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Deeper Limited Preparation and Deckbuilding
It's Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty prerelease time! In a previous article, I looked at some of the basics of preparing for prerelease, with tips on how to make your prerelease experience the most enjoyable. This week, we're going to delve a little deeper and look at a few preparation tips that can help you win your event, or at least help you build a better deck. These tips will help you with any Limited event you're playing, whether preparing for prerelease at your Local Game Store (LGS), for a Grand Prix, or for Game Day in March if your LGS is running Sealed for their Game Day.
Limited Archetypes and Key Cards
Limited archetypes matter a little less in Sealed than Draft. In Draft, you have more of an opportunity to craft your deck. This allows you to lean into the synergies of the cards you open and are passed by other players. In Sealed, you are confined to building your deck from what you open in your packs. It is still important to be familiar with the limited archetypes, as that knowledge can speed up your deckbuilding process. The easiest way to familiarize yourself with the archetypes is to learn the signpost uncommons in the format. These powerful, two-color uncommons do a good job of representing what a color combintion is all about strategically.
In Sealed, knowing the signpost uncommons, and having a familiarity with the synergies around them, can help steer you during deckbuilding. This is especially true in pools where the rares opened are weak or unplayable. As an example, let's say you opened one or more Enthusiastic Mechanauts. This would be a good indication to look at blue/red, especially leaning on artifacts and artifact synergies. We'll go into this in more depth when we get to how to approach deckbuilding.
As I mentioned in my How to Prepare for Prerelease article, I use Scryfall to study a set in preparation for playing any Limited format. Scryfall makes it easy to learn the signpost uncommons because they've tagged them for every set going back the last several years. You can find the ones for Kamigawa Neon Dynasty here:
From the Scryfall search bar, you can type in "oracletag:cycle-neo-draft-signpost" for the same result. You can change this to quickly look at the signpost uncommons for other sets by changing the three-letter set code to the set of your choice. "mid" for Innistrad Midnight Hunt for example.
Common/Uncommon Removal and Combat Tricks
Once you've familiarized yourself with the signpost uncommons and have an understanding of the archetypes, the next step is to get to know the common and uncommon removal spells and combat tricks. These are the tricks you'll most frequently encounter in Limited. Having an awareness of them will give you an advantage over your opponents, by helping you figure out what they could have, and what you might need to play around. A quick Scryfall search reveals 61 instants, sorceries, and enchantments at common and uncommon in Neon Dynasty. This is a large list and doesn't even cover cards with channel abilities, which we'll address in the next section.
To keep things simple, let's focus on one-mana value spells which could affect combat or impact our board. Those criteria leave us seven cards to consider. The more we play the format, the more we will pick up on the two mana, or three mana spells our opponents could have, but let's take this as our starting point.
These one-mana tricks are all very good for their rate, and they are all at common, meaning the chances are very good your opponents will have at least one of these in their decks if they're in the respective color. White, black, and red each have two, green has one, and blue has zero, though blue does get Spell Pierce to try and fight back.
Of the seven spells, only one — Clawing Torment — isn't an instant. However, it can give -1/-1 to a blocker after combat to take it out, allowing you to trade up, or sit on the creature or artifact it enchants as a repeated source of damage. We also cannot discount its ability to make the enchanted creature unable to block, allowing you to push through damage, and keep a repeating source of damage on board that your opponent can't just suicide into one of your threats.
As we will see in the next section, Neon Dynasty has a higher density of tricks than the average set, thanks in part to an ability unique to Kamigawa.
A Quick Note About Channel
Channel is an ability word found on 23 cards in Neon Dynasty. It adds versatility to a number of cards of a variety of card types. Part of what makes the channel ability so good is it can be activated at instant speed. The most powerful channel cards for Limited are the ones that have strong primary modes in addition to their channel abilities.
These are two of the strongest channel cards for Limited. If the opponent is in either of these colors, it's a safe bet to assume they have these cards somewhere in their deck and to plan your plays appropriately.
The high density of interaction, including cards with the channel ability, has me thinking Neon Dynasty is an aggressive format where tempo is very important. How do we take this knowledge, and our familiarity with the tricks and archetypes of the set, and apply it to our deckbuilding?
A Straightforward Approach to Sealed Deck Building
I approach deckbuilding in Sealed with the goal of building a deck that strikes a balance between raw power and consistency. Often, especially at prerelease, I will err on the side of building the deck that has the most raw power, with the option of siding into a more consistent deck if possible, and if needed. These are the steps I take, and the questions I ask along the way. The end result should be a playable deck, and a sideboard plan if the pool supports it.
- Open packs and sort all the cards into WUBRG order. Put colorless artifacts, gold cards, and multi-color-producing lands in their own separate piles.
- Move cards I don't see myself playing under any circumstances to the back of each pile.
- Move the playable rares, followed by other playable cards in their color, to the front of each pile.
- Identify the tricks and removal spells, and which colors have the greatest density of each.
- Determine which of the rares I want to play. Are their colors well-supported?
- Consider the signpost uncommons in the pool. Is there overlap between the synergies of the signpost uncommons and cards in their color in my pool?
- Which color pair provides the greatest number of tricks and removal?
- Which color pair provides the most consistency and synergy?
- Choose the 2-3 colors I intend to play, that allow me to play the most rares, the most tricks/removal, and have the most consistency and synergy (in that order of priority).
- Lay out by mana value the cards in the colors I've selected. Keep creatures and non-creatures separate.
- Look at the curve. Is there an even spread of mana values, especially in creatures, allowing me to play something every turn? (If not, I might need to reevaluate my color choices).
- Start making cuts until I narrow down to the 23 best cards for my deck.
- Set aside any cards I've cut that have sideboard potential.
- Figure out my manabase, and start sleeving.
Once I've built my primary deck, I reexamine the rest of my pool, essentially repeating the steps above. The goal for the second pass is twofold: first, it's to make sure there are no cards I'm overlooking. Second, it's to look for a possible second build, or a sideboarded version of my primary deck prioritizing consistency over raw power. This also acts as a check on my process. Is there a better configuration of my first deck that I've overlooked? Perhaps that third color is unnecessary, or I should have a different splash? How's my fixing?
I'm constantly asking questions through the deckbuilding process and attempting to find answers for them in my pool. The end result is hopefully a deck I'm confident playing, and a sideboard plan if things don't shake out as intended.
Additional Preparation Ideas
These are the preparations I make, and the deckbuilding process I follow for most prereleases. Some of these steps might not be for everyone. Others might want additional preparation beyond these steps. Time permitting, I'd recommend building a couple of practice sealed pools, either using a simulator like DraftSim, or building and playing on Arena. It's a great way to get a head start on the format before sitting down to play in paper.
If preparing for a larger event like a Grand Prix, or perhaps your LGS's Sealed Game Day in March, I'd recommend enlisting the aid of a friend to go over sealed pools with and evaluate cards together. No two players see Magic in the same way. Having a friend to bounce ideas off of, and share preparation will help both of you improve the quality of your deckbuilding.
How do you prepare for prerelease and other Limited events? What's your deckbuilding process? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter.