Hi! My name is Dustin Faeder, and my goal in writing this article is to help new players understand the SSS-BBB (triple Scars of Mirrodin-triple Mirrodin Besieged) Sealed format. I started playing the game about three and a half years ago, when Lorwyn came out, and since then have spent much time developing my wizardry skills while earning a law degree at the University of Michigan. In particular, I love Limited, because it is less predictable and therefore demands more improvisation.
Why should you listen to me about Sealed? Well, I’ve played 4 Limited Grand Prix (large, open events where Day 1 is played with a sealed deck, then most players are cut from contention and the remaining players draft on Day 2), and I have made Day 2 each time. My records on Day 1 were 7-2 (Indianapolis), 9-1 (Toronto), 9-1 (Nashville), and 8-2 (Paris). Also, I was 2010 Sealed Player of the Year on MTGO. I certainly don’t claim to be as powerful a wizard as high-level pros such as Gerry Thompson or Brad Nelson, but when it comes to Sealed formats, I feel quite confident.
One preliminary point I want to make is that Magic is partly a game of luck, and this is even truer in Sealed than in other formats. In Constructed formats, your deck choice is entirely up to you (ignoring prohibitive card costs), and luck only matters in what matchups you see and in how well you and your opponents draw. In Limited, matchup-luck and draw-luck are still present, but a third kind of luck is also present: pack-luck. Sometimes you open Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon and Massacre Wurm, and sometimes you open six Shape Anews (or some unplayable equivalent).
There is no denying that some Sealed pools are better than others, and that sometimes you are handed a pool of junk that should be burned before you ever start a game. Most of the time, though, Sealed pools have enough resources to win if wielded effectively and this is particularly true in a block filled with artifacts. You always have the option of filling your 23rd slot (really 24th or 25th in this format, as you normally play Myrs, which decreases your land count) with off-color Replicas or other decent-bodied artifacts. The trick is to find the strongest 40-card configuration, whatever that is, and then to make those forty cards perform the best that they can. Of course, sideboarding strategies exist in Limited, but in this article I confine myself to the question of how best to build a sealed deck in SSS-BBB (not to play it).
Besieging Scars of Mirrodin Sealed
One way to analyze SSS-BBB is to start with what we know about SSS-SSS (hereafter 6S), then ask what happens when we change 3S to 3B. In 6S, there are a few common approaches to deck building. The most common and most explosive strategy is metalcraft. Scars contains a plethora of playable artifacts, including Myrs and spellbombs, which makes taking advantage of metalcraft abilities very easy. Any color can go metalcraft, although red and white are usually the best for that strategy. Poison is also possible and is almost always green-black. Note that less than 10 percent of 6S pools should be built as poison, although less-skilled players tend to attempt poison more often. Another powerful archetype is Blue-White Skies, which tries to win the race with Glint Hawk, Glint Hawk Idol, Kembas Skyguard, Lumengrid Drake, Neurok Invisimancer, Sky-Eel School, and whatever other evasion creatures are available. Finally, Scars offers the Dinosaur deck, which smashes with large green creatures such as Alpha Tyrranax and Molder Beast. And, of course, all of these decks play whatever creature and artifact removal is found in the pool, as well as bombs such as Steel Hellkite.
Switching 3B for 3S changes things significantly. Some of the most notable commons from Besieged (ones that should always be played if you are in that color, and that you should expect to see on a regular basis) are Blightwidow, Leonin Skyhunter, Quicksilver Geyser, Morbid Plunder, Phyrexian Rager, Serum Raker, and Viridian Emissary. Blightwidow provides excellent defense. Morbid Plunder is an amazing long-game card to win attrition wars. Phyrexian Rager is all value. Emissary is an aggressive 2 drop that fixes on his way out. Skyhunter and Serum Raker provide fast, efficient aerial threats, making up for lost Glint Hawks, Idols, and Sky-Eel Schools. And Quicksilver Geyser can blow a game wide open by clearing any stray Blightwidows (or other Spider-type creatures) out of the way for a couple crucial attacks.
The most major change is that metalcraft is less viable. It’s not that there are fewer artifacts in Besieged than in Scars; rather, it is that the artifacts in Besieged are just not as good, on the whole, as the artifacts in Scars, so decks will feature fewer artifacts on average. Because metalcraft was the fastest strategy in 6S Sealed, and because mana Myrs are only half as common in SSS-BBB, the new format is slower than 6S. I often chose to play first in 6S, because I was afraid of a Turn 3 Rusted Relic or wanted to play my own Relic on the third turn, but the decline of metalcraft makes SSS-BBB a draw-first format. Poison can also be fast, but Besieged does not contain more poison than Scars, so it remains true in SSS-BBB that fewer than 10% of decks should be poison. Based solely on the new commons, I think Dinosaurs and Blue-White Skies have gained strength.
Theory In Practice
The best way to learn is by doing, and so I will take you through my build, and the reasoning for that build, at GP Paris. Here are the 84 cards I was handed:
GP Paris Sealed Pool
(To load a .txt deck into Magic: Online’s Deck Editor, click “Load”, select “Local Text Deck”, find the location of the downloaded deck file and double-click the deck.)
The primary question for this (and most) pools is what colors to play. Here is a brief summary of my thoughts on each color and an explanation of what I think is the best build.
Black is obviously not in contention. Sangromancer is solid, but the rest is nigh unplayable. The discard spells Horrifying Revelation and Psychic Miasma do very little and are, at best, one-for-ones that lose you tempo when you cast them. Caustic Hound, like other cards with an ability that affects both players equally, should be evaluated while ignoring that ability. This means Caustic Hound is a 4/4 for six mana, which is quite bad! (Serum Raker, on the other hand, is quite good as a 3/2 flier for four mana.)
Blue is tempting because it has Corrupted Conscience, and Control Magic effects are at their most powerful in Sealed. Also, Darkslick Drake and Vedalken Anatomist are excellent cards that allow you to control the board. With so many artifacts in the format, Steel Sabotage is also useful. Lumengrid Drake is auto-in if you are metalcrafting, but a quick glance at the artifacts from this pool reveals that metalcraft is unlikely. As mentioned prior, this is expected because Besieged has a lower proportion of playable artifacts than Scars. This blue is decent, but overall it is not particularly deep.
Green is very strong. Thrun is terrific because most sealed decks will contain few poison creatures, if any, and even against the rare poison deck, a 4/4 untargetable for four mana is certainly not bad. Tangle Angler is an excellent card even for non-poison decks, because it is very hard to attack into and lets you control combat in a number of ways. Viridian Corrupter is artifact removal and a great blocker. Viridian Emissary is a respectable 2 drop that can help to facilitate a splash color. Asceticism is not the greatest card, but it works well with large creatures or poison creatures, and is particularly effective against removal-heavy decks. And, finally, green has many ways to win with the big beef of T-Rex, Tanglewurm, and Plaguemaw Beast.
Red is also very strong. Hoard-Smelter Dragon and Kuldotha Flamefiend are incredibly powerful cards that can deal with many problematic cards your opponent might have. Shatters are at a premium in this block, where decks tend to contain five to fifteen artifacts, and some (such as Mimic Vat) are so powerful they must be answered immediately. Red also has its share of beaters; Kuldotha Ringleader and Ogre Resister are powerful, aggressive creatures your opponent must deal with.
At this point, it seems clear that some combination of green, red, and white is the strongest build. These colors have diverse threats, several powerful rares, and a lot of artifact removal. I do not think it correct to try to go three colors with a 6-6-6 mana base (or its Myr supplemented equivalent). That leads to a high probability of drawing the wrong colors, and consistency is just as important in Sealed as in other formats. Taking that risk isn’t needed with this pool, as green, red, and white are each fairly deep. To my mind, the question is what, if anything, can be splashed from these colors. As a general rule, I try limiting splashes to only one mana requirement from the splash color.
The green cannot be splashed, as its best cards are double-green, and it has no single-green cards worth splashing. The red has Shatters that could be splashed, but splashing red would mean losing out on Hoard-Smelter, Flamefiend, and Resister. The white could splash Revoke Existence. Glint Hawk is usually not a splash card because it is best early. Similarly, Myrsmith is not splashable because the card is best very early in the game. Moreover, there is no need to splash Myrsmith as this deck does not want to metalcraft and has very little use for small artifact creatures except to use them as chump-blockers. Splashing white, then, loses Glint Hawk, Myrsmith, Relic-Warder, and the Skyhunters.
