I am exhausted! Finally home after what feels like an eternity away, first for the SCG Invitational in Somerset and then the World Magic Cup in Amsterdam. This year, we managed to get Team England to a much more respectable 21st finish rather than last year’s soul crushing 33rd.
I have lots of stories to share from all these tournaments and adventures. I already told you about the sweet Reanimator deck I played in Standard at the Invitational. I held off talking about M14 Team Sealed, due to the WMC which had yet to happen. Now that is over, I want to talk about my experiences in this format.
I wrote a fairly scathing review of M14 Sealed after the prerelease. M14 Team Sealed, however, is far, far more interesting.
I think I wrote in my post-prerelease article that I hoped the synergies scattered throughout the set would combine for a more interesting draft environment. Those synergies definitely shine in Team Sealed. I’m going to talk more about these later.
M14’s Team Sealed format is definitely a more straightforward proposition than RTR Block’s was. In RTR, it was about balancing your fixing and making sure you limited the number of good multicolored cards that couldn’t go into a deck. In M14, there are no multicolored cards and there is absolutely no excuse for you to not be playing every premium card. I saw one pool that didn’t play their [card]Serra Angel[/card] which had me floored.
As with any Sealed deck, it is important that every deck on your team have some removal. M14 offers limited ways to get value, so you absolutely need answers to opposing bombs. If you have a surplus in one color, split it up.
At the SCG Open our pool was very short on bombs ([card]Colossal Whale[/card] and [card]Clone[/card] being our only hopes on that front), but we had an awesome array of removal: 5 [card]Shock[/card]s, 1 [card]Chandra’s Outrage[/card], 1 [card]Flames of the Firebrand[/card], 2 [card]Pacifism[/card], 1 [card]Doom Blade[/card], 1 [card]Quag Sickness[/card], 2 [card]Liturgy of Blood[/card], 3 [card]Claustrophobia[/card]… I might have missed some.
While I won’t complain about running 5 [card]Shock[/card]s, I didn’t actually feel my R/G deck wanted that many and I was more than happy to hand some of them over to the blue deck that felt a little short. It also ended up with the two [card]Pacifism[/card]s and the [card]Doom Blade[/card], although that last one we eventually realized was too much, and should have remained in the black deck. We ended up with RG, BW, and 4-color blue. While we were short on bombs, we each had removal to deal with any opposing problems which was key to our success.
Splitting up the removal can be a key factor in choosing your color pairings. The other factor is creature curve. Every pool I’ve seen or built has included an aggressive creature deck—normally played by me and normally RG.
When you open your pool, sort all the colors and curve each one out, separating creatures above spells. This lets you review the strengths and weakness of each color at a glance.
At the Open, we had an excellent set of blue creatures, curving nicely and topping out at [card]Colossal Whale[/card]. With a couple of [card scroll thief]Scroll Thieves[/card], it just needed to buy time to either draw into the Whale or win in the air as almost every other creature had flying. Since it needed no additional creatures, it was an easy matter to supplement the deck with surplus removal from other colors (helped by the presence of a [card]Shimmering Grotto[/card]).
On the other hand, the red creatures looked nice and aggressive with 2 [card]Marauding Maulhorn[/card]s and [card]Regathan Firecat[/card]s, but it had no creatures in the 1- or 2-drop slots (that I was prepared to play anyway). Green was pretty weak overall, but did provide a couple of 2-drops to even out the curve. I even played [card]Gladecover Scout[/card] because I ended up running 4 auras in the deck to really punch home early. Interestingly, there was so little green that an alternative build to this deck was mono-red, running my less-than-exciting [card]Dragon Hatchling[/card]s, which I don’t mind when I’m mono-colored. I boarded into this strategy against green decks, since they tend to be weaker to fliers, and the two [card]Dragon Egg[/card]s I had in the side also shine in the dumb monsters mirror.
That covers two of our three decks, and in all the pools I’ve seen this is a fairly classic model. You have the aggro deck, typically green-based; the evasion deck, typically blue-based; and the synergistic deck, typically black-based.
Green provides power and blue provides evasion, but the black in this set needs to rely on synergy to provide value. Sure, you don’t always have them, in which case hopefully you have some fliers/intimidators instead. You should know what to look out for, though, as some of these decks are pretty powerful. I’m going to talk about the major synergies available in the set that you can look out for when building your pool:
I know I just said the synergistic deck is black-based, but this one isn’t. This is just another option for the aggro deck, but it felt wrong not to talk about it. Slivers is the “obvious” deck to look for, especially if you open one of the awesome rare ones ([card]Megantic Sliver[/card] or [card]Bonescythe Sliver[/card]). None of the 4 pools I have built included a Sliver deck (although the one I registered did). We did get three rare Slivers in our pool at the SCG Open, but 3 [card]Syphon Sliver[/card] isn’t really where you want to be.
