Breaking Down Kaijudo’s Sealed Format

cvhA few sets ago, Wizards of the Coast began giving support to local stores around the continent for Set Premieres.  These events take place the weekend of a set release and are typically a few rounds of the Sealed format, in which every player gets a set number of packs, opens them, and then constructs a 30-card minimum deck (as opposed to the usual 40-card minimum).  With WotC heavily hinting at competitive support for limited tournaments (Sealed/Booster Draft), as well as everyone looking forward to "The 5 Mystics" and more future Kaijudo sets, I figured now would be the perfect time to delve into the world of Sealed Kaijudo and all the hidden strategy involved.

Depending on how they handle competitive Sealed tournaments when that day comes, sets could be very different from how they look today.  There's nothing wrong with a Set Premiere, but WotC said that the current sets weren't really designed with the format in mind.  They contain a ton of multi-civilization cards, and if you've played in a Set Premiere for one of the more recent sets, your deck was probably full of them.  In addition, since packs are currently nine cards, five packs really isn't enough for a competitive Sealed event.  I think the stores giving six packs to each player are doing it right.  Looking at the totals (45 cards in five packs and 54 cards in six packs), with a 30-card minimum, you're almost always forced to run four or five civilizations with only five packs, whereas six packs allows for a comfortable three.

I'm sure WotC will address the above issues when the time comes for competitive Sealed tournaments, but I want to address the notion that Sealed tournaments take far less skill than Constructed.  While you don't have as much control over your options as in a Constructed event, you need a ton of knowledge of the particular set(s) at hand to do well at a Sealed event.  This includes knowledge of cards that might never see the light of day in Constructed, as well as how they interact with other cards in the set.  Because of this, Sealed (as well as Booster Draft) requires completely different methods of deck-building and playing, and it varies from set to set.  Now, I'll be going over some things you should be doing to get the most out of your Sealed tournament experience; try to practice these tips in a Sealed event with your friends, at a local, or at a Set Premiere to prepare for the day that WotC announces competitive events for the format!

The Deck-Building Process, Part 1

Okay; you've just sat down at your Set Premiere or other Sealed event, and are handed six packs of the latest set.  Upon opening them, what do you do?  Your first move should be to sort your pulls.  This isn't like a Booster Draft where you can go into it with an idea of some of the top strategies to draft in the set.  Your pulls will be all over the place, and you'll have cards from every civilization and probably most of the different dual-civilization combinations.  This makes it imperative to sort each of the civilizations into its own pile with multi-civilization cards considered separately.  Again, my hope is that future sets have less multi-civilization cards than something like Invasion Earth, so the Sealed pool you receive will be less reliant on them and better for the overall consistency of your deck.  Assuming that is the case, the civilizations you play will be mostly determined by the mono-civilization cards you receive.

Now, you have to decide which of the civilizations are playable, and that comes from looking at how much of a particular civilization you want to play.  You're probably going to pull a handful of cards that are just unplayable, and those should be fairly easy to sort out, though you have to keep the cards in mind in the context of the set you're using.  This makes a lot of 250px-Sunwhip_Sentry_(10INV)cards more appealing than they would be in Constructed.  Next, the goal is to find the civilizations with the most cards you want to have in your deck.  So, what are the things that will push you to want to be in a certain civilization for the tournament?  There are a few things I look at here:

1. Threats

Solid removal like [ccProd]Terror Pit[/ccProd], [ccProd]General Finbarr[/ccProd], and [ccProd]Queen Kalima[/ccProd] is much harder to come across in Sealed.  This makes many threats (generally large Double/Triple Breakers) much better than they would normally be.  You know how no one uses that level six, 6000 power or level seven, 7000 power Double Breaker with no effect in Constructed?  Well, I bet most of you will do an internal fist-pump when you see something like that in your Sealed packs.  Something like [ccProd]Zagaan, the Bone Knight[/ccProd] might seem incredibly lackluster in a normal tournament, but with less removal and cards that punish you for playing big vanillas, Zagaan suddenly becomes tier one.  Of course, cards like [ccProd]Lyra, the Blazing Sun[/ccProd], which are already good in Constructed, just get more insane in Sealed.  Lyra would push me to run Light even if almost all the other Light cards in my pool were lackluster.

Another reason why these mid-game threats are so important is because the format is generally slower than other formats.  No true control decks exist as they do in Constructed and pretty much every deck has to attack some time before turn ten, but don't let that fool you into thinking it's a faster format in general.  Since the cards you get are so random as opposed to Constructed or even a booster draft (where you get to pick the cards you get), decks in Sealed are inherently worse than in other formats.  They don't always have great progressions and your opponent is much less likely to curve out and kill you early.  Even in booster draft, you can lose to the odd Rush deck (mono-Light Rush was actually very popular in Evo Fury drafts), but in Sealed, progressions are generally weaker and you can afford to play some big creatures just because they're big.

You have to take into account the amount of card advantage-generating cards you have, though.  Sticking in a level nine or ten creature isn't always appropriate, and I try to stay away from it unless I have enough ramp and card draw, and even then the card would have to be pretty great.  While a lot of threats that aren't good in Constructed are great in Sealed, a lot of the threats that ARE good in Constructed simply cost too much for a format where you can't afford to play the "draw, mana, pass" game for three or four turns in a row.

