Kaldheim Sealed Guide: Prepare for the Arena Open and MCQW!
Quick Note – This article is going to dive right in to Sealed and is going to assume some knowledge of the format. If you are new to Kaldheim or want some background first, you should definitely check out my Limited series on Kaldheim above, where I explore its mechanics, card interactions, and archetypes in detail.
At first, the news that the upcoming Arena Open and Mythic Championship Qualifier Weekend were going to be Sealed had me raising my eyebrows. Now, I am not a Draft purist or anything and do think there is a lot of skill involved in the Sealed format. But, I did find it kind of shocking that the first foray into real-money Limited competition on Arena would be with Sealed. It sounds like the logistics of player drafts in such a short timeframe were too challenging, and I suppose that makes sense. So, I gave it the benefit of the doubt and started playing some Traditional Sealed events to practice.
And wow, was I blown away! As enjoyable as drafting Kaldheim was, I am now convinced Traditional Sealed is the ideal way to play the set. I have done a lot of Sealed events in my day (my love for prereleases goes back twenty years), but I cannot remember any set this complex when it comes to optimizing Sealed pools. Here are a few reasons why I think Kaldheim Sealed works so well:
Features of Kaldheim Sealed
- It is a slow format – Kaldheim Draft is relatively slow outside of the equipment/aura spam archetype, and Sealed settles things down even further. Sealed is always slower than Draft so this isn’t new, but a slower pace works especially well with Kaldheim because…
- Its cards are extremely interactive – The core mechanics of Kaldheim (Boast, Foretell, 2-spells on a turn, etc..) encourage you to build around them for sure, but the interactivity goes way deeper than that. In my Mechanics article I wasn’t sure about calling this a ‘Tribal’ set but it kind of is, at least in a subtle way. It isn’t so much ‘Tribes’ as creature-type payoffs. Most are Rare (e.g. Harald Unites the Elves, Calamity Bearer, Rally the Ranks) but provide some incentive for building around them if possible. There are also a few uncommon cards like Aegar, the Freezing Flame and Basalt Ravager which can be extremely powerful in the right deck. Collecting enough of one particular creature type can prove challenging in Kaldheim, but fortunately Changelings are essentially wild-cards you can use to bolster your numbers. Littjara Kinseekers even come with their own payoff. And interactivity between creatures is really important, since…
- The creatures are weak. Inspecting the 2-drops is a great way to get a read on the speed of a format, and I can’t remember the last time we didn’t have any with three power. At common the norm seems to be creature with conditional ability (e.g. Sculptor of Winter, Deathknell Berserker). I don’t see this as a bad thing at all, as it encourages more building around stuff and overall interactivity between cards. Sculptor of Winter is a great mana dork in a deck with sufficient Snow lands, and Deathknell Berserker is better than it looks with all of the Equipment in the set. Glory Seeker is another that benefits quite a lot from Equipment/Auras, but all three of these creatures are grizzly bears when it comes to actually beating down opponents. Be careful about putting all your eggs in one basket as well or you may walk into something like what I did to this poor player the other day:
Not to belabor the point, but Kaldheim contains quite a few ways to punish overextending players:
Sarulf's Packmate is actually a pretty good exemplar of what creatures are trying to be in this format. You overpay for their base stats and possibly even lose a turn to invest in tempo via Foretell, but then get rewarded with a long term advantage. And this isn’t a knock at Sarulf’s Packmate whatsoever, it is actually one of the best creatures in the set of any rarity. Getting a 3/3 for ‘free’ is an amazing investment in the long run, and with underpowered 2-drops, 3/3’s are positioned really well. Even vanilla 5/5’s (Grizzled Outrider) and 6/6’s (Ravenous Lindwurm) do surprisingly well in this format, especially in Sealed where the pace is slow enough to reliably cast your more expensive spells. Hell, even Cinderheart Giant is a good curve topper in Sealed. The overall weakness of creatures even extends to Rare, where…
4. There aren’t too many ridiculous Bombs. Some exist of course, and I won’t soon forget being in what I thought was an unlosable position when Koma, Cosmos Serpent entered the wrong side of battlefield and swung things back. The value generation of cards like Esika's Chariot and Showdown of the Skalds can feel unfair as well. But, so many of the Rare/Mythic cards in this set are only great in the right context, and I love it. For example, I got crushed the other day two games in a row by Orvar, the All-Form. The thing is, I was playing a UW deck which was relying on things like Bind the Monster and Bound in Gold for removal, and they had plenty of noncreature Spells to trigger Orvar and duplicate stuff like Ravenous Lindwurm to wreck my face. I can imagine many other situations where Orvar ends up being pretty tame by Mythic Rare standards.
Basically, some Rares are going to feel like Bombs in the right deck, but more assembly is required than usual. Sealed further mixes things up, with some pools failing to support cards that are generally very good in Draft, or even putting a new twist on cards like The Raven's Warning which now has a huge pool of cards to choose from with its third ability. One of my decks could fetch any card I wanted from my pool this way, since…
5. Mana fixing is easy. This enables splashes or outright 5-color decks. Green as usual has tools like Horizon Seeker and Glittering Frost at common which help your mana, but the abundance of tap lands and Treasure token generation (I’m looking mainly at you, Goldvein Pick) make it possible to splash in non-Green decks relatively easily.
