Team Sealed in Rivals of Ixalan
Team Sealed is one of the most complex and deep Limited formats in Magic: The Gathering. It requires teamwork, compromise, and an extensive knowledge of Limited Magic. Christian sits down with a randomized sealed pool to show you the ins and outs of Team Sealed, just in time for the GP in Amsterdam.
Today I want to talk about my favorite format: Team Sealed. Building three decks out of 12 packs together with your teammates is considered by many to be one of the most difficult ways to play limited magic, but it's also some of the most fun you can have with a format in Magic the Gathering. In my opinion, discussing a pool with friends and helping each other out in complex matches is some of the most rewarding feelings achievable in competitive MTG. At the end of March, there is a team sealed GP in Amsterdam and I am already super excited, because the Ixalan/Rivals of Ixalan format looks very interesting. At first I thought that Rivals of Ixalan does not change the tribal format at all, but it actually does. Decks tend to be slower, tribes don't matter as much as in Ixalan and deckbuilding is more complex. Before we look at a sample pool, I recommend the following four steps in building a team sealed pool.
The Four Steps in Building a Team Sealed Pool
- Understand what each color is doing
In single sealed it happens often enough that only 2 or 3 colors matter and you can just ignore the other ones, because they contain too few playables or the other colors are just way better. In team sealed, this is completely different since most of the time you are playing each color. Therefore, it is quite important that you take a deeper look at each color to understand what it's actually doing. After you sorted out the unplayable cards, you should ask yourself the following questions:
Is the strategy of the color more aggressive or defensive? What is the color missing? Is the color aiming for any specific strategy like focusing on creature type or getting Ascend? Is the color deep enough that it can be played in more than one deck? After answering these questions, you will eventually have a better understanding of how you can pair colors with each other, because you know how to combine their strengths or compensate for their weaknesses.
- Think about how to distribute cards when colors are split
Unless you are dumping a color, you'll have to split at least one color when you are playing three 2-color decks. Figuring out which cards in those colors fit in which decks is rarely an easy task. I remember that at the last team sealed GP, we were splitting red in two decks and therefore, had some decisions to make. Since it is a tribal format, splitting the creatures is not often not that difficult, but you still might differ from the tribal theme when the mana curve matters more than the creature type. We had to distribute Lightning Strike, Repeating Barrage and Firecannon Blast between the red/blue pirate deck and the red/green dinosaur deck. Lighting Strike came in the pirate deck because early removal was more important here. Repeating Barrage first looked better in the pirate deck, because triggering Raid each turn was easier here with some evasion creatures, but in the end we chose to put Repeating Barrage in the dino deck because the pirates deck already had a mana sink with Captivating Crew. Also there is another fact which matters when you are distribute cards. Let’s say you built a blue/red and a blue/black deck and you are thinking about which deck should get Air Elemental. The card would obviously be good in both decks, but you should think about what each deck would miss when it does not get the Air Elemental. When the black deck doesn't get Air Elemental, it has to play Queen’s Agent instead. When the red deck does not get the Elemental, it has to play Storm Fleet Pyromancer instead. So, in this case you have to compare Pyromancer with Agent to make a decision. Splitting the colors correctly between your decks is very important and can sometimes make the difference between winning and losing.
- Check out the remaining cards in your pool
This step functions more as a control step. By looking at the remaining cards after you built three decks, you are making sure that you have not missed something. Having a plethora of good cards left has one of two explanations. You may have built your decks incorrectly and there is a better configuration which features more good cards and eventually better decks. The second option is that you just opened a very strong pool and will always have many powerful cards left over, no matter how you build your decks. Since usually you have good options in splashing with dual lands, Evolving Wilds or Traveler’s Amulet, you should not be afraid to do so. This way you can sometimes improve decks which were missing removal spells or spoilers.
- Distribute sideboard cards correctly
Often enough I see people just randomly giving each other a bunch of remaining cards to register, because they underestimate the power of sideboarding. Sideboarding has always been a constructed thing and has not been taken too serious in limited. Sure, people would bring in Chandra’s Defeat against red decks, but that’s mostly it. While you do not always have the option to sideboard a ton in draft or singleton sealed simply because you just do not have access to many other playable cards, you certainly have a lot of options in team sealed. You can adept pretty well to your opponent’s deck, in form of a different strategy, other creatures, sometimes even another color. Keep that in mind, when you distribute your sideboard cards, because often enough they matter.
