Though there are many important things happening this weekend—the first Grand Prix of 2016; the first Grand Prix with X-3s playing Day 2; the last Grand Prix of Battle for Zendikar Standard—for some, the most treasured aspect is yet to come.
At 5pm today the World Premiere Oath of the Gatewatch Two-Headed Giant Sealed tournament will begin! Teams have been qualifying all weekend, in Two-Headed Giant tournaments for the chance to be the first teams to try out a format a week before it's preleased to the public. The tournament will feature fewer than 20 teams—all of whom went 5-0 in their qualifying tournament. This was a great way to reintroduce people to the format where two players play as one, which will be a focus of the Oath of the Gatewatch Prerelease.
It is also a great way to be the first to open this:
Kozilek, the Great Distortion
Competing alongside the qualified players are celebrity teams, featuring teams like Luis Scott-Vargas and Paul Cheon, cosplayers Christine Sprankle and Ashlyn Rose, and Gaby Spartz and Andrew Baekstrom.
Players have been scrambling to play in these qualifiers, and the registration numbers have been going up and up with each qualifying tournament. For some, it's a chance to play with the new cards; for others, it's the chance to go up against some big names in Magic; but for many, it's just an excuse to play a unique, fun format with your friends.
For the Oath of the Gatewatch prelease, players will reacquaint themselves with how to work directly as a team—even more directly than in Team Limited or Team Constructed. Working out each turn together takes patience and the ability to work as a single mind.
I talked to two qualified teams, and a certain celebrity team, and found out about them and their experiences, and just what the heck they're expecting in this upcoming Oath of the Gatewatch Two-Headed Giant Sealed World Premiere.
Jackson Knorr and Pierson Laughlin
First up was the team of Jackson Knorr and Pierson Laughlin. They came to compete in the main event, but when they got in on Friday and saw that a Two-Headed Giant tournament was starting in a half-hour, they changed their Friday plans and suited up.
“We drove ten hours to get here, and we were playing within a half-hour.” Laughlin said.
“He really took one for the team. We got here, he didn't shower, and we just signed up.” Knorr said of Laughlin. “We didn't know it was going on, we thought, oh this looks fun.” They hadn't played the format before, but knew it was a great way to spend the Friday before a Grand Prix. It sure was.
Five rounds later, with Laughlin still unshowered, they found themselves qualified for the big tournament. They were both excited—about the tournament and the format in general. “I'm a big fan; I had never played it before,” they echoed.
As far as strategies go, they had certainly learned some tricks of the trade in the five rounds. “Allies are broken, and the free mulligans are really helpful,” Laughlin said.
His partner continued his thought, saying, “We could actually play a fewer lands because of the free mulligans.”
Finishing up, I asked what their strategy would be when they face Luis Scott-Vargas and Paul Cheon. Knorr stone-faced me and said, “Same as anyone else.”
These two are ready. Not just for later today, but they'll also have a leg up for the Oath of the Gatewatch Prerelease this Friday.
Grant Brown and Ben Selski
The next team I caught up with, in between rounds of the main event, was Grant Brown and Ben Selski, from right here in California. Though this is the first time they've played Two-Headed Giant, they've been drafting together for a long time.
“We draft online, kind of together—mostly Cube. Just talking about picks and that sort of thing.” Selski told me. This is despite the fact that they no longer live in the same half of the state.
One of the duo has moved to Northern California, so they've been using the phone to discuss different strategies and help each other. They said this experience made deckbuilding and playing a snap. They were really on the same page.
“At first, we complained about our Sealed pool, because there wasn't anything broken in Two-Headed Giant.” Selski said. For example, they said cards like Nettle Drone get a lot better when there are two players casting spells. But they soon realized some things that make Two-Headed Giant different.
“Though we didn't get the power cards, the synergies are off the charts!” Brown said. He continued that things like the enter-the-battlefield-tapped lands, like Looming Spires, can trigger your teammates things which can be a game changer.
And both Brown and Selski stressed the importance of working as a unit. “I really think it was teamwork and strategy that was the difference ... We were totally on the same page.” Selski said.
And when you're working as a unit, “it's like playing a four-color deck with better mana,” Brown echoed.
Brown continued, “He played the control role, I played the aggressive role, and for every play, we played together.” He stressed that is much better than just having one person direct all the action. “He noticed things I missed, and I noticed things he missed.” It truly was team decision making.
They had some advice for others this weekend and beyond for Two-Headed Giant. Brown said, “Resources become way more important. We learned that you should lean on one player specifically, like, with your discard spells. Because that will make the partner have to expend all their resources covering for him.” To the Brown-Selski team, if you can used just enough resources to make the opponent inefficiently use theirs, you can make them run out of gas well before the finish line. Because the game will end once you've out resourced your opponents.
“Also, always ingest the same player. So you open up the alternate milling win condition.”
When I asked if they were excited to play with Oath of the Gatewatch, Brown almost cut me off exclaiming, “Definitely!”
Paul Cheon and Luis Scott-Vargas
The last team I talked to was the marquee team of the event, Pro Tour Hall of Fame member Luis Scott-Vargas and streamer extraordinaire Paul Cheon. (You know they're friends in real life, too.) Though Paul's competing in the main event and LSV is in the coverage booth, they are both ready for the World Premiere tournament.
Well, “ready” might be a stretch.
Cheon opened, “The last time I played Two-Headed Giant was ... Pro Tour San Diego. Was that 2007?”
“Yes, it was 2007.” Scott-Vargas answered.
But though their grasp on the specific format might be a little rusty, their powers of teamwork have never been tighter. Which is key for the format. “You can't argue—never argue.” Scott-Vargas said. “If you argue in front of your opponents, you're giving away information.” He summed up by saying, “You need to be a united front.”
And they have some good tips for card evaluation for the players today, and for you on Friday. “It's such an unexplored format, so people will be wildly off on their card evaluations.” Cheon said.
“Cards like Dispel and Negate go up, because there are two players casting spells like that.” Scott-Vargas followed. “And cards that target opponents, cards like Mindraker, shoot way up because you make each opponent discard a card.” That's pretty huge.
And Scott-Vargas added, “Your teammate can exile, while you process,” which also opens up crazy building strategies.
They are both very excited to play today. “The format's lots of fun, and you play with a lot of different cards than you normally would.”
The World Premiere Oath of the Gatewatch Two-Headed Giant Sealed will start today at 5pm. These are just a few of the teams whole will be competing, and they're ready for the glory, and ready to cast some cards with diamond shapes in the casting cost.
Remember the tips. Work as a team, looking for synergies, and don't argue; Don't break the oath.
Paul Cheon and Luis Scott-Vargas