Woo Brews – 2HG at the Prerelease

I have been playing Two-Headed Giant off and on at the prerelease since 2007. In the past three prereleases, I have teamed up with my friend Charles Wong for a record of 10-1. Today, I am writing to you about not only how to WIN at your next prerelease, but how to have the most fun doing it.

Partnered Up

Two-Headed Giant is a partner tournament, which creates a completely different dynamic. At your regular FNM, PTQ, or Grand Prix you split up to play your individual matches and later either talk to random people or regroup with the friend(s) you came with.

At a 2HG tournament, you come to play with a specific friend in a tournament. You might know other people in the tournament, but you are partnered up pretty hard.

It’s a great opportunity to catch up with an old good friend you see rarely or a rare chance to play Magic with someone you see all the time. Most of the teams are either close friends or couples which makes for a really different atmosphere than most tournaments. It’s a lot of fun.

If you have never played 2HG at the prerelease I highly recommend it. Next time it comes around, think about reaching out and setting it up.

Equal Heads

It’s important that the heads have some kind of equality. I’ve been on and played against teams where one of the players is just learning to play and I can tell you it’s not really fun.

The closer both players are to the same skill level the better. If there is a bit of a skill imbalance it’s okay, so long as both players at have a similar grasp of the situation. That way both players will have valuable input at times, and not only feel important, but actually ARE important.

If one of the players is just learning and doesn’t have a good grasp of the board, the afternoon can devolve into one player playing both hands. This turns the learner into just an extra set of hands to be ordered about. Call it One-Headed Giant with Four Hands. This can be about as miserable for everyone as it sounds.

If you come in knowing this but with the expectation that it will be a good learning experience, it doesn’t really work out that way. There isn’t really enough time to explain to the learner the reasoning behind every decision.

If you want to learn how to play Magic, I suggest going over to a friend’s house and watching them draft. Or turning on a stream. Two-Headed Giant is a lot of fun but it isn’t really the place for it.

Agree Before Acting

It’s important to establish that you and your teammate agree on a point before acting. This is really crucial to winning, because if you can’t even plan around your teammate’s future moves neither of you has very much control over the game.

When you and your teammate make a point of agreeing before acting, you know that you can plan around your teammate’s moves, allowing you to play as one and plan for a long game.

At times, this means conceding a point. Your teammate might have a different vision for this turn than you, and sometimes that means one of you just saying “I trust you” and going along with it. If you are really confident that you know the correct course of actions, express that. There isn’t always time to explain every detail of the plan.

The worst thing that can happen is you and your teammate start playing things without conferring with each other. In a situation like this, you can’t really expect to win. And, more importantly, why even play Two-Headed Giant? If you’re going to do that just go play in a tournament by yourself.

Otherwise, make a point of agreeing before acting.

Hiding Information from the Other Team

In my opinion, this isn’t even worth it. It’s hard enough trying to communicate with your teammate. Your opponent’s probably aren’t going to figure out what you’re talking about. They’re probably not even listening too much.

Sure, they might be able to deduce what we’re doing when we are debating over using our counterspell, but they would probably figure that out even if we were whispering. Screw whispering. YELLING IS MORE FUN.

Similarly, you also have the choice of projecting false information. Again, opponent’s usually won’t even figure out what cards you have from, “Let’s cast this one this turn,” but sometimes it can be fun to pass the turn and announce, “Next turn is the turn we start casting our planeswalkers!”

Rules of Two-Headed Giant

Once you are on the same page with your teammate you will have a huge edge in 2HG. From there, you can agree on how to best take advantage of the rules of the format.

The best way I can describe it is that it’s an even swingier version of Sealed deck, where things take even longer to get started.

Extra Life

Both players start with 30 life. Yes, both players—you and your opponent. It is not really a 4-player game, but a 2-player team game where each team counts as a player. Both players have 30 life, and 30 life is a lot. This means extra life to get set up in the early game.

You don’t need to worry about early creature rushes from the opponent very much, and you can’t expect early creature rushes to finish off the opponent early (except in rare cases). You generally have time to take a few points. After all, a single medium-sized 3/3 can shut down an entire weenie army while you are still at a healthy 25 life.

Thus, try to only play bigger and more impactful creatures. Removal for small creatures is nice as you can expect to want to kill creatures with sweet abilities or evasion. Sometimes your opponent doesn’t get the no-rush memo and you do need a few spells to hold the ground in the early turns anyways.

Extra Cards

When you go first you start with 14 cards. When you go second you start with 16 cards. This is a 2-card advantage from the first turn in a format where no one is really getting killed that fast.

A lot of your opponents won’t have this figured out. I recommend trying not to giggle and exchange glances with your teammate when they win the die roll and choose to play. I always fail at this one.

