Grand Prix Providence is just days away, and it is time to refine those skills in preparation for what will likely be one of the best events of the year!
Team Sealed is my favorite format in all of Magic for a couple of reasons.
- Magic is always better when you are playing it with friends and the ability to work and play with your friends is the best experience the game has to offer.
- Team Sealed is, by a wide margin, the most skill intensive format in Magic. More on this to come.
The team build and play dynamic makes Team Sealed very different from any other tournament format. It is also worth noting that Team Sealed events are much less common than other individual formats, which means that players typically have less experience and familiarity with how to prepare and execute.
Today, I’d like to run through some of the musts that will help ensure a smooth build and tournament experience.
1. Team Sealed Is a Fast Limited Format
I make this claim seriously, but also in jest. People love to make random claims about the speed of various Limited formats.
People love to make the claim that Draft is faster than Sealed and that Team Sealed is faster than Draft, but what does this abstract generalization actually mean? Let me break it down.
In any Limited format, you need to build a 40-card deck out of the available pool of cards. You will typically add between 15-18 basic lands, meaning that you need to find roughly 23-24 solid, playable cards to make up your deck.
In Sealed you get 6 booster packs. 24 cards divided by 6 packs means that you are looking to farm approximately 4 cards per pack in your color combination to have a playable deck. You see 84 cards (14 cards per pack x 6 packs) and need to find 23 playables.
In Draft, 8 players each open 3 packs of cards, which means that there are 24 packs of cards to pool cards from. You need to snag roughly 1 card per pack to have a deck. Draft is different because other players will be depleting the card pool, which makes card selection and availability not a 1-to-1 with Sealed.
When you are drafting, you have the option between 105 cards per pack (14+13+12+11+10+9+8+7+6+5+4+3+2+1) for a total of 315 potential choices. But keep in mind that the packs get weaker with each card selected and that players take two cards from each pack. This means that the second time through the pack will be a weaker collection of the same cards that were available the first time around.
In Team Sealed, each team opens 12 packs, which means that they have 168 cards with which to build 3 decks. Since you are likely going to build decks of different color combinations, this means that each deck only needs to draw 2 cards per pack.
The reason that Team Sealed is “faster” is because the decks draw cards from a much larger pool of cards. Each deck only needs to utilize the best 2 cards per pack on average.
The average Team Sealed deck will tend to be more powerful than the average Draft deck. Team Sealed decks are better at executing their game plan, which means that you should be prepared to interact immediately or risk being run off the table.
Rule #1 is to build decks that look objectively better than Draft decks.
2. Curve Is Really, Really Important
I can tell if your deck is good just by looking it laid out on the table. Your curve is the most important element of whether your decks will be functional and competitive.
One of the reasons Team Sealed appears fast is because the majority of pools facilitate playing enough low drops to consistently impact the board immediately at the start of the game. If you are trying to deploy your first creature to the board on turn 3 on the draw, you may have already lost!
I recommend laying your creatures out by converted mana cost as follows. Choose a color to start with—let’s say white.
Make a pile of all the white 1-drops. Then a pile for white 2-drops, 3-drops, 4-drops, etc.
After you’ve laid out all of the white creatures move on to the next color. Place the green 1-drops on top of the white ones and do the same for each converted mana cost.
Once you are finished you’ll have all of your creatures orgainized by color and converted mana cost, and you’ll be able to see which colors have gaps in the curve at each cost, which is helpful for determining potentially advantageous color combinations.
For instance, if you only have one black 2-drop, it should be obvious that black needs to be paired with another color that has an abundance of 2-drops.
From what I can tell so far, trying to block doesn’t get so badly punished as it did by Amonkhet Limited’s exert mechanic, but having the ability to steal the momentum of the game by putting your opponent on their heels is, and has always been, a surefire way to win a lot of Limited games!
3. Know Your Tribes!
In Ixalan Limited, creature type matters. A lot.
Every color has creatures or spells that grant an advantage paired with creatures of a certain type. If you want to have the strongest, most synergistic deck possible, you’ll need to pay attention to creature types during deck construction.
One of the reasons that Team Sealed is the most skill intensive format in all of Magic is that building three decks is challenging no matter how good you are.
You’ll need to determine what color combinations work together and how to split up the cards. And if your team doesn’t build correctly, there is no recourse to undo that mistake.
In regular Sealed, let’s say I build a G/R Aggro deck. After the build, I walk over to the best player I know and have them take a look at my pool. They say, “Brian, I’m pretty sure that you built your deck incorrectly. The G/R deck is OK but you have a better U/B Control deck.”
