THE GREAT ALASKAN TEAM SEALED MATCH: PROLOGUE,
By the Ferrett
"Hey," said Sheldon Menery, author of FINAL JUDGEMENT, "Anyone wanna have a Team Sealed tourney?"
We here in Alaska all leaped at the opportunity, of course. It sounded like a fun way to spend the day, since we could all form various ridiculously-cliquey teams and trashtalk our way into oblivion. I pictured us all running into the tourney area brandishing folding chairs and shouting, "YER GOIN’ DOWN! YER GOIN’ DOOOOOOOWN!"
But deep in our heart of hearts, we knew who was really gonna win: Team Dinosaur.
Team Dinosaur consisted of the oldest and most experienced Pro Touring folks around. Team Dinosaur was notorious because one of the local comic shops held tourneys around them – "Step up and try to beat them at Sealed Deck!" said the flyer. "Anyone who beats a Team Dinosaur member gets a free booster pack!" And from what I heard tell, there were not many booster packs given away whenever the Dinosaurs stepped to the table. They could squash us like a bug. We knew this.
But hey, second place isn’t bad either. And we liked trashtalking.
Fortunately, fellow columnist David Phifer and I already belonged to our own team: Team Adults With Women And Jobs And Lives Outside Of Magic, as I wrote about many months ago. Unfortunately, Team AWWAJALOOM only had two local members who could play that day, and this was a three-man event.
Sheldon Menery begged us to join – no, really, he did! – but sadly, we had to turn him down. One of Team AWWAJALOOM’s strict requirements is that we could not accept anyone who had ever been successful in Magic in any way, shape, or form…and Sheldon was, sadly, far too competent for us.
"But you could WIN with me there!" he said in complete disbelief. "I’m GOOD! I know what I’m doing! I’ve played Team Sealed before! I’M A JUDGE AND FORMER PRO, FOR GOD’S SAKE!"
"Yes," we said implacably. "And that’s why we can’t have you on the team."
"I don’t believe you guys," he sulked, bitter at his rejection.
"Don’t take it personally," we said, patting him on the back. "Not everyone can suck the way we do. Perhaps one day you’ll be lousy enough at this game to live up to our exacting standards."
Sheldon took it in his usual grace and style, which is to say he later called up my wife and complained to her about her idiot husband.* Now my wife, SHE could have qualified for the Team, but she was busy doing something else that day.
In any case, we set out to play the day after the Extended Qualifier up here, and it was then that I discovered something horrible:
There are practically no strategy articles for Team Sealed.
I searched, but couldn’t find a one. Nary a tourney report. Certainly not any guides as to how to approach it. Now this is for one of two reasons: One, it could be that it’s an infrequent format and therefore nobody’s ever bothered to put in the research – or two, it’s such a high-level topic that only the pros really care, and they aren’t sharing their tech for fear of tipping off their enemies.
So either way, I was determined to come out of this with a couple of strategies for the beginning Team Sealed person – and so I bugged everyone to write something, both to provide some content AND to encourage anyone else who has thoughts on the matter to send something in.
So here’s what Jeff Moeller, one of the shining lights of Team Dinosaur (and self-proclaimed Jiminy Cricket to my Pinocchioan Tourney Quest), did to prepare for the format:
Team Dinosaur started planning its strategy for the Team Constructed event about ten days beforehand. Rob Weimer, the current Alaska State Champion, test-opened several exemplars and built three decks, watching for patterns in how the decks shook out colorwise. I sat down with an Invasion card list and looked for cards that I thought would be good and bad, focusing on commons and uncommons.
We all agreed that the gold cards heavily drove the division process. If you did not play green and white together, for example, then you missed out on the green and white gold cards altogether. You would also miss out on any kicker abilities that required a friendly color (important for certain cards such as some of the red/black Kavus). Finally, there are so many gold cards in an exemplar, and the gold cards are of such play quality in Invasion that you cannot afford to ignore them.
