Limited Competition – How to Build MTG Sealed Decks by Daniel Harborne

Danation – Top 8 Tips for Top 8 Nationals by Daniel Harborne


Hey all, I’m taking a break from writing the final part of the Planeswalker points article to bring a quick primer on a subject that this weekend will be rather important!

Yes that’s right it’s Pre-release weekend again and as such I thought I would go through my thoughts on what makes a successful sealed deck. Now while I’m no PV I feel I’m competent enough in limited formats (6-3 at GP london , 5-1 draft record at Nats) to illustrate some of the generic techniques to win a hefty stack of Innistrad product.


This article might not be for everyone, perhaps if you’re looking for tips on the sealed format for the PTQ season starting in October I may have an article down the line for you… but for now… let’s cover the basics…

You’ve added your 6 empty boosters packs to the mess on the table , there’s a stack of cards in front of you and you’ve finished looking at the incredible art of this set… now what??

(Side note.. kudos to Wizards for the flavour and art of Innistrad… It’s truly awesome!)

Colour Sort.

Well the most important thing to do is sort by colour… an obvious point for most but I do see people just flicking through the 84 cards they have to choose from with no sense of order… crazy!

Once you have your colour sorted your cards into slightly less daunting piles it’s time to evaluate which colours will be making it into your deck.

A general guide here is you want to narrow it down to two colours… with maybe a splash of a third. The reason being is that you want your sealed deck to be as consistent as possible… you don’t want to run 5 colours and pray to the gods of mana screw to leave you be every time you draw your opening hand… Two colours allows for a deck that will very rarely get colour screwed and as such you will sometimes get free wins against someone the gods have not looked kindly upon who stumbles finding the lands to support all their colours… Free wins are never bad!

Playables Sort & Land Split.

Once you have decided which two colours are your strongest you need to pull out the playable cards from the bad cards. Don’t forget your artifacts! For now you want to be heading towards a target of 22-24 playable cards.

(For help with this, check out the bonus section at the end of the article)

With a selection of around 24 cards in front of you it’s time to finalise exactly what you’re going to play and for this you need to decide your deck size and how many lands you’ll be playing.

The minimum deck size for sealed events is 40… this means your deck should be no more than 41 cards and most of the time you’ll want to play bang on 40. This makes sure you are giving yourself the highest chance of drawing your best cards and allows for more consistency.

Suggested land to non land splits:

17 land 23 non land 40 Cards

17 land 24 non land 41 Cards

18 land 22 non land 40 Cards

18 land 23 non land 41 Cards


Mana Curve.

Before you can decide which to go for you need to see what your mana curve is like…

Lay out all the cards you want to play starting on the left with a pile of cards with converted mana cost 1 and move up to a pile with the highest converted mana cost cards you’re playing (Bare in mind that anything above 8 will rarely be worth playing unless it’s completely back breakingly powerful and often you do not want to run more than 1 or 2 cards above 5 or 6 this will ensure you won’t die with a bunch of high costed cards stuck in your hand doing nothing).

With your mana curve laid out in front of you, you can decide if you’re going for an aggressive quick strategy with many low costed creatures, a more controlling deck which has a lot more in the middle and a few finishers at the top of the curve or the third option that plays creatures all the way up the curve until it hits it’s big stompy guys which it loads up on in order to overload an opponent with creatures to deal with.

For most decks the correct ratio to choose is 17 lands and 23 non lands… however as your deck becomes more extremely focused around one of the above listed strategies there becomes merit to alter one of the numbers in the ratio to better suit it.

  • A stompy deck with many 5 drops will want to guarantee it hits it’s 5th land drop on turn 5 so might want to run 18 lands and 23 non lands. This increases the chance of drawing a land slightly but as this strategy tends to lack a way to draw extra cards does not hinder the ability to naturally draw threats too much (in comparison to going to 18 and 22).
  • An aggressive deck might want to run an extra non land card to ensure that it can keep the constant early flow of damage going and doesn’t mind risking missing the later land drops because it’ll often have a creature costing 3 or less in hand to play anyway.
  • A control deck will often stick to the golden 23-17 rule, however if it is splashing a third colour it might move to 18-22 in order to ensure it can draw enough lands of each colour. Often in M12 red is splashed for Lightning Bolts and Fireballs as both are excellent removal spells as well as game enders. When doing this I would often run 4 Mountains, 7 lands for colour 1, 7 for colour 2 and then 22 non lands.

Knowing when you are far enough into a strategy to warrant straying from 23-17 might not come easy at first… but in time it will just feel right to go with one ratio or another and if in doubt the golden rule is the one to follow.

So to recap:

  • We’ve chosen two colours.
  • We’ve pulled out the playable cards from those colours (and artifacts).
  • The playable cards have been whittled down to a number around 23.
  • Finally we laid these cards out in a mana curve to decide exactly how our deck will play and to settle on a land to spell ratio.

Back up Cards.

The next thing I do is run through the cards I haven’t put in the deck and I look for two things.

Firstly, have I missed something that I underrated or perhaps something that in abstract is worse than it is when you consider the synergies it has with other cards I am playing. If so I look at the deck again and decide is there’s a card I’d cut for the card I have found, sometimes there isn’t so don’t second guess yourself too much.

The second thing I do is look through my left over cards in my colours for cards I might want to sideboard in. Anything that was too narrow to put in the main deck (Celestial Purge for example) but might come in handy if I meet the right opponent. I put these cards together and make a mental note to check back to my sideboard and grab these if needed (always check through all your cards again though when side boarding just in case you missed something at the beginning of the day).

