Making Top 8 in Modern Horizons Limited

by Simon Nielsen on 09 July 2019, Tuesday

Simon Nielsen


Before Grand Prix Copenhagen I decided to mainly practice Sealed. It had been quite a while since I last had made Day Two of a Limited Grand Prix. More than one and a half years to be exact. And I really wanted to make sure I put in enough practice with this brand new set that history wouldn’t repeat itself for me.


So I teamed up with my good friend from Switzerland, Julian Flury, and we built sixteen Sealed decks with an online Sealed pool generator, paired them up in a double-elimination bracket and played them out against each other, tweaking the decks along the way as we learned more about the format.


Green seemed to be an obvious early contender for best color, as the power level at common is through the roof. We thought Blue would be the best color with which to pair it up as it has a bunch of card advantage which is traditionally great in Sealed. But we quickly figured out that this format is not at all like regular Sealed. We came to like Green-White more than you’d normally like a certain color combination in a format as varied as Sealed.


By the end of it, we knew we’d always try to build a Green-White deck in our Sealed pool and we’d often run it even if it seemed weaker than other options at first glance. I’ll try to explain why this is the case and how we go about building these decks in Modern Horizons Sealed.


My practice ended up paying off, as I not only made day 2 but actually crushed my goal by going 8-1 on the first day. Combined with a very lucky first Draft I turned it into my 6th GP top 8 along with 2 other team members from Mage. A powerful showing of how the Danes can defend our home turf!


Modern Horizons Basics: No, I’m not talking about the snow lands


Something very interesting about this format compared to most is that the rares are weaker relative to the commons, and the removal is worse compared to the creatures. This creates a format that’s much less about bombs, answers and card advantage than regular Sealed, and much more about curve and creatures.


Basically, all color combinations can produce some disgusting draws, and it can be quite hard to catch up if you fall too far behind. The set has a lack of good blockers and a high presence of cards that press an already established advantage. Expensive removal is much lower on my priority list than I’d normally rank it and 2-drops are much more valuable. Most of the 2-drops are also just very good, which certainly helps the need for a high amount of them.


The other thing about this format is that this format is just full of bears! Not only literal bears like Mother Bear (who is obviously the best of the bunch), but even a high amount of 2-drops are just 2/2s. This is boosted by the fact that the 2-drops are both powerful and necessary in a tempo-focused environment which naturally leads to more 2/2s getting played.


This also plays into expensive removal being worse and cheap removal like Defile and Lava Dart being better. Savage Swipe is one of the best commons in the set, a big step up for a Prey Upon variant, because you’ll often have something it can pump, and even when your creature is a 3/3, it still often kills something very relevant.


Igneous Elemental is another card that is much better than it looks. If you can consistently cast it for 4 mana, it will not only pick off a relevant card but also can’t be profitably double-blocked by two 2/2s. Spinehorn Minotaur is another card I like quite a bit, even if your deck isn’t full of card-draw effects. It blocks 2/2s and can’t really be double blocked when you attack because of the fear of a single cycling card to blow up the combat.


From the perspective of Green-White, such a format is perfect because it has the best creatures and doesn’t care much for removal anyway. Not only is it possible to fill up your Green-White decks with a plethora of these good creatures, you even get rewarded for it as many of your cards want you to play a creature each turn. Going wide and having mass pump effects is also a great way to break up the symmetry of 2/2 board states.


Overperformers: These cards will exceed your expectations


I absolutely love this card and can’t believe that some people still consider it unplayable. For me it just shot up and up in my rankings, and now I consider it to be the best White common. Yet I still tabled them at draft pod 2 in Copenhagen!

Before I get too much ahead of myself, let me explain. Consider the removal spells in this format. A large amount of it is sorcery speed like Settle Beyond Reality, Pyrophobia and Winter’s Rest, all of which can never deal with it, and very few flyers can stop a 3/3. Yes, it can’t block either, but the lifegain makes up for it and makes it a very hard card to race. You do also need to have many creatures, but that’s what you want to do anyway so what’s the big deal?


The biggest issue is the mana requirements, as you need to have the majority of your lands be Plains to support this. It’s much worse when you don’t have it on turn 3. There’s actually a lot of these heavy mana requirements going on in the format. That’s why it’s often worth thinking about during both drafting and deckbuilding that sometimes, certain cards need to be excluded so that you can lean more heavily into a certain color.

This one quickly received the nickname “Unbeatable Elk”. It can certainly feel like it at times! Even with a big board state, you need to have a 5-toughness creature, otherwise this angry elk will mow you down 4 life at a time. Again, another reason to run many creatures, this card won many games almost by itself.

It’s also greatly improved by instant speed ways to produce creatures like Squirrel Nest or the next card on my list, which turns the elk into an impenetrable wall.


This one is weird, as it looks quite low-impact in a fast format. But the reality is that many games of Sealed still come to topdeck situations and this card absolutely shines in those spots. By itself it can build up a big board state that can let you win the game with mass pump effects. It’s also a way to produce a creature at instant speed and keep enabling your “creaturefall” cards.


