Last weekend Denver featured two Battle for Zendikar sealed PPTQs. Coming off my success at the prerelease, I was excited to compete in these. The weekend was not kind to me, as I earned a combined record of 1-5, but I learned a lot and am here to share my thoughts with you.

Play More Lands

Let’s start with the basics. One of the first questions I ask in any new sealed format: how many lands should I play? We usually default to seventeen, and we look for reasons to play eighteen. Some have even suggested playing nineteen lands in certain decks. In Battle for Zendikar, there are many reasons to go above seventeen lands. Let’s go through them from cheapest to Ulamog.

Landfall is a real deck in sealed. Makindi Sliderunner might be the best two drop you can play, and it hits hard. Grove Rumbler and Territorial Baloth provide staying power to close out games. When you keep hitting land drops, those creatures are hard to block. Decks tend to want to draw in BFZ sealed, and landfall decks can get an insurmountable lead early if they build in some reach to close out the game.


Awaken turns extra lands into useful resources. There is some tension in awaken cards because lands themselves are a useful resource. In many situations you’ll pay a real cost to awaken a land. Even so, you aren’t afraid of flooding on mana when you can turn a land into a 3/3 or 4/4. Awaken makes you want to play more lands and mitigates the risk of doing so.

Spell lands almost don’t count as lands! Any card named “Blighted X” will be good in sealed and will reward you for upping your land count. Again, there is some tension between sacrificing a land on seven mana for a medium spell effect and ramping up to nine or ten mana. But options are great. You don’t have to sacrifice your Blighted Cataract if you already have Void Winnower in hand. The biggest cost of adding extra lands to your sealed deck is running low on spell effects. The various special lands in BFZ take care of this problem.

Mana sinks also abound. Rolling Thunder is nutso, obviously. But so are Valakut Invoker and Oran-Rief Invoker. Both are great finishers for a landfall deck. Akoum Stonewaker and Murasa Ranger work too. In other decks, you’ve got options like Hagra Sharpshooter, Prism Array (mostly kidding), Spawning Bed, Cliffside Lookout, Coralhelm Guide, etc etc. Big mana set, lots of mana sinks available.

You can also cast Eldrazi. Big ones. Here is my sealed deck from the Saturday PPTQ:

Colorless Rug

Creatures (15)
Coralhelm Guide
Mist Intruder
Tide Drifter
Oran-Rief Invoker
Herald of Kozilek
Eldrazi Skyspawner
Benthic Infiltrator
Giant Mantis
Murk Strider
Eyeless Watcher
Incubator Drone
Kozilek’s Channeler
Tajuru Warcaller
Greenwarden of Murasa
Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger

Spells (7)
Call the Scions
Radiant Flames
Tightening Coils
Clutch of Currents
Ugin’s Insight
Spell Shrivel
Lands (18)
Fertile Thicket
Evolving Wilds

Sideboard (17)
Eldrazi Devastator
Scour from Existence
Wave-Wing Elemental
Prism Array
Horribly Awry
Snapping Gnarlid
Broodhunter Wurm
Territorial Baloth
Retreat to Kazandu
Reclaiming Vines
Molten Nursery
Vestige of Emrakul
Firemantle Mage
Roil Spout

I went 1-3 with it but I barely lost each of those three and mostly to having slightly worse draws than my opponents. I think this deck is good and can compete in large sealed tournaments. Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger was amazing. I lost one game with it in my hand, but every other time I drew it I cast it and won, and every other game I lost I would have won if I had drawn Ulamog. Herald of Kozilek is the real deal too. Card is bonkers if you can cast it. If you have a bunch of Nettle Drones and friends, Herald of Kozilek might be broken.

So yeah. Play eighteen lands. If you are short a playable or two, consider nineteen lands. I have a hard time feeling good about that, but lands are better in BFZ sealed than in almost any other format.

Tend Toward Drawing First

You are unlikely to lose (or fall permanently behind) over the first four turns. Makindi Sliderunner is the only card that really punishes choosing to draw. Maybe that strategy is good and popular enough that you need to choose to play game one. I’d try to build decks that can survive early landfall beats while on the draw, though. BFZ sealed is all about hitting land drops, getting ahead on cards, and winning the long game. You want to be on the draw in those kinds of games.


I love sealed formats that reward being on the draw, especially when people disagree. It means you are happy to lose the die roll and let your benighted opponent choose to play. You can even pretend to be sad you keep rolling threes. The best advantage to gain is the one that your opponent doesn’t recognize.

That said, if you find out your opponent has a late game that totally outclasses yours, you should consider sideboarding in proactive cards and choosing to play. They probably won’t expect it and you might run them over. This is also a good tactic for game three when running low on time. BFZ sealed could easily lend itself to a lot of unintentional draws. Finding a way to win game three in under ten minutes can pay big dividends.

Try Not to Fall Behind on Board

BFZ lacks big plays that stabilize or take over when you are far behind. Ulamog obv, Planar Outburst obv, Radiant Flames sure, but what else? Sheer Drop can answer one beater while blocking another. Brood Monitor can clog the ground. Ondu Rising might gain enough life to swing a game here or there, but not if you don’t have a board to attack with. For the most part, you will struggle to come back if you fall behind and hope to draw answers off the top. Void Winnower, Bane of Bala Ged, Breaker of Armies? All of these can be killed, require you tap out, and block poorly.


So how do you keep from falling behind? Play creatures and removal spells, trade off where you can, hope your opponent doesn’t have Noyan Dar, Roil Shaper. Have some 4/4s or bigger to tussle with the other side, but don’t spend more than five mana on them. Dutiful Return looks like a solid option for attrition decks, especially if you can line up favorable trades beforehand.

Counterspells are tricky. In general they are great in BFZ sealed because there are so many huge threats that have to be answered. But you can’t hold up mana early because you’ll fall behind on board. Don’t play Horribly Awry. The cards it answers generally don’t need specific answers. Side it in against a fast ally or landfall deck, but play counterspells that answer big threats. You want to hold up mana in the late game, not the early game. Spell Shrivel is quite good and stays useful even as the game goes long. Four extra mana is a lot, and most of the spells you want to counter cost six plus mana.

I hope these insights help you prepare for sealed tournaments in Battle for Zendikar. Maybe you are headed to Grand Prix Madison this weekend. I’ll see you there!

Carrie O’Hara is Editor-in-Chief of Hipsters of the Coast.

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