Something had to change.
I had hit a point in my life where things began to make sense and I had an understanding of just where I was at. This is not intended to be philosophical or anything, but for far too long I was just floating along, hoping the tide would take me where I needed to be. One day I woke up and realized that I had a paddle all along, so it was probably time that I began using it.
Leaving the best team in the world is not a step that is easy to take, however.
But the group of guys that I was stepping into made the transition easier than I could have thought it would be. The core of Team TCGplayer had been formed a few Pro Tours back under the moniker “Luxurious Hair.” Obviously that name was one of the first things to go when I finally had my say about it.
The team, at its core, began with Ari Lax, a very talented magician, and Craig Wescoe, a writer for this very site and Pro Tour champion. The team would shift and pick up or drop people over the next few Pro Tours, with varying degrees of success. One Pro Tour the team won the entire thing while the next they barely saw anyone cash. The team was looking for consistency and I was looking for a new home where I could try to more profitably use my skills.
Channelfireball was composed of so many talented players and deck builders that my desire to brew was often an afterthought, both by the team and eventually from myself. It was easy playing the best deck when you have an amazing deck builder like Josh Utter-Leyton on your team ensuring that you would actually have the best version of the best deck each and every time.
What I did not account for, however, was how much playing the best deck felt like a job to me. As I developed new responsibilities in my life, including a full time job, I wanted Magic to be my outlet, not another chore. At the end of the day, I understand that I will not always be able to play a brew for a tournament, but I at least want to explore them. This team expressed that they not only were ok with that, but that they actively desired it. I figured that this experience would be something worth experimenting with. Something was broken and I wanted to fix it, even if I was not sure on the best way of going about that.
The team set up weekly calls where we began discussing Modern all the way back in November. I was impressed by the level of professionalism and dedication that everyone was showing and it just seemed like a good fit. Over the next few weeks we would sculpt the team to the following roster: Craig Wescoe
Craig brings a bit of the quiet leader role to the team. While he does not always have an opinion on something that just makes it all the more important to listen when he actually does. Craig's experience on the Pro Tour and expertise in aggressive white strategies brings a different style of deck building to the team. Chris Fennell
Chris is very much the foundation of our limited side of things. With ever Pro Tour featuring six rounds of draft, it is very important to have someone on the team able to break down and understand limited in a short amount of time. Chris adds that to the team and was much deserving of his Top 8 finish at Pro Tour Born of the Gods. Ari Lax
Ari is one of the founding members of the team and his attitude reflects that. Despite being one of the younger members on the team, he brings about a calm and collected voice that many of the players look to to guide them. Ari also happens to have an extensive knowledge of Modern and is pretty good at breaking down metagames, a skill you can never have too much of. Harry Corvese
While Harry is not the most experienced player in terms of Pro Tour experience, he does bring a unique set of experiences to the team, broadening our range quite a bit in my opinion. It doesn't hurt that he is a very solid player with quite a few different archetypes, something that comes up a lot during playtesting. His knowledge of control was a big asset for this Pro Tour in particular. Matt McCullough
Matt is one of those players that seem to just always tell you how it is. As a rogue deck builder, it is nice to have that sort of barometer on the team because it adds a quality bar to any of my ideas which just helps me to brew better. Matt was a playtest luxury, jamming infinite games in his short time in the house and contributed a vast knowledge on archetypes such as Splinter Twin. Seth Manfield
Seth added quite a bit of limited analysis for this Pro Tour. Having won the Super Sunday Series event the weekend prior down in Mexico City, it was nice having more voices with experience around. Seth also had quite a lot of experience with decks like Birthing Pod and I certainly picked his brain before registering my 75. Andrew Shrout
Andrew was one of those players that you just enjoy working with. He had a loveable attitude but still knew how to buckle down and get to work when it mattered. Shrout called that Storm would be the deck to play if Deathrite Shaman was banned all the way back in November. He was correct, and his knowledge of the Storm archetype is the reason Chris Fennell walked away with a Top 8 finish. Steve Mann
