Musings on Seals and Wheels in a Bowmaster Meta
Hello again everyone and welcome back to The Brewer’s Advantage, an article where I brew weird decks and focus on my philosophy and the process. This time around I don’t have a specific deck to tune but more of an overall strategy to look at using the lens of a single group of cards. This article is all about Seals and Wheels.
For the uninitiated the Seals are a cycle of cards printed first in Nemesis that are enchantments that effectively do the same thing as instants for the same cost.
These guys are great to put down as pseudo stax pieces that can discourage players from putting down threats that might get Sealed away, and also act as removal that is very difficult to interact with on the stack as very few effects can counter the Seal’s effect once the seal has been broken. Swat, Stifle, Veils depending on the Seal, all can help, but that’s really it. Not only are they hard to play around but the Seal is also “free” if you can manage to keep it around for a turn cycle after it is cast. Lastly, and this is the impetus for this article, seals dodge hand destruction effects such as discard and wheels, whether they be from your opponents or yourself. This has been on my mind a lot lately with the introduction of Orcish Bowmasters to the meta.
Properly Applying a Seal
Let’s talk first about the most obvious application of the Seals. They can be sacrificed to blow stuff up. That means one cannot go for an Underworld Breach win unless one plans to play around Seal of Primordium or Seal of Cleansing. One cannot steal your tutor with an Opposition Agent, or go off with a Malcolm in play, while there is a Seal of Fire or Seal of Removal chilling on the board. These Seals act as preventative measures that force your opponents to remove or respond to them if they want to proceed with their gameplan. This makes them similar to cards like honorary seals Ranger Captain of Eos and Cathar Commando in that they are proactive disruption pieces you can use to hold multiple players’ win attempts at bay. Not only that but the protection cards that need to be used to play around them (removal pieces, stifle effects, or Deflecting Swat) can be easily beaten with your own protection pieces. If the Seal is being removed, by say an Abrupt Decay, you can even crack it in response to get some value before it goes. Nobody (rightfully) plays Krosan Grip anymore.
Besides being a difficult to disrupt interaction piece, Seals can be used proactively too. You can easily pop a Rhystic Study or Mystic Remora the turn before you go off (or when someone else goes off so it doesn’t get fed) with a Seal before going for a win, or remove one of those pesky hatebears that’s stopping your win line from taking form. Again, unless your opponent has some very specific interaction pieces, this is going to get you there. These can even help with your own combo turn, as Seal of Removal can bounce your Dockside or Spellseeker to help with a combo turn for “free”, which brings me to my next point.
I Seal What You Did There
Assuming you don’t use these on the same turn you cast them, they are free. The mana is already spent a turn prior and the effect is yours to use at your leisure. This is why the honorary Seal Ranger Captain of Eos (known colloquially in this article as Seal of Silence) is so damn strong. It has an awkward casting cost but a turn later it is free. People already use Snap and to a lesser extent Snapback as “free” Dockside bouncers. Why not Seal of Removal too? This is an especially good option for decks with white as you can search the Seals off of Enlightened Tutor, giving you another option for that spell. The other Seals being free is a boon as well. Seal of Fire is another all star. It is especially good at killing all the flash hatebears that have been getting printed and seeing popularity lately. Looking at you, online discourse surrounding Orcish Bowmasters.
This is important to have in one’s arsenal if expecting trouble from these flashy foes. A seal can be popped with one’s tutor or wheel on the stack still to kill or bounce a flashed in hatebear before they can do their thing. Gotta put the No in Notion Thief. This is probably the most enticing reason (for me at least) to consider the Seals in my lists. I love wheels. Seals and wheels seem to go hand in hand. In fact, it was Hullbreacher that brought Seals to my attention in the first place. Seal of Fire kept that malicious merfolk from blowing me out back in the day. I like it a lot better than other removal options for wheels decks partly because of this.
The Elephant (Seal) in the Room
Let’s compare Seal of Fire to Lightning Bolt, as an example. Both can remove that pesky Notion Thief, but Bolt costs mana when you do it and can be stopped by counterspells and stack interaction much more easily. Additionally, if you do successfully wheel without popping your Seal, it is still there, whereas the Bolt must be discarded with the wheel. On top of that, any hatebears that didn’t get played because of the on board Seal get wheeled away. If someone was holding their Ouphe until they could find removal for your Seal they are gonna be holding their head in their hands in regret instead. Heck, the player with Notion Thief may even choose not to cast Thief into the Seal since they would just be wasting their mana, and they could use that mana to do something else after the wheel resolves, thus letting you keep your seal while still “using” its effect for something. Seals and Wheels, name a more iconic (and phonetically pleasing) duo.
So we already compared to Lightning Bolt, albeit in a very niche scenario, but how do the Seals compare to other interaction pieces? Sure they’re good, but so are a lot of cards that just barely don’t make the cut in cEDH. Why should these edge out instants and sorceries, or stax pieces, in your deck?
Well, we already brought up the synergies with Enlightened Tutor. Using a different tutor to be able to find interaction broadens your deck’s ability to deal with different threats at different times. So these are definitely a great option for decks with white. We also talked about how these seals are best after waiting a turn. With the exception of Seal of Removal being a Dockside bouncer there aren’t many proactive uses for these bad boys. I guess protecting your own wheels is also proactive, somewhat, so I will count that too. So essentially, these Seals are best in decks that can recur or tutor enchantments that also might want to cast wheels and prefer to have a bit of setup/protection before going off. I can also see a nonwhite deck that relies heavily on wheels wanting to pick these up just for the defensive applications, especially with Orcish Bowmasters now entering the mix. I have Seal of Fire in Tana Malcolm and have been loving it there, mostly to hose Oppo. I think this makes the Seals best for decks like Tivit, Tameshi, Malcolm+, Brallin and Shabraz, Nymris, and UW Heliod. I can also see more proactive Dockside decks like RogSi or other speedy Grixis piles running Seal of Removal as a “free” goblin bouncer that can also sometimes protect tutors and wheels from annoying hatebears. I think the prevalence of Seals is going to be tied to the popularity of these flash hatebears (as well as to the popularity of this article, somewhat).
Earning My Seal of Approval
These are also numerous honorary Seals that get my seal of approval as well. Ranger Captain is the obvious one. It is arguably one of the best cards in cEDH right now and a big reason for that is it acting as Seal of Silence. Hope of Ghirapur is another lesser contender in that arena as the Orim’s Chant to Ranger Captain’s Silence. Doing their best Seal of Primordium or Seal of Cleansing impression we have Cathar Commando, Cankerbloom, Haywire Mite, and Outland Liberator all filling similar roles except you can “gotcha” people with them and a Chord of Calling. There are Spellbombs that do the same thing as our Seals of Removal and Fire and also creatures like Mausoleum Wanderer and Judge’s Familiar that are “seals” that act as counterspells too. Finally Bronze Walrus is an honorary seal since both walruses and seals are pinnipeds. I have a full list of cEDH playable “seal” effects that you can peruse here
The Seals have appeal because they are permanents that can be sacrificed long after they are cast to put a disruptive effect on the stack. This effect is obviously very strong in cEDH and the prevalence of Ranger Captain proves it. As combos start to become faster, tighter, and more efficient, taking whatever edge you can get to cast stuff for free might be the correct move to make. Maybe it is time to cut Alchemist’s Retrieval for Seal of Removal. Or maybe it's time to run both. Either way, you should consider swapping Seals into your list so you can edge out a bit of that Brewer’s Advantage. Until next time!