For Grand Prix San Jose I was lucky enough to team with two great friends and players: Shahar Shenhar and Ricky Sidher. Of the many awesome things about team Grand Prix, the one at the top of my list is being able to team with players that you can count on.
Together, the three of us formed Team Return to Ratnica!
With Shahar in Israel, we couldn’t do any legitimate team practice, but that didn’t stop Ricky and I from learning what we could about the format. We did a few Sealed exercises with other players and battled with the decks to figure things out. We learned a few things in the process:
• The format is slow because of the abundance of X/4s and other walls.
• Rakdos and (3-power) unleash creatures are weak due to the above.
• Izzet makes a good complement to Azorius, but it isn’t a great archetype itself.
• Selesnya and Azorius are the best archetypes in just about every pool.
We weren’t able to do any team drafting until we were at the event site on Friday. This time it was Shahar and I who were doing the work while Ricky was out partying.
In my very first draft of the format, I 2-1’d with Azorius, losing to Josh Silvestri playing Golgari. Shahar managed to 0-3 this one with Rakdos. In the second draft I again 2-1’d with Azorius/r, and Shahar 2-1’d with Selesnya.
At this point I had a pretty low opinion of Rakdos. Its creatures get shut down too quickly and easily. [card]Stab Wound[/card] and burn spells give it a bit of reach, but I don’t think those help enough. I decided that I was very unlikely to ever draft Rakdos.
[card]Seller of Songbirds[/card] was a card I initially thought was weak, but I gained a lot of respect for it after these drafts. It fits into both of the best archetypes well, and gives you something to do with incidental populate effects. Flying is also a huge part of the format since the ground gets mucked up so easily.
I grew fond of maindecking [card]Sundering Growth[/card], with [card]Stab Wound[/card]’s popularity and the potential for some nice blowouts. A good number of populate effects is important for Selesnya, and if you have to, you can just blow up your own [card]Security Blockade[/card] or [card]Mana Bloom[/card] for the surprise token.
With at least some experience in the two formats (and a lack of packs), we decided to call it a night. (This turned out to be a really good play since we ended up playing 11 rounds until 1 a.m. the next day.)
Basic strategy for the seating arrangement is to put the fastest deck in seat B so that player can advise the other two players when he/she finishes. I signed up with myself in seat B, but we were given the option to change that after deckbuilding. I still thought I was the best person for the job, so I took one for the team and playing Rakdos.
It worked out well enough—Rakdos had the most bombs and we wanted Shahar to have just one bomb in his deck. It turns out my Rakdos deck (and Rakdos in general) wasn’t very fast, because the creatures got shut down so easily. I usually ended up playing drawn out games waiting to find a bomb or the lands to cast one.
But, it turns out that seating strategy is mostly moot anyways. Typically whenever one of us needed advice on something it was either trickery or something that player would be more capable of answering on his own. There are exceptions of course, like playing against someone in the second round of a team draft when in need of info from the teammate that played them already.
The pool we received was very good. It had bombs and plenty of playables to go with them. The archetypes were also very easy to decide on. Azorius and Selesnya are already the obvious choices, but we had [card]Armada Wurm[/card], [card]Growing Ranks[/card], and [card]Archon of the Triumvirate[/card] to make it even easier. And with four bombs in Rakdos that was also a simple decision.
We each worked on an archetype for a bit, discussing cuts or cards to move around. Eventually I had us rotate the decks we were working on so that we could change perspectives. Everything was going smoothly—
Until Shahar pointed out the interaction between [card]Corpsejack Menace[/card] and unleash. Being a sucker for cross-guild synergy, I liked the idea. We even had a [card]Golgari Guildgate[/card] and a [card]Golgari Keyrune[/card]. The issue of diluting the Rakdos deck was offset by the reasoning that the Keyrune would help us cast our expensive bombs.
These are the decks we ended up with:
Seat B (Michael Hetrick)
1 Pack Rat
2 Grim Roustabout
1 Thrill-Kill Assassin
2 Dead Reveler
2 Splatter Thug
1 Dark Revenant
1 Corpsejack Menace
1 Bloodfray Giant
1 Spawn of Rix Maadi
1 Carnival Hellsteed
1 Chaos Imps
1 Mizzium Mortars
2 Auger Spree
2 Annihilating Fire
1 Stab Wound
1 Golgari Keyrune
1 Explosive Impact
2 Rakdos Guildgate
1 Golgari Guildgate
I boarded out [card]Slitherhead[/card], [card]Dark Revenant[/card], [card]Corpsejack Menace[/card], and [card]Golgari Keyrune[/card] just about every round and brought in a mixture of the following, depending on how I felt about the given matchup:
[deck]2 Pursuit of Flight
1 Mind Rot
1 Rakdos Ragemutt
1 Traitorous Instinct
1 Ogre Jailbreaker
2 Lobber Crew
2 Launch Party[/deck]
It wasn’t until round 6 that I realized I should not be playing this as an aggro deck. Considering how easily the unleash creatures are dealt with and the power of the bombs in this deck, it should have been all about getting to the late game. The idea is very counterintuitive for a Rakdos deck, which is why it took this long for me to realize it. This was our biggest mistake on Day One.
