Building a Theros Team Sealed Deck
with Martin Juza, Yuuya Watanabe, and Shuhei Nakamuraby Nate Price
"I think this is one of the easier formats to build decks for Teams," Juza said as the trio sat down to the table. "It seems like it's always going to be pretty clear what you should be playing."
Easy or no, Theros brings some interesting wrinkles to building in the Team Limited format. Considering the highly linear strategies presented in the set, there exists the potential for incredibly potent devotion or heroic strategies to arise from the hundreds of pools opened this weekend. It is the presence of these decks that drove Juza to make the above comment. He had some other ideas about what it takes to be good in this format, ideas that would be sorely tested with his own team's pool.
"I am pretty sure that another thing that you really need to keep an eye on is the number and strength of your cards with only a single colored mana in the cost. These cards are going to drive what you're able to build," he told me. "This is especially true for the red cards. You usually want to stay away from the red cards if you can, but it's hard to divide things up well in Team Limited without using them. If they are strong, like many Lightning Strikes, you have a much better chance than the other pools might have. Oh, yeah, you've also got to make sure that each of your decks has things to do on turn two. We learned a bunch about that yesterday. We built a few decks that looked amazing, but they lacked two drops. They got crushed over and over again."
Shuhei Nakamura, Martin Juza, and Yuuya Watanabe
With his philosophies laid out, the team set about building their decks. First, they made sure to fan out the more restrictive cards in the pool.
"Set out the multicolors," Nakamura said, fanning the ones in his piles out in front of him. Taking note of the powerful gold cards in their pool let them get a quick glance at which color combinations they would like to initially experiment with. There were notably strong white/red cards and black/blue cards, so they began there. Nakamura initially started with the black and blue cards, Watanabe worked with white and red, and Juza fanned out the green cards. He tried to quickly identify whether or not they were going to be able to build a four- or five-color green deck (they couldn't) or where the deficiencies of their green deck were (no cheap creatures). With that analysis in mind, he looked over the other colors to try and supplement their green base.
"Green/blue is definitely the best combination," he decided, "but it makes the other decks too weak."
Eliminating that as an option, he chimed in with his opinions on the other decks.
"I don't really like white/red as a combination in general," he began. "It's very difficult on the mana. Ours isn't any different. There are some powerful cards, but it will be inconsistent."
Watanabe scanned the table and agreed, setting the cards aside. He then began to look back and forth between his and Juza's cards, looking for the best way to combine them. The white cards were significantly stronger than the red, and they nicely filled the holes in the curve of the green cards. He suggested they try the combination. Juza lined them up, noticed the incredibly strong heroic theme to the deck, and liked what he saw.
"I think this deck could be really good," he said with his eyes widening. "Yuuya, try building a base-red deck. See if something pairs with it."
With that, Watanabe set about lining up the red cards. There were some obvious deficiencies with the deck, but there were some very strong themes going on. With the Flamespeaker Adepts, Two-Headed Cerberuses, and multiple copies of Battlewise Valor, the deck seemed capable of some powerful starts. This also allowed for the allocation of the largest number of powerful cards in their pool.
Still, there was a fair amount of arguing and discussion going on about the best way to finish up the decks. In the green/white deck, Juza favored cutting some of the larger beasts, much to the chagrin of Watanabe and Nakamura.
"This deck isn't going to win by racing them with monstrous creatures," Juza argued. "It's going to win its games through making big Wingsteed Riders or Staunch-Hearted Warriors and overrunning people quickly. I can't play for the late game."
Nakamura and Watanabe didn't necessarily agree, and they waffled back and forth with him about the best thing to do. To get a fresh perspective, they all switched sides of the table, each taking a look at a new deck. Juza took over the red/white deck, while Watanabe tried his hand at the blue/black control deck that Nakamura had put together. Juza liked where the red/white deck was headed, but was less happy about the state of their black/blue deck.
"Don't cut removal," Juza said as he saw Watanabe try to slide one of their copies of Lash of the Whip out of the deck. "Decks have too many good cards in this format. There will always be good things to remove. I would cut the Thoughtseize."
Juza went on to explain that he thought that Thoughtseize was weaker based on how people would be playing the cards in this format. Unlike individual Theros Limited, the decks in Team Sealed tend to be more powerful and coherent. Players will play out the cards in their hands, leaving them with nothing to hit with Thoughtseize in the later stages of the game. He argued that, while Thoughtseize may be better earlier than the removal spells, it was much worse late. This was reinforced by Juza's own description of how his deck was likely going to work.
"I need to build this deck like a constructed deck," he said. "I have to be able to just play something on every turn, or I don't think I can win. There are going to be a lot of people playing decks like this."
