Teams Reforged

Posted in NEWS on January 16, 2015

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, 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.

The Card Image Gallery filled in last week and we get our hands on actual, physical Fate Reforged this weekend at Prereleases all around the globe. Here in the Organized Play section of, that means it's time to start ramping up for Pro Tour Fate Reforged in Washington, DC—taking place in just a couple of weeks. The formats for the event will be Tarkir Block Draft with Fate Reforged and Modern, with the addition of the new cards and whatever shakeups the banned and restricted announcement may bring on Monday.

The shakeups for this Pro Tour are in no way limited to the new cards and any potential changes to the B&R list. There has been some pretty significant player movement among the major teams that make up the Pro Tour field. There is always some churn as players fall off and on the Pro Tour. Teams like the predominantly Czech and Slovak Cabin Crew will look largely the same—with any turnover in membership being due to qualification status.

I talked to Lee Shi Tian about the membership for Team MTGMint and how their team has changed between Pro Tours. The team will be heading to Washington, DC, with as many as ten players but two notable names from past events will not be there. Both Tzu Ching Kuo and Kelvin Chew found themselves without an invite for this event, which means extra work for Shi Tian.

Lee Shi Tian, Team MTGMint

"They were always the best Constructed players when I was busy brewing decks," said Shi Tian, who relied on them to vet his Constructed builds against what they expected the metagame to look like. "Guess I will have to work on their area more this time.

"We invited the Korean team, but not all of them can fit our schedule. Nam Sung Wook and Joo Hyun Oh from Korea Team will be on the team. Also, another PTQ winner—a teammate of Nam's in the Korea local community—will be joining us as well. Unfortunately, Team China's captain—Han Bin—could not make it due to a lost passport in Nice and not being able to re-apply for the visa in time."

Team MTGMint members:

Hong Kong: Lee Shi Tian, Yam Wing Chun, Zhang Meng Qiu

Korea: Nam Sung Wook, Oh Joo Hyun, Park Jong Sun

Taiwan: Huang Hao Shan, Ryan Young

Singapore: Chapman Sim

Shi Tian explained that they try to have core members from different countries—such as Chapman Sim from Singapore, himself from Hong Kong, and Nam Sung Wook from South Korea—who keep an eye out for talented new players in their communities. Being qualified is not enough to get on the team though.

"We need the team members to come one week prior to the Pro Tour to playtest, beyond the testing in our own countries," he explained. "Commitment is an important issue for us. We don't want players to simply come and take away all the work done by the team. Some of the team will go GP Mexico City and some will go GP San Jose. We will gather on Monday at the apartment in DC and do some extensive playtesting. That is the only time the whole team gets together. That might not be lots of time compared to other teams, but that is the best we can do to overcome the geographical issue for Asian players."

Another team that will find itself without a couple of core members is the transatlantic Team Revolution, which has always had at its core Pro Tour Hall of Famer Raphaël Lévy and Melissa DeTora. Lévy remains with the team, but DeTora just relocated to Seattle to take a position at Wizards of the Coast and is no longer eligible to participate on the Pro Tour. Like most teams, one of the requirements is that you spend a full week prior to the event playtesting with the team. Because Samuele Estratti and Joel Larsson were not able to make that commitment for this event, they will not be playing as members of the team in DC. Also absent from the roster is Denniz Rachid, who will be playtesting with a Swedish group of players.

Team Revolution members:

Jérémy Dezani

Pierre Dagen

Timothée Simonot

Brad Nelson

Todd Anderson

Brian Braun-Duin

Patrick Dickmann

Valentin Mackl

Raphaël Lévy

"The problems we face are that we all have different people we'd like on the team, some are very close friends, and it's tough to say no to them. Todd (Anderson) and Brian (Braun-Duin) are Brad (Nelson)'s close friend and Valentin (Mackl) is Patrick (Dickmann)'s best friend. They meet the requirements to make the team and we needed "fresh" blood to replace the one who couldn't make it," explained Lévy about the new members on the team and what criteria is needed join Revolution. "The team is still young, and we have yet to write an official policy to determine exactly who can be in and can't. Basically, you need to be able to test with the team the week before and be qualified for the next Pro Tours so we can keep the team the same next time."

