I remember when I was still learning about all the forms of Competitive magic. First there are the format types—Constructed or Limited—and subdivisions within them. Then came the really crazy concept, “co-operative Magic.” These events weren’t very common. Two-Headed Giant was most commonly found at prereleases. Realizing that sometimes cards were more powerful in this format (such as [card]Exsanguinate[/card]) was interesting, but ultimately 2HG doesn’t come up often. I then discovered you could play in teams of 3. Since I started playing Magic, Team Sealed has finally come back into fashion at WotC headquarters, and we’ve now had several GPs using the format. Unlike 2HG, it isn’t 3v3 but (1v1)x3, and you need to win 2 of the matches to score a victory for the team.
What I really wanted to try out though was Unified Team Constructed. The idea of having to build three different decks from a selection of cards intrigued me. With the exception of a slightly crazy Community Cup, nowhere is Unified Constructed supported in tournaments… until the World Magic Cup 2013.
I was so excited when I saw this was to comprise the Constructed portion of the event. Giving this format a try was a dream come true. I gathered from the coverage that the spectators were a little disappointed by this section of the event. For this, I blame the angle taken by coverage, as the interesting aspect of Unified Constructed is the preparation. It plays much like normal Constructed if you have done your preparation well.
What is Unified Constructed?
The important difference from normal Constructed is the Unified aspect. Within your team, instead of the usual, “no more than 4 copies of a given card in your deck” rule, this is extended across all three decks on your team. You can have 2 in one deck and 2 in another, but there shouldn’t be more than 4 total. For many cards this isn’t a problem. The biggest issue this causes when you are considering decks is in mana bases.
Currently Standard is very greedy thanks to all the mana fixing available. Generally, the best decks run three colors at very little cost, and gain access to the best cards in those colors. However, you need almost every dual for each of the color pairs in your trio in order for this to work. Thus, you can’t run Jund and Junk Reanimator very well in Unified, as they both want the BG dual lands. You could try to split them up, but it is going to compromise each deck’s stability.
It was important for this event to maximize the power of each deck, so it was essential to split up the lands well.
To understand color splits, it’s helpful to draw out the color wheel:
Then you can draw a link between the colors for a given deck you’re considering and know that this removes those lands from the equation. Here I have connected the dots for Jund (as we did this a lot in testing):
Now you can imagine (or draw) the links available to create a second three-color deck:
You cannot get a third 3-color deck without doubling up on links. Thus, for the third deck you need to find two- or single-colored decks, and herein lies the challenge—but more on that later. As this is the only Unified Standard tournament I have ever prepared for, I don’t know how often the huge strain on the mana base is a factor. Clearly if you can play a bunch of two-color decks, life is probably a whole lot easier.
Preparation for Team England started just after the release of the full Magic 2014 spoiler. It always looked like we wanted to play two 3-color decks, as this provides the most power, and we discussed options for the third deck. There were few one- or two-color decks showing up in tournaments, which is hardly surprising. Trawling through the spoiler, I spotted [card]Xathrid Necromancer[/card] and immediately put a BW Humans list together as a potential new deck. I wrote all about this a few weeks back.
There weren’t going to be many Standard tournaments before the WMC, but I was fortunate enough to be attending two of the biggest.
Why does this matter?
Because looking at the Top 16 deck lists doesn’t tell you how people are thinking. For example, I saw an awful lot of [card]Cartel Aristocrat[/card]s decks at those events. I think there was like one in the Top 16. From the Top 16 list, you don’t know if there just weren’t many decks there. Well, there were an awful lot, which means that those decks did terribly and you are observing the lucky outlier. I also learned that BW Humans didn’t feel viable while the field was filling up with Jund and UWR Flash.
The findings on BW Humans were confirmed, ironically, by AJ Sacher who won the event with the very same deck. His tournament report explained that almost every win was the result of his opponents punting or getting unlucky. Good to know.
Those events did give us a couple of new mono-colored decks to consider though. A few flavors of mono-green showed up, and mono-red did well basically on the back of [card]Burning Earth[/card] (which is a nice meta call if you expect a room full of three-color decks).
Fast-forward to Amsterdam. We didn’t have a whole lot of time to test in person, but we were already on the same page thanks to lots of Skype calls.
It was apparent the two strongest and most popular decks in the Standard meta at the time were Jund and UWR Flash. Rather conveniently, this is a pair of decks that can live together in Unified, though they might bicker over [card]Pillar of Flame[/card] slightly.