At this point I’d like to transition to discussing a couple Traditional Sealed decks I built to illustrate some further points about the format and highlight some cards that over/under perform in Sealed.
Kaldheim Sealed Deck Analysis
I have been having quite a bit of success with Kaldheim Traditional Sealed, and have built five 4-X decks so far (in 6 events). Perhaps competition will be slightly more fierce in the money events, but honestly it did not feel like I went up against any inexperienced players in these events. Everyone’s decks made sense and I didn’t encounter very many odd card choices/archetypes. Anyway, I decided to only going to discuss two of my 4-x decks in this article. Because Sealed pools have such high variance it wouldn’t be very helpful to overanalyze individual ones. These decks have some interesting cuts/themes though that I would like to discuss, and overall I think they illustrate some key features that most successful Sealed decks will have in common.
This deck may seem kind of odd, since it pulls from a few different themes (most decks in Sealed tend to go this route). The core is UR which tends to be Giants, but the only real payoffs are Glimpse the Cosmos and Basalt Ravager (great cards). Running Littjara Kinseekers helps capitalize too though, and there are also enough Berserkers to take advantage of the Black splash for The Bloodsky Massacre. I was really tempted to squeeze in Firja's Retribution but ultimately felt like it would stretch my mana base a bit too thin.
There is a noticeable lack of 2-drop creatures, which is a place where you can min-max a bit in Sealed. Favoring some higher-cost creatures over the early plays tends to be a welcome tradeoff in such a slow format. I still had 7 plays for second turn though (Foretell: Demon Bolt, 2x Augury Raven, and not counting Rune of Flight), so it isn’t like the deck sat completely idle early. The 2-drop creatures I did play, Axgard Cavalry and Fearless Liberator are the best Red has to offer outside of Rares. Cavalry is so great for expediting threats, while Fearless Liberator is the type of card that is the last thing a deck like this wants to see early. It may seem odd to spend turn three creating a 2/1, but you can play out your hand later and it tends to be surprisingly valuable with all of the 3/2’s running around. Once I had The Bloodsky Massacre to follow up that play and the game was over soon after.
I did only have four sources for my Black spells, but Goldvein Pick made it sort of 5. It is well understood how good equipment is in this set, and it was a key feature of this deck. When planning your curve I would consider the ‘creature’ equipment like Giant's Amulet and Dwarven Hammer to be their full cost. All of them are good playables (like the Runes), but I did leave one of my Amulets in the board in favor of Berg Strider, which is unbelievably good in Sealed. Just, ridiculously good. I think it trades blows with Sarulf’s Packmate for best common creature. You do need enough sources to reliably get the sleep effect, which is why I played Glacial Floodplain even though it hit only one of my colors. Luckily, I also had Icebind Pillar to power up which is probably the best Blue card besides Alrund, God of the Cosmos.
You are likely going to have to leave some good cards in the sideboard which can be agonizing, but if you are playing Traditional (as you should) there is an opportunity to still incorporate them. Saw It Coming, Provoke the Trolls, and Squash #2 were the cards I boarded in the most for this particular deck. All three are significantly better in Sealed than in Draft due to the slower pace. Making the cuts to bring in certain cards can be as brutal as trimming to 40 initially, so I would suggest planning out a sideboard for a few scenarios:
I want to be faster – Sometimes you lose game 1 against a durdly deck and want to get after them on the play in game 2. Have a plan for this!
I want to be greedier – Let’s say you will win game 1 against a slower deck and can afford to shift your curve higher. This deck was already very greedy in that regard, but some builds will have space at the top end for more threats.
I want to be safer – Maybe you lose game 1 against a really aggressive deck and need to shore up your defenses. Figure out what you would cut from your top end in favor of more defensive cards, whether it be more removal or even good blockers like Masked Vandal (A very underrated card by the way).
Of course, every matchup will be different, especially when it comes to mixing up your removal. Blue in particular has a lot of options which vary wildly in effectiveness depending on the matchup. Bind the Monster has some dream targets like Fynn, the Fangbearer or Icehide Troll, but against a deck throwing out threats like Grizzled Outrider and Ravenous Lindwurm it can be terrible. Depart the Realm is another underrated spell in my opinion, but it can be lacking if your opponent has some ‘enter the battlefield’ effects. Disdainful Stroke is actually really good in Sealed, so don’t write that one off, but I am not really as keen on Ravenform unless they have outrageous targets like Immersturm Predator. I see some players running Mists of Littjara and Run Ashore but I am not interested in those at all.
Ultimately, you should have a few set Sideboard plans for set scenarios and some modifications in mind. Depending on how much knowledge you gained about their deck in game 1, you can tool your deck pretty significantly in this set. Removal is the key area to focus your optimization, but taking a second look at your creatures and tweaking overall deck tempo can make a huge impact in games 2 and 3 (don’t be afraid to tweak further in game 3).