[card]Pack Rat[/card] is as good as they say. It is incredibly hard to beat. Throughout the event, Ricky and I disagreed over whether to play it on turn 2 or turn 5. When you’re on the play, it’s pretty obvious that you turn 2 it. There are a few answers to it, but if you wait you give them a chance to get an edge before you can slam it. When you’re on the draw, they have a lot more answers to it, but the logic is still the same.
I turn 2’d it at every opportunity—except one. I had a [card]Golgari Keyrune[/card], and was on the draw against a Selesnya deck that had no turn 1 or turn 2 play, so I felt that I could afford to protect from [card]Arrest[/card].
Instead, [card]Selesnya Keyrune[/card], [card]Golgari Decoy[/card], and [card]Trostani’s Judgment[/card] took out the Rat before it could get going. It was probably still right to wait in this situation, but I’m just trying to show why you should almost always just play it.
Seat A (Ricky Sidher)
1 Concordia Pegasus
1 Frostburn Weird
1 New Prahv Guildmage
1 Seller of Songbirds
1 Tower Drake
1 Vassal Soul
2 Soulsworn spirit
1 Palisade Giant
1 Skyline Predator
1 Archon of the Triumvirate
1 Dramatic Rescue
1 Soul Tithe
2 Inaction Injunction
1 Avenging Arrow
1 Azorius Guildgate
2 Mizzium Skin
3 Transguild Promenade
1 Izzet Staticaster
2 Chemister’s Trick[/deck]
We had a pretty hard time deciding on final cuts for this deck. I really wanted to play all 3 [card]Runewing[/card]s, but with so many 4+-drops, we had to cut one.
I really dislike [card]Soul Tithe[/card], but sometimes you just have to play it. In this case it could have actually been better as [card]Cancel[/card]. Counterspells are almost always good in RTR Limited. I hate to admit it, but I’ve even played [card]Fall of the Gavel[/card].
[card]Dispel[/card] is a really nice sideboard option against Selesnya. They have all kinds of tricks, not to mention [card]Aerial Predation[/card]s that come in. It could actually be a viable main deck card under the right conditions, though [card]Mizzium Skin[/card] is much better against Rakdos. Ricky had numerous blowouts thanks to both.
Seat C (Shahar Shenhar)
[deck]3 Centaur’s Herald
1 Azorius Arrester
1 Drudge Beetle
1 Gatecreeper Vine
1 Centaur Healer
1 Seller of Songbirds
1 Sunspire Griffin
1 Towering Indrik
1 Azorius Justuciar
1 Korozda Monitor
1 Armada Wurm
1 Mana Bloom
1 Sundering Growth
1 Rootborn Defenses
1 Security Blockade
1 Chorus of Might
1 Eyes in the Skies
1 Growing Ranks
2 Trostani’s Judgment
1 Horncaller’s Chant
3 Selesnya Guildgate
Soon after submitting our final decks, I realized that Shahar’s [card]Sunspire Griffin[/card] and Ricky’s [card]Seller of Songbirds[/card] should have been switched. We were a little scared of Ricky not being able to cast the Griffin reliably enough, but that was minuscule compared to the upside for both decks.
I didn’t want Shahar to play [card]Horncaller’s Chant[/card] or [card]Mana Bloom[/card], but he insisted. I think both are pretty weak. He ended up playing against a lot of Azorius decks and swapping in 3 [card]Aerial Predation[/card]s for those and another card each time.
We picked up our first loss in round 7 against the team of Quo/Lin/Chen, where I had the pleasure of getting my [card]Pack Rat[/card] [card electrickery]Electrickeried[/card], but managed to burn him out with [card]Stab Wound[/card] plus two [card]Annihilating Fire[/card]s. Ricky wasn’t able to deal with [card]Angel of Serenity[/card], while Shahar couldn’t handle numerous [card slime molding]Slime[/card] tokens.
In round 9 we played against the eventual champions—Sperling/Williams/Reitzl. It wasn’t a very eventful match. All three of them seemed to stumble at some point in the matches, which led to us running them over.
