Jeff Zandi is a five time pro tour veteran who has been playing Magic since 1994. Jeff is a level two DCI judge and has been judging everything from small local tournaments to pro tour events.

Jeff is from Coppell, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, where his upstairs game room has been the "Guildhall", the home of the Texas Guildmages, since the team formed in 1996. One of the original founders of the team, Jeff Zandi is the team's administrator, and is proud to continue the team's tradition of having players in every pro tour from the first event in 1996 to the present.



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Teaming With Magic Players
Preparing for January’s Team PTQs
by Jeff Zandi

The holidays are over and its time to get serious about Magic again. The North American PTQ schedule is full of opportunities this weekend and next for Team Sealed Deck players. Although qualifiers for Pro Tour Atlanta (2005’s Pro Tour teams event) started last month, the two biggest weekends for PT Atlanta qualifiers are upcoming.

Tomorrow, you can find Team PTQs in Atlanta, Louisville, Los Angeles, Dallas, Philadelphia, Calgary (where they’d RATHER be watching NHL hockey), Clermont (Florida), Montreal, Pittsburgh, Bloomington (Minnesota) and Newington (Connecticut). On Sunday, if your team hasn’t qualified already, you can head to Baltimore, Maryland and try again. NEXT SATURDAY, you can find pro tour qualifiers in Chicago, Nashville, Detroit, Boston and the town I was born in four decades ago, Houston, Texas! On Sunday the 16th of January, you can even try your luck in Rochester, New York, where all the Magic players are all smug about inventing the Rochester draft format.

The best way to prepare for the sealed deck portion of this season’s Team PTQs would be to test extensively building three decks from two Champions of Kamigawa tournament packs and four Champions booster packs. Then, after becoming confident with the sealed portion of the competition, the truly prepared Magic tournament player would be a part of several three-on-three team Rochester drafts, the format that will be used for the final two teams in most Team PTQs and the format that will be used for the second day at Pro Tour Atlanta.

On the other hand, if you’re like me, you’ve been busy for the past few weeks celebrating the holidays, giving (and maybe receiving) some gifts, watching some football on TV and eating lots and lots of unhealthy food. If you’re anything like me, you’re only chance to get ready for tomorrow’s PTQ is to do what you did in school…you gotta look on the other kid’s paper to find the answers. In this case, this means reviewing the most important teams tournament of the current PTQ season, last month’s Grand Prix Chicago.

In the finals of Grand Prix Chicago, the team called (in quotes) “:B”. One writer referred to the symbolically-named team as the Colon Beez. Good enough for me, the emoticon in question of a colon symbol followed a capital letter ‘B’ is a pain to describe over and over and, as a writer, it kind of hurts my eyes to see the symbol in the middle of a page of text. Anyway, this clever team of Timothy Aten, Gadiel Szleifer and John Pelcak defeated Gindy’s Sister’s Fan Club in the GP Chicago finals. GSFC consisted of Adam Chambers, Zach Parker and Charles Gindy. I wasn’t there so I don’t get the gag behind their name, maybe Charles’ sister is particularly cute or in some other way deserving of a fan club. At any rate, the story of these two teams includes excellent Rochester drafting on day two of the Grand Prix. Today’s article, however, is more interested in the sealed deck portion of the Team PTQ format, which dominates most of the play in the tournament.

While your team’s ability to Rochester draft in the finals of the PTQ will be the last critical step necessary to propel you to Pro Tour Atlanta, the fact is that most of your day will be spent grinding out as many wins as possible with your team’s three decks that you build from two Champions of Kamigawa tournament packs (back in the ‘90s we called them starter decks) and four booster packs. If your team fails to make the most of the sealed product you receive, you won’t need to worry about the Rochester draft at the end, because your team won’t be in it.

Since we’re looking at the sealed deck construction part of the Team PTQ format, let’s be sure to look at some very good examples. At Grand Prix Chicago, there can be no better example to use than that of the team called “RIW Redux”. This team consists of Michael Jacob, Aaron Breider and Peter Jesuale. While this team did not fare well enough in day two’s Rochester draft format at GP Chicago, RIW Redux had the distinction of being the only team to win ALL of their sealed deck matches. That’s EIGHT matches, four with their initial sealed decks and another four with a second set of sealed decks.

I do not, unfortunately, have their complete card lists, so we cannot see what cards they left out of the decks that they built in each of the two sealed deck constructions from day one at Grand Prix Chicago. However, we CAN see the choices that they made in color separation and their design decisions in the construction of their undefeated decks.

