Prereleases are some of the best Magic events out there— whether you’re brand new to Magic or a seasoned veteran and with Dominaria United having multiple events upcoming, there’s no better time than now to get prepped and try your luck at one of the most fun formats out there! In this article, we’ll try to go over some of the basics to get you primed and ready for the Dominaria United Limited environment, with a focus on your prerelease sealed pools!
What is Sealed Deck?
From prereleases to Grand Prixes and Regional Championship Qualifiers, this format has an extremely rich history in Magic. Without a barrier to entry beyond the cost of the event and/or six packs of MTG, some think of sealed as the great equalizer— An Arena where even the most unsuspecting wizard can summon a game-breaking beast at a mere topdeck’s notice and send John Finkel or Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa into a Cephalid Looting frenzy.
Still, other powerful mages will cite the volatility of individual pools and sets, reasoning that sealed deck is one that favors the lucky, crowning whoever opens the Dream Trawler, Molder Slug, or Pack Rat the champion of the afternoon.
Having built and played sealed decks over the past 23 years, I think the true answer lies somewhere in the middle, as it often does in life. You’ll have 6 packs of MTG and as many basic lands as you’d like to include, with the goal of building the best 40 card deck that can from the contents of those packs. Optimal builds can range from 2-5 colors depending on format, and will typically have 17 or 18 lands.
Sealed is similar to draft, yet possesses some fundamental differences— Due to the fact that each player will have 6 rares (or mythic rares) to build with, as well as 6 packs full of those tasty, common, nonbasic lands in Dominaria United, the good decks tend to look a little more homogenized. In comparison to draft, it’s significantly harder to use 24 packs to sculpt a streamlined aggressive deck with a singular goal, while in sealed it’s easier to mash together a pile of powerful spells with plenty of nonbasic lands, all but ensuring you’ll be able to deploy those spells with enough time to stave off an aggressive rush or enemy mid game push.
The end result of these powerful spells and decent mana? Well, you’ve got SIX rares to choose from and in a set like this, I’d be surprised if at least two or three of them aren’t worth casting! Before we dive into the actual format, it’s important to have a firm grasp of the mechanics that sculpt the Limited environment we’ll be battling in.
Dominaria United Mechanics
Starting with the classics, as many curricula do— Some might argue that almost all new abilities introduced into the game are just a variant of kicker. Kicker allows you to pay mana in addition to the spell’s casting cost to get an added, or different, effect from your spell.
First introduced in Invasion, these Dominaria United kicker cards pay homage to their Planeshift and Apocalypse counterparts from that format with a smorgasbord of allied and enemy colored kicker costs that can’t be unlocked without a secondary color of mana.
This is a keyword reserved for Saga card types, and on initial inspection I don’t believe the Read Ahead text will be too relevant, but it’s definitely something to be aware of. This keyword allows for The Elder Dragon War to be a 2RR 4/4 flier, for instance— And I think that’s an important note. Our most recent experience with Sagas in a Standard-legal draft format was Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty where each of the Enchantments would ‘flip’ into a creature after providing a couple chapters of incremental value, or more!
Not all of these Dominaria United Sagas flip into game-breaking fliers or bring you lasagna at work, though— Most of them just cheat on you… Since these sagas aren’t flipping into warm bodies or more, we’re stuck reading ahead for chapters that might not arrive until the next novel.
Let’s take a quick peek at a card such as Love Song of Night and Day, which will often use the Read Ahead mechanic when cast— Typically, you’ll want to get the ‘value’ of the card in the form of a 1/1 flier and 2 +1/+1 counters and will typically only start on the symmetrical ‘both players draw 2 cards’ when playing from behind or digging for a specific answer, as giving your opponent two fresh cards and the first crack at spending their mana on them is rarely a winning line in Limited.
As such, it’s best to view Read Ahead as a slight bonus to the text of the Saga, but if you’re feeling like you’d want to Read Ahead too much, maybe it’s best to just choose a different book in the first place?
Enlist is a new and exciting aggressive mechanic that, upon reading, begs as many questions as it answers for me. Some things to note about Enlist:
- Enlist will only increase the attacking creatures power, not its toughness.
- Only one creature may tap for an enlist ability of an attacking creature, and that single creature can’t be tapped for more than one attacking creatures’ enlist ability.
