I spent a lot of time before writing this article debating whether I wanted to write it about changes to Limited coming with Hour of Devastation (which, by the way, the spoilers look sweet so far) or whether I wanted to write it about Team Sealed. I decided that the Hour of Devastation mechanics could wait until later- with two Team Limited Grand Prix coming up this weekend on opposite sides of the world (I’ll be at Cleveland myself), it’s important for many players to be thinking about optimizing their strategies in the format, especially if they’ve never played a Team Sealed event before.

In case you aren’t familiar with Team Sealed, it’s just like Sealed except instead of building one deck from the cards in six packs, you build three decks from the cards in twelve packs. Then, when you’re matched against another team, each player on your team plays a regular match against each player on the opposing team. The match is decided best of three among the individual matches.

Team Sealed is similar to Sealed in many ways, but it’s got some differences as well. In a regular Sealed tournament, a good portion of your success over the course of the event is decided in the first hour, when you’re deciding which cards to put in your deck. But this is even more true in Team Sealed, since deckbuilding is more difficult and nuanced than regular Sealed. You can’t just look at your bombs, figure out which two colors have the most of them, then build a deck around cards in those colors. Building Team Sealed is a careful balancing act of making sure all three of your decks have a solid game plan and are powerful enough to take down a match.

While building decks for Team Sealed is a complicated task, heuristics are as good here as anywhere. Here are some important questions you and your teammates should be asking yourselves when you open your packs this weekend.

What’s our deepest color?

Even if you’ve never played a Team Sealed tournament before, you probably are very comfortable with the fact that most successful Limited decks in most formats play two colors. But if you do the math, you can see that a problem arises for this format; three decks times two colors means six colors total, but there are only five colors in Magic. That means that you’re probably going to have to split at least one of the colors between two decks.

This seems like a daunting task for regular Sealed players, but remember that it becomes a lot easier once your pool of cards is double the size. Most of the time, it’s correct to split up the color that has the most playable cards overall. For example, if white has the most playables, you might build one U/W deck, one W/R deck, and one B/G deck.

Do any of our colors split evenly between two different archetypes?

Even though splitting your deepest color is correct most of the time, that isn’t always the case. Sometimes, for instance, one of your colors isn’t the deepest, but it’s deep enough to split, and the cards don’t all want to go in the same deck. This is all more or less likely to happen with various colors depending on the set that you’re playing. For example, in Battle for Zendikar, it was common to see a bunch of black cards that cared a lot about ingesting and processing, and then a bunch more that cared a lot about gaining life. In Amonkhet, you can expect this to happen a bunch with green for similar reasons.

Green has a lot of aggressive beatdown cards like Initiate’s Companion, Bitterblade Warrior, and Synchronized Strike, but it also has a bunch of great support for ramp decks, including mana producers like Naga Vitalist and Gift of Paradise, and enormous finishers like Scaled Behemoth and Greater Sandwurm. When you notice that one of your colors is divided like this, you should consider splitting it along those lines and pairing each half with a color that’s deep in cards that complements what it’s trying to do.

Are any colors too shallow to use as one of the main colors in even a single deck?

While an unplayable color is generally bad news, it’s important to recognize when it happens and make the most of the situation. When this happens, there’s a good chance it’s correct to split your two deepest colors instead of just one. For example, if color E is unplayable, and colors B and C are extremely deep, your decks might end up as AB, BC, and CD. Sometimes, when color E has some really powerful bombs or removal, it will be correct for one of the decks to main that color as a splash if it needs the extra power or has a very flexible manabase. Otherwise, as Owen Turtenwald notes in this article from last year, you should still give the cards in that color to that deck, in case that player wants to sideboard into that color.

Are our decks even in power level?

You won’t always get it perfect, but it’s wise in Team Sealed to make your decks as even in power level as possible. (A good sign that you’ve done your job reasonably well is if when you match all your decks up against each other to practice, they beat one another Rock-Paper-Scissors-style.) Sometimes that means that even if a card goes better in Deck #1 than Deck #2, you give the card to Deck #2 because it needs a power boost or it’s having trouble in certain matchups where Deck #1 does well.

For example, suppose you’ve split your green between an aggressive G/W deck with lots of small-to-medium creatures and combat tricks, and a grindy G/B deck that’s looking to slowly choke its opponent with incremental card-advantage. You initially gave the slower deck your Trial of Strength and both copies of Cartouche of Strength you opened, since the interaction between those cards is extremely potent in that deck’s strategy.

However, you find that your G/W deck is having some trouble killing blockers in the midgame, while your G/B deck isn’t dropping a match to any other deck. In this situation, you should probably give at least one of the Cartouches to the faster deck. Even though this decision makes the slower deck worse more than it makes the faster deck better by some metrics, it brings like likelihood that both decks will win their matches higher by shoring up a weakness that’s pretty likely to come up. In the end, that’s the only metric you care about.

Are we putting our sideboard cards with the decks that need the most?

In Team Sealed, you need to decide which decks get which sideboard cards at the same time that you finalize your mainboards. A common mistake that many teams make is taking these decisions lightly- you never know which card you might really need to board in sometimes, and it’s always going to suck when that card is gathering dust in someone else’s sideboard. While deckbuilding, think about when you might board in certain cards and which decks might need those cards most.

For example, say you’re looking at your copy of Vizier of Remedies, which didn’t make it into either of your white decks. One is a blistering fast R/W deck with several copies of Nef-Crop Entangler, and the other is a W/B zombie-focused midrange deck with Doomed Dissenter. Which deck gets the Vizier in the sideboard?

If you think about it, you’ll realize that you’ll probably only board in the Vizier against decks with a lot of -1/-1 counter cards, like Splendid Agony and Cartouche of Ambition. Doomed Dissenter is pretty good against these cards to begin with, but Nef-Crop Entangler is awful against it. The red deck needs the Vizier’s effect much more than the black deck, so the red deck ends up with it.

Whether you’ll be sleeving up Team Sealed decks for the first time on Saturday or you’re a veteran of Team Limited tournaments, these questions are important to think about when you’re building your trio of decks this weekend. Hopefully, you’ll be able to use this knowledge to crush me and my team when we inevitably face off at the event hall- that’s how I’ll know whether I’ve succeeded as a writer. Either way, I hope to see you in Cleveland this weekend!

If you make day 2, you’ll need to know how to team draft well if you want a shot at winning the tournament. This intro guide from Roman Fusco explains the finer points of Magic’s most famous team format.

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