The Japan Metagame Diaries: GP Kyoto – Smells Like Team Spirit

As I write this, Grand Prix Kyoto is less than a week away. For those of you that don’t follow the Japanese Magic scene that much, GP Kyoto will be Team Limited. This means that teams of 3 players will be playing against other teams of 3 players, with the team getting 2 or more wins receiving the win for the match. The last Team Limited event to take place in Japan was in 2004 in Osaka. At that time, Katsuhiro Mori, Masahiko Morita, and Masahiro Kuroda took home the trophy for Japan. Going from the Wikipedia article about past GP events, it should be interesting to see how much things have changed since then. Back in 2004, only 480 players (or 160 teams) signed up for GP Osaka. After this Grand Prix, Wizards of the Coast went 8 years before doing a limited GP again. In the format’s grand return at GP San Jose, 1713 players signed up (or 571 teams), and since then there have been two other team limited Grand Prix. Each one attracted more than 1700 players, so I’m pretty confident that GP Kyoto will be a huge event. More than 2000 people showed up for GP Yokohama last year (which was Ravnica block limited), and I think we should see at least 1400 players on November 22nd and 23rd. Magic has become incredibly popular in Japan (compared to almost a decade ago), and there are hundreds of semi-pro players waiting to prove themselves. Myself included.

So what is Team Limited? Well, I’ll do my best to explain it, but you’re better off reading about it on Wizards of the Coast’s website ( An Introduction to Team Sealed). At the start of the day, every team will open up 12 packs of Theros, write down the contents of the packs on a checklist within 20 minutes, then pass those cards on to a random team for them to use as their deck. Once everybody’s card pool has been sufficiently randomized, each team then has 1 hour to build 3 decks. There are special rules when building the decks. First off, these decks are set in stone after you make them, as well as the sideboard. Usually in sealed/draft, you’re free to use whatever cards you opened in your packs in the sideboard, but in Team Limited, you can not switch or give your team members card from your sideboard afterwards. This puts a lot of pressure on making 3 solid decks, because once it’s made it’s yours and yours alone. 

I’ve had the chance to do about 4 Team sealed practices with friends and larger groups of Nagoya Players, and I’ve learned quite a lot. Today I’m not only going to talk about which cards and colors are strong though. You can go to any other website where the pros play to find out the best archetypes and cards you should draw. However, one thing they don’t talk about is how to BE a team. That’s what I’d like to talk about, because sometimes being a supportive team with good communication can mean the difference between a win and a loss. If you’re a good limited player going into your first team sealed tournament, you’re going to be in for a rude awakening. This is not the type of format where you can take all the best cards for yourself and hope that your teammates can pull off the second win for a match. Team Limited is all about working together and helping each other to bring out the best in each person. 

Deck Building

It all starts out with the cards. Normally in sealed you get your card pool and immediately start sorting through to find out where your finishers, bombs, and power cards are. This is not a good strategy in team sealed. It’s a good way to waste time, and you’ll leave your team mates doing nothing while you’re making dozens of decisions. No, the first thing I recommend you do in team sealed is to take out your cards and have your team separate them in the 5 colors, in order of casting cost. Once you have all your cards spread out in front of you, look at the cards as a whole. Do you see any patterns? Do you see how many creatures you have in each color? What removal do you have? Which archetypes such as UW Heroic, UB control, or GU are playable? Spend a few minutes with your team and talk about these things, and once you’ve got a plan decide which player will build which deck. The easiest way to describe what your card pool will be like in team limited is to say you build decks like it’s sealed, but it plays a lot more like draft. The format is much faster than M14 was. 

Choosing a Deck to Play

First off, I want to say that you shouldn’t force yourself into one color.  Pushing yourself into a color because it’s your favorite can really hurt your team’s chances, especially if your pool is less than stellar and playing it means that you’re stealing good cards from other member’s decks. Also be careful who plays what. More experienced players should play control decks like BR or UB, and those with patience, good timing, and that know how to read an opponent should use decks like UW and RW heroic. For players that aren’t as strong as their other members, give them beat down decks with less combat tricks such as GB, GR, and GU. Green is an all around deep color with a lot of powerful creatures, but it isn’t as tricky as the other ones. 

