War of the Spark is at the doorstep and not only will the Mythic Championship be the first tabletop experience with the cards in action. On the same weekend as the MC, when the rest of the world has their LGS prereleases, there will be a GP in London, where the setting is a competitive prerelease with the new set. Exciting!
Since I started playing on the Pro Tour/Mythic Championship, there has been a mix of 2 weeks, 4 weeks, and now 6 weeks+ to prepare the constructed as well as the Draft portion of the competition. Before MTGO had the set online the Monday after the pre-release, and way before MTG Arena was a thing, people met 14 days ahead of to the event and tested the upcoming set in Standard and Draft.
Having the prerelease as the setting of the Mythic Championship makes this a whole new way to approach testing, since if people want to play with the cards, someone must print out all the cards and build boosters. Luckily for Team Mage, Simon Nielsen has this covered and we will have an all-Danish Draft camp in the Easter week.
I want to talk about something a bit different – how to build a Sealed pool, when you haven’t played or known the power level of the cards that you see.
This article will showcase how I usually approach this – and the setting will be that you have 50 minutes and you have read the spoiler.
When you start glancing at the spoiler, it’s often the Rares, Mythics, removal and powerful Uncommons that get a lot of attention. These are important to know, but mostly, it’s not the case that a specific Mythic is what beats you. More often you get blown out by a stupid combat trick, that you simply didn’t know about.
My advice is to see if you can remember which good combat tricks people can have with 1 mana open, 2 mana open and, if there is something with a huge upside, also with 3 mana open.
A card like the Ixalan all-star Skulduggery can be a hard removal for 1 black mana if you don’t know about it and play into your opponent’s hand. Knowing these cards also enables you to bluff an attack in the right situation. However, this is somewhat advanced strategy and I would advice against it, if you still have to focus on your cards and play your best.
Next up we need to identify what the average power level is and how fast the pace of the games will be. In the upcoming set, there will be a high number of planeswalkers and we will have proliferate as a returning mechanic. This leads my initial thoughts to find out how to make planeswalkers work. The set overall will be slower than usual, and with some of the removal we know at this point, it seems like it will be a real War of the Spark, since planeswalkers will be a dominant part of the Limited scene.
When this is the case, there sometimes is a viable strategy to build a deck that is faster than your opponent can set up planeswalkers, card draw and removal spells. This is not something I will recommend when you play Sealed, but I will come to when this strategy can be deployed at a later point. Another part of deckbuilding where knowing the pace of the format comes in hand, is when you look at possible splashes, where your curve should end and if you should focus more on power than curve.
Understanding and Building your Pool in 50 Minutes
When I get my pool, I immediately start by putting away cards that I deem too bad to be in my main deck or that are sideboard cards in general. These are cards like Demolish, Root Snare and Wilderness Reclamation. If I was to play 100 Sealed pools, I would probably play any of them in one of those pools, at most. Getting these cards out of the equation, make it easier for me to process what I have available to reasonably work with.
Next, I locate the bombs, good Uncommons and removal in my pool and put them in front of me in their color combinations. In Sealed, removal tends to define how someone wins games, alongside strong pools with insane bombs or synergies.
Afterwards, I take a quick peak at the pool, to see which colors seem good and are deep enough to make the foundation for a good deck. Sometimes you have 2 good red cards, but the rest of the cards in that color are rubbish – this makes it quite easy to sort them out early. And often there is just one strong color in your pool and some feasible supporting colors.
I find what I think will be my primary color and sort it’s cards like pictured below.
I do this so I can see what kind of support my primary color needs, and to make it clear if it’s really good enough. If for example my green pool has everything I need, but lacks 2-drops and 3-drops, it can be good to pair it with a color that has less power but supports the curve well. I do this, because I have acknowledged that while I could process most of the information in my head, it’s just less likely for me to miss something with this structure. I highly recommend this approach.