Raphaël Lévy, Team Revolution

Perhaps the biggest shakeup in team rosters comes from two of the teams that have been the Gold Platinum standard for how Pro Tour teams should function. For The Pantheon, there are a number of names that have come to be associated with that team who will be playing with other squads for this event. Tom Martell, Sam Black, Paul Rietzl, and Matt Sperling will all be playing with other groups for this event. While Lévy said that his team did not have an official policy about membership, The Pantheon has a strict set of by-laws that members must abide by in order to test for an event with the team.

"Tom and Sam are both valued contributors, along with Paul and Matt. It's a shame we had to lose them, but the time pressure of work and relationships has made it hard for them to attend the mandated practice periods before Pro Tours," explained Pro Tour Hall of Famer Jon Finkel about the roster turnover. He went on to say that Grand Prix San Jose was a contributing factor. "Also, playing in the weekend before GP is against the team bylaws, but obviously Team GPs are very attractive, especially for those living right by the site. We're losing multiple of the top 20 players in Magic, so obviously it's a huge loss."

Jon Finkel, The Pantheon

Finkel explained the cost of not having those players for this event.

"Paul just got inducted to the Hall of Fame and is one of the best technical players of all time. What we'll really miss, though, are his deck selection and tuning skills. Losing Matt is hard too, as he's been on a real tear recently. He Top 8ed PT Portland and in his last three Grand Prixes he has two Top 16s and a Top 8. It's never good to lose someone who's putting up results like that. It's getting hard to keep track of at this point. Sam is…well, Sam. There are certain decks that no one is ever going to find except for Sam. It's nice to have someone on the team who always has at least a 15% chance of breaking it out of nowhere. In some alternate universe, where he didn't get a CS degree from Stanford and a Law degree from Columbia, Tom is in the Hall of Fame. His raw skill level is among that of the absolute top tier of all time, so he'll probably make it; it'll just be a few years later. They're all valued contributors, and we look forward to testing with them again soon."

So how does the team fill the void left by these four players? Pro Tour Hall of Famer, and Finkel's rival for the title of greatest of all time, Kai Budde will be playing and preparing for the event. It is increasingly looking like Hall of Famer Zvi Mowshowitz—one of the greatest Constructed minds in the history of the game—is going to digging into the Modern format with them as well.

"We're adding Josh Ravitz, who I've long considered to be a top-tier, criminally-underrated Magic player. I think he's run about four standard deviations below expectancy for his lifetime," said Finkel of his Pro Tour San Diego teammate. "Lastly, we're adding Tom Ross. I wasn't familiar with him before this, but after we ruled out signing LSV, I asked the team if there was anyone we should add. The answer I kept hearing was 'Tom Ross.' Luckily for us, he was happy to join and he's already shown himself to be a prolific contributor."

ChannelFireball Pantheon members:

Jon Finkel

Patrick Chapin

William Jensen

Reid Duke

Owen Turtenwald

Andrew Cuneo

Gabriel Nassif

Jelger Wiegersma

Kai Budde

Gaudenis Vidiguris

Jamie Parke

Josh Ravitz

Tom Ross

Zvi Mowshowitz (tentative)

Finkel continues to donate half his Pro Tour winnings to his charity, Gamers Helping Gamers, and was optimistic that the team could help him revert to the form that saw him make multiple Top 8s just a couple of seasons ago.

Finkel was joking about the LSV signing, but the other ChannelFireball team has some pretty big shakeups as well…or is it more of a merger? In what will surely be the largest team heading into Pro Tour Fate Reforged, Team ChannelFireball and Team Face to Face Games will be joining forces.

"We like the guys on Face to Face and think working together will be great for both sides, and at the very least is an interesting experiment," said ChannelFireball leader and Pro Tour Hall of Famer Luis Scott-Vargas. "It's a big team, but we are getting some good face-to-face testing in before the GP in California, and Modern is a format that rewards having lots of minds working on it. The majority of the team is meeting in California because Grand Prix San Jose is there and because Josh Utter-Leyton, Matt Nass, Sam Pardee, David Ochoa, and Tom Martell all live there, which makes testing more convenient. Unfortunately, that's balanced by the timing of the Pro Tour being such that a bunch of us can't make it out early for various reasons, so Eric Froehlich, Pat Cox, Guillaume Matignon, and Brandon Nelson are all meeting with the team either at the GP or on Monday in DC."

