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Feature: Team Sealed Deck with the United States

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"We have three Arbor Elves."
"I have another."
"Three Pacifisms."
"How many Mind Sculpts? Five?"
"And an Archaeomancer."
"Red looks terrible."
"Trading Post and Elixir of Immortality. That's gotta do something, right?"
"Luis, stop tweeting."

It's just before Round 8 of the World Magic Cup, and Team United States is building decks out of its sealed pool. Brian Kibler, Luis Scott-Vargas, Alex Binek, and Joe Pennachio are opening their twelve packs, calling out key cards, making jokes ("Door to Nothingness! We have a deck!"), and trying to do something few players have ever done before.

Welcome to Team Sealed.

A true rarity in high-level Magic, Team Sealed is something of a novelty this weekend. A novelty with thousands of dollars and a team world title on the line. The uniqueness of the format, combined with the high-pressure situation, offers an incredible look at a dynamic we really don't get to see very often. So we followed the United States squad, step-by-step, as they tried to piece together 168 cards into three 40-card decks to compile something of a how-to guide for Team Sealed a la United States.

Step 1: Sort by Color

The team started immediately sorting the cards into colors, calling out key cards they noticed along the way (resulting in the amusing scene above). Unplayable cards were cast aside, synergies were noted, and the best cards began to find themselves in piles in front of players.

Kibler was immediately drawn to the green cards he was sorting, especially the quad set of Arbor Elfs and a pair of Farseek enabling a trio of Duskdale Wurms alongside an assortment of Elvish Visionary, Prey Upon, and other large beaters. He quickly pared down the color to a core component, which conveniently stood at a bit more than twenty cards.

Brian Kibler and Joe Pennachio put their heads together while building team decks.

Meanwhile, Pennachio was splaying an impressive array of white cards in front of him with more removal than one deck could possibly play. Three Pacifisms, two Divine Verdicts, and an Oblivion Ring sat in a row beneath Aven Squires, Attendant Knights, Griffin Protectors, and a lone Serra Angel. The team noted that the white looked pretty aggressive and strong.

Across the table, Scott-Vargas was, to no one's surprise, sorting through the blue cards, including those five Mind Sculpts. While he was sorting, he was also moving the cards into two piles representing two different styles of play: some aggressive fliers and their support (Welkin Tern and Wind Drake) and some more controlling cards (the Mind Sculpts, Divinations, and Archaeomancer).

Next to him, Binek was sorting through the black and red cards, although the team found red mostly unplayable. There were some aggressive cards (Mogg Flunkies and Reckless Brutes), but the color lacked depth and, more importantly, even a single Searing Spear.

Black, meanwhile, looked relatively weak, but had some removal in the form of Murder, Essence Drain, and—most importantly—Mutilate.

Step 2: Identify Plans and Combine

At this point, the players began looking at each color's identity and where it overlapped with others. It was Scott-Vargas who noted the dual nature of blue and suggested pairing the aggressive blue cards—which included Talrand's Invocation, Sleep, and Scroll Thief in addition to the fliers—with white's similar cards, all while keeping a pair of Unsummons sort of suspended between the tempo deck and what appeared to be a control deck.

That was when the team turned to the five Mind Sculpts. Was it a trap or not? There was no Jace, Memory Adept; no Sands of Delirium; and just one Vedalken Entrancer. Without the Mind Sculpts, there wasn't much to work with.

Kibler noted that Archaeomancer paired well with black's removal, and that Mutilate would help both catch up and stall long enough for Mind Sculpt to do its work. A pair of Divinations and a Sign in Blood provided enough cards to keep the flow going, and defensive creatures like Giant Scorpion and a pair of Chronomatons could buy time as well. But no one was really sold.

We have a plan?

"This deck looks pretty bad," Kibler said.

Scott-Vargas tried a non-Mind Sculpt build, but with only a few Servant of Nefarox for creatures (well, Nefarox, Overlord of Grixis as well, but that was getting in regardless), it looked even weaker than the Mind Sculpt deck, which at least had a plan.

Meanwhile, Kibler had lined up a "mono" green deck with a pair of Farseeks to speed out Duskdale Wurms, plus a small Roaring Primadox engine with some Elvish Visionarys. Although the deck easily topped out around twenty-four cards at this point before any pruning could be done, Farseeks were pretty lame cards in a mono-Forest deck. It was even seriously suggested playing off-color lands to enable Farseek.

"Well, you don't want Island because of Harbor Serpent," Scott-Vargas said, in all seriousness.

Scott-Vargas suggested cutting them entirely and just staying mono-green, a plan the team was on board with.

So at this point, the team had settled on three decks: a mono-green deck, a white-blue tempo deck, and a blue-black control deck of some kind.

Step 3: Trim and Finalize

At this point, a few cards that could swap between decks were passed back and forth. Talrand's Invocation went from the control deck to the skies deck and back again, both Unsummons made their way to the skies deck and Negate went from the control deck to the white-blue deck to the pile of sideboard cards.

All the while, the table had decided Mind Sculpt was the way to go, even convincing themselves with surrounding cards. "Rise from the Grave and Mind Sculpt. I think that's even a reasonable plan," Kibler said.

Fourth man out and now team coach, Luis Scott-Vargas worked with Alex Binek to put together a blue-black control deck featuring a whopping five Mind Sculpts.

"I hope us opening five Mind Sculpts didn't just trap us," Binek said. "We're going to learn a lot about Mind Sculpt."

The Forest deck had settled on sixteen Forests as a mana base, boosted by the four Arbor Elfs and two Prey Upons. The only question was whether to play a card like Naturalize or Plummet in the main, eventually opting to play the flier-killer.

"It has a one-third chance of being awesome, a one-third chance of being playable and a one-third chance of being terrible," offered Scott-Vargas.

A Bloodhunter Bat was cut from the control deck in favor of grabbing a Clone from the white-blue deck, which was also playing a pair of Scroll Thiefs and two Unsummons.

"I'm going to Sleep some opponents and draw a bunch of cards with Scroll Thief. That's the plan here," Binek said.

Step 4: Choose Decks and Sideboards

Once the decks were finalized, players called their decks they'd like to play. Pennachio took white-blue, Kibler took the green deck, while Mind Sculpting fell to Binek.

That was the plan, until the team surmised that the Mind Sculpt deck was probably best against control decks, which they figured other team captains would play. At that point, Kibler, the team captain who would play against other team captains, audibled to the Mind Sculpt deck, handing off the mono-green deck to Binek.

The sideboards were mostly shifting cards to the right color. The black cards went to Kibler's pile while the red and green cards all went with the green deck, since Farseek gave the possibility of splashing pretty much anything. The green deck also took some Divine Verdicts once the team decided that the white-blue deck simply didn't need them.

Team opinions on the decks ranged from "absurd" (Kibler's take on the white-blue deck) to questionable (how pretty much everyone felt about the blue-black deck).

Take a look for yourself. Would you have built the decks the same way?

Joe Pennachio's White-Blue Tempo
World Magic Cup 2012 - Team Sealed Magic 2013

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