Monday, February 8, 2016

Building Team Sealed Pool Decks

Almost everyone I know, whether they are local DMV players or not, is getting ready for GP DC, coming up on March 12-13, 2016.  Everyone loves Team Sealed: of all the formats, there is arguably the least amount of variance in Team Sealed (since there are more games played), and deck construction is by far the most difficult of the Limited formats.

EDIT: I recommend working on this pool yourself before reading my approach and results.  You can copy the full list of cards into a .txt file, save it, and then import it on the Magic Online client.  Be careful of double-clicking cards in the pool, since they will just remove them from the deck or sideboard!

Despite the immense popularity of Team Limited, a lot of people, including myself, don't really prepare for the format.  This is, in large part, the result of there not being many Team Limited events.  However, many players tend to assume that their Limited skills, or Magic skills in general, will directly translate into Team Limited.  I do not think this is true!

There are  many more decisions during deck construction in Team Sealed than ordinary Limited Sealed: we have 168 cards to choose from, and we have 3 different decks to make. Compounding this difficulty is the fact that teams need to make specific decisions about how to balance the relative power of each of the decks, since they compete with each other for cards. Do we make an extra powerful RW aggressive strategy, at the expense of the midrange GW deck?  Which deck really needs the 2nd Isolation Zone?  Which deck can better utilize the Eldrazi Displacer?

Let's get started! Here is a pool from MODO packs (these are pulled from actual packs to ensure the accuracy of the print runs):

(1) Remove the strictly unplayable and sideboard cards.  Before we get to deck construction, the first thing we should do is organize the cards by color, and remove the strictly unplayable cards.  (Conveniently, we can organize by color on MODO by a simple click of the mouse, but in paper, this can sometimes take a long time!)  I also prefer to set aside strictly sideboard cards, such as Plummet, Boiling Earth, or Tears of Valakut.

While for some cards, this is easy (e.g., Abstruse Interference is just straight unplayable), most of the time, making these decisions requires some understanding of the format.  For example, at first blush, without any experience in the format, Pulse of Murasa might seem like a sideboard card.  Now, after having played with the card, I think it is certainly powerful to warrant main deck consideration in some sealed decks or draft decks.  But is it good enough for a Team Sealed deck, which tends to have a higher power level than sealed or draft decks?  I don't think so (but I could be wrong!)

(2) Remove the filler cards.  Next, I like to identify and remove mediocre cards.  By mediocre, I mean cards that tend to be the "23rd" or "24th" card in your deck -- cards that you aren't excited to play, that don't draw you to that deck, that don't have synergy with your strategy.  Filler.  The most obvious example from this pool is probably the Kozilek's Pathfinder.  That guy is not really that good in any deck, but can basically be played in any deck.  But he is bad enough that I really hope he does not make his way into any of our 3 decks.

The reason for removing filler cards is to identify which archetypes are available to us.  If, after culling our list of the filler cards, we see that UR surge is not really supported by our cards, then we shouldn't prioritize working on it until we have really explored other options first.  This is a matter of triage! There is only so much time!

This is also one of the points during the deck construction where there might be disagreement between the players.  This is also why I like to separate the filler cards from the unplayable cards -- there is almost never disagreement that a card like Natural Slate or Dazzling Reflection should not go in a main deck, but there may be disagreement about, say, the Pathfinder, or Akoum Flamespeaker, or Tar Snare.  By setting aside the filler cards, we can agree to say, "maybe these cards are playable, maybe they aren't, but they definitely are not cards that are pulling us into a specific deck."  We can later revisit those cards during deck construction when we have a better idea of what archetypes we want to play.

It is also at this time when I consider the cards that require specific archetypes, such as Mist Intruder, March from the Tomb, Mind Raker.  If it is clear that those archetypes (BW Allies, UB Ingest) are not supported, then we should set aside those cards.

After looking at our pool, it becomes clear that a UB Ingest deck is not available. The only two cards with Processor are the 2 Mind Rakers -- hardly the payoff we'd expect if we're forced to run sub-optimal cards like Mist Intruder. With UB Ingest gone, I cut Mist Intruder, Benthic Infiltrator (which is extremely mediocre without the Ingest synergy, and really isn't that much better than Ancient Crab), and 2 Mind Rakers.

