Putting the You in Team-Up

Posted in Reconstructed on November 30, 2015

By Gavin Verhey

When Gavin Verhey was eleven, he dreamt of a job making Magic cards—and now as a Magic designer, he's living his dream! Gavin has been writing about Magic since 2005.

Welcome to Team Week here on DailyMTG!

Teams are a huge part of Magic. Coming up shortly is, of course, the World Magic Cup—a tournament all about team play. (And I'll actually be there, watching everything unfold. Please feel free to introduce yourself and say "hi" if you see me!)

But even outside of actual team events, Magic teams have been around since nearly the dawn of competitive Magic. These are groups that make decks together, share information together, and playtest together. There are the teams of today, such as Team Ultra Pro or Team Pantheon. There are the teams of the past, such as Team CMU or Taking Back Sunday. And then there are the teams of the future.


In the past five or so years, I've seen the number of players creating their own teams skyrocket. And it makes sense: as big-name teams continue to do well, players are inspired to take up their own mantle. After all, if those players can do it, what's stopping you?

That exact mindset was key to the reason I'm even here today.

Way back in 2005, I was inspired—so I banded together a team of fledgling players like Ari Lax, Kyle Boggemes, Matej Zatlkaj, Melissa DeTora, Sam Stoddard, and more—and together, we collectively rose through the ranks and took our Magic game to the next level. Then, as I kept moving on and testing with other groups and teams, the lessons I learned there carried with me. On every team I worked with along the way, I learned something new and improved as a player.

Maybe you have thought about starting up a local Magic team to improve your play. Maybe you even already have one and aren't sure where to go next. Or maybe you even have no intentions of starting up a team, but would still find some insights into how to work on Magic decks with your friends useful.

Well then, you've come to the right place! Today I'm going to go over five important things to know for working as a Magic group.

Let's get started!

0. If You Want a Team, Make One

Before going much further, it's important to lay down the most crucial note in this whole process. So before I get into the five, this is the ever-fundamental point zero: if you really want to have a team, make one.

A team is incredibly useful because you can work together with other people on new decks and ideas—and thanks to the robust powers of the internet, it's easier than ever to share thoughts and stay in touch. And if you want a group of people to work with to prepare, sometimes you need to be proactive.

Secure the Wastes | Art by Scott Murphy

For example, maybe there are a bunch of players at your local store or in your area who all have aspirations of competitive play, but aren't there yet. It just takes asking them if they'd be interested in meeting up to do some playtesting, and the pieces of a team start coming together.

Even if for some reason there isn't a big Magic scene near you, there's still the internet. Look around in local Facebook groups. Even staying in touch and just talking online can be powerful.

What's the difference between a team and a group of friends all talking about Magic? A team has a unified goal of trying to help each other do as best as possible at events. (Oh, and of course, although you don't need one, you can also give yourselves a sweet team name, too.)

Now, with the ground floor out of the way, here are a few things to keep in mind when working as a team.

1. Create (and Encourage) Channels of Communication

It might seem obvious to some, but talking and communicating back and forth is a foundational pillar of what makes a team work.

It's not just about "Here's my final decklist, see you all at the Preliminary PTQ tomorrow." It's about being able to send off your new idea for a Zada, Hedron Grinder deck at 2 a.m. and know that tomorrow someone will send along their thoughts. Often, one person alone has an idea that needs a lot of refinement, and isn't good at all—but with a few others to bounce it off of, it can evolve into something great.

A wonderful example is the poison deck that Sam Black played at Pro Tour Philadelphia, the first Modern Pro Tour. Sam's teammate and friend John Stolzmann built a version of the poison deck that was, quite frankly, bad. But John showed it to Sam. And Sam thought about the deck, then showed it to others on the team. As ideas bounced around, eventually a far better version of the deck coalesced—and Sam cracked the Top 8 of the Pro Tour.

As a result, I recommend always leaving channels of communication open. In this day and age, it's incredibly simple to do so—just create an email chain, or have a Facebook message constantly going. That way, when your sweet idea hits you, you'll have a place to put it.

2. Be Open to Ideas—and Feedback

If your goal is to be successful (and hopefully it is), then you're going to want the ability to find decks and cards that others aren't using and that you can take advantage of. As a result, it's important you have a space where ideas aren't just shot down on principle.

For example, if I send you a message about my aforementioned Zada, Hedron Grinder deck, a response of "Zada isn't good in Constructed, sorry" isn't very useful or constructive. Sure, maybe Zada isn't good in Constructed yet—but the idea is at least worth entertaining just in case. Pack Rat also wasn't a card that people called "good in Constructed"—until suddenly, people started playing it and it was. Think about how the deck might actually play out without limiting yourself to what the popular opinion about the card might be.

