Iíve had some success at winning sealed deck tournaments at conventions, such as Gencon and Iíll be sharing some of the insight Iíve gained from those experiences in this article. However, Iíll only be considering hero sealed decks, created from Middle Earth: The Wizards (METW) starters, along with boosters from Middle Earth: The Wizards, Dragons, and Dark Minions.
Sealed deck tournaments are quite different from constructed deck tournaments, where you only have a limited number of cards and time to build a deck. Some people think that this makes the sealed deck format an ideal format for beginners. The sealed deck format levels the playing field, giving all players roughly the same quantity and quality of cards to play with.
There are a variety of conditions that are variable from one sealed deck tournament to another sealed deck tournament. In some tournaments you will be allowed to use your own site deck, while in other tournaments you will only be allowed to use the sites acquired in the sealed deck. Also the manner in which you acquire your cards can change from tournament to tournament. In one case the cards may simply be given to you and in the second case you will have to participate in a booster draft. However you acquire your cards, the number of cards in a sealed deck tournament will typically be based on receiving a starter deck and 3-5 booster packs to build a deck. The game is usually a 1-deck game, which is played with a minimum of 25 hazards and 25 resources, and the game ends when either player reaches 20 marshalling points or has cycled through their deck once.
The booster draft involves drafting cards from a shared pool of cards before deck building begins. In a booster draft you typically open up a starter pack and remove both the fixed pack and the random pack. All the cards in the fixed pack remain with you and they are not involved in the draft. The random pack is opened and you remove 3 cards, so you could snag all the rares from the random pack. Then pass the remainder of the pack to your right. The player on your left will hand you his random pack, and you will take 3 cards from that pack before passing it on. This will continue until all the cards are drafted from the random pack. Once the draft for the random pack is finished the cards from the booster pack will be drafted. A booster pack will be opened and this time you only take one card from the pack before passing it on to the next player. Eventually youíll end up with a stack of cards that youíve selected from those available in the draft. Some of the cards will be good, and others will just be the dregs that no one else wanted. It is also the case that sometimes the seating arrangement is altered, or the direction of drafting is changed between packs.
It may be obvious, but an important part of sealed deck is the fixed pack. There are five types of fixed packs and this pack of cards is the smaller of the two sealed packs in the starter deck. It contains 2 wizards, 5 characters, 2 factions, 9 non-haven sites, 5 havens with a duplicate of Rivendell, Gates of Morning, and Doors of Night. Knowing the contents of each fixed pack is helpful while you play, Appendix A. Once you know your opponents fixed pack, that knowledge will give you an idea of where your opponent will go and what resources can be played. It is also prove useful in the character draft. For example, if you have a rare character you probably do not need to play that character first in the draft, because it is far more likely that you will duplicate common characters from the fixed pact. Therefore you will want to play a fixed and common character first in the character draft.
Playing Sealed deck Ė using your own site cards
As you can use all of your site cards in this format you can concentrate on the resources and hazards when deck building. You also know that you can potentially play the majority of the MP cards in your deck, as you have full access to all sites in the game. The tournaments that let you use a full site deck do favor the experienced player.
The first thing I do is open the fixed pack and place it off to the side. Most of the characters Iíll use will come from the fixed pack and I may want to play one early in the draft. Then I sort the cards initially into four piles of sites, characters, resources, and hazards. The resources are further divided into MP and non-MP cards, and the hazards into creatures and non-creatures. Ideally I want 12-14 MP cards that generate at least 20 MPs, ignoring characters. Really Iím looking for a mix of items, factions, allies and miscellaneous points. It is important to remember that only half of your marshalling points can come from any one type. As the game is one-deck game I always try to use my wizard actively, and one-deck games can end very quickly if you get a good starting hand.