Now, let’s take a look at one other deck:
Sorry for the terrible crop on this one (Depart the Realm and Rune of Flight are covered up at the top), I was scrolling down to show Faceless Haven which was actually really good in this deck. With cards like Horizon Seeker and Spirit of the Alderguard, it was very easy to find any land I needed. This build came together as much more of a ‘good stuff’ multicolor pile, but I went down this road for a few important reasons.
First, let me just point out that Maskwood Nexus was the best card in this deck. It is a great card in Draft, but in Sealed it is superb if you have some ways to capitalize on it. Spitting out 2/2’s will win the game eventually, and in this deck they tended to be 3/3’s with 2x Narfi, Betrayer King. With it in play everything is Elves/Giants as well, empowering the Harald cards and Aegar, the Freezing Flame quite a lot. Beyond that, this is just a pile of solid creatures arranged in a greedy curve. The 4+ mana cards are the ones that tend to win games, so you ideally want to have more of them than your opponent. Greed is good in Kaldheim!
In hindsight I do think I should have played Port of Karfell over an Island. All of the uncommon ability lands are good except Axgard Armory and Immersturm Skullcairn, and I would pretty much always include them if they are in your colors. Splashing is a different story though, as Bretagard Stronghold would not have justified adding White. Splashing double-costed cards is just too greedy, even for this set.
Summary – General Sealed Tips
Now, I want to leave you with some general ways to approach Sealed which have really benefited me over the years.
One strategy I have consistently used in Sealed and find essential is to first separate all of the cards you would be excited to play into piles. So you end up with one pile of each color that contains all of its best cards. I tend to place multicolor cards in the pile of the color I am less likely to play of the two. There will almost always be one color that stands out as obviously making the deck. So let’s say it is going to include Green for sure. In that case I would put Harald, King of Skemfar in the Black pile, suggesting if I add Black I now have access to Harald as well. This process is subjective of course when it comes to ‘exciting’ cards, but to make it a little more concrete let’s say my cutoff is C+/B- and above. This will give you a sense of what your strongest colors are, and you can look for overlaps between them via specific archetype synergy or multicolor spells. This will often allow you to cut a color or two when it becomes clear it just doesn’t have enough support. You may still end up splashing stuff, in which case this sorting process already brought out all of the cards you might be splashing for.
Outside of some fringe variance cases where you are extremely stacked in two colors, expect to play three or more in Kaldheim Sealed. The majority of pools will allow you to incorporate most of the best cards you open. Be wary of double-costed splashes though, since dead cards will cost you games if you can’t play them, no matter how good they would be if only you drew the right mana.
Cuts are going to be very difficult since there are a lot of playable spells in the format. Try to maintain about 16-17 ‘Creatures’ in your main deck (you can count things like Planeswalkers, Maskwood Nexus, or even Gnottvold Slumbermound as Creatures). You just want to make sure your deck can provide sufficient board presence, and when players don’t count Creatures they tend to cut them too often in favor of noncreature spells which look better in a vacuum. Keep in mind it is often correct to cut slightly stronger cards in favor of composition. Especially in Kaldheim where the interactivity of the format is going to necessitate prioritization of things like Snow, creature-types, Foretell, etc.. which may provide enough X-factor to include ‘inferior’ cards that will end up being more than the sum of their parts. Finding the right balance between playing most of your ‘good stuff’ while also incorporating ‘packages’ of cards with strong synergy is at the heart of what makes Kaldheim Sealed so compelling.
It is also going to be tempting to cut Land. In general you are going to want to run 17 Land in Sealed and run a curve that shifts higher than what you normally would have in Draft. There are a lot of very good 4-5 mana spells in this format and Sealed often grants you enough time to play them over the course of a game. Foretell makes figuring out how many 2/3/4-drops you have kind of tricky, though. I tend to count things like Augury Raven and Sarulf's Packmate as 2-drops, since you are less likely to be punished using your second turn to Foretell. I would encourage you to ‘cheat’ a little and play only your best ‘actual’ 2-drop creatures in favor of more higher-cost cards, but you still want to make sure you have enough things to do on second turn (5 bare minimum) that you aren’t missing it outright (things like Runes don’t count since you wouldn’t actually play them on second turn).
Sometimes your curve will be low enough to go down to 16 Land, and there are even times where I will run 41 cards to land between 16-17. Many players will say to never do that since you are making it slightly less likely to find your Bombs in a given game. I agree with that in theory, but sometimes I feel like I have found a perfect equilibrium between all of my deck components at 41 and feel like between 16-17 Land makes more sense than a whole number in either direction. I did this in the second example deck where my curve was high but I had four cards that fetched a Land and some card draw as well. It is comforting to have hard and fast rules to build within, but especially in Sealed maintaining an open mind can be a powerful asset when it comes to color selection and deck composition. Besides, only a Sith deals in absolutes.
I hope you are all as excited as I am to compete in the Arena Open and the upcoming (Sealed!?) MCQW. As a Limited player, Kaldheim has been a blast so far and I hope it has longevity as an interesting format over the coming months. Sometimes new formats feel fresh for a couple weeks and then get really stale, but I think Kaldheim is going to have some legs due to its pacing and highly interactive card pool. Time will tell!