Some of you may already know me as the often tilted at WotC co-host on First Strike Podcast. I thought I might take a break from that to see if I can write some strategy articles for leveling up. I think it’s difficult and I’ll probably be awful at it, but if you don’t try then you’ve already failed… right?
What I want to do in this article is to go over some lessons I learned from the AKH Team Limited GP in Cleveland last week. I think we played decently, but savagely misbuilt our Day 2 pool and may have misbuilt our Day 1 pool, which led to a dismal 8-5 Drop. Why do I think this happened? It may have something to do with it being our first time teaming together, but I think our process for color selection of the 3 playable pairs was really poor. Our main strategy was to look for the “obvious” deck, build it out, and then move on to figure out how to position the remaining cards for the 2nd and 3rd decks. This worked out better for us on Day 1 because our obvious deck was the BW zombie dream that went 9-0 in matches. In Day 2 we simply built the BW deck again and moved on – the deck was closer to a 7 though. We ended up with a WB, GW, and a UR deck when we should have built RW, RB, and UG decks.
While doing our post-mortem on the event, I thought about how to approach the building process in such a way that we would not have missed the correct color pairs in Day 2 and perhaps have a tighter build on Day 1. I came up with the following theorem: Spend about 15 min to sort each color pair together by mana-cost. Then give a very quick number ranking (0-10) on the strength of the color pair. Essentially, if you were in a draft and these were your playables, how well do you think your deck might perform? Filter out the cards that are typically not played (we can go back to these after we select the color pairs); their value is low enough that they shouldn’t affect the strength of any given color pair. Then jot down some quick notes on what that build might be – RW 15 land aggro, BG counters, UGw Approach, etc.
Once you have quickly gone through all the combinations for decks and attributed a number to those pairs, you sort the list and pick the best 3 that you think will work.
For example, let’s say you come out with this:
WB = 7, WR = 8, WG = 5, WU = 2
BR = 7, BG = 9, BU = 3
RG = 6, UR = 8
GU = 7
The best three decks (if we could overlap cards completely) would be:
WR, BG, UR
There is no overlap between WR/BG and BG/UR so that is a good start. Usually WR and UR want different things as well – let’s assume our UR deck is spells synergy based. In this scenario you can quickly determine that BG is your non-overlapping deck and that red is being split between a WR aggro deck and a UR spells deck. You then begin building those WR and UR decks, making sure you can make two decks you are happy with. The third person starts trimming the BG deck.
If it ends up that you can’t build this way you just go back to your list and start over. You try WR, BG, UG and see if that is workable. Rinse, wash, and repeat until finished.
The question remains – does it actually work? Let’s go deep breaking down a pool and see if it makes any sense. My scoring of each color pair is going to be very strict – since most decks in Team Sealed start at “good”, we are looking to do much better than good to ensure we have a chance at winning. I’m not going to go very deep on each color pairing either as that’s not the intent here and you have to do it quickly during deck building, so it should be more of a “gut feel” than a 100% accurate analysis.
These colors are already pretty weak together in this format and we definitely didn’t get a pool that changes that. The only saving grace in this pool is Aven Wind Guide + Oketra’s Monument – otherwise these colors are not aligned on a game plan at all. I’d give this pool a 2. It can win a game or even a match, but you would be surprised if it did.
This definitely isn’t the strongest RW pool you could have, but it’s decent. If you draw the right mix of removal, creatures, and cartouches the deck is close to unbeatable. The creature count is a bit low for Oketra’s Monument, but it’s still worth playing and I’m sure we could find a home for it elsewhere if needed. Our red is mostly a support color, which is fine – white already has all the tools and just needs some creatures to fill out the curve. I’d give this deck a 7. It’s missing an Ahn-Crop Crasher or bomb rare to make it an 8+.
