Exploding the Myths of Team Limited

Ken uses his team’s Day 2 appearance at Grand Prix: Chicago as a platform to take a look at the Team Limited format and figure out what parts of the common wisdom are true, and which bits are myth. For exmaple: If you are trying to win a Team PTQ, your energies are much better spent practicing Team Sealed than they are Team Rochester. Always controversial, often insightful, KK brought his A Game with this one.

Team Sealed is one of the most neglected formats for the skill level it requires. Time and again I see people testing their butts off for Team Rochester, but in reality it is far more important to practice Team Sealed, particularly when you are still at the PTQ level.

Yes, I am writing again. I think the reason I stopped is because the Dilemma series scared me. I was going to come back and do it again, but the negative response (much of it warranted) to my last article left me with a bad taste in my mouth and a painful reminder of all the cockups I had in the Mirrodin Dilemma series. While I was right on a few of them, by and large I had no idea what I was talking about.

It wasn’t because I wasn’t playing. I was drafting a lot. It was mostly because my local playing group wasn’t innovating. We had our strategies and they worked on the local level. It wasn’t until after the series was over that I learned the joys of Affinity. The highlight of that block for me was casting 2 Myr Enforcers on turn 3, attacking for eight turn 4, then attacking again turn 5 and casting Fists of the Anvil for the win.

But I digress. I am back because I actually enjoy writing when I have something to say, and as I have said many times before, I can’t imagine a site that is better to write for than StarCityGames.com.

Back to Team Sealed.

There are many myths about Team Sealed. I want to discuss some of them and point out what is true and what is not.

Myth #1: It is not important to practice Team Sealed.

I addressed this in the intro, but I wanted to mention it again as it is one of the biggest misconceptions about Team Limited. People think that Team Sealed is very much luck-based and there is no good way to test it. This is just false. While Kamigawa individual sealed is a little more luck-based than some of the recent sealed formats, that doesn’t mean that Team Sealed is. There are three primary ways to build a sealed deck. These methods are completely dependent on what you open. Team Sealed decks can be built based upon raw power, synergy, or curve. Being able to identify when card pools need to be built in each of these manners is an important skill.

The other cause of this myth is that Team Rochester draft is the more important format. If you are playing in qualifiers, you often don’t need this skill at all. Many final matches of Team PTQs are decided by a prize split with one team getting the invites. On the off chance you do have to play it out, that is only one match of the seven or eight you have to win on the day. In a GP or PT situation, you have to make Day 2 to finish in the money. You can’t make Day 2 without succeeding in the Team Sealed portion. Also the better you do in the sealed portion, the less pressure there is in the draft. I don’t mean to imply the draft isn’t important. The strategies there are more difficult to grasp and as such are just as important to practice, but to neglect the sealed portion is one of the biggest mistakes in Team Limited.

Myth #2: There is a best seat for certain archetypes.

People are always trying to get good matchups with their Team Sealed decks. They try to meta the metagame and figure out how to place the decks so that all three players are the most likely to get good matchups. They pat themselves on the back when matchups go their way, and bemoan their horrible failures when they don’t.

The fact of the matter is, there are very few teams that conform to the “I’ll be playing this in the draft so I’ll play it in sealed” convention that many teams feel exist. Every team thinks every other team conforms to this and every team switches it up. Then half those teams switch it up twice to try to beat out the metagame trend. What winds up happening is you get a truly random selection making any sort of strategizing in this area fairly moot.

Build the decks without assigning them to people. Then after they are complete, do the best you can to give the decks to the people who will play them the best. Remember the team is a single unit. You succeed together and you fail together. Leave your ego at the door.

Myth #3: Build 2 strong decks and leave one weak.

In extreme cases, like the Brockafellers, where you have one player significantly more skilled than the others, this plan is acceptable. In most cases this is no good. If you build one deck that has little or no chance of winning, and one of the great decks gets land screwed then you have given up an entire round. If you have one deck that looks terrible and another one that seems amazing, odds are you have made an error in deck construction.

If you aren’t sure who the best player on the team is, or if you aren’t sure how much better they are, then you should avoid the extremely weak deck strategy. You want to give everyone a chance of winning. Don’t be a hero and take the weak deck, build them evenly. This goes for your teammates. There’s no need for cowboys.

Myth #4: You must split up the deepest color.

This myth has a hint of truth in it. Often times it is best to split up the deepest color, but it is far from mandatory. When the deepest color is Black, for instance, you can easily go mono-Black. In Champions, Black and Green are most likely to be your deepest colors, as they are the deepest colors in the set. While mono-Green will rarely work out, you can take 2-3 removal cards and add them to a primarily mono-Green deck. You can also splash cards easily into many Green decks due to Elder, Reach, and Leafcaller allowing you to go 3 or even 4 colors.

Myth #5: Play skill is the most important attribute in a team.

This myth may be the furthest from the truth of all. Without a doubt the most important attribute in a teammate is ability to work with others. If you can’t function as part of a unit, you are pretty worthless as a teammate. Even if you go 10-1, if you demoralize/cripple your teammates through either words, or hogging the best cards you are a detriment to the team.

