Perhaps the most exciting sporting event of the year has been taking place over the last few weeks. Every March the sixty-four best college basketball teams face off in a grueling tournament that culminates in the coronation of a new champion. Bracketology sweeps the nation, and next weekend it all comes to a head in the Final Four.
The overlap between Magic players and college basketball fans is uncharted. If we have an alma mater in the tournament, or we're invested in a bracket, then we are likely rooting based on those inherent interests. After spending a weekend alternating between playing Shadows Over Innistrad Remastered drafts and watching the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight, I knew what had to be done.
Today, I'll draw some elaborate and occasionally convoluted comparisons between the remaining four college basketball teams, and the Limited archetypes from recent formats that most closely resemble their playstyle, makeup, and general je ne sais quoi. Perhaps we can make a canny assessment of these teams based on their preferred playstyle and what it tells us about these archetypes.
Florida Atlantic University (FAU) as UB Ninjas
The Owls are the first nine-seed to make it to the Final Four since 2013. It is a rare occurrence to see a team win four consecutive games as the lower seed, but FAU has done it. They have an explosive offense, led by undersized attackers, reminiscent of the UB Ninjas deck from Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty.
It all starts with Johnell Davis and Alijah Martin. Similar to Virus Beetle, they can attack into any defense, and leave the defender panicking. Coming at the rim puts defenders in a tough spot. Between their ability to score in the paint and pass it out to the arc, it is like trying to play around Suit Up and A-Moon-Circuit Hacker. This team creates a lot of scoring options for itself.
We expect an aggressive team to put up points, but what has gotten this team to the Final Four is their surprising ability to ninjitsu in for rebounds. Rebounds are essentially the basketball equivalent to card advantage. The way UB Ninjas felt like it always had cards in their hand reminds us of the way the Owls pull down rebounds. These undersized players outrebounded a number of much taller teams. Center Vladislav Goldin generates value over the course of the game like rebuying a saga. He leads the team, averaging 6.6 rebounds a game, but is a threat to score on his own.
Finally, Michael Forrest is basically a 6' 1" Network Disruptor off the bench. He's an undersized player who can assist others in scoring, and in the clutch, he's been incredible at closing out games.
University of Connecticut (UConn) as RG Oil
The aggressive scoring for the Huskies is reminiscent of the dynamic two-drops in the Phyrexia All Will Be One RG deck. Jordan Hawkins is an elite scorer and plays the Barbed Batterfist role. Conversely, Tristen Newton isn't quite as threatening a scorer but boasts a ton of versatility. He fills out the Axiom Engraver role. Finally, Andre Jackson Jr. isn't quite the scorer that the other two are. He's more physical, and a genuine leader that holds the team together. Contagious Vorrac might sound like an unflattering comparison, but the similarities are all positive. Rebounds, assists, proliferates, finds lands, facilitates a splash. The kid does it all.
UConn does a great job on offense and defense, and a big part of that is superstar Forward, Adama Sonoga. He's vigilant, plays on both sides of the court, and invalidates smaller threats like Cinderslash Ravager.
Just like the RG Oil decks in ONE, this team is great on offense and defense. They have threats up and down the curve... I mean roster. Coach Dan Hurley has been able to interact and disrupt opposing offenses and defenses alike. However, the biggest comparison this team has to RG Oil has been the way they've played in the second halves of tournament games.
Hazardous Blast earned the award for Scourge of the Format in our sunset ceremony for ONE for its ability to end games quickly. Similar to this four-mana sorcery, UConn has done a fantastic job outlasting their opponents. In the second half of games, UConn has run away with games. After half-time, they've dominated opponents 174-107. This team has looked outstanding so far, and as a proud alumnus, I'm rooting for it to continue.
San Diego State University (SDSU) as UB Poison Proliferate
Of all the remaining teams, the Aztecs are the most controlling...err-defensive. They grind out opponents and have held five of their last six opponents under sixty points. This includes a stunning victory over 1-seed Alabama and a last-second win against Creighton. Just like the Proliferate decks in ONE, SDSU's defense-first approach is seen as a liability, however, they're executing masterfully.
The stat lines for a lot of these players read like the blue low-power, high-toughness creatures of ONE. By the end of the game, it's hard to tell where the points came from. Guards Matt Bradley, Lamont Butler, and Darrion Trammel peck in for damage like Gitaxian Raptor and Ichor Synthesizer. Even though the offense is slow, they hold up to aggressive attacks. They play as though they always have the Serum Snare in their back pocket.
Finally, Nathan Mensah leads the team in blocks and rebounds. He's a critical threat that helps hold down the fort. He's a physical defender who can remove threats like a timely Anoint with Affliction. Unlike the UB decks, this team has shown a capacity to come from behind. Also unlike the UB decks, this team has overperformed. This is a group of stoppers, and they will force their opponents to play an ugly game.
Miami Hurricanes as Domain Aggro
The Hurricanes' offense is carried by a series of threats, and any of them can take over the game. Similar to the Domain Aggro decks out of Dominaria United (DOM), any of these players can be the A-Sunbathing Rootwalla or Nishoba Brawler that can go unmatched. In their most recent upset win against Texas, it was Jordan Miller who performed with Gaea's Might. He was perfect from the field and the foul line, ending the game with a heroic 27 points.
Their most consistent scorer all season has been Isaiah Wong, his combination of speed and power reminds us of the many combat tricks this deck possesses. This team has an explosive offense and looks to outscore their opponents. It wants to play a tempo game and finds itself in racing situations more often than not. But it's those explosive finishes that remind us of Colossal Growth or A-Meria's Outrider, winning out of nowhere.
This team plays with four guards, which are typically smaller players, but the Hurricanes aren't necessarily undersized. Much like the aggressive creatures in Domain Aggro, these guys are aggressive, but also stout at the point of attack. They're going to be difficult for any team to try and shut down, and veteran head coach Jim Larranaga has been to the Final Four before.
March Madness? March of the Machines? The Choice Is Yours
This weekend is a big one for college basketball. Champions will rise, and pretenders will fall. The things I love about sports bear a lot of commonalities with my passion for Magic. I hope this guide helps readers appreciate the overlapping elements between the two. They're both strategic endeavors with a million variables. Matchups are important, but so is execution. If you're a big fan, you recognize this.
Those choosing not to watch the games have Shadows Over Innistrad Remastered to look forward to on Arena. I'll be discussing the format in my regular Friday article, so stay tuned for that. In the meantime, let me know what you thought of this article in the comments. Last, but not least...LET'S GO HUSKIES!