PV’s Playhouse – GP Barcelona *13th*

“I think we have an advantage over you guys, because we can just speak Czech, and you have to speak English.”

“Yeah, but when Shuhei speaks English, I’m the only one who understands…” – Martin Juza, 2014

As I was booking my PT Valencia ticket, I knew I’d want to stay in Spain for a week to be able to play GP Barcelona. Not only was I in dire need of Pro Points, but I also love teams and would definitely be willing to go out of my way to play it. Since taking a three hour train to Barcelona could hardly be described as going out of my way, attending was an easy decision. I booked my flight, confident that I would be able to find a team I’d like to play with.

My usual team-mate, Luis Scott-Vargas, wasn’t staying—something about being a grown up and having a job that I don’t fully understand. Luckily for me, Ben Stark also wasn’t staying—something about not liking Europe, which I definitely do not understand—and Shuhei and Martin were looking for a replacement. I eagerly volunteered and they agreed, so that was settled. I like Shuhei and Martin a lot and they are both world-class players that I consider  better than me in Limited, so I was definitely happy with how things turned out.

Originally, the plan was to stay in Spain with Martin and the Czech guys—one extra day in Valencia, then the rest in Barcelona—Shuhei was going to stay with the Japanese. During the PT, though, Martin expressed the possibility of just going home between the tournaments, and since I wasn’t exactly looking forward to a week of people speaking Czech around me, I decided to go ahead and make a contingency plan. It turned out Shahar, Brock, EFro, Reid, Owen, and Huey were renting an apartment in Barcelona that supposedly fit eight, so I snuck in as the seventh person.

We left for Barcelona on Monday, and arrived at our apartment in the afternoon. It turned out not to be one but two apartments right by each other, and two quite small apartments at that. Owen, Reid, and Huey took one apartment and the remaining four of us took the other, which meant I was sharing a queen bed with Shahar. EFro and Brock took the room “upstairs,” and I’m surprised they managed to go the entire week without falling down what is probably the worst designed staircase I’ve ever seen:


Seriously, whose idea was this?

Most of our time in Barcelona was spent either eating, playing, or trying to get the washing machine to work. By that I mean we all ate, then everyone else played while I tried to get the washing machine to work. I succeeded at washing clothes, but the dryer was just impossible and, after three days (and washing EFro’s clothes literally 10 times while trying to turn the dryer on), we found a place on a very dark and dangerous looking alley that would wash (and dry!) our clothes.

The other six guys did at least one Sealed deck a day, sometimes more. Since they were two full teams, I mostly watched, though I did sub in for EFro in one of the sealeds. Watching was actually very interesting, and I kept going from one apartment to the other, effectively participating in both deckbuilding processes, which might have been better for my understanding of this Team Sealed format than if I had actually been part of a team.

Other than Team Sealed, there were many online drafts going around. Reid, Owen, and Huey play more Magic than anyone I’ve ever seen by a considerable amount—at some point, Reid tried to make a bet in which, if he won, people would have to play some games of Modern against him. That’s if he won the bet! You’d have to pay me to play Modern right after the PT. Eventually, I asked Owen if they always played that much or if they were just bored between tournaments, and Owen replied that, most days, they actually played a lot more than that. I was baffled at that, and Owen, in turn, was baffled at my question—he was very surprised that I considered the amount of playing they were doing to be “a lot”. Staying with them for a week really put things in perspective for me on what is required to do consistently well in Magic nowadays, and might have changed how I approach the game—we’ll see.

On Friday afternoon, I went to the site to meet my teammates. We did a practice Sealed, which turned out to be three Sealeds, since we rotated pools with two other teams. By the time we were done, we really wanted to go eat, so we just never played with the decks; it was, nonetheless, an interesting exercise, and we got to discuss with two other teams how they would build the exact same pools. Two of the pools were pretty standard and had certain cards to guide you (i.e. a color that clearly wanted to be mono, or gold rares, and so on) but one of the pools was incredibly challenging and offered no clear direction, so I expected the builds for this one to be drastically different. To my surprise, we all built the same decks with that pool, but differed a little bit with two others—things like “should the BR or the WR deck have the two Fearsome Tempers?” turned out to shape more about the builds than I previously expected, since whether those cards are there or not ended up fundamentally changing the role the deck would play and affected every other card choice.

We also decided that I’d be the B player. We didn’t really have a reason—no one else cared, so I was B. I play quickly, so that’s good because I can help other players more, but you can just move your chair when you’re done, so it doesn’t make that much of a difference. I also think I’m good at looking at a random game and randomly spotting a good or a bad play, which means I’m a good B player, but to counter that there’s the fact that I often get absorbed into other people’s games and forget my own. Even when I’m playing solo in a tournament, I sometimes just start watching the game next to me as my opponent is shuffling and then I start wondering what I’d do, how I’d play, and oh that was an interesting choice, and when I look again my opponent is just staring at me waiting for me to make a play.

