Teaming up for Greatness

Posted in Ways to Play on November 8, 2016

By Jacob Van Lunen

Jacob Van Lunen began playing Magic in 1995. He has participated in organized play at every level of competition and was a member of the winning team at Pro Tour San Diego in 2007, thanks to an innovative draft strategy. As a writer, Van Lunen has had more than three hundred Magic strategy pieces published

Assuming that others think the same way we do is a huge mistake. Learning how others think is one of the best lessons we can ever learn.

Today, in preparation for the 2016 World Magic Cup, we're going to discuss being a part of a team. As Magic players, we're often predisposed to individual competition. We know how to improve personally, but a lot of us struggle to maximize the advantage of group learning. What do teams do for us as Magic players? What do we do for our teams? How can we all benefit from a team setting even if we don't have the chance to team up for a major event like the World Magic Cup?

The World Magic Cup is an annual Magic event gathering representatives from nations all over the globe to compete in a unique team format for the ultimate national bragging rights. Teams of four representing more than 70 countries face off every year over a multi-day, multi-format event to crown the World Magic Cup Champion. This year, the countries' representatives will gather in Rotterdam to battle for over $250,000 in prize money, invitations to Pro Tour Aether Revolt, and glory for their country on one of the game's biggest stages.

These days, competitive Magic is usually played by individuals. These individuals often join forces as a team prior to large events to hasten the discovery of the best Constructed and Limited strategies, but once a tournament starts, it's every woman or man for themselves.

The World Magic Cup brings us the old version of Magic teams. Teams of individuals that don't just work with one another in the lead-up to large events but actually play alongside one another in the heat of competition. Team events give us insight into the depth of Magic; challenge us to play our best for the sake of those we play with; and, most importantly, establish trust and friendship.

Being part of a team is an opportunity to work with other individuals to reach common goals. The greatest of these goals is the improvement of each individual on the team, which results in better performance for the team as a whole. Each individual is responsible for the actions of their teammates as much as they are responsible for their own actions. This may not seem intuitive, but it's important that we recognize how to best facilitate this. The most important thing teammates can do is talk during practice, explaining each line of decision making and offering up other lines that seem reasonable. Sure, it may seem obvious to play a particular two-mana creature over another in a specific matchup, but perhaps our teammates haven't established the obviousness of that play yet. We can save them from using the mental capital of figuring it out in a real match by simply explaining even the most "basic" decisions during practice. Encourage teammates to be talkative in the same regard. When disagreements arise over what is correct, it's best to be pragmatic and actually test outcomes in relation to decisions rather than engage in philosophical arguments. Remember, there are no points for being right. One only wins when their whole team knows what's correct.

Strange things start to happen when we start talking openly about every single play. Things that have always seemed obvious to us are revolutionary for teammates. Things that seemed obvious to teammates are groundbreaking for us. You'll be surprised at how much and how little you know about playing Magic. The ability to create a narrative around cards being played in a specific order also gives us the ability to better foresee what cards or types of cards might remain in an opponent's hand in a real game.

We learn faster and better when we're a part of a team. Being a good teammate is an integral part of being on a good team. What do we need to do to be a good teammate? We need to be respectful: we won't learn anything from a teammate who doesn't talk for fear of being chastised. We need to be flexible: our good idea may not be as good as a teammate's, and it's worthwhile to consider and try everything before assuming that we know better than others. We need to be reliable: we can't expect teammates to execute tasks as needed with consistency if we don't demand the same from ourselves. Most importantly, we need to be active listeners: we must be listening with the intent of learning. Too often, we listen and wait for our turn to speak or look for holes in what we're hearing instead of picking out the best of what we hear and using that to push ourselves and our teammates to realize our maximum potential.

Being on a team also has the ability to bring out the best in us. We play better knowing that the success of our friends depends on our ability to win. We go through all the possibilities; we know all the lines; we hold ourselves to a higher level of accountability.

Nearly a decade ago, I won Pro Tour San Diego 2007 beside my best friend, Chris Lachmann. We practiced for the event, probably more than anyone else. We knew what everyone wanted to do, and we knew what we wanted to do. We prioritized spells and knew how to maximize storm counts; we picked up playable Slivers late; and, when all was said and done, we became Pro Tour Champions. That weekend, we played against the defending Pro Tour Champion, countless Hall of Famers (including Jon Finkel), and a host of the game's most notable players at the time.

I still feel like our strongest trait in the tournament was our willingness to trust and listen to the other. I gave Chris veto power and told him to hold the cards while we drafted. However, whenever I disagreed with his decision, he willingly listened to what I had to say and never once overrode me. This trust was the cornerstone of our partnership. During games we would confidently identify opposing morphs or cards in hand and play the games as if the cards were face-up, putting absolute faith in the other's abilities.

Playing games of Magic for tens of thousands of dollars can be a very emotional experience, especially when you're 21 years old. Doing this beside a friend is a bonding experience that's nearly impossible to quantify. Chris and I built a bond that weekend and remained best friends for years following the event.

Teams make us better as individuals. They make each link stronger than it was on its own. We are always better as a team even if it's just to facilitate the flow of competitive juices. You don't need to be qualified for the World Magic Cup, or the Pro Tour, or even going to a Team Grand Prix to make a team—find some friends and get teaching and learning!

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