Don’t get me wrong, skill is a factor, but I’d take a decent player that I know I can work with over a player of Finkel- or Kai-caliber that I didn’t think I could.

Myth #6: Decks almost always build themselves.

Time and again I see people go through the building process, split up the colors one way and then never look back. They just tune the decks they laid out and then run with them. This is terrible. There are almost always multiple ways to build decks. I can say that I have never been on a team that was able to correctly split up the colors on the first try. There are certain warning signs to keep an eye out for that will let you know you are probably building the decks wrong. If there are powerful cards in the sideboard, you are likely building the decks wrong. If one of your decks can’t win, you are likely building your decks wrong. If your richest relative buys a new house, and you have to help take the wheels off of it, you might be a redneck. If your curves spike in different places, you are likely building your decks wrong.

Let me explain that last one a little better. If one of your decks has far too many three-drops and another deck has far too many four-drops, there was probably a way to split them that give you two even curves.

Myth #7: If you don’t get powerful cards, you are done for.

None other than master strategist, Jon Sonne, did the debunking of this myth. Jon’s team was handed a poor card pool at Pro Tour: Seattle. While many pros – particularly American pros – would throw their hands up at this point and mentally quit, Jon pulled his team up by their bootstraps and built the decks strictly by curve. He turned an anemic card pool into a real contender. I don’t recall offhand how they did with these decks, but this is the kind of ingenuity that is necessary to make lemonade when the judge hands you a bag of lemons.

When given a poor card pool look to synergies and curve to carry your decks where power has failed.

GP Chicago

I didn’t keep notes or keep our decks from the GP, but I’ll say this much – I had a blast. While the tournament itself was rather unsatisfying, the trip overall was great. Both times we built R/B, G/U(w), and W/R. While I don’t think this is any sort of mandatory formula, I think that at least one of the splits you try should be like this. The first set of decks made it a bit easier. We had three Hondens (Green, White, Blue). The White was aggressive and the Blue was more controlling and just worked better with the Green, so that deck sort of made itself. This left two aggressive decks. All three of the remaining colors screamed for aggro. This meant one Spirit deck and one Samurai deck.

We made Day 2 with no byes and average decks, so this was nice. The draft was a little scary. We decided that drafting reactively was the best solution, but I don’t think we executed it as well as we could have. Paul Reitzl, Dave Humphreys, and Gabe Walls outdrafted us like we were goldfish. I think we held our own in the other three drafts, but we learned some things that practice would have taught us had we had any.

We learned that you can’t rob Peter to pay Paul. Or in our case, rob KK to pay Drew. It wasn’t that Drew was greedy, so don’t get the wrong impression. The problem was we thought we could effectively split Black between the flanks, since Black is the deepest color. The problem with Black is the same problem that Green has. We saw it with Green but not with Black. Green and Black are the two deepest colors. The problem is they both need to be able to access all the resources available to them. This means if you split either color, you wind up with a deck that is quite weak, even if it looks good on paper. When we split the Black, Drew wound up with all the removal, and I wound up with all the efficient creatures, and both of our decks wound up underpowered.

The Future

I was proud that my children made it to the finals where they were finally ousted by Timothy and his children. Sadly, Gindy’s Sister’s Fan Club won’t be playing together at Pro Tour: Atlanta, but I have every confidence that each of them will qualify on their own. Gindy is already qualified with Thaaat’s me!

I would just like to point out the unprecedented third finals appearance in a row at a team GP for Charlie Gindy. Charlie is apparently the glue that can hold any team together at the GP level. If you think he is just getting lucky and is being carried around by various teammates, I’d like to point out that he went 13-1 at this GP. His team had no byes and made it all the way to the finals. Under the tutelage of Joseph Crosby, Charlie has blossomed into a powerful force in Magic.

Adam Chambers has been playing Magic since 1997. He grew up very close to me, and now at the ripe old age of 18, he accomplished what I always knew he would – Top 8 of a major event. Granted it was teams, but his personal 11-3 record shows that he pulled his weight. Chambers has the fire in his eyes now and he wants an individual win. If he is working hard for it, I think there isn’t a player in the world that can stop him. He is the best pure player I have seen since Finkel was dominant. While I consider Chambers one of my apprentices, the truth is he was always better than me at actual game play. Even when he was 13 and I was 22. This kid is truly a master.

And last, but not least, we have the Baby Faced Assassin. A student of the game under Huey and Brock Parker, Zach Parker has finally come into his own. He had been taking some time off the Pro Tour, but was still playing locally and his play has not really faltered. While only posting a 9-5 for his team, he was still instrumental in their getting to the finals.

The future is now. You saw that in the finals of the GP. Naysayers, like Bleiweiss, want you to believe that U.S. Magic will continue to falter. All you need to do is look at the finals of this most recent GP to see the future of American Magic, and I assure you the future is bright. Tim Aten is leading this charge of upstarts and you can expect good things from all six of the finals competitors in the coming seasons. These players along with the TOGIT crew will bring American Magic back to glory.

Hope you all have a happy and healthy new year, and I hope your holidays were wonderful.


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