Pop quiz, hotshot. When presented with two Onslaught starters, two Legions boosters and two Scourge boosters, and directed to make three decks out of the resultant cards within 45 minutes, how do you go about it?
If you can't come up with one definitive answer, don't feel bad--it's a trick question. There is no definitive answer--only different things that work for different people. Let's see what works for the best in the game!
Phoenix Foundation (Kai Budde, Dirk Baberowski, Marco Blume)
Phoenix Foundation is the most successful team in Magic history, with countless top finishes under their belts, including two Pro Tour wins. I caught up with Kai just as he was returning from the land station at the end of Round 2, and he was nice enough to answer my questions while goldfishing his deck. Marco and Dirk were also doing test draws in the adjacent seats, all the while laughing and joking in German.
SB: What is the first thing you do when you receive your cards?
Kai: Lay out all the colors, and see which ones are the deepest. Usually, it's white, green, and black.
SB: Do you try certain color combinations first?
Kai: The optimal build is if you can put removal in all three decks, but that didn't work out today. If you cannot have removal in all three decks, you go with a blue-white deck. It's the best deck if you can't have removal in all three.
SB: Do you metagame at all by putting certain colors in certain seats?
Kai: It's never worked out for us. In draft, most people do put a green deck on the right, so typically we do not put our green deck on the right, as it's possible that teams will put an anti-green deck there.
SB: What colors do you consider to be "anti-green"?
Kai: It depends on what cards you have. Something like double Cruel Revival, double Skinthinner is excellent obviously, and blue-white also tends to be very strong against green.
SB: Do you have any Team Sealed "rules" that you try never to break, or certain things you try to avoid in your builds?
Kai: Not really.
Barns & Noble (Osyp Lebedowicz, Morgan Douglass, Antonino DeRosa)
Osyp and Antonino have been toiling away in New Jersey, testing hard for this Pro Tour. Now, Morgan has joined up with them in Boston and it's time to put those long days of drafting to a test! I managed to wrangle Osyp at the land station, and he graciously agreed to answer my questions.
SB: What is the first thing you do when you when you receive your cards?
Osyp: Well, traditionally, since we're a little superstitious, I open all the cards and look through them, and make faces as to whether they're good or bad. Then we'll lay them out. I get white, Antonino gets green, and Morgan gets black.
SB: Any particular rhyme or reason to who gets what?
Osyp: Well, Antonino prefers green, Morgan prefers black, and I like anything BUT green. The white gets left over, and I take that.
SB: What do you do with the blue and the red?
Osyp: We put the blue and the red in the middle, as we consider green, white, and black to be the base colors. We don't like to split red and blue if possible, so unless we get a really insane red or blue card pool, that generally doesn't happen. We do like to go monoblack a lot. Our other two decks are usually green-red, and white splashing a few blue cards. The blue is usually so bad that we can only play a few cards--basically Rush of Knowledge and fliers.
SB: Are there any rules or guidelines you use for Team Sealed?
Osyp: If one deck has no removal, we try to give it as much evasion as possible. We also like to divide our bombs evenly between decks. The three things you need are a good creature base, evasion, and removal. A deck can get away with missing one of those three, but not two.
For example, a blue-white deck will generally have no removal, so it must have evasion and a good creature base. With no evasion, we don't even bother building it. That's sorta how we ended up blue-red last round. Black will typically have removal and evasion, and green will have little removal but excellent creatures. Green can get away with having little removal and evasion because the power to casting cost ratio is so high, and the activated abilities of the creatures are so good. Even Berserk Murlodont is insane in some matchups.
SB: I see Antonino DeRosa has joined us. Antonino, when you open your cards in a Team Sealed, what cards do you want to see in green?
Antonino: When I open my cards, I want to see Wirewood Elf. Obviously everyone wants to see bombs and Timberwatch, but Wirewood Elf is probably better than Barkhide Mauler.
SB: Yes, obviously you want to see the "good" green cards. And you're saying that Wirewood Elf is something that is very underrated?
Illuminati (Alex Shvartsman, Zvi Mowshowitz, Justin Gary)
The mysterious Illuminati are one of the top teams in the world, with a number of very impressive finishes in team events (including a recent Grand Prix win) and too many individual accomplishments to list here. Though they had just suffered a tough Round 3 loss at the hands of Gab Tsang and his turn 6 Visara, Gary and Alex sat down with me next to Alex's dealer table and spent some time explaining their views on Team Sealed.
SB: What is the first thing you do when you open your cards?
