Magic: The Gathering — Why Play Sealed?

I just got into playing sealed on Magic: The Gathering Arena. Before I decided to give it a try, I had very rarely played sealed and usually focused on drafting when playing limited. I was looking for an article or something that could explain why someone would choose to play sealed instead of drafting. For whatever reason, I just decided to take the leap and really fell in love with it. Sealed is not always available on MTGA, but I definitely plan to play it more when it comes around again.

This article is aimed at three groups of people: constructed players who avoid limited, draft players who avoid sealed, and any MTG players who just like reading opinions about the game.

I’m not sure exactly what prompted me to try sealed except that I had seen it making the rounds with some content creators on YouTube. When a new set comes out, I usually like to draft for a while until I learn the mechanics and synergies of the new set. Then, I’ll start trying to build constructed decks based on what I’ve learned from limited. I play Standard more than anything else, although I still draft quite a lot.

Why Play Limited at All?

I’ll try to answer this question for constructed players who really enjoy MTG but who haven’t given limited a try. Limited offers a very different playing experience than constructed. Constructed players will get to play with the exact same deck and cards as many times as they want to. Some constructed players stick to only a single deck or archetype and may play hundreds of games with it. Others may play a wide variety of decks in constructed, but in theory you can play whatever you want in constructed and optimize the deck as you see fit.

I mainly play standard, so I am certainly a constructed player as well. The big difference in limited is that the card pool from which you can construct your deck is … well … limited. While these additional limitations on your deck building make your deck a lot less powerful, it also adds a different dimension to the game. You have similar deck construction requirements to constructed except with a much tinier card pool, and it’s much rarer to have many multiple copies of the same cards. This makes your play patterns more consistent or at least known ahead of time even though there is high variance in what you may be playing against.

With limited, since you often have only one or two copies of the same card, games tend to have much higher variance. This also gives you an opportunity to play with a lot of cards that you otherwise wouldn’t play with, usually in the common and uncommon slots. Granted, many of these cards may not be particularly exciting, but it does always give you something new between the 4–9 games you usually get to play with your limited decks.

I like playing limited a lot when a new format comes out specifically to learn about synergies and archetypes that might not immediately be obvious just by reading the cards. This informs the kinds of decks I would like to play around with in constructed as well. From an MTG Arena perspective, the packs I open and win in limited also give me cards to play with from the new set in constructed too.

To summarize:

  • Limited is a very different game than constructed in both deck building and play patterns. Trying the other out will give you a new experience.
  • Playing limited gives you an opportunity to play with a lot of cards or groups of cards you would otherwise ignore in constructed.
  • Limited gives you insight into the mechanics, archetypes, and synergies of the set in a unique way. This can be beneficial to your constructed play as well.

I think that people who don’t like limited (or constructed for that matter) have their own personal reasons and preferences. It is true that deck power in limited is substantially lower which leads to less opportunity for flashy plays and the play patterns are also inconsistent. It can be tough to get into and know what you’re doing. The fact that constructed is free-to-play and limited is only pay-to-play on Arena may also be holding people back, but if you do have an opportunity to try limited out, I suggest that you take it. At least it will be a different experience.

The Difference Between Draft and Sealed

For those who don’t know, there are two major limited formats: draft and sealed. In draft, you sit around a [virtual] table with three packs. You open the first pack, choose a card that you want in your deck, and pass the rest of the pack around the table. Another player will pass you their pack and you choose from the remaining cards. This process continues until everyone has selected all of the cards from all three packs.

The actual drafting portion of draft is a major component and also a major draw. This gives you a lot of interactivity with the other players who are drafting. You have to read their signals and see which colors or color combinations are available. If everyone is trying to play Red, or a specific archetype like cycling, the pool of cards available for you will be very shallow if you go along. You also have a limited amount of time to make a card selection, so you must analyze your options relatively quickly. This combination of high interactivity and skill is a major draw for the draft format.

Sealed is more straightforward. You open six packs and create a deck from the card pool. Both formats allow you to add as many basic lands as you want to your deck.