- Summoning sick creatures can’t be used for Enlist.
- Attacking creatures with Vigilance can’t be used for Enlist.
As a general outlook, it’s likely that Enlist creatures with a lot of toughness or evasive qualities will play into the strengths of this mechanic so I’m looking to experiment with Enlist creatures such as Coalition Warbrute when I get my feet wet in the format this weekend and will use in-game experience to adjust my calibrations accordingly.
There are also a few ‘Enlist Payoffs’ in the form of creatures that have triggers when they become tapped, become cheaper to cast based on your largest creatures power, or otherwise playing synergistically with the Enlist mechanic.
Domain is a keyword that cares about the amount of different basic land types you control. In even the most streamlined of two color decks, you’ll have access to ‘Domain Two’ so these cards are typically underpowered until you get up and into the Domain 4 and 5 realms, but can often be playable at Domain 3 as well.
Domain will likely play out, primarily, as its own archetype that is, more often than not, base-green (most domain cards are Green) and plays a longer game than most decks in the format. The Domain deck takes advantage of paying Kicker costs and casting spells from across the spectrum of colors to generate more value than opposing decks, snowballing into overwhelming board states and closing the game out with whatever cardboard happens to be left laying around on the battlefield.
Dominaria United Color Themes
The white cards in Dominaria United tend to lean into token synergies, and the removal consists of Artillery Blast and a super-cycle of Oblivion Ring effects. At Common, we see these token themes available on cards such as Argivian Cavalier, Griffin Protector, and Captain's Call and the Oblivion Ring effect on Citizen's Arrest.
These token-centric aggressive cards and decks will likely play very nice in draft early on, but I think it will take a specific sealed pool to be able to maximize the streamlined, aggressive nature of this color.
The blue cards here primarily lean in a ‘spells matter’ direction and you can find almost anything you’re looking for in the color. There’s card advantage in Vineshaper Prodigy and Talas Lookout, an efficient counter for opposing mythic and rare creatures in Essence Scatter, it’s one of the three colors that supports the Defender sub-theme, and possesses a lion’s share of the Flying creatures in this format, which will be the premier form of evasion and almost always plays a larger role in the sealed deck environment than it does in draft.
Black has a lot of playable commons in Dominaria Unlimited, yet it’s been viewed as a bit more of a support color in early draft content due to its lack of direction in theme— Cards such Phyrexian Rager are generically strong spells that you’ll want to include in almost any sealed deck.
Without a particular direction, I think that cards such as Urborg Repossession, Extinguish the Light, and the aforementioned Rager can provide a great cast of playables for whatever your main synergies are. I think it’s important to note that these generic two-for-ones and unconditional removal spells lend themselves particularly well to the sealed deck environment.
The thing about red, to me, is it’s almost always trying to get low and apply pressure early and often. Red is a color that, in Magic, resounds with my spirit and it’s rare that I’m not trying to push the boundaries of Red in limited formats early and often. Having said this, when it comes to sealed deck builds I’ll often shy away from the mountains unless my specific pool is begging me to get aggressive or my pools’ ‘value pile’ just feels unplayable against other value piles in the format.
Lightning Strike is clearly one of the best commons in the set from any color for Limited, and that certainly won’t change just because we’re playing Sealed. Flowstone Kavu and Coalition Warbrute showoff some reasonable bodies, and Goblin Picker is ready to Rummage away (discarding a card to draw a card) excess land, likely playing better in Sealed than Draft but with the dearth of quality two drops in Dominaria Unlimited, I’m happy to get to Pickin’ early and often in sealed or draft during the early days of this format.
On a more polarizing note we can take a gander at Jaya's Firenado, which is an expensive to cast, nearly universal removal spell in the format while also contributing a ‘Scry 1’ to your efforts as a wizard, so I’m apt to include a copy or two of this in most of my sealed deck builds that can reliably cast it. If this format turns out to be fast, the Firenado likely won’t play well in draft but can hold its own in sealed. On prerelease weekend, I think I’d play the first copy of this card if my deck had 5 sources of Red mana almost every time— There are more than a few powerful rares in this set, so I’d be surprised if you don’t find at least a couple of juicy targets in even the most unsuspecting of opposing sealed builds.
