Magic is slowly turning into a team game. Two weeks ago, I played a Team Limited Grand Prix in Lyon. This weekend, I watched the World Magic Cup, and next week I’ll have the pleasure of playing alongside my two good friends at the Team Modern Unified GP in Madrid. I’m pleased with this development, as are most people in the Magic community. Team tournaments let you share the highs (and the lows) with your friends. Given that there will be even more team tournaments in the future, I want to show you how I think you should approach these events. I’ll also try to share some thoughts on the Modern Unified format even though we haven’t done much preparation yet, because my teammates Thomas Hendriks and Ivan Floch have been busy competing in World Magic Cup. Let’s get to it.
Picking a Team
Assembling the squad is obviously the first thing you have to do. The most important thing is to be comfortable with your teammates. This past GP was a bit of a risk for me in this department as I played with Carlos Romao, whom I’d previously spoken with only briefly. Luckily, it turns out that Carlos is simply great, and we had a lot of fun teasing PV about his losing streaks.
Anyway, do as I say and not as I do—play with your friends and people you’re comfortable around. It’s going to make the event more enjoyable, the losses won’t stink as much, and the wins will be great. Finishing in the Top 8 at GP Rotterdam last year has been one of my favorite moments in my Magic career because I could see two of my close friends winning alongside me.
The second rule I try to follow is to have the same motivation as your teammates and ideally to be on the same skill level.
I was actually considering quitting Magic before I got into professional Magic. For GP Florence in 2015, I already had plans to team with a bunch of my local friends from Prague who weren’t very active Magic players. We thought of it as more of a holiday trip with the added bonus of playing a GP. But, shortly before that, I Top 8’d a PT, and my priorities shifted. Suddenly, I was on the hunt for Pro Points.
We did scrub out at that tournament, and while I did enjoy the rest of our trip, I was still a bit sad about the wasted opportunity to get some Points. I’ve been quite fortunate in this regard as ever since that tournament, I’ve always played with two players I consider to be superior in play skill to myself. That’s going to change next weekend because Thomas is a giant scrub, but he’s really fun to be around, so it should be okay. I would make the same joke about Ivan, but he just Top 8’d the WMC so I’m going to save it for when he cools off a bit.
Picking a Seat
Should the best player sit in the middle? Should the middle player play the fastest deck so that he can give advice? I don’t think seating matters much. Ideally, in the middle, you have a player who is able to communicate and give out advice while still being able to play their own game. We do, however, have Ivan in the middle next week and he is probably the worst multitasker I know, so take my advice with a grain of salt.
On the other hand, I think you should use the language advantage. I’ve teamed with two Brazilians for three team events now and given the fact that Portuguese isn’t a commonly spoken tongue, it made sense to seat them next to each other. You should still be careful because you could fall into the trap of your opponent knowing the language, but I think it’s still worth it as I much prefer speaking a different language than having to whisper. Luckily, no one really speaks Czech or Slovak, so Ivan and I should be covered next weekend.
As for which deck is where, I think that doesn’t matter at all. The way my teams have been doing it is that at the end of the deck building process, we say, “I’d like to play this deck, because I think the play style fits me well,” “I’d like to play this deck, because it’s the best one” (this person is usually me) and “sure I’ll play this *sigh*” (this person is usually Paulo).
Giving and Receiving Advice
Paulo and I had a debate about how we should approach communication before the last GP. My take is that given the fact that we’re both on a similar level of play skill, we should each play our own game. Advice should be limited to keep or mulligan decisions and quick questions like, “Is there something for 1W that can blow me out in a combat?”
This, I think, is especially important in Limited, but it can also be applied in Constructed. The reason for this is that your teammate doesn’t have the full scope of information. If you turn to him at some point and ask, “how should I attack here?” or “which card should I play?” it’s problematic for him to answer correctly. He hasn’t seen the rest of the game, and he hasn’t seen your opponent’s deck. You can supply him with some of that information, but it’s hardly ever going to be complete. You are also distracting him from his own match.
The situation changes when one player finishes his game. Then I think it’s reasonable to just play the game as a duo. But when it comes to the tough decisions, the player should have the last say. Another situation is when all players are finished except for that one last game. At this point, I usually let my two teammates play the game. I trust them to make the right plays, and I think getting three people involved in one game makes it more likely to mess up somewhere. Three is just too many people and it also slows down the game. But I do sit next to them and watch the game carefully. If they were to do something big that I’d disagree with, I’d interfere and ask them for their reasoning.
You Win as a Group, You Lose as a Group.
When I ask someone at a Team GP how they’re doing, they reply something like, “we’re 3-3, but I’m 5-1.” I try to avoid talking about my personal record, because it’s pointless. Especially in a Team Sealed GP where the quality of our decks differ. At the last GP, I had the best deck on our team, and I had 2 losses in 9 rounds while PV, who had a slightly worse deck, had way more. I still felt like I kind of let my team down, because there was one round I might have won if I didn’t let Shota Yasooka play circles around me. Individual scores don’t matter—only the team score does.
But this doesn’t mean that I won’t make fun of the best player in the world for losing three matches in a row, but hey, that’s just me.
Building a Team Sealed
This one is tough. Every Sealed is different and I think there are only a few teams in the world that have mastered this discipline. I’ve also never seen two teams agree on how to build a pool while I’ve seen individuals agree on a normal Sealed deck. My advice would be to look at the big picture. Try and check out as many possible color combinations as you can to see if they could work together. Don’t be afraid to get creative. Ixalan Sealed has been easier than most, as the tribes make for good guidelines. If you have good Merfolk cards, you play U/G; if you have good Vampire cards you play B/W; and so on.
I like to let the person playing the deck make the final decision when it comes to fine-tuning their deck. They’re most likely to perform better if they’re truly confident in their 40, so if two teammates disagree on the last card, the person playing the deck should get the last say.
Building for Unified
Modern Unified is both harder and easier than its Standard counterpart. It’s harder when it comes to card availability, but easier when it comes to overlap. Modern is a huge format with a countless number of viable decks, so it’s not hard to pick three of them. Given the fact that Standard is played only in the WMC, I’m not going to cover it today.
Modern Unified is interesting. I think you should try to build your deck around the mana bases. The most obvious ones are the colorless decks. Both Affinity, Eldrazi Tron, and to some extent Lantern Control fall under this category. I don’t expect that many people to play Lantern as it does take away a lot of cards from the other decks.
Second, there is probably a deck with black dual lands so that you can cast Thoughtseize, which is probably the most powerful spell in the format. These are your Death’s Shadow decks and various B/G midrange decks.
Third, some sort of a Steam Vents deck—Jeskai, Storm etc. It’s interesting that likely the best deck in the format, Grixis Death’s Shadow, falls under both 2 and 3. At the last Modern GP, we did fit it in by playing a virtually unplayable deck in Merfolk, which isn’t something we’re going to do this time. But it is a legit strategy, because the deck is great.
Modern is so wide that you can play basically anything you want. My advice is the same as in any Modern tournament—play whatever you’re most comfortable with. Obviously, thanks to the restriction, some concessions have to be made, and be careful when you make them. It’s fine to cut that Abrupt Decay from your Dredge deck but it’s not ideal to play Burn without Lightning Bolts. You get the gist. Same with Team Sealed—getting creative is the way to go in this format.
Hopefully, my teammates and I can crack this format and build some sweet decks. I’ve already worked with Thomas for one Unified tournament before and it was a blast, so I hope it goes the same way here.
That’s it from me today. I hope you learned something today and don’t forget the most important thing when it comes to team events: have fun!