Murders at Karlov Manor: Sealed Primer!

Master your Sealed games with our Murders at Karlov Manor guide. Get insights on building decks, strategic plays, and cards to watch for in this MTG set.

Welcome Magic lovers!

Ah yes, it’s nearly that wonderful time of year when life begins to blossom again, love is in the air…and there are grisly murders that must be solved! That’s right, in just over a week, on February 6th and 9th, Murders at Karlov Manor will drop on Magic Arena and at a local game store near you! Following in the footsteps of The Lost Caverns of Ixalan, a format with no less thansix different mechanics, Murders at Karlov Manor is also absolutely packed with different mechanics, complex cards and convoluted interactions to explore. Add to this the new pack layout being introduced with Play Boosters, and it’s going to make for a very difficult format to navigate, but have no fear! Today we’ll be going over some Sealed format basics and heuristics, while applying them to the upcoming set. Let’s dive into the basics of building a Sealed deck!

Step 1: How many bombs did we open and how can we get as many of them in the deck as possible?

In Sealed, decks don’t come together quite as seamlessly, since of course, one isn’t choosing what goes into one’s deck pick-by-pick the way one does during a Draft. This means that games of Sealed will be slower, with decks less likely to curve out and end the game quickly, and therefore each deck will get to see most of its cards during the course of an average game. Forcing the mana base to bend over backward to splash for a third (or even fourth), color in order to play all of one’s bombs isn’t as punishing as it normally would be, since surviving until the late game is more likely in Sealed, meaning players can usually find the time and the mana to draw and cast their late-game haymakers. Therefore, starting with the rares and mythics, first set aside all the most powerful rare and mythic cards of each color; the Bombs. Then do the same for the uncommons. With regard to which cards are bombs in Murders at Karlov Manor, the following cards certainly make the short-list:

Magic the Gathering Card - Deadly Cover-up - MTG CircleMagic the Gathering Card - Lamplight Phoenix - MTG CircleMagic the Gathering Card - Axebane Ferox - MTG CircleMagic the Gathering Card - Judith, Carnage Connoisseur - MTG CircleMagic the Gathering Card - Kaya, Spirits' Justice - MTG CircleMagic the Gathering Card - Worldsoul's Rage - MTG CircleMagic the Gathering Card - Alquist Proft, Master Sleuth - MTG CircleMagic the Gathering Card - Coerced to Kill - MTG CircleMagic the Gathering Card - Etrata, Deadly Fugitive - MTG CircleMagic the Gathering Card - Massacre Girl, Known Killer - MTG CircleMagic the Gathering Card - Case of the Stashed Skeleton - MTG CircleMagic the Gathering Card - Connecting the Dots - MTG CircleMagic the Gathering Card - No Witnesses - MTG CircleMagic the Gathering Card - Wojek Investigator - MTG CircleMagic the Gathering Card - Forensic Gadgeteer - MTG CircleMagic the Gathering Card - Mentor of the Meek - MTG Circle

...and that’s just to name a few. The player with a higher density of powerful haymakers in Sealed typically wins the day, so playing as many as possible in one’s deck is what every player should be striving to do. That said, not every set is a multi-color shard or wedge set like the ones from Ravnica, Alara or Tarkir, so it may not be so easy to splash every bomb one opens. Which brings us to our next step…

Step 2: How good is our mana fixing and how much of it did we open?

To determine this, we will check our lands and artifacts next. In Murders at Karlov Manor, there will be a significant amount of mana fixing, from the full cycle of dual lands at rare, to commons like Escape Tunnel and Public Thoroughfare. This isn’t even counting the potential to open a mana-fixing card in The List slot of the Play Booster, like Krosan Tusker.

The artifacts in many sets provide additional ways to fix for different colors of mana at common, and Murders at Karlov Manor is no exception. We find more mana-fixing here in Gravestone Strider at common, the excellent Case of the Shattered Pact at uncommon, as well as Cryptex at rare. Locate and set aside any and all mana-fixers that are either lands or artifacts, as most of them can go in any deck. Knowing how many colors one’s mana can realistically support is crucial when determining how many of one’s most powerful cards can make it into the deck. Don’t hesitate to play that third color if you have the mana-fixing for it, even if its just for a single, late-game haymaker or powerful removal spell!

Step 3: How many premium creatures and removal spells do we have in each color?

Ok, so we have our bombs and fixing set aside. Now comes the tricky part: which creatures and removal spells are better than others, and which ones should we play in our deck? Card evaluation is one of the most difficult skills to master in Magic: the Gathering, but once one learns to recognize the signposts that all premium cards exhibit, it gets easier to separate the wheat from the chaff. One major signpost to pay attention to when determining which creatures or removal are premium and will make the final build of the deck is:casting cost is king. When torn between two equally powerful creatures or removal spells during deckbuilding, always err on the side of the one that’s cheaper to cast. It will be correct more often than not, but remember, these are simply guidelines. Sometimes the more expensive spell will be the correct call due to contextual factors, such as set mechanics or deck archetype requirements. For example, a removal spell that also mills oneself, while more expensive, may be preferable in a deck attempting to employ a reanimation strategy. That said, if there are no extenuating circumstances, lean toward playing the cheaper creature or spell.