The question became, what to put with them? Can you find a deck that can beat both reliably as you expect that to form 66% of the meta? But wait, if you know 66% of the meta, can’t you find a couple of decks to beat them, and run those instead?
I really wanted to find a way to play the Junk Reanimator deck I played at the Invitational, since I liked both the Jund and UWR matchups. However, while you can pair it with UWR they share [card]Restoration Angel[/card] and the card is too important for either deck to give up.
Welcome to the part where your brain goes in circles!
And the more you think about it the deeper the rabbit hole goes. I mean Jund and UWR are the strongest options, but how far will everyone else think? Will they get to those two? Will they try to next level to beat those two? Ugh. And then you start worrying about how to split [card]Tragic Slip[/card] and [card]Pillar of Flames[/card] between your decks, and it all starts to hurt.
It doesn’t help that every time you think of a new angle to take you end up needing some imaginary deck to exist. Some color combinations just don’t have good decks at the moment. I mean I’ve seen Grixis brews, but not something I want to stake victory on.
The breakthrough came thanks to the World Championship. We had been fiddling with an aggro Jund build, and a GR version in the same vein. It turns out Brian Kibler was one step ahead of us, and his sweet GR aggro deck cut through the competition in the Standard portion of Day 1 of the event. It was almost the same as our version and such a devastating display pushed us into running it. I don’t know if we would have gotten there alone. If we had, it would have been advantage, certainly. As it was, so many other people ended up also running the list that we basically maintained parity.
Anyway, by switching our Jund deck to GR, these freed up the GB dual lands and I realized Junk was now a free color combination. We still couldn’t play Reanimator, as there was definitely going to be some sort of [card]Hallowed Fountain[/card] deck involved in the plan, but Junk Aristocrats was on the table. However, this was probably not where you wanted to be if you still expected UWR and Jund, as [card scavenging ooze]Ooze[/card], spot removal, and sweepers aren’t great for the deck.
Instead we threw together a brew with 24 hours to test it:
4 Avacyn’s Pilgrim
4 Tragic Slip
2 Selesnya Charm
4 Voice of Resurgence
1 Scavenging Ooze
1 Mikeaus, the Lunarch
4 Loxodon Smiter
4 Lingering Souls
3 Lifebane Zombie
4 Advent of the Wurm
2 Garruk Relentless
3 Varolz, the Scar-Striped
2 Gavony Township
3 Sunpetal Grove
4 Temple Garden
3 Woodland Cemetary
4 Overgrown Tomb
3 Isolated Chapel
4 Godless Shrine
2 Obzedat, Ghost Council
2 Abrupt Decay
3 Sin Collector
1 Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice
2 Underworld Connections
2 Profit Loss
1 Garruk Relentless
1 Selesnya Charm
1 Liliana of the Veil[/deck]
It’s surprisingly robust against UWR and can hold its own against Jund—that was all we had time to establish before we ran it in the event. It went 2-0 against UWR, so that part worked out pretty well, and I felt unlucky to lose the other two matches (Esper and GB control). The deck is essentially filled with tools to annoy control lists—they are either uncountable or require two spells to answer. [card]Advent of the Wurm[/card] was especially good at providing surprise threats. I enjoyed playing it. I wouldn’t play it in a normal Standard tournament, but for this it worked.
Our final deck ended up being UW rather than UWR. I’m still not sure this was the right choice, but the logic was to make it stronger against [card]Burning Earth[/card], which we expected to see everywhere.
It was interesting to see where other teams ended up. Each team seemed to have a [card]Stomping Ground[/card] deck—predominantly Kibler’s list or Jund—and a [card]Hallowed Fountain[/card] deck—either Esper, UWR or UW. The third deck was a real mix of what people thought was best. A whole bunch of teams tried to run Reanimator alongside their [card]Hallowed Fountain[/card] decks, splitting their [card]Restoration Angel[/card]s 2:2. Others that I saw went with mono-green or BG control, but I know other decks also made a showing. I don’t think any one deck was notably more successful than others in this slot.
I think it’s a real shame they couldn’t focus more on this aspect of the Unified portion of the event. I hope I have at least filled in some of the backstory for how people ended up with their deck choices. I hope they keep this in the World Magic Cup and I hope to be back there again next year. After all, we got England to Day 2 this year, so definitely an improvement!