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Solving the Team Unified Puzzle for San Antonio

Last week, I traveled to the United States to compete at GP Orlando, the first of 3 U.S. GPs I will play this month. Unfortunately, it was the one I was least looking forward to. I’m not known as a Limited player, and after my 0-6 Draft performance at Worlds, I can’t help but feel a little scared when I start drafting. This tournament was more or less the same.

Day 1 went pretty well. I finished 7-2 with my wacky 4-color-14-land-0-bomb Sealed deck—a good result for a medium deck. To boost my confidence, I also managed to beat my teammate and one of the best Limited players in the world, Ben Stark.

Unfortunately, the Drafts didn’t go that well. My first Draft was promising enough, I drafted G/W, which I think was the correct combination for the seat I was sitting in. I had beefy creatures and, even though I was lacking 1 or 2 tricks, I was aiming for a 2-1 or 3-0 record.

I won the first round pretty easily, but the second was one of the most frustrating matches of Magic I’ve ever played. You know the games where you’re so close to winning, but then something goes wrong and you narrowly lose? In both games, my opponent had to have Baral’s Expertise, and he had it. Also in both games, if I had made one decision slightly differently, I would have won. I still think the choices I made were correct given the information I had, but it still stings. In my third match I flooded out in game 1 and got blown out by Fumigate in game 2.

I wasn’t happy after the 1st Draft,, but I managed to bounce back with a 2-1, losing to an insane U/G Energy deck in the finals. My opponent went Aethertide Whale into Aethersquall Ancient and then just bounced all creatures every turn. Overall, 10-5 is not a great result. As always, I tell myself I should practice more Limited, but then it actually never happens. It’s a sad reality of Magic that Constructed is more important than Limited, so whenever I practice I just play Constructed. It doesn’t help that I rarely enjoy playing Limited. I wish I could be one of those people who love jamming Draft after Draft.

I still enjoyed Orlando. I was thrilled that my teammate Joel Larsson won the whole thing. He was long overdue for a Top 8 finish, and it’s nice to see that hard work pays off. On top of that, my sisters came to visit me. We got a chance to hit the amusement parks, and as a big fan of the Harry Potter franchise, I loved being at Universal Studios. The weather didn’t hurt either. It’s still pretty cold in the Czech Republic, so a week of nonstop sun was a welcome change. After a week of vacation in paradise, it was time to go. There was another tournament to prepare for, and it was one I had been looking forward to for months.

Ever since it was announced that there would be a Team Unified Modern GP, I knew who one of my teammates would be. Oliver Tiu and I tested for Worlds last year, and I very much respect him as one of the best players in the world. If that weren’t enough, this was a Constructed event and he is the Constructed master. We mostly agree on everything when it comes to Magic, so it was an easy choice.

We had to get a third person to join our party, though. We went through many options. First, we asked Owen Turtenwald so that we could achieve the dream of the Top 3 players in the Constructed master race. He unsurprisingly declined as he is teaming up with Reid and Huey, as always. Then we went to the other best player in the world, Jeff Hoogland. Unfortunately, Jeff didn’t even reply to our request, so we had to keep looking.

Finally, we decided to help a friend in dire need of Pro Points—Jason Chung. It’s a challenge for Jason to play in many tournaments as he lives at the end of the world, in New Zealand. Luckily, he decided to fly to the U.S. to pick up some Pro Points, counting on us to deliver. He was our secret weapon, as no one can actually decipher what he’s saying because of his thick accent.

What I did not expect was how hard it would be to select our decks. I was mostly counting on Oliver as a Constructed genius and Jason as our resident Modern expert to do all the hard work. I would carry our team through my good looks and excellent game play. Well, it turns out that Unified Modern is a tough nut to crack, so we spent countless hours laboring over our options in the team chat. With only a few days to go, I thought we had it all figured it out. Most of it, anyway.

First, this is still Modern and I don’t think you should try to “metagame” because it’s Unified. I think it’s possible for anyone to play any given deck in Modern. Sure, some decks that don’t take away many cards like Affinity might be slightly more popular but there are so many combinations of decks that I don’t think it will be that much higher than in normal Modern. Given this fact, I think you should approach this as any other Modern tournament.

Through my experience playing this format, I found out that the thing that’s the most important is to know your deck inside and out. The format is so vast that being inexperienced with your deck can be a huge downside. I think there is an exception to this rule though—when one deck is so dominant that it’s just incorrect not to play it. We saw this with Birthing Pod and Eldrazi. I believe we are seeing the same now with Death’s Shadow.

There are many variants of the deck: Jund, Grixis, and Abzan, but the deck is broken no matter which variant you play. I don’t think it’s as good as Eldrazi was, as the format can adjust to it in the future, but we aren’t there yet. Therefore, I think it’s a mistake for a team to not submit a Death’s Shadow deck. It’s unfortunate that the deck takes a lot of cards—discard spells and the mana base being the most painful—but I think it’s worth the sacrifice. I could say with certainty that one of our decks would be a Death’s Shadow deck.

The other certain choice was probably not a surprise for anyone:

Merfolk

I’m not going to say which one of us played this deck, but you can take a guess.

I haven’t changed much from Jonathon Zaczek’s deck list. The main deck is more or less the same—the only changes are aimed at beating Death’s Shadow. I added the 4th Harbinger and tweaked the removal suite with Vapor Snag instead of Dismember. I also cut the Cavern as I didn’t expect many people to show up with counterspells. It’s also awkward with the double blue spells I added to sideboard— Threads of Disloyalty and Kira. Sam Pardee recommended Threads to me and it makes a lot of sense as a sideboard card against Death’s Shadow.

I also expected an uptick in removal-heavy decks, so I went back to playing 2 Kiras. I trimmed some counterspells as I wasn’t worried about combo decks like Storm or Cheerios. They both looked promising after Aether Revolt came out, but so far haven’t delivered. I also swapped the Tectonic Edge for Hurkyl’s Recall, as I wanted to give Affinity a little respect. Overall I was excited about this deck. I played a ton of games with it online, and I think it’s quite well positioned.

As for our 3rd deck?

Dredge

I really liked all three of our decks and feel like we all got the practice we need. Even though we failed to achieve our goal of a Top 4 finish, I still enjoyed myself because I got to battle with two of my good friends alongside me.

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