“Build for your team a feeling of oneness, of dependence on one another and of strength to be derived by unity.” -Vince Lombardi
Since we're knee-deep in the NFL playoffs, I feel like this quote is a very pertinent way of kicking things off.
Today, I write to you not of the story of how I obtained PTQ glory (finally) this weekend, because I didn't. You won't be hearing about how I broke the Modern format, because I didn't. I won't even be able to regale you with tales of insane amounts of debauchery, because there were none.
What I will give you, however - is the answer to my most commonly asked question.
But we'll get to that in a moment.
Friday began on an excellent note. Members of Team Rollie Fingers were set to rally around a Modern PTQ at CoolStuff Games in beautiful Maitland, Florida. My good buddy Bronson Magnan, and winner of GP: Hoth, had supplied me with the exact U/W build that I had specifically asked him for, ensuring that I would have a deck I would be comfortable piloting. For those of you that don't know, Sun Titan + Ratchet Bomb was my wheelhouse for the last year, garnering me a bevy of PTQ Top 8's, a States Top 8, and more packs than I could handle.
So when I saw that not only was the deck I wanted to battle with well positioned in the Modern format, but it was possibly one of the best choices a person could make for this event, I was sold. Bronson handed me an all-foil copy of the deck, and I was ready to take down the entire event. It was one of those feelings that you have - you know you're going to do well, and that this deck was one piece of the puzzle to finally getting on the Pro Tour.
Everything would have been perfect if it wasn't for this slight tickle in my throat...
As we began the three hour drive to Maitland after an awesome dinner with best friend John Dean, the little scratching in my throat began to evolve into a stuffy nose. That would have been fine if it wasn't for the dizziness and watery eyes. Then the light-headed feelings kicked in. I loaded up on cold medicine when we got to the hotel and resigned myself to sleeping it off. When I awoke, though...things hadn't gone according to plan.
We arrived at the event site, and I quickly began to succumb to my sickness. I sat down to fill out a deck registration sheet, but when my vision started blurring and I broke out in cold sweats, I decided it would be best to go to the car for a few minutes, drink some water, and sit in the A/C.
Two hours later I heard a tapping at the window that woke me. Turns out I passed out in the car.
I didn't feel awful enough to go to the ER, but I knew for a fact I wouldn't be playing Magic that day. For the rest of the day my teammates checked up on me, hour to hour, making sure I was ok. They gave me snacks, Gatorade, and were constantly asking me if I was ok. It got to the point where, while still in position to Top 16-32, they all three dropped so we could leave early. We stopped somewhere to eat. I was able to fuel up a little, and on the back of a lot of medicine, we made it home safe and sound. Not once did anyone make a comment about being bummed about leaving early (despite the fact that CoolStuff provided the single best prize support for an event I have ever been to), and all they seemed to care about was my health.
This brings me to the question I get asked the most.
“How do I get on a Magic team?” Or “How do I start my own Magic team?”
I'm no expert on team building, but I do know a thing or two about good friends.
One thing that I learned a few years ago was that with a team, I became 10x better at Magic. For years, I either flew solo or was a part of a two-man team. Eventually, the team expanded to include myself and friends John Dean, Cliff Weixler, and Randall Lefevers. Not only were we able to test with each other for bigger events and bounce ideas off of each other, but we were able to critique each other's play, making sure that the mistakes we watched wouldn't happen again. These sessions paid out in dividends, leading us all to PTQ Top 8s, States Top 8s, Regionals wins/Top 8s, and more packs and store credit than most of us knew what to do with.
As time went by, the team expanded. It now sits at around 15 core members, all of which are some of the best Magic players in the entire state of Florida.
You might be saying to yourself, “Hey, Mark. That's freaking great. But how do I make that work for me? I can't just wish upon a star and BOOM big team of great players.”
Not with that attitude you won't, Imaginary Person!
These are the steps I followed in order to get the kind of team that I wanted.
Step 1 - Decide What Kind Of Team You Want
Before you even start building a team, you have to decide what kind of team you even want. That might sound silly, but often it is a step that people overlook. I've seen countless teams mesh casual players with competitive players and the results are often disastrous, and can even ruin friendships.
When we started building Team Rollie Fingers years ago, our goal was simple: to make all of us as good at Magic as we could be, win as much as we could, and have a support system of great friends. As lovey-dovey as that sounds, our expectations were very high, and we are all very competitive players. There wasn't much time set aside for malarkey. As much as we enjoyed formats like EDH, or Pauper, or Momir-Vig, we put ourselves to the task of all becoming well-oiled machines.
That isn't to say that a team built on having a good time is a bad thing. It never is! At the core, Magic is about fun, but you must remember, people have fun in different ways. We have fun winning, getting better, and seeing results (not to mention some of the stories I could tell you from events that will never see the light of these pages.) Others, though - they have fun being a part of a group that Fosters a constant stream of silliness and good times. I have friends that meet up every Tuesday night for ante games of EDH. To them, card values don't matter. If you need a Bayou, trade me your Clockwork Dragon! I could use it for my deck! Their entire Magic world revolves around the kind of fun that is purest and most innocent.