We arrived on site on Saturday about 20 minutes before the tournament—you want to be safe and try to play around delays, after all. That turned out to be a giant mistake, as the doors to the site weren’t even open. People started piling up, not sure where to go—we were, after all, around 2,000 on the sidewalks. To make things worse, it was very cold; I had not assumed I would have to stay outside for over half an hour, so I had not dressed properly. EFro was wearing shorts.

At 9:20, twenty minutes after the tournament was supposed to have started, the doors opened. If you think that meant we could finally get out of the cold, you’re mistaken—there was one small door open, and a guy clicking something every time someone entered, meaning we could only go one by one since they wanted to count us. As predicted, that took a while with 2,00 people.

At that time, I was a little infuriated. Delays are normal and, though they are annoying, they are understandable. Failing to simply open the doors, leaving everyone in the cold for 20 minutes after the tournament was supposed to have started, however, was just incredibly disrespectful from my point of view. Mentally hating the organization, I stepped in the building. To my surprise, I immediately found seat assignments, which meant that, though we had had to wait outside, we weren’t going to wait much longer to actually start playing. Throughout the tournament, my opinion about the organization started changing, as things got better and better. There were delays, of course, but there are always delays in team tournaments; the organizers seemed to go the extra mile to compensate for that, and there were many cool features in this GP that I had not seen previously, such as giving people free stuff (deckboxes, dice bags) and actually having every pool pre-registered on Day Two! They also gave VIP privileges to every Platinum player, which was pretty cool even if we never got to use them, because we simply didn’t know that was happening.

In the end, it became clear to me that the initial delay was not out of disrespect to players but simply due to something unforeseen happening, and that I can certainly live with. Overall I’d consider the tournament pretty well-run and it’s obvious that the organizers really cared about the players.

We sat down to build our decks in the feature match area, and we were faced with a pool that I considered below average. You can read about our deckbuilding process here.

First we went through the colors to remove the unplayables. After that, we’d go over the remaining cards and lay out our initial impressions about colors—things like, “white is really deep and only needs some ways to target your guys,” or “blue has aggro cards and control cards, so we’re probably going to end up splitting it,” or even “black is unplayable.”

In this format, our base impression was that white was a main color. You only wanted one white deck, and that would be heavy white. I don’t think super aggro is great in this format—I think it always looks better than it is—but you have few alternatives other than either playing white aggro or abandoning the color altogether, and it’s generally deep and focused enough that you can build a good white deck.

Black would be a main color if good, or a support color if bad. You could have black as a support color in a control deck with either white (the other white option) and blue, black as a support color in red aggro, and black as a deck by itself—the best black decks are nearly mono-black but you can’t always build them this way.

Green, in most pools, is a very deep color; you can build a mono-green deck if you want, but you can also split green. It has an “acceleration/big dudes” component that goes well with blue and a “heroic” component that goes well with white. In our case, we had both, so we split green.

Red is a little like black, in the sense that you could have an extremely red-heavy deck, or end up not playing red at all. It’s a weak color, but many decks want some sort of removal. The issue is that most of the good red cards are heavy red, so they make you go toward an almost mono-red deck, but at the same time it’s often not good enough to support a mono-deck.

Blue is the color that you’re most likely to split. Some blue cards are clearly aggressive and some are clearly defensive, and they don’t even go very well with each other—some decks really want Sudden Storm, but some decks don’t want Sudden Storm at all. Blue also has the best good cards, but the worst bad cards. For this reason, I think you should generally play a touch of blue in two different decks, playing only the very good cards for each strategy.

In our case, we had a good white shell. With three Akroan Skyguards, we just needed a way to target them. Martin was our white player and he liked the white deck well enough. Our green was very deep, and we quickly decided it could be split between supporting white with two Feral Invocations and being a base color on its own. Our red was good, but we had some cards that would be really good in heavy red decks, like the Phoenix, the 1RRR burn spell and two Bolt of Keranos—it was likely that we’d either play heavy red or not play it at all, since the other cards weren’t that good. Blue didn’t feel great either but could be paired with green or black. Black had basically zero good cards.