It was certainly interesting to see the strategies that their three decks were likely going to implement. Their prospective white/red deck looked stupidly aggressive, with a few good cards to steal the games that went longer. The green/white heroic deck was going to be the king of the midgame, crushing opponents from turns four on. Their blue/black deck had some good, early defensive creatures, a boatload of removal, and two great endgame threats. Their decks hit three different parts of the match and seemed like an interesting array of the things that are possible in this format.
"I think I would've rather had the pool we registered," Juza said with a thoughtful wince. "It had an absurd monoblack devotion deck. There are going to be a lot of pools with a devotion deck, which will free them up to have more powerful decks. We are kind of close to that since our red/white deck is mostly red, but I think the other pool might be better. Still, I like these decks."
In the end, the last concessions were made to add as much power as possible to Nakamura's blue/black deck and Juza's white/green deck.
"Those decks are both very good," Watanabe said. "Make them as good as you can, and I will be fine with mine."
To this end, Juza ended up with a Cavalry Pegasus that had been a point of contention. His deck had a bunch of massive Humans to benefit from the flying, while Watanabe's deck had some Akroan Hoplites that would have loved the lift. In return, Juza gave Watanabe his Dauntless Onslaught, figuring it would be better in the deck with cheaper threats. When all was said and done, all three players seemed happy with their decks, though Watanabe seemed the least pleased with his.
"I just let them play what they were most happy with," he said. "I will be fine."
If there's a list of players I expect to be "fine" with a deck they are less than pleased with, it's the former World Champion.
Saturday, 2:30 p.m. – Kyoto’s Killer Teamsby Ben Swartz
The last team limited event in Japan was Grand Prix Osaka in 2005. Team PS2, which consisted of Masahiro Kuroda, Katsuhiro Mori, and Masahiko Morita, bested team fireball-pros—Itaru Ishida, Jin Okamoto, and Tsuyoshi Ikeda—to be crowned back-to-back team Grand Prix champions.
That was eight years ago. Just because times have changed and teams have changed doesn't mean that Japanese Team Grand Prix do not draw the same level of players that dominated the past. This weekend a number of star-studded teams have arrived at Kyoto looking to be crowned GP Kyoto Champion.
Shuhei Nakamura/ Yuuya Watanabe/ Martin Juza:
Coming into the event as the de-facto team to beat, No. 5-ranked player, Shuhei Nakamura, and No. 14-ranked player, Martin Juza, are teaming up with No. 6-ranked player Yuuya Watanabe. When not globetrotting and peeling off Grand Prix top eights, Nakamura and Juza were last seen teaming with No. 1-ranked player Ben Stark at Grand Prix Providence. Those three players got 4th place in June, but Ben couldn't make the trip out to Japan this weekend. Luckily for Nakamura and Juza, Yuuya Watanabe decided to join them. Expect these three to make a deep run here in Kyoto.
Tomoharu Saito/ Katsuhiro Mori/ Shouta Yasooka
Out of former Japanese super teams, another team has been formed. From dominating team PS2, Katsuhiro Mori joins two thirds of Pro Tour Charleston Champions, Kajiharu80, Tomoharu Saito and Shouta Yasooka. Dubbing themselves Katsuharu 80, these titans of Japanese Magic are looking to add another trophy to their mantle. Saito, Mori and Yasooka will definitely be a team to keep an eye on this weekend.
Alexander Hayne/ Mike Hron/ Rich Hoaen
Hidden within the sea of Japanese talent here in Kyoto, Pro Tour Avacyn Restored Champion Alexander Hayne and Pro Tour Geneva Champion Mike Hron have teamed up with Rich Hoaen this weekend. Though Hron and Hoaen don't get to play as much as they would like to nowadays, they, along with Hayne, decided that November would be the perfect time to take a trip to Japan. It's not every day you get to play in a Team Grand Prix, so these foreigners hope to prove their dominance here this weekend.
Rei Satou/ Jun'ya Iyanaga/ Shintaro Ishimura
2011 World Champion, Jun'ya Iyanaga joins Pro Tour Paris Top 8 competitor, Shintaro Ishimura, and Grand Prix Shanghai Top 8 competitor Rei Sato. While these three players may not have the same level of experience in team events as others in the tournament, they are no strangers to high-level limited events. While they understand that this tournament will be by no means easy, they are confident in their chances; Iyanaga mentioned that he expects to finish in the top four.
Without byes and with 14 rounds of swiss before a cut to the top four, every team has a long road ahead of them. Out of the 578 teams, will it be a known quantity—a super team—that will be crowned champion, or will a band of newcomers emerge?
Saturday, 4:30 p.m. – Opening Doors by Opening Packsby Nate Price
Team Sealed Deck is an interesting affair. The addition of extra packs to the card pool adds a level of complexity that is unseen in individual Sealed Deck. Linear strategies, like devotion, require a critical mass of the appropriate cards to run, thus are often relegated to Booster Draft or Constructed formats. In Team Sealed, they offer a serious avenue of thought. After all, if you are trying to divide up five colors between three decks, it becomes much easier when one of the deck only lays claim to one color. Even strategies like heroic, which aren't strictly linear, benefit from the additional cards. In individual Sealed Deck, cards with heroic are effectively cards with upside, as opposed to the focus of a deck. With access to so many more cards, though, it is easier to approach them as the foundation for a deck as opposed to ornaments.
