Limited Lessons from Prerelease Weekend
- Tobi Henke
Sealed Deck is a different animal than Booster Draft. Nonetheless, it's the best way to get acquainted with a lot of new cards quickly, to learn the parameters of a Limited environment, and to find recurring patterns. Here are some lessons from having played with twenty Sealed Decks!
Over the Prerelease weekend, I was busy playing Theros Beyond Death Sealed on MTG Arena. This, unlike Booster Draft with its bots, actually works much the same way it does in real life and thus yields comparable insight. On the plus side, Arena takes up far less time. On the flip side, it's easy to burn through a bunch of gems: the combination of entry/payout/variance doesn't lend itself to going infinite. I bumbled my way through twenty Sealed Decks and made all the mistakes, so you don't have to.
Mana: On the Better Side of Normal
Color fixing in Theros Beyond Death is decent: In pure numbers, green offers three commons and there are two of them among artifacts. However, Ilysian Caryatid can die, Relentless Pursuit cannot find a splash color reliably, and Omen of the Hunt is somewhat clunky. One extra land at the cost of 3 mana should never count as acceleration in Limited. A draw needs to include this, four lands, and a 5-drop for the Omen to speed things up. More often, an early green Omen will slow you down, because turn three is when you really have to start deploying creatures.
None of the green color fixers promote the cutting of a land, at least not the same way Traveler's Amulet does. One time I submitted a many-colored deck relying on 17 lands and a pair of Ilysian Caryatid, and that was just inviting mana trouble on both ends: color screw when Caryatid died and flood when it didn't, because a 1/1 creature isn't worth a card.
So stay on the lookout for unusual mana bases, but expect to be working within the realm of the regular: meaning 17 lands; between two and two-and-a-half colors.
Play to Scale
Things do not escalate quickly. Creatures in particular but also removal spells scale with investment, and they generally match with cards in their own price range. This is of course true of most environments, just as "trading up" has always been one of the primary means of pulling ahead. However, in Theros Beyond Death Limited, it feels a little tougher to accomplish than usual.
Later creatures don't just dominate everything that came before; between Auras and removal, it's hard to generate an unassailable board position. At the same time, an early rush typically leaves room for recovery as well. As a consequence, building one's deck with the goal to go either bigger or faster than the presumed standard doesn't really work. Aim for the midrange and prepare to fight on all axes.
Removal and Auras
Once you realize how many creatures Revoke Existence and Return to Nature can kill, the level of removal in Theros Beyond Death starts to look positively insane. Basically, you have to account for the possibility that, whatever you do, your opponent will have an answer — except when you do the Dream Trawler.
In fact, there is so much, it's easy to get carried away. When you build your Sealed Deck, you generally want to cut down to your pool's 23 most powerful spells. Several of these might be removal, then there are some synergies involving Auras, and suddenly you're left with a total of ten creatures.
This can work — there's proof below — and escape goes a long way to mitigate the problem. But it is important to keep your ratios in mind.
Apropos, some games are decided on who has what left. It is possible that you'll simply run out of library, or out of creatures/removal to push through damage. Sometimes, it really is the total that counts. Imagine a not entirely unreasonable deck with Omen of the Sea, Thirst for Meaning, Omen of the Hunt, and Relentless Pursuit. Such a deck will have nineteen cards that actually do stuff. An opponent may not find their relevant cards as easily, but maybe they have 23 of them. At some point, additional filtering turns from asset to liability.
Again, escape helps and increased tempo should make it less of a factor in Booster Draft. Nevertheless you should closely monitor not only your ratios but also your totals.
That said, in most games you won't run out of cards, or even out of stuff to do. Rather, the losing player will run out of time, that is life, before they have cast and recast all of their spells and activated all of their abilities. Outside of absurd flooding scenarios, tempo remains the primary axis on which Limited games are decided.
I don't think you have to enlist some largely unskilled labor just because it's cheap. Especially in Sealed Deck, Hero of the Pride or Temple Thief lose luster quite quickly. A good rule though is that your deck should be able to leverage initiative. Take advantage of being on the play or punish an opponent missing a land drop. Don't sit there with all reactive cards and wait for them to draw out of it or to catch up. You'll cost yourself the free wins that make up for the unavoidable losses.
Most of my decks featured decent card quality and some rares. What set the very successful apart was the ability to take the active role, sometimes by circumstance and often by default. All of the following earned the maximum of seven wins before losing three.
Notes on Specific Cards
While the two white-blue decks show the usefulness of fliers, I've come to dislike Scavenging Harpy. Yes, sometimes the Harpy gets Chainweb Aracnir or another crucial card before it can escape. But other times a 1-mana Aracnir gets the Harpy for free, and a lot of the time the 2/1 stares dumbly at Nexus Wardens.
Entrancing Lyre looks clunkier than it is. The ability to have two creatures tapped down during one's own attack in fact makes for great tempo advantage. It's almost a reasonable way to keep Dream Trawler in check too. Note that you can overpay to avoid fizzling in the face of a power boost.
A couple of my opponents had cast Fruit of Tizerus which I, in typical Magic player hubris, discounted as an obvious mistake. I reconsidered once I lost to it. In the aggressive black-red above, with twice as many self-mill cards as would-be escapees, the card worked well enough.
Most of the unfair rares show their strength right away. Protean Thaumaturge is a bit of an exception in that the possibilities only unfold gradually. Repeatedly upgrading to a better creature, sometimes at instant speed, proved powerful even before I realized I could copy other people's creatures. Rendering the opponent's MVP useless with Ichthyomorphosis while claiming a copy for myself felt almost like Mind Control.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.
If you're interested in picking up any of the new cards, check out our Theros Beyond Death page!