Walking the floor of a Magic Grand Prix is a wonderful and unique experience. Crossing paths with old friends you haven't seen in years, meeting new friends you'll see again year after year, and all over our mutual love of a game called Magic that happens to be celebrating its 25th birthday this year. Exactly as Dr. Richard Garfield intended.
There was plenty to do here today, between the side events and artist signings with RK Post and Adam Paquette, but of course, almost everyone was here to play Team Unified Modern.
A Modern Primer
Magic is a game you can play in many different ways, so on the off-chance you're less familiar with Modern than most of the players here this weekend, I reached out late last week to one of Australia's most respected Magic players, Patty Robertson, to get you a quick run-down on the format.
Patty first came to our attention when he finished 2nd at Grand Prix Melbourne in 2014, and has frequently been seen around the top tables since then. Once Patty got to jotting down his thoughts on the format, he decided to whip them together into an article published a few days ago on the popular Australia Magic humour website he's a frequent contributor for – GasMTG. I've picked through it for the tl;dr here.
Chester Swords, Patty Robertson, and Joseph Sclauzero have teamed together this weekend.
Unlike other older non-rotating formats, Modern doesn't have Force of Will to keep some of the more explosive strategies in line, so it's a format that rewards being proactive rather than reactive. Linear strategies like Uldrazi-Tron, Storm, and Dredge that largely ignore their opponent tend to define the format. Aggressive decks try to be faster than the linear strategies, either by disrupting their progress, the way Humans and Death's Shadow can, or by being too difficult to interact with, like Affinity, Hollow One, and Boggles.
Despite this, "fair decks" remain popular in Modern, too. Fair decks fall into two categories: decks that can play Thoughtseize, usually represented by Jund, and decks that run Snapcaster Mage like W/U and U/R Control, delaying their opponents with counter magic and often having some kind of combo finish to taste.
The most linear strategies in Modern often have powerful sideboard cards that can be deployed to counter them, but because there are so many different viable decks you can play in Modern, it's often difficult to find space in your sideboard for everything you might need. Something Patty recommended was playing more flexible sideboard cards that have applications across more matchups so that you're not left with half a sideboard that sees no play on the day. For example, Dispel is worse against Storm than something like Arcane Laboratory, you'll be able to use Dispel against more of your opponents than you than you will an Arcane Laboratory.
Modern recently saw Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf returning from the Modern banned list, but Patty felt that both cards would have far less impact now than they did when they were first sent away for bad behaviour. Tapping out for either of them on turn four might not be nearly as effective as the Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger your opponent was about to play.
I asked whether Patty felt that the Team Unified Modern format would differ greatly for regular Modern, but Patty felt that given the diversity of the metagame, there wouldn't be enough of an overlap between the decks for it to be much of a problem. Most teams would probably have an Ancient Stirrings deck, a Thoughtseize deck, and a third deck that doesn't clash with the first two.
With that, though, Patty's most important advice was to stick with what you know. Modern is a very diverse format and it's difficult to know how a tournament of this size will react to the return of Jace and Bloodbraid Elf. Playing a deck you're familiar with is likely to serve you far better than switching to something new and untested the night before.
The Importance of Proper Team Communication
Less than a year ago, we held another Team Grand Prix in this very hall, and standing tall after defeating a team in the finals that included Hall of Famer Yuuya Watanabe were Jim Wilks, Simon Lunabury, and Ivan Schroder. I feel like it's generally my job to lurk around the Australian Magic scene on social media, and that paid off when I saw this tweet a week ago from Wilks:
About to do our refresher on team communication for the Grand Prix - obviously I thought it was at 12pm, and everyone else at 12:30pm.— James Wilks (@ForceOfWilks) April 7, 2018
Off to a great start 🙃
I had questions! Firstly, teams get together and talk about things that aren't the format at hand? And based on the word "refresher" it sounds like they've even done it before?! You see, Team Events in Magic are different. You can talk to your team mates and discuss plays across the three matches, and it's that dynamic that often puts Team Events at the top of many Magic Player's "Best Ever!" lists. But to get together and discuss this ahead of time? Crikey! Wilks gave us the low-down on what they discussed at these meetings.
- When/When Not to Communicate.
The obvious advantage in a team format is that three heads on a difficult decision is better than one, but there can also be a cost to having all eyes on a problem. Your team mates have their own games to worry about, and taking their attention away from their own game to look at yours can have an impact the overall success of the other matches at the table. The team discussed when to ask for assistance, and when to just let each other play.
- Type of Questions to Ask.
You have the most context in the match you're playing. Asking "what should I do here?" demands your teammate take in everything they see on the board and in your hand and evaluate the situation from scratch, which could be a drain on the memory they're devoting to their own game. The team discussed which questions were productive and which weren't.
GP Sydney 2017 Winners: Ivan Schroder, Jim Wilks, and Simon Lunabury.
For example, in Team Unified Modern, you might be facing a deck that one of your teammates is also playing. Asking that teammate what they think your opponent is most likely to sideboard is drawing on the kind of information your teammate is already carrying around with them for the day and much less of a distraction. In a team draft, you could ask your teammate if they happened to see any cards in the draft that your opponent might be able to play with their available mana this turn, or just as a sanity check on whether you might be walking into an obvious trap in the format you hadn't thought of.
