How to build a sealed deck with Data, Information and Knowledge by David Brannon

The UK Magic scene from a cross cultural perspective by David William Brannon


I have been trying to write this article since last week and this is my third version. I just felt that I could not get the hang of it. I knew what I wanted to write, what the theme was, what it could contain and yet there was something missing… SYNERGY. Messing around on-line with release events, being crushed by Gianter Spiders and Grave Titans, I was reading as per my norm, one of my favourite sites, StarCityGames. Finally I found my inspiration, in which Brian Kibler writes a very rudimentary piece on getting back to the basics, i.e. asking the question. Data collected, I decided it was time to stop messing around and actually get on with processing the data itself, build information and apply knowledge to strategy.

As players start playing tournaments one of the first experiences they may encounter is sealed. In many ways it is a level playing field, although you do get the DLS pools, which have a minimum of 1 Planeswalker and 2-3 other bombs (supported by a very strong deck builder and limited players) . You also get pools where your best hope for the day is to see if you can win a single game. Still, when all is said and done, why when we look at successful results from sealed events do you still get average looking decks in amongst all the 4 mythic and 5 rare (3 foils of course) decks. Simple, they collected the data, developed information and applied it to build knowledge, i.e. a strategy that offered them synergy.

So let us start with the basics. What is the data that we are being offered? 6 boosters, all being equal, 84 cards, 6 rares / mythics, 18 uncommons and 60 commons. On top of that, then there is a minimum 40-card deck rule, where all remaining cards are in the sideboard (SB) and a complete spoiler which should have been reviewed prior to playing. Check.

Information: Most players start by either looking at their rares / mythics, but a safer root is simple to divide up cards into their respective colours. Then review the cards, possible creating three piles; the first being cards you want play, the second cards you would play and third cards you do not want to play. It is important to note however that all cards are still under consideration until you have finally gone through your entire deck building process. As some cards you feel that must be played might be swapped out and cards you never want to play may be central to making your strategy work. It is also important to consider how your deck is curving and not create an imbalance.

This process should also help identity any splash cards, removal, good SB and the decks’ base colour(s). I often find that understanding this is fundamental stage is vital for players to develop. In order to facilitate this, I therefore often sit down with newer players at release events to go through this process with them. Once players are able to comfortable assess cards, their ability to build decks improves.

Notice however that I have not referenced knowledge as yet. The reason is that many players while specialising in the information processing stage, struggle with applying this to knowledge. There are several reasons for this; one explanation however is simply fear. My last sealed event was a good illustration of this. I was playing UB with a relatively strong build but was unable to stop myself from playing a Sun Titan, even though I knew it was the wrong call as it destabilized my mana base. Needless to say, I ended up going 3-2 while on the Saturday I went 4-1 with a deck full of strong uncommons and okay rares. The simple answer as to why the Saturday deck was better was synergy. Based on the data of my sealed pool, I processed not what the strongest cards were but what the strongest deck was. I then applied this and went 4-1.

Knowledge in this respect is understanding what it is your deck is trying to tell you. It means applying the information from all 84 cards and not simple from one or two bombs. For those of you who like football, compare Real Madrid’s Galaticos who won nothing, with Barca, who cannot stop winning. So what does this mean when trying to build a sealed pool? Well in this respect limited and constructed are not far apart. Although it may seem that there are millions of archetypes, there are only three: aggro, control and combo. In limited, this mainly boils down to aggro and control. Understanding how each one works, i.e. information, and how this relates to your pool, i.e. more information, separates between a 5-0 and 0-5 deck (allowing for insane pools). So whether you are building a sealed deck on line this week, at Nationals in two weeks or looking forward to your next Prerelease, consider this this simple question: Are you listening to your pool or your bombs?

Sealed however offers one further challenge that is very different from constructed. The ability to significantly, possible even completely, rebuild your deck between Game 1-2 and 2-3. A lot of players having decided upon which version to play in game 1, miss the obvious data that the first game is giving me. The difference between game 1 and 2 is massive, in fact they should be addressed as very different concepts but few players initially appreciate this point. Game 1 is different from both game 2 and 3, because on the whole you have little or no data about your opponent. Their bombs have not been identified and their strategy is yet to be shown. In other words there is a great deal of unknown data that is still to be collected. After game 1 however, much of this should be clear. Are they on a weenie rush plan or control strategy, are there specific cards such as Overrun, Fireball, Grave Titan etc to contend with. In short who can survive the long game and who should focus on aggro.

Kibler suggests that in order to beat a deck you need to understand its weaknesses, address it and exploit those. In order to do this however you need to carefully gather your data, focusing on what colours are they playing and their strategy i.e. aggro or control. Good indicators of this are whether they seem to be waiting for something off the top or are they pushing points of damage through at all costs. These are pointers that you should consider when side boarding between games. Bearing in mind that the deck you initially developed, was based on data about beating the field, e.g. M12 environment. The deck you are presenting in game 2 and 3 however should be built in order to purely beat your opponent’s deck and nothing else. In other words the fundamental base of your plan has now changed. Based on this data, each of your cards and colours should be reviewed a new with focus purely on your opponent’s deck. Classic examples of this are Deathmark, Combust and Flashfreeze, which as cards have a high chance of doing nothing against the M12 field. Once you know what your opponent is playing there evaluation is completely different. Deathmark can suddenly become a “kill anything” spell while Flashfreeze may counter your opponents entire deck.

So when shuffling up your deck before each game, ask yourself what is it you are trying to beat, the whole field (game 1) or purely your opponents deck (game 2 & 3). Then consider whether you have built your deck to achieve this goal. Has this deck been based on the strategy and synergy which meats the goal you have set yourself, or are you still focusing on including bombs above all else. For further advise speak to Mourinho!

Next week I will discuss how data, information and knowledge work towards understanding deck lists, tournament results and side board plans. Thank you for reading.

Feedback as always is very welcome,

David Brannon

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