So why play Sealed instead of Draft?

When I was first thinking about trying Sealed, I looked for an article with this exact title, or at least something that would go to bat for sealed, at least as opposed to draft. I didn’t see anything this specific. Most of what I found was advice about how to play sealed with some generic praise thrown in: “sealed is awesome!”

I had seen some discussion about sealed and some YouTube content creators playing sealed online, and as someone who plays a lot of draft, I asked the initial question, “why not sealed?” I was held back a bit at first because of the cost on MTG Arena: 1,500 gems for draft and 2,000 for sealed, but sealed is actually a better deal since you get 6 packs whereas you only get 3 for draft. That’s a potential reason to pick sealed over draft if you’re trying to build your collection, but I’m more interested in why you would want to play sealed from a gameplay perspective.

There seem to be some people that prefer sealed over draft and play sealed much more often. Sealed is not always available on Arena, though, and it seems like it’s much more common to have people who draft exclusively. I enjoy playing both, so I wouldn’t necessarily suggest that someone should only play sealed or only play draft. I like the variety, and, as I mentioned, I like to play constructed too. This section is more about why you should give sealed a try instead of draft sometimes and not suggesting that you should only play one or the other.

I’m not quite certain about what pushed me over the edge to finally give sealed a try, but for whatever reason, I just did it, and I thoroughly enjoyed it immediately. One of the big draws of draft is the drafting portion itself and the concomitant interactivity with a bunch of other players. For me, it’s the biggest draw, so my question about why to play sealed in a sense was why to play a limited format that lacks the main draw of playing limited in the first place. Once I gave sealed a try, I discovered that it’s because it has its own big draw which is the deck building from a larger card pool.

When you’re drafting, you do get to see more cards overall than you do in sealed. This gives you a larger selection, but because you have to build a cohesive deck with limited slots, your choices overall are limited. With sealed, you have twice as many cards to build your deck from the get-go. In draft, you only see up to 15 cards at a time, but in sealed, you have all 90 cards available to you all at once, and you have to make your choices from there.

The drafting portion can be a bit slow. I’m personally a very fast drafter. To be honest, I would probably be better at drafting if I slowed down a bit, but I’m a fast drafter and a fast player. I usually have to spend a significant portion of the draft waiting since ultimately everyone has to go at the slowest drafter’s pace. On MTGA there’s not a lot else you can do to pass the time with everyone else, and you can’t put social pressure on people to select faster. It can be mildly frustrating at times, but more than anything else, it’s just downtime. Once you open your packs in sealed, you can totally go at your own pace with the deck building. This is good for both fast and slow drafters. If you want to jump into the games quickly, you can build your decks as quickly as you like. If you’re slow and methodical, there’s no downside to taking all the time you need to build your decks.

Working from a card pool that is twice as large is also a totally different experience. Common advice in sealed is to build as many different decks as you can. In my experience, you rarely have enough cards in two colors to make a purely two color deck in sealed, but you can usually make all different kinds of three color decks. After you finish drafting, you will probably have already selected the colors of your deck. It’s rare that you can go in a very different direction than what you were intending by about halfway through the draft once it comes to deck building.

Because you ultimately see fewer cards in sealed, this makes it more difficult to get all the cards you need for some specific strategies. You also get 6 rares in sealed. In draft, you will get to see at least three rares, and it’s not unheard of to have a draft deck with 6 rares, but it seems more common to me that you will end up with two or three. With sealed, you are unlikely to use all of the rares or uncommons that you get, but you should be able to use more of them more regularly. These occurrences tend to make sealed decks slower and more powerful. In this way, sealed is a bit like a bridge between draft and constructed although it is still very heavily on the limited side of things.

I hope that I have convinced some people to at least give limited or sealed a look. If you have never played sealed before, it will be different from your experiences in constructed and draft, so for that reason alone, it may be worth a try. If you’re used to drafting, you may want to play sealed if you don’t want to feel the pressure and downtime of the draft itself and instead build a unique deck at your own pace. You may also be interested in more powerful yet slower decks that are still limited decks.

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