Neither the white cards nor the black cards are doing much to support the Zombie tribal theme in this pool. The cards in black are pulling the deck in two separate directions – you have some cycling and control cards alongside Plague Belchers. With all of this being said, this deck is much worse than your average zombie deck. I’d give it a 6. It can’t take advantage of our two big rares (Archfiend of Ifnir and Cruel Reality) in any meaningful way. Having 4 white cartouches and no useful trials is starting to get awkward…
I usually hate WG, but Initiate’s Companion is actually a really good spot to land a Cartouche of Solidarity. This likely isn’t taking advantage of the expensive cards or ramp cards, but that’s fine – this pool is slanted towards being aggressive and we can leverage that. As far as GW decks go this is probably an 8 (as much as I hate to admit it). Not sure if it would play both monuments, but at the very least it’s an option.
We have a bunch of mediocre two drops, no -1/-1 counter theme and some combat tricks and removal. It doesn’t really look like anything useful will come together here. I’d be pretty disappointed with this even as a draft deck despite the late game being reasonable. I’m going to give this deck a 4 – it just doesn’t look like it can compete on any axis with the expected decks in the format.
Again, we have another color pair that just isn’t playing nice together. None of the two drops are great and there are 0 Hooded Brawlers. This deck typically wants the real efficient green beaters with blue cartouches and some fliers to close it out, or it wants a bunch of ramp and fixing cards to play game-ending bombs ahead of the curve. This deck has neither, and because of this I’ll give it a 4.
RG is usually pretty bad, but the red fills some holes in the green curve and provides some badly needed removal. I’m going to score this as a 6 as it isn’t awful. This type of deck may look good on the surface, but it just doesn’t match up great against the other strategies in AKH limited. A good RG deck needs a lot more power in it than what we have here to be able to compete.
I do like Archfiend and Javelineer with Wander in Death and Tormenting Voice. However, the deck is really short on two drops and could use a few more cyclers even though it has 9 or 10 ways to discard something. It is definitely not the best RB deck, but you can do much worse. I’m scoring it at a 6 since it has a plan that is very strong when it comes together, but also has a bunch of huge gaps that will keep it from consistently performing well.
Some counters, some removal, some payoff cards… this deck isn’t half bad for a UR deck. It may be possible to splash Wander in Death with Fetid Pools/Evolving Wilds. The deck needs a Lay Claim, Glorybringer or Glyph Keeper for me to get excited about it, but I’m happy to put this deck at a 7. I’ve had a lot of success with very similar lists.
We saved the prized jewel for last it seems. Drake Haven, Archfiend, Cruel Reality. Most cards cycle and there are some sweet late game control options. It even has the UB cycle dual land. What a dream. I’d put this deck at a 9. It can compete in the early game (keeping those Gust Walkers at bay) so that you can take over the late game with Archfiend and Drake Haven. It may even be possible to splash that Javelineer… (can you tell I like that card yet?).
Ok, so let’s analyze the scoring and see where we stand. I duplicated the redundant data, but put it in white font in the top right of the table so that it is easier to understand the power level of a particular color in how it pairs with all other colors. From this data you can tell that the pool isn’t ubiquitously powerful. There are peaks and valleys though and this is more indicative that we have some high synergy decks that are available. If the average deck score is more flat this would be an indication of either a terrible pool (flat at 4) or a pool with lots of bombs (flat at 8).
White: It’s relatively flat except for UW, which makes sense since White is generally an aggro color and the UW version of that deck requires more synergy. Our white is baseline just good aggro and our blue is baseline synergy spells, which is why we get the deviation for UW.
Blue: Blue is all over the map, but from looking at White we already knew blue was synergy spells, so it makes sense that UB and UR are the peaks with UW and UG being the valleys.
Black: Black has quite a bit of separation from best to worst as well. It’s really high with Blue and then extra medium everywhere else. That is mostly due to the UB cycling deck being great and White not having the Zombie support to take advantage of the creatures in Black.
Red: Red is basically flat for all colors. This is due to Red being a good support color in this pool with some reasonably high quality cards in low quantities.
Green: Green peaks at White, but is pretty lackluster everywhere else. This is due to Green being pretty aggro in this pool (and relatively underpowered) and almost no synergy cards. It makes sense then that WG and RG are OK and that UG and BG, which require more synergy to be good, are much worse.