For me, though - that's just not in the cards. While I love having a great time slinging spells, I know when it's time to put on my game face. Luckily, I found a group of people that share in that passion.
So remember - make sure the group you set out to build is one that is free of conflict.
Step 2 - Who Goes On the Ride with You
Once you decide what kind of team you want, it's best to fill it out with people that share the same ambition as you. For me it was easy - we were all already good friends, so the pieces just fell into place.
The advice that I give people, however, is to be picky. If you start just trying to jam as many random people into the fold as you can just because they want to be good at Magic, too - you'll fail.
What needs to be done is finding people who not only share the same goal as you, but want to be your friend! If they're already a pal, awesome! The most important aspect as that they are easy to get along with, invested in your success as well, open to criticism, easy to travel with, and most of all, friendly.
When you're in a group of people that gets along without incident, it's amazing how much we can all grow when we're surrounded by people who want you to succeed.
Step 3 - Foster the Proper Attitude from the Start
When you have your team in place, make sure your intentions are clear from the get-go. Our team had a clear idea of what we wanted, and if you want your team to be successful, you'll need the same.
From the start, we didn't expect to be the next big thing in Magic. We knew we were going to get better, and we knew we'd have success, but setting expectations was key in not setting ourselves up for failure. We knew that bigger and better things would come with time, but we also understood that we weren't going to be the next Team ChannelFireball.
We began building on the foundations of what we already had. We were good players. We weren't great, but we were ok. After months of always testing, playing in events, and giving each other constant amounts of feedback- we started seeing the results in the increased level of our play.
Our attitude always remained the same: constant improvement.
Step 4 - Lift Each Other When Necessary, Ground Each Other When Needed
When I lost in the Top 8 of my 4th or 5th PTQ in a row a few months back, my team didn't belittle me, or rattle of any number of plays they'd have done differently, or make me feel like a failure...
They took me out to dinner to celebrate.
Sometimes, keeping each other lifted up is one of the most important aspects that a team can do for each other. Whether it is a pat on the back because you didn't quite make it, or trying out a new deck that you just brewed because it shows promise, a good team needs to be able to create a sense of unity and belonging. Bad beats happen, and it's up to you to keep your teammates from hitting Full-Tilt.
That doesn't mean that it's all puppy dogs, hugs, and kisses, though.
Sometimes, we have to be hard on each other. When a member can't detach themselves from a deck that clearly doesn't do well, or a brew that they're emotionally invested in, it's time to drop the hammer. One of my best friends, Sheridan, loooooves to brew. In fact, the other night on MODO we battled with his Jund deck that kills via Liliana of the Dark Realms ultimate + Rakdos's Return/Devil's Play. The deck put together a 7-1 record in 2-man queues, and it was also a blast to play. Does that mean that it's the newest powerhouse of the format? Well...no. In fact, the deck has about a hundred glaring holes. Sometimes, we have to tell Sheridan to stop worrying about being innovative and worry about doing what he does best: taking an existing archetype and winning with it. Everyone wants to be the creator of the newest, best deck in Magic - but sometimes getting attached to a brew can be a detriment to not only the player, but the testing process. All of a sudden hours are spent testing against a deck that you'll never see in real tournament play, and time is essentially wasted.
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There is nothing wrong with being creative, but reigning each other in is the hallmark of a successful team.
Step 5 - Friendship, In The End, Is Most Important
In the earlier steps, I told you that finding like-minded people you can get along with is one of the most important things you can do in order to start and continue a successful team.
Friendships that come of Magic are some of the coolest out there. I've personally met my best friends playing Magic - people that I call brothers, who stood beside me at my wedding, and who I would do just about anything for.
Not only do we get to entertain ourselves with tons of different things that we all like to do together, but we get special weekends filled with road/plane trips, hotel adventures, dinners, tournaments, traveling to crazy places to play a children's card game, a constant source of things to talk about, and a means to consistently bond.
There's a saying: “It's not about the destination, but the journey to get there.” I say if we're going on a trip, we might as well fill it with people that we would love to take this journey with.
Make sure the people you choose for your journey are people that you can see yourself being friends with for the long haul. You'll have more fun and be far better for it.
I hope this little guide has helped you. For many of you who are already a part of a team, this might seem a little fruitless. Maybe, though, it helps you tighten to screws a little bit to make the group better.
For those of you who have been asking me for the last several months how to obtain this kind of team, I hope that with the advice given you're able to finally achieve this. It's too wonderful to not have. Don't be nervous about grouping up, either - or people saying no or passing on your request. In the end, you'll be exactly where you're supposed to be with exactly who you're supposed to be there with.
As I finish this article from my bed, still confined there because of this damn flu that cost me the last PTQ, I can't help but be thankful for the people who made the trip with me. Without them, I might not have gotten home safe, or even gotten home at all.
A team can be one of the best parts of Magic and I hope soon enough, some of you are passing this advice along to other people.
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