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Reflections on Ixalan: GP Providence Prep Guide

Written by Zach Cramer on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Limited, Team Events

Reflections on Ixalan: GP Providence Prep Guide

Zach Cramer

Zach is a Northeastern Magic grinder who specializes in eternal formats. When building decks, he has a strong preference to Blue cards, toolboxes and combo decks. With a recent RPTQ finish just short of an invitation, Zach hopes to take his skills to the next level and play on the Pro Tour.

Greetings all! Today, I’m going to discuss my preparation and results of the recently passed GP Providence. While this article won’t help you prepare for the now in-the-past GP Providence, I hope it will serve as an evergreen prep guide for Team Sealed events on Release Weekends because there is slim to no material on them as of right now. Some people like to tell you that these Release Weekend GPs are best leveling the playing field because everyone has similar experience with the set; those people are wrong. Some people would counter by saying Release Weekend GPs favor professional players who combine their full time Magic playing with their natural skills, and while I am going to say that these people are closer to the correct answer, I think they’re wrong as well! The players who put the most work in and work best together are going to be the people who win Release Weekend GPs. If you know your archetypes, if you know which decks are weak to which decks, and which cards in your pool need to go in which deck’s main deck and sideboard to address those matchups, you’re going to do very well for yourselves and that’s what me and my team set out to do. For this article, I’m going to take you through every part of my process for practicing for these types of events. Without further ado, let’s dive right in!

An Aside on Team Selection:

When picking your team, you’ll want to spend your weekend with people you like, know, and can effectively communicate with, but, secondly, picking someone you know and have experience preparing with will give you some insight into their preferences for the important things (what decks to play, what style of play they like) and the little details (what kinds of hotels they like, what time they like to wake up, leave and whether or not they like poppy seed bagels). Don’t team with people who don’t like poppy seed bagels. Similarly, DON’T PLAY WITH SALTMONGERS. Team events are super tough and have about three times as much variance as your normal tournament because you’re playing three times as many games. Imagine how tough it will be to go through 9 rounds with someone who rolls their eyes or shuts down after every mulligan your team takes, or even worse, losing die rolls. Ugh. Ideally, you’re looking to pick people who like to play different decks than you and value different things than you so you can each find your niche within the deck building. For example: In Ixalan, having someone who likes White/Red Aggro and someone who likes big Green Dinosaurs and Blue/Black Tempo might prove to be a great combination while a team that is full of players who are uncomfortable running less than 7 removal spells, might run into some earlier problems. This might be a little too meta, but, I said it so there. One other thing, whether it’s a team event or otherwise, is setting up a clear schedule to work on your goals. When looking at which players you want to add to your team, it’s important to examine how much time your team can commit to these sorts of things. Give yourself time to practice everything: ratings for cards, playing actual games, diving deep on the mechanics within deckbuilding (ie. Whether or not your deck wants a card like Rile or River Caller’s Boon even when you’re not in a Dinosaur or Merfolk deck), and even concisely talking about cards and their roles. All of these skills are important to master once you get down to game time.

Once the Full Spoiler comes up, you have a chance to see how all the cards interact with each other. Which cards are good, which cards are bad, and what archetypes are supported? Looking at Ixalan, we can see while there are several highly prevalent themes, many cards rely on synergy to gain the highest impact on the board. Enrage cards need ways to activate Enrage to get the most value. Raid decks need evasion, tricks, and late game power in order to keep pace with enormous dinosaurs, and Merfolk need, well, other Merfolk!

Ratings and Rankings are a way to quantify just how important a card is and just how likely it is to make your deck. I typically use the LR Rating system A-F with BA (Build Around) and SB (Sideboard) as important outliers to the traditional rating system. Cards like Demystify or even Slash of Talons have incredibly potent strength in certain matchups and casting them away because they aren’t the best maindeck cards will cost you in the long run. In addition, I like to add “keywords” to cards. Being able to sort your sheets by Power and Toughness or being able to group key Creature Types, key abilities, or just a synergy card with their correct home helps provide a holistic view of colors, archetypes, and the format at large.

Weekend of the Spoiler:

It’s amazing how excited everyone gets when the full set is up! While many of you should be familiar with Limited Resources’ Set Reviews, here’s a few resources that you might not be aware of:

-Watch LRR’s Pre-Pre Release

Loading Ready Run has been hosting a Pre-PreRelease for a few years now. This is absolutely incredible. The members of the team plus a few Magic personalities get settled in for 8 rounds of Magic with a fair bit of player commentary that really smooths the listening experience. Seeing exactly how cards interact, watching the deck techs, seeing the archetypes and enjoying the laid back nature of the event gave me such an appreciation for the new set, not to mention a bit of tech.

