Three years ago, a group Magic players in Brooklyn got together and formed Team Draft League. Matt Jones and Hugh Kramer led the group, and many of us at Hipsters of the Coast were founding members. We formed the league so that we could draft together, have fun, and improve our competitive Magic skills.

This was back in the time of PTQs, and we wanted to dominate the Limited scene at northeast PTQs. Former Hipster Hunter Slaton was the first to claim victory at at PTQ in Coopersburg, PA, defeating Seth Manfield in the finals to qualify for Pro Tour Magic 2015. Our goal of domination began to take shape during Khans of Tarkir sealed PTQ season at the end of the year. Four of us founding members took down PTQs that season—Abe Lusk won an online PTQ, and Hugh Kramer, Richard Tan, and I won three of the local ones.

As fate would have it, that was the last sealed PTQ season. Wizards of the Coast switched to the PPTQ system the next year. Team Draft League has continued to thrive, and while I have left for mile high pastures, I believe the league members do quite well in the northeast PPTQs. Despite these successes, none of us has clawed back to the pro tour. Until now. Richard Tan will be playing Pro Tour Amonkhet because he made the Top 8 of Grand Prix San Jose last weekend. I’m so happy to see Rich headed back to the Pro Tour, where he belongs.

I caught up with Richard after the first draft of day two. He had just gone 3-0 in the first draft. Soon he would crack Sword of Body and Mind and ride it to another 3-0 draft and a spot in the top 8. I had slumped into day two at 6-3, stumbled further with a mediocre red-black deck lacking two drops, and dropped at 7-5. My flight was scheduled earlier than I usually like, but the price was right, so I headed off to In-n-Out and the airport with Shawn Sloan.

My tournament was disappointing, and the third straight limited grand prix where I went 6-3 on day one with two byes. I should have done better this time, but my head wasn’t in it. I should have won at least two of the matches I lost, but I played poorly and made simple mistakes. In round four, I was facing down a big flier that would kill me in three turns. I had to play Elegant Edgecrafters and then Rishkar’s Expertise, hoping to hit one of my many removal spells. Foolishly, I chose to make servos instead of a 5/6, and sure enough, I was one card short from hitting Caught in the Brights off Rishkar’s Expertise. Shawn pointed out my error on the spot, as I took out my sideboarded cards. I was so out of it, I actually argued against him. In another round, I forgot to attack with Aerial Responder in a tight race. I know I can do a lot better than that.

Aether Revolt Sealed

Going into Grand Prix San Jose, I was excited to play the format. I noted that green-black decks with Winding Constrictor could be prevalent, and that Walking Ballista might dominate the top tables, but I didn’t think it would hurt the format. After playing the tournament, I think Walking Ballista is an oppressive card for Sealed. In addition to being an X spell that resembles Fireball, it also is impossible to interact with favorably because you can sacrifice it at will. I actually joked about putting an aura on my opponent’s so that I could take control of it. Good luck getting it into exile, especially if your opponent also has Scrap Trawler. (My buddy and round nine vanquisher Jeff Jao had them both, and I couldn’t win.) Ballista reminds me of one of my favorite cards, Arcbound Ravager. You could even argue that it is both Arcbound Ravager and Disciple of the Vault. Plus a lot of mana, sure, but on turn ten in Sealed, mana is not an issue.

Cheap artifacts that dominate the board and scale into the late game are too good for Sealed. Every deck plays them, and the game degenerates into how to answer the card. Smuggler’s Copter is the same way. Walking Ballista is too stupid in a slow format with plenty of mana. The best you can hope is that you can force them to play it early and use for small value, and not be able to recur. Good luck with that. I managed to best a strong ballista deck in round eight, thanks to a timely curve of Untethered Express into Lifecraft Cavalry. Giant tramplers get past Walking Ballista, but that’s not easy to pull off. I hope it does not ruin competitve Aether Revolt sealed, but I can tell you I’m a lot happier when I have one (or two) in my pool.

I played a green-white sealed deck, which wasn’t my preference. I think white has gotten a lot weaker in Aether Revolt, and while green is still great, it needs more help from the second color than it did in Kaladesh. My pool offered little else, and happened to have a ton of white enchantment removal spells. I splashed black for Scrapheap Scrounger and Hidden Stockpile. Scrounger is great as you know, but stockpile really surprised me. In a long game, it provides amazing card selection and a few servos, plus revolt nearly on demand. If you have a grindy deck, you want Hidden Stockpile.

Because I was green-white and it was in my pool, I played Oath of Ajani. the effect is pretty good, but it is simply not worth a card in your sealed deck. I should have played another creature, or anything else. That’s disappointing, but then again, not as disappointing as also having Dubious Challenge in your pool. In the end, I’m glad I got a mediocre set of cards for a weekend where my focus was not there. Playing Magic was still fun, but I need to regain focus to get back to my best.

Grand Prix San Jose was a victory anyway. Richard Tan, the Tanimal, founding member of Team Draft League, has a grand prix top 8 and is headed to Pro Tour Amonkhet.

Brendan McNamara (MTGO: eestlinc, Twitter: @brendanistan) used to play Magic in the old days. His favorite combo was Armageddon plus Zuran Orb. After running out of money to buy cards and friends who were willing to put up with that combo, he left the game. But like disco, he was bound to come back eventually. Now he’s a lawyer by day and a Dimir agent by night.

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