The Grand Prix Team Sealed day starts like no other Grand Prix. Because of pool registrations, pool verifications, then an extra-long (sixty-minute) deck building period, the teams are seated for a few hours before they get into the first match-up.
During this time, the only sounds in the tournament room are the booming voice of head judge Jared Sylva, and the hushed tones at the team tables deciphering how best to build their complex pools. Even with the "additional" time to build the decks, every team is crunched to make sure everything is set right and properly registered. Precious few, if any, teams finish early and leave their table to chat amongst their friends. Pros who usually discuss their draft or sealed build jovially in the time before the first round, are intent and focused.
"We're going to take the full sixty minutes to build," were the only words out of No. 4 Reid Duke when reached to say a few words about the building process. His Grand Prix Portland champion team of (1) Owen Turtenwald and (9) William Jensen sat, quietly discussing their build.
Because of this extraordinary silence, the best way to get the feel of the room is just to move from table to table. You can get strong whiffs and wafts of strategy just by looking and listening. Random declarations like, "I'm considering Jeskai pointless," from Jensen as he shoves the tricolors aside, is the best you can get.
(18) Tom Martell, (20) Shahar Shenhar, and Pro Tour Hall of Fame member Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa make up one of the more favored teams in the room. They were incessantly going back and forth on builds, sometimes even no-verbally communicating.
"You build Jeskai now; you can take some of this blue." Shenhar said to Paulo. What seemed in the same breath, Martell was saying to Paulo, "I think we can build both a Mardu and an Abzan deck." Paulo agreed, and moved his red creatures—already aligned in mana-cost order—into an imaginary red zone to showcase what he could bring to the Mardu or Jeskai deck. The three players worked like clockwork at the task at hand, then double-backed to figured out which colors were actually deep enough to split into what decks. "This deck is a million cards; it doesn't need all of them," Martell said as the team re-split the piles.
A few tables over, "Do I want to maindeck this card?" Chris VanMeter asked of his teammate Brian Braun-Duin. "No, that deck wants it." He pointed to third teammate Michael Majors' list. The team then readjusted again.
There is a lot of doubling back in Team Sealed deck construction. There's also a lot of space adjustment. Teams are constantly folding up deck lists and tucking them under tables numbers, piling and unpiling cards to be considered and reconsidered, and even shifting around players in a verse of magical chairs. There's an air of nervousness to the furtive movements.
Pro Tour champions (17) Alex Hayne and Craig Wescoe, along with Grand Prix champ Frank Skarren, starting moving around their seats to figure out who should play which build, and to get extra eyes on each deck. The scuffle of metal chair legs on the ground and few steps around the table added to the general murmur of the room.
Wescoe said, "We have a good Temur deck, it's just a matter of how many cards we can ship to other decks." This kind of talk was constant. With three-color-based cards, there's always a lot of power somewhere, but teams need to find what had an embarrassment of riches that could be passed around to other decks.
Another constant is the lands. As Josh Cho told me later, "My deck would be completely unplayable without the lands." His teammate Gerry Thompson nodded his head vigorously in assent. Some teams go so far as to lay out the multi-colored cards and the lands together, and start building their decks from there. Sam Black, Gaudenis Vidugiris, and Matt Severa set about building one step further. One player was looking at all the lands, and another at all the multi-colored cards.
With Wescoe's team, Skarren opined, after having three almost-completed decks laid out, "We're going to be leaving these six lands on the table?" The team hadn't really considered a green-and-white build, but had four lands that produced green and white. Hayne added, "I'm just sad we're leaving this out," and pointed to a Duneblast. The team immediately went into the tank and started rearranging cards. Is leaving out a card like that ever right? This is what the team had to consider.
Another tough challenge is making sure the third deck is as good as it needs to be. Passing around some of the powerful cards to the least powerful deck can be all-important. Utterances like, "This deck just looks pretty bad," from Grand Prix winner Nathan Holliday to his team, and, "Yeah, this deck looks like trash," from Grand Prix winner Roberto Berni to his Texan teammates were extremely common.
David Ochoa to his teammates Andrew Cuneo and Brock Parker could be heard saying, "This card's just not good, this card's 'eh;' if it's taking away two cards from you it's not worth it," then changing accordingly.
But sometimes you just need the filler to get there. Poach some good cards from the overly strong decks and fill out the mana curve. "There's some mediocre black cards here if you need it," Cuneo said while handing a pile of cards to his teammate. "Mediocre" often translates into "Good enough."
As the minutes counted down, the race was on. And because all the decks then need to be transcribed, and all the sideboard cards need to be split among three individual sideboards, the last ten minutes should be solely deck registering—not building. But that doesn't mean people aren't scrambling to change a few last cards in the last few minutes. Tons of decks have notes scribbled out and rescribbled to help mark final-moment audibles.
Few teams will have the perfect 120 cards in each maindeck. Heck some teams will realize they completely misbuilt an entire deck or two. The sixty minutes is sufficient time, but not generous.
There's a reason that the room is so silent. But the errant whispers and outbursts can give you a strong feel of just what's going on.