Next, I notice that an aggressive BR strategy is also not really available.  Red has plenty of options for an aggressive deck, but Black really doesn't have anything to offer -- maybe the 2 Unnatural Endurance, Malakir Familiar and Sky Scourer. So I'm OK to put the Sky Scourer aside (I hold off on removing Unnatural Endurance and Malakir Familiar because those cards are playable in basically any black deck).

Because we're running short on Black cards, it is worth examining at this point whether we should play Black at all!  To be sure, it is reasonable to simply not play a color if that color does not have any pay-offs cards, and if the other colors are deep enough to support multiple decks.

Here, Black does not really offer us any powerful cards, other than Malakir Soothsayer (supporting BW Allies) and Fathom Feeder (supporting UB Ingest).  Feeder actually works fine as a blocker in a generic UB control deck, but Black does not have enough removal spells to support such a deck -- no Grasp of Darkness, Complete Disregard, Oblivion Strike, Grip of Desolation. And our Blue does not have enough removal spells to make up the difference.  So I cut the Fathom Feeder.

That leaves us with BW Allies.  First, it is worth noting that if we want to go BW, this deck is going to compete with playables for another deck, maybe even 2 other decks.  We have 2 Weapons Trainers and plenty of tricks to make an aggressive  RW strategy.  We also have lots of Allies, which would work especially well with our the Tajuru Warcaller.  Furthermore, we do not have the best black common ally, Vampire Envoy, nor do we have the lifegain enablers like Kalastria Healer.

More importantly, BW doesn't seem to have any great finishers, like Linavala or Emeria Shepherd.  Immolating Glare and Sheer Drop are great removal spells for the BW deck, but playing those three removal spells, along with a curve of mediocre creatures and no real synergy, is not going to cut it. So I put aside all the black cards for now.  I might come back to these later, but I want to see what we can do with the remaining colors first.

This is what we're left with.

We still have 105 cards left, not including the lands -- that is plenty to make 3 decks of 23 nonland cards!

(3) Start building!  Again, I look for key cards for each of the archetypes.  White looks very deep, so it looks very likely that we will want to play White in multiple decks.  White clearly supports a control deck (Immolating Glare, 2 Sheer Drop) and a Support deck (Steppe Glider).

Starting with Blue, it appears that we do not have that many cards for a U-based surge deck, only 1 Jwar-Isle Avenger. We have a lot of Awaken cards, along with 2 Roiling Waters and 2 Blinding Drone -- these would be great for a UW control-tempo deck, especially with the Halimar Tidecaller!  Not only that, but the deck would have to play <> mana sources, which is a nice fit for the Eldrazi Displacer.  So it looks like we might have a very strong UW deck here.

Moving onto Green, I really want to make use of the Steppe Gliders and all of the Green creatures with counters on them (Harvester Troll, Undergrowth Champion) and the Green support cards (Saddleback Legac, Lead by Example, Joraga Auxiliary).  We also happen to have a bomb rare in Nissa, Voice of Zendikar.  On the other hand, we have 4 Awkward Scion Summoners, which are acceptable creatures, but don't otherwise have synergy with what we're doing (other than, say, being able to sacrifice the Scion to the Harvester Troll, or as extra bodies for the Warcaller trigger).

Finally, in Red, we have the start to an aggressive deck, with 2 Zada Commandos, 1 Reckless Bushwhacker, 1 Goblin Freerunner, 2 Touch of the Void, and 2 Boulder Salvo.  I think 2-drops are essential to Red aggressive strategies, so I am drawn to the Weapons Trainer, along with the Bone Saw, which lets us surge out the Freerunner and the Boulder Salvos earlier in the game.

So it looks like I want to play White in all three of these decks.  Here is a rough draft:

While it is not typical to split a color into all three decks, if only because any one color is usually not deep enough to support three decks, I think there's an exception here.  Obviously the White in this pool is pretty deep, but I've found that there are just more playables in White in this Limited format generally.  Furthermore, our pool is especially unique, as our BFZ packs gave us enough fliers and Awaken spells to want to play a UW control-tempo strategy.