Fine-Tuning the Deck and Manabase
When I have my main color and support color, I then figure out if the deck needs something that would make it outstanding, and if my pool gives me options to provide that. This often takes away the first 10 to 20 minutes of deck construction. After that, I usually have a clear indication what the first “easy” build of my Sealed pool looks like. I then go on to lay out different builds and do pros and cons of those variants. If you don’t pace yourself in this process, it is easy to get consumed into swapping around one or two cards in an effort to optimize. I have found this to be a major pitfall, since we have only 50 minutes in total, and depending on how well you work under maximum pressure, I would say that it takes a good 5 minutes to register your main deck properly. So we don’t have infinite time to see as many approaches to the pool as possible and to optimize the build that we settle on. When we settle on a build, it is still important to maximize this build further. We can select the correct cards, the distribution of our curve, the right amount of creatures and spells and then build our manabase.
Not everyone can do the math that is necessary to build the perfect manabase. A rule of thumb is, if your deck is average or average plus in power level, I would splash a card with 3 mana sources for 1 card of that color and 5 sources for 2 cards. This is a lot of resources and should give you the indication that you should only splash a color if it is necessary or if the card is simply broken. Paul Rietzl once put it into a genius sentence on twitter “Free mtg tip: you’re splashing too often in sealed deck”. Have this in mind when you convince yourself, that this Smallpox is pretty good in your RG beatdown deck.
When your Pool is just not good enough
Lastly it is not every pool that is good enough to play a 2-color strategy, a midrange strategy or just good enough in general. What follows is some advice for specific situations, when your Sealed pool lacks in a specific department like bombs or removal, or just has a subpar overall quality.
- Play an aggressive strategy and try to make use of cards like 1-2-3 drops, by powering them up with cheap enchantments, to go under what our opponents does. This is similar to a glass-cannon strategy, but sometimes you will gain a massive advantage if the set overall appeals to the slow and grindy decks that will be able to stabilize from turn 5 and forward. Being hyper aggressive makes cards like Lava Axe and Act of Treason effects good cards in an otherwise bad pool. You will however be at a disadvantage after sideboard, or if your opponent has early answers and you lose momentum.
- Play 3-4-5 colors. Sometimes your cards are scattered across the color pie. This is not uncommon, but what is uncommon is that you need to form an alliance through all the colors just to get to 23 playables. Giving up on mana stability for raw power and going against mathematics, can sometimes be a viable approach, if you want to maximize your chances of winning. I wouldn’t recommend this, unless your deck is on the far end, because not only is it risky, it is also the worst way to lose multiple games in a tournament. On top of that, a medium 2-color deck will still be able to both out-grind and outplay an average pool at a GP, and you might be paired against a 5-color monstrosity yourself, where they will lose to mana issues.
- Splashing because of lack of playables. Take a look at my Draft deck from the Mythic Championship. Sometimes I have to defy my own rule of thumb with the 3:1 splashing, because it will otherwise make all the cards in a deck uncastable. This deck isn’t great, but even with the shitty mana, I was able to 3-0 my Draft pod at the Mythic Championship because when I got to cast the Rakdos Firewheeler it was the best card in my deck. I did however lose 2 games straight up to mana issues, so it comes with a huge downside.
If MagicFest London is your first big tournament
My last advice will be for the people that will attend their first major tournament in London and aren’t usually that familiar with the competitive setting.
- Bring some snacks and some water. It’s usually expensive at the site, but its important to keep your body in a healthy state. And bringing these things with you from a supermarket cancels a potential lack of food or water, because it’s too expensive.
- If you are in doubt about something in your game or about the tournament in general, call a judge, they will be super helpful and assist you in your need.
- Remember to get some fresh air at some point. If you are tilted because of bad luck or an opponent’s bomb, go outside and clear your mind – and focus on your own way of improving in the next match.
That was it for now! I hope you are all ready to compete in London or at your LGS in the upcoming weeks. On our Discord I will put up some thoughts about both good cards and Draft strategies that we come up with prior to the PT, so think about supporting the Team Mage Patreon to gain access to the Discord!
I wish you all the best – and may your spark be lit!