Steve Mann is quite a bit more of a brewer than I expected going into this Pro Tour, but his quirky ideas and random card mentions really helped me to conjure up ideas when I was fresh out of them. For example, just a week before the tournament I was testing Kuldotha Rebirth in Modern, all because Steve had an idea involving Enduring Renewal. Having a muse on the team is huge for me personally, but Steve was also very good about grinding games and offering another quiet but confident opinion whenever it mattered. Marc Lalague
Marc is one of those players that always seem to know how to have a good time. That can be more important than you think after the team has been burying their noses in decklists for the past week. Marc is also a very solid player that can think on his feet with a lot of different decks. He was able to add limited commentary after his win in Grand Prix Mexico City the week before as well as being probably the world's best Bogles player, which proved quite useful for Spain. Joe Demestrio
Joe managed to bring a fresh perspective on things that few other players on the team could have arrived at without him. Joe is well connected in the community and had a lot of knowledge of other people and their decks from the past which helped us to form our own gauntlet and come up with metagame predictions. Conley Woods
I was basically just myself. As I mentioned above, my biggest motivation behind switching teams was to find an environment where I could brew and get back to what I truly enjoy about Magic. The team was very willing to allow me to do just that. Unfortunately, I did not manage to break the format this time around, but hopefully we still pull a lot from this experience. I can be a unique individual to work with, for example, and now the team has a little more experience with just that.
Because the team has members located in just about every corner of the country, physical playtesting was going to be an issue. The weekly Skype calls were a good place to start though as each member of the team discussed decks that they knew very well and the entire team was caught up to speed on Modern by weaving this knowledge together to form a sort of collective team conscious. The process was something new to me, but I think it really helped out.
Because each member was only working on things that they actually knew about Modern, all of our data and analysis was just that much more accurate. Our metagame predictions were pretty much spot on as a result of this. We overestimated Zoo by about 5% but outside of that, very few decks surprised us in the field. There will always be random rogue things you cannot come up with, such as the Blue Moon deck, but that is just the case when you play a large Magic tournament.
The team was really good about finding time to play games despite not being near each other. We had weekly mock tournaments pretty early on in our testing. In fact, Andrew Shrout's Storm list was winning most of those, painting a picture of things to come as Storm would be the best performing deck of the Pro Tour (with slightly different lists arrived at by our team and then CFB Pantheon on the other list).
In fact, one of the things I was most impressed with regarding the team, was how willing they were to just find the best versions of decks. With inexperienced teams, there can be an overemphasis on trying to break the format. The reality is, maybe one team per every year manages to break a single Pro Tour format, it just isn't that common. An experienced team knows when it is time to move off of the “break it” mentality and on to stable ground. Team TCGplayer did an impressive job of that, arriving at four very solid versions of tier one decks that various members of the team would go on to play.
Storm was our big deck, with five of the eleven members on it. Bogles, spearheaded by Harry and Marc, was our second most popular deck, with four of eleven members on it. One member of the team played BW Tokens, and one member of the team played Melira Pod.
It was actually funny to end up playing a “rogue” deck that was actually a normal list. Most of the team members did not feel as comfortable with a deck like Melira Pod, which is notoriously tricky to play, and so they went with more comfortable choices. I was honestly 50/50 to play either Pod or Storm and ended up going with Pod due to some positive feedback I was getting regarding my play with the deck. I liked my list, but in retrospect wish I would have played Storm. Andrew Shrout put a lot of work into the list and other members of the team tuned it pretty nicely during our testing, so it was likely the safer choice to put up a good finish.
Still, I was satisfied with my list, which I will leave here for anyone interested in a slightly different take on the Melira Pod concept-
What really excites me about this team is the potential that we have moving forward. During one of our many cab rides around Spain, the local radio was playing some familiar tunes which got us talking about how often people listen to the radio. I said I mostly listen to the radio so that when I am out, I know what songs exist so that I can dance to them. Dancing to a song you have never heard before can be difficult. The rhythm may not yet be familiar and any change ups in the song will catch you by surprise. I summed this up at the time by eloquently putting it as such:
“You need to know how the song goes so that you can be ready to make your move.”
Well, I just listened to this song for the first time; let's see how listen number two treats me.