Team Limited was an incredible way to kick off Dominaria. Over the course of one weekend and fourteen rounds of Sealed here in Columbus, players explored the new format and archetypes. It was an exciting weekend as teams jockeyed for position, angling for a spot in the Top 4, a chance to draft Dominaria, and a shot at the GP trophy.
With interesting board states and decisions, popular returning mechanics, and art, creatures, and characters like Lyra Dawnbringer, Jhoira, and Karn, that invoke a sense of nostalgia, Dominaria had a lot to offer pros and casual players alike this weekend.
At the end of two Team Sealed deck builds and fourteen rounds of play, the teams moving on to the Top 4 were Kellen Pastore, Steve Noga, and Daniel Barkon, David Goldfarb, Edgar Magalhaes, and Jacob Baugh, Sam Black, Matt Severa, and Andrew Baeckstrom, and Jeremy Lavrenz, James Lavrenz, and Jake Lamb.
The Top 4
The four teams sat down to the first of two drafts. In the semifinals, Lavrenz, Lavrenz, and Lamb defeated Pastore, Noga, and Barkon in two matches to zero with their white-blue, green-black, and green-black splashing blue decks. Then, Goldfarb, Magalhaes, and Baugh defeated Black, Severa, and Baeckstrom in a tense three matches. It came down to a game three between Severa and Magalhaes, with Severa's blue-red artifacts deck eventually succumbing to Magalhaes' white-blue fliers.
With that, the finals came down to Lavrenz, Lavrenz, and Lamb versus Goldfarb, Magalhaes, and Baugh, and another team draft. Magalhaes took the first match over James Lavrenz with his aggressive red-white deck, but then Lamb tied it up by defeating Baugh with a white-blue deck. It came down to Jeremy Lavrenz and his black-red deck headed up by Demonlord Belzenlok and Goldfarb and his blue-black deck with some powerful fliers and a lot of bounce.
It was Goldfarb who took the match, securing a win for team Goldfarb, Magalhaes, and Baugh! Congratulations to the GP Columbus champions!
Players had their first chance to pick up Dominaria just a week ago. With completely new cards like Sagas, powerful multicolor cards at uncommon, and a bundle of creature type and historic synergies at play, it's a rich format challenging players at all levels of play to perfect their Sealed and Draft strategies.
“In Team Sealed, when you're opening your pool, I like to look at the gold legends to see what cards pull me in a direction," said ChannelFireball team member Mike Sigrist. This weekend he's teaming with fellow pros Alexander Hayne and Steve Rubin.
“In general blue-red and black-green are pretty strong archetypes because the thallid synergies are really strong, and the wizard synergies can be strong, and there's also a spell theme with Ghitu Chronicler. So yesterday I had a deck that was just all spells, with a lot of those guys. It was really sweet."
Those same synergies that make for strong archetypes also make the deck building process more difficult.
“This is one of the most challenging Team Sealed formats I've played because of all the gold cards and the power level of the cards, but also the synergies," Sigrist said. “So you'll have a card like Zahid, Djinn of the Lamp, and you'll have a wizard deck, and that doesn't really want to play that many artifacts because it's a spell deck. So do you want to play it in that deck, do you want to build a whole other deck around it, or if you can't build two blue decks, do you just shove some artifacts in your deck or play an old-school Mahamoti Djinn? There's a lot of synergies that make you build in a way that your deck doesn't want to if you can't fit those super powerful cards in a few decks."
“I've kinda liked everything about it so far," pro and Hall of Fame member Eric Froehlich said of Dominaria. He's playing with fellow Hall of Fame members Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa and Ben Stark this weekend.
“I think that having things like kicker in a set, that allow you to have options and do things when you're short on mana and do things you're heavy on mana, adds to the game play dramatically," Froehlich said. “As long as there's answers to the best cards in the format, it's okay that they're really good. When you have something like Lyra, which is obviously a great card, but there's a common in red, a common in white, a common in black that all just kill it straight-up, that makes for a good Sealed format. It's a little bit slower, so you have your time to do things."
With those thoughts in mind, I browsed the top tables of Day 2 to see where these first impressions, strengths, and challenges took players as they built their second round of Sealed decks.
Team Sealed is a unique and challenging format that tasks players with building three decks from a card pool pulled from twelve boosters. Teams have to distribute their resources so that they don't leave any deck short on critical pieces like removal or ways to win the game.
“I think Sealed in general is usually challenging because a lot of times you want to play all your best cards, you kind of want to splash, but it really depends on how your mana works," Froehlich said. “There's a couple decent common mana fixers, which is usually good for that. Trying to build the deck to maximize your power and your consistency is usually the challenge in a lot of Sealed formats, and is still the case here."
Because the card pool is so large, Team Sealed often allows players to build decks more synergy-driven than a classic Sealed event. Decks focused on themes like historic or wizards are more likely to come together, and these powerful synergies can win games. Then again, focusing on classic Sealed decks that maximize removal and must-be-answered creatures is also a fine roadmap for success.
Almost every team had a white-blue deck that focused on fliers backed up by removal. Some of the most popular cards in these white-blue builds were Raff Capashen, Serra Angel, and Seal Away at uncommon, and Aven Sentry, Cloudreader Sphinx, and Gideon's Reproach at common.
On Day 2, black-red was also a popular build. These decks were often removal heavy, focusing on red's plethora of burn spells and black's kill spells. Sagas were also a popular choice for this archetype, allowing players to accrue value from a single card over the course of a few turns, an important effect in a deck that can otherwise have trouble expending all its resources while trying to answer everything their opponent does.
Less popular than on Day 1, but still making a solid appearance, were blue-red wizard or spell-based decks. While in many teams these archetypes were usurped by black-red, which takes a lot of the removal critical for their success, the reduced cost spells, enter-the-battlefield triggers, and value of getting back instants and sorceries still made it a potent deck.
Another deck less popular on Day 2, but still very much in attendance, was black-green. Slimefoot, the Stowaway and hordes of saproling tokens often anchored these decks, which also capitalized on removal like Vicious Offering.
These were far from the only archetypes on display in Team Sealed, as other teams had two-color combinations of every variety, as well as three-color decks anchored in green and three-color decks without green at all. In many of these cases, the gold legendary uncommons that shape game plans for those two-color pairs defined those decks.
Skittering Into Our Hearts
Step aside, legendary creatures, angels, dragons, and demons, for who amongst you can compare to the telescope with legs, the three-mana 1/2, the answer to “can I splash a third color?" – Skittering Surveyor.
Dogs may be mans' best friend, but on Dominaria, Skittering Surveyor is a Magic player's best friend. With archetype-defining gold legends at uncommon and a plethora of spells with kicker, Skittering Surveyor is Dominaria's multi-purpose tool.
What a hand.
Okay maybe I'm going overboard, but honestly, not by much. It's not entirely unprecedented for a three-drop artifact with diminutive stats to draw so much critical acclaim. As recently as Shadows Over Innistrad, Pilgrim's Eye became a Standard star.
Skittering Surveyor is there for you when you're stuck on one of your two colors of mana. It's there for all of your gold cards and your spells with kicker. Sometimes, with a Tetsuko Umezawa in play, Skittering Surveyor is unblock able and deals lethal damage to your opponent. I once thought about equipping a Helm of the Host to a Skittering Surveyor even though I had other creatures in play.
Truly, there's nothing our little skittering friend can't do. Here's to the gold standard for Dominaria three-drops, the multipurpose 1/2 that we're probably going to use to chump block a few turns from now.
Once again, congratulations to GP Columbus champions Goldfarb, Magalhaes, and Baugh. And to everyone, enjoy exploring Dominaria!