Considering this, I was really hoping for some sweet devotion decks with five copies of Gray Merchant of Asphodel, or decks with all of the Wingsteed Riders. I sifted through hundreds of Japanese Decklists (not an easy task when you don't speak much Japanese), looking for these diamonds in the rough. Instead, I found very few decks with more than two of a given common or uncommon. Instead, I saw a plethora of "fair" card pools, each with its own unique take on how to disburse their cards. Without the stupid multi-Gray Merchant decks floating around, I figured it might be a bit harder to make devotion work. True, many players shied away from purely monocolored decks. Yet there were a few who either tried to wedge their decks into that mold, or at least splashed for a couple of cards, so as not to dilute the average power level of their deck.
Playing cards like Returned Phalanx without the ability to activate it or cards like Fleshmad Steed and Asphodel Wanderer are a bit of a stretch in a format with a higher average power per deck, yet I saw many attempts to maintain decks as close to mono-black as possible that looked just like this. It's hard to say how right or wrong these decisions were, as the allowed considerably more freedom to the other two decks to come from the pool. Don't forget: there are three decks to consider. If making this deck marginally worse makes the other two significantly better, the average power level of all three decks goes up, making the decision clearly worthwhile.
I figured that mono-black would be the most likely devotion deck to appear, mostly because of the strength of Gray Merchant and the abundance of removal. Interestingly, I was wrong. The most common mono-colored decks I saw, and the ones that were most consistently purely one color, were the green decks.
Here's a look at one:
Decks like this make me smile. Unlike the mono-black deck shown above, even the "bad" green cards are still pretty reasonable. It even has removal in the form of a pair of Time to Feeds. This deck is saucy. It has the ramp associated with green, the fat associated with green, and a bit of versatility to back it up. It may not have the same ability to deal with scary cards (which you will face in Team Sealed), but it has a higher overall power level than the previous deck.
Speaking of power level, another set of decks to greatly benefit from the addition of extra cards are the heroic decks. In individual Limited formats, you are fortunate if you are able to pick up five or six good heroic creatures for your deck. With access to so many more packs, the number of heroic cards you are able to cram in your deck goes up and up. This, in turn, makes all of your bestow creatures and heroic-enabling spells that much better.
Here's a look at a red/white heroic deck I found in the pools:
This deck has got some very powerful cards in it. While it only has six heroic cards in it, two of them are powerful rares, two of them are one of the best uncommons in the set, and two of them are Wingsteed Riders. That's a sick complement of creatures. The deck has an insane complement of enablers, as well, with some great bestow creatures, a pair of Battlefield Valors, and a couple of Chosen of Heliods to help smooth things out. Sure, there are some other creatures thrown in for curve considerations, but the deck seems quite strong.
Here's another, this time using blue instead of red:
This deck has a lot it can do on turn two, which is incredibly important in this powerful Theros Team Sealed Deck format. While the Setassan Battle Priests aren't particularly powerful, the presence of so many good bestow creatures in this deck makes them considerably better. This deck lacks some of the bomb power that the previous deck possessed, but it has a much more powerful late game with the additional fliers, Evangel, and the undervalued Aqueous Form. I'm not sure which of the two I'd prefer, but it's clear that these decks are far more focused and stronger than their counterparts in Individual Sealed Deck would be.
Saturday, 6:15 p.m. – Splitting It All Upby Nate Price
Here in the middle of Round 5, things are beginning to truly separate. Only 165 of the initial 578 have managed to avoid picking up two losses on the day. The top tables are populated with some incredible talent, including many of the teams we've looked at already [insert a hyperlink here to the Kyoto's Killer Teams article from earlier]. Looking at these matches, it is clear that certain color combinations are more favored than others.
Here is the color breakdown from the top twenty teams:
WR – 11
UG – 11
UB – 11
UW – 9
BR – 4
RG – 3
Mono-green – 3
GW – 2
BW – 2
BUG – 1
UR – 1
Mono-black – 1
BG – 1
As you can see, there are four color combinations that appear to be running away with things: white/red, white/blue, blue/green, and blue/black. Well ahead of the other color combinations being run, the fact that it is these four combinations can tell you a great deal about the format.
First, there seem to be three decks that each team is trying to build: the green deck, the white deck, and the black deck. Virtually every team has some variation on these three decks, be they mono-colored decks or even more than two-color combinations. These colors offer the clearest backbones for what a deck will become. The green deck is generally going to be built around larger than average creatures, while the white deck tends to skew towards the faster, more aggressive decks. Black decks are built upon their removal suite, tending towards the control side of things.
