Preparation for Pro Tours is a team effort these days. Although lone wolves (or werewolves) can still make the Top 8 if they are talented enough and/or dedicate enough time on Magic Online, most players join forces in teams. This allows them to share ideas, test together, and use their collective brain power to solve a format.
One of the bigger teams is EUreka, the European team that dominated last year's Pro Tours and continues to put up some of the Pro Tour's best finishes. For the upcoming Pro Tour, it is comprised of the following fifteen people.
Platinum: (10) Fabrizio Anteri, (5) Martin Müller, (16) Joel Larsson, (17) Martin Dang, (20) Brad Nelson
Gold: Pierre Dagen, Immanuel Gerschenson, Magnus Lantto, Oliver Polak-Rottmann, Matej Zatlkaj
Hall of Fame: Olle Råde, Frank Karsten (hello!)
Silver/single invite: Thomas Hendriks, Simon Nielsen, Aleksa Telarov
The live streaming video coverage of Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad (which starts on April 22 at 9 a.m. CET on twitch.tv/magic) will include an inside glimpse into the testing house of this team, as a camera crew will be at their house this Tuesday to record a number of segments.
To support those segments, the text coverage writer for this Grand Prix (that is, me) received an assignment to write an article on the history and transformation of Team EUreka. This was a somewhat peculiar assignment because I joined the team myself for this Pro Tour! Nevertheless, I dove into the history of the team, and I hope that my inside perspective can offer a further glimpse into the workings of EUreka.
The Origins of the Team
According to Oliver Polak-Rottmann, the origins of the team could be traced as far back as 2013, where a group of German, Austrian, and Hungarian players teamed up for Pro Tour Theros and also found a version of the dominating mono-blue devotion deck. Since the European scene is pretty small and certain groups already form naturally due to shared languages—there is usually a team of Spanish players, a team of Italian players, a team of Czech players, and so on—the remaining nations tended to mix all the time for Pro Tour preparations, but this German-Austrian-Hungarian alliance remained in place for the next few Pro Tours.
The precise cast changed around based on who was qualified, but the core players stuck together, and things started to get bigger at the end of 2014. "For Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir in Honolulu, I fixed a big beach house for an even more international group, including Christoffer Larsen and Lars Dam from Denmark," Oliver Polak-Rottmann recalled.
This connection between Scandinavian players and the German-Austrian-Hungarian group remained in place for Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir in Brussels. There, the motley crew of Nico Bohny, Lars Dam, Martin Dang, Immanuel Gerschenson, Nicolai Herzog, Bernhard Lehner, Martin Müller, Tamas Nagy, David Reitbauer, Christian Seibold, and Lukas Tajak banded together, and their efforts led Martin Dang to the first-place trophy.
The team at that point was called Thommo Thommo Thommo, which was a reference to Tamas Nagy's nickname. As Martin Müller explained to me, it was on Thommo’s Magic Online account that they discovered the power of the Atarka Red deck, and everyone kept yelling "Thommo Thommo Thommo, we got three Thommo tokens!" when a Hordeling Outburst was cast. They surely had a lot of fun, but the testing process was not all that serious, and the tournament seemed like more of an afterthought.
"It was just a group of guys coming together," Martin Dang told me. "We were all happy that we got to play a Pro Tour, so we traveled to the tournament, hung out, and played some games beforehand. It was fun, but we were not professional or well-organized. I didn't even know many of the players on the team before arriving in Brussels."
Getting More Serious
For Pro Tour Magic Origins in Vancouver, things got a bit more organized, and several players were added to the team. Most of the new additions were from Sweden and Denmark, including Joel Larsson, Magnus Lantto, and Simon Nielsen.
Martin Müller told me something that indicated how the testing process had become more structured and focused: "Rather than just play a bunch of random games, we started from the realization that Jace, Vryn's Prodigy was a really strong card, so all of our testing revolved around how to beat it." They found Mono-Red with Searing Blood, held a lengthy meeting on the day before the tournament to figure out the last couple of slots in the deck, and it worked out like a charm, with Joel Larsson claiming another trophy for the team.
After the success in Brussels and Vancouver, the Gold and Platinum players on the team figured that they needed to build something to make a team work in the long term. "We wanted a core that also stays together several Pro Tours down the road," Magnus Lantto told me.