Ultimately, I decided that the correct configuration is green-red splashing white. The pool does not have many early artifacts for Glint Hawk or Myrsmith, and the Relic-Warder is hardly necessary with Hoard-Smelter, two Shatter, Viridian Corrupter, and Revoke Existence. Also, although the Skyhunters are very good, it seemed unwise to put a lot of faith in 2/2 fliers with Blightwidow in the format at common and no removal for non-artifacts in the deck except Flamefiend. Mostly, though, Hoard-Smelter, Flamefiend, Thrun, Corrupter, and Asceticism were just too good to pass up.
Here is the deck I built:
GP Paris Sealed Deck
This is essentially a Dinosaur Ramp deck with accelerants, control elements, and big threats. The abundance of artifact removal, combined with Perilous Myr, Wall of Tanglecord, Heavy Arbalest, Tumble Magnet, and Tangle Angler, can hold down the fort until the win conditions arrive to start smashing. Also, I was very lucky to open 4 on-color Myrs. Off-color Myrs are helpful in two-color decks, but can be problematic when splashing. Including the Myrs and Emissary, the deck has 21 mana sources, which it needs because of its 6 drops. It has ten green sources and nine red sources, so it is will hit its main colors regularly. And with two Gold Myr and Emissary, the deck has four white sources for Revoke and Idol.
Glint Hawk Idol might seem strange in this deck, but it is an excellent card that provides some evasion, is triggered by any other artifact I play, helps stop fliers (to which this deck is weak), and can be sacrificed to Flamefiend in a pinch. Also, equipping Heavy Arbalest to Idol can be useful because then the “stays tapped” drawback to Arbalest is avoided, as Arbalest falls off Idol at end of turn.
Other cards I considered were Barbed Battlegear, Bloodshot Trainee, Flayer Husk, Kuldotha Ringleader, Ratchet Bomb, Rot Wolf, Unnatural Predation, and Untamed Might. Barbed Battlegear does not belong because my creatures either have high power or one toughness. Also, with Turn to Slag at common, playing zero equipments can help avoid getting two-for-one’d. Flayer Husk is a decent filler card that would be good on Myrs (it is better on smaller creatures), but ultimately is not powerful enough to justify fitting in as the deck’s only equipment. Bloodshot Trainee can be very effective if you have multiple ways to increase his power, but this pool has only the Battlegear, which is not worth playing just for Trainee. I considered Kuldotha Ringleader, but berserk is a large drawback in my opinion because sometimes it means your 5 drop commits suicide. Also, battlecry is better when you have many little guys, as opposed to big fatties, and when you have multiple battlecry creatures or cards that help your entire team in combat such as Rally the Forces. Ratchet Bomb is pretty bad in Sealed for several reasons. First, it is difficult to control your curve, so you often have to destroy your cards as well. Second, it is fairly easy to play around. Finally, Sealed contains more high casting cost cards, and you just can’t afford to wait several turns to blow up Carnifex Demon or whatever else is threatening you. Rot Wolf is a good card capable of generating card advantage, especially with pump spells, but just does not fit in this non-poison deck. Unnatural Predation is alright, and is actually quite good in poison where each point of damage matters more, but it’s no Giant Growth. Untamed Might is just better.
In retrospect, I should have run Untamed Might over Plaguemaw Beast. Initially, I thought that the Beast had a decent body and could help put counters on Tumble Magnet, or on creatures I had hit with Viridian Corrupter or Tangle Angler. This was a mistake, and I boarded the Beast out every round after Game 1. In a deck with this much beef, 4/3 for five mana just is not good enough, and the deck doesn’t have enough uses for proliferate or enough useless creatures to sacrifice. Also, Untamed Might is great when an opponent gang-blocks a fatty, and is terrific on Thrun or with Asceticism, because then you can cast your creature-based Fireball-to-the-face without fear of removal.
As I mentioned above, the deck performed quite well at 8-2. The two matches I lost both involved mana problems due to variance, such as not drawing a second forest fifteen cards deep in the deck, which is likely to happen at some point in a ten round event. Asceticism was a bit redundant when Thrun was in play, but that nombo (non-combo) was tolerable given the power of the cards taken individually. The deck’s biggest weakness is that it has almost no removal for non-artifacts, but thankfully I was able to kill my opponents before they played any Carnifex Demons or Hoard-Smelters of their own!
On a final note, I highly recommend the Release Sealed Swiss Queues on MTGO. They cost 24 tix, have a solid prize payout, and become available on Wednesday the 23rd. I plan to spend about two weeks straight in that room, so feel free to find me and say hello- I am The_Great_Dustini.