Feature Article from Melissa DeTora

The Truth About Teams

Melissa DeTora

4/5/2013 10:15:00 AM

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I've had a few weeks off from traveling to events, and while I'm looking forward to playing in the TCGplayer Open 5k in Providence tomorrow, I enjoyed my break over the past few weeks. I haven't done as much testing as I would have liked for the 5k but I have been using my time wisely. I have been doing a lot of reflecting on the past year and how much I have improved as a magic player. I also realized how important my team is to me and without their help, I would not be playing Magic at the level I'm at today.

Most players know that Magic teams are important for playtesting and figuring out what the best deck is for a particular format. It certainly is a lot faster having a group of players grind matches and gather data than it is to do it by yourself. Teams can actually offer so much more to Magic players than actual Magic. Today I'm going to talk about why teams are a necessity to competitive magic players and what they can do for you.

My first Pro Tour was in 2003 (Venice, Onslaught Block Constructed). Living in the Northeast United States, the local store that I frequented was Your Move Games. Surely many of you have heard of them before, but for all of you newer players out there, Your Move Games was home to many of the top Magic players in the country. Most of Team Your Move Games is now in the Magic Hall of Fame. The few stragglers who did not make it into the Hall of Fame are still on the ballot and fighting for it this year.

Being a young magic player having just qualified for my first Pro Tour, I approached Team YMG and asked if could test with them. They were happy to have me on along with all of the other locals who won PTQs. The testing process seemed to be good. We had an email group where we shared ideas and we got together a few times a week to play. Days before the event, I asked the group what they were planning on playing at the Pro Tour, and I really didn't get much of an answer from the top players. The PTQ level players were happy to discuss it, but it felt like the established pros were keeping it a secret.

The Pro Tour finally came, and many of the “scrubs” on Team YMG chose to play Beast Bidding. This was the deck that we all tested a ton of and really liked, and it was by far the most talked about deck on our team forums. To our surprise, many of the “pros” of Team YMG didn't play this deck, and instead chose to play something else, like Big Red or The Claw (a tribal Dragon deck). These decks were in our testing gauntlet, but no one had seriously talked about playing them.

Can you guess which members of team YMG did well and which members performed poorly? If you guessed that the non-Beast Bidding players scrubbed out, you guessed correctly. Darwin Kastle Top 4ed the event with The Claw, and many of our non-Beast Bidding players made Top 16.

It wasn't until years later when I actually figured out what happened. It appeared that Team YMG was split up into three “tiers.” The A Team consisted of the best players on the team, Darwin Kastle, Rob Dougherty, Dave Humpheries, and Zvi Mowshowitz. They worked separately from everyone else and made deck choices without telling the other members. They relied on the lower tiers to test and gather information.

The B Team consisted of the other good players, but they weren't quite good enough to be on Team A. This team had Justin Gary, Tom and Peter Guevin and a few others. While they were not the A Team, they still worked with and made decisions with them.

Lastly, my team, The C Team, was the local PTQ winners. We were bad, it was our first Pro Tour, and we didn't belong on Team YMG. We were there simply to grind matches for the other two teams. We weren't taken very seriously, but we played a crucial role in helping the better players do well. We did a lot of work and gathered a ton of data for Team YMG. We were also expected to scout for the good players if we did not make day two. I would have loved to play in the PTQ on day two of the Pro Tour, but I was committed to staying on the floor to scout. I had to write down what everyone was playing in detail, including sideboard cards. While this was certainly not fun, it definitely helped team YMG do as well as they did.

While working with Team YMG was not the greatest experience for me, it definitely gave me a perspective on teams in general. I do not condone what YMG did by any means. I feel that all members of a team should not only put in an equal amount of work, but every member should also have access to all of the team's information. Having a subteam of lackeys is not exactly a good example of how a Magic team should operate.

Since that Pro Tour, my teams usually consisted of local qualified players. Teams such as those usually fail at the Pro Tour because most of the members are first timers with very little professional experience. It was really hard to come up with good decks when most of us didn't really know how to approach testing.

In 2007, I was able to get myself on an online team. Through the power of networking, I made it into a very competitive Magic Online Clan, Osyp Drives Me to School. This team had a very interesting dynamic because it consisted of players from all over the world. While most of its members were from the United States, we also had a lot of Canadians and Europeans. I think that dynamic worked very well. Everyone conveyed information from their own local metagame, and they each brought their own unique cultural perspective to the team.

 Gifts Ungiven
Store QTY Price  
Jar MTG 2 $1.78
BleeMTG 1 $1.95
Tucson Games 1 $1.99
Card Monster Games 1 $1.99
SwordnBoard Games 1 $1.99
Land In Front 2 2 $2.04
Challenges Games 1 $2.12
Tucson Games 1 $2.17
Dragons Lair 1 $2.17
Acropolis Games LLC 1 $2.19
Magic MTG Card
Magic MTG Card Gifts Ungiven Magic MTG Card
Magic MTG Card

Our team grinded a lot of games on MTGO. We not only playtested with each other, but we also joined a lot of Dailies and Premier events together. I had so much experience with the format that I felt comfortable with pretty much everything. I played Gifts Rock at that Pro Tour (Valencia, Extended). Gifts Rock is a very hard deck to pilot and it not only requires a lot of knowledge of the format, but the deck must also be tuned to a correctly predicted metagame. Because my team and I had done so much work on the format, I was able to tune my Gifts Rock deck just how I wanted it, and I ended the Pro Tour with my first money finish.