Second, blue seems to be the most versatile color in the field. White only shows up in force in two color combinations, green in one, black in one, and red in one. Blue, on the other hand, is in three of the top four combinations. This owes to the fact that it is generally the deepest and most versatile support color in the format. The aggressive fliers are great in either aggressive decks or decks that like to stall the ground game out. The card drawing and tempo-oriented cards are also multi-purpose cards. In short, the blue cards are ideal to support any game plan, though not often enough to be the main focus of a deck.
Finally, red seems to be getting the shaft. From speaking to a number of players throughout the day, red seems to be the most maligned color in the format. Many of the best red cards have two red mana in the cost, forcing Mountains to fight for space alongside Plains (for Wingsteed Riders) and Swamps (for Gray Merchant of Asphodel). Often, this causes some issues with mana bases that can cost games. In most of the red/white decks shown above, the red is a minor part of the deck, only really represented by the most powerful cards, like Lightning Strike, Ordeal of Purphoros, and Anax and Cymede. Another issue with red is that the cards are one-dimensional. They tend to work best in aggressive decks, making them much less appealing than the more versatile blue cards. The creatures don't have much evasion, either, again reducing their value. It is little surprise to find that red is the least played color among the top tables.
As the weekend continues, and more Sealed Deck rounds are in the books, this picture will continue to be refined. It is important to observe the trends this weekend, as the results showing success in Team Sealed Deck tend to mirror the results that would be seen in Booster Draft. Team Sealed Deck is far more like constructed than individual Sealed Deck, and ultimately far more like Booster Draft because of it.
Round 4 Feature Match –
Juza/Nakamura/Watanabe vs. Morofuji/Takagi/Tomomuraby Ben Swartz
When we last caught up with Martin Juza, Shuhei Nakamura, and Yuuya Watanabe, they were just constructing their sealed decks. After rattling off three quick wins, they found themselves against three formidable Japanese opponents: Grand Prix Kitakyushu 2009 Top Eight Competitor Takeshi Takagi, Former Japanese National Team member Takuma Morofuji, and Hitoshi Tomomura.
Takuma Morofuji, Takeshi Takagi, Hitoshi Tomomura, Yuuya Watanabe, Shuhei Nakamura, and Martin Juza
Yuuya Watanabe came prepared with a crazily aggressive Red White deck. Featuring quick creatures such as Akroan Hoplite, Flamespeaker Adepts, and Two-Headed Cerebuses, and paired with spells such as Battlewise Valor, Lightning Strike, and Portent of Betrayal, he hoped to end the games as quickly as possible.
His opponent, Hitoshi Tomomura, brought a Blue Green tempo deck. Pairing creatures like Vaporkin and Triton Fortune Hunter with spells like Voyage's End and Griptide, he hoped to take bites out of his opponents' life totals while disrupting them with bounce spells.
Shuhei Nakamura headed into battle with his Blue Black control deck featuring heavy hitters like Prognostic Sphinx and Hythonia the Cruel. His opponent, Takeshi Takagi, piloted a Red White aggro deck—one that was not too dissimilar from Yuuya Watanabe's deck. It included lots of quick creatures, backed up by great removal.
Martin Juza chose to run a Green White deck. Based around a very solid curve, he hoped to finish games out with Nemesis of Mortals. His opponent, Takuma Morofuji, fought the Czech player with a Four-Color Green deck. He hoped to finish many games out with removal and Polukranos, World Eater.
Watanabe quickly got Tomomura down to three life off the back of some quick creatures and Portent of Betrayal. Unphased, Tomomura, stabilized by playing larger and larger creatures. After a few turns of waiting, Tomomura finally drew a Nimbus Naiad, bestowed it on one of his creatures, and finished off Watanabe.
Watanabe 1 - 0 Tomomura
On the other side of the table, Morofuji played a fifth turn Polukranos, World Eater and paired it with removal on Juza's creatures. After Wingsteed Rider, Nessian Asp and others hit the bin, Juza knew that his time was limited. After Morofuji continued to play lands, Juza mustered up a Nemesis of Mortals.
After turning away for a moment, Takagi quickly dispatched Nakamura in what must have been a whirlwind of heroic creatures backed up by powerful pump spells and enchantments.
Nakamura 0 – 1 Takagi
Game two started out differently for Watanabe with a Two-Headed Cerberus followed by a Hammer of Purphoros. For the next few turns, Watanabe created a few Golems and pumped his Two-Headed Cerberus with Battlewise Valor and took his match to a game three.
Watanabe 1 – 1 Tomomura
Nakamura summoned a quick Prognostic Sphinx in his game two, which stopped Takagi's 1/1s and 1/2s dead in their tracks. Nakamura added insult to injury by enchanting his sphinx with Thassa's Emissary and playing a Hythonia the Cruel. After a few turns Takagi conceded sending the match to a third and final game.