Our two best decks UB and GW are in non-overlapping in colors, so they can be easily supported. The next 4 decks in the ranking are also Red decks so we should be able to make one of them work, however the good cards from the other colors were really pulling those pairs up, so it will be a bit of a balancing act to split the other colors. Now that we have our color pairs we can figure out the strategy to build them out. I would build out our best version of GW and UB and see what’s left over for Red and take it from there.
I’m not going to spend any time on the process for cutting the decks down to size as that’s not really what this article is about, but feel free to follow up with me on Twitter (@RobertLombardi0) or in the comments if you have a specific question on why I cut/added a specific card.
I didn’t bother building RW since we used up mostly every playable white card in GW.
RG is fine – it can curve out and lay some beats – but it’s not ideal. I’d rate the deck a 5 overall.
The UR spells deck has some decent things going on, but you are likely losing Seeker of Insight to the UB deck and are missing a lot of what makes UR spells work. I’d rate it at a 5 as well.
The RB deck only had 22 playables when I piled it out. Additionally, it was extremely short on 2 drops and ways to make Plague Belcher playable. We had 2 Doomed Dissenter and 1 Nimble-Blade Khenra (which are typically mediocre cards) in our original discard pile that I pulled back into the main pool. Both cards aren’t really good but they work well with our pool and give us something to do in the early game. The deck was still looking a bit short on ways to end the game, so I added the Enigma Drake and the Start // Finish on the splash to avoid pulling the Never // Return over to this deck. The double splash is harsh, but you have two rainbow mana producers as well as two Tormenting Voice to pitch the off-color cards when you can’t cast them – Finish gets you some value there too, especially with Doomed Dissenter. I’d put this deck around a 6, but it might end up performing like a 7 if it can avoid mana screw. The Wander in Death is likely going to come here from the UB deck and swap with Splendid Agony during the final iteration of building.
The process outlined works for finding the right decks. At this point, you may be thinking – “they would have been found anyways, so why waste time with this nonsense?” It formalizes the process into steps that everyone can follow to work together quickly and efficiently while arriving to similar conclusions. If you already have a great team dynamic for building because you have being doing it a bunch then it may be better to stick with what’s working for you now. I would be surprised if you did, however, given that there are not many opportunities to play Team Sealed and building these decks is complicated.
This process also allows you to minimize some bias as you go into the build process. Everyone knows that WR and BW are the best decks in AKH limited, so a lot of discussion around building the pool started by seeing if there was a reasonable deck in one of those two pairs. This method allows you to still catch those decks if they are great, but not get stuck there and let a less obvious set of decks slip through the cracks. Discovering these non-standard configurations could help add some percentage points in the event.
Lastly, it lets your practice for the event be much more relevant. Normally testing is just staring at 5 colors, your fixing, and your bombs and talking with teammates about how to slice it up. You see if that slicing worked and then you try something else if it didn’t. Your goal is to figure out the team dynamic and try and speed up the slicing process. With the method I’ve outlined, all you need to practice is quickly piling out the two color pairs and being able to make a sound assessment on relative power level in 30 seconds. If you’ve played any amount of single player draft or Sealed you should already be pretty good at this.
I built the pool I used as the example in this article for testing with 2 friends before GP CLE, and picked it because I thought I already knew what the outcome would be and could use the results to justify using this method. When we tested with this pool, we built the UB deck (OK, we obviously built the UB deck – it’s insane!), RW Aggro Cartouche, and RG Monster/Ramp. I actually missed the RB and GW decks! Upon further review, the decks listed in this article do look much better than the RW and GR decks. The red isn’t deep at all and especially not deep enough for two decks. We ended up having the Plague Belchers, Cursed Minotaurs, and Cruel Finality all in the board of the UB deck which also felt very weird. With the new configuration we still get to play these cards, end up with a better aggro deck, and can move more quickly through the build process if something isn’t adding up. I wish I would have known this going into GP Cleveland…
Hopefully, you found this helpful/informative. I’m definitely looking for feedback on the method and if you think it would help with how your team attacks a Team Sealed Pool.
Let me know in the comments or come check out the First Strike podcast on YouTube Monday nights at 9:00 PM Eastern and yell at me in the chat.