Atlantic City was not kind to me. I found myself toting a draft deck and a large sealed tournament. That is not where you want to be. It turns out Atlantic City is not where I want to be either. Outlet stores and creepy Miss America idolatry. No thanks. Anyway, let’s focus on Magic.

People tend to think that draft decks are stronger than sealed decks. You get to choose your cards and sculpt a deck. Good draft decks have coherent plans. They use synergy to do powerful things. But that doesn’t mean a draft deck is good in the sealed metagame. Sealed decks are slower and grindier, mostly because they have more removal than draft decks. Everyone plays their removal in sealed, and their bombs. This pushes games to go longer. A streamlined draft deck that is built to beat other common draft archetypes will struggle against a sealed format that is naturally hostile to aggressive strategies.

Like I said last week, you don’t really want to be an aggressive deck in Dragons of Tarkir sealed. But sometimes you don’t have a choice. At the grand prix last weekend, I didn’t have a choice. Here’s my deck:

My Fate is Sealed

Creatures (16)
Lightwalker
Territorial Roc
Misthoof Kirin
Sandstorm Charger
Alesha, Who Smiles at Death
Dromoka Captain
Sandcrafter Mage
Summit Prowler
Student of Ojutai
Vaultbreaker
Sprinting Warbrute
Atarka Pummeler
Elite Scaleguard

Spells (6)
Dragon Fodder
Lose Calm
Temur Battle Rage
Twin Bolt
Bathe in Dragonfire
Sandblast
Lands (17)
Mountain
Plains

Sideboard (19)
Glaring Aegis
Pressure Point
Fate Forgotten
Dromoka Dunecaster
Screamreach Brawler
Lightning Shrieker
Stormwing Dragon
Kindled Fury
Fierce Invocation
Impact Tremors
Ugin’s Construct
Ancestral Statue
Atarka Monument
Silumgar Monument
Palace Siege
Gurmag Angler
Blood-Chin Fanatic
Flooded Strand
Bloodfell Caves

I wouldn’t call this a good draft deck necessarily. You’d probably have picked up a War Flare at the least, which this deck badly wants.  But this looks like a draft deck. I was dejected when I submitted my deck list because I knew this was not the best strategy for competing in a nine round (or in my case seven round) sealed tournament.

Before round three, I met up with Andy Longo and a few other limited eminences grise of the New York Magic scene, and we compared decks. Everyone thought my deck looked sweet. That’s a pretty good draft deck, I heard. This instilled me with hope. Maybe I can do some good work with this deck!

The problem is, this deck doesn’t defend well at all. Student of Ojutai is a decent hedge for slower games, but this deck is not winning very many games once it falls behind on board. Sprinting Warbrute can help turn the tide, as can Lose Calm,  but a saavy opponent will play around those cards and avoid leaving themselves open to losing in a flash once they think they’ve stabilized. I knew I could work my way to a victory against random opponents, but good players would know how to keep me from winning games.

missamerica

Seriously, this creeptastic statue stood outside the hotel.

Unfortunately for me, every round I drew a strong opponent. In the five rounds I played, my foes were Jadine Klomparens, Dan Jessup, Michael Baraniecki, Allen Mok, and Chas Hinkle. No big names exactly, but a lot of solid players who have had success in competitive Magic and who play the game well. If you play a lot of grand prix, you probably have seen or played against some of those five. I had played Jadine and Chas in previous grand prix. (After Atlantic City, my record against both Jadine and Chas is 1-1.)

My deck definitely needed some gimme rounds, and I got none. Jadine and Dan fell to my aggression and I was 4-0, but the next three rounds I struggled and lost to better decks piloted by worthy opponents. And just like that I was dead and dropped at 4-3. I think I could have made day two if I had been luckier, both in the pairings (getting weaker opponents) and in game (drawing Secure the Wastes more than once all day).

The problem with my pool, what made it garbage, was the lack of flexibility. I didn’t have a viable sideboard strategy. I could have tried to play black for Palace Siege, Blood-Chin Rager, and some other decent creatures, but I did not have a single black removal spell. Maybe I could have put together a slower Mardu deck with bad mana, but it did not seem worth it. Palace Siege doesn’t win the game on its own, and my deck could not play defensively to take advantage of the slow value the siege provides.

And that’s a big part of why draft decks don’t do well in sealed. My deck, like a draft deck, had a thin choice of sideboard cards. I couldn’t really build an entirely new deck. Sure, i could have built a blue-green deck or something, but it wasn’t close enough to be better than my red-white deck even in a bad matchup for the red-white deck. Even a merely respectable sealed pool will have plenty of options to tune your deck after sideboard to best thwart your opponent’s plan. Except for rare occassions (like my first draft deck at Grand Prix Montreal) you can’t sideboard a draft deck into a significantly different deck. And so a skilled sealed pilot will find the way to beat your streamlined draft deck.

If you want to succeed in sealed over the long term, you need to learn what makes sealed different from draft. Hopefully my struggles in Atlantic City help you get there.

Brendan McNamara (MTGO: eestlinc, Twitter: @brendanistan) used to play Magic in the old days. His favorite combo was Armageddon plus Zuran Orb. After running out of money to buy cards and friends who were willing to put up with that combo, he left the game. But like disco, he was bound to come back eventually. Now he’s a lawyer by day and a Dimir agent by night.

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