Nakamura 1 – 1 Takagi
Juza 1 – 0 Morofuji
Headed into his third game, Watanabe had the perfect start: Akroan Hoplite, Flamespeaker Adept, Two-Headed Cerberus, and Hammer of Purphoros. Tomomura wasn't completely gone, however, as he created, using various enchantments, a very powerful Triton Fortune Hunter. This made the perfect target for Watanabe's Portent of Betrayal, and after an attack, Tomomura fell to four life.
Right next door, Nakamura was beginning to control his third game; he used a pair of Pharika's Curses to take down Takagi's two Wingsteed Riders, and made a formidable blocker in the form of an Omenspeaker enchanted with Baleful Eidolon. A turn later he enchanted his Shipwreck Singer with Thassa's Emissary. In a few turns Nakamura had taken his match
Nakamura 2-1 Takagi
By this time, Morofuji and Juza were deep into their second game. While Juza attempted to gain some value by casting Boon Satyr as an instant, Morofuji got out a Polukranos, World Eater, and made it monstrous, decimating Juza's board and sending the match to a third game.
Juza 1-1 Morofuji
When we left Watanabe, he had put Tomomura down to four life, but was having trouble finishing his opponent off. Tomomura had by now stabilized with a Sedge Scorpion and a Coastline Chimera. After Griptiding Watanabe's Two-Headed Cerberus, he passed the turn back hoping to ride his Triton Fortune Teller to victory.
Watanabe had the three cards he needed to win on the spot: Lightning Strike, a second Akroan Hoplite and a Battlewise Valor, but not necessarily the time—he had to pass the turn back to his opponent and pray. After bracing for impact, Tomomura was unable to come up with either blockers or removal spells; Watanabe created a token with Hammer of Purphoros and won on the following turn.
Luckily for Juza he didn't need to finish his third and final game as Nakamura and Watanabe had won their matches.
Yuuya Watanabe, Shuhei Nakamura, and Martin Juza win over Hitoshi Tomomura, Takeshi Takagi, and Takuma Morofugi to advance to 4-0!
Saturday, 6:30 p.m. – Grand Prix Kyoto Photo Journalby Seo Asako
Translated by Ben Swartz
Hanging over the Grand Prix is the energy of Kyoto--the ancient capital. With 578 teams, and thus 1734 players, joining us close to where the emperor once lived, this event will surely be a historic one.
The blue sky reflects over the tournament site, Pulse Plaza.
Let's enter the tournament site.
Inside, we can look over the over 1734 players that have joined us in Kyoto.
Here are the row of card shops that have joined us. Since players are constructing their decks, the space is a little less crowded than it was shortly before.
With packs cracked, the players begin registration.
Each team attempts to construct three decks.
Three artists have joined us in Kyoto. One customer commemorates her visit by wearing a traditional kimono.
At this tournament there is live streaming. Inside the stage is the commentary booth.
Inside the tournament hall, monitors are posted where one can watch the broadcast.
Splendidly, the first round feature match that match that is being broadcast live is one of the most well known teams: Yuuya Watanabe, Shuhei Nakamura, and Martin Juza.
Round 7 Feature Match - Asahara/Komuro/Kitayama vs. Ishii/Yoon/Sasakiby Nate Price
There are quite a few stacked teams here at Grand Prix Kyoto. From the Juza/Nakamura/Watanabe super team to the massive Yasooka/Mori/Saito machine, there are quite a few teams boasting a load of talent. One of these teams is that of Asahara/Komuro/Kitayama. Akira Asahara and Masaya Kitayama already have one team Grand Prix Top 4 together, making it to the finals of Grand Prix Hamamatsu back in 2006. The year before that, their teammate Shu Komuro made the Top 4 of Grand Prix Osaka with two teammates of his own. All three players have a tremendous amount of experience to go with their excellent team performances. Asahara has two Pro Tour Top 8s to his name, while Komuro has a win at Pro Tour Nagoya in 2005. While Kitayama has yet to break through to the Pro Tour Sunday stage, he has proven his skills as recently as Grand Prix Yokohama earlier this year, where he took the tournament down in impressive fashion.
Standing between them and another victory are the trio of Hayato Ishii, Yuusuke Sasaki, and Soo Han Yoon. While the trio may not have quite the level of experience as their powerful opponents, they have tasted some higher-level success, with a trio of Grand Prix Top 8s for Sasaki to headline. Aiding them in their quest for victory are three incredibly powerful decks, including one archetype that has been surprisingly efficient this weekend: mono-green devotion. Interestingly, both of these teams devoted a spot for this powerful monocolored strategy, each relying on a different set of cards to get the job done. Komuro's deck relied on a pair of Reverent Hunters and a Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, to power them out. Sasaki's version of the deck used Karametra's Acolyte as its mana generator, ramping into a bevy of fatties, including the powerful Arbor Colossus. Neither deck was entirely mono-green (Sasaki dipped into red while Komuro touched blue), but devotion was so central to each of the decks that it's hard to classify either as anything else.
