The Journey to the Team Series Championship

Posted in Event Coverage on October 8, 2017

By Meghan Wolff

Meghan is one half of the Good Luck High Five podcast and an adjunct professor at Tolarian Community College. She loves Limited, likes Modern, and dips her toes into each Standard season. She's decidedly blue and is the #1 hater of Siege Rhino in the Multiverse.

A year of Pro Tour play, deck building, testing, playing, and cheering on teammates, culminated today in the first-ever Pro Tour Team Series Finals. At the end of the 2016-17 season, teams Musashi and Genesis sat atop the leaderboard, their members scooping up 141 and 131 Pro Points, respectively, across four Pro Tours.

With over 30 teams of accomplished pro players, Hall of Famers, and eager up-and-comers in the field, it was an impressive achievement for Musashi and Genesis. While Musashi topped the team standings for much of the year, Top 8 finishes from members of both teams at Pro Tour Amonkhet rocketed Musashi into a commanding lead and put Genesis into a more hotly contested second place. Both teams' leads held through the final Pro Tour of the season and set the stage for their showdown at the World Championship.

Musashi and Genesis include an impressive suite of players familiar with competing against, and being, the best in the world. Kentaro Yamamoto, Yuuya Watanabe, Ken Yukuhiro, Yuuki Ichikawa, Teruya Kakumae, and Shota Yasooka make up Musashi, while Genesis includes Brad Nelson, Lukas Blohon, Seth Manfield, Michael Majors, Martin Dang, and Martin Müller.

The format for this Team Series Finals is two 3v3 Ixalan Team Sealed matches. The Thursday before the tournament, Musashi and Genesis sat down with two Ixalan Team Sealed pools apiece and built the six decks they used today to determine the first Team Series Champion. While all six players could help build the decks, the two card pools had to remain separate.

Left to Right, Top to Bottom: Teruya Kakumae, Yuuya Watanabe, Kentaro Yamamoto, Yuuki Ichikawa, Ken Yukuhiro, and Shota Yasooka

Left to Right, Top to Bottom: Seth Manfield, Brad Nelson, Martin Dang, Thomas Hendriks, Lukas Blohon, Martin Müller

"What's your strategy?" Nelson asked as Genesis walked into the rooms set aside for the team Sealed build on Thursday morning.

The members of Musashi laughed. "Strategy?" they said. Watanabe turned and looked at Genesis. "Victory!" he said, putting a fist in the air. "Victory!" his teammates echoed.

While neither team was willing to discuss their Limited strategy in front of each another, Genesis did have one bit of team tech they let drop while waiting for their Sealed card pool: they wouldn't allow Nelson or Martin Dang to open boosters because, by team consensus, they're unlucky. Instead, Genesis would task Martin Müller, who catapulted them into second place in the Team Series with an individual fourth-place finish at PT Amonkhet, with opening the team's Sealed pool.

As luck would have it, there wouldn't be any pack opening at all in this Sealed event, as four Sealed pools, boosters open and cards stamped and recorded, awaited the teams. They only had to pick. Genesis still wasn't taking any risks, giving Müller the task of selecting the teams' sealed pools, while Watanabe stepped up to the table for Musashi.

Sealed pools in hand, the two teams stepped into separate rooms to build their decks.

Genesis gets to work, breaking down the two Team Sealed pools given to them and what they can build for their two respective trios.

The teams had two full hours to build and register their six decks. It was double the usual amount of time teams are given to build Sealed pools at Grand Prix, but Genesis agreed that here the extra minutes meant time to account for everything they could think of.

The two teams of three—Nelson, Müller, and Dang on one team with Hendriks, Manfield, and Blohon on the other—took their respective pools and sorted them by color, setting aside the best rares and pulling out cards that worked best in tribal synergies like Merfolk or Pirates.

"Look, we're artifact flooded!" Manfield said to the other half of the table, showing off a Thaumatic Compass, a Primal Amulet, and a Shadowed Caravel among their rares. Their first impression of their pool wasn't good, and they expected an uphill battle as they began to piece together what would, in an hour's time, become coherent deck strategies.

"At this point, we're just trying to scrape together three decks that are playable," Manfield said. "We're feeling a little bit defeated, but we're going to try to make the most of this thing. We only need one good pool to win this thing."