Clearly there are advantages to being on a team. It's really hard to research formats and test matchups alone. Besides the whole Magic playing aspect of teams, there are actually other important traits of Magic teams as well.

Teammates Want You to Win!
A few years ago, I was a very serious grinder and wanted nothing more than to get on the gravy train. I had done a lot of work and it paid off. I was winning PTQs almost every season and qualifying for Pro Tours left and right. Most of my testing was done just by me. I had a few locals who were willing to help, but for the most part, I worked alone. I did have one “teammate.” This teammate and I tested together a lot. However, there was one problem. While I was winning PTQs, this guy was not, and he was extremely jealous.

In May 2008, I had just scrubbed out of Pro Tour Hollywood. I was pretty disappointed that I would no longer be playing on the Pro Tour, but I was looking forward to the upcoming PTQ season, Lorwyn Block Constructed. I was pretty good at playing Faeries in Standard, so I built the deck for Block and spent the next week building and tuning it for the PTQ that weekend. Well, I won that PTQ without dropping a match. I was ecstatic after winning that last game in the finals. I was back on the Pro Tour!

The car ride home was a different story. That “teammate” who I carpooled with could not have been angrier. Yes, he was actually mad that I won the PTQ. “You were so lucky to win that PTQ. You will never do well on the Pro Tour” were just some of the things he said on the way home. How could a friend say those things? Shouldn't he have been happy for me?

True teammates (and friends for that matter) actually care about how you do at a tournament! When someone on their team wins a tournament, the entire team wins. A good example of this happened at Pro Tour Gatecrash. After Tom Martell won his finals match, Sam Black could not have looked happier. The StarCity Games Team worked very hard in testing for the tournament, and Sam built a really sweet deck. When Tom won, I'll bet that Sam actually felt like he had won the tournament himself. There is no better feeling than going out to celebrate with your teammates and friends after winning a tournament.

Teammates Support Each Other when they are Winning or Losing!
Magic is a hard game. We play for up to twelve hours at a given tournament. As the day goes on, it only becomes harder as we get more tired and lose focus. That's where teams come in. Being with your teammates every round helps you to regain focus and get motivated for the next round. Just talking about my match or about mistakes I've made helps me a lot and I rarely go on tilt if I have someone to talk to. I usually forget to eat meals or drink water but luckily I have teammates there to remind me.

Not only are the tournaments quite long, but traveling week after week can be very intense. Last year, I went to a lot of GPs. Getting on a plane every week was very physically and mentally draining, and my play definitely suffered. Towards the last few legs of my trip, I was so burnt out that I was not playing very well at all. I wasn't really sure what I could do to improve other than stop traveling.

This year, I'm still doing the same amount of traveling but there is a difference. I have a lot of emotional support from my teammates. Knowing that I am going to travel with or see my friends when I arrive at the GP gave me the push I needed. Now, I can definitely feel that my play is improving at each GP I play in.

Now that you know what teams are capable of, how can you actually get on one? There are a few things to look for in teammates.

1. Have similar goals. If you want to be a hardcore grinder and attend competitive events every week, you probably don't want teammates who are only interested in playing EDH or going to FNM. Even if you are playtesting the same format, if your team doesn't want to go to more competitive events, you won't get the support you need from them.

For example, say your goal is to qualify for the Pro Tour. You should find teammates who also want to qualify for the Pro Tour. If you do this, your testing will always be relevant because you will likely test for whatever format the PTQs are, you will always have people to carpool with to events, and you will have team support at the PTQs.

2. Be friends with your teammates. You really want to have teammates that you actually like for a few reasons. The main reason is that you will usually be carpooling or sharing a hotel room with these people. Sharing these kinds of things with people you don't like will make for a very unpleasant experience. Magic is expensive, and many teammates share cards with each other. You will definitely have an easier time lending out cards to people you can actually trust.

Being friends with your teammates will help avoid any jealousy that may arise if they win an event such as a PTQ. As I've said earlier, I had a bad experience with jealousy among teammates after I won a PTQ a few years ago. Actually liking the members of your team should dodge these problems. I am always thrilled when my friends win PTQs, and if anyone on my team won a PTQ or similar event, I would be equally happy.

3. Be willing to work. All team members should put in equal effort when testing for events. This includes not only playtesting but also things like splitting costs for gas or hotels. In addition, you never want to withhold any information from team members. We want to avoid situations like those of Team YMG.

The hard part may actually be finding team members. Where I live in the Northeast United States, this is very easy. We have lots of players with different skill levels and goals. It's very easy to not only get on a team, but also start one. If you have a local store, try going there and get to know the local players. You may be able to find a team that is right for you. If the players at the store do not meet your goals, try talking to players at a local PTQ or other big event. Chances are you can find someone there.

What if you live in a location with very few players? While it is much harder to find a local team, the internet has proven itself to be a valuable tool. There are lots of social networking sites in which you can find other players and many people have started teams through Facebook groups, forums, and on Magic Online.

Teammates are very valuable for magic players. I would have never made it to where I am today without them. They have not only helped me to become a better player, but also a better person.

Thanks for reading and see you at the TCGplayer Open 5k in Providence tomorrow! If you haven't already, be sure to check out the e-book that I wrote with Raphael Levy, Luis Scott-Vargas, and Tom Martell, Ten Packs: A Gatecrash Draft Strategy Guide. If you don't have a Kindle, that's ok. You can still get the book on the free Kindle App for your PC or smartphone: http://amzn.to/14idFpG

Melissa DeTora
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