The Ixalan Sealed season has begun! I had to miss Grand Prix Providence, but that gave me the chance to play some online Sealed PPTQs. I’ve enjoyed a few drafts online, but the two PPTQs I played on Saturday were the first Sealed tournaments I’d played since the prerelease.

Going in, I wasn’t too excited about playing Ixalan with six random packs. Tribal limited environments focus on interactions between many cards that focus on a creature type. That means combinations of common cards are important, and that uncommon and rare payoff cards can vary wildly between great and unplayable depending on the support in your pool. Sealed deck offers nothing beyond the randomness of six packs, mitigated by “as fan” and print run controls. Therefore, in Sealed you are often going to be stuck looking for your best cards when many cards need help to achieve their potential.

Dinosaurs are the best tribe for Sealed, because 6/6 tramplers are good in Sealed regardless of their creature type. And sure enough, half the decks I ran into in two online PPTQs were fully of Regisaur Alphas, Charging Monstrosaurs, and Thundering Spinebacks.

But what can you do if you didn’t get many dinosaurs? In my second PPTQ, this is what I built:

Landing on the Rock

Creatures (14)
Ixalli’s Diviner
Ixalli’s Keeper
Seekers’ Squire
Dire Fleet Hoarder
Atzocan Archer
Tishana’s Wayfinder
Ranging Raptors
Ravenous Daggertooth
Lurking Chupacabra
Grazing Whiptail
Jade Guardian
Queen’s Agent
Thundering Spineback

Spells (9)
Legion’s Landing
Contract Killing
Vanquish the Weak
Crash the Ramparts
Pious Interdiction
Mark of the Vampire
Dusk Legion Dreadnought
Lands (17)
Unknown Shores

Sideboard (19)
Raiders’ Wake
Desperate Castaways
Queen’s Bay Soldier
Deadeye Tormentor
Crushing Canopy
Cobbled Wings
Sorcerous Spyglass
Bright Reprisal
Sanguine Sacrament
Raging Swordtooth
Captain Lannery Storm
Drowned Catacomb
Field of Ruin
Unclaimed Territory

My pool is really lacking in power cards. The rare slot has Legion’s Landing, Captain Lannery Storm, and some stuff. Pretty bad overall, but fortunately Ixalan Sealed is not dominated by rares. There are plenty of great uncommons. Raging Swordtooth is great, but I my red was barely playable—a few decent creatures and no removal. Thundering Spineback is also amazing, and fortunately I have enough good green creatures to support it, including three solid cheaper dinos.

Good commons can really make your Sealed deck, and that’s where I had to turn. I have tons of great removal, though none in green other than the two copies of Crushing Canopy in the sideboard. That card does work, but isn’t really playable in your main deck with how many red-green dinosaurs decks you see in the format. Still, two Contract Killing and Vanquish the Weak make a great core, and splashing for two Pious Interdiction and Legion’s Landing made sense. With that much removal, even mediocre creatures can get the job done.

The true power of my commons, however, lived in two cards. Jade Guardian plus Mark of the Vampire is the real deal. (One With the Wind is also great.) My deck really revolved around smashing with a 5/5 lifelink hexproof backed up by ample removal. There are few ways to get rid of a big hexproof creature outside of blocking in combat, and you can mostly control how that plays out. Crash the Ramparts is a great way to back up a forced multi-block.

My deck proved resilient enough and I managed to go undefeated in the five rounds. I definitely had some lucky draws, like picking up Contract Killing right after my opponent dropped Hostage Taker. But with skillful sideboarding I was able to outmaneuver the powerful decks of the later rounds.

Raiders’ Wake was especially great. It crushed powerful blue decks out of the sideboard. Against those decks, I took out the white splash for Raiders’ Wake and the other cheap black creatures and Duress. I won every sideboarded game against these much more “powerful” decks. Here’s what this enchantment does beyond the obvious: forces opponents to play out all their lands (reducing their ability to bluff), punishes looting effects with two life per discard, and it clears expensive creatures from their hand when you’d otherwise need to answer with removal. These things won’t matter against a lot of decks. But for slow, powerful Sealed decks? These are three great effects.

I had a couple sweet plays involving Raiders’ Wake. In the first, my opponent reveals Contract Killing off their turn three explore. I untap, play Raiders’ Wake, and hit forcing discard. Next turn, I Duress away the Contract Killing, then hit their last card with the Raiders’ Wake trigger after attacking. In the second, my opponent passes with a card in hand against an active Raiders’ Wake. I cast the Duress that’s been stuck in my hand and see Skulduggery—uncastable because my only creature is Jade Guardian. That’s game.

The lesson is: removal plus mana sinks proved a solid strategy in Ixalan Sealed. If you can handle a few big dinos, you should be able to outmaneuver the rest of their deck.

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

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