TRUST, TACTICS, AND TEAMWORK

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

By Marc Calderaro

What makes a good team? It's simple question, but it's deceptively intricate. You can just jam the best players together, but as some teams have shown (by not teaming up again after Grand Prix Portland), this is not always the case.

There's a balance to strike between play skill and communication. And there's no algorithm to find the correct middle; it just takes trial and error. A few teams near the top of the standings took a stab at the question. Their answers are varied, but shared a similar theme: Trust.

That was the exact first word out of Pro Tour Nagoya winner David Sharfman's mouth. "You need to trust that [your teammates] can win the match." It's truly sage advice, because it's literally impossible to win without them.

David Sharfman, Pat Cox, Orrin Beasley

For his team, along with multiple Grand Prix Top 8 finisher Orrin Beasley and multiple Pro Tour Top 8 finisher Pat Cox, it was about team consistency.

"We've tested for the Pro Tour together before," Beasley said. Sharfman added, "We've won a Pro Tour together," he said, referring to his win in Nagoya based on that testing." These guys know each other's strengths and weaknesses and know how to sit in a room together and get stuff done.

For Beasley, who is less competitive than he has been in the past, it's about that built-in understanding. If you don't have infinite time to prepare for an event, going with what you know already can help you feel comfortable, and keep you playing your best.

"It's about playing with who you want to play with," Beasley continued. If you feel that want, and that urge, it's a shortcut to the trust—because it's already there.

This went triple for the next team I talked to. The answer out of Ben Swartz's mouth was "Strong backs." He reached out and hit teammate Matt Ferrando on the shoulder. Jason Ford, the final member of the trio looked on and laughed.

That was the exact first word out of Pro Tour Nagoya winner David Sharfman's mouth. "You need to trust that [your teammates] can win the match." It's truly sage advice, because it's literally impossible to win without them.

Ben Swartz, Matt Ferrando, Jason Ford

Swartz was joking to an extent, but there was a serious thread to it. Like Beasley, all of these players are no longer on the serious grind like they once were, and came out to play this weekend because it was a great chance to be with people they wanted to.

"It's not about anything else for me," Swartz said. "If this were a normal weekend, and there was no Magic event, I'd just be flying to hang out with them anyway."

"He's completely serious," Ford added. Ferrando nodded in assent. And sure that's an easy answer, but there's more to it than that. The team was currently 11-2, so there's something more going on other than "good buddies, hanging out."

"Honestly, this is my pre-release," Swartz said. He's had to learn the format as he went along. Being able to communicate with someone who could help out in a crunch is paramount to these guys. And that's where "strong backs" come into play.

With a team made up of three players who aren't Grand Prix grinders anymore, those backs are very necessary. Lean on each other to fill in the gaps of knowledge and practice. Although whose back needs to be holding the weight can change from round to round, or even game to game.

However, there are some teams who look at the communication angle differently. Almost trying to mess up my intro, "Good players," was how (22) Sam Black first answered the question.

"Wow. Succinct," said teammate Matt Severa, with Gaudenis Vidugiris close behind.

Gaudenis Vidugiris, Sam Black, Matt Severa

Black continued on a more serious note, "You need to get along. And you need to be able to solve disagreements. They can derail you from being productive."

This is exactly what Brian Braun-Duin, Chris VanMeter, and Michael Majors talked about. I mean, after they told me that it's all about "the hair." In their defense, they do have the hair trifecta—Majors has a great coif, VanMeter has a great beard, and Braun-Duin has a great scalp. I mean, all together it's just the perfect recipe for hairness.

Ok, but back to being derailed from productivity. "When things go badly, you need to be able to shake it off," Braun-Duin said. VanMeter added that it's nice to excel in different deckbuilding areas (Majors is playing tempo, Braun-Duin is playing midrange, and VanMeter's playing control), but also to "remain flexible." That's very important, because three different people have to agree on how and who plays three different decks.

Chris VanMeter, Brian Braun-Duin, Michael Majors

That can end up like playing three-player Rock, Paper, Scissors—it just doesn't work.

Dispute resolution is truly a true central point, whether it's in the game or out. Building disputes can be just as invidious as play disputes. And remaining flexible is very important. But the easiest way to stop disputes from happening is . . .

"Trust," Severa said. "You need to trust each other's opinions." (There we go — Black's team wasn't just trying to destroy my intro after all.) If you all trust each other, the fights just don't get as large, because no one will assume that their play or card choice is always the right one. Sometimes, if you put all the good players together, the egos clash. And that's a recipe for crashing and burning.

"I know that I can give my teammate a blue-white-red pile, and they can get four or five wins with it," Vidugiris said. Who he pointed at when he said this shall remain nameless.

Black's team also saw another benefit from this trust method. "Because we trust that the people can play their decks, we communicate a lot less in the match." He continued that though players often see communication as a benefit, to some degree, he viewed it as a crutch. And when each player on his team is laser-focused on the match, the opponents tend to get that way too, clamming up and not talking to their teammates either. This kicks that communication crutch out from under them.

Here, Black and Co. want to avoid even having the think about strong backs. "When there's a team with a big skill disparity, they need to communicate to play well," and Black, Severa, and Vidugiris will use that against you.

But there's also another reason. "Honestly, I'm not that good at looking at the middle of a game and understanding what's going on." Vidugiris and Black said that each game they gave each other advice, they lost the match for the other person. So sometimes trusting in your teammates decisions can eventually help you out as well.

Being flexible, being able to communicate (or not communicate), and being able to resolve disputes. All these points are sharpen by trust. It's the biggest component to making a team work . . . and maybe having some good players.