Extra Mana

So everybody has extra life and there’s a good chance we have extra cards too. This means we can reasonably expect to win by casting monstrous fatties and epic spells if the game goes long enough.

The extra life gives time for superior card quality to really turn the tide of the game. I recommend rigging the decks with extreme fatties and bombs. I’m talking lots and lots of late-game mana sinks.

In general, we have been playing 19 or 20 mana per 40-card deck. I’m guessing that’s on average 2 or 3 more than most opponents who I assume are playing considerably lower cost spells as well.

When your decks are built like this, you can generally expect the games to go a certain way. Your opponents get off to a faster start. One of them may or may not get stuck on mana. Your life total is not really under threat as 30 is a lot. You flood out while slamming massive bombs and holding situational removal. You play fewer spells than the opponents but more spells that matter. You win!

Play Conditional Removal

You can expect the opponent to play certain unbeatable cards. They are going to play all of their bombs and their bombs might be exotic card types. You are going to want ways to deal with these cards, even if it means playing cards that might rot in your hands for most games.

It’s okay to have cards like [card]Naturalize[/card] stuck in your hand, because a game in Two-Headed Giant is often decided by particular important cards. If you can keep those cards off the table, nothing else really matters.

The nature of all this means hard counterspells are absurdly good. They can deal with any kind of spell. Since you are drawing mana and playing spells from two sides it’s usually pretty easy for one of you to hold up counter mana turn after turn after turn. It might mean falling behind or playing a closer game, but it will mean insurance from losing to particular cards.

You can always come back later, but in order to get in a position where there is a later, you have to be able to deal with the crazy bombs that the opponents assuredly put in their decks.

Picking Your Color (Identifying the Broken Common)

Usually there is a really dumb mechanic in 2HG, and knowing where these are common can give you an edge. Recent prerelease formats have let you choose a color or color combination, so having advance knowledge of what colors sport the most abusable commons can go a long way toward winning.

The broken cards usually have to do with the strange life total rules of 2HG. For example, infect creatures can sneak through and end the game in 20 poison. Extort drains double. [card]Debt to the Deathless[/card] is wildly overpowered. These are cards you want to seek out and play.

When you get a chance to choose your colors, I recommend making one grab for the broken commons and one grab for blue. Countermagic goes well with anything.

Build One Five-Color Deck and Split it into Two

Time to actually put the decks together! This is the most fun and challenging part.

The way we usually do it is to kind of build one 80-card, 5-color deck and split it into two. We want to play all of our most powerful cards in all 5 colors. We want to play all of our countermagic, lots of fat, a good mix of conditional removal, and our bombs from all 5 colors.

This usually looks like one 2-color deck and one 3+ color deck with all the fixing. This allows you to play all of your important cards without having to worry too much about mana trouble.

You can expect your curve and mana sources to both be a bit higher, but you don’t need to worry too much about each deck having a good curve—if one of the decks has nothing to do at 3 mana, that can be passable if the other deck has lots of things to do at 3.

In general, I would say the main key point is that you are building one deck that plays together. It’s not important that the individual decks are good but that combined they have a good mix of the important elements.

My Theros Prerelease

On Saturday, I went to the 2HG prerelease with Charles Wong as has become tradition. Green Lake Games hosted the tournament at the bar and grill across the street. Lots of people were drinking and eating while playing and it was a really fun, casual vibe.

We put the blue and the red together to take advantage of all the blue scry with our multiple [card]Flamespeaker Adept[/card]. This would give us a nice early game and a late game punch.

This meant splitting apart the green, black, and white and making a deck out of that. We rigged this deck with early deathtouch creatures and late game monstrosities. It splashed an [card]Elspeth, Sun’s Champion[/card].

We put all the red burn and blue counters and bounce in the first deck, and all of the black removal and green artifact/enchantment removal in the second deck.

We cut smaller and less impactful creatures and all of the situational combat tricks.

This left us with a 19-mana blue/red deck and a 20-mana black/green/white deck, each consisting of basically only removal, draw, fat, and bombs.

We played second every single game, usually falling behind in the early turns. Our removal and counters prevented any one card on the other side from taking over the game. Eventually our extra mana and big plays allowed us to turn the tide of the game. This resulted in a 4-0 with only one real sweat-it-out game.

Your Next Prerelease

I had a lot of fun playing 2HG at the Theros prerelease, and I know next time will be more of the same. If you’ve never played 2HG in the prerelease I highly recommend it. If you do play, I hope this guide helps you have a lot of fun sweeping the tables with your partner!

<3 Travis Facebook.com/Travisdwoo Twitter.com/Travisdwoo Twitchtv.com/Traviswoo Questions! Comments!! Think there’s something I forgot?!

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