In the end, it was decided that Martin would play GW, Shuhei would play UG, and I’d play BR with a bunch of 2/2s for 2. My deck seemed very bad to me, and I didn’t think we should have a BR deck, but Martin and Shuhei both liked it and it also meant they were happy about their decks. In the end, I allowed myself to be outvoted because you can’t decide anything by yourself in a three-man team and we were running out of time. When you build Sealed normally, everything is all registered before you start building, so, once you’re done building, it takes three minutes to just find whatever cards you’re actually playing in the list. With Team Sealed, you build and then you register—you can’t register first because you don’t know who is going to have what. This means you have to sort your cards by set and color again, and you have to write down every one of them, and then write your deck list down. It takes a lot more time than I expected and you start feeling the pressure by the end of it. I decided we’d need to leave more time for deck-registering later.

Our first round did not start well. Shuhei quickly won his round, as I’ve since come to expect from him—he basically never loses. You look at the board, Shuhei’s opponent has five creatures and he has two lands and is discarding, and then three minutes later he turns to you and says “Yeah, I won”—it’s actually very impressive. I lost my match on what I think was a bad judgment call—I withheld my Dragon Mantle for one turn too many, and ended up playing it when I had five mana and then drawing into a five-drop that I couldn’t case. That left Martin.

Martin was playing against a UG deck. He won game one, and then had a pretty good draw game two, but drew literally seven lands in a row to lose a narrow one. It was game three when I started seriously watching, and things were looking good before his opponent played Sea God’s Revenge. By this point, time was running out; Martin is naturally a slow player and his opponent kept wasting time to try to bluff a bounce spell that we all knew he didn’t have by talking to his teammates “so, should I bounce this?!” every time we cast a creature.

We then got to a fork where Martin had two options: he could play Heliod’s Emissary, or a flier. Any attacker was lethal. Emissary was better versus a single blocker with either flying or reach, but was worse against two random blockers and worse against any enchantment removal spell, and we knew he had at least one in his deck. Martin wanted to play the Emissary; I told him I thought the Akroan Skyguard was a better play. He played the Skyguard; his opponent played Shredding Winds. Had he played the Emissary, we would have won. Instead, time ended and we drew—and would likely have lost if the game had continued.

That made me feel pretty bad—not only had I lost my game on a bad call, I had also lost Martin’s game! I felt very responsible for our draw, and though my teammates obviously understood that I was doing what I thought was right, I’d understand if they got annoyed with me. Thankfully they are awesome teammates and didn’t say anything.

Round 2 I got paired against a UW deck that played Spear of Heliod, Hundred Handed-Hands, Ornitharch, Ephara, Archetype of Courage, and a bunch of other unbeatable cards. I don’t think I could have beaten his turn five board if I had drawn ten extra cards. Shuhei again quietly won, and Martin was again up a game, and again lost game two. Martin made what I think was a pretty good block, but got blown out by the one card in the format that would lose him the game—Searing Blood.

Game three showcased a difference of playstyle between me and Martin; while I was quick to assume “if he has that we can’t beat it so let’s play as if he doesn’t,” Martin kept trying to see if he could play around many different things. In the end, his opponent had that plus a bunch of other things, and we never stood a chance.

So, just like that, we were 0-1-1. Not the greatest start, and certainly for three people who are pretty good at Magic. Our round 3 was a feature match, and I was again quickly dispatched. I mulliganed to five and didn’t play a spell game one, and then game two my opponent played a turn two Satyr Firedancer. I had a Magma Jet, but didn’t particularly need to scry.

Now, normally, Satyr Firedancer is a pretty bad card and you don’t want to kill it, as it’s effectively a Lava Spike at its best and a 1/1 that doesn’t do anything at its worst. There’s one caveat, though—my opponent is playing the Satyr Firedancer. If it was a bad card, he wouldn’t play it, so maybe it’s good in his deck and I should kill it. But… he’s also 0-1-1. I admit that, here, if I was playing against a player I knew to be good, I would have killed the Satyr—I would assumed he had a reason to play it. With my opponent, however, I couldn’t tell if the card was great in his deck or if he simply didn’t realize it was bad. I decided not to kill it. He burned my first guy, dealing 3 damage to me. At this point I could have tried to kill it again, but I felt like I was committed—really, how much more burn can he have? If the card wasn’t threatening enough the first time, then how threatening is it now that he already played one burn spell? I didn’t kill it. Turns out the answer is a lot more burn; he killed the next two creatures I played and then me.

Shuhei and Martin won, and we were still in contention for Day 2. I was 0-3 and really defeated at that point—I thought my deck was very bad and I wasn’t going to win a round. Martin told me in no uncertain terms that I wasn’t allowed to give up, and gave me a motivational talk that actually really helped me raise my spirits. I really believe that if this weren’t a team tournament and Martin hadn’t talked to me, I would have given up and lost many more matches.

