An Introduction to Team Unified Modern
Friend: “What about ‘Urza’s Bouncy Castle’?” Me: “OH MY GOODNESS! YES! CHOOSE THAT!”
I won’t lie, this was never an exchange that I expected in a discussion about strategies for a competitive Magic: the Gathering event. But this is Team Unified Modern – our team names must make me and my pals sound as formidable as we know in our hearts to be true.
I think we nailed it.
The event is at Manaleak in Birmingham next weekend, and we’re pretty hyped. For most of us this is our first team event, and the thought of trying a new tournament structure is pretty exciting. Six of us entered the tournament, so we split ourselves into two teams. (Our other team is “Mishra’s Christmas Tree”.)
So, what is Team Unified Modern?
Team Unified Modern uses the MTG Unified Deck Construction rules. This means that no two decks in a team may contain the same card, with the exception of basic lands. So, within a team, you may all play Forest but only one of you may play Cavern of Souls.
To clarify a few things:
- If a (non-basic) card is played in one team member’s deck, no copies of it can be played in another deck within that team. You cannot split a playset of cards between team members.
- The same goes for sideboards. Only one of you can run Kitchen Finks in your sideboard.
- Cards are restricted, not deck types. If you can build three Blue-White Control decks without overlapping cards, this is perfectly legal.
This turns deck construction into a puzzle to be solved, and leads to a potentially different variety of decks than would be seen at a non-team Modern event. Mana bases may provide a notable point of conflict between potential decks, as well as efficient removal and choice of sideboard cards.
In each round, your team of three people plays against another team of three. You sit next to your teammates and play an individual match, but there’s an element of collaboration – you can give and receive advice from your teammates as you play. You advance through the tournament together, with a shared score.
Why am I writing about it?
I don’t know how long Team Unified Modern has been played for (answers in the comments please!), but it had its Grand Prix debut in the form of San Antonio in April this year. Over 500 teams battled it out to take the prize(s), and from their experience we gained a load of insights into the format and the Unified Modern meta.
Following in the slipstream of Grand Prix San Antonio, now seems like a great time to get excited about the format. We can copy the winning decklists, get ideas for which general themes to choose in order to maximise win rate while avoiding overlap, and predict the decks that we are likely to see on the other side of the table.
So, we know what the format involves, we’ve picked our teammates and brainstormed our best headache-inducing puns for a worthy team name. How do we approach the format?
How do we choose decks?
At a regular MTG Modern tournament you would play your usual deck or whatever floats your boat at the time. With Team Unified Modern it’s a little different, you have to choose your deck with respect to what your teammates are playing. The deck building process is a compromise between playing what is powerful/what works for you, and what fits with the plan of your team.
The most obvious way to avoid overlap is for teammates to play decks that don’t overlap on colour. If somebody plays Mono-Blue Mill, another plays Soul Sisters and the third teammate plays Burn, you’re going to have minimal conflicts (with the possible exception of artifacts, some lands and colourless cards).
This could be a great plan depending on your existing decks, playstyles and what you predict the meta to look like, but is not necessarily the most ambitious strategy. Whether you’re reading this one day or one year after I wrote it, if there is a multi-coloured deck ruling the top of the meta, you might be able to play it just fine.
Three of the top four teams at Grand Prix San Antonio were running Death’s Shadow lists (Abzan or Jund), indicating that the deck is excellent in the Team Unified Modern meta as it is in Modern. These were complemented within their teams by a mix of decks including Affinity, Eldrazi Tron, Blue-White Control, and Grixis Control, indicating that Team Unified Modern doesn’t demand that we all swap out our unfamiliar decks to meet the restrictions.
San Antonio was not just a parade of the usual suspect decks; the tournament saw Krark-Clan Ironworks top the list using Scrap Trawler and Hangarback Walker to mark the return of Eggs. This was the deck of choice by Pascal Maynard among others who found it successful.
Judging from San Antonio, the meta seems pretty varied. With the “best” deck in Modern and old classics making the cut, the format seems to give players a decent amount of choice over what to play.
As for the upcoming Manaleak Team Unified Modern tournament in Birmingham, bringing a deck with a decent matchup against Death’s Shadow lists seems sensible. Being the most popular choice at the moment and played a lot at San Antonio, we should expect it to make waves. I’ll also be building my sideboard to deal with Affinity as a top priority, as it seems like a likely matchup.
At the risk of causing my future opponents to aggressively mulligan in game one for Pyroclasm, I’m playing Elves. In fact, my recent love of all things Llanowar came from a suggestion that the deck would be a good choice for the upcoming event. Very little of the main deck clashes with anything else in popular decks, with the main exceptions being Collected Company and Cavern of Souls. I’m playing the Green Black version running Shaman of the Pack, otherwise known as Elfball, which can knock the last few life out of a Death’s Shadow player or provide a serious setback unless it is countered or your Elves are removed in response.