I can sideboard into the U/B deck for every game 2 and 3 in regular Sealed. In Team Sealed, if you didn’t build the best archetypes available, there is no way to undo the problem since the cards will be registered to different players. The fact that there is no way to undo a bad build makes getting it right the first time all the more important!
So let’s talk about the five tribes.
Merfolk – U/G
The Merfolk are almost always a tempo-based U/G deck. With 12 packs to draw from, it is pretty reasonable to get a squeaky fast U/G tempo deck full of Merfolk synergies.
The key to Merfolk is a low curve, combat tricks, and bounce.
Get deployed before your opponent can stabilize their defenses and pick them apart with timely combat tricks, bounce spells, and creatures that keep their team tapped down.
U/G is one of the strongest decks that can be built with blue cards, so look for it as a way to maximize your blue.
Pirates – U/B/R
The Pirate tribe is one of the most difficult ones to figure out. They are kind of tricky and spread across 3 colors.
I recommend building three 2-color decks in Team Sealed, although sometimes it is nice to use fixing to splash a third color in one of the decks for a few great cards. Still, 2 colors is where it is typically at for 90% of decks.
I like the aggressive R/B Pirates decks quite a bit, and that is one of the better ways to take advantage of the Pirate synergies.
There are also some nice U/B Pirate/Treasure payoff strategies to look out for. Although I prefer U/G Merfolk, if you don’t open the cards, U/B is my second favorite blue deck so far. I haven’t had much success with U/R decks, but they are an option.
Vampires – B/W
Vampires are one of the 2-color tribes of Ixalan, which makes them fairly easy to build.
I think this is one of the weaker tribes, but you can certainly open a great pool for them.
My biggest argument against Vampires is that there are not as many high payoff cards as in the other tribes and they tend to have smaller power and toughness than the format defining Dinosaurs, which creates a bad matchup.
B/W also lends itself to being a “good stuff deck.” Since Vampires feels underwhelming as a tribal synergy, it is often a good place to put the generically strong removal spells to help out against giant Dinos because the smaller Vampires have a tough time matching up pound for pound.
Dinosaurs – W/R/G
I’m saving the best for last.
Dinosaurs are the format defining tribe. If the upcoming Grand Prix were regular Sealed, I’d make the bold prediction that upwards of 75% of players would be on Dinosaurs because they are just pound for pound more powerful than the other tribes.
They have wicked rares and uncommons and every Team Sealed pool will field a Dinosaur deck of some kind.
On the surface, it is very tempting to try and build a Naya Dino deck. Be careful about putting all of your eggs into one basket!
Most of the Team Sealed decks that I’ve built have had a 2-color Dino deck and then we were able to utilize the third color Dinos in another deck. The Dinosaurs are not only great, they are also deep, so don’t be afraid to spread that Dino-goodness around.
W/R Dinos are kind of an all-in aggro deck like B/R Pirates. They beat down quickly and have powerful 4- and 5-drop finishers.
G/R Dinos can be built a couple of ways. There is certainly a good aggressive deck, but also a ramp-into-the-top-end Dinosaurs deck.
G/W Dinos offers the same options, although the white Dinosaurs lend themselves to some better defensive capabilities. G/W typically tends to fall between midrange and ramp, and capitalizes on strong 5-drops.
The Dinosaurs have an embarrassment of riches in terms of great playables, so extending those strong cards into a third deck is a good option.
The last Team Sealed pool that I worked on had perfect fixing to play an absurd Naya Dinos deck but we decided to build the deck as straight R/G and used those good white Dinos in the B/W deck. Something to keep in mind!
You’re investing time and energy into traveling across the country to attend the Grand Prix, why would you invest all that time and not practice beforehand?
Reading articles on the basics of how to approach the format is great but it is no replacement for actually grinding out a few Team Sealed builds!
I recommend doing at least one or two builds with your teammates before the event. Don’t underestimate how difficult the process is—those minutes of build time fly by pretty fast because there is a lot of information to sift through. Even with three people, trying to get it done correctly is an extremely difficult operation.
Set a timer and build your decks with a clock so that you are ready and familar with the processs when Saturday rolls around.
The best advice I can give about preparing for Team Sealed is to keep the following lessons in mind.
- It’s all about the mana curve.
- Build around three tribes.
- Practice getting it done within the time limit.
If your team keeps these three points in mind I guarantee that you’ll be approaching the format from a position of advantage.
Kings among Dinosaurs.
These cards certainly don’t hurt your chances of winning a ton of games!