Teams gradually peeled away from the Main Event as it got closer and closer to the Top 4 playoffs, afforded many teams the opportunity to explore the rest of what Grand Prix events have to offer. There was a Team Pro Tour Qualifier for the 25th Anniversary Pro Tour coming up later this year, more side events than you could shake a bent stick at, and countless other casual gatherings for people to enjoy. I thought I'd walk the hall today and ask people about what sets Team Events apart for them from other events.
What does Team Magic mean to you?
Anyone who has ever played Team Magic of any kind, whether it be Two-Headed Giant or a Team Trios event like we have here in Sydney this weekend, they will tell you it's some of the most fun they've ever had playing Magic. But why is that? Most people probably don't give it too much thought, not wanting to look the Team Magic Gift Horse in the Mouth, but I thought I'd ask some of the players here this weekend what Team Magic means to them?
Cole Swannack, Miroslav Shaynin, and Matthew Griffin.
Swannack: "I love not always having to finish my games because these guys finish first."
Shaynin: "It's great going 2-5 and still making Day 2 because Griff will always win!"
Griffin: "I really like the seat-selection metagame. We figured out what the Level 1 plan was as far as where you seat your archetypes, and then went with the Level 2 plan."
Shaynin: "Then we ran into a bunch of geniuses who were on an entirely different Level, anyway, haha!"
Justin "Juzza" Cheung, Jack Ding, William Lou.
All three: "Jack getting carried!" followed by much laughter.
Lou: "Team events are the true spirit of the game," which caused more giggling from the others.
Ding: "It's about the stories we get to share together, and Juzza winning absurd matches that he shouldn't."
Jeremy Neeman, Isaac Egan, John-Paul Kelly.
Egan: "Team events are just fun. You get to hang out with your old mates."
Neeman: "You win or lose as a team, which makes the wins so much more rewarding and the losses something you can share."
Egan: "Except when you're the reason the team loses, that's awkward."
Kelly: "Team events pull the Neemans out of retirement." (Neeman is now an actual doctor working in an actual hospital with people who probably need him.)
Egan, summing everything up: "They're more fun because you win together."
Building a Team Unified Modern Line-Up
Team Unified Constructed events come with an additional restriction: one deck cannot share any cards with another. For example, if one deck has a single Rest in Peace in its sideboard, there cannot be any more Rest in Peace's in either of the other two decks. Luckily, with Modern, this is less complicated than it sounds. As far as formats go, Modern boasts one of the widest variety of viable decks for a team to choose from. I thought I'd ask some of the teams this weekend how they approached choosing their decks and seating their players.
The Ben Seck, David Mines, and Matthew Anderson discuss their plays.
I chatted with Ben Seck at the start of Day 2 about their line-up. He described how they started with Matt Anderson on some kind of Blue Control deck in the middle seat because he was the most experienced with Modern, and because that archetype was where he was strongest. They knew they also wanted a Humans deck, because they felt it was the best deck in the format, and from there, all they needed was a third deck that didn't clash with the first two.
Seck began testing Black-Red Hollow One on Magic Online, but figured he was either doing something wrong or it just wasn't the deck for him when he went 3-2 in seven consecutive Modern Leagues with the deck. From there he tried Krark-Clan Ironworks Combo, and found that more to his liking, which resulted in a line-up that took them to Day 2 with a 6-2 record overall.
Out of Ryan Lewis-Jonns, Lachlan Saunders, and Jessica Estephan, can you guess which of them would be most likely voted Team Clown?
Jessica Estephan was quick to explain that they had decided Humans and Black-Red Hollow One were the best decks in the format, and that it was just a matter of figuring out what their third deck was. In the end, they decided Mono-Green Tron had the best matchups against what they expected people to bring in their line-ups and went with that. They also seated Lewis-Jonns in the middle as he was the most experienced in the format, and he would be able to keep an eye on the matches either side of him.
Matt Rogers continues running the show for Dirk Crasto and Nick Barlow, even while posing for their photo.
Recognising Matt Rogers' handwriting across all three decklists submitted by their team, I figured he'd made a lot of the decisions around their line-up, which he cheerfully admitted to. Rogers himself was playing Blue Moon, because he felt it had great matchups against Humans, Tron, and Affinity, and they put Nick Barlow on Humans because they figured someone had to be playing the best deck and it would be silly not to. After that, they knew they needed a third deck that didn't rely on the Lightning Bolts Rogers was using.
Crasto tested Vengevine and G/X Tron variants decks but didn't feel comfortable with either, instead going with Living End because it had great matchups against Affinity, Tron, and was at least even with Humans. Given Rogers was calling the shots, they naturally sat him in the middle seat.
