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The Learnament Report: Everything That Made Me Better at GP Providence

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

The Learnament Report: Everything That Made Me Better at GP Providence

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’ve got something a little bit different to share with you. Last week, I was so incredibly hyped up for GP Providence. I had a team I was happy with, I practiced and prepared meticulously before the event, and I had my ear to the ground on every remotely spike source of information about the format I was playing. This, to me, was everything I needed to do to set myself up to crush this tournament. Sadly, the tournament ended with a pretty disappointing 4-4 finish. While driving home from the event, I was incredibly disappointed. Not only because my team had fallen short of expectations, but, because I was ashamed that I couldn’t share any of my tips for the new limited format to my readers and friends in a tournament report. “No one wants to read your 4-4 tournament report about mediocre rares and bad beats, Zach!” BUT, what if I didn’t write a tournament report about my victories, and instead I wrote a tournament report about everything that I discovered while playing in the GP. A “Learn-ament” Report, if you will. That sounds like exactly what I should be writing. So here we are: a tournament report featuring some tips, tricks, and mistakes that made me better this weekend.

Preparation:

Do: Practice a bunch of pools before limited events to get an idea of what to expect

In preparation for Team Limited, I did over 50 sealed pools. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I knew exactly how I wanted to divide up our colors and tribes within 15 minutes of sorting out our cards. Knowing what to expect when I opened a pool allowed me to figure out what to look for when opening packs, how to sideboard for my opponents, and have a mental image of what good versions of strong decks look like. What is important, though, is to build these pools within a context of the format and within the preferences of your teammates.

Do Not: Practice in a vacuum without your teammates to provide their preferences

It seems so obvious as I write this, but, doing pools for a team event is USELESS if your teammates aren’t convinced that your approach is correct. Worse still, is if your pools extend from your biases and your pools produce decks your teammates don’t want to play and don’t play to their strengths. While I was building these pools, I was fascinated with the idea of splashes. Splashing off of Drover, splashing off of New Horizons, splashing off of treasures, splashing off of Ranging Raptors, splashing of Thaumatic Compass and splashing off of Commune with Dinosaurs. There’s so many ways to splash in Ixalan! However, me tunneling on splashing with Commune with Dinosaurs playing the Dinosaurs cards in my pool blinded me to the possibility of just playing blue treasure cards and giving our pirates players my aggressive two drops, that were poorly suited for my deck.

Do: Play with a friendly team that you interact well with

When playing in a 9 round event, it’s important to have people that you want to spend time with, work through tough situations with, and have extra opinions you can trust and respect. My friend Ryan wanted to make sure he did that so he recruited myself and another grinder close to him to team with. This worked really well for Ryan because he and I communicate about Magic on a daily basis for the last two years almost every day. We’re very familiar with each other and very in tune with each other’s styles. In addition, Ryan’s friend in Buffalo was in close proximity so Ryan could touch base with him whenever he wanted, at least in theory. Then we had six hours in the car to touch base with each other before the actual event so we’d all be on the same page.

Do Not: Play with a team who can’t get games and in person testing in

Wow did this not pan out the way we hoped! The sad truth is that life comes at people quickly. While I was able to go above and beyond on pools during the week, my teammates weren’t able to help me build pools during the afternoon and my evenings weren’t free to draft with them on MTGO and my geographic location made it impossible for me to play with them in person. As a result, it was very difficult for us to all get on the same page. This meant that during build, I advocated for a specific deck that I wanted and my preference to give others the aggro deck also led to some miscommunications. We ended up not building a pool optimally and my lack of experience playing with our third player as well as IRL games with both of my teammates led to me not understand a few of their bluffing lines and the way they approached some of their matches.

Building:

Do: Make your voice heard to your teammates

In Team Sealed, everyone’s voice matters. If you don’t think their voice matters, you shouldn’t have them on your team. Just because I had an incredible amount of work on Ixalan Team Sealed pools, I’m still a ways behind my teammates’ limited experience. This means we all have important information to present and everyone’s voice will play a key role. I learned a lot from my teammates about how to play aggressive Magic this weekend. I’m a fairly conservative player who likes to lean on synergy and power rather than board presence to win my games. While there is certainly plenty of synergy in Ixalan, it’s still very important to get on the board early to not get “ROFLSTOMPED” by your Pirate and Dinosaur opponent’s aggressive starts and to get in damage rather than allow your Merfolk and Vampire opponents the ability to shamelessly develop an unstoppable board.