Justin: First we divide it up by color, and each of us will take a color, check to see strengths and weaknesses, and see if it has a natural pairing with any other.
Alex: We look at the white, black, and green first.
Justin: In general, those are the best to start with. It depends on the card pool--it's certainly not set in stone.
SB: What are your ideal three decks, or color combinations?
Alex (laughs): I think we just played against them.
Justin: I think this format is about the individual cards, rather than about color combinations. If you've got a very aggressive card pool, you can build blue-white, black-red, and green-x and you have your ideal decks. But this format is very much about maximizing individual cards.
SB: Are there certain rules you follow with regards to your builds?
Alex: We never accept the first build. We always try alternatives to make the best use of our individual cards.
Justin: Maximizing your two-drops is important, too. The bottom line, though, is you want to maximize the power of all your cards. Mediocre cards can become good, and good cards can become insane, based on what you play them with.
Alex: For example, a Riptide Shapeshifter is maximized in a blue-white a deck with Akroma. In another deck, it will still be good, but that isn't the best use of it.
Justin: Or something like Fierce Empath. If you have a six-mana bomb, there you go. That's the right deck.
Alex: A little.
Justin: In general it's hard to be able to predict the sealed deck metagame. Still, I've played against three Zombie decks today in the A seat.
Alex: People tend to play black on the left, white in the middle, green on the right.
SB: Do you think they're unconsciously mirroring their draft strategies in that regard?
Alex: Yes, they do what they're used to--they stay in those colors.
Justin: Or, they presume that other people will do the same, and since they know how to play the matchups, they stay in those seats.
2020 (Elijah Pollock, David Rood, Steve Wolfman)
2020 is Canada's most illustrious team, with a Top 2 finish at Pro Tour - Boston last year. I was lucky enough to snag Elijah for a chat in between his Round 3 win and his next cigarette break, and he had some interesting things to say, describing a somewhat unique approach to Team Sealed deckbuilding.
SB: What's the first thing you do when you get your cards?
Elijah: Sort them by colors.
Elijah (smiles): Then we yell about what rares we got, you know.
SB: When it comes time to get down to the actual deckbuilding, how do you go about it?
Elijah: We all look over the five colors as a group; no one has an assigned deck color. We cut the bad cards out, and then lay out the remainder by mana cost. Then, once we have an idea how the decks are going to look, we have a way we divide them up.
SB: What's that?
Elijah: I always take the most aggressive deck, regardless of how good, or what colors. Then David takes the better of the two remaining decks, and Steve gets what's left over.
SB: That's how you always do it?
Elijah: Yeah, we did it that way last year, too. Steve went 5-1 with the worst decks of all time. I take the most aggressive one because I have time to have a smoke. And speaking of aggressive . . .
(Elijah shows me the Reckless One, Goblin Lookout and Goblin Warchief in his deck, then flashes a Tendrils of Agony.)
SB: That's interesting, because some of those are cards that generally I wouldn't play with.
Elijah: Yes, but they're good in the aggressive deck. The Lookout can be powerful with haste. If you can make use of weaker cards because of the synergy they have, it frees up more powerful cards for your other two decks.
SB: Is that example extreme, or do you typically do this?
Elijah: It looks extreme in this format, but really, I did the same sort of thing last year. I would run Dematerialize because it was good in aggressive decks, and that would free up Looters for the other decks.
SB: Do you do any metagaming with regards to what colors are in what seats?
Elijah: No. Maybe we would if we had set draft strategies, but we are flexible in our draft strategy.
Anan Go Is Best Player (Itaru Ishida, Tsuyoshi Fujita, Masahiko Morita)
Anan Go Is Best Player, in addition to having probably the best name in the entire event, is exploding with Japanese talent. Though the language barrier prevented us from getting into too much detail, they were still able to provide me with some brief remarks. Thanks to Keita Mori of Sideboard Japan for helping with the translation.
SB: What is the first thing you do when you open your cards?
AGIBP: We look over all the cards and divide them into two piles--cards to use, and cards that are unplayable. From there, we start to make decks.
SB: What are your preferred color combinations?
AGIBP: Blue-white, red-green, and black-white are our ideal builds.
SB: Are there any specific rules or strategies that you use in your builds?
AGIBP: We do two and one--two strong decks and one weak deck. Also, the Seat A player never plays green. We've found that other teams tend to put a deck there that is good against green.
Each of these teams is putting their respective strategies to use in the six rounds of Day 1. It will be interesting to see who is left standing once it all unfolds.