Last updated on July 27, 2022
Ghen, Arcanum Weaver | Illustration by Kieran Yanner
Are you a beginner who wants to experience MTG in the fairest and easiest way possible? Are you a seasoned player looking to practice your deckbuilding skills? Well, look no further! The sealed format here for you to master.
I’m here to give you guys some tips on the sealed format today. It’s a highly competitive and extremely fun format that lets you use whatever you get in your booster packs to build yourself a killer deck. This format is a personal favorite of mine since each player has equal resources and will battle it out over with their deckbuilding skills.
So, let’s begin!
What is Sealed?
Verdant Mastery | Illustration by Cristi Balanescu
Sealed is a limited format where you get six unopened packs to build a deck with a minimum of 40 cards. Of course, that includes an unlimited number basic lands which you’re allowed to add to your deck from outside the packs.
This format is one of the best starting points for Magic because you only need six boosters and it’s a great way to learn and to improve your deckbuilding skills. In fact, it is the de facto format for Magic prereleases, which are the way many people are first introduced to organized MTG!
Sealed vs. Draft
One of the most asked questions is which Limited format to play: sealed or draft? My personal answer for that is you should play both. Sealed and draft each bring something unique to the experience.
But if you’re looking for a fun way to start your MTG collection, sealed is the format for you.
Sealed is significantly easier because you don’t have to draft cards. It lets you use all the cards in your packs to build your deck from there. Normally the deck you build depends on the most powerful cards in your card pool and you build from there.
With that said, this is the why sealed is the best entry point for beginners. They’ll be exposed to the strategies on deckbuilding.
I find draft to be very difficult, but in a fun way. What makes draft difficult is you can only pick one card when you open a pack, pass the pool to the player on your left, and get the card pool from the player on your right. Basically, you have to choose which card has better synergy with the cards you’ve already drafted. This process can be very daunting for beginners because it challenges your card evaluation, knowledge of the overall format, and ability to deckbuild on-the-fly.
Plus, the time pressure makes people really nervous!
By the way, we at Draftsim can help you make better decisions and help you improve your drafting skills. Check out our free MTGA tracker Arena Tutor! If you’re struggling and want to get better, the tracker will make suggestions about what cards to pick and even help you build your deck.
The only downside I see in sealed is the cost. You have to use six packs versus the three boosters you use in draft. So have to use 48 packs in total to support 8 players in a tournament setting for sealed, while you only need 24 boosters to support a draft tournament.
The Rules: How to Play Sealed
Tanazir Quandrix | Illustration by Raymond Swanland
As I mentioned, sealed only requires six unopened packs of the same set.
Any Limited format deck should contain a minimum of 40 cards. This means that there’s no maximum size. I once used a 41-card deck in a competitive tournament, and it definitely gave me some edge, but it depends on the cards you play. This is a move reserved for experts, however. Maybe if you’re playing Theros Beyond Death.
The cards that aren’t used in the deck are counted as your sideboard. How great is that? You can either sideboard normally in between games or you can totally change your deck based on your card pool and opponent’s deck, but we’ll get into it later.
You’re also not restricted to only four copies of any one card! This means that if you’re lucky and managed to open five Assassinates in your Time Spiral Remastered packs, you can totally use all five in your deck! I’m telling you right now, removal cards are a priority in sealed.
Building a Sealed Deck
This is the part where it gets interesting for you.
There are a few things you have to consider when building your deck. Here are some of the things I look for in my card pool when building Limited decks.
The first thing I do after I open my packs is look for bombs. These are the cards that you can rely on to win the game. Bombs can generally win games if they’re not answered or killed.
Cards like Hazoret the Fervent, The Scarab God, and Beledros Witherbloom. These cards are some of the most powerful to have and very difficult to answer. They generate so much value and leave your opponents scrambling on how to deal with them.
Basically, removal cards are your kill spells to answer your opponent’s massive bomb creatures or powerful planeswalkers. Cards like Flunk, Pigment Storm, and Vraska’s Contempt. These are the cards you rely on to stop your opponents from winning the game by killing their stuff.
If that’s the case, we can rely on mana fixers. These cards can help you get the land you need or creatures that produce mana of any color. Some great examples of these cards are Evolving Wilds, Paradise Druid, and Accomplished Alchemist.
The Mana Curve
This part of the deck is usually one of your limitations: a Sealed deck contains around 16 to 18 lands depending on your mana curve. In deckbuilding, you’ll choose the best 22 to 24 cards in your pool, but it doesn’t simply stop there. You have to mix the different mana costs of your cards so that you can consistently play a card every turn.
You might ask, “I have a lot of 4- and 6-drop bombs, why can’t I just use them all?” The answer is your opponent will tempo you out if you don’t have a turn 1 to turn 3 play. You might not draw the lands you need to play those high-cost cards at all in some cases. No matter how good your cards are, if the curve isn’t well balanced then it’s not playable.
Sample Deck and Lands
Let’s take a look at a sample deck and hand in Arena Tutor to get a better idea of what I’m talking about:
This deck has a good mana curve with a high chance to play cards every turn. There’s also a good mix of creatures, lands, and removal. I used 17 lands here because I don’t want to miss my drops until turn 5 or 6. Luckily I also have cards like Hagra Mauling and Agadeem’s Awakening that can be used as lands if I need to.
You can have a deck with 16 lands if your biggest card is a 4- or 5-drop and you have a lot of 1- and 2-drops. This’ll keep your deck consistent with casting creatures and lowers the chance of flooding.
There’s also an option to play 18 lands. You can do this if your deck is playing heavy 6- to 8-drop bombs. This way you’re more likely to be able to hit your lands early on.
