What's in a Team?

Posted in GRAND PRIX ROTTERDAM 2016 on November 13, 2016

By Chapman Sim

Team Limited events are always an outstanding moment to capture special moments. The union of three individuals against the world. The collaboration between three individual minds. The celebration of friendship and a commitment to each other to stick to each other even through the worst of card pools.

Yes, that's is Team Limited for you. It's not all just about the cards. It's about the people you chose to play cards with. All of us talk of teamwork. Sports thrive on teams. Every business wants to develop winning teams. A team is needed because a lone person cannot handle all the work.

Having said that, a team can either be a colossal success or a dismal failure. What are some elements that make or break a team?

Sharing a Common Goal

The first requirement for a good team is to share a common vision such that they can work towards a common goal. A goal that excites every member. A goal that everyone wants to achieve. A goal that fires their imagination and a goal that can make them ignore the hardship of work. Goals that will make all of them feel great, when achieved. Goals are the first and the most essential part of a team's success.

Mike Hron, Alexander Hayne, and Rich Hoaen won Grand Prix Kyoto together in 2013 and are battling today alongside each other once more.

For a lot of the pro teams such as the trinity of Mike Hron, Alexander Hayne, and Richard Hoaen, they generally mean business and are fully-focused on going for the gold. In particular, Hron is has won the last three Team Grand Prix he has participated in and is shooting for a "four-peat". For others, the goal might be simply to make the first Day 2 together or to shoot for their very first Pro Point or their very first money finish.

Chris Pikula has Jon Finkel's and Jamie Parke's unwavering support and in a noble quest to return to the Pro Tour.

Occasionally, there's also the mission to qualify for the Pro Tour together and Team events are a great vehicle for that. For example, it's not a secret that many of Chris Pikula's friends are rallying for his return to the Pro Tour, while we've also had similar stories in the past.

Regardless, 'together' seems to be the keyword. If three players have three separate goals, it somewhat feels like three horses pulling a carriage in three different directions. As you can imagine, you'll likely end up going nowhere.

Listening to One Another

Great teams listen to each other with an open mind and without interruption. With so many decisions to make in terms of color combination, deck configuration and sideboarding possibilities, it would not be possible for a great resolution without adequate understanding of this key principle. Chris Pikula likely knows a thing or two about not chanting so loudly such that "nobody can get a word in edgewise".

Frank Karsten, Bas Melis, and Brent Vos understand the importance of listening above all other communication skills.

When I observed Frank Karsten, Brent Vos, and Bas Melis during deck construction, they made it a point to spend a good fifteen minutes individually presenting their opinions of each color. When one spoke, the other two listened, only offering feedback afterwards.

Vos and Melis shared that "we have a very different way of doing things compared to other teams. The first thing we do is have one person share their thoughts on one color by highlighting the key cards and suggesting what color it is best paired with. When others are already working on individual decks, we're using our time to listen to each other before exchanging our views such that we can make the best judgement going forward."

The key takeaway? One person talks, two people listen, three people understand. That is one Karsten-approved method.

Exchanging Information and Knowledge

Part of forming a great team lies in picking the correct person with the correct skill set. Everyone has different strengths and different weaknesses and part of a great union is knowing how to leverage upon each other's strength to mitigate each other's weaknesses. For instance, Marcio Carvalho is an excellent teammate when it comes to a Team Limited events, or any Limited event for the matter.

Who is wiser? The wise man or the ones who ask the wise man? Javier Dominguez and Luis Salvatto "wisely" team up with Marcio Carvalho, the subject matter specialist.

The Limited Master is known for his expertise in forty-card formats and would be an excellent addition to any team. This weekend, Javier Dominguez and Luis Salvatto are glad to be battling alongside Carvalho, not only because he has been doing a lot of the heavy-lifting, but also because he is happy to share his understanding of the Kaladesh Limited environment.

Dominguez and Salvatto: "Carvalho is the best player and he's been winning almost all his matches. He knows the format inside out and we were able to power through Day 1 relatively smoothly."

Carvalho: "To be fair, I think I have the best deck. I thought Salvatto had the best deck, but after playing a few rounds with it I think I do!"

Reasoning, not Rank

Is the better player or the more accomplished always correct? Perhaps a reasonable percentage of the time, but not always.

The reason I bring this up is because this can be a common pitfall in trios. Whenever there is a perceived superior player, the other two might not be inclined to speak up for what they believe for. Yes, call it trust, but there is no harm in bringing up a certain notion for discussion. A lot of decisions are up for debate in Team Limited and the lack of an alpha or having too many alphas on the same team can lead to disaster during the decision making process. It is very important to make decisions based on strategy rather than blindly following whomever 'is the boss'.

(3) Owen Turtenwald, Ben Stark, and (6) Reid Duke are all great players in their own right and have no problems arriving at a consensus through rational discussion.

However, when all three players are pretty much equally great, what really does happen? And in the time of need, teams will also need to decide who is the final authority on any given decision.

Ego Kills the Team Spirit

"Why should I do what you say?"

"Why should I be giving in and accept your opinion?"

"What I say is mostly correct and all of you are wrong!"

Usually, these are the first signs of a dysfunctional trio. If you've played with jigsaw puzzles, you'll need to understand that you can never get the whole picture unless every single piece fits in. Whether a single jigsaw piece is big or small, it has a special place in the grand scheme of things.

The same is true in Team Limited. Even if one of the three team members is vastly sharper or smarter than the other two, unless he or she gets support from the others, the team cannot achieve results. Respect for individuals is one of the cornerstones of assembling a good team.

(15) Joel Larsson, (13) Martin Müller, and Martin Dang value team spirit and each other's opinions greatly.

For example, one of the reasons that Team EUreka is so successful is because one of the founders (15) Joel Larsson has previously expressed that there is "no ego on the team". Everyone is an equal and everyone's opinions are as important as another's. As a matter of fact, (13) Martin Müller and Martin Dang are about the nicest people on the Pro Tour and rarely let their achievements get in the way, despite all of them having high-profile wins under their belt.

It's All About People

People matter more than anything. Building a trust-based relationship is more important than simply gathering three good players. Many players care about results, but it rarely takes precedence over having an enjoyable weekend.

Despite residing in three different continents, (10) Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, Shahar Shenhar, and (14) Ondřej Stráský have forged a close friendship over the years.

Most importantly, the best teams are the ones who have the most fun and often the ones that laugh hard, laugh loud, and laugh often. Turn your Magic on. If we've only got this life, we want to share it with one another.