Team Opens are back by popular demand this weekend as the SCG Tour® stops in Atlanta. While I'll be battling at the Grand Prix in Toronto, the chatter around a team tournament has kept it on my mind.
On the surface, team events seem simple. Three friends together and pick which format you like best. Legacy specialists get to play their format of choice, and the Standard grinder gets to battle away in the format they know best. But the nature of team tournaments changes how you should prepare, specifically when it comes to metagaming.
For a typical individual tournament, you have a portion of people that like a certain deck and continuously tune it and then another portion that for whatever reason haven't found anything they like among the top tiers and look to bring something unusual that is well-positioned. The extra formats added in a team event allow the latter group of players to move away from a format they don't feel comfortable with and toward something more familiar.
As a result, the metagames narrow around the most popular decks, which ironically leaves them more vulnerable to the second group of players, so long as you're willing to take a calculated risk.
So today, I want to highlight some under the radar decks, one for each format, that your teams should consider if you're still looking for the right configuration.
Standard: G/R Aggro
- 4 Hollow One
- 3 Bloodrage Brawler
- 2 Glorybringer
- 4 Honored Hydra
- 4 Noose Constrictor
- 3 Hazoret the Fervent
- 3 Rhonas the Indomitable
Of the three formats, Standard is the most up in the air. We're only one week into Hour of Devastation, so the metagame hasn't had a chance to settle into anything beyond the usual mix of old decks with new additions and untuned new decks. The safe choice is to go with something like W/U Monument or some Temur Energy variant, the known and proven quantities.
But in looking at the lists from the Open last week, one of them stood out as powerful, cohesive new option in the format. This G/R Aggro deck seamlessly blends various discard outlets with madness from Fiery Temper, embalm from Honored Hydra, and the potential explosive draws from Hollow One.
Every single creature in this deck hits hard, and the combination of its curve and synergies ensures that they hit quickly, too. Normally with such a deck I'd be wary of Oketra's Monument, which can present plenty of blockers while establishing a clock in the air. But Abrade gives the deck an easy maindeck answer to their namesake card and Key to the City gives you an easy way to break through on the ground while fitting seamlessly with the discard elements of the deck.
Against opposing aggro decks, you can sideboard into a sweeper-heavy midrange list with much bigger creatures, while against control decks you can sideboard out Hollow One and play a grindier game with Key to the City, Cathartic Reunion, and various indestructible threats to gain both nominal and virtual card advantage.
And while I'm a fan of this list already, there are plenty of ways to continue to innovate it. If you want to be more aggressive, choose cards like Flameblade Adept or Furyblade Vampire. Additional madness cards at that point are likely wanted, something like Incorrigible Youths. That list would look something like this:
- 3 Hollow One
- 4 Bloodrage Brawler
- 4 Flameblade Adept
- 2 Furyblade Vampire
- 4 Honored Hydra
- 2 Incorrigible Youths
- 4 Noose Constrictor
- 2 Hazoret the Fervent
- 1 Rhonas the Indomitable
This list certainly sacrifices some power, but it gets a much better curve and takes full advantage of the various discard synergies. If you want to go the other direction and get bigger, try some maindeck copies of Chandra, Torch of Defiance or even perhaps Samut, the Tested, an underpowered card that plays very well with the deck's plethora of large creatures and offers potential combo finishes with Key to the City.
This deck is going to need some effort to properly tune and learn, but of all the new decks I saw last weekend, this one has the most impressive combination of individual card power and synergy along with a proactive game plan.
Modern: Jeskai Control
For longtime Modern players, this deck may not seem so under-the-radar because it's been around for so long. Older versions centered around Restoration Angel used to be among the most-played and successful decks in the format, but as Modern was further explored, the format became overcome by powerful combo decks of so many flavors that control decks have had a hard time preparing for everything.
So in an open metagame, I wouldn't recommend a deck like this, but for a team tournament, you have to be more concerned with the decks at the top. And right now, the top two decks in the format are Grixis Death's Shadow and Affinity.
