Last weekend, together with teammates Brent Vos and Bas Melis, I finished second at Grand Prix Rotterdam. We prepared well, had some good luck at the right moments, and had an awesome weekend all around.
Today, while Team Limited is still fresh in my mind, I’d like to share 4 tips that helped us succeed and that may help you in future Team Limited tournaments.
Team up with players who support each other and have a common goals
A good team consists of 3 players with shared goals and a similar skill level. In Rotterdam, our goal was to have fun for sure and Top 4 if possible, which would mean a Pro Tour qualification for Brent and Bas. This spurred us on during our preparation and in the Grand Prix itself.
When it comes to team tournaments, I always think back to Pro Tour New York 2001, where Kai Budde, then considered to be the best player in the world, “pulled longtime friends Dirk Baberowski and Marco Blume out of retirement to form Phoenix Foundation, and together they won the whole show.” Kai, Dirk, and Marco worked well together as a team, and that’s more important than just having 3 strong individual players. It’s likely the same with Shahar, Paulo Vitor, and Ondrej, who went on a trip to New Zealand earlier this year before making the Top 4 of Grand Prix Rotterdam together.
Ultimately, the tournament will be more enjoyable if you team with people you consider friends, whose Magic skills and judgment you trust, and who don’t berate each other for mistakes. For us, it made it all the more exciting to make Top 4. It also helps if you all live within 15 minutes of each other so you can easily get together for a practice session or two, and travel to the tournament as a group.
Put the best multi-tasker in the middle
In team events, you have to assign players to seats A, B, and C. Common wisdom is to put the best player in the middle seat, so that they are in the best position to give advice to the players to their left and right. This may work, but we went for a different strategy.
We put Brent, the least experienced player in the team, in the middle, largely because he was the best at multi-tasking. I am poor at double-queuing and much better when I can focus on my own match, so it made sense to put me on the side. Especially when you’re all at a similar skill level, I think it makes sense to put the player who is best at paying attention to multiple matches at the same time in seat B.
Use your build time wisely
Building a Team Sealed deck involves a lot of decision making. An hour might seem like a lot of time, but it really is not.
The best advice I can give is to do at least one practice Team Sealed in advance and to time yourself while doing so. Bas, Brent, and I met up for multiple practice sessions, and I’m confident it helped a lot.
As a rough guideline, here is a minute-by-minute breakdown of how we typically used our time.
- Minute 0-2: Each person takes one-third of the Sealed pool and sorts the cards by color (for this purpose, all artifact and multicolor cards count as a sixth “color”).
- Minute 2-7: Give 2 colors to each person for sorting in some informative way. You could sort it by mana curve, but what we did is to sort each color in three piles: weak cards (like Nimble Innovator), good cards (like Riparian Tiger), and great cards (like Welding Sparks).
- Minute 7-13: One by one, each person highlights the top cards and synergies in their colors. Is the color deep or shallow? If a color is deep, does it contain a good curve, removal, and in-color synergy so that it could be played as a nearly mono-color deck? Or does it have gaping holes so that it should be split across two decks? Are there cards (such as Aetherborn Marauder or Eliminate the Competition) that excel when combined with other cards? Does one color have all 3-drops and 4-drops and another color all 2-drops and removal? Are there cards like Aerial Responder that put big demands on the mana base? When one person gives their summary, there is no discussion—the others simply listen attentively.
- Minute 13-22: You may be inclined to start building decks already, but leave the cards where they are for now. Simply brainstorm 3-deck configurations, noting down the options on a piece of paper. Keep an open mind, and analyze each option for their merits. It’s nice if you find a configuration that allows you to play all of your best gold cards, but it’s not a necessity—it’s more important to have 3 synergistic decks with a solid mana curve, a consistent mana base, and a coherent game plan. In Kaladesh Team Sealed, we found that there is typically a pattern of a black artifact-matters deck (often an aggressive black-red deck), a green-based deck (often green-red or green-black with a lot of energy cards and a small additional splash), and a nearly mono-white deck with a few cards of another color to fill holes. Blue is often weak, so unless you have a bomb or multiple Gearseeker Serpents, the color can be largely ignored. After a lengthy discussion, you should make a consensus decision on what the two most promising 3-deck configurations are. You realistically only have the time to fully build those two configurations.
- Minute 22-28: Build configuration 1, the one that you believe is the worst out of the two top ones. Cards are passed around the table, and in parallel everyone lays out 23-24 cards in front of them. Afterwards, everyone takes a look at all decks and discusses how they look.
- Minute 28-34: Build deck configuration 2, the one that you initially thought would be the best. The process is the same as with configuration 1.
- Minute 34-36: If configuration 1 was deemed to be better after all, then put that back. Hopefully, the initial evaluation was correct and configuration 2 can stay where it is to save some time. If something is really off and another configuration has to be tried, then do that, but act quickly.
- Minute 36-46: Everyone gets up and shifts one seat clockwise. This allows all team members to offer suggestions on a deck that someone else initially built. Decide on the last slots together.
- Minute 46-50: Assign decks to players based on their play style. Divide up sideboards. For the sideboard cards that could go into multiple decks, discuss how likely it is for each deck to board in a certain card.
- Minute 50-60: Register your decks, verify that everything is correct, solve last-minute problems, and hand in your deck lists.
That 45-minute mark is a good target—at that point, the main decks should be locked in. It’s not a big deal if you need a couple more minutes to finalize everything, but don’t underestimate the time it takes to divide and register sideboards.
Make notes of your opponent’s deck and sideboard a lot
In individual Limited tournaments, I habitually write down every single card my opponents play. I note the power/toughness on their creatures and put exclamation marks next to tricks, bombs, or instants. You can’t take any extra time doing so, but I often jot down one or two cards while my opponent is thinking.
This list can jog my memory when deciding what cards to play around in later games, and it’s also really useful when sideboarding. I tend to board a lot in Limited games. Obviously you have Ruinous Gremlin against artifact bombs and Take Down against flyers, but cards like Prakhata Club Security and Sage of Shaila’s Claim are arguably even more important sideboard cards because they help you tailor your creature base against your opponent’s. If I see an opponent with a lot of 3/3 creatures, then I’ll board out a 2/3 and put in a 3/4. If I see an opponent with a lot of 3/2 creatures, then I’ll cut a 3/3 and add a 2/1.
Things also change drastically depending on who is on the play and who is on the draw. Certain cards, like Built to Smash or Maulfist Doorbuster, are better on the play because you’re more likely to be attacking than defending. Meanwhile, you don’t need as many mana sources when you’re on the draw. If you weren’t already playing 16 lands (which is correct more often than not in Kaladesh Limited, which is devoid of mana sinks and has few cards that cost 6 or more) then it is often wise to cut a land on the draw.
All of these things are amplified in Team Sealed, for two reasons:
First, you likely have way more cards in your sideboard than in an individual Limited tournament. It’s not uncommon to switch strategies completely and to board 6 cards or more in Team Sealed.
Second, when one player finishes their match and wants to help their teammate, it is very helpful to be handed a piece of paper with all cards seen in the previous games. This way, you all have the same information and you can give much better advice.
Team tournaments are always a good time, and I hope some of my ideas were insightful. The next major Team Limited tournaments will be the World Magic Cup this weekend, followed by several Grand Prix events in 2017: Mexico City on April 7-9 and Columbus and Sydney on June 23-25. Don’t miss out!