You usually need to be careful when looking at a team’s sealed decks. First of all, you have to look past the most powerful cards in the deck.
Obviously, the most powerful cards in each deck were important in winning matches, but you can’t learn much from knowing what powerful cards are in a sealed deck, because you ALREADY KNOW how to put your most busty rares in a deck. The purpose of this exercise is to examine the little choices that the deck builders made, what little cards were used, commons that you don’t always play with yourself? As useful as looking at the so-called “small cards” in each deck is, it is important to be careful that you don’t overvalue the construction of any one sealed deck, or any set of three decks in the case of Team Sealed. Having said all that, remember than these three guys beat every team they played against on Saturday in Chicago, and they did it with two different sets of cards. When you look at these decks carefully, I think you will see that these guys had a lot more going for their construction strategy than just some good cards.

Mountain x8
Swamp x9
Cruel Deceiver x3
Gibbering Kami – doesn’t always make the cut for me Nezumi Ronin Nezumi Shortfang – a little lucky, but not totally BROKEN Scuttling Death x2 Kami of Fire’s Roar – probably added mainly to keep deck two colored Kumano, Master Yamabushi – yeah, here’s this deck’s BROKEN rare Pain Kami Ronin Houndmaster x2 – these two hasty Samurai round up Mike’s 13 creatures Long-Forgotten Gohei – a quality RARE to enhance his Spirit creatures Dance of Shadows – this card helps you close out games Hideous Laughter – mass removal Rend Flesh – the more important of the two, if you didn’t already know Rend Spirit Soulless Revival x2 – I haven’t ever tried to play two of these before… Blind With Anger – another potential game winning card Glacial Ray x2 – NOW I think I understand the two Revivals

Michael’s first deck of the tournament looks like the best deck the team had in the entire tournament. Considering the challenges in both Aaron and Peter’s first decks, Michael’s red/black machine looks a little greedy to me.

Forest x7
Plains x7
Okina, Temple to the Grandfathers – pump up a Legend +1/+1 Tranquil Garden Kitsune Blademaster Kitsune Diviner – didn’t know two was a good idea Kitsune Healer Konda, Lord of Eiganjo – costs 7, but can be a late game wrecking ball Konda’s Hatomoto Mothrider Samurai x2 Myojin of Cleansing Fire – costs 8, good enough in sealed, though Nagao, Bound by Honor Kami of the Hunt Moss Kami Order of the Sacred Bell x2 – this deck’s turn 4 plays are impressive Orochi Ranger Sakura-Tribe Elder x2 - …make that TURN THREE!!
Blessed Breath
Cage of Hands
Call to Glory – iffy, but this deck definitely needs combat tricks Indomitable Will Reciprocate Commune with Nature – grabs a Tribe Elder on turn one Kodama’s Reach

Removal is a real problem in Aaron’s first GP Chicago deck, but he certainly has the creatures to overwhelm an opponent. His deck needs a lot of time to really develop, Tribe Elders and Kodama’s Reach make the deck at least one turn faster than it might otherwise appear.

Forest x8
Island x9
River Kaijin x2
Soratami Cloudskater
Soratami Mirror-Guard x2 – the 3/1 beater Soratami Mirror-Mage – the 2/1 BOUNCER!
Soratami Seer
Teller of Tales x2 – this deck has PLENTY of flyers Dripping-Tongue Zubera – acceptable as a ground stall card for this deck Humble Budoka Matsu-Tribe Decoy – the OTHER green deck got the fat, this one gets the tricks Orochi Ranger – rounds out a stable of 13 creatures Honden of Seeing Winds – best Honden in the set Hankyu – clumsy but probably necessary in this deck Consuming Vortex x2 – in lieu of ACTUAL removal, this is what Pete has to use Hinder Hisoka’s Defiance x2 – probably better in sealed than in draft decks Petals of Insight – don’t like this card at all, but it worked for Peter… Kodama’s Might – the ONLY copy in either of their two green decks!

If I were Peter, I would have been pretty worried about my deck. Usually, I would prefer to put blue with a removal color like red or black. Both blue/black and blue/red are popular color combinations in Champions of Kamigawa limited decks. However, this team only had a small number of black and red removal cards and decided to make the third deck blue/green instead of the blue/white that I think is more popular in this format. Even though this team went undefeated in the sealed deck rounds, we do not know if two of the decks were doing most of the winning in order to cover the consistent losing of their third deck. If that WERE the case, I would be most concerned about this blue/green deck.