Test Run!

With that done the final process is to shuffle up and test! Play some games with someone before round 1 just to see how the deck plays… you may change your opinion of some cards and at this point it doesn’t mean anything… if you discover you over or underrated a card in a round it might well cost you the match.

And that’s it…

I hope this has helped those who are maybe looking to improve on their Pre-release performance or those who are heading to their first one this weekend! Also bear in mind that although this is focused around sealed deck pools it crosses over nicely into drafting too!

All in all have fun and I hope to see those who can make it at Chesham on Sunday!



*Bonus* *Bonus* *Bonus* *Bonus* *Bonus* *Bonus* *Bonus* *Bonus* *Bonus* *Bonus* *Bonus*

So our goal is to find 2 colours for our deck… how do we decide what is strong and what isn’t…

A good rule to follow is the rule of BREAD…

What?!?! Bread!!!! Surely at this point I’m just loafing around?

Perhaps I’m over cooking these puns? …sorry I’ll stop…

Anyway as I was saying BREAD:


Let’s go through these:

Bombs are cards that when they hit the field (or very shortly after) swing the game… Flameblast Dragon in M12 is a good example… Not only does it deal 5 damage in the air it has an ability that allows you to kill off your opponents creatures or deal them a lot of damage. If the person sat opposite you doesn’t deal with it instantly they are in serious trouble. This is the key to why bombs are so powerful… your opponents have to have their ways of dealing with them or they lose.

As an example of something to look out for from Innistrad take Bloodline Keeper… if your opponents does not deal with this guy you will soon have a swarm of Vampires and soon after they’ll be huge when this guy flips over and gives them bonuses. If you have this guy in your pool it’s a key sign you might want to be playing black. However we would need to see some other solid black cards to warrant committing to the colour.

Next up we have Removal. These are the cards that dispose of things and in this sense we mainly mean creature removal. These are important because sometimes you’re the guy sat staring at the Flameblast Dragon. Not only is it bombs that these are useful for, sometimes killing a Grizzly Bears on turn 2 can save you enough damage to survive untill you draw your bombs. As a general rule the more removal the better, so look out for colours in your pool that are filled with it. Remember sometime removal isn’t always straight up killing a creature. From M12 you would have seen Doom Blade,Lightning Bolt and Pacifism. Doom Blade just kills stuff… dead… but not black stuff… so better than a Bolt when it comes to Flameblast Dragon… but embarrassing when faced with a board of Child of Nights… Lightning Bolt can not only be used to kill anything with 3 or less toughness but also has the added use of killing your opponant when they are on 3 life. Finally, Pacifism leaves a creature on the field but stops it from being relevant in the combat step (bar any abilities it might have) furthermore sometimes this is better than killing a creature. Take Archon of Justice, if that dies you’ll lose a permanent but put a Pacifism on it and it now it just sits there, bomb dealt with! All three cards are removal and have their different uses. In Innistrad some removal to look out for :

Corpse Lunge



Thirdly Evasion is a word used to describe the ability to “evade” blockers. Flying , intimidate and unblockable are all forms of evasion and should be valued highly as they allow you to be aggressive and get damage through to your opponent easily. Two great examples of a guys with evasion from M12 are Tormented Soul and Lurking Crocodile. This week their 4 damage a turn that couldn’t be stopped allowed me to 3-0 the weekly local draft; now admittedly creatures like this often are quite easily dealt with via removal (see the importance of removal!) so sometimes you end up wishing they had hex proof as well as being unblockable… oh wait… have you seen this guy?

Invisible Stalker

Abilities are up next and this basically covers all the cards that don’t win the game on their own; don’t kill stuff; don’t swing through unquestioned, but just do something that helps you achieve your goal, winning. This could be a creature that filters away your bad cards and gets you closer to the better cards in your deck like Merfolk Looter or an instant that saves your creatures in combat like Stave Off. You don’t want your deck to be too full of these as they don’t actually win you the game… they just help you get to that point. A good example is Giant Growth, while it pumps your 1/1 to the 4/4 it needs to be to kill your opponent who is at 3 life, if you draw Giant Growth in the same situation but this time you don’t have a creature. you’re gonna really wish it was something else (A Lightning Bolt for example). So while a deck wants ways to get to it’s best cards and to have a few combat tricks up it’s sleeves, it doesn’t want to be light on ways to win.

Altar’s Reap and Disciple of Griselbrand both are good utility cards in Innistrad.

Lastly “Dudes”, the left over guys who you need to make up numbers or are just nicely sized for their cost. In M12 the format is such that playing a guy every turn is really important. Never has a Grizzly Bear been more playable! Further more sometimes a 4/4 for 5 will just dwarf all your opponents creatures and will be tough to kill and you can use a few of these fatties to beat down until your opponent has to throw his small guys in the way, and of course he can only do that for so long before you’ll be moving onto the next game.

It’s tough to say how Innistrad will play whether it’ll be a format where you have the time to fill your deck with many of the above stuff and not worry if you haven’t got much going on in the early turns, or whether they’ll be enough aggressive cards that you need to make sure you have some guys that cost 1-3 mana in order to not just die to someone who’s deck is full of these low costed guys.

* End bonus *
As always please feel free to share any comments or questions !

Thanks for reading 🙂



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