Slivers can be a trap. In draft you can afford to take all the Slivers and go three- (even four-) color. The problem in Team Sealed is that you may not be able to afford to take the Sliver cards away from the other decks. [card]Predatory Sliver[/card] is a valuable two-drop in any green deck, and so I would probably want my Sliver deck to be based in green, but it can’t afford to reject too many green creatures for other Slivers unless the green can be split easily (which is rare). However, if you have a white deck that doesn’t have many 2- or 3-drops, you can’t necessarily justify taking those creatures away. I imagine pools with a heavy Sliver theme are hard to get right.
2. Angelic Accord/Life Gain
This is one of my two favorite deck archetypes in M14 Team Sealed. This comprised our final deck at the SCG Open. When I saw the “plan” I was a little skeptical. How often was [card]Angelic Accord[/card] really going to trigger? While the deck has some removal, it was really leaning on the two Accords to provide any sort of value or end-game plan.
The last minute re-discovery of our [card]Bubbling Cauldron[/card] was invaluable to the deck, which was made up almost entirely of 2-power lifelinkers (including those 3 [card]Syphon Sliver[/card]s I mentioned earlier). Yeah, the deck has some awkward games, but once [card]Angelic Accord[/card] came online it was nigh unbeatable. With one Accord and a Cauldron (and a starting creature) you essentially have a vigilant, lifelinking, flying Angel as you attack with current the Angel, then sacrifice it to the Cauldron, gaining 4 life—then you get to put a new Angel into play at end of turn. That’s actually pretty hard to cope with, and let’s not mention what happens if you get both Accords out there with the Cauldron…
Having so many lifelinkers in the deck is necessary. Especially the [card]Dawnstrike Paladin[/card]s, who could afford to push in even when the deck was on the defensive. It is important to note that [card]Angelic Accord[/card] doesn’t need to be in play when the life gain happens, it just looks end of turn to see if you gained 4 or more life this turn. If you have 2 creatures with 4 power of lifelink between them, you should attack first then cast the Accord so as to not clue your opponent in until it’s too late.
3. Steal and Sacrifice
[draft]act of treason
This is the other really fun deck that might be available in your Team Sealed pool. Typically BR, this deck revolves around sacrifice outlets like [card]Blood Bairn[/card], [card]Gnawing Zombie[/card], [card]Bubbling Cauldron[/card], and [card]Barrage of Expendable[/card]s. To go with said sacrifice outlets you have the classic [card]Act of Treason[/card] and other “value” cards like [card]Pitchburn Devil[/card]s and [card]Festering Newt[/card]. The best version I saw had a [card]Bogbrew Witch[/card] and a [card]Dark Prophecy[/card]. It’s a really hard deck to build, as you typically don’t end up playing a bunch of pretty good cards. You have all your engine pieces and bombs, and that’s basically it. This was built by one of our testing buddies and they weren’t running a bunch of sweet creatures, but the deck went undefeated due to its raw power from the synergies.
A number of cards work with enchantments in this set and it’s a good way for decks to generate value. [card]Blightcaster[/card] is the more commonly available one especially when hooked up with [card]Auramancer[/card]. If you are lucky enough to get an [card]Ajani’s Chosen[/card], then don’t complain too much. An enchantment synergy will rarely power your whole deck, but in a set with so few options for 2-for-1s, even this small edge can be game-changing.
Once you have all your decks, it’s time to play. Team play in Limited is fascinating. Bluffing can be harder (or easier) depending on the cooperation of your teammates. Above all, the most important thing I took away from the Open was the importance of having a good time.
My team, comprised of Mark and Bryan, whom I was paired with fairly last minute thanks to the lovely Jackie Lee. While we hadn’t really met before, we got on really well. Many laughs were had and that relieved the tension of the whole thing. When I have a good time playing Magic I do much better. I didn’t really think about us being in contention for money until the last round which we needed to win. We finished a sweet 13th, but really it wasn’t about that, it was the times we had and I hope Mark and Bryan enjoyed it as much as I did.
The WMC was a different experience. I had a really nutty GR deck that I took to an easy 3-0 in that portion of the event (we went 2-1 as a team), but we didn’t do a good enough job at relieving the tension of the event. It was about the results, not the experience. Don’t get me wrong, I always want to win at Magic, but the more that becomes the central theme the less likely it is to happen for me. I know how to play GR and yet I would dither over plays worrying about the right choice. Interesting that two identical events should be so different.
If you have an M14 Team Sealed event happening near you soon, I really hope this has been a useful guide. Most importantly, though: have a laugh, enjoy it. Magic is a sweet game and team events actually give you the chance to share that moment with friends (rather than telling them about it after the fact). Plus, you will probably do better and at least have a good time if you don’t (see, it’s a win-win situation). As always feel free add me on Twitter (@onionpixie) and I’ll be back next week to talk about Unified Standard.