Masaya Kitayama (Blue/Black) vs. Yuusuke Sasaki (Green/Red Devotion)
This was an unfortunate opening for Kitayama and crew, as he failed to find a third land drop for quite some time. Sasaki, meanwhile, wasted no time putting Kitayama out of his misery. While Kitayama was failing to find lands, Sasaki's deck was serving up monsters like Nemesis of Mortals and Stormbreath Dragon. Needless to say, Sasaki won the first game in short order.
The second game looked like it might be closer, with Kitayama bursting out of the gates with Vaporkin and Ordeal of Thassa. Unfortunately for him, that start was far too slow to compete with Sasaki's draw. Between Voyaging Satyr and Karametra's Acolyte, Sasaki found himself flush with green mana. This allowed him an early Arbor Colossus to stop Kitayama's assault. In addition to that, the Colossus's mana cost gave Sasaki even more mana to work with. Kitayama tried to slow him down with a Disciple of Phenax to force Sasaki to discard one of his three cards, however he soon realized how much trouble he was in upon looking at Sasaki's hand. Sasaki held Nessian Asp, Nemesis of Mortals, and a Vulpine Goliath, any combination of which he would be able to cast on the following turn. Kitayama took the Asp for good measure, but he was ultimately unable to do anything about the deluge of fat coming from Sasaki's hand, and his team found themselves quickly down a match.
Akira Asahara (Red/White/Black) vs. Hayato Ishii (Blue/White)
Asahara had his work cut out for him, his team down a match. The first game saw a few interesting turns shape and define the game, resulting in an incredibly tight race, something that would be common for this match. Asahara's Stormbreath Dragon dominated the table for a turn before Ishii managed to bestow a Hopeful Eidolon on a Horizon Scholar, taking control of the board. It looked like he might be able to pull away, but a Divine Verdict forced Ishii to use Gods Willing to save his big flier. Unfortunately, giving hit protection from white to survive the Verdict also knocked the Eidolon off, preventing him from gaining any life. This swing was incredibly important, as it kept his life total reasonably manageable.
Asahara tried to end the game quickly, using his monstrous Dragon to rip a large chunk from Ishii's life total. He was about to secure victory when a Wavecrash Triton brought his offense to a crawl. This was Asahara's only source of offense, as well, giving Ishii a window to begin his own attacks. With Asahara down to one life, Ishii ran out of ways to empower his Triton, allowing Asahara to untap for a fateful attack. Ishii was down to ten, and the final swing from the freed Dragon was enough to put Ishii in range of Lightining Strike, stealing an incredibly close game for Asahara.
Game 2 looked like it might go the same way only faster, as an Opaline Unicorn enabled a turn-four Stormbreath Dragon. Unfortunately for Asahara, it would only get one attack. Ishii once again had a Wavecrash Triton, and this time it brought its own offense. Between Nimbus Naiad and Thassa's Emissary, the Triton was both large enough to dodge Asahara's removal (Lash of the Whip and Lightning Strike), as well as large enough to finish the game before he ran out of ways to keep the Dragon locked down. Asahara came very close to stealing the game once again, but a Lagona-Band Elder gave Ishii just enough life to ensure his victory.
The final game of this match was another incredibly close affair, but it didn't initially look like it would be at all. Neither player had a particularly impressive start, with Ishii stumbling on lands early and Asahara not making a play until a fourth-turn Ill-Tempered Cyclops. Ishii was able to take advantage of this early, despite his mana troubles, by getting in for quite a large amount of damage with a Vaporkin.
The reason for Asahara's slow start quickly became apparent, as Ishii drew his way out of his mana troubles and began to build his board. Over three consecutive turns, Ishii added a creature to his board only to be denied his creature. Glare of Heresy, Lash of the Whip, Divine Verdict, and Lightning Strike dealt with everything Ishii could muster, eventually leaving him with just a pair of Omenspeakers. Still, the Vaporkin had done its work, dropping Asahara to an unreasonably low life total. He finally found some offense with his trusty Stormbreath Dragon, but Ishii tried to stall his way to a victory. One turn from defeat, Ishii had managed to add a Benthic Giant to his side of the board and sent all three of his creatures. Asahara was at a potentially safe 9, but he didn't risk anything, using his lone chump blocker to stand in the Giant's way. When Asahara attacked for the win on the following turn, Ishii revealed the Dauntless Onslaught that would have been lethal had Asahara blocked any other way.