Forest x9
Swamp x6
Waterveil Cavern – not sure why Mike wanted access to blue mana… Cruel Deceiver Nezumi Ronin x2 Scuttling Death Burr Grafter Dripping-Tongue Zubera Feral Deceiver – my favorite Deceiver creature, definitely the most Deceiver for the money Hana Kami – simply to get back one of this deck’s quality Arcane cards Matsu-Tribe Decoy Moss Kami Orochi Sustainer – mana helper, important with this deck’s high mana cost cards Rootrunner Sakura-Tribe Elder – this card is my favorite turn two play in Champions Seshiro, the Anointed – snake-enhancer and card drawing machine Sosuke, Son of Seshiro – four casting cost 3/4 WITH ABILITIES Sensei’s Divining Top Befoul Hideous Laughter Rend Flesh x2 Rend Spirit Soulless Revival Kodama’s Reach x2 – this deck has 4 mana acceleration cards Strength of Cedars – this deck’s knockout punch

In his second deck of Grand Prix Chicago, Michael goes from red/black to green/black. While this creation doesn’t have the amazing double Glacial Ray and Blind with Anger of his first deck, this second deck is solid with decent creatures and better than average removal.

Mountain x6
Plains x10
Shinka, the Bloodsoaked Keep – the affects-Legends rare lands don’t really mean much to me Kami of Ancient Law Devoted Retainer – a lot of times, these are simply speed bumps Eight-and-a-Half-Tails – BROKEN if you have enough mana in play Hundred-Talon Kami Kabuto Moth x2 – double Kabuto Moth is way more important than Tails in this deck Kitsune Blademaster Kitsune Diviner Kitsune Healer Mothrider Samurai x3 – basically a 2/2 flying Bushido moth on turn four in EVERY GAME Samurai of the Pale Curtain – simply an excellent early game attacker Brothers Yamazaki Ryusei, the Falling Star – yes, in case you’re counting, this is a lot of playable rares Blessed Breath – a popular choice Cage of Hands x2 Honden of Cleansing Fire – passive life gain can be very valuable Indomitable Will Honden of Infinite Rage – one point a turn is not really “Infinite Rage”
when you think about it
Yamabushi’s Flame
Yamabushi’s Storm

This is a solid white/red deck primarily built with little white guys with some quality red support cards. I like this deck better than Aaron’s white/green deck from the first half of the sealed deck day at Grand Prix Chicago.

Island x8
Mountain x9
Soratami Cloudskater
Soratami Mirror-Guard
Soratami Rainshaper x3
Teller of Tales
Brutal Deceiver
Ember-Fist Zubera x3 – hard to get too excited about three of these guys in the deck Frostwielder Hearth Kami Ronin Houndmaster No-Dachi – way better in this deck than either of the others Consuming Vortex Hinder Hisoka’s Defiance Reach Through Mists – a weak card I would normally like to leave out Blood Rites – can be very good, can be better than Honden of Infinite Rage Uncontrollable Anger Yamabushi’s Flame x2

Once again, in my opinion, Peter gets the hardest deck to win with. Overall, I think the second decks are a little more balanced than the first decks.


When you look at the cards in these decks, I think you have to agree that these boys did very well with a LOT of less-desirable cards. This team certainly did not go undefeated in the sealed deck portion of Grand Prix Chicago simply on the strength of their rares.

If I were picking one of this team’s set of cards over the other, I think I might choose the cards that they built their second set of decks with, just because I think the decks you can end up with are substantial with slightly better win conditions. On an individual card basis, I would prefer the first set of cards, especially the fat red/black deck with its twin Glacial Rays.
I like the fact that none of this team’s players played the same two colors in their two sealed decks.


Tomorrow morning, I’ll be playing in the Dallas Team PTQ (actually being held nearly an hour north of Dallas in a town called McKinney). After the experience of tomorrow’s tournament, I’ll be ready to examine the strategies involved in the Rochester draft portion of your Team PTQ. If you play in a Team PTQ this weekend, I hope you will think a lot about the smaller cards in your team’s pile of cards. I consider a real sign of strength of character that none of these players gave in and splashed for a few cards of a third color. Their vigilance seems to have paid off in Chicago, achieving a perfect performance on day one with each player respecting the power of playing a purely two color deck.

As always, I’m interested in what YOU think!

Jeff Zandi
Texas Guildmages
Level II DCI Judge
Zanman on Magic Online


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