Team EUreka Moments

Posted in Magic Lifestyle on February 4, 2016

By Brian David-Marshall

Brian David-Marshall is a New York–based game designer who has been involved with Magic since 1994, when he started organizing tournaments and ran a Manhattan game store. Since then, he has been a judge, a player, and one of the longest-tenured columnists on DailyMTG.com, as he enters his second decade writing for the site. He is also the Pro Tour Historian and one of the commentators for the Pro Tour.

During the 2015 World Magic Cup, we did a feature from the News Desk in which the members of the coverage team voted on various year-end awards that ranged from notable cards and decks to outstanding players and teams. As I was filling out my ballot, I labored over many of my choices—as cards, decks, and players would jockey for position in my internal power rankings throughout the year. The one category that required the least amount of debate was Team of the Year. There was no question in my mind that title belonged to Team EUreka.

Their team has won multiple Pro Tour trophies, the World Magic Cup, and the Magic Online Championship Series, and players from the team litter the top tables at seemingly every event they play in. I talked to Pro Tour Magic Origins Champion Joel Larsson about the team and the timeline of their preparation for the upcoming Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch in Atlanta. For this tournament, the team roster will be:

  • Platinum: Joel Larsson, Martin Dang, and Martin Müller
  • Gold: Magnus Lantto, Olle Råde (Hall of Fame), Matej Zatlkaj, Pierre Dagen, Immanuel Gerschenson, and Fabrizio Anteri
  • Silver: Simon Nielsen and Oliver Polak-Rottmann
  • Single Invite: Aleksa Telarov, Anders Melin, Nikolaus Eigner, and Wenzel Krautmann

The team was formed out of the foundation of Team Thommo. As newer players such as Larsson, Zatlkaj, Lantto, and Müller came on board, it became clear that the team was changing—as were its core principles.

"We had special ideas about how we wanted to build the team, which made us create a new team," said Larsson. "Team EUreka has always been a team with high expectations and the will to get there. That's something we shared among those who started the team, and many of us had already a lot of experience from earlier teams. We knew how we wanted to build our new one and how to recruit new members: high-level commitment and a steady base of players who want the same thing and are qualified for the whole season.

"We understood from our earlier experiences that it's not only about having the best players in the world, but also that we needed to socially get along, have the same commitment. I believe that a large portion to our success comes from these basic ideas, but also from consistent use of forums and groups on Facebook, where we start preparing as soon as the new card list comes out."

That high-level commitment involved making some tough choices along the way. The biggest change for the team was being less inclusive of friends who happened to be qualified. It is especially important for an event like the upcoming Modern Pro Tour, since the playtesting starts way sooner than it can for a Standard event.

"We have already prepared for two months. Modern is a very special format where you need to have an understanding of the format, as broad as it is. It means that you have to play almost all of the viable decks across a number of games," explained Larsson. "This takes time. One of largest strengths, which comes down to commitment, is that we always have a flowing and active forum and Facebook group where we discuss new ideas about cards, decks, metagaming, Limited, and so on."

The release of information about the cards in the eponymous set for the Pro Tour is when they start to narrow their focus.

"New sets are like Christmas for Magic players—even for us in Team EUreka. After being excited about what's coming, we try to speculate about which cards from the previews will have an impact on the metagame and deck building. In Modern, the preview season usually doesn't provide too much impact since the format is already very stable, tuned, and powerful—which means that the preview season mostly carries weight in preparation for the Limited portion."

While the team pores over the new cards, begins to compile pick orders for the new commons, and reevaluates the cards in Battle for Zendikar in the new Draft format, they wait, not so patiently, for the Banned and Restricted announcements for Modern. They were expecting something would come along to shake up the format, and this is where playing as many different archetypes for those months leading up to the Pro Tour really pays off. Decks that may have been held in check by either Splinter Twin or Summer Bloom may now have a chance to shine with those two obstacles removed.

With the Pro Tour still several weeks away, the first chance for the team to get their hands on physical copies of the new cards is on Prerelease weekend. Despite playing tournament Magic on so many weekends throughout the year, nobody on the team wants to skip out on a chance to play with the new cards.

"I believe that everyone goes to the Prerelease!" Larsson exclaimed. "Prereleases have been something me and my teammates have always has been fond of—just like any other Magic player. While trying to have fun, we try to remember what works and what doesn't in the new Limited format and discuss it in the forums right after the event."

You might think there is a temptation to take a weekend off for the release of the new set, but with the team spread out across so many European nations, it is actually crucial to attend Release events, since that is the first real opportunity to play with the new cards in the Booster Draft format.

"It's very hard to actually meet up for drafts that early, meaning that we have to do some drafts with other Magic players in our region," said Larsson, who expects that all team members will have at least fifteen drafts under their belt by the time the Pro Tour rolls around.

Before the Pro Tour, the entire team—with the lone exception of Matej Zatlkaj—descended on Mexico City to prepare in person all week and to compete in one of the three Limited Grand Prix taking place before Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch. They arrived in the city the Monday before the Grand Prix and planned to stay until the Wednesday before the Pro Tour.

"An important aspect in our testing is to always have a hotel with a board room where we can test without any sort of disturbance. Having the comfort of a hotel is especially important so we can focus on the testing as much as possible, instead of having to worry about other unnecessary things," said Larsson.

In addition to jamming as many Modern matchups as they can, the team will get about a dozen drafts in before the Grand Prix. That event plays an important role in letting them calibrate their testing process with regard to their Limited pick orders.

"Since we are mainly going to playtest together, it's very nice to see how others anticipated the Limited format. This way, we can save ourselves of having inbred Limited testing," Larsson explained. Team members don't get to draft at that event until Day Two, something that has other added benefits for a team looking to maintain a steady roster of qualified players. "Also, we are all trying to get our Pro Points!"

By the time the team arrives in Atlanta for the Pro Tour, they expect to have each settled on a deck to play in Modern. There is still plenty of teamwork that needs to be done to prepare.

"We are usually trying to assemble all the information in a summary, trying to tune our decks as much as possible. We are also making sideboard plans, having our last discussions about Limited picks, but the last day before the Pro Tour we usually try to just take it easy and not work too much, just to restore ourselves before the actual tournament."

Once the event itself rolls around, the work does not stop. The players need to be in constant communication with other members of the team, providing not just support but constant updates about how the team can be better prepared as the tournament progresses.

"If somebody figures something out about a specific matchup, we share that information to make ourselves better prepared for each round to come," explained Larsson. Players on the team also have to commit to helping any teammates who make the Top 8 of the event—something that has happened with regularity for Team EUreka over the past several events.

"People generally try to help by testing the matchups you are facing in the Top 8, because they know that the team would do the same thing for you if you made Top 8 yourself," said the Pro Tour Magic Origins Champion, who was grateful for all the late-night testing his teammates provided. "Having the team making Top 8 time after time also gives us a sense of confidence that this team has exactly what it takes."

In closing, I asked Larsson which of his teammates might be most likely to taste Top 8 success in Atlanta.

"Everyone!" he laughed. "But if I have to name someone in particular, I believe it would be Simon Nielsen."

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