After running our analyses, we agreed that there appeared to be three color combinations that were consistently stronger than the others: G/W, U/W, and B/R. These color combinations gave access to the strongest gold commons and uncommons for purposes of Limited play. We were less impressed by G/R and B/U, which appeared to have a few very annoying cards (Cobra, Vodalian Zombies, Recoil) but were less impressive overall. Although we kept our minds open to what we would get, we went in looking to build G/W, U/W and B/R, with additional cards from G, U, B and R being available to share as needed. We paid some attention to making sure that B in particular had ways of dealing with black creatures.
By and large, our strategy was sound. My G/W/r deck performed well throughout the day, as did Rob’s U/W. William had some troubles with his B/R/u for some reason, although I thought it was pretty strong and well constructed. Our card selection in B/R/u was fairly limited, however.
After the tournament, some B/U cards struck me as better and/or more of a threat than I initially thought. Probe with kicker wrecked me a couple of different times, and Vodalian Zombies are a threat. For that matter, all of the shared color "knights" are a threat, and an argument in favor of mixing up the color of your removal spells.
To do over again, my default construction idea might be more along the lines of W/G/r, r/B/u, and u/W/g. White seems to be the one color that can pretty well stand on its own two feet.
As you can see, Team Dinosaur actually did preparation. But David has his own take on things, and it was his philosophy which drove Team AWAJALOOM:
"Playtesting is for the weak."
So, of course, we spent the week drinking beer and watching old Monty Python films, just like people with lives outside of Magic do. Oh, and in between drinking and saying "Ni," David prepared for the upcoming Extended qualifier:
So there I was.
Playing Magic again. I don’t know how you hardcore tournament players do it. I really like Magic, but after playing Magic for nine of eleven days, I am wiped out. It all began a few weeks ago at States…
<Insert Wayne’s World wavy flashback lines here>
After finding a Blazing Specter at near the last moment, my deck was complete. The sideboard was trash, but I didn’t know it at the time.
I think that is probably the hardest part of constructed tournaments for me. As a general rule, I like to build decks that have answers to any problems. I always like to have some artifact, enchantment, and creature removal "just in case." So when it comes to the sideboard, what do I put in – and more importantly, what do I take OUT of the main deck?
It is these tradeoffs between more creature removal and less discard (or whatever) that really let the experienced player shine. Through game one, they see their deck’s weakness compared to their opponent, and sideboard as needed. I don’t have the "on the fly" experience to alter my deck in major ways. Because of this, I tried to keep my sideboard simple, with one-for-one trade outs when possible. I fought and lucked my way into a 3-1 finish in the Swiss* and went on to lose to my teammate in the Top 8. I walked away with a nifty playmat, but more importantly, I stuck around to watch the finals. The finals were Rebels vs. Specter Discard. Specter Discard was similar to mine and the Rebel player had tooled me earlier in the day, so I was curious to see how things went.
Game one was tense, with the Specter player eking out a victory – but the real battle was fought in between rounds. The Specter player sideboarded in nine cards and the Rebel player eight. For all the sideboarding, the only card the Specter player needed was Marauding Knight. Marauding Knight ruined the White Weenie player in a major way. I never in a million years** would have thought to play Marauding Knight in my sideboard. I had thought of Massacre, which worked as a temporary fix until Lin-Sivvi hit the table and the Rebel recursion began for real, and Perish for those annoying green cards like Blastoderm… but Marauding Knight? Never. I still ended with a 6th place finish, which is my best ever.
Practice makes perfect.
If I had more time to playtest***, I might have stumbled across this wonder of anti-Rebel tech before the tournament. So when I preregistered for PTQ Tokyo the next weekend, I was determined to try and get some practice in. The format was Extended – a format to be feared due to Pebbles, Trix, and Tradewind Survival. I am not much of a combo player, so I looked at a few other decks that had some success. I did not have the cards for Tradewind, so I looked to my good friends the Slivers. Slivers have treated me very well in Type 1, so I was fairly comfortable with them. I got some help with a starting point at www.bdominia.com and went from there.