Elves seems relatively well positioned in the meta. It has its good matchups (Death’s Shadow, which is going to be popular if the San Antonio meta is replicated) and bad matchups (Storm, Infect), but choosing this tiny green army to Lead the Stampede into battle is a decent choice in Modern right now. Due to the minimally overlapping cards, it also seems pretty great in team events.
What about potential overlapping cards?
Even if we choose pretty disparate decks for our team to play, we may hit snags when we realise that two of us want to run Grafdigger’s Cage in our sideboard, or that your teammates both want to use Cavern of Souls to make his Merfolk and her Elves uncounterable.
After we signed up, one of my friends had the idea of using a spreadsheet to track our decklists – this would let us see if we overlapped anywhere or had any space for commonly played cards. (Mine were originally entered as 60 copies on “AN ELF”, which made me burst out in giggles in my office kitchen when I found it.)
After we entered our ideal decklists, next came the gradual process of working out any gaps and overlaps. I didn’t contribute much to this – my teammates were much more on it than I was – and over time our lists stopped overlapping.
Tracking deck lists in this way was a great plan, we identified issues early and shook them out. It was useful that there were six of us rather than three, as we could be more flexible; we swapped back and forth between teams a few times. This avoided overlap but still meant that everyone could play what they wanted to play.
What do we consider on the day?
Even though you and your teammates are equals within the tournament, there is an inherent asymmetry that only occurs on the day. One of you must sit in the middle of the other two.
Assuming that your tournament strategies don’t involve wheelie chairs, interpretive dance, or paper cups on strings, you’re probably going to find it hard to communicate with your teammate sitting two spaces away from you (these items are probably not allowed, please don’t bring these to a tournament or I’ll get in all of the trouble).
This means that your teammate in the middle will get twice the amount of interaction than either of you on the end. It makes good sense to put the most experienced player in the middle, so they can advise you whether to Remand your own spell to draw a card, or just appreciate just how dead you are to your opponent’s Tarmogoyf.
How do we test?
In theory, there isn’t anything that different between testing for a Modern tournament and testing for a Team Unified Modern tournament – you still need to know your matchups and learn to sequence properly. That said, testing for Team Unified Modern surprised me with how much the “team” affected things.
The great thing about testing for Team Modern, I felt, is that you are even more motivated to practice with friends you will be playing alongside. These people are likely to be your closer Magic buddies, which can provide a pretty comfortable environment for making mistakes and give you good advice. Mistakes lead to learning, which makes us better at Magic. Go team!
A while back, The Friend With Good Ideas* organised a pretty excellent testing event. He built a load of decks that we are likely to face and the six of us played them against each other; one person would play their tournament deck and their opponent played against one of the new builds.
*Every group has one.
I played against Gift’s Storm, because it’s a terrible matchup for me and my Elves had been looking far too happy recently. Being uninteractive, my deck struggles to win pre-sideboard because it can’t disrupt the Storm, and my life total quickly became Goblin food.
Storm has always been firmly on my list of Oh No I Don’t Play That It Looks Far Too Hard. There probably isn’t much logic behind this, but sometimes an assumption worms its way into our brain that we can’t quite shake. When I turned the table and took Storm for a spin, I fully expected that it would be outside of my comfort zone. I would probably accidentally Grapeshot my own life total and have Ezuri vacate my deckbox in shame. I had only played against Storm a handful of times, wasn’t sure what to fetch from Gifts Ungiven, and didn’t know how Storm players figure out when to start the chain.
But you know what, it worked. I’m not saying I played well, or that Storm is easy, but I understood it far more than predicted. It felt amazing. Storm was no longer an incomprehensible monolith, it was relatable. It had good draws, bad draws, decisions, and I could figure it out enough to win games with it.
I would not have played or understood Storm were it not for the testing organised with my teammates. I absolutely advocate testing with your teammates, the more of you there are, the more likely somebody will have great ideas and benefit everyone. And maybe have a little confidence boost at the same time.
In the last week before the tournament, one thing that I would love to do is to pitch our two teams against each other as if we were playing the tournament. This will help us learn to communicate our plays with each other and get into the flow of offering advice while concentrating on our own game, which will be important on the day.
Conclusion – Teamur Battle Rage
I hope you learned something about Team Unified Modern! In the last few weeks, I certainly have, and I’m ridiculously excited to try it out.
If you’re playing the tournament at Manaleak next week, best of luck and have fun!
If you end up being a future opponent, you heard nothing about Elves. What Elves. I heard that I was playing Merfolk. Green Merfolk. With pointy ears.
Thank you for reading,