Do Not: Fall victim to attachment on the deck you’re building

One thing I wish we had done with our pools is switch seats during building to allow ourselves the ability to change around a few cards in each other’s decks. I ended up building a powerful ramp deck that splashed great bombs but had a lackluster middle game and an over-saturation of 3s and 7s. This led to a lot of non-games when I stumbled hitting my 7th mana source or couldn’t deploy my anemic 3s quickly enough. Building my pool in a different way and giving my teammates a few cards I thought I needed and kept to myself probably cost us from making Day 2. Another piece of advice I learned, can be summarized by looking up the concept of “Never block with Spiritmonger” – I’ll leave the rest of the learning to you on that one.

Do: Ask for Feedback on Decisions like Sideboarding and Mulligans

I’d like to provide an aside on Team Sealed communication. From watching my team, watching my opponents, and watching PGO on Sunday, I can confidently say that communication with your teammates should be relatively few and far between. Asking about a combat step you’re unsure on whether to attack into something will signal you don’t have a trick and asking a teammate a question about a complex board state without much context will usually produce slow play and inaccurate observations. The reason people are on your team is because you trust them and their play. I struggled with this communication because sometimes my communication on a game I didn’t need to provide input on led to my teammate actually being taken out of their focus, which meant that it took longer to find the optimal line. Thankfully, we never ran into a time crunch that got anywhere near a draw, but, it did lead to games having to become more rushed than they needed to be. Mulligan and Sideboarding decisions are different because they come at a point when you’re not already entrenched in a decision or a complex position. At these points, teammates can be the most helpful at providing many theoretical percentage points.

Do Not: Try Bush-League Shit on your opponents

Apologies on the language here. I assume my editor will probably change the wording and this sentence might not even be there, but, I believe that my language is accurate. When playing a match, my UB Pirates opponent who had otherwise played a very strong, well-thought-out game turned to his teammate and announced “So I just pass and hold this up, right?” My opponent knew I had a Thundering Spineback next turn that I could play and he also knew that he had shown me Lookout’s Dispersal. I can promise you that I have never slammed a card down so confidently into open mana. Please don’t disrespect your opponents like that. No one has time or interest for your petty mind games. In jest, we discussed after the match the possibility of trying to level this poor tactic by only saying “So I pass and hold this up, right?” when we actually had something because they’d never expect there would be anything in our hand!

That’s pretty much all I have for today. I’ll leave you with a couple props and slops style Do/Do Nots

Outside of Events:

Do: Stay in Massachusetts instead of Providence
Holy moly is it cheaper to stay in Massachusetts than the thimble-sized state of Rhode Island. Props to Ryan for booking a decent and cheap hotel that was only 15 minutes from the venue, despite being in a literally different state.

Do Not: Get into the wrong car and set off the alarm
Just because you drove there in a car with a New York license plate does not mean that it is your car. Just because that car is unlocked does not mean you should sit in it. Sorry to the person dumb enough to keep their car unlocked, but, smart enough to have the world’s loudest car alarm. PS. Your seats were super comfy for the 5 seconds I sat on them.

Do: Something fun when you’re at an event that you can positively remember
After a frustrating event, I always like to have a great meal to get excited about. The positive memories are the ones that keep you interested in investing in the hobby and the game – so make the most of your weekend and have some fun. Murphy’s Pub also has excellent food and great drinks. I brought my own friends, but, the bar patrons were an absolute delight as well.

Do Not: Argue with an Auntie Anne’s employee about the cost of food. Why would you know better than them?
This is pretty self-explanatory, but, I figured it’d be pretty funny to include the self-deprecating tale of arguing about the price of pretzels at Auntie Anne’s with an employee for multiple minutes. I’m sorry I’m incapable of reading the menu as it was designed. Thank you for your patience. !punt

Until next time!

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