The main deck looked good with twenty-four lands, twelve counters/disruption, some Swords, Aura of Silence (tech!), and some Slivers. From my Type 1 experience, I knew that the Sliver Queen was a wrecking ball. The deck was five colors, and in Type 1 a turn 4 Queen happened more than once, so a turn 5 or 6 Queen in Extended would be good too if I got stalled a little. One Queen went in, and boy did she prove her worth. I playtested with a friend against several of his decks, and I feared Stompy most of all. Rogue Elephant with Rancor is too much for my poor little Slivers. Tradewind was tough, but some early disruption and Winged Sliver allowed me to win enough that I hoped a post-sideboard Perish and Aura of Silence would carry the day. I was ready. I had played more Magic this week than ever before.
My first Extended match ever went something like this:
Me: Tropical Island. Go.
Him: Island. Go.
Me: Volcanic Island. Muscle Sliver. Go.
Him: Island. Go.
Me: Tundra. Muscle Sliver – Countered. Attack. Go.
Him: Island. Go.
Me: Attack. Go.
Him: Island. Masticore. Go.
Him: Discard Mishra’s Factory to Masticore – I call the judge – Match loss for him.****
How can you not check what is legal for a tournament before you go? Even if you don’t check beforehand, there was a list of legal sets and cards posted at the registration desk. Why bother even showing up if you have no idea what is legal? Oh, well; good for me.
Slivers took me to an 8-1-1 record and top of the Swiss.***** Then I hit my own personal wrecking ball: Morphling. I was playing against a fairly slow Draw-Go, whom I pummeled early. But on turn 6, Morphling hit the table and my attack was stopped in its tracks. My horde of Slivers was forced to sit back and wait until I could figure out a way to stop Morphling. They just stared at me, their beady little eyes (Slivers have eyes? – The Ferrett) saying, "Why aren’t you attacking, Dave? We liked attacking. So what if he has eight islands untapped? Just attack anyway. You used to be so kool. It is like we don’t even know you anymore. You suck, Dave, we’re going home." And we did go home. Morphling beats were too much. Superman proved his worth yet again. I was happy, though; 5th place this time. Japan will have to wait a while to feel my Magic-induced rage.
On to Sunday. Team Sealed deck. Due to work, a regular member of Team AWWJALOM could not make it. Ferrett and I sought out an honorary member – we found Mike.
But sadly, Mike could not be an official member, for though he has a woman, he has no job, and since he was the winner of PTQ Tokyo the day before, he proved that he had no life outside of Magic. We entered as Team Prize Support. We began to think of strategy as we signed up. None of us had done Team Sealed before, and Invasion Sealed is still fairly new. We were all decent enough players to figure out basic strategies, but we were going up against Team No Dice with Sheldon (Star City’s own level III judge) and Joseph, who is going to PTQ LA. Team Dino were the reigning champions, and all three members were previous Pro Tour Players. We had no chance.
My strategy suggestion was to go with B/R (Ferrett), U/W (Mike), and 5-Color Green (me). Ferrett wanted to go with U/B (Ferrett), G/R (Mike), and toss the crap to me to do with what I could.
After some discussion, we decided to go with Ferrett’s plan. They would take the cards they wanted, give me the trash, and hope for the best. We opened our cards.
We got two (read it: TWO) Psychic Battles.
We got no huge beat-sticks, but some decent cards. We went to work. Ferrett built his deck with us chipping in suggestions here and there. We figured that even if Mike and I did not agree on Ferrett’s choice of a card for his deck, it was most important for him to be comfortable with it. Then we built Mike’s deck. Well, we tried to help, but he kept re-making it so many times that I finally got bored and began to look at the scraps. Ferrett was U/B, Mike was going R/G/b and I was going G/W/u.
Charging Troll kicks butt. Okay, to be more specific, a Charging Troll with Armadillo Cloak kicks butt. Okay, to be even more specific, a Charging Troll with Armadillo Cloak AND Wings of Hope REALLY kicks butt. All in all, my deck was fairly weak – but that was okay. We planned on Mike and Ferrett winning and me picking up a game or two if I could. I thought that was a good strategy: Make two really good decks to "ensure" victory, and let someone else do what they can with the rest. The other option is to make three "okay" decks and hope for the best. We all agreed that was not the way to go.