Zada, Hedron Grinder | Art by Chris Rallis

With that said, it's also incredibly crucial to take feedback. That's why you have a team in the first place! If someone sends back a well-reasoned message about some of the holes they see in your deck, it's important not to take that as anything personal and, instead, think about whether they're right or not.

This kind of feedback loop is a great way to spur productive creativity. It's always safe to put out an idea. The weaker ones will get holes poked in them, but the ones that work out are worth it.

3. Playtest Together, in a Variety of Ways

Playtesting together makes a lot of sense. Certainly, as a team, that's something you'll want to do. However, there's a lot more than simply sitting down and playing games of Magic. There are a lot of different ways to playtest, each with its own uses.

The advantage of having a team is having a lot of eyes in one place that can watch games unfold. For example, one thing to try is to playtest with one teammate watching the game from both sides. Have them note what they thought were mistakes or interesting plays, then talk about them after the game. You can learn a lot this way, and everybody can improve. This is especially useful when trying to learn a deck for the first time.

If you have enough people, you can even run a mock tournament or gauntlet. You need around six people (at least) for this, but it's a great way to get information. Everyone picks a deck and plays against everybody else once. This mimics the tournament feel while providing everybody with a lot of good information about what's going on.

And speaking of getting information...

4. Know Why You're Playtesting

Perhaps the most common error I see in all of playtesting is simply not knowing why you're playtesting in the first place!

Let me put it this way. I play my Zada, Hedron Grinder deck (since that is the theme of the day, apparently) against your Dark Jeskai deck. We play ten games. Naturally, Zada goes 7-3.

What did we actually learn from that exchange?

Now, somebody might hurry to say that means the matchup is 70/30. But that's not really necessarily true—those were just ten games, and some of them could have probably swung either way. I've gone 8-2 in sets before and still felt unfavored, and vice versa.

No. The far more important information is what happened in the games. What you should actually be looking for is what's going on in the games that is leading to that result, and then figuring out why it is happening.

A few aspects to look at are things like:

  • Which turn or play seemed to be the fundamental make-or-break turn/play that decided the game?
  • Were there any plays that didn't seem to work that could be done differently?
  • Were there any cards that were very weak?
  • Were there any cards that were very strong?
  • What kind of card would have been really good in the situations the deck had trouble with?
  • How much were your sideboard cards influencing the games?
  • How often were you tight on mana?
  • Did it seem like your deck wanted to be the aggressive deck or the controlling deck in this matchup?

There's a lot you can learn from the games outside of just what the numbers tell you. If you played ten games and just recorded the above data for all of them, you would end up with a ton of good information about how to improve your deck and its gameplay.

Scroll of the Masters | Art by Lake Hurwitz

Don't just playtest—figure out what you're trying to learn, and then ask those questions while you're playtesting.

5. Collect and Share Information

So you've assembled a team. You've shared ideas. You've playtested in a lot of ways. You've learned a lot of different things while playtesting. What's next?

Well, the key is sharing that information.

Let's say you have six members on your team. You all playtest for three hours one night. Well, at the end of the session, you are going to know the most about the games you were in or watched. If you were all to just go home after that, you'd have quite the untempered schism of information: only a third of the results would be known to you! So, as a result, it's absolutely crucial that everybody talks about what they learned from their games.

I recommend just taking a few minutes at the end of each session to share what you found by playing the games. Not only is it incredibly useful to know from the perspective of someone who is playing with or against that deck, but it may also spur some ideas that others hadn't thought of. ("Hmm, you found that killing off Mantis Rider on turn three was the key to beating Dark Jeskai instead of holding removal for Tasigur, the Golden Fang? Good to know!")

Always remember: the benefit of working with a group is you have a lot more people to pull from and talk with. If you aren't communicating and sharing information and results, than you're losing some of that advantage.

Communicate. Playtest. Share information. And, of course, have fun!

Getting Topical

I hope you enjoyed today's look at working with a team. Being a part of a team was huge for me—and hopefully, it will help you just as much!

If you have any questions at all, please feel free to contact me by sending me a tweet or asking a question on my Tumblr. I'm more than happy to help out with any team-related questions.

And speaking of working as a team: last week you voted in my Topical Blend poll! The results are in, and the winners are...

Magic Topics

Building Around a Theme



Building Combo Decks



Evaluating New Cards



How to Choose Your Deck



Improving Playtesting



Magic Deck-Building Myths



Mana Bases



Mana Curves









Non-Magic Topics




Crazy Themed Parties I've Thrown






Friends I've Made in Unusual Ways



Growing Up



How My Home Is Decorated



My Favorite Movies



My Hat



Public Speaking






Well, that's quite exciting.

Join me next week as I find the common point between these two and write about both! It'll undoubtedly be a way to close out ReConstructed in style before the holiday break happens.

Have fun being a team player, and I'll talk with you again next week!




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