In an age long-forgotten—at the very dawn of time itself, long before the world became as we know it today—I worked as a primary school teacher. I absolutely loved working with kids, and probably learned more from them than they did from me. When fostering a classroom culture, I focused as much as possible on the kids showing positivity, collaboration, and respect. In other words, I did everything I could to help them work well in a team.
With many high-profile team events approaching in the short-term and beyond, I thought about some of the things I discussed with my kids in years gone by, and it made me think. if I can get cantankerous eight-year olds to cooperate to make a poster about volcanoes, I might be able to give a bit of advice to a hopeful team of wizards looking to take down a Grand Prix.
Communication is the key to any relationship, whether it's with your mates, boss or even your mum. It doesn't matter how good you are at Magic—if you can't communicate constructively, positively and meaningfully with your team, you don't have a shot at winning a team event.
You should never sacrifice honesty when trying to get an idea across, but as my old headmistress once told me, 90% of what you say is how you say it. Your teammate could be convinced that no, Blinding Fog really is the key to the format, but if you tear strips off them for it, they're not going to feel good about having made the mistake. And they won't learn what they need to learn from it.
Never attack your teammates personally. This creature sucks, this deck is garbage this card is unplayable—that's all fine. You can talk about strategies or individual cards negatively; cards don't have feelings (as far as we know). People do. If your teammate is on the wrong track, find a way to share your perspective without making them feel stupid or attacked.
As ridiculous as this next approach sounds, it works. It works with kids at school (it worked on you when you were a kid) and nothing has changed today. If you want to get someone to listen to negative feedback, put it between two pieces of good feedback. “You played really well, I thought! I think you could have waited for a better target for that Pious Interdiction, but you dealt with their follow-up play as well as you could have afterwards. Good on ya!”
Keep in mind—your teammates will thank you for unflinching honesty, but only if they can stand to be in the room with you after you've delivered it. If you've alienated everyone else by being a jerk, it doesn't matter how correct you are—no one will want to listen to you. Be honest, but be respectful.
One of the greatest things about team events is its gives you the opportunity to make much better decisions than usual, as different perspectives are rigorously stress-tested by three times as much input. There's less risk of echo-chamber thinking, and there's less risk of a brain fart being overlooked and coming back to punish you. Your teammates are resources and should be used; whenever faced with an important decision, you should always get their input.
This can take many forms. The division of key cards in your pool, the overall archetypes you're shooting for, who will play which deck, and of course any number of critical plays on the battlefield. Demonstrate your trust and respect for your teammates by bringing in their input on any key decision, even if it seems clear-cut to you. Show them that their perspective matters to you by listening to what they say, even if you disagree.
An effective team knows that ultimately what benefits the team benefits the individual, and so will always work as collaboratively as possible towards achieving the best result. Consulting one another on the decisions you deem to be important will aid you in remaining aligned and unified in seeking your goals. In other words, checking with teammates before deploying premium removal or a game-changing bomb will get you closer to the trophy, every time.
There could be any number of reasons that a team comes together for a Magic event—principally, however, it will be because you're good mates with the other two people on your team. You like them, get on well with them, and hopefully you trust them. Trust is a critical part of being in a team, and without it, you are destined to fail.
Trust is fundamental to a team functioning well for a very simple reason—it is a logistical impossibility for all of you to check up on every single thing the other people do. Even though you should always try to check in with teammates for important decisions, it's not always possible. For that reason, you should trust that your teammates will be able to get through tough decisions independently when they must.
Additionally, the performance of the team will benefit from knowing there is a culture and atmosphere of mutual trust and respect. Feeling intimidated by a teammate and what they might say about a decision or choice you make distracts you from performing at peak capacity. You shouldn't be thinking “my teammate always says not to mulligan, they'll be furious if I do,” you should be thinking “I need to get my teammates in on this mulligan decision, and if I can't, I know they'll back me up for making the best decision I could at the time.”
Demonstrate your trust for your teammates whenever you can. Even when they make mistakes, ensure they know it's not the end of the world and that you're still in their corner.
An effective team learns from its mistakes, and the way to do that is by discussing them. Find time to sit and talk about what happened, what went well, what could be improved and how things will be different next time. This can happen after a practice build, after a team meeting about the format, after the real build at an event, and of course between rounds. You should look for and take opportunities to meaningfully reflect.
Of course, there's a fine line to be walked in ensuring you aren't ruled by your mistakes. Don't rehash them to punish yourself or to embarrass someone else. In the words of the famous philosopher Jake the Dog, “sucking at something is the first step towards being sorta good at something.” Remember that, as you pull apart errors that were made and seek ways to improve for next time.
While teaching, I learned that kids aren't afraid to make mistakes like adults are. The reason you don't draw or write stories like you did when you were a kid is because you're a lot more afraid of failure than you used to be. That's fine—people are much more demanding of success and perfection in adults, and kids are “allowed” to make mistakes. The thing is, so are you. Just make sure you learn from them. The best way to do that is to surround yourself with a team that will work together to improve together.
At the end of the day, regardless of what Magic is to you—a hobby, a passion, a livelihood—the fundamental reason we all play it is the same. It's the best game in the world, and just about the most fun you can have while not on a speedboat (we all know speedboats are the optimal fun-generating activity). You should never lose sight of that, ever—and especially not when you're sharing fortunes with teammates.
Win, lose or draw, keep your chin up. Celebrate your successes, no matter how small—if the teammate you're both carrying finally remembers to untap before they draw as you pick up your fifth loss, celebrate it. Find something positive to share about the experiences you have, regardless of whether it's a Top 4 finish or the fact you never forgot a Pirate's Cutlass trigger.
Conversely, support your teammates and drag them out of troughs, kicking and screaming if you have to. Tell them they did a good job, and help them see how they can do an even better job next time. Losing sucks, and threatens to bring the mood down for an entire team—but don't let it. X-1? Still a loss to give. X-2? Time to really bring the heat. X-3 or X-4? Still good for cash and points. X-5 or worse? You've spent a tournament with good mates and built memories that will last a lifetime. That's worth a lot.
If you take a single piece of advice away from this section or even this article, it is this: never criticize your teammates in front of an opponent. Don't ever, ever do this. It's the quickest way to undo team unity, build resentment, and foster bad blood—and will have repercussions outside of the tournament. There's a time and a place to review how your team performed, but it's not at the table. Never criticize your teammates in front of an opponent.
Working on a team is one of the greatest challenges of adulthood, and when we were kids we learnt how to do it as our parents forced us to share our Game Boys with younger siblings or to hang out with that weird kid that came to school with their pants on back-to-front. The truth of it is that these are critical skills that help you succeed in all walks of life—all of the points discussed today are equally applicable in professional or social settings.
You will do your team, and by extension yourself, a huge favor if you keep these ideas in mind when contesting team events. Whether it's at a GP in the coming weeks and months or even at the (hugely exciting) team Pro Tour next year, every team of every ability level will benefit from communication, collaboration, trust, reflection, and—most importantly—positivity.
- Riley Knight