Shu Komuro (Green/Blue Devotion) vs. Soo Han Yoon (Black/White)
It all came down to the outcome of this match. Komuro had narrowly lost the first game of this match by the time the other matches had finished. Despite having a pair of massive Reverent Hunters, Komuro's army was held at bay by a tide of Soldiers pouring out of an Akroan Horse. Even when he was able to find a Vulpine Goliath to begin to trample over, Yoon simply went over the top, adding Erebos's Emissary to his Insatiable Harpy. Komuro made a valiant attempt to wrest control of the game, but a Keepsake Gorgon combined with Whip of Erebos proved too strong, eliminating his team and sending it to a second game.
In this second game, Yoon showed the raw power his deck possessed. Using early removal to handle the cheap threats from Komuro's deck, Yoon stalled until he could chain together three absurd turns, adding two copies of Gray Merchant of Asphodel and an Abhorrent Overlord to his team on consecutive turns. To add insult to injury, he added a Whip of Erebos to his side, giving him all the inevitability he would ever need. Komuro could do nothing, his life total rapidly falling behind that absurd string of plays, dropping his team to 5-2.
Saturday, 10:19 p.m. – Theros Team Sealed with the Undefeated Teamby Ben Swartz
At the end of the first day at Grand Prix Kyoto, only one team stood with a perfect 9-0 record: Mike Hron, Rich Hoaen, and Alexander Hayne.
So you can play along at home, here was their pool:
It was clear that the three players were very excited about their pool. Rich Hoaen mentioned that they missed the announcement saying that this was their pool to keep. After catching a glance at the players across from them sporting sad puppy faces, they deduced that they were the lucky ones at the table and went to work building their decks.
Even though the pool has a pair of planeswalkers—Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver and Elspeth, Sun's Champion, along with a pair of green mythic rares—Nylea, God of the Hunt and Polukranos, World Eater—it is not apparently obvious how to create three separate decks out of the pool.
Thanks to the three Gray Merchant of Asphodels, it seems clear that one of the three decks should be a dedicated black deck. Similarly, it is obvious that the black deck should try to include the Ashiok. From there, a nice little blue-black deck emerges.
But what about the other two decks? Those are a little less obvious. Again, going with power cards, it seems likely for there to be a white deck. Elspeth and Heliod, are powerful cards. One of the most popular color combinations so far this weekend has been green-white. To go along with those white cards, there are some sweet green cards in this pool: Polukranos, World Eater, and Nylea, God of the Hunt.
It's not so smart to jam all the powerful cards into one deck when you need to make three decks. Sometimes, in order to figure out the optimal color combinations, it's better to look at your weakest color—the one that needs the most support.
In this pool's case, that color is red. The red cards would likely pair well with either the white or green mythic rares. Though red-white was also a very popular color combination today, the white cards don't make for the standard white-red archetype: aggro. That seems to leave green with red, but what does white pair with?
In comes a common problem teams faced this weekend. One color needed to be split between two decks. How does one decide which deck gets which cards? The naïve way to do it would be to split things down the middle—give each deck half of the good cards. Because the card pool in team sealed is larger than in regular sealed, this approach falls apart. With the larger card pool comes the opportunity to make archetypical choices with decks. In this case, it was possible to give the white deck the heroic-focused blue cards and the blue-black deck the support-based blue cards
The last thing for these players to settle was what exactly was going to go into the three decks. How much red would be in the Green deck? Which rares would go into the blue-white deck? Exactly which blue cards would make the cut in the blue-black deck?
Here are the decks that they settled on:
And the final decklist:
Round 9 Feature Match - (6) Watanabe/(5) Nakamura/(12) Juza vs. Hron/Hayne/Hoaenby Nate Price
Three teams out of 578 managed to go through eight rounds of play without picking up a loss, but only one went 8-0. While they may be admittedly a little out of practice, Mike Hron and Rich Hoaen are well-respected as two of the best Limited players Magic has ever seen. Teaming up with Canadian Pro Tour Champion Alex Hayne, the trio stormed their way to the best record of the tournament, largely in part thanks to their incredibly absurd Sealed Deck pool.
"This is what the broken decks look like," Martin Juza said as he sat down across the table from Hoaen. The two trios had been in close proximity for a large portion of the day, so Juza knew well what he and his teammates were getting into. Though their decks were admittedly weaker, they were certainly at the tops of their games. In addition to the twelfth-ranked Juza, his teammates Shuhei Nakamura and Yuuya Watanabe are currently ranked in the Top 10 players in Magic's Top 25 rankings. Nakamura, in particular, was on a hot streak, with a nearly perfect day of play to his credit coming into this round.
While Hron, Hayne, and Hoaen opted for the consensus green deck, white deck, and black deck, Juza, Nakamura, and Watanabe represented more unorthodox choices. Rather than splitting their green and white into two different decks, they had to combine them into one green/white heroic deck in order to have a proper curve. Unlike many of the pools in the room, their red was actually quite strong, and Watanabe was able to build a red-based red/white deck to occupy their third spot. They ended up with three decks that they were initially pleased with, but found themselves decreasingly so over the course of the day.