To start with, in order to separate from the fun, yet soft approach of Team Thommo Thommo Thommo, they needed a new name. A call was placed on Reddit, and the suggestion that the team liked the most, as made by JakubOboza, was EUreka. This name nicely indicated that all members (at least, before the recent addition of Brad Nelson) were from the European Union.
The newly branded Team EUreka was filled out with players qualified for multiple upcoming Pro Tours who shared the same professional mindset. "Chemistry is important," Matej Zatlkaj said. "We wanted players who are nice to each other, supportive of each other, and respectful of each other, and I think we found a nice crew."
They immediately propelled Martin Müller into the Top 8 at Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar, and they had been going strong ever since.
So what characterizes EUreka? After experiencing the team process first-hand and after talking to several team members on the topic, I can pinpoint three distinctive features.
1. Structure, Organization, and Communication
Since there is only limited time to prepare for the Pro Tour—in this case, the team got together in Barcelona last Monday, leaving a little over a week for actual testing—it is important that no time is wasted. EUreka has implemented rigid processes to ensure that things go smoothly. As Oliver Polak-Rottmann said, "It's very structured and well organized, more so than other teams I have been part of." To give some specific examples:
The day starts at 9 a.m. with a mandatory, businesslike meeting to get everyone up to speed on the findings so far and the goals for the day. Magnus Lantto acts as a chairman and ensures that discussions stay on point. I believe Martin Müller called these meetings "boring, but useful. Like school."
Before people arrived in Barcelona, a daily schedule was already drawn up to indicate when everyone was supposed to draft, which groups were to test Standard, and when to switch from brewing to tuning. This enabled everyone to play as much Magic as possible.
Information that is relevant for the long term and deck ideas are organized in a closed, subdivided PHP forum, which become frantic with activity as soon as the new card lists came out. There is an also a Facebook group, but that's only for urgent or quick stuff.
After playing a draft, everyone takes the time to lay out their decks, discuss their picks, and share their experiences. A picture is taken of the deck, and the match results are collected in a spreadsheet.
2. A Relatively Constant Cast of Dedicated and Ambitious Players
In contrast to the early days, the team is now comprised of a relatively constant group of veterans who are qualified for every Pro Tour. The people are on the same level, and the majority of them can dedicate two weeks of time to testing. "By now everyone has gotten to know each other well, people mesh well with each other, and the ambition level is high," Martin Dang mentioned.
As an example of the dedication of some of the team members, Simon Nielsen and Pierre Dagen printed out the entire card image gallery of the new set once the entire card list was revealed, took it to local players, and already started analyzing the Limited format before the Prerelease even started. These guys meant business!
That mindset transcends nationalities. Although it's generally an English-only environment, there was one time where you could hear Swedish on one side of the room, Danish on the couch, German on the staircase, Dutch in the kitchen, and French on the phone. For Brad Nelson, who is very good at English, this was a bewildering, yet amusing moment.
3. Not a Lot of Ego or Hierarchy
The final and perhaps the most important element is that there is no clear leadership or team captain. "A characterizing feature of team EUreka is that it is not egotistical," Joel Larsson said. "People respect each other, there is no drama, and everyone appreciates everyone else on the team. This contributes a lot towards our common goals."
Brad Nelson, who had been on many different teams over the years, agreed: "It is very mature. There is a lot of Pro Tour experience on the team, but also not a lot of ego, and people are receptive to new ideas. This makes for a healthy environment. I've been in teams where there is a lot of emotion and hierarchy—then the loudest voice in terms of accomplishments wins the argument, even if they are not correct. But here, everyone brings something to the table, and things are decided by consensus."
So that's how I would put the history and identity of Team EUreka. Since most of its members have already clinched Gold or Platinum this year and are happy to keep working together, it will likely become a mainstay of the Pro Tour scene. "I had a vision of this happening, but it has happened faster than I had expected," Magnus Lantto said. "And the testing process keeps improving."
Olle Råde, Magnus Lantto, Oliver Polak-Rottmann, Immanuel Gerschenson, Martin Dang, Fabrizio Anteri, Frank Karsten, Joel Larsson, Martin Müller, Matej Zatlkaj, Thomas Hendriks, Brad Nelson (left to right)