Certain cards that you would not normally consider for constructed decks are very useful in sealed deck, such as fellowship and bridge. You must remember unlike constructed decks, sealed deck games are all about making the best deck you can out of a very limited number of cards. Each player will be much less prepared for hazards, in most cases they will not have Marvels Told and only a few cards that enhance combat or cancel the attack. Also each player is forced to move around the whole of Middle Earth to play their MP cards, which is also unlike a constructed deck where you can try to avoid certain site or region types. On the hazard side I look through the creatures first, as Iíll have to include 10 (or 12) of them in my hazard deck. I try to gauge the quality and quantity of the creatures Iíve drawn. Again creatures you may discount in constructed are quite powerful in sealed deck, such as Giants and Giant Spiders. Then I look through the non-creature hazard cards for any suitable cards that will enhance creature attacks and sites auto attacks, like cards such as Minions Stir and Awaken Minions. I try to select the 10 (or 12) best creatures and then fill the remaining hazards with non-creatures. I always include any corruption cards as there is little chance my opponent can easily remove them. Below is a list of good hazards for a sealed deck. Finally I select my characters for the deck. Often itís the case that I will be playing with all the characters that Iíve drawn, but I try to include at least one Ranger in the starting company. I will also ensure that characters I have chosen have the necessary skills to play my resources.
Playing Sealed deck Ė using only sites in the deck
In some ways this is a harder format, you have to consider the available sites and the geography of middle earth before selecting your resources, especially your MP cards. For example you may have 4 gold ring items, 4 test cards and a plethora of Magic Rings, but if youíve only got one site to play rings youíre going to struggle! In a 1-deck game you do not want to waste too many turns moving from haven to haven. Hence I try to select MPs and sites that all have the same nearest haven, which is often Lorien, or that are within 4 regions of each other, so I can move between sites using region movement. Sometimes this strategy is not possible, and you have to move way down South for a faction or another item. This is okay, as long as you remember and are prepared to spilt your company into two groups, sending the smaller company away for that one remote MP source.
Like the traditional sealed deck this can be played with either your site deck or just using the sites youíve drafted. If you are playing in the latter youíll have to consider drafting sites as well as hazards, resources and characters. The most important thing in my opinion is to draft a balanced set of cards, there is no point having excellent MP cards with no sites to play them, or good sites but no resources, or reasonable sites and resources with a hand of very weak hazards. I always pile my cards up in front of me sorted by type, characters, MP resources, sites, resource support cards, hazard creatures and other hazards. This allows me to check what cards I have relatively quickly and if Iím passed a booster with the Blue Mountain Dwarves in it I can look at my sites to see if Iíve got the Blue Mountain Dwarf Hold to go with them. It also allows me to keep a check on the creatures Iíve drafted, because you need at least 10. Personally Iíd rather not be forced into playing very weak creatures like an Orc Warband or Crebain just because I forgot to draft others.
Knowing the rarity levels is vital in booster draft, but remember the rare is not always the most powerful card in the pack. It is often the case that an uncommon or even a common card is much more useful than Morannon or Nenya with no Galadriel in sight. Finally if there is nothing that you really want in the cards youíve been handed consider what the other players might want and take that card. For example you may have the Old Forest already, but if you deny your opponents the chance to draft an Old Forest then either Goldberry will eventually make it around to you or the player who took her will be unable to play Goldberry. Another example is hazards, if youíve already drafted 3 Lure of Natures, still take any extras, because that will mean one less Lure of Nature played against you!
Youíll be surprised how quickly the time allocated for sealed deck gets used up. I tend to find more problems with time when I have to use only drawn sites, rather than a complete site deck. In this case I concentrate on my resource/sites first and then build the hazard deck with whatever time is left. Often a poor selection of MPs and sites by my opponent will be enough for me to win the game, even if my hazards are ineffectual.
As with any game, the more you practice the better you get. If there are few opportunities for you to play in sealed deck you can still practice deck building. Just select a fixed pack from the list in Appendix A and then pull a bunch of commons and uncommons out from your spares box and try to build a deck with those. Ideally try it with another player, or your whole group, and then play your decks to see how good they are.
Try to memorize the fixed decks and the card rarity of the sets youíll be playing with, because chances are that the rarity levels will match the frequency of the cards played much more so than in constructed deck play. Remember youíll be playing with and against less than optimal decks. When playing your deck try to remember what resources youíve got and where they can be played. If you know youíve only got 1 greater item site but youíve included 2 greater items itís easy to forget not discard the second item.
