Posted in GRAND PRIX NASHVILLE 2014 - COVERAGE - EVENTS on November 1, 2014

By Marc Calderaro

If you're new to the tournament Magic scene, or a sporadic spectator, you can be forgiven for not knowing the intricacies of Magic Team Sealed tournaments. "But Marc, isn't Magic an individual game, with multiplayer formats relegated to the kitchen tables, and coffee tables, and the like?" Why no, invented straw man! Though less common, team tournaments have a long and storied history in the Grand Prix halls. However this format is a touch different than your usual multiplayer, crazy brawl.

Team formats require a team of three players (registered at the beginning of the event, no changing your team halfway through the tournament) to construct three different decks to be played against three opponents simultaneously, in three separate two-out-of-three matches. Each internal match win earns the overall team 1 point. To win the round, the team's players must get at least 2 points of internal matches.

Grand Prix Portland Finalists Luis Scott-Vargas, Eric Froehlich, Paul Cheon

For example if Team ABC is against Team DEF, A plays D, B plays E, and C plays F in a tournament-standard format. If A defeats D 2-1, E defeats B 2-0, and C defeats F 2-0-1, Team ABC will win the match. A beat D and C beat F, netting Team ABC two points; and E beat B netting Team DEF one point. Team ABC wins 2-1.

Each team is free to communicate with other team members about playing strategy as well. So having strong teammates to consult in tough situations is a bonus. But that brings its own challenges. Former Player of the Year Brad Nelson (who is teaming up with coverage whizzes Zac Hill and Jacob Van Lunen at this event) has a great story where he made a purposefully suboptimal attack against Matt Costa solely to confuse him. This forced Costa to focus on his match against Nelson, and not be able to help his other team members in their matches at a critical juncture.

This format truly rewards being able to play as a cohesive team.

So there are already strategic play wrinkles, but the sealed format in itself adds s additional deck-construction strategy changes. Each team receives twelve booster packs, and has one hour to build three separate decks from the conglomerated pool. This includes assigning sideboard cards to individual decks as well.

Josh Utter-Leyton, Josh Cho, Gerry Thompson

In the three-color-oriented Khans of Tarkir world, this can be taxing. If there is a strong Mardu deck and a strong Jeskai deck, how do the red and white cards get split? Which deck needs more top end? Which deck needs more removal? It's very easy to build two strong decks from twelve booster packs, but it's building a good third deck, without poaching too much from the other decks that proves the toughest challenge.

Additionally, the constraint of dual lands is another worry. Usually, teams will divvy up the good removal and bombs among the decks to maximize the strength of each deck. With Khans of Tarkir, lands become a third group of cards to split. Scoured Barrens goes in a variety of decks, but which deck gets it? With twelve packs, teams will definitely get some non-basic lands, but it is an inevitable pinch point. Players must keep a very tight grasp of their mana constraints when building if they don't want to take unnecessary mulligans and lose unnecessary games to bad mana.

Lastly, you can't build your decks like a regular Sealed deck. Because each team has tons of packs at their disposal, the relative power level of each deck is higher than individual Sealed. Big, bomby cards are commonplace. If someone's playing a controlling deck with white, chances are halfway decent that End Hostilities might be somewhere in the deck. So you have to adjust your strategy, and your own deck building, accordingly.

The weekend will proceed like this:

Day 1(Saturday) – Nine rounds with one twelve-pack sealed pool. Teams with records of 7-2 or better will advance.

Day 2(Sunday Morning) – Five rounds with a second twelve-pack sealed pool. The top four teams advance to the Top 4.

Top 4(Sunday Afternoon) – The top four teams split into two semifinal draft pods and team draft, then play each other. The winning team from each semifinal advances to the finals and sit for a second team draft pod, then play the finals to determine the Grand Prix Nashville champion team.

Now, team draft has its own interesting issues and strategies that we will discuss further tomorrow. But let's leave it at Team Sealed for the time being. With the first fifteen rounds as Team Sealed, the next 36 hours will be inundated with Sealed.

There is tons of strategy and tons of Magic to come. So strap in, and ready yourselves for a weekend of joint Magic.