Our second loss came against team Gatica/Pal/Hartman in round 11. This was the round I mentioned earlier where my [card]Pack Rat[/card] plus activation was dealt with. Pal also had [card]Selesnya Charm[/card] to deal with my [card]Carnival Hellsteed[/card] that game. It was brutal.
Ricky won his match but Shahar wasn’t able to draw much of anything in his final game. An [card]Aerial Predation[/card] would have been a game changer at almost any point in that game, but nothing came. This put us at 9-2 and 9th place going into Day Two.
I had the worst record on the team at this point, but I was pretty confident about the upcoming drafts. Despite only team drafting twice I felt I had a good grasp on the format.
My strategy for team drafting on Day Two was basically as follows:
• Don’t be Rakdos
• Don’t pass bombs
I took Selesnya cards highly, and Azorius cards higher. As you’ll notice, it worked perfectly throughout the day.
In the first draft I picked mostly Azorius cards for pack one but kept myself open when I could. I was rewarded with a [card]Mercurial Chemister[/card] in pack two and continued drafting Azorius.
Shahar first picked [card]Stab Wound[/card] over [card]Supreme Verdict[/card], and justified it by saying that at least we would know who had the [card]Supreme Verdict[/card] and could play around it. I think that is a pretty bad plan and not just because of my aversion to Rakdos. A wrath effect that they don’t know about is a lot better for us than a [card]Stab Wound[/card] that comes with the need to play around a sweeper. The player that took the [card]Supreme Verdict[/card] (to my right) ended up Selesnya with a blue splash, but he either wasn’t playing it or never drew it.
We ended up drawing our first round against Hofmann/Riffert/Rausch as a side effect of the team format. It didn’t help that Shahar went to the bathroom at the start of the match, giving his opponent reason enough to “help” my opponent by making what should be simple decisions into difficult ones. I really enjoy the communication, but not when it has this kind of side effect.
We won our second match against them and moved onto drafting against Oliver/Sherman/Lim. I opened [card]Precinct Captain[/card] in the first pack, which I value pretty highly. It works very well in both of the best archetypes and keeps a lot of cheap creatures at bay. I got passed a [card]Call of the Conclave[/card] from Lim (with a rare missing) and was immediately sold on Selesnya.
As most Selesnya decks end up, mine was pretty solid. Sherman was on a slow Rakdos deck with blue for [card]Voidwielder[/card]. I actually cost myself G1 of this match with a pretty sloppy play, but managed to tighten up for the next two. Meanwhile, Ricky beat Lim through a [card]Pack Rat[/card].
I had to play against Lim in the next round. He seemed dismayed as he mulliganed to 5 for G1, but that quickly changed when he played [card]Pack Rat[/card] on turn 2. I put up as much of a fight as I could, but when he played a second [card]Pack Rat[/card] (plus activation) on turn 5 I decided to call it a game.
It feels pretty bad to play against turn 2 [card]Pack Rat[/card]s all three games, but I managed to win G2 with the knowledge that I gained from playing the card on Day One. It’s unlikely that your [card]Pack Rat[/card] opponent will block with any of the tokens until they are 4/4s for fear of you being able to eliminate a lot of them. The damage they take makes it harder for them to attack you with the Rats as you advance your board, so you’ll end up with more possible outs and more time to find them. It’s still very hard to win, but that’s what you have to do.
Lim knew what he was doing though. He played 18 lands and mulliganed until he found [card]Pack Rat[/card] every game against me, which was a solid plan (and it worked). After the loss to Oliver/Sherman/Lim we were eliminated from finals contention.
In our final draft, we were paired against Thurber/Lucero/Gadzinski where a lot of things went right for our team. We were all able to draft Azorius and Selesnya with various splashes. I opened [card]Grove of the Guardian[/card] in pack 3 and picked it with the off chance of being able to splash for it in my Azorius deck. I was then passed another copy of the card third pick. I even picked up a [card]Selesnya Guildgate[/card] and ended with a very sick Azorius deck with a few incidental populate effects to go with the two Groves.
Our other two decks were also excellent, and we swept the opposing team twice.
I’m pretty happy about how my draft strategy faired. I ended 4-1-1, with my only loss coming to double [card]Pack Rat[/card]. Going forward, I would rate the guilds as follows: Selesnya, Azorius, Golgari, Izzet, Rakdos.
At 13-3-1, Team Return to Ratnica finished in 7th place!
Despite the various shortcomings of the team GP, it was one of the most fun times I’ve had at a Magic event. Unfortunately, since my team was doing so well, I didn’t get to do anything but play Magic that weekend. As long as they start having team Grand Prix more often it’s no big deal.
Really, can’t wait.
Thanks for reading!
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