With a strategy in mind, deck building becomes much easier and you don’t have a person scavenging everybody’s cards and weakening the team as a whole. Knowing what colors and strategy you’re using makes deck building so much easier. Get rid of your unplayable cards first, and as you start to narrow down your choices, talk with your teammates about which cards to use and which to cut. With 3 people working together, deck building is a lot faster process. After 4 practice runs, I can finish my deck in about 20 minutes. From there I work on my sideboard. Like I said before, once you choose your sideboard, it’s set in stone. Therefore, you should be careful not to just throw all of one color into the player USING those colors. People tend to easily fall into this trap, but the smart thing to do would be to go over the left over cards and to see how they could fit into your deck. Maybe you’re splashing black right now in your deck, but white could be possible later. If so, take those cards for your sideboard. Once you’ve planned for every possible contingency, then finalize your sideboards and write it down on your check list. Hopefully this whole process should take you about 40 minutes out of the allotted hour. If you have extra time, play a few hands against one of your teammates (or just play by yourself to see how your draws would go). Look for possible weaknesses, and then tweak your deck accordingly. 

Okay, times up. Your deck is ready. Now what?

Game Time

If you’ve read the link on WotC’s website, then you probably heard about seat locations. There will be an A, B, and C spot at each table. Before starting, you have to choose which seat you’ll be at for the day. The middle seat is going to be the most important seat, so be sure to choose the person for that place wisely. It’s my honest opinion that the strongest player should sit there in order to help the other players, but others think that it might be better to put the weakest player there because it makes it easier for the other two team members to help them. 

One of the unique things about team sealed is that you can talk with your team members and ask questions such as “should I keep this hand?”, “should I play this card now?” and so forth. Good teams can exploit this as a bluff to get the other team to make a bad play, making it seem like you’re a weak player. However, this could be a double edged sword. Don’t overuse it too much. Play how you’d normally play and only call on your team when it’s a really tough decision you have to make. Always asking for help can cause you to second guess yourself and to play at a less than optimal level. It’s sometimes just as important to provide moral support for your team members, especially if one is “tilting” from a bad play or a bad loss. Don’t be afraid to give words of encouragement.

After the Round

After each round, I think it’s important to talk as a group for a few minutes to see how everybody did. Congratulate those that won, and for those that lost, have them talk about why they lost. Look at their cards and discuss strategies, which hands to keep, how to sideboard with it . . . work on it until it becomes second nature to them. It might also help to play another test game against them with these new ideas in mind. Don’t spend too much time discussing it though. Sometimes you just need to get up and walk around to clear your mind. Speaking of getting up and walking around, if you’re the first person to finish, see if you can make a quick run for drinks or snacks for your team so they can perform well in their next game. 

Other Things 

While it doesn’t have to do much with playing Magic the Gathering, there are a number of other things you can do to be a better team. Communication is important, but team spirit is also a big deal I think. You’re not a one man army trying to break through the enemy lines, you’re part of a 3 man cell. Try to build unity amongst your team by choosing team colors everybody can wear or making team shirts. Give positive feedback on a team member’s games and don’t talk about how they could have won a game if they didn’t misplay. It’s important that they realize the problem themselves and then ingrain it into memory so it doesn’t happen again. Simple words like “Next time, you should try …” or “it might be better to…” are much better than “I saw you make 10 misplays in that game. If you had … you would have won.” or “You need to use X on Y”. Work on possible strategies they can use in troublesome situations instead of having them hope for a magic bullet to end their worries. Sometimes you can totally change the match in your favor if you go on the offensive when your opponent is expecting something else. 

I think it also might be a good idea to write memos after each round with the deck you played against, which cards were effective, and why you won or lost. Doing so will help you to make the correct choices down the road when the opponents get tougher and tougher. Also, don’t discuss whether you won or lost until after all of your team members have finished a game. I think knowing that the match rides on their shoulders puts too much pressure on that member and you should try to avoid that. 

Final Thoughts 

Team Limited is an interesting format. It not only tests your deck building skills, but also how well you can work as a team. Those that work well together, communicate, and support each other will have a definite advantage over those that want to go it alone and let their team members fend for themselves. Be there for your members no matter what. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and nowhere is it truer than in team limited.

In the words of Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey) from Kick Ass 2 “Try to have fun. Otherwise, what’s the point?”

(If you have any other tips, advice, or comments about playing in a Team event, I’d like to hear from you! Please post your thoughts below. Thanks for reading!)