Editor's Note: As many of you know, Team Sealed is a very fun but complicated format. With the StarCityGames.com Team Sealed Open in Richmond taking place this weekend, I decided it would be a great time to bring back William "Huey" Jensen's masterful overview of the intricacies of Team Sealed with a little M14 strategy sprinkled in from the man himself. Enjoy!
Team tournaments are among the most popular tournaments in Magic. Because they are so rare, the anticipation tends to be much greater for them than for normal events. The StarCityGames.com Team Sealed Open in Richmond is right around the corner, and I hope this article will be a useful primer about various aspects of team tournaments. Keep in mind that this is meant to be an overview of team tournaments in general and not specific to the current format.
Selecting Your Teammates
It is important when you are choosing teammates that everyone is clear about what their goals and expectations are. Everyone wants to win the tournament, but if you intend to prepare for countless hours weeks ahead of time, you should make sure your teammates have the same approach in mind. If expectations are not shared, someone who ends up preparing a lot may end up being upset with a teammate who puts in very little effort. If a team wants to come together and go to the tournament to just have fun, that's great too. Just be sure everyone is on the same page.
In most cases, if you're playing with friends or people you know well, you will have an understanding of their personalities and a good feel for whether or not you will mesh as a team. Sometimes, things will not go perfectly. It's important for teammates to be positive and remain supportive of one another. If a player makes a mistake in a round, they are not more likely to play better in the subsequent round if they are berated for it. If you are prone to nervousness in big tournaments and a potential teammate is not likely to be understanding or tolerant of mistakes, they are probably not the best choice for you.
Ultimately, the tournament tends to be more enjoyable if you play with people who you consider to be good friends. Also, if you are fortunate enough to do well, it's much more rewarding to share that experience with people you are close to.
Going through a card pool and building Team Sealed decks is where time pressure is felt the most in Magic. Due to the fact that there are so many decisions and possible iterations for decks, things can get really intense. I highly recommend doing one practice Sealed at the very least before attending any Team Sealed tournament (especially for this one because M14 is brand new). Time yourselves and get a good feel for how things will go. Even if you've played in several in the past, a refresher will certainly help.
Use this practice run to determine the process that your team will use when you receive your product. What my teammates and I have always done is start by dividing up the cards by color into three parts. Each person is tasked with taking one-third of the cards and removing all the cards that are blanket unplayable so you don't have to waste time with them throughout the deck construction process. Then each member of the team reviews the playable cards to get a feel for the strengths and weaknesses of our card pool.
Next identify what the five or six best cards in your pool are. Or, more bluntly put, identify your "bombs." Figure out which three decks or archetypes will be able to best make use of those cards while leaving as few of them on the bench as possible. After constructing the three decks that make the best use of your bombs, evaluate each deck individually. Does each deck have enough playables? Do the cards interact well together? If one of your best cards is a Planar Cleansing, for example, it is obviously better to put it in a slow controlling deck than in a fast aggressive deck.
Usually one color (sometimes more) ends up being split. It is important to identify which deck can make better use of each card of the split color. Sometimes it will just come down to which deck needs playable cards to fill it out, but oftentimes it will depend on a deck's complimentary color. If you have an aggressive white/red deck and a controlling blue/white deck, for instance, the blue/white deck will probably make better use of cards like Pacifism and Celestial Flare. Cards like Shock and Chandra's Outrage in the red/white deck should be able to provide the creature removal spells, something blue and white are usually lacking.
Assigning every card in the pool to a player's sideboard is a very important aspect of the Team Sealed building process as well. First, the easy part. Assign all cards of a color that is only in one deck to that deck. Deciding which of the decks that are sharing a color is going to make best use of the cards of that color is more complicated. This is likely a question that will come down to archetypes. When a color is split, try your best to assign the sideboard cards that coincide with your scary matchups or weaknesses.
To repeat the previous example, if you have an aggressive red/white deck and a controlling blue/white deck, you'll probably want Congregate in the sideboard of your blue/white deck to handle aggressive strategies. On the other hand, you'd be more likely to want a card like Fortify in the sideboard of your red/white deck due to your weakness against fliers. Be thoughtful and logical about each sideboard card. No matter how unlikely you think you are to sideboard something, you never know when the situation might present itself.
Usually, after building the first iteration of your decks, you will have plenty of time to try another. Even if you're pretty sure you've constructed your decks as well as you can, mix things up and take a look at another build. Sometimes something you hadn't thought of will jump out at you, and you will be pleasantly surprised by the second set of decks. Once you're done, if you prefer the first decks, just switch back and nothing is lost.
Another important part of Team Sealed is knowing which player to assign each of your decks to. One strategy is to give the strongest deck to the weakest player and the weakest deck to the strongest player. The theory is the weaker player will get a boost from the best cards while the strongest player will be able to battle through with a mediocre deck.
Another strategy, which I believe to be the best for the majority of teams, is to just assign decks based on play style. One of the worst things you can do in a Magic tournament is play a deck with which you are uncomfortable. If you have a team member who often plays aggressive decks, one who often plays control decks, and one who often plays midrange decks, assign your decks accordingly. Your card pool won't always fall perfectly in line with every player's archetype preference, so do your best as a team to discuss who wants to play which deck and why.
Team Booster Draft
Team Draft has always been my favorite kind of Magic. The fact that every decision is so relevant coupled with an incredible amount of information to process and decode makes it extremely enjoyable.
In an eight-man draft, you have one deck. You play three rounds with your deck versus one of the other players from your draft pod. Of the seven other decks drafted, you will only play against three of them. Due to this, in an eight-man draft it is almost always in your best interest to take an average card for your deck than to take an extremely powerful card for the sole purpose of depriving your opponents of having it.
When team drafting, your goal is to do everything in your power to ensure that you and your teammates are getting the highest card quality possible while also preventing your opponents from doing so. From the opening pack, it is important when selecting your card to also roughly estimate what every other player at the table will take. You want to make things as difficult on the person to your left as possible.
Unlike a normal eight-man draft, it is greatly beneficial to you to have the person to your left in your colors. Due to the fact you should be counterdrafting the most powerful cards from their deck anyway, your deck will be a lot better if those cards end up in your deck and not your sideboard. You should also be very aware of what you think the person to your right is drafting so you can adequately counterdraft the most powerful cards from them in pack 2.
Knowing when to take a card away from your opponent's deck versus taking a card for your own deck can be tricky. In general, a good rule of thumb is don't pass bombs and be very hesitant to pass removal spells. In Team Draft, even your first picks will sometimes need to be counterdrafts. Do not think of these as wasted picks, but rather be happy when you or your teammates don't lose to the card because it's in your sideboard. For example, in a pack of M14 if you are playing blue/black and you believe the person to your right is playing red/green, you certainly want to take a Chandra, Pyromaster away from them over a card like Deathgaze Cockatrice for your own deck. In this case, Chandra, Pyromaster is so powerful that you likely want to take it over even a card like Corrupt.
Due to the fact that all the players are spending a lot of picks taking cards away from their opponents and taking cards that will end up in their sideboards, the decks as a whole are much weaker. This leads to longer games, which in turn leads to card evaluations being different from a normal eight-man draft. Very expensive cards that have a large impact on the game, like Rise of the Dark Realms, tend to be more powerful in Team Draft for this reason. If you and your teammates have done your jobs, you are substantially less likely to play against focused aggressive decks in Team Draft.
Another thing to be aware of is the mana requirements of cards. The more able a card is to be splashed, the less likely you should be to pass it. If you have accurately read the draft and believe the person to your left is playing red/white, for example, it might be okay to pass a card like Garruk, Caller of Beasts because it will be difficult for them to meet the mana requirements. However, it is almost always a mistake to pass a card like Primeval Bounty in the same situation.
Playing as a Team
In team tournaments, you are allowed to give play advice and have discussions about teammates' games that are in progress. This can be a great tool, but when misused it can actually have major downsides. When giving advice, make sure that you've fully processed everything about the game state and situation. Be aware that if you are joining a game in progress, especially if it is not the first game in a match, there might be cards you aren't aware of that your teammate is playing around. Giving unsolicited advice can sometimes be dangerous. Allow your teammate to take things in and ask for advice if they want it.
Be careful that your discussions don't get too loud and give something away. Even just the timing of asking questions or giving advice can give away information. For example, if your opponent puts a spell on the stack against your blue deck and you have a 30-second discussion about whether or not to respond to it, it may become obvious that you have a card like Essence Scatter or Negate in your hand. Also pay attention to what your opponents are discussing. Use that information to deduce what they could potentially be holding.
I hope everyone finds this information useful heading into the StarCityGames.com Team Sealed Open in Richmond. Good luck and I'll see you there!