Recommended Cards for Sealed Deck
Note: Iím assuming your playing with only drawn sites, but most of this is applicable to all sealed deck formats)
Characters Ė any uncommon or rare, prowess, body and direct influence equally important, and a mix of skills, especially Warriors, Rangers and Scouts. Examples, Thorin, Cirdan, Hama, Eomer, Gloin.
Big MP Factions Ė assuming you have the associated site. Examples Knights of Dol Amroth, Woses of Old Pukel-Land, Blue Mountain Dwarves.
Muster & Tempering Friendship Ė anything to help bring in factions, often a low mind and low direct influence character will have to make the attempt.
Thorough Search Ė as long as you have scouts, this card lets you play an additional item at a site, either in the same turn or you can wait and do it next turn without moving. Often in sealed deck moving to a new site takes 2 turns rather than one, because you have to move back to the haven, and then from the haven to the new site.
Fellowship Ė You will find yourself (re)visiting havens quite frequently, so this card is very playable. The boost to prowess and corruption is very useful, and youíre unlikely to have allies to play that will break the fellowship and your opponent is unlikely to have hazards to break it either, such as Stormcrow, Seized by Terror, Faces of the Dead, etc.
Dreams of Lore Ė 2 Miscellaneous MPs, which helps to balance out item points. You will be visiting a haven, so storing it is less of a problem than in constructed deck play, and youíll quite likely get an information site in your fixed pack (Weathertop).
Rescue Prisoners Ė sure itís been errataíd to only 2 MPs and you have to store it for those, but youíll be visiting havens quite frequently, and itís playable at a tapped site.
Concealment Ė a good general attack canceling, as long as you have an untapped scout.
Dark Quarrels Ė Orcs are common creatures, and there are many sites with Orc, troll or Men auto attacks.
Escape Ė better than in constructed and youíll often visit havens when moving, so there is plenty of opportunity to heal wounded characters.
Bridge Ė makes moving across Middle Earth much easier, with 2 bridges you can move from Lossadan Camp to the lonely mountain in one turn.
Dagger of Westerness & Shield of Iron Bound Ash Ė an extra +1 to prowess (and/or body) is useful
Elven Cloak Ė Youíll often be moving through wilderness, especially useful for protecting your weak scouts.
Cave Drakes Ė good in constructed, excellent in sealed deck, Ruins and Lairs and double wilderness are very common.
Slayers Ė similar to Cave Drakes, borderlands are very common and there is little chance of your opponent having a Forewarned is Forearmed or a Risky Blow.
Giants Ė in constructed they are too weak, but a high prowess strike will often wound/kill a character in sealed deck.
Giant Spiders Ė similar to Cave Drake, often much easier to play than in constructed deck play.
Ambusher Ė the same as a Cave Drake but keyable to borderlands.
River Ė sometimes your opponent will have to play without rangers.
Call of Home Ė often your opponent will have to sacrifice general influence to play all his characters
Corruption Cards Ė itís unlikely your opponent will have all hobbits or all dwarves, so lure of nature, and the others are very playable.
Environment Cards Ė itís unlikely your opponent will even have a twilight, so you can play Fell Winter, just ensure your own hazard long events wonít unduly affect you before you play them!
So in summary, sealed deck is an interesting twist on constructed tournaments, it certainly gives a chance for a player with limited cards to compete with Mr. Suitcase. However you should check before hand if you need to bring a site deck, and itís certainly worth looking through the card lists for rarity lists and to familiarize yourself with cards you donít yet own.
Just remember itís only a game Ė the main point of playing is for everyone to have FUN.
Ents of Fangorn
The Lonely Mountain
The Wind Throne
Gates of Morning
Doors of Night
Rangers of the North
Men of Anorien
The Lonely Mountain
The Wind Throne
Gates of Morning
Doors of Night
Riders of Rohan
Tower Guard of Minas Tirith
The Wind Throne
Gates of Morning
Doors of Night
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