatar of the Resolute was excellent. Not super powerful, but a great early play, cold or no, and (so long as I had been able to bolster a bit here and there) a great late-game play, too.
  • As you might imagine, Surrak, the Hunt Caller was straight-up Looney Tunes, especially in this deck. I don’t think I ever played him where he didn’t have haste (that’s another good thing about the Glade Watchers; people are reluctant to kill them because they aren’t an immediate threat, and so you’re that much likely to have formidable turned on when you need it), and having any sort of backup for him on subsequent turns basically meant GG.

I got a lot of GGs with this deck, taking it to an easy 4-0. I only dropped a couple of games along the way. My guys were just way too assertive and efficiently costed for my opponents to be able to get their feet under them in time. And, in the few cases where I got off to a slow start or my opponent was able to stabilize, I just waited until I found Mastery of the Unseen and took over the game.

In one exciting match—I think the finals—my opponent and I were bashing each other back and forth with a number of creatures. He was UW, and I smashed him down to a very low life total. He frightened me by flipping up a Misthoof Kirin on my end step, but thankfully I had Mastery of the Unseen out with eight mana free. So when he attacked in, I manifested my top card—a Glade Watcher—and flipped it up for two mana to gain four life and put me out of reach.

Now, I sort of misplayed this, because before swinging all in, I should have manifested my top card, to make sure it was a creature I could flip up and gain life with—but hey, sometimes you get lucky. That kind of interaction, though, is exactly why you want to practice whatever format you are playing, so if a similar situation comes up next month in Atlantic City, I’ll be ready for it.

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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