Round one begins as planned, with us playing against – gulp – Team Dino. Ferrett gets the win, but Mike loses. I get lucky and pull the Flying Cloaking Troll combo and win. Round two begins as planned. Ferrett wins, but Mike loses. I pull out a victory and Team Prize support is in the lead. Mike doubts his deck. We assure him it is good. Bad draws and such. It sounds lame, but supporting your team is important; if you think your deck sucks, you will play like it does suck. Even if it is trash, you need your team’s support to point out the good cards and ideas for playing it. I knew I had the scraps, but I was confident that my team would pull us through – but Mike’s G/R beating machine was stalling.
Round 3 begins with a Ferrett loss – his first. Gulp. I scrape out a win in a tight duel. Mike wins big and his confidence jumps. We are still undefeated and looking good. Round 4 and 5 I lose, but the rest of the team is on track. Mike is smiling. We are undefeated as a team, and looking strong as we head to the finals.
It is a rematch with Team Dino. The same Dinos. Did I mention that all three are Pro Tour Veterans?
We beat them once in the first round, but we’re nervous now that it is the finals. One of their members is an undefeated 5-0, and their only loss was to us. I face Jeff in a G/W battle. There is Troll on Troll violence. He defeats me soundly. Mike has pulled out the win against William. It is down to Ferrett vs. Rob. U/B vs. U/W.
Rob is undefeated and thrives in events with no time limited like the finals. U/W decks are not known for their speedy play, and neither is Rob.
Mike and I stare at Ferrett’s hand. It is a tight game. There are tons of creatures on the board. Traveler’s Cloaks, Shackles, and color changers abound. An Obsidian Acolyte and some Master Decoys are holding off Ferrett’s assault. Ferrett counts his library. Five cards. Rob is at five life. Ferrett can do one a turn once all the tapping and damage prevention is done. Ferrett gets down to one card and plays his tricks. He instigates a color changing war that will allow him to get in the last point of damage he needs to win… assuming that Rob doesn’t play anything meaningful. Rob draws land.
Ferrett draws his last card and attacks for the win. Yee Haw! Victory.
Ferrett pulls it out for his team and Prize Support are now the Yukon-Alaska Team Sealed Champions. It was agonizingly close, with Ferrett playing it damn well and not being phased by drawing his last card. In the same situation, I would have freaked out and tried to break through too early.
I am now due for a break from Magic for a few days. I really would like to know how some of you can play Magic every day for hours to get ready for a tournament each week and not get burned out. I had a great weekend getting 5th and 1st in the tournaments, and picking up a Bazaar of Baghdad in an ante game (thank you Mike). I got some valuable experience playing and watching games with decks I don’t normally play against. Unfortunately, the next major tournament for us is not until the Planeshift Prerelease.
Thanks for reading.
Now, let me provide the counterpoint and vital reinforcement to a couple of David’s points:
1) We won. This comes as a surprise to all of us.
2) We won because of me. This came as even more of a surprise to all of us. Especially me.
3) I was very embarrassed to read about how supportive David was to Mike when Mike had his initial losing streak, since my psychological back-patting consisted of saying, "Hey, didn’t you win the damn tourney yesterday? I can’t believe we broke down and let some ‘pro’ guy play in OUR team… and he’s LOOOOOOSING!" Yessiree, "helpful support" is my middle name.
4) My patience was actually quite the bozo move, and I lucked out. I should have gone for my all-out attack on the turn BEFORE I drew my last card, since I knew that Rob had at least one Holy Day in the deck (he had discarded one earlier thanks to a Probe with Kicker). It didn’t hit me until after the game was over that I might well have attacked with everything and found all of my damage neutralized. I found out later that he had forgotten it was in his graveyard and he had no other real answer to a massive swarm, so thankfully the game was pretty much decided by then anyway.
But still, it was a stupid play. I should have thought about it. Rob would have.
Now – how does MY tourney report look? I’m not going to give you a play-by-play, but here are my initial impressions:
TALENT IS IMPORTANT. It must be, because we didn’t open anything spectacular in our packs – not a single bomb that we were really thrilled to see. Two starter decks, three boosters, and not ONE creature that tapped anything. (Like David said, we got TWO Psychic Battles, for God’s sake!) Matter of fact, we left out most of the rares and uncommons and concentrated on pure common power, which worked. This is a great Limited set.
