Limited Resources | Illustration by Keith Parkinson
Perhaps you have a favorite MTG format. There’s Commander, where you build a 100-card deck based on the abilities of one legendary creature. There’s Standard, which uses a 60-card deck from sets within the current Standard list. Then there’s the Limited formats where you can build decks from scratch in Sealed or Draft.
Limited games are the heart of the MTG community as players come together to experience the greatness of a set expansion, build their best deck from the cards they’ve been dealt, and duke it out on the tabletop. What are the similarities and differences between Draft and Sealed? Let’s break down the limits and find out.
Seal Away | Illustration by Joseph Meehan
A Limited format is one where you build a deck with closed packs. The Sealed format involves building a 40-card deck using six unopened packs. Drafting in MTG means that you physically build your 40-card deck by passing around the booster packs with another 5 to 7 players and selecting one card from each of them until your draft deck is complete.
While both Sealed and Draft formats involve building a Limited deck with 40 cards minimum, there are major deckbuilding differences that set them apart. These decks can have more than 40 cards based on your discretion and overall deck building theme.
In Sealed, you build your deck independently and make the executive decision on which cards will be included and excluded from the draft deck. You get six packs total which contain on average 15 cards each, which means that you have about 90 cards to shuffle through and decide which cards will be included in your deck.
Draft can be exciting because it’s more of a surprise on what you’ll get to pick from each new pack, contrasting with the more control you have building a deck in the Sealed format.
In Draft, each player opens one pack at a time, then every player picks one card from the booster pack they opened and passes the rest to the next person in the group to pick from that card pile, and so on.
Sideboarding strategies for both formats are vastly different. These strategies are based on how much control you have over the cards you select for your Limited decks.
In Sealed, you have more control over what cards will be featured in your deck and sideboard because all six packs go directly to you. Anything that’s not included in your main deck is part of your sideboard, which usually gives you a large number of cards to choose from in between games.
Of course, whether or not those cards matter depends on what type of cards you receive in each pack and how likely they are to match the colors you’re already playing.
In Draft, you have control over what card you can pick in each pack passed to you. Depending on the cards in the pack and where you are in the turn rotation, you may not get access to the best cards in the pack, but you always have the option to take cards specifically for your sideboard.
The deck building process in the Draft format takes much longer than Sealed because everyone has to make a decision on each card they select from all the booster packs being passed around. Some individuals can make their decision faster than others. Since not everyone is on the same speed of deciding the next card to pick, this can result in a slower Draft process.
Sealed format deck building has a time limit just like the Draft process. However, it’ll be quicker for some people to get their decks built when playing Sealed, depending on their experience with the format.
Players have different opinions about which Limited format is harder or more skill-testing. In Sealed, you’re in the driver’s seat making the decisions on power level, synergy, and how many of each type of card goes into your deck. It’s possible to put together the “wrong deck” in a Sealed Pool. The Draft format requires a certain deck building skill more so than playing Sealed. You have to thoroughly analyze the cards you’ve been given and match up the mechanics, power levels, and support cards to suit a synergistic deck build.
In Sealed, you have the time and control to think clearly on what cards will be in your deck. This process can make it easier in refining your overall theme, but it’s harder because it involves more strategy and you do not have as much variety in choice of cards as in Draft.
Playing Draft entails faster decision-making to keep the drafting process moving for everyone else. While this part can be hard, drafting is easier in that you’re exposed to a wider variety of cards and a better chance of building your dream Draft deck.
Whether one format is better than the other is up to the discretion of the Magic player. Many players want to play Draft because they believe that they’ll have a better handle on deckbuilding than in Sealed. Sure, you can think independently without other players chiming into the deck building process like in Draft, but Sealed doesn’t offer the same variety in the card pool like Sraft does.
Limited formats can be challenging to play, so getting in some practice could help you to be better prepared when you want to participate in a weekend-night prerelease event.
Choose whether you want to do Sealed or Draft for one of your favorite sets on the Draftsim simulator. Try one of the most recent set releases such as Wilds of Eldraine and Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth or take it back to the old school with Ravnica Allegiance or Rivals of Ixalan.
Both formats let you do an auto-build to see how the simulators put the cards together. You can sort your card pool by color, mana value, rarity, or card rating. Restarting the simulator will give you a new card pool and a different deck building simulation experience.
The MTG Arena Tutor built by Draftsim can walk you through how to build your Draft deck and easily track the deck’s progress through a game. Download the software to your gaming laptop to easily see a list of cards that you and your opponent have played so far to better calculate your odds of winning.
Utilize the ratings system on Arena Tutor to receive card recommendations for your deck build. Analyze your deck building and play performance, and which play format is your favorite and best.
Take a look at Draftsim's tier lists to learn about how the cards in each Magic set rank based on power level. This way, when it’s time to draft a deck from one of these specific sets, you’ll know immediately which cards are more powerful than others. These tools will get you on track for building the best Draft deck that you can.
They're also very well maintained throughout the set's lifetime!
Join Spikes Academy to receive a premium experience in learning how to play Limited formats better. MTG Hall of Famer and Pro Tour Champion Ben Stark will walk you through how to perform the best in these popular Limited formats so you’realways on top of your game.
If you have the cash to invest, purchase the course for only $47 to learn the ins and outs of the Limited format. Learn the differences and greatness of playing Sealed and Draft, strategies for deck building in both formats, and how to win more games when competing in Draft competitions.
Stark also offers 1-hour and 4-hour coaching sessions over Discord if you want a more one-on-one teaching and learning approach. The 4-hour sessions can be divided into multiple 1-hour sessions over four weeks to evaluate your progress in getting better in the Limited format.
Are you looking for a community of Magic players that wants to improve in Limited formats just like you do? Head over to Draftsim’s Discord to discuss Limited format tactics with other players online while practicing with the Draftsim simulator.
Check out the MTG Arena Steam community to view their forums with different questions about the current Limited format. Thousands of players are in the game and connected to Steam, so there’s always someone around to answer your questions.
Updraft Elemental | Illustration by Raf Sarmento
Whether you’re vying to be a Limited Master like Ben Stark or you’re just starting to learn how to play Sealed and Draft matches, I hope this has helped you to learn the similarities and differences of the two Limited formats.
Head over to the Draftsim blog for more content updates and learn new concepts about MTG every day. Until next time, don’t stay limited; expand your mind to learn the Limited formats!Follow Draftsim for awesome articles and set updates: