This weekend StarCityGames.com is hosting a Team Sealed Classic in Roanoke, Virginia. For those of you who don't want to make the trip out to Cincinnati or just prefer Limited, Team Sealed is an incredibly fun and skill-testing format. Before we delve in any deeper, here's a quick refresher on the rules.
- Each team is three people.
- Each team gets twelve boosters (four packs of each set in Theros block).
- Each team constructs three 40-card decks out of the twelve boosters they receive.
- Each team assigns an "A," "B," and "C" seat for each player. This will determine who on the other team you play against each round ("A" plays against "A" and so on).
- Each round the team that wins at least two of its individual matches wins the match.
- Every card in your pool gets assigned to a player. This means that each player will have a large sideboard and that these cards can't be swapped mid-match.
- Communication is allowed during matches. You can consult your teammates on plays, mulligans, and so on.
Even though my individual pro career was mired by a bad work ethic and underachievement, I did quite well in team events. I have four Grand Prix cashes in five tries (including a finals appearance in DC) and two different ninth-place finishes in Team Pro Tours. Part of this was that I really enjoyed team events and practiced quite hard for them. Another reason was that I learned specific tricks and skills during deck construction that gave our team an edge during the matches.
I can't speak too much about the specifics of Theros Team Limited for obvious reasons, but a lot that I learned over the years playing Team Sealed events can be applied regardless of the specifics of the format.
The Decks Are A Lot Better Than Your Average Individual Sealed Deck
This isn't the most intuitive thing because there are more packs per head in individual sealed, but the cards get allocated much more efficiently with the additional players. Imagine an individual sealed pool with two copies of Gray Merchant of Asphodel but the lion's share of the power in blue and white—you probably just end up building a U/W deck. In Team Sealed those Gray Merchants (along with nearly every other powerful card in the pool) get placed somewhere, and this leads to more powerful decks.
This is significant for evaluating the power of your team's decks. If your deck looks like an average individual Sealed deck, it's probably a well below average Team Sealed deck. Sometimes this is unavoidable, but it's important to recognize that the decks are a lot better than the ones you're used to playing in Sealed.
It Is Unacceptable To Have A Deck That Can't Win No Matter The Quality Of The Other Two Decks
This is the most common mistake I see inexperienced teams make during deck construction. There is something appealing about making two extremely powerful decks at the expense of the third deck under the logic that the two powerful decks won't lose any matches. However, there will be plenty of other good decks in the tournament, and your powerful decks will occasionally draw poorly or run into individual cards they struggle with. Leaning on two decks to win a hundred percent of their matches will lead to a lot of disappointment. It's critical that all three of your decks have a puncher's chance going into each round.
Sometimes your card pool will force your hand though. Weird distributions or color imbalances can lead you down a road where there is no way to salvage the third deck, and you have to do what you have to do. But I strongly advise against sitting down at the table with the initial intent of loading up two decks at the expense of the third. It should be considered an option of last resort.
Avoid The Allure Of The All Removal Deck
This is probably less attractive than it was ten years ago when I was playing Team Sealed on the Pro Tour since removal has generally gotten worse (at least at lower rarities), but another common mistake teams make is constructing a R/B all removal deck. Even though they look good on paper, they often play out poorly. Since they rarely have sources of card advantage, they are very vulnerable to mana screw and flood and weak to bulk rate sources of card advantage from the opponent (like Divination). And in modern times planeswalkers are especially brutal for this kind of strategy.
Much of the strategy of Team Sealed is to be efficient as possible with your pool, so concepts like diminishing returns are important. The twelfth removal spell you put in a deck is probably doing a lot less work for your team overall than the first removal spell you put somewhere else. This is not to say you should never build a R/B deck (in fact, it's often correct), but a "thirteen removal spell, ten garbage creature" deck will play out a lot worse than it looks and is often a poor allocation of a pool's power.
Identify What Color You Want To Split, But Be Mindful Of Mana Fixing
There are three people on the team. There are five colors in Magic. Assuming everyone plays two colors, that means one color has to be split. Usually this is just the color with the most cards, but a couple of things can throw that for a loop. Sometimes you want to split removal because of its diminishing returns, so black or red ends up in multiple decks even if it isn't the deepest color. And if your deepest color has a lot of colored mana requirements, it's often correct to build an X/y deck (with X being the color-intensive color) and find something else to split. I think this is more likely to happen in Theros than other blocks because devotion-heavy pools will want to be dense in an individual color.
Good mana fixing should also be considered, though keep in mind that it's not good to have a bunch of two-and-a-half-color decks on your team. Remember, the decks are more powerful than regular Sealed decks, so stumbling on mana is very dangerous. But enough quality mana fixing can lead you to build one four- or even five-color deck, which allows you to cram a lot of power into one deck without as much of an expense to the other decks than when you split a color fully.
More Cards Means More Potential For Fringe Strategies
Wizards puts all sorts of synergies into their blocks. Sometimes they are one of the core Limited mechanics of the set, such as heroic. Sometimes they just appear on a couple of cards, and it's hard to draft around them because you rarely see all the cards at once, like the U/R "spells matters" cards such as Spellheart Chimera.
In Team Sealed you're looking at more cards, and sometimes your pool will be deep enough where a card like Spellheart Chimera, Flamespeaker Adept, or Kruphix's Insight can be a powerful enabler. It's not worth forcing the issue, but it's worth giving cards like this a more thorough look than you would typically in individual Sealed. Remember that efficiency with the card pool is the goal, and anytime you can make a powerful card "out of nothing" you've scored a big win.
Give Due Diligence To Your Sideboard Cards
Most cards will be assigned pretty easily. If you only have one white player on the team, that player should get all of the white cards. Things get much harder when sideboard cards in a color are being split. It's worth taking some time to figure out who gets what because sideboard cards are very important.
Again, it's about efficiency and diminishing returns. If you've split green and are trying to determine who should get Fade into Antiquity, it should probably be the person who doesn't already have Destructive Revelry in their maindeck. The odds that the R/G player wants to board in a second piece of enchantment removal is a lot lower than the odds that your other green player will want to board in their first. The Sip of Hemlock should probably go to your eighteen-land W/B player and not your sixteen-land R/B player who already has five removal spells.
The proper allocation of sideboard cards is worth real percentage points in your matches. Take a few minutes, talk it out, and figure out where the fringe cards should go.
If possible, I also suggest trying a build with your teammates before the tournament. Getting used to organizing the pool, talking, and building is tough, and you don't want the tournament to be your first time doing it. There's only 60 minutes to build and register, and many teams run up against that ceiling while they're building, which adds an appreciable amount of stress and makes mistakes more likely.
At the end of the day each pool is different, and there's no secret formula for building every pool successfully. Building the decks is hard. But if you follow the guidelines above and work well with your teammates, the process should be a lot simpler and more successful. Team events are an incredible amount of fun and test skills unlike any other format in Magic, so make sure to come out to the SCG Classic Series in Roanoke this Saturday if you aren't going to be at the SCG Open Series in Cincinnati.