"I don't think our decks are that good," Juza told me. "Well, Shuhei's is. But not ours."
Despite a lack of faith, he and his teammates had managed to avoid a loss to this point all day, opting to draw in the previous round with Naoki Shimizu and his teammates.
(6) Yuuya Watanabe (Red/White) vs. Mike Hron (Green/Red Devotion)
The first match to finish was also easily the most one-sided. Watanabe's fairly aggressive deck failed to provide a particularly fast start, putting him far behind from the get go. Hron's deck used a Voyaging Satyr to accelerate into a Staunch-Hearted Warrior that soon found itself wearing a Leafcrown Dryad. To make matters worse, Hron was able to follow this 6/6 monster up with a 5/5 Reverent Hunter, completely dominating Watanabe's lone Rageblood Shaman. Needless to say, he didn't last long.
Hron mulliganned in the second game, but it ended up being Watanabe that found himself wishing for a better draw. His hand was fairly strong, containing a Two-Headed Cerberus, Flamespeaker Adept, and Dragon Mantle, but only two Mountains. He was unable to find a third Mountain without being forced to cast his Mantle on Hron's creature, negating much of the power of his hand. Unfortunately, the delay was for too great, and Hron was able to assemble more monsters to put Watanabe out of his misery, giving his team their first win of the match.
(5) Shuhei Nakamura (Blue/Black Control) vs. Alexander Hayne (Blue/White Heroic)
Every time I spoke with Rich Hoaen about his team's decks, he brought up how insane Hayne's deck was. The first game of the match was a perfect illustration of exactly that. Curving a Battlewise Hoplite into Hopeful Eidolon and Heliod's Emissary, Hayne's opening looked unbeatable. Yet Nakamura was able to delay using Pharika's Cures, Voyage's End, and careful use of Shipwreck Singer to avoid dying. Despite his efforts, however, it looked like Hayne was going to pull away, his creatures proving far too disruptive.
And then everything changed. A Lash of the Whip ate one of the Heliod's Emissaries, leaving Hayne with just one. Then, Hythonia the Cruel teamed up with Shipwreck Singer to slowly evaporate Hayne's board. Within three turns, Hayne was sitting on an empty board, and Nakamura found himself in control of a seemingly unwinnable game. A couple of turns after that, and he had given his team their first game win.
In the second game, Hayne's draw was less impressive, though still packed with power. Unfortunately for him, Nakamura's draw was just as potent as his first, as a pair of Pharika's Cures and Lash of the Whip enabled him to kill all of Hayne's early creatures. When he once again got Hythonia on the table, it was only a matter of time before the large and angry Gorgon evened the match score at one apiece.
(12) Martin Juza (Green/White Heroic) vs. Rich Hoaen (Blue/Black)
Oh, Martin Juza. How do I not envy you...
Juza's deck is one of the more unorthodox color pairings in the tournament. His green/white heroic deck came about due to necessity, as he needed the white cards to fill in the holes in the green mana curve. In the end, his deck was a reasonably good deck, albeit one lacking the bomb-ness of the better decks in the room.
"I don't think I can win if we play the broken decks," he told me at one point in the day. Apparently he had done a great job of dodging them all day, as his team sat without a loss going into the last round.
Unfortunately, that streak wouldn't last.
Starting with a draw that many people would be envious of, Juza built up an impressive army in the early stages of the game. Two Centaur Coursers, Cavalry Pegasus, and Staunch-Hearted Warrior were an incredibly potent start for the Czech player. Unfortunately, all of his early damage was negated by a pair of Gray Merchants and an Insatiable Harpy. Juza tried to mount an offense with a Wingsteed Rider, but Hoaen's control deck had the removal spells. A ground stall ensued, as each player built up his team.
With things going nowhere, Hoaen found himself a Voyage's End, using it to pick up a Mogis's Marauder he had played much earlier in the game. This allowed him to replay it, giving his whole team intimidate, and attacking for a lethal amount of damage.
The second game went even worse for Juza, as a mulligan left him with a two-land hand and down a card. To make matters worse, Hoaen had a Thoughtseize to strip Juza of the one creature he could actually play (Traveling Philosophers). By the time Juza started to play real threats, Hoaen was able to just trade his abundance of creatures for them. This set up a turn where Hoaen cast Nighthowler and Mogis's Marauder, giving it haste and intimidate for the win.
"I don't think I could have won that game even if I stacked my deck," Juza joked. "Their decks are so much better than ours. I mean, we spent five minutes arguing about which deck got Cavalry Pegasus, and they have decks better than ours sitting in their sideboards."
To emphasize this last point, Hoaen laughed and showed the three copies of Prescient Chimera that didn't make either his or Hayne's deck. The also had Bident of Thassa and Heliod, God of the Sun, riding the pine. Juza just laughed.
"So this is what the broken decks look like..."