Sealed Deck is a much-maligned format. Between the stories of The Ultimate Deck and how five successive land rips dismantled the unloseable game, there's not much room for talk about Sealed Deck strategy. How is it different from draft? What can you expect from your opponents and how does that change the way you build your deck? What cards are valued differently in Sealed than in Draft?
Below are some snapshot looks at how different pros look at the current Sealed Deck environment, and what they feel can help make the most of a good pool. After opening a bunch of bombs, that is.
Bob Maher, Jr.
For Maher, Sealed Deck is all about playing with your best spells. The key difference between draft decks and sealed decks are the card quality. Sealed decks play overall better cards, but hit three colors in order to do so. "Most sealed decks will beat draft decks, assuming they draw all three colors of mana."
Because of this, players design their decks to draw the game out, the better to win with their bombs. This also serves as incentive to build your deck with the long game in mind. As a result cards that are good only early on will find themselves squeezed out for maximum utility. Also, cycling cards become more important because you don't have to worry about being tempo'd out why you cycle to your good cards.
The Hump was reticent to sound off on the subject of Sealed, saying he hadn't really put in enough practice. He did echo Maher on the tendency towards wider mana curves. He said that convinces him to value Falter-effects like Dirge of Dread and Wave of Indifference more than he otherwise would, just because games would stalemate while players search for their bombs, and Dirge could steal a game that was otherwise getting away.
The only other thing he could point to was the increased importance of Cruel Revival to thwart opposing bombs. It's the only "black" card he's running, the rest of them being morphs, but the card is so important that it's worth forcing. Sandskin is another such card.
After some prodding, Mike Turian was willing to expand on his initial response of "Sealed is fun!" The key, he says, is knowing what it is your deck is trying to do. Obviously it's easier when you have bombs, then you can just play the long game and let your power cards do all the work. In the absence of that you have to look at what your best cards want to do and fill in the gaps with cards that complement that strategy. The slowness of the format helps that a lot. He pointed to the pair of Grassland Crusader
s he had in play as an illustration of that. A card that nobody likes in draft, but serving a powerful support function in his deck.
Nick "8-0 at Philly" Eisel wasted no time getting to what he saw as the heart of the matter: Off-color morphs to make sure you have mana consistency. More than anything else, you need to focus on your bombs, and make sure that you're able to cast them with regularity. The rest of your deck serves the supplementary role of making sure you survive to that point. Cycling cards help too, but to a lesser extent. Making sure you have enough Grey Ogres will thwart your opponent's early plays and allow you to reach a point where your bombs take over. Also, you'll drop fewer random games to mana stumbles.
"But really, it's all about Weird Harvest."
Make of that what you will.
Strangely, Wise started from the same idea as Eisel, but took it in a completely different direction. More than anything else, he says, the format is about mana consistency. In draft, the ability to direct your picks to make sure you have a smooth curve means that your mana will always be good. Because in sealed you don't get to choose the tools at your disposal, you have to work to make sure your mana is good.
However, Wise says that this can be of even greater importance than bombs. He cites his deck this weekend as an extreme example, where two of his three most powerful cards are languishing in his sideboard. That usually won't happen, but it's often worht lowering the overall power of your deck to make sure it performs consistently. Resist the temptation to cram all your top cards together and hope for the best.