Howdy, folks, and welcome to HowWL! With Opus X on the horizon, we’re finally returning to the glory days of 9 pack prerelease kits! Some lucky sections of the world never had to suffer through five sets of smaller kits, but I imagine most of you have either gotten used to, or have only played 6 Pack Sealed. With that in mind, I thought it would be a good time to discuss the format! Prereleases are a great opportunity to have fun with friends and get your feet wet with the new cards. Because of Sealed naturally being higher variance, and due to everyone’s unfamiliarity with the cards, they tend to be among the least competitive events around, and are the perfect avenue for welcoming newer players into the competitive scene. BUT! This article series isn’t called How to Have a Nice Time Playing Limited! We’re here to win! And with GenCon having had a fully Limited tournament that used Sealed for the Swiss section, we can (hopefully) expect there to be more competitive Sealed events in the future. So let’s explore today how exactly to turn nine random packs into a well-oiled machine!
Starting off, a quick reminder to make things easier for your Tournament Organizer. Please open all your packs ASAP, so that the wrappers can be cleared away immediately. Sure, go ahead and check your H/L and your foil slots, but don’t actually start sorting or building until all your trash is readily collectible. Your venue’s staff will appreciate it!
Let’s start with a quick comment about the nature of Sealed, and how it differs from Draft. If you remember nothing else from this article, remember this:
Sealed is the format most dominated by variance.
Play to your bombs.
Digging further into this, you have access to more H/L than Draft, since you open more packs, giving you four more H/L and four additional chances at an extra H/L in the foil slot. You also have access to fewer C/R, since you only get to pick from nine pack’s worth, whereas in draft you get access to at least five cards from all forty packs being passed around. This means that, compared to draft decks, the top end of your deck is typically very strong, while the middle and low end will be weak. From this, we can deduce that doing our best to enable the strongest cards in our pool will maximize our win percentage.
Unfortunately, this variance does mean that not every sealed pool is capable of winning an event. This is not an excuse to give up! When you get a bad pool, you have two great options: Take it as a challenge, and see how well you can do despite a handicap; or experiment! Do things you wouldn’t normally do, and learn by playing outside of your comfort zone! Either way, just treat the rest of the event as practice. It’s ok to fail at some events. I’d even say it’s inevitable that you’ll fail at some events. This doesn’t reflect poorly on you. Everyone understands that it’s impossible to nail every single tournament. Instead we should treat each event as a single part of a greater career, and even the ones we do badly at help us to improve, so that we will be stronger in the future. Learn what you can, and move on.
Let’s briefly go over the rules for prereleases, and for competitive sealed events. You will open nine sealed packs of the newest set. You must construct a deck containing a minimum of 40 cards, with no maximum. OK, I guess technically you have a maximum of 108, since that’s how many cards are in your pool, but you’d be a madman to do that (although I’m sure it would provide for a great bit of fun after the event to just jam your whole sealed pool against someone else’s). You may put into your deck as many copies of a card with the same serial number as you opened, ignoring the 3x limit in Constructed. You lose the game upon receiving your 6th point of damage, not your 7th, which pairs closely with the smaller deck size making it easier to deck out.
Now then, on to the build! The first thing I recommend is to separate the cards by element, then dividing those into three:
- Forwards (including Monsters that act as Forwards)
- Summons/Non-Forward Monsters
This lets us immediately tell if any element is lacking in a given area. Often this will let you cut an element or two immediately! Only have three Lightning backups? Only have five Wind forwards? Probably not going to make either of them part of your core! Now don’t write them off completely, there may be strong cards that we want to leverage, but for now we set aside any element that clearly cannot be a core component of our deck.
Next, start looking for the Three Bs: Bombs, Breaks, and Bodies. Bombs are cards that can singlehandedly take over a game, cards like Cloud 8L, Snow 7R, and Bahamut ZERO. Breaks are any effects that remove cards from the opponent’s field, whether by breaking them, bouncing them, or even dull/freezing them. To a lesser extent, even effects that prevent blocks are valued here. You need removal in your deck in order to contend with your opponent’s bombs and strongest forwards. Bodies refers to the amount of forwards an element can field, taking careful note of anything 8 or 9k. Without Constructed’s easy access to hyper-efficient removal, forwards that reach these breakpoints can be incredibly difficult for your opponent to deal with. So at this point, we should hopefully be able to identify which elements are the weakest, and which have the most potential. Here, check to make sure that those with the most potential have consistency.