Out White pool contains multiple good commons and is pretty deep. Most cards like Exultant Skymarcher, Territorial Hammerskull and the removal spells are good by themselves and do not necessarily need to be in a tribal deck. Nevertheless there are also a couple of Forerunners of the Legion and two Queen’s Commission, so the first thing I want to do is to look out for a white black vampire theme deck. White also has some dinosaurs and a Priest of the Walking Sun, but none of them are stand outs. Another noticeable thing is that white got 3 copies of Snubhorn Sentry, so maybe there is a fast Ascend deck. The only problem with white is that it is lacking 2-drops. A couple of Raptor Companion is all we've got and they are pretty mediocre.
2x Shore Keeper
1x River Darter
2x Sea Legs
2x Spell Pierce
1x Run Aground
When we take a deeper look at our Blue pool, we realize that the color is all about tempo. Two Deadeye Rig-Hauler, Curious Obsession, multiple bounce spells and some cheap evasion creatures fit perfectly in a Tempo deck. You could pair blue with every other color that supports the game plan of being aggressive. While there is not a ton of value in playing Crashing Tide as an instant, you still want Shapers Apprentice to have flying and to make use of Herald of Secret Streams, so the first thing I would try is to build a blue green deck.
1x Dark Inquiry
Black looks pretty poor here. It just does not offer a lot of cards, but at least it has some good removal spells. Golden Demise, two Vanquish the Weak and Moment of Craving are all pretty good cards and are the reason why black should not be ignored completely. Most of the creatures are mediocre at its best, but some are a bit better in a Vampire deck, which is good news since white offered some vampire synergy too. The bad news is that black only offers one good 2-drop for a Vampire deck, which was the only thing white was missing.
2x Dual Shot
1x See Red
Similar to black, red is pretty weak, offering little in the way of good cards. Our Red pool suffers for having only one decent removal spell with Unfriendly fire. On the other hand Otepec Huntmaster, Needletooth Raptor and especially the two Forerunner of the Empire are really good cards in a dinosaur deck. While white already contains some dinosaurs, the synergy with the Forerunners is not really there, so I strongly recommend looking to pair red with green. If green offers some good Dinos as well, there is a deck with Red, otherwise the color is unplayable.
1x Blinding Fog
Green does not have a ton of strong cards but is pretty deep and has a lot of playables, which is exactly what the pool was lacking after red and black were so shallow. There are three reasons why green saved the day here. First, the color offers many 2-drops, which is important since the other colors were pretty short on that. Second, green contains some merfolk synergies (Forerunner of the Heralds and Vineshaper Mystic), which goes hand in hand with the blue cards and an aggressive strategy. Third green offers some good dinosaur cards in form of Thundering Spineback and other big dinosaurs, but mainly it has the perfect card for the red Forerunner: Crested Herdcaller. Dealing 2 damage to every creature can be game over in some matchups and all you have to do is draw one of your 2 Forerunners. The first deck I would try to build is R/G dinosaur, but green is pretty deep so there is a good chance we play green in 2 decks.
Artifacts, Lands, Multicolor
1x Prying Blade
1x Orazca Relic
1x Foul Orchard
1x Stone Quarry
There are not many multicolor cards or artifacts in this pool, so there is not a lot to say about it. Golden Guardian is pretty good in a slower deck, since it holds the ground but can also function as a finisher. Path of Mettle needs a lot of set up and does definitely not work in this pool. Call of the Feast is a good card for the W/B Vampire deck. Traveler’s Amulet, 2 Evolving Wilds and some duals are helpful in splashing, should that become desireable.
Building three decks
Deck 1: Jund Dinos
Well, having 2 Forerunner of the Empires together with Crested Herdcaller and Needletooth Raptor looks promising, so building a R/G Dino deck is not a big surprise here. In team sealed building, the right colors are one thing, but choosing the correct 40 cards is not necessarily an easy task. Ixalli’s Diviner fits nicely in this deck, because in a slower deck like this having a 2-drop, which is also smoothing out your draws is pretty good. The other green 2-drops are better in aggressive decks, but you also want to make sure that your own creatures are not dying when you deal two damage to every creature on turn five, which will happen pretty often with your plan. With Thundering Spineback, two Colossal Dreadmaw and Golden Guardian you shouldn't have any problems finishing a game. The real problem here is survival. This is the main reason why this deck is splashing black. Having access to two Vanquish the Weak and Dark Nourishment is very important, since red only offers 2 removal spells and this way you got some answers for problematic evasion creatures. The two red Forerunners and Shake the Foundations are pretty good at clearing the board and triggering enrage. Overall, this deck looks quite strong: you have a good mana base, early game, late game, card advantage and removal.