While separating out which creatures one is considering playing, another signpost to look for are those with some form of evasion, as they will be superior at killing one’s opponent more quickly and consistently, and are therefore more desirable. Any creature with flying, menace, first strike, vigilance, deathtouch or the ability to not be blocked, will be great at either pushing through damage and/or winning combats. Examples from Murders at Karlov Manor includeMarketwatch Phantom, Perimeter Enforcer, Exit Specialist, Leering Onlooker, Sanguine Savior and Granite Witness.Another creature quality signpost can be found in any creatures that enter the battlefield and either immediately affect the board directly (by producing another creature or removing one of the opponent’s), like Undercity Eliminator, Cornered Crook and Unyielding Gatekeeper, or replace themselves by drawing a card, such as Cold Case Cracker. By extension, any creatures that immediately produce another game object, such as a token creature, treasure, food, etc. are almost always premium cards and should consistently make the final build of the deck. Creatures such as Inside Source, Museum Night Watch, Surveillance Monitor and Gadget Technician fall into this category.

Removal is ranked in a similar fashion: typically, one should bias toward cheaper, more flexible removal. ‘Cheaper’ simply refers to lower mana cost, while flexibility with regard to removal spells can classified in two different ways: how many different things can it kill, and when can it kill them? If a spell kills any creature regardless of size, color, etc. then it is unconditional removal; and is almost always playable in sealed. Removal that can be played at instant speed is also innately more flexible than spells that are sorcery speed. In Murders at Karlov Manor, for example, one would typically prioritize playing Murder over Suspicious Detonation, as the latter costs almost twice as much mana as the former, while also being sorcery speed. Instant speed, unconditional removal is the cream of the crop, and should almost always be played in sealed, often even if one has to splash for it.Examples include the aforementioned Murder, Deadly Complication and Makeshift Binding.Removal spells that only do a small amount of damage, like Shock, or can only kill creatures with a specific condition, like Not On My Watch, or Make Your Move, are less desirable, though they should still be played if they fall within the main colors of the deck. Additionally, any sweeper effects which destroy all creatures are always considered premium removal, as they will often trade 2-for-1 or better with the opponent’s cards, such as No Witnesses, Deadly Cover-Up and Ill-Timed Explosion.

In the Sealed deck, however, these heuristics should be loosened up a little bit. Since games tend to go long, and most players will be trying to play all of the most powerful cards in their pools,all the removal spells increase in value. In Sealed, one should seriously consider playing all the removal available in one’s primary color, regardless of how conditional it may be.

Alright, so we have our bombs and fixing lined up, and we’ve pulled out all the premium creatures and removal in each color so now should be able to see which colors have the deepest rosters of these premium cards. This brings us to the final step.

Sep 4: How do we put it all together?

If one has diligently gone through the previous three steps, this shouldn’t be too difficult. Begin by eliminating the colors that have the shallowest pool of premium creatures/removal. This should make it simple to determine the two deepest, or main, starting colors. Once those are locked in, check the artifacts and/or lands we set aside to see if it's possible to touch a third color, in order to play any bombs or unconditional removal that didn’t fall under our two primary colors.

Next, place all the cards that have made it this far into columns according to their casting cost. This will allow you to easily see what the deck’s ‘curve’ looks like. The curve simply refers to how many spells in the deck fall into each spot along the line from one mana, up to six or seven (or whatever the most expensive spell in the deck costs). For example, if we aim to play twenty-three spells and seventeen lands, and twelve of our twenty-three spells cost only one or two mana, our deck has a low-curve; it will be able to consistently affect the battlefield early in the game. On the other hand, playing five or more cards that cost five, six or seven mana, would make it a high-curve deck; it will be unable to affect the battlefield as consistently in the early game. Determining what a deck’s curve should look like is one of the most critical parts of Step 4, as being able to consistently cast spells at each stage of the game is arguably what will determine how many times a deck wins or loses. Having a high-curve deck with bunch of powerful bombs that cost six or more, while not having many spells that cost three or less, is a death sentence in most of the recent, limited Magic formats. In Sealed, however, this is mitigated by the fact that most decks won’t have a curve consisting of twelve two-drops, so the need to cram in as many cheap spells as possible isn’t as critical.

With this in mind, examine the curve of the deck once the spells are laid out and organized according to casting cost. Ensure there are enough spells that cost one or two mana for the deck to interact with the battlefield in the early turns, either by playing its own creatures or killing the opponent’s creatures. Be careful that the top end of the deck isn’t crammed too full of 6+ casting cost spells. 3-5 top end spells are almost always enough, so playing every single giant dragon in the sealed pool isn’t usually necessary. Just play the best ones.Don’t be afraid to start that Jaded Analyst instead of a Benthic Criminologists if the deck already has an excellent late-game plan, as having an early play to the board will help ensure the deck has time to survive long enough to execute its already-powerful endgame.

Once the curve looks good and the spells are all locked in, go over the mana base again to ensure there are enough colored sources to cast all the spells consistently on time. The main two colors in the deck should have at least 8-10 sources. Splash colors should have 2-3 sources for each colored pip in their mana costs. For example, while building a blue-white Murders at Karlov Manor Sealed deck, a player following the steps that we laid out wishes to splash black for their powerful late-game cards, Coerced to Kill, and Curious Cadaver. To do this properly, they should have at least four black sources in the deck; two black sources for each black mana pip on the spells they want to splash. That said,do not attempt to splash a double pipped card. It will almost certainly ruin the consistency of the mana base and cause the deck to lose more than it gains from the splash.

But Wait, There's More...

Hopefully the guidance in this refresher helps you do well at your next pre-release or online event! While Sealed is a fascinating format, this article barely begins to scratch the surface. However, join us next week, as we dive deeper into the specific set mechanics, archetypes and different color pairings that weave together to form the tapestry upon which the Murders at Karlov Manor limited environment will be written!

Hi, I'm Damien! I'm a Canadian television and voice actor turned streamer! I've been playing Magic: the Gathering since the early 1990's when the game first released, and was heavily involved in competitive Magic for many years.