IT'S HALLO-TEAM!

Posted in GRAND PRIX NASHVILLE 2014 - COVERAGE - EVENTS on November 2, 2014

By Marc Calderaro

With so much Magic to be had, many players have forgotten that this weekend is Halloween weekend in America. Though it was hard not to notice if you ventured into downtown with a bunch of festive merrymakers, so many players were cramming for the event, the costumes and the candy slipped by many peoples' notice. But not one team. Affectionately called "Three-Card-Combo," the team of Matt Bishop, J.R. Honeycutt, and Ben Stark (no, not that Ben Stark) have sleeved up to play. Not just their cards are sleeved, but they themselves are sheathed in a Halloween group costume.

Honeycutt is Dark Depths, Bishop is Vampire Hexmage, and Stark is the Marit Lage token—the combo that made a 20/20 flying indestructible creature as early as the second turn. Together the three-card combo cannot be beat. Well, I mean, they can, as they are currently 4-1. But they've built three solid decks that all fit perfectly with each person's play styles.

JR Honeycutt (Dark Depths), Ben Stark (Marit Lage), Matt Bishop (Vampire Hexmage)

"I'm an aggro player, and I'm playing Jeskai. It's just enough to make non-dedicated aggro players a bit nervous." Stark continued that Bishop was on Abzan Midrange, and Honeycutt is going for the long game. "I'm on Five-Color Control; Five-color for life! It's my soul," Honeycutt boomed.

"Wait, aren't you playing four colors?" Bishop added.

"Well, if we had more white fixing, I would be five colors," Honeycutt conceded.

This sort of banter is commonplace for any team, but especially here. These three have known each other for a long time, and have been planning this trip for months. Bishop is coming from Ann Arbor, Michigan, Stark from Denver, Colorado, and Honeycutt from Dallas, Texas.

"Fort Worth," he corrected. "I am not from Dallas." If you're from Texas, you'll understand.

These friends have known each other for a long while. Bishop and Honeycutt met in middle school. Though they didn't mention the year, Stark said, "Mercadian Masques was just released." When I laughed about how he marked time, he retorted, "C'mon, it was our first set!" Both new kids in Ohio, the two bonded over the game throughout their school years.

They met Honeycutt in a fifth state at Northside Nerd Night, a charity board- and card-game tournament that Honeycutt used to organize in Chicago, and now organizes in Dallas/Fort Worth (see, I split the difference). "We've raised over $50,000 for charities over the years," Honeycutt said. They've been close ever since then.

Bishop and Stark discuss how to best to keep Honeycutt's cellophane on

These three have remained great friends, and have done various tournaments together before. In fact, Bishop and Stark were two-thirds of a team that won Mark Rosewater's old annual "Question Mark" tournament many years ago at Worlds 2007.

"It was me, Matt, and Ilia—shoutout to Ilia who couldn't make it this weekend—it was all Lorwyn themed trivia, like, write down all the cards with 'Giant' in the title that don't have the creature type, 'Giant,' and stuff like that." He made sure to add that if MaRo has those questions left somewhere, he'd really like to see them. (You hear that, MaRo?)

Team events are what these guys live for when it comes to high-profile Magic events. "This is my first competitive event in like a year and a half," Honeycutt said. So why Team formats? Well, because it's the best, they all said.

"Your fates are intertwined. [Your friends'] fates are tied to yours." Honeycutt said. Stark added, "It's a whole day of hanging out, and you get to share victory with your friends." He continued that even if you come with your friends to individual events, you only have so much time to actually see each other. But team is intrinsically different.

So far, they've gotten share victory quite often. They are sitting at 4-1. Stark said that they probably could've won the other round, but there were some mana difficulties. Honeycutt however, was very quick to correct him. "We lost because our opponents were skilled Magic players and they took our 20 life points faster than we could take theirs." He qualified that statement, "You don't hear Bill Belichick saying they lost to bad reffing."

Three-Card Combo are winning Magic together, as friends, and with their sweet costumes, they're having a hell of time doing it. When I asked their opponents if they knew who the team was supposed to be, they said, "Of course. That's how they introduced themselves." Man, they are having a good time.

I'd be remiss not to mention Matt Bishop's wife, Jen. Although she's not competing today, she came decked out as Thespian Stage, a fourth combo piece. But rather than a quartet (or a fourtet for the electronic-music inclined), Stark said, "You can just call us a playset."

Matt Bishop (Vampire Hexmage) and Jen Engquist (Thespian Stage)

This playset is eating up this team format tournament (and eating up their opponents), and are ready for the next one. When I asked if they are doing it again, I was witness to the first planning session for the next team Grand Prix. They immediately started discussing plans, formats, and how to get it done. Which is the same way they found themselves here.

There are tons of names and faces this weekend that you don't see on the usual Grand Prix circuit. Team formats offer a unique opportunity to have fun with your friends the whole weekend playing Magic, not just in between rounds sharing bad-beats stories. And on Halloween weekend? Forget about it. There is no one having more fun today than Three-Card Combo, Matt Bishop, J.R. Honeycutt, and Ben Stark.