Playing Better With Others

Posted in Serious Fun on January 18, 2005

By Anthony Alongi

What you should ask yourself in team formats

Inevitably, a column that lasts more than three years (six, if you count Casual Fridays from my past) is going to repeat a topic or two. For reasons that will become clear in a week or so, I have decided to repeat the topic of team play strategy.

My first writing on this site on team strategy was here. You should read it before moving forward, since it contains many remarks that are still valid but not worth repeating. It also contains a few different ideas for team play formats. You'll also want to look at my team follow-up here.

Now that you've read up, what else is there to learn? Well, I wrote that stuff quite some time ago. The great thing about having a weekly group that loves Two-Headed Giant and Emperor is that we're always learning new things. Here are four fairly advanced questions I've learned to ask when entering a team game.

Team Spirit

1) Who are my teammates? It sounds so simple, but so many people never bother to think this through. One of the easiest ways to radically increase your chances of winning a team game is to know whom you're playing with.

There are players in my group who are a bit chaotic. They'll play stuff like Confusion in the Ranks or Eladamri's Vineyard because either (a) they're focused on their own deck's path to success and believe they can force an advantage, or (b) they're just in it for the fun. Either or both may be valid reasons; but the point is, I'd better be ready to deal with that.

Example: When playing Emperor format in the leadership position, I almost always play a creatureless deck. My reasoning is simple: (a) most enchantments and artifacts can affect the board better than most creatures; (b) if I do my job right, my flanks will survive and I'll never need a creature; and (c) I want some of the opposition's cards to be dead against me. Of course, for creatureless decks to work, you generally have to have board sweepers. I make mine as adjustable as I can (Powder Keg, Starstorm, etc.); but inevitably I'm going to kill teammates' creatures.

People who know this about me can choose their decks (and their strategy) accordingly. They'll use high-toughness creatures, they won't overextend, and they'll relax when the game doesn't go their way – because they know I have their back.

Of course, this question only applies when you're not coordinating decks. What if your format allows deck coordination? On to the next question.

2) What is the right mix of aggression and control? In duels, the classic question is: "who's the beatdown?" That means the better players understand who needs to put pressure on the opponent, and who needs to neutralize that pressure and establish control.

In team games, the question becomes more complex. Yes, there's still an overall question while you're playing of "who's the beatdown" – but there's also the question of "who will blaze the trail, and who will stomp down it?"

The most conventional combination is an aggressive creature "stomping" deck paired with a capable countermagic/removal "trailblazing" deck; but you can certainly be less conventional if you want. Even if both decks are incredibly aggressive, someone is clearing a path. Maybe it's the first one to swing and attract attention, so that the second attacker has an easier time. Even in this extreme example, someone is drawing off counterspells. Someone is drawing off removal. Someone, in other words, is clearing the path.

Now try two "control" decks. One (the one with more removal if you're facing creatures, or the one with more countermagic if you're facing something else) has to hold the line and make sure there's enough time for the other deck to find its path to victory. The deck holding the line is "trailblazing", while the other deck is "stomping". Eventually, that is. Even if it's with Barbed Wire ticks.

Now let's go on to a question you should ask whether or not you know what your teammate is doing.

Watch for powerful sweepers that also offer flexibility

3) How much sweeping shall I put into the deck(s)? Board-sweepers are not generally team-friendly cards. But you can find adjustable ones to lessen the pain for your teammate. My favorites are Starstorm, Engineered Explosives, and the almighty Pernicious Deed.

If you can find the right sweeper, you'll find the strategy invaluable for recovering from those rare instances when both your decks fall short early. And if you get off to a great start, they're warm in comfy in your hand for that moment when the opposition rallies ferociously, overextending their hands just to stop the bleeding.

You don't have to have sweepers in your deck. But those cards that can wipe permanents – especially non-creature permanents – will sometimes be the only answers you have to the more creative decks out there.

If you don't do sweepers, you'll probably need a lot more targetable spells. If you go this way, consider this: entering "your opponents" into Gatherer calls up many interesting cards your teammates can target but your enemies can't. (Like Troll Ascetic.)

4) Have we thought of everything? If you're facing down two (or three, or four) opposing decks, you can bet those decks are going to have a mix of strategies. Between the two (or three, or four) of you, you should be absolutely sure you at least have potential answers for the following situations:

  • One deck going down to mana screw;
  • An opposing creature swarm (assume 3/3 centaurs);
  • A single, enormous, untargetable, flying trampler;
  • A battery of debilitating enchantments;
  • One or two indestructible artifacts; and
  • Up to 50 counterspells.

You'll likely hear more about team strategy soon. Stay tuned. In the meantime, enjoy this pairing of team decks for Two-Headed Giant format. They use fairly recent cards and quite a few rares. With some creativity, you can find many suitable substitutes.


Download Arena Decklist


Download Arena Decklist

Anthony cannot provide deck help, unless you are his teammate in a secret experiment.

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