An Introduction to Team Unified Standard

Feature Article from Seth Manfield
Seth Manfield
11/29/2017 11:01:00 AM
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With one of the most unique events of the year, the World Magic Cup, right around the corner, it seems like a good time to dig into Team Unified Standard. The WMC comes around once a year, and is comprised of many different countries all over the World. Team Sealed and Team Unified Standard will be the formats for the tournament this weekend in Nice, France.

Team Unified formats are something we rarely see at the competitive level – I can't remember the last time that a major event used Team Unified Standard. Naturally, this format is a bit unfamiliar for some players.

You split your team of three players up and assign each member a different deck. Each deck can have no cards that overlap besides basic lands. In this case, that means that only one deck can play Aether Hub, and as a result it's likely there will only be one Energy deck on each team. It adds a different level of thinking to deck building, as many decks have a few cards that overlap with one another. We are no longer talking about simply playing the best deck, or even the best three decks in Standard. We are talking about finding three strong decks that don't take cards away from each other.

There are two different approaches. One is to select decks that don't overlap with one another at all. That way you don't have to worry about which deck gets to play specific cards. The other direction is selecting cards that do have some overlap and figuring out new ways to build decks since certain cards are no longer accessible. In Team Unified Modern, we often don't see decks overlap much at all because the format has such a large card pool to draw from. In Standard, however, the card pool is not nearly as large, and so there are major decks that clearly clash with one another.

The Temur Energy Problem

Temur Energy is the overall best deck in Standard, so we should see one Temur Energy or Four-Color Energy deck being played by each team at the World Magic Cup, right? Not so fast. I don't expect this to be the case at all. There are multiple reasons why a deck like Temur Energy could be a trap for this sort of event. The fact that the deck tries to play a lot of good cards in multiple colors all of a sudden poses a major problem. By playing Temur Energy, you will also most likely have another deck on the team that shares at least one color with Temur Energy, and there is bound to be some overlap.

Looking at all the energy cards, it's obvious that there is really no way to build two Energy decks in this format, so you go into the WMC armed with that information. Not only will your team not have two Energy decks, but the same will be the case for opponents. This could lead to some different choices in deck building, because you will only be facing an Energy deck a third of the time, and when you do play against one it won't always be Temur Energy. In fact, Sultai Energy may very well be a better choice.

The problems won't arise just from Temur Energy taking the energy cards, but other staples as well. Let's talk about a pairing that includes Ramunap Red and Temur Energy – is this pairing even possible? The red cards that are in both decks include Abrade, Chandra, Torch of Defiance, Magma Spray, Chandra's Defeat, and Glorybringer. This means all the red cards that aren't Whirler Virtuoso or Harnessed Lightning go into Ramunap Red. So, while it is possible to play both Ramunap Red and Temur Energy, arguably the two strongest decks in Standard, there is a clear incentive not to do so.

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By splitting these red cards between Ramunap Red and Temur Energy, you make each deck slightly worse. This would be okay if Ramunap Red and Temur Energy were clearly better than the other decks in Standard, but this isn't the case. This leads me to advise against playing Ramunap Red and Temur Energy together. If you follow this logic, then most teams will also only have either a Ramunap Red deck or a Temur Energy deck, but not both.

By playing Four-Color Energy without Glorybringer and with Fatal Push instead of Abrade, the red overlap is no longer as big a problem. Here is Christoffer Larsen's list for reference.

The pairing of this deck plus Ramunap Red makes much more sense. The downside to adding the black is that it does take away options for a third deck. The Scarab God and Fatal Push essentially completely rules out most black decks in the format as the third deck. A deck like Mono-Black Aggro or Blue-Black Control are reasonable choices for a third deck, but not with this particular configuration.