A deck should normally have around 14 to 17 creatures. In Limited, winning by attacking your opponent with your creatures is the most common way to get a victory. Frequently, the more aggressive your deck is, the more creatures you’ll need.
Sealed games tend to get very long because they’re fairly even. Decks are unlikely to have the right number of copies or a critical mass of cards to execute a streamlined, synergy-based gameplan.
I love to play creatures with flying in Limited like Ghastly Gloomhunter and Nighthawk Scavenger. These creatures win the most as they can’t be blocked by those huge land creatures. If your opponent can’t block or kill your flyers, then you’re probably going to win!
As I mentioned, sealed games tend to be stalled out and last longer. One of the best way to gain the upper hand is cards that give you card advantage. These are the cards that replace themselves, draw you more cards, or even retrieve stuff from your graveyard.
Ah, this is one of my favorite types of cards to play in a Limited format. Tricks include counterspells, bounce spells, and pump spells like Saw it Coming, Unsummon, and Invigorated Rampage. These will be harder to predict for your opponent and can turn the tide around in an instant.
When I played at a sealed tournament, my unblocked 1/1 creature suddenly became a 5/1 lethal attacker thanks to Invigorated Rampage and ultimately won me the match.
Employ these cards sparingly, however, because they are very situational and you might sometimes not have a use for them.
This is another interesting part of Limited formats. You might ask, “Why is this interesting? We’re used to sideboarding in constructed.” Well, in the case of a Limited format, all the cards in your pool that aren’t in your deck are considered your sideboard cards!
Yep, there are plenty of leftover cards for you to choose from and you can definitely change the whole dynamic of your deck in games two and three.
They may only be good for game 2 or game 3 of the match because you’re not sure if your opponent will have high-impact artifacts/enchantments or if their main deck is full of flyers.
What if you still include them in your main deck just to be prepared? Well, if your opponent doesn’t have any artifacts or flyers and you draw a Tangletrap, then it would be a waste of the draw. Tangletrap is now a dead card that doesn’t have a purpose.
So, it’s better for situational cards to stay in the sideboard. If you have something like Wilt with the cycle ability, though, you can safely slide it in your main deck since you can just cycle it if you don’t have any other use for it.
Switching It Up
Sometimes you have good cards in three different colors, but your mana base can only accommodate two and you don’t want to force a third. Changing your deck identity is entirely possible.
Let’s say you have a Golgari deck but game 2 comes along and it seems like a good idea to switch over to a Simic creature deck with counterspells to better match your opponent. You can definitely do that as long as you’ve got the right pieces for the build in your card pool.
Remember you still have to have a functional deck that checks all the boxes checked above, though.
Opening six booster packs will give you approximately 78 to 80 useable cards. You can imagine how big your card pool will be and you can definitely assemble two or three pretty unique decks between all those cards.
Sideboarding really is an entire topic in and of itself. If you want to become and expert at it, I recommend this course by Magic great Seth Manfield:
Spikes Academy also has a course from draft great Ben Stark about limited in general. This includes an entire section with several modules about sealed.
Where and How to Practice Sealed
Personally, I use our very own simulators to practice how I build my sealed decks. Draftsim is no doubt the best tool out there (and will also give you power ratings for each card so that you can know what cards to build around).
I’m not biased at all.
Building a sealed deck on our draft/sealed simulator
When you’re comfortable enough with your deckbuilding skills, you can head onto MTG Arena and play a sealed event to test yourself on how much you have improved! Again, Arena Tutor will help you with deck suggestions if you run it while you’re playing and want some extra help.
You can also head to MTG Online for some sealed tournaments and dominate there if that’s more your thing. Since we are still in the middle of a pandemic, you can also play sealed with your family, friends, or co-workers as it doesn’t really require 8 players. You just have to get six packs for each player and you’re good to go!
You can also upload and submit a decklist from Arena to Draftsim by following these instructions. I’d encourage you to share your decks or card pool with your friends and discuss how to improve your deckbuilding skills. Playing Magic is a fun experience that should be shared with everyone for the community to grow and get more people to play with!
Knight of Autumn | Illustration by Ryan Pancoast
Oh, I almost forgot Team Sealed! This is a variation of the format that lets you play with two of your friends. Basically, each of the players in your team will have to create a 40-card deck from a pool of only 12 booster packs.
You might wonder, “Isn’t that a bit difficult?” The answer is absolutely, but it’s incredibly fun! This format is challenging in the best way because you and your friends are in it to win it.
Your team of three will battle another team of three players. When two players from the same team win their individual matches, the whole team wins the match. Team Sealed is definitely a fun and unique way to play sealed that lets players compete in a fresh environment with their best friends.
The Best Set for Sealed
I asked a Limited formats grinder that I’m friends with what set has given him the best experience when it comes to sealed. His answer was Amonkhet. He loved Amonkhet so much for a sealed event because the cards of this particular set are so balanced and there’s something for everyone.
Let’s look at some of the mechanics that make this set so great for Sealed.
The exert mechanic is so powerful but can give you a disadvantage on the following turn, thus giving the player a challenging decision in combat.
This mechanic enables you to do graveyard shenanigans and bring creatures back to the battlefield to do some more damage to your opponents.
The aftermath mechanic has a very reminiscent feel to split cards. You just have to play it for its value.
Ingenious Mastery | Illustration by Cristi Balanescu
So that’s it for sealed today, I hope you guys learned something new. Limited formats are, in my opinion, one of the fairest format in all of MTG and a fun way to improve your deckbuilding skills.
How about you? Share your most memorable experience of playing a sealed deck in the comments below. I’d love to hear them!
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