Team sealed is no easy nut to crack. Over the past two weeks, my team—the Christian Hunters, featuring Matt—has been meeting up at Christian’s condo in Williamsburg on Wednesday nights and, after some awesome time playing with his too-cute daughter and his pup, cracking some packs of Dragon’s Maze, Gatecrash, and Return to Ravnica and building some pools.

It’s not my first rodeo, of course. Matt and Kadar “History’s Greatest Monster” Brock and I have already competed in the SCG team sealed Open, in New Jersey, and we did some practicing at Fat Cat in Manhattan before that event. But team sealed is just that: a team event, and every team is different. So it’s taken some getting used to, learning about how people work in groups, how best to communicate, and how to get the result (a winning deck and happy friends) that you desire.


To be honest, I’ve never liked team formats. Or teams in general. Back when I was a kid, I did first and second grade in one year—and so, from then on out, I was always one year younger and an inch or two smaller. I wasn’t a natural athlete, either, so even though I played team soccer and Little League, I was never any good and basically didn’t enjoy myself. Once I got hit in the mouth with a baseball and a year ago I had to have a root canal, evidently because of it. Thanks, baseball.

But then in junior high my parents joined the Racquet Club, and I started playing tennis. I wasn’t spectacular, but I found myself much more free to fuck up—and, therefore, learn and get better—when I was on my own, and didn’t have a team depending on me (and, conversely, a team to let down). I never was really good, but, if memory serves, I played in a few tournaments and did OK. More importantly, I enjoyed it.

Seven years ago I got back into Magic. In the playgroup I’d found at the time, a few guys were always wanting to do team drafts or team sealed, and I always voted “no” or “I’d rather not” against these formats. Why? Because I wanted to do it myself. I wasn’t as strong a player as I am now, and I didn’t want the stronger players leading the building and basically telling me what to play.

So I had some trepidation when I learned last year that Wizards was bringing back team events. And, sure, I’d been playing 2HG for a while, but Christian and I had found a good groove with that, and I felt more confident as a player as well. Nevertheless, over the last couple of months, as we’ve been preparing for SCG Somerset and GP Providence, it’s been a real learning experience for me.

Matt Jones has been calling me “coach” for our teams, and that’s been cool. If this were somehow a team Constructed event, I would be happy to call Matt “coach.” But this is Limited, that’s my jam, and I’m also pretty good at logistics, making the trains run on time, scheduling practices, and what-not.

Being a coach is hard, though. I don’t want to be some Bobby Knight asshole—and, I fear, at some points I have been. Last night I was being a bit of an ogre about our time limit (we time our builds, setting the build time for 45 minutes, in order to allow a not-in-my-opinion-overly-generous 15 minutes for deck registration, which takes forever), and I think to some degree I bothered or upset my teammates, which is not what I want. I want to win, sure, but this is a game and at base level it’s about fun, or should be.

Also, as we got into our pool—we start by sorting all cards by set and color(s), as that’s how they are going to come to you next Saturday: one pile of color-sorted and alphabetized Return to Ravnica cards, one of Gatecrash, and one of Dragon’s Maze—I was strongly advocating for trying to go two colors where at all possible, and I think was harping a little too fervently on that.

Christian is more open to creative, three-or-more-color builds. (Also 41- or 42-card specials, which drives me to distraction—but hey, he’s the mathematician.) Matt wants to go where the cards lead us. I am more of a stickler. I think that I have worked out the ideal set-up for a team sealed deck, and I want us to go in that direction if at all possible.


I fully grant that I could be 100% wrong about my predilection for two-color builds in RTR full-block sealed. But that’s the thing: In a solo Magic event, you live or die by your own hand, and you don’t compromise with anyone. Team sealed, at least the building portion, is all about compromise. And our practice sessions, too, have in some sense been all about compromise, as we learn how to work and communicate as a team.

And we are learning things. At our first practice sesh, we more or less each built a deck at the same time, and then collectively discussed what was right or wrong with each, and cut and added and traded cards. Christian took the two Dryad Militants from “my” Selesnya deck, and added them to “his” aggro Orzhov deck. Matt ended up with a Jund deck with a sick top end (Sire of Insanity), but not many two-drops to help stabilize and get him there.

Meanwhile, Christian had 2X Grim Roustabout, which would have been perfect for Matt’s deck, but nobody thought to put them in there. Matt had to run Bane Alley Blackguard instead, which I strongly advocated against. “He’s a turkey!” I protested. “He’s just a speedbump that [essentially] gains you three life!”