Each of these decks seems to have a game plan.  The UW deck stalls out the board with Blinding Drone, Ancient Crab, and Eldrazi Displacer, plays and attacks with fliers, and uses Awaken spells to gain incremental advantage.  The GW deck plays creatures out on curve, putting counters on creatures with Legac, Lead by Example, Raptor, Auxiliary, and then closes out the game with the 2 Steppe Gliders.  The RW is a fairly ordinary aggressive deck, using Surge and Menace as tempo plays to remove blockers and attack.

(4) Review and make changes.  My first impression here is that GW is lacking removal.  We can either take a removal spell, such as Immolating Glare from Blue, or we can play Unnatural Aggression.  We also have a Hissing Quagmire, so we could splash a Bone Splinters or the Tar Snare (probably bringing in another Scion Summoner if we want to splash Bone Splinters).  I think I would just let UW keep Immolating Glare here, and board in Unnatural Aggression in MUs where I need more removal.  I am not a fan of that card, but it will have to do.  I think a Lithomancer's Focus or a Mighty Leap in the main deck might be preferable.

I am also concerned that RW does not have enough evasive attackers.  Initially, I put both of the Kor Sky Climbers in the GW deck, wanting to maximize Tajuru Warcaller and Ondu War Cleric.  Instead, it is likely that Red wants both of the Kor Sky Climbers, especially since Green has plenty of extra 3-drops.  Kor Sky Climber is just a much better card than the Flameseeker, and Red needs to be able to close out the game much faster than Green.  The Green deck can go longer by gaining life with the 2 Ondu War Clerics and 2 Pulse of Murasa in the sideboard.

I wonder if Red wants to play the Chitinous Cloak in order to make the 2 Weapons Trainers better.  I just don't know here.  If it was a Strider Harness, I would play it in a heartbeat, but I haven't really heard as many good things about the Cloak -- it just seems slow.  If I did bring it in, I would certainly add the Toll Collector over the Akoum Flameseeker.  It is also possible that this deck wants more combat tricks, of which there are plenty in the sideboard (1 Mighty Leap, 1 Tandem Tactics, 3 Brute Strength).  As for my remaining card choices, I think Shatterskull Recruit is better than the otherwise solid Cinder Hellion, and I worry that Tyrant of Valakut and Rolling Thunder cost too much mana for an aggressive RW deck.

(5) Distribute sideboard cards.  Finally, we need to distribute the lands and the sideboard cards -- this can be an important part of the construction process!

In our current situation, the cards almost distribute themselves.  Because of the way we built our pools, we can just give all of the Green, Red, and Blue cards to their respective decks.  It does not appear that we really have any cards in these colors that would be useful splashes in the other decks.

As for the Black cards, it does not really matter which player gets them -- I would probably just give them all to the Green player, since the Green player has Hissing Quagmire and might want to splash the Bone Splinters, Malakir Soothsayer, or Tar Snare.  I would also give the Holdout Settlement and Unknown Shores to the Green deck, since those effects tend to be better in Midrange strategies -- the Green deck will have more creatures on the board for Holdout Settlement, and it's OK for the deck to play creatures off curve with the Unknown Shores, since the deck is not an aggressive strategy.  Also, the GW deck has lots of GG and WW color requirements, making fixing more kf an imperative.

I would give the 2 Crumbling Vestiges and the Corrupted Crossroads to the UW deck.  With those 3 cards, along with the Warden of Geometries and Kozilek's Channeler, the UW deck has 5 sources of <>.  UW would also get the Wastes and the Walker of the Wastes, if UW decides it wants to play that card.

Here is the final result:

The decks are the columns with 23 cards in them, and their respective sideboards are the columns to the left.  It doesn't really matter where the Dazzling Reflection or March from the Tomb go, I'd probably give one Reflection to the UW and the other to the GW.  Again, I'd also probably give all of the Black cards and the March from the Tomb to the GW deck, just in case he wants to splash some of those cards, or do something crazy and rebuild his deck into something different.

I would say that these decks are maybe average, maybe slightly above average.  The RW deck looks the weakest, while the UW deck looks the strongest.  We don't have too many insane bombs or anything, but the decks each seem to have a coherent game plan.

1 comment:

  1. Upon reflection, I might move the Toll Collector to the main, cut Invoker, move the Shoulder to Shoulder from GW to RW, move a Scion Summoner from board to main in GW.