This past weekend marked the long-awaited return of Team Sealed for many folks, myself included. I had the pleasure of joining Todd Anderson and Tom Ross for a weekend of battling it out with 40-card decks and I had a blast.
With two rounds to go, we were 10-2 in the tournament. Unfortunately we lost the last two, both eliminating my teammates from a return to the Pro Tour and denying me my coveted final Grand Prix three-Pro-Point slot. It was a disappointing end to the weekend, but I would argue that collectively we grew as teammates and learned quite a bit.
Me (and Us)
I rode up to the DC area a day early with Gerry Thompson to mess around and get some Team Sealed practice in. When we (Todd and Tom) decided on teaming together a month and some change earlier, I was a bit worried. As the only person who is actively incentivized to play Limited regularly, I thought I would unofficially become team captain in terms of card evaluations and Sealed Deck building methodology.
While Team Sealed is definitely fun-first in comparison to other Grand Prix, I still want to win! So do my teammates, and having a plan going into the deckbuilding portion is a critical aspect of the format.
I thought we ultimately got the practice we needed, and even though a lot of our “testing” devolved into Gerry and me looking at some pools and then jamming 30 games with no “real” objective, some of our card evaluations changed substantially as a result. This paid off dramatically as my team's pool on Saturday featured both a Zendikar Resurgent and Inverter of Truth, two seemingly wacky rares that we had played with, and both ended up being incredibly powerful and critical to two of our decks.
This also helped me to shake a little bit of the rust off developing gameplans for this Limited format. I can say with a great deal of confidence that I never got into a single combat situation this weekend (at least involving tricks) where I was surprised with the inevitable outcome, which is a really good feeling for me. That being said, we came to the conclusion that it was fairly foolish that we basically only binge Limited on a quarterly basis for Pro Tours.
As an aside: something that always strikes me as a glaring difference between good and great opponents is their ability to navigate combat and complicated battlefield states that they've never seen before. Even if one basically only plays Constructed competitively on the SCG Tour®, the fundamentals developed by practicing Limited Magic will do absolute wonders for developing one's skill set and improving one's overall game.
The way that Tom and Todd approached the actual physical aspect of building was also rather interesting to me. They're both seemingly strong visual learners, which is something I've inadvertently made fun of them for in the past (I've seen their Constructed “process,” aka "stare at your 75 for 30 minutes without changing a card"), but worked out nicely as a means to get different perspective: we would shuffle seats during the build to have new decks in front of all of us.
Not only does this help familiarize everyone with the decks we have constructed so far, but it was a nice way to balance subtle touches of overlapping colors, such as if a deck can give up a creature or removal spell to another deck or how can we improve a specific deck's curve.
We never saw anyone else do this, and while it is certainly a stylistic approach that may only be appropriate for some specific individuals, I think it helped us out a lot and reduced the amount of time we were collectively staring at our last few cuts without any real direction.
A major point of discussion I had on the car ride to DC with Gerry was the state of our “team.” The concentration of talent in Roanoke is now basically off-the-charts as of a few months ago, and Gerry in particular has a major interest in trying to cultivate the raw resources we have into something truly special. We haven't quite figured it out, of course, as trying to get seven distinct personalities who work together to create a cohesive and consistent unit is a difficult process, but it's one worth pursuing.
More specifically, we talked about Todd.
We want Todd on the Pro Tour.
Todd wants to be on the Pro Tour.
There is absolutely no reason that Todd shouldn't be on the Pro Tour.
I don't have the exact numbers or over what period of time, but Todd is the most winning player on the SCG Tour® and has absurd stats.
When he walks into the room, he carries himself and plays like a champion. There's no physical difference between the person that enters the room of a Grand Prix or an SCG Tour® event, but there is a distinct divide in attitude and confidence.
Instead of just playing his (absurdly fast) game and letting the chips fall inevitably into place over time, there appears to be a block on his ability to simply attend the right events and make good decisions.