This is actually the card I most hope to open just a single copy of in my Sealed pools. While most cards in Green-White are very replaceable as there are great options at every spot on the curve, and you can just play pump effects in place of removal. But no other card at common does what Recruit the Worthy will do for you.


I think each of the six common two-drops in Green and White are just good cards which is a large contributor to why the color combination is so good. Trustworthy Scout might be the worst one of the lot, but it still quite good as a way to keep the creatures coming. You don’t need an army of them, but 2-3 copies is just fine. And if you lack 2-drop, it’s also okay to include a lone Scout, just because a bear is a totally acceptable inclusion. And this is one they’d think twice about before they try to trade with as they don’t know it’s your only copy.


Underperformers: Don’t make the mistake we did of overrating these


I already knew that Kasmina’s Transmutation wasn’t great in War of the Spark, but I thought that making their creature an 0/1 instead of 1/1 and no proliferate and amass would help it be an acceptable removal spell.


It didn’t.

You get punished by so many things. Blue and White have many cards that blink their creature, Red and Black can sacrifice it for value. It’s awkward that you have to leave back a blocker for their 0/1 lest you get blown out by a ninja. String of Disappearances can bounce the enchanted creature then let them pay an extra UU to get a bonus Unsummon, and the extra body can still attack with a mass pump effect.


As is, I never put Reprobation in my deck anymore. I do think it’s a fine sideboard card against Red-Green which have big creatures and few ways to punish you.


I thought this would be a slightly worse Boar Umbra, which has been a scourge of its Limited formats. The reality is that unless you plan to put this on Iceberg Cancrix or Gluttonous Slug it’s really not worth putting into your deck. Not only are there cards like 3/1s and 4/2s where it does nothing, even when it gives +2/+2 it doesn’t feel like enough of a bonus to justify the mana spent. Especially when you could just face a blue deck and its myriad of ways to get around totem armor.


You’d think that this card actually has text, but reality is that often it’s just a 3/2 vanilla. It’s not too easy for convoke to work out smoothly for you, as you really don’t want to miss out on an attack or block. And you almost never get the counters as that would require untapping with three creatures that never traded in combat and which you don’t want to involve in combat for another turn cycle.


Considering all these downsides, you just don’t get enough pay-off to make it worth it. I hate 3/2s in this format. there are so many 2/2s they trade down with and a lack of 3-toughness creatures they can trade up for. Not to mention that 3/2s are terrible with Savage Swipe. I often steer around Orcish Hellraiser as well for the same reasons.


It might not come as a surprise that the clunky 5-drop is bad in a tempo-oriented format, but this particular one is even more awkward than you might think. It looks like a perfect enabler for Murasa Behemoth (which is by the way a great card in Sealed if you have 3-4 enablers for it), except it doesn’t curve well with it at all.

Threshold is harder to achieve in Limited that you might expect, so this will often stay as a 4/4. And even though you need to sacrifice a land for this not to be super mediocre, often you have enough mana sinks that it’s not even desirable to sacrifice a land to draw a card.

And if you do play this on turn 5 and sacrifice a land, you better hope you draw another one immediately when your opponent follows up with Man-o-War or you’ll be in for a miserable experience.


The specifics of Green-White


The deckbuilding here can be somewhat simple. You essentially just want creatures and a couple ways to support them. 18 creatures (counting stuff like Answered Prayers) is not an unusual number, and your creatures will often be better than your opponents’ so you don’t really need that much removal.

The Green-White decks are still flexible enough that you can sometimes include certain themes depending on what you open. Sometimes you have Springbloom Druid and Winding Way to support Murasa Behemoth.


Sometimes you play Twin-Silk Spider and Irregular Cohort to support the mass pump cards like Knight of Old Benalia, Stirring Address or Scale Up.

Sometimes you have three on-color Snow-Covered lands and one or two ways to search them up, so you can run Rime Tender and Frostwalla. Now and then those land-searches will let you splash or even play a full-on five-color snow deck with the help of Arcum’s Astrolabe. Sometimes you have enough enter-the-battlefield-effects to run Ephemerate.


I’m not telling you to force an archetype in Sealed. That would be nonsensical as Sealed is way too random for that. But I will urge you to lay out your Green-White deck and seriously consider running that one even if the alternatives look slightly better at first. This is not like normal Sealed, where you just want to play all your bombs (unless you have the likes of Yawgmoth, Thran Physician or Fallen Shinobi), and you’ll often be surprised by how well your stupid Green and White cards work together.


At the actual Grand Prix however, Julian and I must have had a concussion during our deck building as both of us submitted decks of different colors. Afterwards, we realized that Green-White would have been much better, boarded into it every time and started winning more. For reference, I went 5-4 in games with my mediocre Black-White deck, while I had a game score of 5-1 once I boarded into green. I guess I need to learn to trust my process more.


This article was written by Simon Nielsen in a media collaboration with


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