hards of Alara Sealed Deck is pretty hot right now. Not only was it the format for the Prerelease and Release events, it is the Swiss format for the Pro Tour–Kyoto Qualifiers (which are going on right now) and the next few upcoming Grand Prixs including Grand Prix–Kansas City and Grand Prix–Paris which are taking place this weekend. All in all, it's a good time to be a Limited player.
So, now that we're done with the hybrid wackiness of Shadowmoor and Eventide, it's time to get down to the nuts and bolts of Shards of Alara Sealed Deck. Before I get to my method for sorting through Shards of Alara sealed pools (which fortunately requires a lot fewer piles than Shadowmoor/Eventide Sealed Deck did) lets talk a little bit about how games of Shards of Alara Sealed actually play out.
One of the defining features of Shards of Alara Sealed Deck is that, because there is so much good colorless mana fixing, it is pretty easy to splash any card that has a single off-colored mana in its casting cost.
Splashing is good, but don't overdo it.
What does this mean for you? Well, first off, it means that you are going to be able to play with almost all of your good cards. It also means that your opponents are going to be able to play almost all of their good cards. At the end of the day, you can expect to see a lot of powerful, removal heavy decks.
The next thing that I've learned about Shards of Alara Sealed is that while it is a very powerful format, it's also a pretty slow one. Players often have enough time to set up powerful combos or cycle their Resounding cards. So, if you're playing a red-green-white deck with a Resounding Thunder and a Jund Panorama, it's probably worth adding a single Swamp so your deck will have the ability to super-size Resounding Thunder late in the game.
The flip side of this being a slow Sealed Deck format is that aggressive two-color, or two-color-plus-light-splash decks, can be quite good. Of course, they can only really work if you get the right cards. At the Prerelease I saw a couple of my friends 4-0 or 3-1 their pods with aggressive black-red decks featuring a good amount of removal and exciting cheap creatures such as Goblin Deathraiders. While not all pools will have the ability to field a good beatdown deck, you should always keep your eyes open for them especially if it doesn't look like you have the cards to build a great four or five color deck.
Since this is a fairly slow format, both players will usually have the ability to play their game to the fullest; you need to make sure that you can win if the game goes long. How you are going to accomplish that depends on what type of cards you have. If you have a bunch of Resounding cards, then that's great. You really won't have to worry too much about what you are going to do if the game goes long. If you have a Flameblast Dragon and a Battlegrace Angel in your deck, you're also set.
But what happens when you don't have any of these very powerful, very obvious inclusions to work with? Well, then it's time to put your brain to work and figure out what you can do to win a game that goes long.
Your plan might be to make a huge devour creature like Thunder-Thrash Elder and then Soul's Fire your opponent for 13 or so (a combo that I somewhat regrettably chose to leave in the sideboard of my Prerelease Sealed). It could be to use Naya Charm to tap down all of your opponent's creatures and then alpha strike without any pesky blockers getting in your way. It could be to lean on your Algae Gharial until it turns into an untargetable giant.
No matter what type of late game plan your deck calls for, make sure that you don't use the cards that you need to win on turn 12 too early (if you can afford to wait). For example, if you think the game is going long, you will often want to hold your Naya Charm, even if there is a particularly juicy creature to burn out, until you can facilitate a lethal attack by tapping all of your opponent's creatures.
Before we get started looking at an actual Sealed pool, there's one more thing that I'd like to point out. Depending on what type of Sealed pool you open, you are going to have a very different set of questions to answer. Sometimes, you might be trying to figure out how to best make your five color deck work. Other times you might be trying to figure out if it's worth splashing for a fourth color, other times you might be wondering if it's better to play a solidly three color deck, or if you want to play a two color deck that splashes cards from every color.
Not So Shard to Build
Alright, let's crack open our sealed pool.
First thing first: eliminating the unplayables and laying out the deck. Once we get rid of Kederekt Creeper, Marble Chalice, Gustrider Exuberant, Shadowfeed, 2 Soul's Mights, Sangrite Surge, 2 Resounding Screams, Banewasp Affliction, Goblin Mountaineer and Tezzeret the Seeker, we're left with...
Organization is (relatively) easy again!
In Shadowmoor/Eventide Sealed we had to worry about making a lot of piles so one could see what cards they were working with. While there are a lot of gold cards in this set, they are a lot easier to keep track of than the hybrid cards that we've been dealing with over the last six months, so we can actually consolidate all of the gold cards into a spread, organized across the color wheel, that is easy to keep track of.
Once we've laid out our cards we can look to see if there are any clear underachievers for base colors. In this case it happens to be black as the color doesn't have a lot of particularly good creatures, and it doesn't have any removal (or non-creature spells that cost less than seven mana for that matter). So, that means that we can safely remove all of our black cards that only work if black is one of our main colors. This means it's time to say goodbye to Necrogenesis, Undead Leotau, Shore Snapper, Dregscape Zombie, Brilliant Ultimatum, Goblin Deathraiders, Glaze Fiend, Cunning Lethemancer, Deathgreeter, Corpse Connoisseur, and Salvage Titan. We'll keep Blood Cultist, Sprouting Thrinax and Carrion Thrash around because they might be worth splashing.
