This past weekend I had the exclusive pleasure of playing the Oath of the Gatewatch Two-Headed Giant World Premier at GP Oakland with one of my podcast buddies Tristan Killeen (our podcast). I readied myself for the exciting matchups by reading some cards for the first time during deckbuilding, while Tristan cackled as he opened bomb rare after bomb rare. To say our pool was absurd would be an understatement, and I knew we had a good shot at taking down the first ever OGW event. Along the way I learned some new lessons specific to this 2HG format while reinforcing that strong 2HG fundamentals will go a long way to creating match wins. Today I’m here to share both those types of tips with you.
Build to Synergy
OGW 2HG has the unique feature that it was specifically designed for by R&D. Usually 2HG is a fun afterthought and some creative prerelease experience drives the overall excitement of prerelease weekend. Think Helvaults, fighting cursed Garruks, or representing your guild and seeing which one wins out in your local store. This time, 2HG takes the place of all that and brings a unique experience in that your cards will play differently than they ever will in a 1-on-1 Sealed tournament. As Tristan put it, “you get to play with cards that don’t exist in the normal format.” To see what I mean take a look at this sweet UR deck Tristan piloted:
The first thing you might notice about this deck is that I placed the spells with surge on the mana curve equal to the surge cost. You can fully expect to play 3/2 menaces for 2 mana and 3/3 fliers for 3 mana consistently which is neither fair nor balanced. But everyone else gets to do this too! This 2HG environment is full of sweet powerful plays which are sometimes reminiscent of things you get to do in more broken formats like Modern. Cost reduction is the way Magic has been broken most frequently, so take advantage while you can in this Limited environment.
One concern I had about all these broken starts was that whichever team gets a better curve-out hand will win the game. But the games were actually full of tension, because surge also makes for a great catch-up mechanic. Have one player cast a removal spell on a problem threat and the other player can surge out a good creature to defend. Here was the deck I piloted to help enable our UR deck and deal with opposing threats:
This deck made for a synergistic enabler of the UR deck. It has aggressive draws and plentiful 2- and 3-drops to enable surge, while also being flexible if it needs to switch to a more defensive role. Slaughter Drone exemplifies this well, and cards like Witness the End help control portions of the game while also pulling you ahead in the race.
As an example of high synergy I want to highlight how these decks absolutely abused Eldrazi Displacer. Every time I drew that card, I had a million options, almost all of which lead to a victory. It maximized synergy by blinking my Dominator Drones and Tristan’s Goblin Dark-Dwellers or Pilgrim’s Eye and yet was also a fine card to draw by itself when we didn’t draw the payoff cards. If you build in this way to maximize synergy while having reasonable cards that stand on their own, you’ll set yourself up to win many more matches.
One final note when you’re building your Sealed pools is to try and play as many cards that hit both your opponents. Dominator Drone taking away 4 life and Nettle Drone pinging for 2 each time is just unreasonable. What really makes these cards pushed is that each team only starts with 150% of a conventional game’s life total, while the effects deal 200% damage. Try to include as many of these types of cards as you can. Retreat to Hagra is normally borderline unplayable. In 2HG it’s an all-star.
A Quick Aside on Counterspells
Counterspells are completely awesome in 2HG. They’re much better cards when you both have time to cast them, and have high value targets you need to answer. 2HG provides an environment where these two conditions will always be met. Our pool didn’t have access to any good countermagic outside of Dispel, but even conditional answers are quite good (and in our decks we had great targets to protect). I think playing 1-2 copies of Abstruse Interference is fine, though cuttable, and you should run as many copies of Negate, Void Shatter, Spell Shrivel, and Scatter to the Winds that you open. If for some strange reason you happen to have two blue decks, I recommend having one deck using all the counterspells. You can help protect your ally’s powerful plays while preventing your opponents’ and build two more focused decks rather than diluting both.
Playing the Games
Next I’ll guide you through some typical decision points that will come up in a game of 2HG to help give you an edge on the competition.
