Ben Stark considered the deck in front of him, unimpressed and brooding. An aggressive black-red deck, the 22 cards the hall of famer had laid out represented a way to win games but an overall lackluster plan if it fell behind. And with the overall power level low, he was searching for the final card to round out his deck before adding lands.
“I think it has to be Veteran's Sidearm,” he announced, not for the first time. “It's the best option here.”
“You're wrong about this one,” teammate (and fellow hall of famer) Eric Froehlich replied, also not for the first time. “I've played both before, and in this deck I'm telling you it's War Horn.”
Stark is one of the best Limited players in the world, widely recognized as a master of his craft. He teamed with second-ranked Froehlich and a third hall of famer in Luis Scott-Vargas for Grand Prix Detroit specifically due to his Limited prowess, and very few players in the world would dare to disagree with the leading authority on which card to play.
Stark looked away from the conversation and back to the decklist awaiting him. Hovering over the “playing” column, he made the decision with a stroke of his pen.
A checkmark appeared next to War Horn.
“You don't want your opinion used; you want the right opinion used,” he explained simply.
“It's about trust”
Not many players can change Stark's mind about a card. Then again, he wouldn't be teamed with Froehlich if he didn't value his opinion.
“Its about trusting your teammates,” Stark said. “I think the Sidearm is better but I trust Eric and he seems adamant about it so I'll trust him on it. It's important to emphasize how strong your opinion is so you can make the best decision, because the most important thing is that you reach the best decision even if it's not yours.”
It seems simple, but it's a huge part of the reason the team colloquially named the “Pork Ben Oath” was undefeated heading into Day Two of Grand Prix Detroit. The few team events hosted a year are a great opportunity for friends to group together to play Magic, but one of the secrets to finding success in them is to be humble about your own opinions on card and deck choices and work together with teammates. More than once a team of highly-skilled players have failed to find success at a team event simply because they were unable to work effectively together. For players like Stark, Scott-Vargas and Froehlich — all of whom have found that success in the past, though Stark was joining this team for the first time — it's been a new pairing but a successful one.
While the three friends and hall of famers were talkative and at times argumentative at the build table, they didn't have much to say to each other as they played their Round 10 feature match.
“You have to trust your teammates, and we trust each other to play so we don't need to say much,” Scott-Vargas said. “Part of the reason we team like this is because we trust each other. We'll speak up if we see something worth considering, but it's usually just better to focus on your own match.”
Stark, Scott-Vargas and Froehlich may all be in the Magic Hall of Fame, but they're not afraid to admit when they're wrong. It's an approach that led the team to an undefeated Day One at Grand Prix Detroit.
Clearly their approach has proven successful for the three hall of famers, who early on Sunday sat atop of a crowded field of pros. While that advice may seem easy to follow for the teams with the best players in the world, for the other teams looking to make that ascent Stark had some practical advice as well.
“The less experienced you are, the more you want to help each other so you can prevent dumb mistakes,” he offered. “There's nothing wrong with talking through your plays, and having teammates there to help you can stop that dumb play.”
Of course, there's one more thing crucial to finding success with your team: remembering to have fun.
Despite the dramatic day surely ahead of them, it's something the trio hadn't forgotten. As Stark looked across the table at Scott-Vargas's extremely powerful blue-white fliers deck, he had only one thing to say to his teammate.
“If you lose a match, we're no longer friends,” he informed him with a smile.