By Tom Guevin
The dynamics of a team Sealed Magic tournament are different from singles sealed play. In singles play, friends and teams who work together can build and approach Sealed Deck construction with the same style. But in 3 person sealed limited the goal is to build 3 good decks each with different strategies and styles.
It takes several iterations to determine what the best strategy is for team sealed deck. This is analogous to sealed deck. Take land ratio in sealed deck - it took top players several years to determine that 17 +/- 1 land was the best count. If someone told you that 17 lands was the best strategy then you could save practice time and this would help you play sealed better.
My knowledge of team limited was lacking, having performed poorly in the one team PTQ I played in. So what better way to learn than to study the approach taken by arguable the best 3 person limited team, Your Move Games. Sure they've had some trouble with Antarctica recently, but their dedication to practice has no rivals.
They received a Sealed Deck pack in a brown bag, labeled "Good Luck." Generally, this would be construed as a sign that the decks contained low quality cards and YMG wanted to return the decks for others. But that was not to be. With 45 minutes on the clock for deck construction YMG had to act fast to build the best possible decks from their card pool.
They had a lot to get done in that time, and they went step by step through the procedure keeping a clear eye on the clock.
To start, like any curious player they started looking at the card pool and got excited to see gems like Extravagant Spirit, Jolrael, and Squallmonger. But Rob put them back on course and said to first double check the accuracy of the registered decks. They did this in 3 minutes, with Dave checking Masques, Rob checking Nemesis and Darwin Prophecy. In this time they got to assess the card set and look for staple commons and interesting uncommons and rares to base their decks on.
The second step was to sort by colors. It was clear that before construction started that Darwin would sort the Red and Artifacts, Rob would sort Black and Green and Dave would sort White and Blue. By default these would be the colors they would play as well, unless the card pool was different than the norm.
Once they had the colors in hand they took each color and sorted the creatures and spells out to determine how many playable cards there were. Immediately they determined that Red, Black and Blue were the best colors and most likely to be split. Rob found the green to be deep as well but difficult to split as it had no removal and few splashable cards. Dave felt the white was the weakest color.
With 35 minutes left on the clock it was time for refinement. Darwin takes the black that Rob sorted and adds in Rhystic Syphon and Carrion Walls from the cards that Rob discard. It looks that the Red will be split and Darwin will use the black as a base while Rob will use Green. But they are far from settled yet.
They start talking about Archetypes, meaning deck styles and color combinations. Darwin suggests a Black/Blue tempo deck with Flyers, Mercenaries and Bounce. Rob suggests gigantic Green creatures with either Black or Red for removal. Rob has 13 solid green creatures including Jolreal, Squallmonger and Hunted Wumpus, so with a little support to kill annoyances like Bouncer he feels it will be a solid deck. Dave is quiet but finally chimes in saying Blue/White is weak and he would like Blue/Red. It seems everyone is fighting over the red and who wouldn't with 2 Seal of Fire, Lunge, Shock Troops, Thunderclap and many Red creatures. Rob suggests splitting the Blue, going with Blue/Green, Red/Blue and White/Black as the color combinations. He would use the Blue Bounce and Ensnare to get his monsters through. Darwin doesn't like White/Black and would rather the weak White stay with a strong color like Blue. Darwin thinks the Black should go with the Red for sure. Neither Rob nor Darwin want any part of the white and insist that Blue and White stay together. A brief argument ensues between Darwin and Rob. Darwin wants to go Red and Black and give Vendetta and Snuff Out to Rob to go with the Green. Rob wants more removal and would rather Darwin keep the Black and split the Red. Dave is the deciding vote and agrees with Rob to give the Green deck extra removal, considering Darwin is already removal high in Red/Black.
With 20 minutes on the clock the archetypes are set and the deck building begins. This is analogous to sealed deck where you try to build the best deck from the colors you're given. The discussion only centers on how Darwin and Rob will split the Red. There is discussion over who would get cards like Hired Giant, Irregulars and the 2nd Seal of Fire and the decisions were always made as a team with a quick majority vote determining it.
When you have so many cards to build with, the decks tend to be higher powered. Dave has White/Blue but has many cards that you would always play in a draft or sealed in his sideboard because of his deck style and the fact that he doesn't have room in the deck. He has a strong Rebel Engine, with 1 and 2cc searchers. He has lots of flyers and bounce, with 2 Seal of Removal. Instead of defensive cards like Mind Bearer and Muzzle he has aggressive cards like Thwart and Spiketail Hatchling that allow him to stop threats and continue the beats. The really weird thing is that he has Noble Purpose in the SB, which is surprising given that it's generally a first pick in draft. Dave is looking for fast beats and card advantage and feels he can already race any deck.
Darwin has Red/Black and he centered his deck on the Mercenary Engine (he has Intimidator and Rathi Assassin) and Haunted Crossroads. He has solid removal with Shock Troops (with the X-roads), and Vendetta, Snuff Out and Steal Strength. To back this up he has "fatty" red creatures like Keldon Berserkers and Gerrard's Irregulars. Darwin has Soul Strings in his sideboard a card I like a lot, especially given his Graveyard Recursion strategy. He also has Greel's Caress in the Sideboard, which he'll use as a SB card against other Black decks.
Rob's deck is Phat. He has a 4x4 creature curve, pioneered by Hashim Bello at PT LA 1999, except that Rob starts at 2 and goes to 5, while Hashim went from 1 to 4. Rob has mana accelerators at 2 (Trellis and Pathfinder) and lots of strong high drops like Rushwood Elemental. His removal is 2 Seal of Fire, Thunderclap, and Lunge, with enhancers like Invigorate, Spidersilk, and Treetop Bracers. Surprisingly he has Seal of Strength in the Sideboard. He wanted it but wanted 16 creatures and the other spells more.
There is a 3-way argument over the lone playable Artifact - a Hollow Warrior. So the team made the decision based on who would need it the most. They felt that Dave was weak against unblockable creatures like Fen Stalker and Rathi Intimidators so they gave it to him. He also has the weakest deck without any real removal so giving it to him would help the most.
Darwin is unsure of his mana ratio and asks Math expert Dave for advice and Dave steers him straight saying 10 Swamps - 8 Mountains.
With 10 minutes left on the clock they start deck registration. This is an arduous process, as you have to register every card including the sideboard and have to make sure that every card is accounted for. Darwin and Rob still talk about the Red and split up sideboard artifact control as they go. With just 3 minutes on the clock they finish and double check their lists and each others' list.
YMG didn't have the best card pool, but they worked well with what they had. By having predetermined colors each player could advocate for the colors in question and make sure they split the colors right and had three decks of similar power. They should do well with these decks but might run into a crazy card pool played by solid players so a 2-1 finish is possible. I wouldn't be surprised to see them win out.
By following a similar methodology and practicing your team should be able to be successful in team sealed. Team play is all about working together and compromising. It's about knowing what you have to do in the limited time frame, and making as many decisions, like card colors and roles and how you're going to resolve conflicts, in advance.