He was referring to the other team of three Genesis players across from him. On the other side of the table, Müller's lucky touch was working its magic on the team's pool, as they opened Wakening Sun's Avatar and Hostage Taker, which Nelson considers two of the best cards in the format.

Both halves of Genesis started with loose builds focused on Ixalan's tribes and supported color pairs. They also kept an eye on their decks' mana curves, because while they had access to a few powerful spells, they'd need to make sure they had consistent early plays to keep from falling behind.

Their green-white deck, though topped with the powerful Wakening Sun's Avatar, had a glut of three-drops.

"Hey, dino champ," Nelson said to Blohon. "Come look at this deck and tell us how it can win."

The two teams, with prototype decks laid out, switched sides to get fresh perspectives on what they'd built. They debated Storm Sculptors and Sunbird's Invocations, refining the decks the decks the other half of their team built, but left the core strategies mostly intact.

At the end of the two hours, Nelson, Müller, and Dang had an aggressive red-white Dinosaurs deck, a blue-black Pirates deck with a lot of evasion along with a Hostage Taker and Jace, Cunning Castaway, and a green-white Dinosaurs deck with Wakening Sun's Avatar.

Hendriks, Manfield, and Blohon built an aggressive red-white deck with quite a few Dinosaurs, a blue-green Merfolk deck, and a blue-black Pirates deck that tried to strike a balance between aggressive fliers and cheap creatures and more controlling cards like Contract Killing and Overflowing Insight.

Musashi gets to work, sorting their pools out by colors, then by tribes, to determine what to build.

In another room, Yamamoto, Ichikawa, and Yukuhiro laughed as they tossed one mediocre rare after another onto the table in front of them. They were facing the highest stakes yet seen in a Magic team event, but these three players were still enjoying the moment with their teammates, sharing the good and the bad that they opened with equal glee. Some of the rares weren't bad, but they could also be better. With the first Team Series Championship on the line, the rares could probably always be better.

Across from them, Kakumae, Yasooka, and Watanabe had each taken a section of their pool and begun to sort it. Like their teammates, they were laying out rares or promising uncommons in the middle of the table.

Before jumping into building decks, the two Musashi teams laid all the cards, sorted by color, on the table in front of them and talked about strengths and synergies in their pool, pointing out potential key cards and strong individual spells to each other.

Yamamoto, Ichikawa, and Yukuhiro then organized the cards into their beginning ideas for decks as a team, dividing out their removal and filling holes in each colors' mana curve with complimentary colors and cards. Across from them, Kakumae, Yasooka, and Watanabe each took a color pair from the pool and began to build a deck from it.

Musashi, like Genesis, focused on Ixalan's supported color pairs, though they weren't as adherent to tribal synergies as Genesis had been. Instead, they focused on using the best cards in each color, sometimes dividing up tribal synergies to make sure that another deck had a good curve or access to strong uncommons.

With their initial decks built, the players swapped sides and took a look at the decks their teammates' had created. Unlike Genesis, they then scooped up all the cards and began the process of sorting by colors and synergies from the very beginning. While they ended on similar color pairs as the original decks their teammates had built, there were places where they'd swapped cards to further pushed the synergies and interactions initially outlined, effectively encouraging the other builders to invest as much as possible in their deck's core strategy.

When the process was over, Kakumae was left feeling worried about the depth and strength of the pool his team had.

"I have the best deck," he said, "so the plan is that I'll win, and then hopefully one of my teammates will win. But I think I must win." Kakumae's two teammates are two members of the Hall of Fame, so even if they're not thrilled with their decks, they have the skill to make the best of it.

Yamamoto, Ichikawa, and Yukuhiro had a white-black deck with a lot of Vampire synergies and a few powerful Dinosaurs, an aggressive blue-black with a Fell Flagship and two Pirate's Cutlass, and a red-green deck focused on curving one big dinosaur into another.

Yasooka, Kakumae, and Watanabe had a four-color deck with everything but green, a blue-green deck with a pair of Jade Guardians and a pair of One With the Winds, and an aggressive red-white dinosaurs deck.

With the two hours up, all decks registered and every possibility accounted for, the teams handed over their cards. They'd built the decks that would determine their team's fate three days later, and in the interim, they'd wait and practice and hope, ready and eager for Sunday's first Team Series showdown.

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