When I talk about consistency here, I mean a couple of things. Do you have plenty of reliable forwards? In Opus IX, I loved Ice, but if your forward lineup was Ghost 2x Rinoa Yuke Vayne 2x Terra 2x Airborne Trooper you were in for a tough time. There is nothing else to trigger the Rinoas, the Yuke is only average sized, the Ghost is way too small, the Airborne Troopers are good but sometimes unreliable, and you have no Laguna to get easy access to Vayne, the one card you actually want to be playing. So here, even if we’re backed by great backups, a Zalera, and a crazy bomb in Vayne, it’s likely we have better options in other elements. And maybe we can splash the Vayne anyway. We should be looking to make sure that we have multiple large forwards, preferably with abilities to put them slightly above curve, unlike those functionally textless Terras, and that enough of those forwards aren’t hampered by negative abilities like the Airborne Troopers. Cards like Trooper make fine additions to the deck, but unless you really work to negate their downside, they should not be the core.
Do you have a solid backline? Hyper aggressive decks are much less likely to come together in Sealed than they are in Draft, which makes a consistent backup progression much more important. Often, Sealed decks will run more than Draft’s gold standard of 13 backups, some going all the way up to 16, or in rare cases even 17. There are two ideal progressions you should be looking for:
Turn 1, play two 2cp backups. Turn 2, use those backups to play a third 2cp backup.
Turn 1, play one 2cp backup. Turn 2, use that backup to play a 1cp backup.
These are among the most efficient plays you can start with. Remember that a backup that draws you a card, or fetches a card back from the Break Zone will refund you 2cp, so 4cps like Cid Garlond or Miner are effectively 2cp, and 3cps like Brahne and Aleria count as 1cp. It’s nice to have a couple backups that are perhaps more awkward to play, like Seeq or Snow, but these should be the minority. You really want to be hitting your backups quickly and cheaply, so that you can get that sweet Return on Investment as fast as possible. Having a better economy is a great way to win a longer game, and the earlier you can get it rolling, the better. To this end, aim either to fill with mostly 2s and some 3s, or almost all with 2s.
And the last consistency check: do you have cards that aren’t supported? Going back to the O9 Ice example, we had Rinoas with no other VIII Forwards to trigger her. We had Terras, which begs the question, do we have Ifrita, the only summon in the set whom she can buff? Other things to check include tutors; Do we have the Vincent for those two Reeves? Do we have Category VI Forwards for Locke H? Can we reliably make three elements worth of CP for Varis and Livia? Is there a Witch so Seifer can actually be useful for once? Make sure that you’re not relying on a card that needs support it doesn’t have. There’s no worse feeling than putting two Choco/Mogs into your sweet FFVII deck, only to realize midgame that there are no Job: Chocobos in your deck, only Card Name: Chocobos.
So now that we have a solid understanding of our card pool, it’s time to make the big decisions. There are a few major builds you can choose from, depending on the strengths and weaknesses of your pool.
3E describes the most common sealed deck. By playing three elements, you easily support the most amount of your best cards. Focus early on trying to get a backup out of each element, so that you don’t have to stress later about being able to play your cards when you want to play them. Don’t worry about getting your ratio close to 1/3rd of your deck devoted to each element, it’s OK if one is more or less supported than the others, although I would hesitate to play an element with fewer than eight or nine cards when going for this kind of deck. At that point, it’s often better to just relegate that element to a splash, which we’ll discuss later. Somewhere between 10 15 15 and 20 10 10 is where you should be aiming, which gives you a lot of wiggle room. Remember which elements have fewer cards and fewer backups so that you can correctly prioritize getting those backups out during the actual games. 3E is a good balance of power and reliability, and should be your go-to build for most events. Don’t be afraid, sometimes, to play a fourth element as a splash, which should look close to 10 12 14 4. This lets you fit just a little more top end in the deck, while only losing a little reliability.
With an average of 18 cards per element, this one is a little tough to make, and you’ll almost always have a splash. It requires two things: that your two best elements have an above average amount of cards, and that your two best elements have very few truly weak cards. You have much less flexibility with deck construction than 3E, usually playing something close to 17 18 5, or even 16 16 4 4. Splashing in 2E is usually so strong that I would almost always go for it; it’s only if I have an incredibly narrow pool, or 2 abnormally deep elements, that I would ever go with a pure 20 20 build. 2E’s primary advantage over 3E is consistency. You’re almost guaranteed with these numbers easy access to your non-splash cards. Since you will probably have fewer great cards than 3E decks, try to make up for that in various ways. Play lots of removal. Play lots of ways to draw or search. Play lots of EX Burst. And perhaps the best way, play cards that let you bring your best cards back from the Break Zone for a second round.