Meria's Outrider is a card I’d like to highlight before we dive into Green and the sealed philosophy I plan to use going into the format. I think this shows what sealed deck is all about because Dominaria United doesn’t have that many answers to flying creatures in general, and there aren’t many flying creatures either— As such, I believe this form of evasion will play an exacerbated role in the sealed deck format, especially early in prereleases when board stalls are the norm and closing games out typically depends on an unanswered bomb if both decks are in the same ballpark of power level.
Saving what I think is the best for last, we’ll take an in-depth look at what the Green deck likely is in this format, how to construct it from scratch, and things that might steer you away from what I feel is the best deck for most sealed pools.
Green is the color of Domain enablers, the color of Domain payoffs, the easiest way to splash your powerful rares and kicker cards, and should likely play as the glue for many sealed decks in Dominaria United. Featuring Bite Down as efficient removal, multiple ways to dig up nonbasic lands with basic land types, a Honey Mammoth in the form if Mossbeard Ancient, albeit at uncommon, and myriad powerful rares like Silverback Elder and Quirion Beastcaller possessing more text than you can shake a stick at.
Building the Sealed Deck
Now that we’ve got an idea of what the colors are attempting to do, it’s time to sit down and assess the pool. There are some Defender themes through the Esper colors, some token synergies in the Naya colors, and the potential for a strong aggressive deck or synergy-driven deck does exist, but I’ll typically start my builds looking at my Rares and my nonbasic lands.
Since the nonbasic lands have land types, they’re wonderful Domain enablers in addition to splash enablers, and will be present themselves at a rate of roughly one-per-pack (some packs will have more, some will have none) so often it will be your mana base that dictates just how adventurous you can get during deck construction.
After taking a peek at the Rares and lands, I will often move to the gold cards and see if I have any signpost uncommons with game warping text such as Tatyova, Steward of Tides that I’ll want to try and incorporate if an acceptable mana base is present.
When it comes to what is possible, I tend to use a basic guideline of three sources for a one card splash, four sources for two cards, and so on. This really only works for single pips, and splashing cards that cost 2 off color mana will likely be hard to pull off in this set, as most of the heavy lifting in that department will be done by nonbasic lands or cards that can find lands so I’d recommend against splashing something like Extinguish the Light.
There aren’t too many relevant artifacts at a quick glance, but if you end up in a splashy non-Green build you’ll be keeping an eye out for Salvaged Manaworkers and if you go deep on Defenders, there are a couple of artifact walls that will help to further the cause. Chrome Cat received a buff in the form of an additional scry, and Bonesplitter received a nerf, now costing 2 mana to equip. There’s only one vehicle that can be Crew’d up and little-to-none in the way of relevant equipment.
When approaching a build of any color in Dominaria United, I think it will be important to look for pockets of synergy as this format feels a bit more like jazz and not all decks and pools are created or constructed equally. With the amount of fixing and value available in Dominaria United, anything should be possible… Except for Urza Assembles the Titans!
At the end of the day, you’ve still got to play the games out and I think the most important thing early in a format is to read the cards.
I know this sounds wild but I’ll often read them aloud to myself, just to process the full text of the card and make sure I’m not missing anything— It took me four reads of Uurg, Spawn of Turg to realize it would Surveil every turn since that was buried between a couple lines of unexciting (to me) text.
In a game of Sealed Deck, you’ll often see a lot of cards and it can be hard to close a game early, so do your best to line up your removal spells with your opponents threats after sideboarding. If they have a giant rare flying creature that you can’t answer and drop the first game, sideboard in a Broken Wings and be careful not to burn it on their equipment on turn 3 just to spend some mana unless you have a really good reason to— Remember, you brought this thing in for a reason!
Blue decks have a couple of instant-speed reasons to put at least one additional power in front of creatures you’re blocking, including the hexproof trick of the format, Shore Up. I wouldn’t want to cast a Hammerhand in sealed deck anyways, but there’s no chance I’m casting this, a Bite Down, or a Tail Swipe into Lightning Strike or Extinguish the Light mana— Giving away a two-for-one in that manner is one of the easiest ways to fall behind in a game of Limited so if your opponent is tapped out, think about casting instants during your own main phase.
There are a lot of tricks (not all of them good) and it’s early in the format, so you might get blown out here or there but Dominaria United is shaping up to be an amazing Limited format and there’s never been a better time to dive into a prerelease than this weekend— You can find MTG events in your area here!