Jeskai Control has always matched up well against the second of those two, with a pile of cheap, instant-speed removal to answer their threats and, in the case of Electrolyze, gain some card advantage along the way. Once you get them into the late-game, Affinity winds up topdecking too many copies of Ornithopter and Springleaf Drum to keep up, and your remaining Snapcaster Mages and Spell Quellers provide a sufficient clock, with Celestial Colonnade often giving the killing blow.
The Grixis Death's Shadow matchup is certainly trickier, yet still tends to favor control. Path to Exile and Snapcaster Mage is the perfect start to answering their threats, and their natural tendency to deal themselves ten or more damage puts them in a very awkward position. They really want to get to nine or lower so their Death's Shadows survive red removal and their Stubborn Denials are turned on, but at that life total, they are immediately in danger of being burned out.
They can try to slow down a bit in order to balance the two forces, but that just plays right into your hands, letting you get to multiple-spell turns and making Cryptic Command into a serious threat. Their deck is powerful and the heavy discard and powerful threats means that nothing is going to be easy, but Jeskai is one of the best-positioned decks in the matchup from a tactical perspective.
Now, even in the narrowed metagame of a team event, Modern is sure to be diverse, so you need to be prepared for more than the top tier here, but Jeskai gets access to the best sideboard cards in Modern. You have hyper-efficient answers like Dispel and Ceremonious Rejection to pair with your Snapcaster Mages, great sweepers like Supreme Verdict, and, if you want them, knockout cards like Stony Silence and Rest in Peace. You're not going to be able to cover everything, but you'll cover enough for this deck to be a great choice.
Legacy: B/R Reanimator
Legacy is the format most teams will be least flexible in, since they'll likely have a designated Legacy player that has a deck they like and will stick with it. Metagaming in Legacy is near-impossible because the format is played so rarely; we simply don't have the data.
But that doesn't mean you shouldn't look at unusual decks. It just means that you shouldn't be looking for unusual decks that are well-positioned in a traditional sense; rather, you want to look for something powerful and linear that will take your opponents by surprise. And that's what B/R Reanimator is.
Yes, there are lots of Deathrite Shamans around these days, but beyond that, graveyard hate isn't common in the format right now. And even Deathrite Shaman isn't a huge threat. You can answer it with discard spells or simply race it. This deck can put a Griselbrand on the battlefield turn 1 or 2 very easily, and after sideboarding, you have multiple ways to beat an active Deathrite Shaman with Collective Brutality and Show and Tell.
Against opposing combo decks, you present a fast clock with plenty of disruption between discard spells and Chancellor of the Annex. You'd play against combo all day with this deck if you could.
Importantly, this deck is a good choice for teams that don't have a seasoned Legacy player to rely on. It's straightforward to play so long as you take care to sequence well on the first couple of turns. Trying to pick up something like Delver, Storm, or Death and Taxes on short notice is going to be very difficult in a field that should be dense with experienced Legacy players, so there's no need to play them at their own game. Put them to the test early and often and show them that Legacy is about more than knowing how to cast Brainstorm.
Deck selection is one of the most underappreciated aspects of playing competitive Magic. And in a team event where we're mostly letting each player take the reins in their format of choice, it's easy to ignore that part of the tournament. But in a team tournament, each player is less inclined to make a risky deck choice because they don't want to be the person that costs their team a good finish should their choice not pan out.
This compounded risk aversion is yet another reason the individual metagames narrow in team events. If you bring a safe deck, then it's easier to blame variance should you turn out to be the team's weak link. It may not be the best decision, but it's the decision that least opens you to criticism, which by some quirk of psychology is important to us.
Magic doesn't care about human psychology. It asks you to make the best decision in every situation, not simply a good one. That's why I've always favored a completely collective approach to team events. You should all break down each format together and come to a group decision as to what deck to register, taking into account what your teammates' strengths and weaknesses are. You win as a team, you lose as a team, and you should approach each decision with that mentality.
So if you want to play a boring pile of W/U Monument, Grixis Death's Shadow, and Grixis Delver, by all means, go for it. But ask yourself: is this really the best you can do?