hile at Worlds Week in Amsterdam, I had the opportunity to watch seventy-one different national teams break down their Sealed Deck card pools in both Magic 2014 Core Set Team Sealed and Return to Ravnica Block Team Sealed.
Wall of Swords | Art by Zoltan Boros & Gabor Szikszai
I think I saw it all. I saw people with piles by color, by predicted deck choice, by power level, and even saw one team sort their entire twelve-booster-pack pool sideways on the table so they could fit every card in a long color row.
I saw some pretty effective approaches, and some that could probably use some work. Why is this important? Mainly because time spent handling Magic cards is time you don't get to spend building your deck.
I have a way to sort that works well for me, and I thought I'd share it with you this week.
My main goal when I am sorting a Sealed pool is to get a big-picture view of my card pool. I want the most essential, high-level information available to me so I can figure out what direction the deck wants to go in. You will always have those last few card choices to agonize over, but getting to that point as quickly as possible allows you the time needed to make the best decision.
My method also helps avoid common pitfalls like building toward a bomb rare even if my pool doesn't dictate doing so. I'm sure we have all opened some sick rare in our pool, built our deck with it in mind, only to realize halfway through the deck-build portion that our deck really wanted to go in a much different direction. Not playing a bomb rare is unfortunate, but it's often correct. My method helps make that decision early in the process so you don't waste time with a build that just isn't going to work.
Lastly, it helps provide some level of rhythm and comfort to building a Sealed deck. If you already have the motions down before you even open that first pack, you can divert a lot of mental energy to the task at hand: building the best possible configuration for your deck.
Let's dive into how I accomplish this task. You can use my method as a basis for your own, or just cherry-pick the things that make sense to you. Make sure you adapt it to how you think about deck building either way.
I am going to assume that we have our actual Sealed pool in front of us. That means that any card sorting and cataloging is already finished, and we either have our pool passed to us at a Grand Prix or if we are at Friday Night Magic, we have just opened our booster packs.
The first thing I do is simple: I sort by color. I make a pile for each color, a pile for mana fixing (this includes both lands that fix mana and artifacts as well: any colorless fixing), and a pile for artifacts like Equipment and such. I don't read the cards, nor do I pay particular attention to them at this stage. I just want to get them piled up first; the actual deck building will come later.
At this point I am already forming my opinion on what direction my deck might go. How can that be if I have barely even read any of the cards? I'm just looking at the numbers. Some pools have more cards in some colors than in other colors. Sometimes you open that pool with eight blue cards and nineteen black cards. While not set in stone, it's simply more likely you will find enough playables in black.
This is also a great time to look for traps.
Imagine in our scenario above, that we have only eight blue cards in our entire pool, but one of them is a bomb. Since most bombs have a double-colored-mana cost requirement, we will assume that as well. (Let's say this bomb costs ).
Right away, we can see that it's unlikely—although still possible—that we end up with this bomb in our final forty. The reasoning is simple: We need enough playable in a given color just to be able to count it as a main color in our deck. Splashing for high-power-level cards is a nice way to fit in some cards from this category, but since most bombs have double colored-mana symbols, it's unlikely to work out for us.
Now we have our cards piled by color, artifacts, and colorless mana-fixing. This gives us a nice overall view of what our deck may become. We have a snapshot about which colors we are deepest in, and we have an idea as to what mana-fixing options we have available. This is a good start, and we have arrived here quickly, which is important.
Now we get to the beefiest part of our Sealed Deck build: The Sort. This is where we really start homing in on our actual deck and what options we have. Let's walk through the process.
I start by picking up each color pile. My goal now is to get some sort of hierarchy going so that I can see not only the number of cards in each color, but the quality of those cards.
Here's how I accomplish this:
First, I take out all the garbage. I'm pretty liberal with this part, as I like to get a view of the cards I'm likely to actually play in my starting forty. I take out all the junk rares, the horrible combat tricks, the weird cards that never make the deck, sideboard-only cards, etc. Those go in a separate pile, off to the side; the Unplayables Pile. (I want to note here that these cards are not completely out of consideration, as we will be visiting this pile again, but they are extremely unlikely to make any deck I am remotely happy with.)
So get that those cards out of the way; they just muddle the view of the good stuff.
When it comes to sorting the rest, I do it with a three-stage method. This means that I will be making a column of three rows, each in descending order. The order I use is this:
Top Row: Cards I am excited about playing. This usually means the good removal, bombs, and efficient creatures.
Middle Row: Cards that are very likely to make the deck, but aren't a reason to play that color. This section is made up of unexciting creatures, inefficient (but playable) removal, and unexciting finishers.
Bottom Row: Cards that might make the deck, but that I am hoping won't. This is made up of filler cards that you could play and not be embarrassed by, but that you hope to not have to play.
I do this for all five colors. By the end, I have a matrix that provides a much better view of where the strengths of my card pool lie. Without looking too hard, I have a visual representation of where the true power of my Sealed pool is. If I have a color with a bunch of cards in the Top Row, I know I am very likely to play that color. If I had a pile with a particularly big number of cards in a color, but now that I have sorted it, a bunch of them went to the Unplayables Pile and another chunk are in the Bottom Row, I can deduce that I'm probably not playing that as a primary color.
This is where the majority of my thinking goes on. I look at each column, and it's pretty easy to just take one or two entire columns out immediately. No bombs, only two Top Row cards, and an overall lack of playables means it's out. I'll just pick up that column and set it aside. My goal is to organize the information in such a way that I can make decisions like this and feel confident that I was working with the necessary amount of information to make that call.
Another thing you will see is that if you look at all of the Top Row cards, the potential splash cards will reveal themselves to you. You may notice that you don't have many playables in black, so it's not going to be a main color for you. Now you can take away Middle Row and Bottom Row cards, leaving you with the Top Row only. Now look at those cards. Perhaps there is a Doom Blade and a Sengir Vampire. We certainly won't be splashing for Sengir Vampire, but Doom Blade is eligible if we have the right tools.
I have found that most Sealed pools will present one obvious color for you. The other color (and subsequent splashes) can range from very difficult to fairly obvious.
I won't be able to go into as much detail here as, well, building a Sealed deck is unique to each time you do it. But my general process is pretty straightforward. I'll do the sorting we talked about in the previous section, and I'll eventually determine my two core colors for the deck. Then I will browse for any potential splashes, and cross-check those against my color fixing options to see if a splash is viable. All of my Top Row cards in my colors will make the cut (they are, after all, the reason I chose those colors), and most of my Middle Row will as well. The nitty-gritty is picking which of the Bottom Row makes the cut, and how that effects the deck.
The last thing I do before submitting my final deck is pick up the Unplayables Pile and make sure there isn't something I want in there for my particular build. Remember, no card is truly 100% unplayable. Considerations like overall strategy, unique synergies, and two-card combos mean that you might just find a home for one of those cards. It's always worth it to double check, even if it's rare that you play one of the cards from it.
After that, I make the tough cuts, agonize about my mana base, and ultimately submit my deck.
That's it. Hopefully you can find something useful from this exercise. Everyone has their own way of doing it, and as long as you get to where you need to go in the given time frame, stick with what works. This system works for me, and I have found that it gives me the most time possible to think about what really matters.
Until next week!
Marshall Sutcliffe hosts the Limited Resources podcast, does Pro Tour and Grand Prix video coverage, writes articles, and produces strategy videos. Marshall came back to Magic after discovering Limited following a long hiatus from the game, but he enjoys all forms of the game. He lives in Seattle, WA.