So it certainly seemed like most teams knew what two of their three decks would be early on, and set out to find a third deck that both complimented their line-up, as well as their individual play styles. Seating more experienced players in the middle was common, and most people felt that there wasn't much point in trying to metagame where they seated their deck archetypes. The most important thing seems to be making sure a team had chemistry and could enjoy the thrill of the competition together!
The Final Round
It was very clear at this point in the tournament that Jonathan Venturi, Benny Yau, and Mathieu Beaujard would be leading the field into the Top 4 after their undefeated run on Day 1. Going into Round 14 they were 3 points clear of any other team. They would have to lose this round and James O'Rourke, Jacob Golding, and Aidan Frisch would have to win their match to even tie with them on 36 points.
As it was, both teams were paired down to teams on 31 points. Venturi/Yau/Beaujard sat down across from reigning Grand Prix Sydney 2017 Champions, Jim Wilks, Simon Linabury, and Ivan Schroder. It came down to the final game, but Beaujard's Humans proved too much for Schroder's White-Red Burn deck, and the Points Leaders knocked the Defending Champs out of contention and perched themselves happily on top of the standings.
Mathieu Beaujard and Ivan Schroder duke it out.
Over on the other table, O'Rourke/Golding/Frisch fell to New Zealanders Dirk Crasto, Matt Rogers, and Nicholas Barlow, after Rogers sideboarded in 3x Madcap Experiment and 2x Platinum Emperion to brick wall Golding's Affinity deck. The Kiwis fluttered up to a comfortable 34 points, leaving O'Rourke/Golding/Frisch on 33 points and hoping their (admittedly great) tiebreakers would hold up.
There would be two spots in the Top 4 teams on 33 points and there were seven teams on 30 points hoping one of them would have an outside shot at it. Venturi/Yau/Beaujard's victory over Wilks/Linabury/Schroder meant that second 33 pointer would make it in, but that would most likely be O'Rourke/Golding/Frisch. In the end, it was Jessica Estephan, Ryan Lewis-Jonns, and Lachlan Saunders' win over Justin Robb, Jake Hart, and Michael Maurici that rounded out the Top 4, leaving Ben Johnston, Tyler Visser, and Jack Stewart in 5th place, and Tatsuya Oonishi, Shoichi Ishida, and Yuki Matsuda in 6th.
The Top 4
Jessica Estephan, Ryan Lewis-Jonns, and Lachlan Saunders strode confidently into the Top 4 in Sydney this weekend as third seed, and the highest team on 33 points. Across from them in the semifinals were Dirk Crasto, Matt Rogers, and Nicholas Barlow from New Zealand, who'd finished second seed on 34 points behind Jonathan Venturi, Benny Yau, and Mathieu Beaujard, after they had all but obliterated the Swiss rounds with a 5 point lead over everyone else.
Venturi/Yau/Beaujard finally stumbled, falling to fourth seeds from Canberra, James O'Rourke, Jacob Golding, and Aidan Frisch, while Estephan/Lewis-Jonns/Saunders followed through to knock out the Kiwis, setting up the all lower seed finals.
The Finals underway as Saunders, Lewis-Jonns, and Estephan face off against Frisch, Golding, and O'Rourke.
Estephan/Lewis-Jonns/Saunders took an early lead in the finals with Estephan's Black-Red Hollow One deck taking Game 1 from O'Rourke's Red-Green Tron, while Saunders' Mono-Green Tron won Game 1 against Frisch's Grixis Control deck. Golding rallied in the middle seat – his Affinity deck pushing back against Lewis-Jonn's Humans, like something out of an episode of Flight of the Conchords.
Frisch took Game 2 by pressuring Saunders with a pair of Snapcaster Mages and backing them up with Jace, the Mind Sculptor, while O'Rourke nipped Estephan's graveyard shenanigans in the bud with a Relic of Progenitus, and all but locked her out of the game with a Wurmcoil Engine. Lewis-Jonns struck back for the Humans, and it wasn't long before all three matches were tied at 1-1.
Saunders was the first to close out a match, his Thought-Knot Seer outracing Frisch's Vendilion Clique, and less than a minute later, Estephan was finding lethal with her Flamewake Phoenix, a Bloodghast, and a Lightning Bolt.
Jessica Estephan makes Magic history as the first woman to win a Grand Prix.
A smile spread across Jessica Estephan's face, as she realised that she had just become the first woman to ever win a Magic Grand Prix, along with her great friends Ryan Lewis-Jonns, and Lachlan Saunders.
What a way to end a wonderful weekend overlooking Sydney's picturesque Darling Harbour. 350 teams came out to play Team Unified Modern. Four of them will be flying to Minneapolis in August to compete at Pro Tour 25th Anniversary, but only one of them made Magic history.
Congratulations to Jessica Estephan, Ryan Lewis-Jonns, and Lachlan Saunders, your Grand Prix Sydney 2018 Champions!