Christian Seibold and the Gräfensteiner brothers Daniel and Tobias are uniquely positioned to do well in this weekend's competition. They are the reigning European Team Grand Prix champions, having won the tournament in Barcelona a little more than a year ago. I wanted to learn a thing or two about the approach to a successful team event, so I sat down with them.
My first question was how to find the right teammates (as they had clearly done). We have seen that some teams come together somewhat spontaneously, e.g. the team of Zan Syed, Branco Neirynck, and Joseph Sclauzero (See Previous Article). As it turned out, the Gräfensteiners and Seibold couldn't really help me on that end. The main reason why they teamed up was that they had known each other for about thirteen years. Or maybe that was, in fact, the recipe for success?
In any case, this event marked the fourth time that they attended a Team Grand Prix together, and they never had any doubt that this was the right move.
All About Preparation
On to the next question: How do you prepare for a team event?
This time, they had some valuable input, telling me that they played a lot of individual Limited leading up to the event (as opposed to team events). They had done the same for Grand Prix Barcelona. Then, Christian came especially well prepared since he just finished in the Top 8 of Pro Tour Born of the Gods, an event that took place just a week before.
Christian Seibold put it this way: "If you are familiar with the cards and tricks, that will suffice. Eventually, you will get a feel for the right deck and the right cards."
Seibold admitted that very often this only happens after a lot of games in a given format. Tobias Gräfensteiner put it a little more bluntly, referring to teams that only construct decks out of Sealed pools instead of actually playing with them: "If someone has built ten bad decks, their eleventh deck won't be much better. You need to play with the cards and test together with other good players to get a better grip on the format."
This also seems to be the only way to convince one's teammates of the utility of specific cards. You need to show them that a card is as good as you say. According to the Gräfensteiners, it's very rare that one can convince someone with words only.
Left to right: Daniel Gräfensteiner, Christian Seibold, Tobias Gräfensteiner
Today marked only the second occasion that the Germans have opened a Team Sealed pool in the current format. They said it wasn't much of a disadvantage, though. "The only difference it makes is that it's harder for us to tell whether the pool is really strong or not." Tobias added (with a smirk) that the main advantage of being familiar with a format's typical Team Sealed pool was that one could complain more easily about one's own pool being too weak.
At the end of the day, they were happy enough with what they got this morning. They felt confident that they could advance to the Top 4 again, despite taking a loss in the third round.
Playing to Their Individual Strengths
Another thing to keep in mind is that one should try to distribute the decks in a way that will play to each team member's individual strengths. Daniel Gräfensteiner admitted to not being the biggest fan of red-black decks, so his friends gave him something a little slower.
The opposite seems to be the case for Tobias, who prefers to go for a more aggressive approach, whereas Christian Seibold feels confident with whatever is being handed to him.
When asked whether they liked the current Sealed format, Daniel Gräfensteiner admitted that he preferred some of the older formats. Christian Seibold was indifferent, for him the format didn't seem to matter that much as long as he got to play a lot of Magic.
The Biggest Challenge in Team Sealed
I also wanted to know whether they felt it was more important to build the decks correctly or to play them correctly. No clear winner here; they all felt like both disciplines were equally important.
They pointed out, however, that fewer of the veterans were complaining about their respective pools. "They just accept them for what they are and make the most of them." To them it looked as if less experienced players often focus too much on what cards they are handed instead of taking their chances and seeing how far they can go.
Their personal strength was the deck construction. "There might be quite a lot of guys out there that play better than us, but we're very happy with the decks we've put together."
I played devil's advocate and asked if there were any cards they wanted to replace after three rounds, but they said that they had made the right choices. Had we asked that same question back in Barcelona, it might have been a different story, though. Back then, Christian had around six playable cards in his sideboard and those cuts had been very difficult. In a few games, one of those six would have been better as a main-deck inclusion, but overall, they all felt like they made the correct choices then too.
The Right Frame of Mind
I tried to bring up this slightly painful subject again, asking the guys about their state of mind after taking a loss due to the fact that they left a particular card in their sideboard.
They gave it some thought and said that they had pondered over the 23rd card for almost half an hour. "No matter what happens later on, we made a very conscious decision and that means it doesn't make sense to break your head over it."
The three of them were clearly unfazed by their early loss. Seibold stated: "We have to be beaten three times over the course of the weekend, so we still have a very good shot!"
With that, the three turned their heads (held high) toward the future, getting ready for the challenges in front of them rather than looking back at the round they just lost.