Back to Sultai Energy

Even though Sultai Energy lost some popularity after Pro Tour Ixalan, it remains a very strong choice, especially for this tournament. Sultai Energy is the one variation that has no conflict with Ramunap Red, and I expect these two decks to be a popular pairing. The other important factor is that Sultai Energy is better against non-Energy decks than Temur Energy. Temur Energy is a slight favorite against Sultai Energy, but Sultai Energy is much better set up against control and God-Pharaoh's Gift strategies, which could be a big deal here.

If I were playing at the World Magic Cup, I would want to play Ramunap Red and Sultai Energy together, based on having experience with both decks and the fact they don't conflict. Sultai Energy hasn't had super strong results the last couple weeks, but there has also been a lot of straight three-color Temur Energy. I would guess that Temur Energy will not make up more than 15% of the metagame at the WMC.

The White-Blue Options

Many teams will have an Energy deck, Ramunap Red and then one additional deck. Here is where I expect a lot of different choices, as there are a lot of options for the third deck, though it will certainly depend on the first two deck choices as well. A deck like White-Blue God-Pharaoh's Gift could see more play than it would at a traditional Standard event. Let's not forget Pascal Maynard finished in second place with the deck at Pro Tour Ixalan not long ago.

White-Blue strategies are going to be the most popular choice for the third deck. Whether this means God-Pharaoh's Gift, White-Blue Approach or even White-Blue Cycling, we'll find out. These decks don't conflict very much with Ramunap Red or Energy, so they will be popular.

The one card that does overlap with the Energy decks is Negate. Negate isn't incredibly important, as there are some replacements possible. We might see more of a card like Disallow in a white-blue deck like this. For the Energy decks, double blue isn't easy so it is more likely that the Energy decks get access to Negate, and a deck like God-Pharaoh's Gift will find a replacement. Like Energy only allowing for one deck, there will only be one deck that gets access to Glacial Fortress and Irrigated Farmland, so a maximum of one white-blue deck.

The White-Blue Cycling deck that Corey Burkhart took to a Top 16 finish in Portland isn't something I would sleep on.

I thought this deck would have a bad matchup against Ramunap Red, but Corey handily dispatched me in the tournament playing that very matchup. He also picked apart various Energy builds, so while this isn't a well-known archetype, teams that are well prepared will look closely at it. If the white-blue decks can position themselves to be good against Ramunap Red and Energy strategies, they become excellent choices. Drake Haven is very difficult to answer effectively.

This deck is not easy to play against. It can hold up four mana and have access to the world, while you must figure out what cards to play around. Settle the Wreckage is the biggest blowout, but oftentimes you are forced to attack in and hope the opponent doesn't have it. After sideboard, Authority of the Consuls and Regal Caracal swing the Ramunap Red matchup in your favor. There are also multiple counters in the form of Censor and Countervailing Winds.

Other Aggressive Decks

There is also a world where teams can play two aggro decks, though I don't expect this to be a popular approach. Mono-Black Aggro has been hit or miss over the past few weeks, but it is definitely a deck worth looking at. Some versions do play Aether Hub and Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, though that will likely not be a popular build since the main Energy deck on a team requires the Aether Hubs. Instead, there are versions that can go long with cards like Yahenni, Undying Partisan and Bontu's Last Reckoning.

Mardu Vehicles may make sense to play alongside Temur Energy. Hazoret the Fervent is one of the important cards here, so you can't really play both Mardu Vehicles and Ramunap Red. Mardu Vehicles doesn't work well with Sultai Energy because they conflict over Fatal Push, so the most likely pairing for Mardu Vehicles is alongside a Temur Energy and white-blue deck.

Tokens

Token strategies have been declining over the past few weeks, and I don't expect to see many Tokens decks this weekend. There is both the conflict over Fatal Push with the black decks, and Fumigate with the controlling decks. We might see the Mono-White Vampires deck with Oketra's Monument a bit, because it doesn't take as many cards away from other decks. Of course, there is going to be some metagaming at play here, because if there are not many cards like River's Rebuke or Slice in Twain floating around, Tokens decks do start to look a lot more attractive.

Thanks for reading,
Seth Manfield




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