Posted in GRAND PRIX SAN JOSE 2015 on January 31, 2015

By Marc Calderaro

This weekend will be wonky fun for many reasons, but for two main ones. First, it’s a new format. No one has yet played in this large of an event with the freshly minted Fate Reforged. Second, it’s team sealed—not the most common of formats. Though a fan favorite, it tests skills not often tested in other limited formats. And with somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,000 players here, it will be grand-scale wonkiness—including a team or two trying to run back a previous Grand Prix win (previous Grand Prix San Jose winner team Matt Sperling, (21) Paul Rietzl, and Dave Williams, for one). So just what the heck is going on?

Getting together into three-player teams is easy, but actually acting as a cohesive unit is much more difficult. Do all three players deck build the same? Can they communicate effectively to help each other? Does one player “go on tilt” after a loss and bring down the demeanor of the whole team? These are all relevant questions, and end up being reasons why teams shift members from tournament to tournament. Many teams here are 2/3s of a top-finishing team, with some fresh blood thrown in. (11) Sam Black and Matt Severa are now with Justin Cohen rather than Gaudenis Vidugiris; (4) Shahar Shenhar and (22) Tom Martell have replaced a now-behind-the-camera Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa with (23) Alex Hayne; and (14) Jacob Wilson and Matt Nass have swapped Jesse Hampton with Sam Pardee.

Luis Scott-Vargas, (12)Eric Froehlich, Paul Cheon

The teams sit down with twelve packs (six Fate Reforged, six Khans of Tarkir), then have precious little time to be three cogent, coherent, good decks. Often decks are built to suit the playstyle of the players (the aggro guy gets the aggro deck, etc.), but that’s only if the cards allow it.

After building, they play three best-two-of-three matches, side by side, with the first team to two match wins netting the win for the round. So, often you put the best communicator in the middle to efficiently offer help. But this has a down side. With too much communication from the middle seat (called Seat B), it can be distracting for the communicator’s actual match. So a balance must be struck not only in deck building and playing, but even the logistics of where the players sit. It’s tough. And that’s only one portion of the craziness in San Jose.

Dave Williams, Matt Sperling, (21)Paul Rietzl

Ok, so now Fate Reforged. Sometimes the second set doesn’t add too much to the format that wasn’t already there—there are much fewer cards than the first expansion, after all. But with the Khans of Tarkir block, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Fate Reforged is a powerhouse, in more ways than one. On the outset, each pack contains a different dual land (this can include the sought-after “fetchlands,” like Polluted Delta). This means that mana fixing for the often-three-color decks can be much easier. Mana was one of the biggest limiting factors in Khans–only Team Sealed, and though it’s still a concern, it’s not as difficult to calculate what colors you can play, giving more freedom to play what you want.

Fate Reforged is also very powerful. With marquee rares and mythic rares like Torrent Elemental, and high-quality uncommons like Pyrotechnics and Dragonscale General, these aren’t just cards that you slide into a Khans deck. They are good enough to shape decks around themselves, adding even more strategic depth to an already-depth-laden format.

Josh Cho, (18)Josh Utter-Leyton, David Ochoa

The combination of these factors coalesce in another changed element—allied color pairs. In Khans of Tarkir Team Sealed (and really any Khans format), though decks were often two colors, the colors were almost always enemy pairs (White-Black, or Blue-Green, for example). And the powerful three-color rares only pushed further toward that direction. But Fate Reforged provides the single-color cards necessary to support allied-color decks. Players were already talking about the power of White-Blue prowess (Mistfire Adept is some good), and Black-Red dash-based strategies (I’m sure Goblin Heelcutter will be front and center in those strategies). Providing even more options than Khans of Tarkir allowed alone.

More dual lands, allied colors, “wedge” color goodies, don’t tilt your team, also don’t talk to them too much. There’s a lot of stuff to keep in your head with Team Sealed, and especially Fate Reforged/Khans of Tarkir Team Sealed. All the decisions the teams make in the first hour of building will determine the rest of their day. Fate Reforged has offered more options, but with more options come more opportunities to mess it all up.

Which teams can both navigate the new cards and work harmoniously as a unit to end up on top? We’ll find out. This weekend is just getting started.