I sure hope the Magic world is ready for Team Unified Modern, because it is coming either way! Unified Constructed formats have not been a competitive format, outside of the World Magic Cup, in quite some time. A few years ago we saw a bit of team Unified Standard but it never really caught on. I expect Team Unified Modern, however to be a very successful format, and after a run this weekend at the World Magic Cup it will have its (new) debut coming to everyone else at Grand Prix San Antonio on March 31-April 2, 2017.
I'm sure there are many players out there who have no idea what Team Unified Constructed is or what the strategy behind the format is, but don't worry I'm here to help!
Team Unified Constructed is a team event consisting of three players per team. This is the same idea as Team Limited, which already is a format we see a reasonable amount of. For the Constructed format of choice, in this case Modern, a team chooses three different decks, one for each player. The catch is that there cannot be four of any one card (beside basic lands) between the three decks a team decides to play. This means that it is not as simple as choosing the three decks which are the best in the format, there is much more to picking the decks than that when you can't all have four copies of something ubiquitous like Lightning Bolt or Path to Exile.
Choosing which three decks to play is the bulk of the preparation needed for a team event, but there are also other important decisions to be made as well. The most obvious decision is who to play with? Team events are meant to be an enjoyable experience, so the most obvious choice is to choose two friends to pair with. In many scenarios, this works out and can be fun regardless of the outcome of the tournament. However, being able to communicate with teammates during the matches themselves is an important aspect of ensuring there is good team chemistry.
There are different strategies that can be used when choosing which seat each player on a team should be assigned. There is one player in the middle, and then the other two players are on the outside, which means that the "A" and "C" seats are more or less the same. Seat choices are made before the tournament starts, and a player must play in the same spot throughout the event. The question becomes who should end up being in the middle? In most cases, the middle seat should be the person who plans to do the most communicating, since the outside players can't see both teammates matches as easily.
It isn't as straightforward as putting the best player in the middle, a common choice made so that they can help their teammates more easily. First of all, claiming to be a better player than a friend is an easy way to start an argument before the event even begins. While I do hear teammates arguing a fair bit, it is important to make sure that the arguments have to do with good gameplay, and are not taken too far. I would hate to think of losing a friend because of not meshing well playing Magic together. I like to put someone in the middle who is going to be able to play quickly, or is playing a deck which is naturally fast. For instance, a Burn deck in Modern is very unlikely to go to time, so that particular deck it could be argued should be in the middle seat. With the extra time the middle seat player has they can help their neighbors more effectively.
Time management is secretly one of the most important aspects of Team Constructed, since it is much easier to pick up draws in team events due to the added time for collaboration. Talking with teammates and asking for advice eats into the clock, so while it is nice to be able to help teammates, making sure your own match is moving along in a timely fashion is more important. The difference between a draw and a win is huge, especially at the top of the standings. Most of the top teams only consult their teammates on a very important decision, or once a teammate has completed their entire match.
I am looking forward to watching Team Unified Modern play out this weekend, as it will be the first significant Team Unified Modern Event which I am aware of. There will be teams all across the globe playing in the World Magic Cup, and you can be sure that they are all testing this brand-new format extensively. With so much more Team Modern coming, it means it is time to start preparing!
Tackling deck selection for a team event isn't easy. There is no single correct formula for which three decks to play, like there is sometimes one best deck for an individual Grand Prix. For Team Unified Standard it sometime is necessary to design a completely new deck, because there are so few cards to choose from in Standard. With Modern however, the format is huge! This means that it shouldn't be necessary to sacrifice on the power level of a single deck. The goal is that players can still play the same decks which they know and love.
There are good and bad aspects about Modern having so many decks in it. It is hard to think about the three decks to choose since there are a ton of viable combinations. This is another spot where choosing the right teammates to play with comes into play. For instance, you do not want to be on a team with two people who play Infect as their pet deck, since there can be a maximum of one Infect deck per team given the restrictions. Because of this, having players with different or flexible play styles is going to be beneficial.
There are certain cards that are the biggest deciding factor in which decks get played by a team. For instance, one of the most popular cards in Modern is Lightning Bolt. How many different decks play Lightning Bolt? The answer is too many to count, including many of the tier one strategies. I advise against trying to play two decks that would play Lightning Bolt and cutting them from one of the decks. That isn't necessary. However, if you agree not to play two decks which want to play Lightning Bolt that does limit the options. A team can't have both a Jund deck and a Burn deck for example.
This is where metagaming becomes very interesting. There are some decks that really don't take away any cards from other archetypes. This means there is no overlap with them, and those decks will be more likely to be played for that reason. A deck like Tron or Dredge doesn't play cards that many other decks want, and while they already are good decks, now they become even more attractive. Of course, when playing the new Green-White Tron deck which Tom Ross just won an Open with you might then worry about not playing another deck with Path to Exile.
This deck performed extremely well this past weekend, and may start getting the nod over Red-Green Tron moving forward. This deck has all of the primary Tron elements and the white splash is just for Path to Exile and sideboard cards like Rest in Peace. As it turns out, the red splash isn't for much these days, as Pyroclasm can be hit or miss. Also, the Green-White Tron deck often makes colored mana by sacrificing Chromatic Star or Chromatic Sphere, so anticipating Path to Exile isn't easy. Ross was able to not only beat the traditionally good matchups for Tron decks, he also steamrolled past his worst matchups. The deck may be peaking at the perfect time for players making deck choices for this weekend.
There are two sides to the coin. Tron makes a lot of sense for Team Unified Modern, but there will be less Jund than normal, one of the deck's best matchups. The issue with a deck like Jund is it plays so many strong cards - which means other decks will want them - and it makes playing Jund more difficult. Besides the Lightning Bolt battle, Abzan is going to fight over Tarmogoyf, Lantern Control will fight over the discard spells, and the list goes on. While it is possible to play a Black-Green deck like Abzan or Jund, you have to make the other two deck choices with them in mind.
Which decks do I expect to be the most popular at the World Magic Cup? Tier one decks that aren't fighting much with other decks. Infect is a tier one deck and pairs well with another in Dredge, with neither fighting for too many other cards. Wizards is promoting Team Unified Modern because it is very easy to play all top tier decks, without making much of a sacrifice. With access to all the fetch lands there normally isn't going to be much of a fight in terms of having the right manabase.
Playing top tier decks is what I expect most players at the World Magic Cup will do, but that doesn't mean that playing a rogue deck isn't okay too. Playing a rogue deck is nice but sometimes it isn't easy to convince a teammate that the deck is good enough to choose. Remember that in this type of event you are not just playing for yourself, but for the entire team. If a teammate wins or loses it is the same as if you won or lost. This can be good and bad.
Being reliant on your team means that a lot of the tournament is out of your hands, and the best that one can do is play great Magic and help whenever possible. There will be times though where one player loses their individual match, but the team still wins the round overall, which is part of the reason why we see pros do so well in team events. Beating a top player isn't easy but you need to essentially do it twice in order to beat them in a team event. This leads to decreased variance as the tournament goes on.
As Team Unified Modern shows up in more high level events, I expect it to get more attention. While the format is a relative unknown at the moment, it should take off in popularity quite quickly. Modern is already one of the more popular Constructed formats, and team events give players a good excuse to get out to a tournament and play with friends. I wouldn't be surprised to see record level turnouts. I think of Team Limited as a more enjoyable way of playing Limited and it is easy to think of Modern versus Team Unified Modern in a similar fashion.
Thanks for reading,