2HG is a one-game format, which means there’s a ton of variance to it. This makes for fun and wild games, but getting mana screwed and losing the match from it is not a particularly fun experience. Mulligan more questionable hands, because if you stumble at all, you have 2 opponents punishing you rather than just one. Sure you have a teammate, but they’re not going to win the 2-vs-1 game, especially if they’re playing more of a support deck. The good news is that, to help with this problem, you get a free one! If you don’t like your hand you get to go to 7 before 6, and with the scry rule on 6, I think you should almost always be able to have a reasonable playable hand after two mulligans. Don’t be afraid to ship mediocrity, you just get to see so many more cards under these rules. Additionally this becomes even more important when you’re trying to play spells on key turns to enable your teammate’s surge cards. If they happen to have Goblin Freerunner and Jwar Isle Avenger in their opening hand, you really don’t want a hand of three lands plus four reasonable 4-drops.
2HG can sometimes be a draw-first format, but OGW 2HG is definitely a play format. Surge leads to very quick starts and you want to be on the side delivering the beats. Additionally, cohort and support work with larger boards, so if you can get ahead and maintain pressure, you’re way more likely to win. A turn-4 Relief Captain which pumps your turn-3 creature and two of your teammate’s is just not reasonable. It’s also way better on the play. Because both teams will be producing large threats quickly, you’ll want to make sure you have strong early answers. But consider whether those answers will realistically get better with time. I’m quite happy to Tar Snare an early Kozilek’s Shrieker but I’d be far less happy to use a Grasp of Darkness on it. That same Grasp could be key to taking down an Embodiment of Insight two turns later, and it’s better to just cast a bad creature instead.
Be aware that your opponents’ creatures will also often be bigger than you expect when they attack you. You’ll often pass the turn and then your opponent will cast a creature to support their team before crashing in. Try and plan ahead when possible. Instant-speed removal and counterspells become even more crucial in these spots. Also counterspells should usually be saved for the second spell cast on your opponent’s turn. The first one will not only more likely be bait, but also enable a strong surge spell or just be another creature to support on to. Which would you rather counter: Tajuru Pathwarden or the Tyrant of Valakut cast after it?
Read New Cards
Prereleases are always the times I make the silliest errors. This stems from my unfamiliarity with cards, because sometimes I’ll be seeing something for the very first time. During one of our games Tristan cast his Goblin Dark-Dwellers precombat so we could kill our opponent’s creature and attack. Unfortunately he was thinking he could cast Boulder Salvo because he was thinking of it as a 2-mana spell, and I was thinking he could cast Tears of Valakut on our opponents’ Umara Entangler because for whatever reason, I thought it had flying. (1. That card would be way too good. 2. She looked like she was flying over the waterfall, and I just didn’t pay attention to the card text.) Don’t be like us and make poor plays because of inexperience.
Have a Plan For The Late Game
Games of 2HG go long. Often both teams have enough removal to stop each other from getting anywhere. Sometimes one team casts 2 bomb rares, then the next team one-ups them with a surged Crush of Tentacles. Back and forth the game goes, until one team runs out of gas. Make sure you at least know what your plan is for the late game. Ours was Eldrazi Displacer, Nettle Drone, and Dominator Drones for lots of damage, and drawing a bunch of cards which could find our bombs like Dragonmaster Outcast or Guardian of Tazeem. Many pools won’t have the plan to cast a ton of rares because they just contain bad ones. In this case, often you’ll need to build in even more synergy. Maybe you can build up a big wall with Vampire Envoys and then draw a bunch of cards and slowly kill your opponents with Malakir Soothsayer and Zulaport Chainmages. The idea here is to just have a plan when things go long.
Pre-prereleases Are Awesome!
I want to thank WotC for coming up with the cool idea of the OGW 2HG World Premier event. I know I personally had a blast and the excitement from everyone else was palpable. Everyone was reading cards for the first time and just taking in the new set as a whole. I think this 2HG experience is unlike any other Magic I’ve played before, and I highly recommend that you grab one of your friends and give it a try this weekend. And who knows, maybe you’ll be like the lucky team who opened up one of these bad boys:
I’ll let you figure out how you decide which one of you gets to keep it. Have a great time at the prerelease!