Luis Scott-Vargas, Team ChannelFireball

ChannelFireball members:

Luis Scott-Vargas

Eric Froehlich

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa

Josh Utter-Leyton

David Ochoa

Shahar Shenhar

Pat Cox

Brian Kibler

Matt Nass

Shuhei Nakamura

Guillaume Matignon

Brandon Nelson

Tom Martell

Face to Face members:

Jacob Wilson

Sam Pardee

Josh McClain

Jon Stern

Alexander Hayne

Mike Sigrist

Despite a team that is teetering on the brink of twenty players, Scott-Vargas has been able to hand off some of the duties that usually fall to him in preparation for a Pro Tour.

"I've had to rely on Pat Cox to do the bulk of the DC logistics, and Josh and Matt to handle the California planning," explained Scott-Vargas, who has had his hands full in Denver. "It's been great having them do that, as I usually am on the hook, and being able to spread it around has let me focus. I am looking forward to seeing everyone at the team GP, and the testing in DC the week of the PT. I love meeting with the team, and it's a ton of fun to get into playtesting with no distractions—which ideally I'll be able to do by having the time before the PT to get everything else squared away."

Team Face to Face captain and Pro Tour Champion Alexander Hayne echoed LSV's comments about having a large team tackle as complex a format as Modern. His team for this event was whittled down to six, with Dave Shiels and Nathan Holiday not coming back for this tournament. Hayne was very confident that his team brought something valuable to the table—even if he did not have as much confidence in himself.

"I, personally, don't feel extra-confident in Modern, but our team definitely has some strong Modern specialists, with McClain, Pardee, and Wilson all really feeling at home in the format. I think that we will be well prepared, and last Modern Pro Tour was definitely a strong showing from our team. If we can do that well again, I would definitely view it as a success. So I would say I am fairly confident in the team as a whole doing well, even if I don't think Modern necessarily plays to my personal strengths," said Hayne.

Alexander Hayne, Team ChannelFireball

With Tom Martell returning to his ChannelFireball Primes roots, that still leaves a handful of players unaccounted for who have shifted from other teams. Especially notable are Paul Rietzl, Sam Black, and Matt Sperling—who, traditionally, have been members of The Pantheon—and Ben Stark, who has long been a member of ChannelFireball. They will be working together on an as-of-yet-unnamed team for this event. The focus for the team is to practice online and to put less emphasis on gathering in person for a set amount of time prior to the event.

Team TBD members:

Ben Stark

Bob Maher

Paul Rietzl

Sam Black

Matt Sperling

David Williams

Gary Wise

Lucas Siow

Andrew Baeckstrom

Orrin Beasley

Matt Severa

David Heineman

Justin Cohen

"There are a mixture of motivations that led to our formation," said Pro Tour Hall of Famer Paul Rietzl of the new team. "Feeling that we might be more productive with a higher percentage of our testing online, inability or lack of wanting to commit multiple days or weeks away from work to spend in a testing house, the desire to mix things up, and strong mutual respect."

Hall of Famer Paul Rietzl

The team is a mix of Hall of Famers, successful Pros, and young unknowns. The team was pulled together by Hall of Famer Bob Maher for a trial run at this PT. Rietzl was optimistic that it could become permanent if all goes well.

"Bob basically put the initial core together out of people he thought he'd like to work with and then we added people that came strongly recommended, or who we had personal dealings with. The dynamic is very collaborative," said Rietzl, who has played across multiple eras of super teams. "It reminds me a bit of the old Your Move Games days as we have some grizzled veterans trying to hang on, and some young hungry up-and-comers itching for a breakout finish. It's good to have different perspectives, especially for an established format like Modern."

That's a look at just a few of the teams preparing for Pro Tour Fate Reforged. I always want to hear about all the teams, and you can tell me about your team—or your favorite team that you're rooting for—on Facebook, Twitter (where I am @Top8Games), or in person at an event. I will be at The Compleat Strategist this weekend in a Fate Reforged Prerelease, taking up banners for the Sultai Clan.