2. Power

Take a look at the set you'll be playing with beforehand and keep in mind the power of notable creatures in the set.  Your life in a Sealed game is often very much impacted by how the power of your creatures relates to that of your opponents'.  A card like [ccProd]Lost Patrol[/ccProd] or [ccProd]Sword Horned[/ccProd] can single-handedly rule the battle zone for a few turns, allowing you to set up for game, banish opposing creatures, or just scare your opponent away from attacking even if they have more creatures out than you do.  I'm even usually a fan of most vanilla creatures that simply have power equal to their level x1000 up to a certain level.  I'll almost always run some cards like [ccProd]Luminar[/ccProd] or [ccProd]Jarbala Keeper[/ccProd] when I get them just 250px-Soul_Schism_(7CLA)to have something stable to drop on board at that point in the game.

3. Removal

Going along with the concepts of threats and power is the very important concept of removal.  Anything that can banish commonly played creatures that your opponent might summon is automatically infinitely better in Sealed than it is in Constructed.  I'll play anything from [ccProd]Death Smoke[/ccProd] to [ccProd]Grip of Despair[/ccProd] to [ccProd]Rock Bite[/ccProd] in this format.  Bounce cards like [ccProd]Rusalka, Aqua Chaser[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Piercing Judgment[/ccProd] are also great since they usually have no restrictions and can just as easily get rid of opposing threats.  In a format about developing the best board state, cards that allow you to control the board are great.

It's very important to look at all the possibilities your cards have when it comes to removal.  Don't underestimate the power of tap effects, especially if your Sealed pool contains creatures with a lot of power for their cost.  I'm also a huge fan of Slayers in limited formats.  No matter what else is on board early, they have the ability to dissuade the opponent from attacking, and they can function as attackers or act as removal spells in the late game.

With all of the types of removal out there, one thing remains constant: you have to save the cards for creatures that need to be dealt with or for the moment you can get the most out of them.  As it is with threats, since removal options are so scarce compared to Constructed, the ones you get have much more value.

4. Defense

In order to make it to the point in the game when you can start dropping your threats, depending on the cards you're able to pull, you'll need some defense.  Potent Shield Blasts and strong blockers can't be undervalued.  [ccProd]Grand Gure, Tower Keeper[/ccProd] might just get bounced in today's meta, but it will be one of the best cards you can have in Sealed, stopping just about anything thrown at it.  Shield Blasts can be thought about the same way as removal; mediocre Shield Blasts become very solid in Sealed, and you should try to play as many good ones as you can fit into the civilizations you end up running.  Most Sealed decks aren't prepared to have the whole tide of the game shift because of a timely Blast, and many players will have to just throw their hand on the board and start attacking you.  Defensive measures ensure that you'll be able to stabilize and eventually power through them.

5. Card Advantage250px-King_Barnacle_(10INV)

No one's really going to be consistently dropping [ccProd]King Tritonus[/ccProd] for a +5 in Sealed, but card advantage can still be fought for.  The most obvious type of advantage is going to be board presence, since that's what will dictate the game overall.  Any time you can get rid of more than one of your opponent's cards with one of your spells, or attack over one of their creatures, you're putting yourself ahead.

Discard is also a great tool in Sealed.  Since threats are so rare and an opponent is probably going to only have one copy of any given power card, if you're able to discard one, it can be truly devastating.  People also come out of the gate swinging by playing early creatures without ways to regain their card advantage like Constructed tempo and control decks can do.  Even a simple +1 can make their future mana decisions awkward and cause them to fizzle out.  If you're able to continue playing mana while advancing your board state and your opponent is stuck deciding whether to do one or the other, chances are you're probably winning or at least favored.  Draw spells, while not particularly great when staring down an army of creatures, are also good for this reason; if you can replenish your hand in a topdeck war, you'll be the first to find necessary threats and removal, which again, really dictate the game.

Tip: Look for cards that accomplish more than one of the five purposes listed above; while harder to find, they are exceptionally useful in a wide variety of situations.  Some examples are [ccProd]Blinder Beetle Prime[/ccProd] (threat, power, removal), [ccProd]Sunwhip Sentry[/ccProd] (threat, power, defense), and [ccProd]King Barnacle[/ccProd] (defense, card advantage).  Cards like these exist in every set and should always be considered.

The Deck-Building Process, Part 2

Once you have the right civilizations based on your card pool, lay out the potential deck by level.  Figuring out the cost of your cards and mana curve will alert you to weak points in your progression.  If you have a bunch of great threats and removal spells, but don't really get off the ground until turn four or five, you might want to see if there are any level two or three creatures you can add so you don't lose to an opponent drawing a bunch of their early-game attackers.  Conversely, if you have a strong early game but only one real threat at level 6+, you might consider adding more if possible so you don't lose to one big creature stalling you followed by a bunch of threats you can't effectively deal with.  Sometimes, this can show you serious problems that might require re-thinking your civilizations or adding a fourth if you didn't already have one to help counterbalance the weaknesses your deck has.  Luckily, the mana system of Kaijudo makes using four civilizations pretty reasonable, but the whole point of laying out your deck by level after sorting by civilization is finding out if there's anything your major civilizations are lacking.  A lot of the time, the fixes can be made with one or two card changes.

To help illustrate the concepts from this article, I created the video above, which is a mock Sealed deck construction.  I went out, bought six packs, and acted as if I was building a deck for a Sealed event on camera, going over my thoughts behind each card and the whole process as I described it here.  I encourage you all to check it out!  Stay tuned for future articles, and until next time, Play Hard or Go Home!