Deck 2: Simic Tempo
|7Forest||2Deadeye Rig-Hauler||2Crashing Tide|
|8Island||1Deeproot Warrior||1Expel from Orazca|
|1Woodland Stream||1Forerunner of the Heralds||1Run Aground|
|1Giltgrove Stalker||1Curious Obsession|
|1Storm Fleet Aerialist|
|1Storm Fleet Spy|
Since white and black were lacking 2-drops and the two Shaper Apprentices are only good with some other Merfolks, green was the best option for the blue tempo cards. This deck features 8 two-drops (while Storm Fleet Aerialist is more often a 3-drop), which are all fantastic when turning left. Triggering raid should not be very hard with that many early drops. Combine that pressure with good bounce spells in form of Deadeye Rig-Hauler and Crashing Tide and you have a nice tempo deck. Curious Obsession is the absolute nuts in this deck and can lead to great value when unanswered. Merfolk is more like a subtheme here, but having the option to give your Shaper Apprentice flying or curving out with Vineshaper Mystic is fantastic. Still, two things are always concerning about such tempo decks. First, the deck is pretty bad once it gets behind, because then all the bounce spells and raid creatures get worse. With eight two drops, falling behind shouldn't happen often, but when you are on the draw and the opponent is curving out with Hammerskull or something similar, it can certainly happen. Second, the deck has problems when your opponent is playing too many removal spells or sweepers. The deck wants to curve out and making tempo plays by bouncing opposing creatures and does not want to have some bounce spells in hand with an empty board. All in all, I think the deck is pretty good when it can do what it is supposed to do: Attacking.
Deck 2: Orzhov Ascend
|10Plains||1Emissary of Sunrise||1Ixalan's Binding|
|6Swamp||3Exultant Skymarcher||2Luminous Bonds|
|2Forerunner of the Legion||1Pious Interdiction|
|1Oathsworn Vampire||1Squire's Devotion|
|2Raptor Companion||1Moment of Craving|
|3Snubhorn Sentry||1Call to the Feast|
|1Sadistic Skymarcher||1Golden Demise|
|1Territorial Hammerskull||2Queen's Commission|
The last deck is nearly mono white, but benefits from some black cards. Similarly to the second deck, the creature type is not super relevant here. The main goal is to swarm the board, getting the city’s blessing as soon as possible and shutting down opposing creatures with premium removal. Getting Ascend for Snubhorn Sentry or Golden Demise should not be very difficult, since many cards in this deck give you two permanents for one card and even four of your five removal spells give you a permanent. Voracious Vampire is usually a decent vampire, but this deck already plays a lot of 3-drops and every other one is just better. Even if you get the city’s blessing pretty consistently, I would rather keep Vona’s Hunger in the sideboard, because it is pretty poor with 2 Luminous Bonds and Pious Interdiction. Keeping up the pressure works nicely with Queen’s Commision or Call to the Feast combined with the white Forerunners. Having four Vampires with flying, which you can find with the Forerunners, is very important, because at some point the opponent has enough creatures on the ground to stop your small creatures from attacking. At this point you can just get in for the last points of damage with your flying creatures, while stalling the ground with tokens. Playing only six swamps makes Golden Demise difficult to cast, but you need to play 10 plains with three Exultant Skymarchers and, usually, by the time you want to finish the game with Golden Demise, you should have two swamps. Playing two Raptor Companions is not ideal, but you have no other two-drops and curving out is pretty important in this deck in order to get the city’s blessing quickly. The main issue with the deck is that it is lacking some token payoff cards like Pirate’s Cutlass or Anointed Deacon. Also, it's very vulnerable to cards like Shake the Foundations, Dual Shot or Infuriated Gladiodon. Overall the deck seems to be pretty decent and has good sideboard options like Slaughter the Strong, too.
This pool is quite interesting and shows the diversity of team sealed pools. There is not really a dedicated tribal deck, which is pretty different from what we have seen in the old (12 packs Ixalan) format, where you built 3 tribal decks pretty often. Nevertheless the creature type still matters in every deck in this pool even though there are no dedicated tribal decks. After I built some sealed pools, I realized that “Ascend” feels like a new tribe and there is often one deck (sometimes even two), which can or should focus heavily on getting the city’s blessing. This pool is a good example that opening good rares is not everything, because all 3 decks together play only 1 rare, but each deck still looks pretty good. I hope you found this article helpful, if you have any questions or suggestions, please comment.
Last time, my team lost the match for top 4 at GP Lyon
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