Team Trio Thoughts

by Tobi Henke on 02 August 2018, Thursday

Tobi Henke


Team Trio Thoughts


I imagine it must be fun to play Team Constructed tournaments. More than imagine it, I've seen actual proof, although it only serves to contrast with my own experience. Because, for a Grand Prix reporter, Team Constructed events are miserable.


For one thing, there are twelve instead of eight decklists to type up for the playoffs. Same for player profiles. Then the playoffs only last two rounds instead of three. Combined, this means that competitors go off to celebrate on Sunday way earlier while coverage is busy even longer into the night than normal.



Finally and frustratingly, the decklists themselves don't hold the same meaning. At an individual Constructed event, there is, if not a direct connection, at least a strong assumption of correlation between a player's deck choice and record. That's why the readers and, in turn, the coverage team take a significant interest.


With trios, on the other hand, no one even knows what the personal record of any one player is. This includes the players themselves. For a while, I tried asking members of the Top 4. Save for some very anecdotal data, rarely did I get an answer to the question. Instead, people answered that personal records didn't matter, that it's the team effort that counts, how cool it is that no one thought to keep track, right, and isn't that nice?


To be fair, it is nice. And stressing the importance of team spirit is a valuable point to make. Once or twice. Unfortunately, it doesn't tell us if Top 4 Player A won all of their matches or lost all of them. Although unlikely, either is possible at a Team GP. Ultimately, we never know whether Top 4 Deck A is a strategy that promises success or a flop to be avoided.



A lot of this, including the difficulty to track a single player's progress, is because people abandon a lot of matches before their conclusion. As soon as two members of the same team win, the third match either stops or at least stops being relevant. For this reason, the merits of Lantern Control or White-Blue Control or KCI are particularly hard to glean from team tournaments.


However, the most curious fact goes beyond even all of the above. It is that none of a winning team's three decks need to do all that much winning. If their losses align correctly, individual records of 10-5 each can combine to yield one 15-0 record overall. Something similar happened at a Limited GP a few years back, where three players together went 18-9 on Day 1 to claim a 9-0 record for their team.


Luckily, I spent a very long, hot weekend in Prague recently covering single-player tournaments in Legacy, Modern, and Standard. Although only attended by hundreds rather than thousands, there was none of that pesky team business to obscure results.



Legacy Legionnaires


I was looking forward to Legacy most of all, because of timing and placing, so to say. The timing made this one of the first major events after the ban of Deathrite Shaman. And it took place in the heart of the Czech Republic, home to some Legacy experts of international renown and birthplace of decks such as err, Czech Pile.


As I sometimes do, I reached out to potential interview partners ahead of the event. This gives people the luxury to craft a more thought-out response, in their own time and in written form. Not to mention one hundred percent accurate quotes. Often many take advantage of the opportunity.




But when I asked the creator of Czech Pile his thoughts on the death of Deathrite Shaman, he launched into a diatribe which betrayed no little agitation on his part and which had to be edited heavily for brevity, clarity, and sanity.


Legacy GP champ Andreas Müller, meanwhile, made the reasonable argument that "the card itself [wasn't] overpowered, and the decks it was played in weren't either. For example, Grixis Delver and Czech Pile were not Tier Zero decks. They were just Tier One. Miracles, on the other hand, was indeed clearly better than the other decks in the format when Sensei's Divining Top was legal."


Julian Knab, of Legacy Premier League fame, called the ban "The. Best. Thing. Ever!" proving that there was room for a plurality of opinions within the community. Once underway, the tournament proved that a plurality of approaches to the new format competed with one another too.


The most played deck was RUG Delver a.k.a. Canadian Threshold, followed by Death and Taxes. The idea that the loss of shamanic extra mana might benefit mana denial strategies inordinately was as appealing as it turned out to be wrong. None of these decks made it to the final eight.


Wasteland Reanimate


Likewise, the fear that graveyard strategies would become dominant in a world without Deathrite Shaman keeping watch. No Reanimator or Dredge broke through to the top. The Top 8 players simply ran some proper sideboard cards instead of relying on the performance of deathrites.


Their decks also included a BUG Leovold build updated with Noble Hierarch, an Elves deck with no lack of Elf Druids to replace the Elf Shaman, as well as three Miracles featuring six, seven, and nine basic lands. Trying to keep them off-balance with the help of Wasteland, Stifle, Rishadan Port, or what-have-you? Ambitious, which is to say, doomed to failure.


In the end, Elves beat Eldrazi in the finals, a fine end to a fine event. Lots of different archetypes, no clear conclusions yet, but no indication that the sky was falling either. The format rather appeared exceedingly healthy.



Masters of Modern


W/U/x Control and B/G/x Midrange were the big players in Modern, which is a shocking departure from what the format used to look like for the past several years. For a long time, people lambasted Modern for its lack of interaction. Many identified Tron in particular as the posterchild of all things wrong with the format.


Everything changed about a month ago. The 16 best finishing decks at Grand Prix Las Vegas still included 72 Urza lands. The two most recent Modern GPs, on the other hand, featured but one copy of Tron across both of their Top 16s. The most common Urza land in São Paulo was "Urzal Ventoso"—which I knew by the end of the weekend to be Portuguese for Windswept Heath.



In one of the most enlightening conversations I had in Prague, I voiced my astonishment over the situation back in Barcelona when four white-blue control decks made the Top 8. I allowed that, sure, the deck got Field of Ruin and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, but, wow, where did that come from, all of a sudden?


Fellow player-turned-coverage reporter Hans Höh chided me for forgetting all about Opt and Search for Azcanta and, oh right, the unbanning of Jace, the Mind Sculptor. None of these would have effected any change in isolation; together they added up to lead to one watershed moment.


The shift also may have come about so suddenly because folks held onto traditionally accepted beliefs for too long. Everyone knew that interactive decks couldn't do well in Modern, certainly no classic control, and thus they didn't. Until it was no longer possible to ignore the mounting evidence to the contrary. Then white-blue players who combined the dots to see the writing on the wall were rewarded with a breakout performance.


Similar is bound to come up again and again in a nonrotating format, by the way. Worthwhile to stay vigilant. In the meantime, we can enjoy the interactivity of current Modern which, by all recent results including Prague's, continues to be no fluke.



Stars of Standard


Of the three Constructed events in Prague, Standard drew the least players, so we didn't get more than but a glimpse of the new environment.


One notable data point was that Viashino Pyromancer became the most played creature out of M19. The Lizard Wizard helped red decks make a decidedly more direct move for other people's life. A now on average even cheaper Wizard's Lightning, Lightning Strike, Ghitu Lavarunner … you get the idea.


Viashino Pyromancer Stitcher's Supplier


Of all the new cards, however, the biggest success story involved Stitcher's Supplier. Two players ran God-Pharaoh's Gift decks incorporating the new 1-drop, and both met in the finals. A curious coincidence or a telltale trend? More information is needed.


Thanks for reading. Until next time, I hope you, and maybe even your teammates will enjoy playing all of these Constructed formats as much as I enjoyed watching them get played!

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