Hello world! Writing and Magic have been hobbies of mine for a long time now, and it’s high time I combine the two. I had a great time at the team sealed GP in Washington DC this weekend, and wanted to share my experiences. We named our team “Make Phyrexia Great Again,” and our mission was to cast a bunch of walls, but use our opponents’ mana to pay for them.
The Lead Up
I don’t usually travel to GPs, and I’m currently living in Dallas, but I went to law school in DC, so this was a great excuse to catch up with some friends I hadn’t seen in too long, and at the same time, get to experience what many people say is the most fun competitive Magic format.
Neither of my teammates had played with this set much, so I was in the uncomfortable position of having to be the authority on what cards and archetypes were viable. We did a couple practice builds on Friday night to give everyone a taste of what building three decks from one pool was like, and to get a feel for some of the cards and decks we were likely to see. I was hoping our pool on Saturday would let us do a grindy black-white allies deck, a controlling blue-colorless deck, and a red-green beatdown deck. In our practice builds, that never materialized. We would usually get one of the three, but the other two never came together, and we had to audible to some other configuration. We wound up trying green-white support, blue-red tempo/surge, and a couple others. I was glad we were able to be flexible, but with an inexperienced team, I was definitely nervous that our one strategy going into Saturday morning was looking very unreliable.
I think our pool was probably an eight or nine out of ten. We had a Munda’s Vanguard, a Sphinx of the Final Word, a Chandra, a Goblin Dark-Dwellers, a Thought-Knot Seer, and a Reality Smasher, but our only unconditional removal was an Oblivion Strike and a Ruinous Path.
Ultimately, despite my anxiety, we ended up building exactly the decks I had hoped. We had enough allies in black and white (sixteen) to stall the board out and gain enough life for the cohort abilities of Munda’s Vanguard and Malakir Soothsayer to take over. We had a Blinding Drone and two Cultivator Drones, along with two Hedron Crawlers, which let us play a solid control/ramp strategy to get to our Eldrazi rares. That deck had no hard removal though, so we split some of the black with it. Our green was pretty weak, but it had enough creatures/speedbumps to enable our red curve-topping powerhouses.
In our first match, one of our opponents looked very familiar, but I couldn’t place him. Then one of his teammates referenced GP Detroit last week, and I realized it was Ralph Betesh, the guy who won it. I managed to win my match in a close three games, but Ralph and his other teammate both won theirs, and we dropped to 0-1. Not ideal, but I figured if we only lost to GP champions all day, we were still in pretty good shape.
In our second match, I had the most contentious moment I’ve had at a GP (admittedly, this is only my third, so not an enormous sample size). My opponent had a Spawnbinder Mage and another untapped ally in play. I had a Cinder Hellion. He attacked me in the air with a Cliffhaven Vampire, and before blocks, I played a Vines of the Recluse to give my Hellion reach (a really stupid play on my part, given the Spawnbinder sitting right in front of me), but before I had even set the card on the table, he said, “Tap it,” and activated Spawnbinder. I realized my mistake too late, but I also realized that he may have made a mistake also. I gave him a chance to clarify:
Me: “IN RESPONSE, you tap it?”
Me: “Okay. Tap resolves, now Vines resolves, untapping it.”
Him: “No, come on, you knew what I meant, why would I do it like that?”
Me: “People make mistakes?”
I let him talk me out of calling a judge, but I was on tilt for the rest of the match. Partially at myself for walking into an on-board trick, partially at myself for not getting a judge to enforce what he said, but mostly at him for not acknowledging that he made a mistake and accepting the consequences.
I don’t know, is it sketchy for me to try to call him on something like that? That’s not a rhetorical question; I’d seriously love to hear what you think. I specifically asked him if he meant to activate in response to my spell, and he unequivocally said yes. That said, his intention was clearly to move to the Declare Blockers step with my creature tapped. You could interpret his actions (if not his words) as being consistent with that intent, so maybe my asking the question at all added unnecessary complexity that threw him off balance enough to make him say something he didn’t mean. He should still have thought about his answer before blurting something out, but I don’t want to be the kind of player who tries to win by tricking my opponents into misstatements.
Regardless, I let him have that one. We spent most of the game in a race that he was winning until I topdecked Chandra, and her tokens let me swing in for lethal just in time. In the next game, he never found a fourth land, and I ran him over pretty quickly. He was very gracious after the fact, which helped me calm down, and we shook hands and wished each other good luck the rest of the day.
Our team battled our way to 3-1, and our fourth match was mercifully short, giving us time to run to Chipotle. Finding time to eat something that isn’t from a vending machine is often one of the hardest parts about GPs. In round five, we finally broke our streak of only losing to GP champions, but then won two more to get to 5-2 through seven. We had two shots at a sixth win and a berth in Day Two (which would have been a first for all of us).
In round eight we lost quickly to a team that had gotten a pool that was even better than ours. I never thought we had a chance, and I was frankly confused as to how they had lost two matches in order to be paired against us. We played a very intense match in round nine, both teams needing a win to advance to Day Two. I played someone who was running a very similar red-green deck to mine. How similar? In game one, we each played a Chandra. Turns out, it’s a lot more fun when she’s on your side of the battlefield. He got his down first and started taking huge chunks out of my life total, but I was eventually able to use a combination of two Reality Hemorrhages and a surged Reckless Bushwhacker to get her off the table. I stabilized, found my own Chandra, and used her tokens to finish the game quickly over two turns. Game two I mulliganed a borderline two-lander, then found two zero-landers, and finally kept a four-card hand with three lands and a five-drop. It went about as poorly as you’d expect.
One of my teammates had lost by this point, but my other teammate and I were each going to game three, and if we could win both, we would advance. My deck made amends for its mulligan to four in a big way. I curved out with Makindi Sliderunner, Valakut Predator, Embodiment of Fury, Seed Guardian (with a fifth land to attack with Embodiment), Chandra. It all came down to my teammate. He never found a black source, and therefore never had a chance to play any of his removal. We fell to 5-4, missing Day Two.
People who say team events are the best are right. You have two built-in consultants for difficult mulligan decisions, or whatever else you’d like help with over the course of the match. Also, when you win, it’s more fun to win with friends, and when you lose, it’s less bad to lose with friends. Every outcome is improved. Except draws. We didn’t have any, but I’m pretty confident that draws still feel terrible.
Oath/Battle team sealed is very much a prince format, as opposed to pauper. There are edges to be gained in deck building and game play of course, but there were matches where I felt like we couldn’t lose because our bombs simply outclassed what our opponents could do, and one or two matches I felt like we couldn’t win, because our opponents’ bombs were even better.
This also puts a premium on unconditional removal. Many of the bombs are game-changing enough that you have at most one or two turns to answer them before you are past the point of no return. I’d say it’s often correct to leave more middling threats alive, saving removal for when they play something that requires an immediate response, even if it means taking a few extra points of damage or not using your mana at maximum efficiency.
Thanks for checking out my article. If you have some time, I’d love any feedback about what you liked or didn’t like about it, or ideas for future articles. I’m trying to get the hang of this content creation thing, and I want to be sure that what I’m writing aligns with what people are interested in reading.
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