Team Sealed Deck Construction with Stark, (3) Turtenwald, (5) Duke

Posted in Event Coverage on November 12, 2016

By Tobi Henke

You just don't get more talent into one three-person team than with these guys. And experience with Team Limited too! Ben Stark, a Pro Tour champion with another three Top 8s to his name, was voted into the Hall of Fame three years ago, and he continued racking up more and more Grand Prix Top 8s to this day. Just two weeks ago, he made his twentieth at Grand Prix Warsaw.

This year Stark was joined in the Hall of Fame by Owen Turtenwald, a former Player of the Year and a Worlds finalist with, so far, 21 career Top 8s at the Grand Prix level and four on the Pro Tour, currently ranked No. 3 in the world. Third on their roster was No. 5 Reid Duke who, at 18 Grand Prix Top 8s and two Pro Tour Top 8s, had himself embarked on a career that might one day culminate in a Hall of Fame induction.

In the past, Duke and Turtenwald had usually teamed up with Hall of Famer William Jensen, forming a fearsome force responsible for three Team GP Top 4s including a win in Portland in 2014. Stark had previously made the Top 4 at two Team GPs together with yet more Hall of Famers like Luis Scott-Vargas, Shuhei Nakamura, and Eric Froehlich.

So when picking a team whose deckbuilding process I wanted to watch, Stark, Turtenwald, and Duke were somewhat of an obvious choice …

From left to right: (3) Owen Turtenwald, Ben Stark, (5) Reid Duke

Once the registration process and requisite deck swap was done, things began, as always, with the sorting of the cards. It soon became apparent that their card pool was unusually light on red playables but featured heavy blue and green.

Stark quickly threw together a first draft of white-black, which would remain virtually unchanged throughout deck construction. Unchanged, but not unchallenged. Turtenwald suggested red-white as an alternative; Stark just pointed at his two Glint-Sleeve Artisan, two Cogworker's Puzzleknot, two Weaponcraft Enthusiast, to go along with two Ninth Bridge Patrol and two Eliminate the Competition, and the two colors stayed where they were.

Meanwhile, Turtenwald had picked up the green cards as well as the team's quadruplet of Renegade Freighter and was now adding a few red cards like Thriving Grubs and Voltaic Brawler. They didn't know yet what to do with the blue cards, however. Duke laid out the cards, tried white-blue, then blue-black which became the focus of everyone's attention for a while.

"I'm a little worried about this deck," said Turtenwald. "It does have a strong late game," said Stark. Turtenwald pointed at Thriving Rats, a pair of Thriving Turtles, and two copies of Die Young. "I know you want some early plays. I just don't know whether these are the early plays that you want."

"I think Turtle is uncuttable from this deck," Stark declared. Metalspinner's Puzzleknot was another card that was heavily contested. Said Turtenwald, "At 2 and 3 mana you need cards that help you to survive, to get to the late game. At least I want to give this deck our Tidy Conclusion."

Stark was reluctant to have the removal spell taken from his white-black, but agreed to it eventually. The correct number of lands for the blue-black deck, eighteen or seventeen, also became a topic of debate.

"I want to play Inventors' Fair," said Duke, even though the deck had very few artifacts. "I can search for Torrential Gearhulk and these all make two artifacts," he explained, pointing out Saheeli's Artistry and a pair of Experimental Aviators."

Inventors' Fair stayed and Duke turned to me. "Can you write down that I won an argument? For once?"

Now the players' attention shifted to Turtenwald's red-green. Stark and Turtenwald had a disagreement over whether he should run Narnam Cobra as his seventh 2-drop or Weldfast Monitor as his seventh 3-drop.

"I'm worried I might get stuck with all of these being useless when I fall too far behind," said Cobra proponent Turtenwald, pointing at his Renegade Freighters and several copies of Hunt the Weak. Stark countered with the Freighters themselves. "With these you're always going to be ahead."

For now both Narnam Cobra and Weldfast Monitor made the cut …

"But I think I want to have seventeen lands," said Turtenwald and pointed at Key to the City. Spark of Creativity was considered as a 24th card to help find a land in a pinch but was ultimately discarded. As was Weldfast Monitor.

The players had quite easily settled into white-black, red-green, and blue-black at this point. But Duke warned: "We still need to double check alternative options. Should we maybe look at green-blue?"

Turtenwald and Stark figured that there really was no need. "I mean we looked at white-blue, red-white …" said Stark.

Turtenwald summed up the process so far: "Well, this [white-black] deck built itself. Red-green made sense because all the cards lend themselves to be in an aggressive deck … …"

"And then we basically had a mono-blue deck," Stark continued. Turtenwald sighed. "Yeah, what to do with blue …"

But they were happy with the set up they had found now, and went to build mana bases. Here it was Turtenwald who first realized how green his deck really was.

"Actually, this is close to a mono-green deck with Voltaic Brawler," said Turtenwald, putting to rest any doubts about not checking out green-blue. "This gives me additional confidence that we found the right configuration. There just was no other way we could have built this."

"I think my deck will be an underdog in every game where I don't draw Eliminate the Competition," said Stark. "But when I do … Sacrifice my three 1/1s, kill your three real creatures, turn my 1/1 [Ninth Bridge Patrol] into a 4/4 …"

Turtenwald considered his deck to be "pretty strong. It's slightly above average and power-wise it's probably our worst."

While Duke said about his, "It's good. Above average, I guess. The control decks are usually the ones I'm least excited about. But this one's good."

Ben Stark's White-Black

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(3) Owen Turtenwald's Red-Green

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(5) Reid Duke's Blue-Black

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