Nevertheless, when it came time to finalize the decks, I think (unless I am remembering myself more favorably than is honest) I said to put the Blackguard in there, because that’s what practice is for: challenging assumptions and figuring out what works and what doesn’t. Sure enough, at one point in one of our matches (which we played 1v1, with the third man bird-dogging the match, which is actually a helpful learning tool), the 1/3 was out on the table and was holding back something like two power for a couple turns on the other side of the board, and Christian took care to note this (or, ahem, should I say, “rub this in”).

I had to concede the point. I still don’t think Blackguard is good, but he’s not as much of a turkey as I’d initially thought. Maybe I had PTSD from Gatecrash, where Boros and Wojek Halberdiers and battalioned Warmind Infantry were running rampant. There are way less three-power creatures in the full-block format, and so it seems quite often that, yes, Blackguard can repeatedly block or hold off a creature or two.

At our next practice session, this past Wednesday, we took a different approach. We tried to all three collectively build one deck at a time. The idea was to do this, and then randomly assign the decks at the end of building, so that no one is attached to “his” deck, prompting him to take cards away from other decks that might need them more, so that “his” deck can be stronger.

This went less well. Our pool, I think, was demonstrably stronger than the week before, when we couldn’t find a two-drop to save our lives, but I felt we wasted a lot of time on philosophical arguments about what builds were best (again, partially my fault). Given unlimited time, maybe working together on one deck at a time would be ideal—but you don’t have unlimited time. And that lone hour goes very quickly.

The decks were better, though. I ended up playing an Izzet deck that was splashing for Aurelia’s Fury (foil, no less) and the other half of Catch//Release, while Matt was on Simic splashing red for Zhur-Taa Swine and Ruination Wurm (he had 2X Maze Glider). Christian got randomly assigned our four-color monstrosity, which was basically  a Junk deck that was all about gates (five of ‘em) and gatekeepers (two green and one black), with a “free” red splash (courtesy of 2X Rakdos Guildgate) for Ruric Thar.

We only were able to play two matches each, so obviously that’s not a great sample size—but Christian just got rolled nearly all the time. Granted, he had trouble hitting five mana period, much less the exact colors he needed to cast, say, his two Putrefy—but his gatekeepers rarely triggered, and even when they did, it was often too late. Both Matt’s and my deck were able to get off to quick starts, and then finish it off with big late-game stuff.

And that’s really what I think you want to do in this format. My teammates weren’t so keen on our Izzet build, which I think was the first one we finished a rough draft of and set aside, but I thought it looked really good. Here’s the list:

Izzet-splash-white team sealed pool

Creatures (14)
Faerie Imposter
Metropolis Sprite
Bomber Corps
Gore-House Chainwalker
Warmind Infantry
Deathcult Rogue
Warmind Infantry
Sage's Row Denizen
Lobber Crew
Chaos Imps
Molten Primordial

Spells (9)
Weapon Surge
Pursuit of Flight
Hands of Binding
Azorius Keyrune
Traitorous Instinct
Turn // Burn
Catch // Release
Aurelia's Fury
Lands (17)
Boros Guildgate
Transguild Promenade

I loved this deck. It had early aggression backed up by sick game-ending bombs—and lots of ways to continue getting in damage after an opponent has stabilized. I would be pleased as punch to play this deck all day at the GP.

That brings me to the end. Long story short, I still think that two-color decks are the ideal—but two-color decks with a splash. My reasoning is as follows (and forgive me if any of this seems shaky, but I’m just working it out myself): Given three players and five colors (of Magic), there are no three unique two-color combinations that do not share a color. And, since it’s pretty much standard operating procedure that at least one of your pool’s colors is kind of a turkey, that reduces your options even further. At least one or two colors are going to have to be split up across two decks.

And that’s where it gets really difficult. It’s very hard to simultaneously (or even one after another) build two or more pools that are all trying to draw from, say, green (as we experienced on Wednesday night). So that’s where I think you let the guilds—and the guildgates (and, to a lesser extent, the cluestones) guide you. Build an Izzet deck, and splash for a white card or two. Build a Simic deck and splash a red card or two. But don’t build a 6/6/5 manabase montrosity and hope to get there with the higher average quality of your cards. I really just think it’s a recipe for disaster.

Finally: You are not going to have enough two drops. You will never have enough two drops. You would trade your kingdom for adequate two-drops across all three pools, but they will not manifest themselves unto you. You must have faith in the two-drops that have been provided to you—and you may have to run Bane Alley Blackguard, as well.

23/17 is a Hipsters of the Coast column focused on Limited play—primarily draft and sealed, but also cubing, 2HG, and anything else we can come up with. The name refers to the “Golden Ratio” of a Limited deck: 23 spells and 17 lands.

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