Instead, I didn’t lose. It turned out my opponent’s decks weren’t nearly as good as the previous ones had been, and I was able to actually win rounds. Shuhei ended the day at 9-0 (told you, he never loses), I was 6-3 and Martin was, I believe, 6-2-1, which put us at a 7-1-1 record. By round 3, I would have bet a lot of money that we weren’t going to make it, but in the end things worked out—that’ll teach me to not give up before I’m actually dead.

For Day 2, we were again featured, this time on video. Our pool was much better than the first one, and included two Anax and Cymede, as well as a bunch of good cards in every color except for black. After analyzing our options, we had to decide between either UW/RW/BG or RW/UB/UG. In my mind, all our options were good—we could either have one excellent white deck or two great ones, and green went well with whatever you paired it with. We settled for option number one, splitting white, the reason being twofold: first, we didn’t love the look of the RW deck when it was base white—it had a bunch of threes, including two Anax and one Fabled Hero, but it was somewhat clunky and, since it needed a bunch of ways to target, it couldn’t make use of some of red’s removal spells. The second reason was that Shuhei didn’t like the UB deck and thought he’d rather play GB. I was happy with that choice; I got UW, Martin got RW, and Shuhei got BG.

In retrospect, I think we made a mistake. We assumed both our white decks were really good and we didn’t need to “waste” all the white in one deck, but they were both a lot worse than they seemed, and both Martin and I struggled a bit. BG was fine, but I watched some of the games and it looked like UG would just have been better.

Though our decks were much better this time around, so were our opponent’s. We lost a feature match round 1, ending all our hopes of Top 4’ing, then we won, lost, won, and found ourselves paired up in the last round—our opponents playing for Top 8 and us for Top 12. Since the extra pro point was important to me, I declared I wanted to play, and my teammates obliged. We ended up winning after a somewhat weird judge call, but since two other teams drew, we finished 13th. Our opponents, unfortunately, finished 17th.

If you look at it from an objective point of view, 13th out of 500 teams certainly isn’t bad; it is, however, only 1 Pro Point, and not a ton of money, so we weren’t thrilled about it. Shuhei, for example, couldn’t even use the Pro Point due to the cap, and Martin will likely not use it either—there’s even a chance I won’t use it for anything. It was hard to be sad, however, since I was sure we were out of the tournament by round 3.

To cap this up, let me leave you with some tips regarding Team Sealed:

• You win as a team, and you lose as a team. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had this conversation:

“Hey, what’s your record?”
I’m 6-0, but my team is 4-2”

This is just stupid—your record is your team’s record, individual records mean nothing. Maybe you have your best deck, maybe you got lucky, maybe you got paired against the bad decks—it doesn’t matter. You win as a team, you lose as a team.

• Don’t be mad at your teammates. When Shuhei went 9-0, Martin asked me if I thought Shuhei was mad at us; I said I didn’t think so. First, because I don’t think I’ve ever seen Shuhei mad at anything before, and second because I think Shuhei understood that we also wanted to win—we were trying our best, and that’s really all you can ask from your teammates. When I lost us round 1, I apologized. When Martin made the play that lost us round 2, he apologized. In round 15, Shuhei made a mistake and apologized. But we all brushed it off, because assigning blame is pointless

• It doesn’t matter whose fault it was. If you think your teammate isn’t trying, like me in round 4, then by all means yell at them, like Martin did to me, but do not yell at them for making an honest mistake—it will not help. In fact, it’ll only make them play worse from then on, because they will be on tilt.

• Trust your teammates. It’s really hard to find the optimal play when you haven’t been paying attention—you don’t know the opponent’s patterns, how he plays, what he has in his deck, what he has had the chance to play but hasn’t. In general, unless there is an enormous disparity on skill level, it’s better to just trust the person playing the game to make a judgment call, because they have more information. Many times Martin asked me “what should I do here?” and I replied with, “just do whatever you think is right,” because I knew I wasn’t able to make an informed decision and he was.

• Don’t ask your teammates about every little thing. It’s fine to ask about mulligans, about sideboarding, about a specific play, but remember that, much like in the paragraph above, you have more information than they do. I think a lot of people decide to ask their teammates about plays just so they can avoid responsibility. If you told me to do it and it didn’t work out, well, I was just following your advice. Keep the questions to a minimum, and trust your own instincts.

• Be careful what you say. If you are speaking a commonly spoken language at Magic tournaments, like English or Spanish, be extra-careful—this is yet another reason to not ask too much, you don’t want to give information away. Even if you speak a less commonly spoken language that you are sure the opponents do not speak, be careful what you say—much can be figured out from a card name or even an expression. In the 2HG PT we played against a Dutch team once and, though I don’t speak any Dutch, I knew how to count to 5—that was enough to understand when our opponents said “4/4” and let us figure out what they had in their hand.

That’s what I have for today—I hope you’ve enjoyed it, and see you next week!



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