HAVING A PLAN IS IMPORTANT. I heard a lot of teams floundering about as the packs were opened, dogfighting for position on the things they wanted most. Bad idea. Team Dino and Team Prize Support had their colors picked before they even got to the table, though naturally we both altered our decks slightly to accommodate the cards we got. You can spend ten minutes arguing about what cards to go with, or you can sit down and say, "Okay, the five-color green we hoped for isn’t an option. Can we still put together the white/green and the black/red decks that we discussed and have cards left over for a workable third deck?"
It cuts time. When you have an hour to build three decks, time is important.
DECKS MUST BE BUILT QUICKLY. You have twenty minutes per deck at most. Don’t waste time. Do everything you can, be polite.
THE ACTIVE PLAYER HAS FINAL SAY. My guys were really nervous that I threw in a Traveller’s Cloak (they thought Vodalian Merchant would allow me to draw into better threats) and tried to argue me into some other card that I didn’t want. I held firm… and they backed me.
Now either could have been the wrong decision, but David is right: It’s more important to play the deck you’re comfortable with, even if the cards might not be as top-notch. I played cards that fit my style, aggro-disruption, and I did really well. David took a modified five-color green that was substandard except for one top-notch creature and two killer enchantments, but he did much better than we thought with it because he loves Five-Color Green. And I think half the reason that Mike floundered in the early rounds like he did, DESPITE the fact that he had a reasonably strong deck, is because he didn’t like the card pool and was uncomfortable with the final build.
Here’s the truth: They could have argued me out of my deck. But they didn’t, and that confidence in me paid off. There’s a lesson to be learned here.
…OR NOT. Another famous strategy is for the top Limited player to tell the other two guys to go smoke a cigarette for an hour, then create all three decks for himself. I don’t necessarily think this is the best strategy, particularly since it robs the other players from a deep understanding of the decks, but if you’re REALLY good it can work. Heck, it DID work.
LEAVE TIME FOR PLAYTESTING. Another thing that I think hampered Mike was, as I said, his constant rearranging. Mike’s a darn good player, but he was shifting cards right up until the final ten minutes, and I don’t think he did more than one or two test draws. Admittedly, there were a lot of decisions to be made because we were all trying to figure out which suckstandard cards had the best synergy, but my gut says that he would have done a lot better to go with a crappy build at twenty minutes to deadline, play out a few goldfishes, and THEN go back and put everything in.
This is not to slam Mike, incidentally – he did a good job. I just find it so odd that he started off so shakily with a decent deck and then turned into a Titan later on that I assume there must be SOME explanation for it.
TWO STRONG, ONE OKAY. This is where I could be wrong, but in Team Sealed all that matters is the team wins – individual matches or win records only count towards tiebreakers. So technically your team could have a round where the three of you went 2-1, 2-1, and 0-2, and it would STILL be a win record.
So if you get the choice between three moderately strong decks and two killers and one kinda wimpy one, go with the wimpy one and hand it to your strongest player. He’ll pull a few wins out of nowhere (you hope), and the two autopilot decks should take up the slack. Going with three only increases the luck factor, because you WILL have bad matchups somewhere. Might as well pick ’em.
That’s it; no slops ‘n’ props, just potentially bad advice. If you have better advice, send it in. We’re waiting.
— The Ferrett, David Phifer, Jeff Moeller
* – Despite me nagging him many times, Sheldon refused to write his own tourney report for this – so alas, MY side of the story is all you get. But I’m notoriously unreliable about these things. Ask my wife. Really.
* – The turnout was not too large, so if you are a good player but play in tournaments with big names who always win, come to Alaska.
** – Okay, maybe in a million years I would think of it.
*** – Being a member of Team AWWJALOM makes it necessary that I don’t ever play test. It is hard sometimes, but I gotta stick with my team.
***** – First time I have been ranked one! (Me too – The Ferrett)