In the Grand Prix world, last month featured a return to team sealed at GP Indianapolis. With team limited Grand Prix occurring at a much higher frequency this season thanks to Pro Tour 25th Anniversary, it is important to keep an eye on team limited strategy. The Tuesday before Indy, my team and I got together to discussed what decks we expected to find in our pools. This strategy was very important because splitting a limited pool into the best trio of decks is extremely challenging, and keeping this information in the back of your mind can give you a point of entry into figuring out the strong and weak points of your pool.
Before Indy, my team and I got together to build two pools to practice the format. In both pools, we found three incredibly strong decks fairly easily. On top of that, both pools featured a blue-green Merfolk deck, a red-black Pirates deck, and a beatdown deck involving some combination of the Naya colors. One interesting thing about them is that they were all either very aggressive decks or midrange decks that wanted to beat down most of the time.
While obviously not every pool is going to have these three decks, I thought about this pattern a lot later that evening, and based on my observations in testing and my experience with the limited format overall, I realized something. In most team sealed formats, you will generally find either two fast decks and one slow deck, or two slow decks and one fast deck. In Rivals of Ixalan team sealed, it’s looking like most of the time your pool will have three fast decks or two fast decks and one slow deck. Since neither of our pools fell into the latter category, I thought it was really important to identify when it is best to build a slower deck.
The most important thing to remember when making this decision is what these slow decks actually look like. Based on how Ixalan played out combined with my experience so far with Rivals, I think there will be four different styles of slow decks in the format, meaning that they fall in the range from grindy midrange to pure control:
1. Dinosaur Midrange/Ramp
This deck is generally green-white, green-red, or Naya, and it is distinct from the beatdown decks in these colors in that it has a stronger late game than early game. Key cards in this deck are Kinjalli’s Caller, New Horizons, Needletooth Raptor, and Colossal Dreadmaw, which are all much better here than they are in more aggressive Naya decks.
In this style of deck, you’re using your early drops to make the game go longer, not to get in for damage. If you’re unsure if your Naya deck falls into this category, think about whether you would rather have Raptor Companion or Raptor Hatchling. If the answer is Raptor Hatchling, you’re probably in this archetype. Additionally, it is very hard for three color decks to be aggressive if they are splashing more than one or two cards, so if that sounds like your deck, that is another signal that you should be putting more ramp-oriented cards in and cutting combat tricks and the like.
2. White Black Control
Rivals of Ixalan has a lot of great removal in white and black, and there will be pools where you will want to play white-black, but it will better to build a controlling deck than it is to be aggressive or go wide. One sign your pool is like this is that it will be low on the key cards from black-white aggro decks: good aggressive one and two drops, combat tricks, etc. If a white-black deck gets there without these things, it will have two things: One is an abundance of good removal. Cards like Moment of Craving, Luminous Bonds, and a ton of others. The other thing is low drops that aren’t great in aggro, but are much better in control. Look out for Skittering Heartstopper, Dusk Legion Zealot, and even Snubhorn Sentry, which isn’t great in control but is much better than it is in aggro.
3. Green Black
This deck is the classic grind ‘em out with card advantage and win. Obviously, green-black has no tribal support, but I have no problem playing green black (or white-blue for that matter, which was one of the best decks in Ixalan draft) if the right pieces are there. There are a few different things to look out for that might pull you in this direction. One is if you open one or more of the green-black cards in the block (there’s Vraska, Journey to Eternity, and Jungle Creeper), which all range from good to excellent, especially in grindy decks. You can also just open a bunch of green and black cards that are at their best in this style of deck. This flavor of green-black will sometimes splash red or white for cards like Needletooth Raptor and Imperial Ceraptops. Even though green-black will probably not be the best deck out of your three, it is consistently fine or better, so it is great at filling holes in your plan.
4. Blue-based Treasure Control
This is the slow deck that I expect to be the most unbeatable when it is good, so it’s important to recognize when it is there. It will usually play three or four colors, of which black is usually the second most prominent, but white can sometimes fit that role as well. The most important sign that we should look at this deck in depth is multiple copies of Sailor of Means, Prosperous Pirates, or Contract Killing. Other treasure makers are important too, but these are the best ones. This deck also needs a good amount of removal to function, but it’s not too picky as long as it has a couple of unconditional spells like Waterknot and Impale. Finally, this deck is looking for two kinds of payoffs. The first is bombs, especially multicolor ones.
Out of twelve packs, you are likely to open a few absurd bombs, and if your other two decks are aggressive, they might not be able to fit them for curve or color reasons. You will commonly have a situation where you have a red-black Pirates deck and a green-white Dino deck, but you also opened a Profane Procession and a Vraska. Instead of trying to cram those cards into your other decks or giving up and ignoring them entirely, you can put them both into your treasure deck, where they will be much more castable because that is what this deck is trying to do. The other kind of payoff are good ascend cards. These are often playable in any deck, but treasure decks are particularly good at getting up to 10 permanents. If you have a bunch of Spire Winders, Expel from Orazca, and Secrets of the Golden City, blue-based control might be really sweet. Note that enchantment-based creature removal is a nudge toward this strategy for ascend purposes.
I should mention that even if your pool is giving off all the signals I listed above for one of the decks, it still might not be correct to build that deck. For example, if your pool has few aggressive white or black two-drops but tons of great white and black removal, it will often be correct to just give that removal to your blue-black deck and your white-red deck, which will free up removal from the opposite colors of those decks to go to your third deck… The point is that it will depend on the specific cards in the pool. Still, it is good to be aware of these kinds of slow decks, especially since we didn’t encounter any in our testing yesterday.
Also, on top of these positive signs that tell us that a slow deck is definitely there, you should also pay attention to when your pool is telling us that a third fast deck is not there. For example, if you spend some time looking at a green-red midrange deck and you’re excited about it but not wowed, you might want to try green-black instead- you can always go back to the first deck if the second doesn’t pan out.
One final point: it is incredibly easy to settle on the first decks you looked at without trying out alternatives. I cannot overstate the importance of looking at every option when building team sealed decks. Even if you think the first deck you look at is really good, at the end of the day, almost every team at the top tables will have done so. As someone who has struggled with this at past events, before a team tournament, you should try to mentally prepare yourself to keep an open mind to new ideas even when it means you have to give up something sweet. This is especially important since making a deck a bit worse might actually be correct if it makes another deck better.
If you plan to attend a Rivals of Ixalan team sealed event this season, I hope you can find a way to use this article to give yourself an edge on your competition, and i wish you luck in claiming the Golden City.
Follow us on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/spellsnare_
Like us on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/spellsnare