- How the Team Prefers to Interact in a Match.
Everyone is different, and so figuring out how each of you likes to communicate while playing before the big day helps avoid uncomfortable situations that could ruin the team dynamic, and can help you shortcut how you all communicate with each other. You can also determine who likes to talk a lot and who doesn't, and seat the members of the team accordingly to make sure Chatterbox isn't on the left talking across Concentration Face in the middle to help out Ol' Laughs-a-Lot on the right.
- How to Manage Tilt.
When things don't go our way it can be frustrating, and how each of us manages that (or doesn't!) is different. Knowing how each member of the team reacts to these situations can help mitigate them before they get out of hand. This can require a lot of initial self-reflection and introspection, but is very much better done before you're all at the table and half way through a match.
- Communication Leaks.
You're not the only ones at the table. Reacting to what your teammate draws could be as good as writing it down on a piece of paper and passing it across the table to the opposing team. Communicating with each other during games also exposes the team to risk by giving away crucial information the opposing team does not yet know. Making sure the team knows how to avoid leaking important information through action, or even inaction, is important.
Team Events are some of the most fun you can have playing Magic with your friends, but they can also be some of the most challenging. Discussing this kind of stuff with your friends before the event can only help you all get the most out of your Team Event!
How Day One Played Out
We started the morning with exactly 350 teams, which was a nice round number, and gave us well over a thousand players playing Team Unified Modern in the main event this weekend. But in a Magic tournament, nice round numbers don't get to stay that way, so we soon had the teams facing off in 3v3 combat to see if we couldn't narrow the field down before Day 2 tomorrow.
By the time we reached Round 7 of 8 today, there were 56 teams left in contention for Day 2, and only four teams left undefeated, which suggested we'd have a nice and tidy finish with one undefeated team left in the clear at the top of the standings. Outside of that, it looked like teams would need no more than two losses if they wanted to play in the main event again tomorrow.
Teams continued to fall as we entered Round 8. The last two undefeated teams took their seats at table 1: Chester Swords, Patty Robertson, and Joseph Sclauzero vs Jonathan Venturi, Benny Yau, and Mathieu Beaujard.
Round 8, Table 1: Beaujard, Yau, and Venturi with their backs to the camera, Sclauzero, Robertson, and Swords across from them.
It wasn't terribly long before Venturi, Yau, and Beaujard were all up a game, but it was Robertson who was the first to equalise at 1-1, taking his Hollow One deck to Game 3 against Yau's Dredge deck. Beaujard was the first to put a W on the board for his team, defeating Sclauzro in the Humans mirror, but Robertson again evened up the overall score beating Yau, and it was down to Venturi's Titanshift vs Swords with Mono-Green Tron.
Swords assembled a set of Urza's lands and powered out Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, and Venturi thumped a Primeval Titan onto the table to contest it. Swords came back over the top with Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, which happily dined on the Titan, but Venturi already had what he needed, throwing almost all of his lands through a Scapeshift and dealing 32 damage to Swords with his Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, leaving Venturi, Yau, and Beaujard the sole remaining undefeated team going into Day 2!
As the standings at the end of Day 1 went up, we were down to just 45 teams advancing to Day 2. There were plenty of well-known players barely missing the cut, like Yoshihiko Ikawa, Tomoharu Saito, and Takuma Morofuji, as well as Lee Shi Tian, Kelvin Chew, and Tzu Ching Kuo, but many more will continue chasing Venturi, Yau, and Beaujard as they all climb towards the Top 4 playoffs. Notable teams playing tomorrow include Chester Swords, Patty Robertson, and Joseph Sclauzero, who are joined at 7-1 by last year's finalist Yuuya Watanabe, with his teammates Ken Yukuhiro, and Kazuyuki Takimura, as well as last year's winners, Jim Wilks, Simon Linabury, and Ivan Schroder, and New Zealanders Zen Takahashi, Jason Chung, and Phoenix Taku.
On 18 points going into Day 2 with an outside shot at the playoffs are GP Melbourne 2016 Champion David Mines, along with Matthew Anderson and Australia's long lost Magic Son, The Ben Seck. GP Brisbane 2013 Champion Justin Robb, who teamed with Jake Hart and Michael Maurici. GP Sydney 2014 Champion Paul Jackson, who was joined by Huang Hao Shan and Nam Sung Wook.
With what seems like a local Grand Prix Champion somewhere in the line-up of every other team playing tomorrow, Day 2 is going to be in tents!
* squints at cue card *
Oh I'm terribly sorry, my mistake, it's going to be intense! I was going to say, this is a convention centre, not a camp site.
Day 1 Undefeated Profiles
Benny Yau, Mathieu Beaujard, and Jonathan Venturi are the last remaining undefeated team at the end of Day 1.
Name: Benny Yau
Hometown: Hong Kong
Deck: Assault Loam / Dredge
Favourite Card in Modern: Eldrazi Displacer
Name: Mathieu Beaujard
Favourite Card in Modern: Spell Queller
Name: Jonathan Venturi
Favourite Card in Modern: Valakut!!