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March 15, 2015

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This Sealed Format Sucks

This sealed format sucks. Most of us know it. The rest of you are in denial. If you don’t believe me, let’s take Canadian Icon Phil Samms’ word for it:

positive phil samms

On track to win with your more powerful creatures? Nope. Opponent slams Citadel Siege on turn 4 and now you get to experience the joy of losing to a 7/9 Arashin Cleric. It’s not just Citadel Siege that we instantly lose to on turn 4, but a bevy of unbeatable rares up for grabs in KtK-FrF sealed, and that’s the issue.

Look, I know what bombs in sealed feel like. I top 8’d a Sealed PTQ in Theros block with Elspeth, Sun’s Champion and an otherwise terrible pool (except for the double Shipwreck Singer. And yes, I played Esper. Shoutouts to Traveler’s Amulet). The problem with this format is that even if you do have bomb rares it doesn’t really matter if you don’t play them before your opponent plays theirs. Look at this grip of rares rendered irrelevant by an opponent who went Yasova into Sorin, Solemn Visitor on the play. Felt bad. My opponent milled 2 lands and got the Sorin back with Tasigur, for the record.

This sealed format sucks

Another favourite example of mine is a recent conversation with a few local players, including MTGCanada copy editor Ryan Prager. Ryan explained how he had spent somewhere around 13 turns building up incremental advantages in a BUG mirror in sealed, only to immediately lose to a massive Villainous Wealth off the top from his opponent. Notable trash talker Dylan Elderscale Wurm chimed in that clearly the more skillful player won.

I recently kept a hand of 3 land, Dramoka, Ivory Tusk Fortress, and Channel Harm on a mull to 6 on the play of game 3. I drew lands for a few turns, and my opponent played a morph on turn 3 and nothing on turn 4. I untapped and slammed Dramoka on turn 5. My opponent was dead two turns later because he didn’t have an immediate answer. He even untapped and played a Whisperwood Elemental on his turn 5, but it didn’t matter because I stuck the unbeatable rare first. Classic skill game.


It’s not just the specific rares I mention here that are obnoxiously strong – they almost all are. Or you open Crucible of the Spirit Dragon and drop from the event.

There are a few lessons we can take away from this sealed format. Owen Turtenwald recently argued in favour of mainboarding cards like Return to the Earth, Diplomacy of the Wastes, Disdainful Stroke, and any other cards that trade up for bomb rares. I’m not convinced about Diplomacy of the Wastes, but I think the other two are a definite inclusion in any sealed deck that can support them.

The other lesson is one of design. Haymaker Magic is not fun. From a game design perspective it limits our ability to make decisions and gain incremental advantages, whether by leveraging resources such as life totals or using our combat tricks in their most valuable circumstances. Haymaker rares prevent – or severely limit – our ability to outplay our opponent by, for example, attacking or blocking more profitably than them. No matter how good you are at this game – or this format [if that’s even possible] – you’re still going to lose to that 7/9 Arashin Cleric.


[TEDitor’s Note: This format has been great for me.. although I prefer just winning based on luck…]

Here’s to hoping the Fate Reforged + 2x Dragons of Tarkir format offers less rare-dependance!