With Regionals behind us, the next format on the minds of Pro Tour hopefuls is Team Limited. It’s the format for Grand Prix: Pittsburgh, Grand Prix: Amsterdam, and, of course, all of the Pro Tour: Boston qualifiers.
I love Team Limited. In my opinion, it’s the best format in the game – and I don’t feel that way just because my team has won a Pro Tour and Grand Prix in the format (though I’m sure that has swayed my opinion a bit). So why do I love it so much?
Getting together with your friends and taking a road trip to a PTQ is always fun – but it’s even better when you go as a Team. Unlike at an individual event, you all finish at the same time. You drop together, you make the finals together; shared losses are easier to take, shared victories are more exciting. And the final goal is sweeter as well. If you win the event, it’s not just you going to the Pro Tour – it’s you and your two buddies.
More Games, Less Luck
In a regular match of Magic, it’s best two out of three. When the outcome of the match is determined by two out of three games, losing one game to manascrew is devastating.
In Teams, the overall match is determined by best two out of three individual matches, each of which are best two out of three games. This means that the Team match is determined by six of nine games, lessening the impact of a single game loss to dumb luck.
Best Draft Format Ever
Despite being better at Constructed, I enjoy playing Limited more. Booster Draft is great fun, but the luck factor in the draft itself can be annoying. Because you can’t see what cards people are taking, you can be blindsided by packs that have too much of one color, or when a player near you switches colors.
Rochester Draft eliminates the blindness problem at the cost of being slower and more tedious. The full knowledge causes a different problem, however; your draft success is now partly in the hands of your neighbors. If they are uncooperative or random drafters, it’s a lot of trouble for those near them. If one side of the table is cooperating and the other side is not, the advantage of seating is clear.
Team Rochester solves both problems nicely. You see the cards like in regular Rochester, so there are no blindsiding issues. The fact that the draft is broken down into two sides solves the randomness of seating problem. Those on your side of the table are your friends, and will cooperate with you, those on the other side are your enemies and will try to mess up your draft. The seating can’t cause you random problems because it’s all neatly predetermined.
Team Rochester is still slow like regular Rochester, but the fact you have six players instead of eight eliminates 25% of the time cost. Additionally, the flurry of hand signal draft chatter makes the time fly by.
So now that you’ve seen why I love Team Limited, the first and most important step in preparing for team events is picking your team mates and forming the team itself. There are several criteria you should keep in mind when picking your teammates:
Can’t We All Just Get Along?
Everyone on the team should interact easily with the other members. Personality conflicts are a very bad idea and should be avoided at all cost. Such conflicts will lead to all kinds of problems down the road and generally sabotage your team’s performance.
Equivalent Play Skill
You may think that you would want to find the two best players possible to team with – players significantly better than yourself. You’d be wrong. Such differences in play skill will no doubt frustrate the better players on the team; they will likely soon look to improve their situation by finding a new team, leaving you high and dry after most people already have teams.
The ideal situation is to have a team where all three members are of equivalent play skill. You can work on your communications and play skills as a group. Over time, your team as a whole will improve, and along the way no one will have an incentive to leave.
Equivalent Ability And Desire To Practice
Much like the play skill issue, everyone being on the same page here will increase the longevity and long term performance of the team. Practice is more important in team then in any other Limited format. You need to gain more then just an understanding of the cards and archetypes; you need to understand each matchup, and what cards are good in them. Your team will also need to learn non-verbal communication. Before finalizing your team, it’s a good idea to make sure all the potential members understand what the practice goals should be, and how much time they are expected to commit to practice.
Given how important practice is to the team format, it’s a good idea to have a team that can easily get together to practice. Keep in mind that while you can practice many aspects of the format Online with Magic Online or Apprentice, you won’t be able to practice your non-verbal communication that way. If you must team with a far-flung teammates, try to get together at least a day before your event to work on your communication skills.
Preparation For Team Sealed
Once you have a team, the next step is preparing for Team Sealed deck. Sealed deck is Day One at the Pro Tour and Grand Prixs. It also makes up all the Swiss rounds of the PTQs. You’re not going anywhere in these events without first putting in a solid performance in the Team Sealed arena.
This frustrates many players, because they feel the Sealed deck portion of these events is all luck, and the Draft portion is where the skill comes in. While I would agree Team Draft is more skill-intensive the Team Sealed, there is a lot more skill in Team Sealed than most players think.
The trick is to identify what’s important in Team Sealed and master it so your team has the best shot possible to make the Draft rounds. Obviously, opening bombs (and playing against teams that didn’t) helps, but here I’ll try to stick to things that are under your control.
Know The Format And Yourselves
Everyone on your team should be familiar with all the archetypes in the format (Black/White Clerics, Red/Green Beasts, etc). Each of your team members should practice with each of the deck types. Naturally, certain members of your team will be better at playing certain deck types than others. Use your practice time to figure out which deck types suit which players; this knowledge will allow you to assign your cards to the players who can make the most of them.
Master The Building Process
With two tournament packs and four boosters, there are a lot of options, and with three deckbuilders, there will be a lot of ideas. Add a time limit to this combination and you can end up with three amazingly well-designed decks – or confusion and chaos. To make the best possible use of your limited time, you should go into the deck building process with a plan.
Step 1: Divide the cards up by colors and give them to those most likely to use them based on your archetype preferences.
Step 2: Each player quickly checks his cards against the deck list to insure there are no errors.
Step 3: For each color, divide the creatures up by tribe and sort them by casting cost. All creatures not belonging to one of the major tribes can be grouped together.
Step 4: Put any tribe-based spells (like Wirewood Pride or Profane Prayers) in with the creatures of that tribe.
Step 5: Divide the remaining spells into three categories – creature removal, good non-removal spells, and generally bad cards.
Step 6: Group discussion. Now that all the colors are sorted and categorized for easy review, everyone in the group should take a look at the card pool as a whole and give their thoughts. As a group, you need to figure out what three decks to build. The first question to ask is: Is the card pool suited to everyone playing their preferred archetypes? If not, you will have to move down the list of archetype preferences to find the best match to your cards and potential color combos.
Quickly dividing up the cards in the shared color or colors is critical to making this analysis in a timely fashion. You don’t have to be perfect at this stage; you can go back and make corrections later. The idea is to quickly break up the shared color into the cards most needed by each of the decks, and see if you have enough tools among them.
Once you have done that, take a look at the other deck. If you have way more good cards than that deck can use in the non-shared colors, it may be appropriate to mix things up.
Step 7: Build and Refine. Now that you’ve chosen the decks, build them, and divide up the sideboard cards. As the divisions in step 6 were very quickly done, it is probable that you will want to swap some cards around at this stage.
Make sure every deck has some tools to deal with common problem cards like Sparksmith and Timberwatch Elf.
Step 8: Review each other’s decks and sideboards. Make any final suggestions on the builds, and make sure you haven’t left cards that should be run main deck in your sideboards.
Step 9: Register your decks and double-check your decklist for errors. If time permits, you should also double-check each other’s decklists.
I know that sounds like a lot to get done, but that’s mostly because the steps were laid out in detail. Given a little practice, your team will be able to speed though the process. When you practice deckbuilding, get used to keeping an eye on the clock so you know how long each step usually takes you. It will be helpful to know how much time you can afford to spend on the step 6 discussion, as that is the most important of the step.
There are a few general points I’d like you to keep in mind about Sealed decks:
The Decks Will Be Good
The average deck in Team Sealed are generally better then the average deck in a normal Sealed Deck event, because the card pools are bigger. That’s important to remember when evaluating your own deck, and when you sit down across from your opponent.
Don’t Be Greedy. Don’t Be A Hero.
These are the two most common mistakes made in the deckbuilding process. Sometimes it’s tempting to keep a card for yourself that would be better suited for a teammate’s deck. In other cases, you might think you need a card for your deck but decide not to ask for it, deciding instead you’ll just outplay your opponent. Both cases can be equally damaging to your team.
This isn’t about you and your performance. It’s about the team. The goal is to build the best three decks possible as a group. If you think you need (or don’t need) a card, let your team know and decide as a group.
Your Opponents Had To Share Cards, Too
Your team wasn’t the only ones who had to split up a card pool. Your opponents did the same thing. A quick glance down the table will tell you a lot about what’s not in your opponent’s deck. Make sure you’re quick about this. Be careful not to waste time in your match or distract yourself from your games. A little discretion would also be helpful in not giving your opponent the same idea.
Keep an eye out for Part 2, where I will discuss Team Drafting!