-Find Other Set Reviews

Twitch Streamer Scalding Hot Soup, Brennan DeCandio and maybe a few others have already done this. This gives you something to balance your own results with while you wait for Limited Resources or your teammates ratings to come in. This doesn’t even include the articles that will be up in the coming weeks to summarize certain assumptions about the format. Something I always look at is PV’s PreRelease tips.

While we were doing all of this work, we made sure to check in with our teammates to see what they think. The difference of opinion will keep you all grounded when you’re processing which cards work best and will also allow you the ability to focus on what makes each of you excited. While you’re looking at the spoiler, making your ratings, and watching others play, really work on trying to nail down specific archetypes that are involved. A great way to do that is by generating pools together.

Now, MTGO doesn’t put the queues up to draft, but, once the full spoiler is out, many third party sources offer you the ability to produce sealed pools to practice with. In addition, the Wednesday before MTGO queues go up, MTGO has access to the card files which lets you build imported sealed pools you get from these third party websites. Being able to move these pools around cleanly with your team over Skype or some other screensharing software can be invaluable in figuring out how to actually sort out your pools. It also lets people cut in when they disagree with a classification. The value and the pitfall of team events lies in the ability of players to be able to be on the same page and work towards the same goal – a team united has a great chance of winning, but, once you go it alone, you gotta know that you’ll be playing 1 v. 3 all tournament.

Pre-Release

-Play in it! Have fun! Talk to players about how they built their decks

This is a chance to relax again – pre-releases at your LGS are a shot to see how players react to new cards, how players build their decks, to see cool stuff in person for the first time – you’ll learn a lot about what to do and what not to do – talk to your opponents and the people around you. Everyone’s input will give you something.

Once the set drops on Monday, get on MTGO and jam! Start building pools and exporting sealed pools onto MTGO –use renting bot or other site to build and play with generated pools. As you learn about the new set, you have to communicate these discoveries to your team. If they’re there when you see it, that’s even better, but, generally just being able to advance through the format quickly and together gives you a chance to get a huge leg up on people.

Friday of Event

In the case of my car, we have 6 hours to drive together. This gives us plenty of time to discuss where we’re at on the format, what cards and archetypes we like, and other sorts of things.
-Memorize combat tricks, establish archetypes, pick specialties and establish roles for the event

-Do a few in pool practice sessions if possible, when you get back to your room

-Make a Metagame

The biggest thing you can do on this car ride is figure out what decks exist, what decks struggle against which decks and which cards are best against certain decks. This will be key in figuring out who ends up with which sideboard cards. Fiery Cannonade obliterates Vampires, while it proves useless against Pirates. Play the cards that help your deck, but, make sure you have options in your sideboard when those cards are notably bad. Mechanics are really tough to put together in practice – it’s important you get to spend as much time as possible being able to deckbuild and discuss. Once you get there, I’d try to do one pool together in the hotel room and then head off to bed early.

The Event Itself is pretty straightforward. Using the tools you have, try and build the best possible three pools against the metagamed field. For me, this means separating all of my cards into 6 piles: Dinosaurs, Pirates, Merfolk, Vampires, Generic Playables, and Removal. We divide these up and then look at the best possible decks we can build, while figuring out how to split up the removal as efficiently as possible. Tight play, clear communication, and conscious sideboarding will lead to the best result for your team. In terms of tips that I can offer, I’d espouse the following:

-I don’t play Vampires without 3 payoff cards. Vampires goes wide and can be very grindy but without something to carry them into the late game, they look fairly anemic. Cards that I qualify as payoffs are:

Anointed Deacon (though I only count the first as a payoff, even if I play 2), Sanctum Seeker, Bishop of the Bloodstained, Deathless Ancient, or Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle.

-Pirates is best served as BR or UB, generally not UR. In sealed, I like my pirates decks to be treasure themed with several splashes looking to go late or Menace themed with cards like March of the Drowned and Pirate’s Cutlass to trade off your little guys and get aggressive.

-Merfolk is the nuts very often and leads to very non-interactive games. If you have something remotely resembling it in your pool, strongly consider it.

-Dinosaurs is relatively safe and can reliably be in any pool you open. The key to dinosaurs is either to get aggressive or to have a bunch of x/4s to set yourself up for a late game. Ixali’s Diviner and Grazing Whiptail are incredibly difficult to get off the battlefield and I find myself often just playing Vineshaper Mystic as a 2/4 and being incredibly happy. The big dinosaur decks can also benefit from a card like New Horizons turning your Skyblade of the Legion of unexplored Diviner etc into another x/4 that will hold off the enemy.

That’s pretty much all I have for now, until next time!

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