This deck is not available every set. It was very strong in Opus VII, where you could make half your deck Earth, and then play whatever else you wanted. You need cards that really facilitate multi-element play. The reason VII was excellent at this was between Shantotto, Moogle (FFCC), and the monsters that could be discarded for an effect. A proper 1E deck will look something like 21 7 6 6. Be on the lookout for effects in your primary element that either search for other elements, like Gaius and o8 Eiko, or effects that draw deep into your deck, like o9 Fusoya and o9 Mog (VI). Your core element has to be strong in order to support this. Whenever possible, discard excess or unnecessary splash cards to play your core cards, as you don’t want to end up with a hand with four different splash elements where you can’t make a play. Track which elements you’ve played your best cards out of, too; once you’ve used your last sweet Fire bomb, there’s no need to keep Fire CP on hand.
So how exactly do we splash?
Once you’ve settled on your core elements, it’s worthwhile to take a look at which elements can provide strong supplementary material. If your core is weak in an area, lacking large forwards or strong removal, splashing will help shore those weaknesses up. Lets look at an example. It’s Opus IX, we have a strong Ice/Earth core. Our available Wind had a couple strong cards, but a small total number of forwards, so we knew it couldn’t be a core aspect of our deck. However, looking into it, we see that we have two Class Ninth Moogles which are Ice backups that can produce wind CP, a Gabranth that can fetch us a Balthier, a Rem R who is a difficult Forward to break through, and a Yiazmat who can solve several tough problems like Azul. With a couple of Sylphs to use as additional sources of Wind CP, who provide both a cheap combat trick and a +2cp EX, we add five or six wind cards to the deck and give ourselves a lot of extra utility.
Sometimes your splash doesn’t need backups, though, and you have a card like O7 Prishe or O8 Cloud which is so strong that you run two or three other cards of that element with the express purpose of pitching them to play your bomb. This is especially useful for cards with Burst, as you also increase your EX count along the way. A somewhat popular strategy in O8, due to the power of the summons with EX, was to take as many Odins, Mateuses, and Brynhildrs as possible, to end up with a deck with a ton of splashed removal and a mad EX chance.
Finalizing the build
40 cards, no more. I can’t stress this enough. Going back to the idea that Sealed is the format with the most variance, our primary goal should be to mitigate that variance as much as possible. Your 41st card is probably the worst card in your deck. That means every single time you draw it, you would have drawn a better card instead. Furthermore, you make it take slightly longer to get to your bombs. Keep your deck tight, and trim as much fat as you can.
Your 40 card deck should consist of roughly: 14-15 backups, 17-20 forwards, 5-10 summons/monsters. Going too far away from this balance is likely to cause issues, and unless you have a great reason to, stick with this.
Try to fit what EX Burst you can. If you’re trying to lessen the impact variance has on you, it follows that you should also maximize the impact it has on your opponent. Even just going up one card in hand can often be the difference between losing and solving a difficult board state.
When debating over your 39th and 40th cards, be brutal. Stay out of Magical Christmas Land. Don’t run a card just because once every twelve millenia, when the syzygy hits just right, it might trade up two CP. Be realistic about your expectations.
And finally, if you’ve got some time left before the first round, shuffle up and run a couple test draws. Especially with new cards, sometimes you don’t notice a card won’t work correctly in your deck until you try it and it fails. Sometimes you realize you read something wrong. Even if nothing else, a couple practice hands will help you get a feel for the deck. Given the nature of limited, you’re always playing with a fresh pile, so unlike Constructed you can’t practice your specific list beforehand, except for right now. Take that opportunity.
And now, hopefully, you should have a strong shot at taking down the tournament. Sealed definitely isn’t the format for everyone, but I hope that I’ve been able to share my enthusiasm for all things Limited with you. This, my 12th article, marks the end of one complete year of HowWL, and I want to thank each of you for joining and supporting me on this journey. It’s been an honor to be able to write for you all, and I hope to continue to provide quality articles for a long time to come. Please join me next time, for the card by card analysis of Opus X, Ancient Champions! Please consider following me on Twitter @HFftcg, and I look forward to seeing you all next month!