The reason I feel comfortable relating this (with his permission) is that I've been in a similar spot before and I'm guessing that there are a lot of folks out there who have their own self-imposed blocks on their potential.
It took me a whole year of failing to get back into the right mental state and have the courage to be vulnerable again. The point is that Magic is incredibly difficult, and striving to have proper perspective is a challenging but incredibly rewarding state to achieve. It's impossible to win every time, but it is possible to strive to make the best decisions you can over a winning period of time.
By Round 3 or 4, Todd was playing blisteringly quickly because he liked his deck. I may have not agreed with all of his lines of play, as we approach things differently, but the Todd who has the confidence to brush me off, saying “I got this,” is a very dangerous opponent. Of course, he did.
The Boss is a man of few words, and for the most part, Todd and I chose to let him play his game and simply interject for some mulligan advice or small plays. Generally, Tom is capable of some outlandish manipulation of his opponents in combat and is rather tricky, so I don't try to interfere with his lines.
It would of course be ironically appropriate that the reason we lost a critical match might not have been that Tom messed up, but rather because I was sitting next to him.
In Round 13, Tom was playing a close match in Game 3 against Joel Larsson. On turn 4, he untapped with a Nirkana Assassin against Joel's pair of 2/3 creatures, Cultivator Drone and Gravity Negator. He drew a card. He had no trick. He waited for a literal second before asking me if he should attack.
In that brief moment of collective hesitation, against two Pro Tour champions on the opposing team, Tom lost his attack and the race inevitably turned lopsided.
In the previous two games, Tom had (unbeknownst to me at the time) played Tandem Tactics. If Tom simply untaps, plays his land, and sends in the Assassin, there is basically no way Joel can make the double block, as the trick will make him lose the game on the spot.
As it happened, Tom could only play a creature for the turn, and Joel's Expedition Raptor on the following turn put him far enough ahead to where we lost by two or three points.
Tom beat himself up more on this play than is appropriate, I think, as the game would have certainly taken a different tone than the all-out race that occurred, but the point is that this isn't an aspect of Team Sealed that we really prepared for.
We overall did a really good job of not turning the team aspect of the format into a crutch, I think. As I just alluded to, when Todd was being himself, playing quickly and his own game, I felt a lot more confident about our position than when he was asking me for advice.
Mulligan decisions and tough spots are certainly appropriate times to ask your teammates for help, but being autonomous when it is called for is a largely underrated aspect of the group dynamic. There were a few different teams we played against during the weekend that I noticed relied on each other too much.
Of course you should just play your two-drop on curve! Just because you have someone sitting next to you doesn't mean that the way the game is played has fundamentally changed!
Anyway, this was something that we didn't really address going into the event, which was a massive mistake. I had a reasonable grasp on my teammates' personalities and their stylistic tendencies, and I should have taken the initiative and the responsibility to simply prepare and talk about how we wanted to approach these types of situations.
I probably made a precedent of being too “hands on” in the two-on-one scenarios, and it likely didn't actually accomplish much in terms of improving our team's chances. While I made a variety of mistakes over the course of the tournament in terms of deck construction and play, this failure to maximize our team chances as the B seat is where I feel like I blew it the most.
This was a rather different type of article from what I usually write, which I suppose is appropriate for a different type of Grand Prix experience. Overall, I'm pleased with how we performed despite losing some tight matches to great teams down the stretch. Not to put my teammates on blast, but I'm ready to run it back at #GPLOU if they are!
Next week it will be time to finally start diving into Shadows over Innistrad spoilers, and I'm excited for the return of madness and the variety of implications for the underutilized Jace, Vryn's Prodigy. Hopefully he'll finally get some time in the sun. As a small teaser, here's what I will be playing against Ross for my first taste of the new Standard format in a VS video later this week:
Now, clearly I'm more biased towards this archetype than most, but pitch-velocity spells alongside madness cards in a weaker format full of two-color decks where we have been gifted some natural Dromoka's Command protection sure does seem like a winning combination to me.