The pool minus most of black.
After determining black was an underperformer, it looks like blue just isn't cutting the mustard as a main color either. Out of all of the cards with blue in their casting cost, only Resounding Wave and Rhox War Monk jump out to me as potential splash options. With that we can say goodbye to Deft Duelist, Outrider of Jhess, Steelclad Serpent, Cancel, Esper Battlemage and Jhessian Lookout.
The pool minus most of black and blue.
Now that we don't have too many cards cluttering our space, we can clearly see that our white and our green are our strongest main colors. They have a lot of good cards early in the curve, including a very nice exalted engine featuring two Guardians of Akrasa and two Angelic Benedictions to ensure that the deck will both be able to stay in the game defensively and punch through damage.
(I'd like to take this chance to apologize for putting down Angelic Benediction last week. It's actually a very good card under the right circumstances. I hadn't seen a situation where it would be relevant, nor could I imagine one at the time, so I dismissed it. That of course turned out to be quite wrong. Big thanks to everyone who corrected me in the forums and via email.)
With this in mind we can reduce our red to a splash, removing Bloodpyre Elemental, Soul's Fire, Blood Cultist, Carrion Thrash, Sprouting Thrinax, Rip-Clan Crasher, Bloodthorn Taunter, Ridge Rannet as well as Rockcaster Platoon which, while not red, clearly is not going to be good enough for our deck, and we are almost done.
Twenty-six cards. That means that we only need to cut three cards and we'll have a deck.
The next place to go is to figure out which cards we can reasonably splash. It's very important to keep in mind what mana fixing is available to you when you are considering your splash options. Not to go into too much detail about splashing right now, but a good rule of thumb is that pretty much any card with a single off-color mana symbol in its casting cost can be played if you have two mana sources to support it. If you are splashing two cards, then you can get away with two sources, but you probably want three. If you are splashing three cards, then you probably want three or four sources.
While I was making this round of cuts, I noticed that our curve was incredibly low. Because of that I moved the three Obelisks (Obelisk of Naya, Obelisk of Esper, and Obelisk of Jund) off to the side. They could make their way back to the deck if need be, but I feel that it's easier to look at the deck without them as no more than one will end up in the deck anyway.
As it is, it's pretty clear that we are going to play some red for at least Skeletonize and the cycling ability on Resounding Thunder and I feel particularly inclined to include Rhox War Monk because we have so much exalted and we have Seaside Citadel and Crumbling Necropolis to help us support it. Resounding Wave doesn't seem like it's worth working for, so we can safely cut that leaving us with 25 cards.
Since we get two blue mana sources for free because we are running Crumbling Necropolis and Seaside Citadel (two being the magic number of mana sources needed to splash a card) we won't gain anything by cutting Rhox War Monk. However, there is a lot to be gained by trimming down our red. By getting rid of Magma Spray and Vithian Stinger, we go down to 23 spells and we will only need to play one Mountain in addition to our Crumbling Necropolis and our Naya Panorama to be able to support our red cards. By doing this we get an incredibly sound mana base filled with white and green sources. This means that we won't have too much trouble casting our two-drops on the second turn, which is exactly when we need them.
So we wound up with a fairly straightforward exalted beatdown deck (alright, I promise I won't talk about exalted again next week). I am pretty confident that this is the right way to build this deck (though I can see arguments for making slightly greedier splashes), and it would have been pretty easy to come to this build, or something quite similar, by simply eyeballing the pool and seeing that the green and the white were very good main colors to build a deck around. While the eyeballing method is fine, and can often lead to good results, I have become a firm believer that the best way to build a Sealed pool, regardless of the format, is by first eliminating any completely non-viable options and then working with what you have left. The less we have to look at, the better.
This Sealed pool led us to a base two-color beatdown deck with two splashes. Our biggest questions hinged on figuring what we needed to do to make sure the deck would function smoothly. We were able to answer those questions almost before we had to ask them because we had been swiftly eliminating options as soon as it became apparent that they weren't worth considering.
While these answers fell into place because of good process, there are plenty of times when things won't be this easy, and you might have to make one, or two (or three, or...) big decisions about how you want your Sealed Deck to look.
Because each sealed pool is so different in Shards of Alara, I'm going to revisit the "how-to-build-a-Sealed-pool?" question as well as some of the nuances of playing Shards Sealed again soon.
If there are any specific questions about Shards Sealed that you would like me to answer, please post your questions on the forums or email me. While there are a lot of things that I want to talk about for the format (I think this is one of the most interesting Sealed Deck formats of all time) I want to make sure that I'm not ignoring any pressing questions that people may have.
Bonus Sealed Exercise
How would you build this sealed pool? Post your final list in the forums!