Not all teams have auspicious beginnings. But often they provide insight to the team as a whole. One of the favorites here at Grand Prix San Jose has just such a beginning. Comprised of all Gold- and Platinum-level Pros, is Ari Lax, Craig Wescoe, and Chris Fennell. This newly formed team is a monster by any standard. Two players have won Pro Tours, and are currently ranked in the Top 25 Magic players in the world (Ari at #10, and Craig at #24), and the other is a six-time Grand Prix Top 8 finisher, recently coming off a Pro Tour Top 8, and is considered among the most respected limited minds the game has seen.
In fact, two of them have at least finals finishes in Team Limited Grand Prix (Ari was in the finals of Grand Prix Providence, and Fennell won in Grand Prix Washington, DC in 2004). “And the other is Wescoe,” Ari quipped. Everyone there exchanged a joking smile at that one. It’s likely easy for them to smile as they’re about to play for Top 4 contention. But for this monster team, how did it all begin?
Lax said, “Well, Craig and I had started talking about teaming because, well, because, . . .” He searched his brain for the original reason; it couldn’t be as simple as he thought.
Wescoe finished up his sentence, “ . . . I wanted to team with you.” They both nodded. It was in fact that simple. This not Lax and Wescoe’s first time teaming up, of course. They last played with another Pro Tour winner, No. 23 Alex Hayne, and have practiced on the same Pro Tour prep team for long time (in fact, you can see Ari in Craig Wescoe’s Pro Tour Dragon’s Maze–winner photo).
“Then the Pro Tour team split up into three different teams. And Seth [Manfield] and AMaj [Alex Majlaton] were going to Mexico City.” Lax said. Wescoe continued Ari’s thought, “so we were looking at other gold or platinum pros. We had a joke at Grand Prix Ottawa that we were only considering people who finished in the Top 16.”
Finally, Fennell entered the story. “I was like, what about me, guys?” he said [finishing Grand Prix Ottawa at 398th, for those bad at numbers, that not in the Top 16].
Wescoe followed up, “And [Ari and I] were both like, wait, do you want to team with us?” This was exciting news for both Ari and Craig. They are storied players, but certainly not as renowned in limited as Chris Fennell—a player who was skipping every constructed event for while there, including a Worlds. In the last Team Sealed, Fennell had teamed with other limited experts Neil Reeves and Pro Tour Hall of Fame Member, Ben Stark. So for two players more known for their constructed skills, this could be a boon.
Chris said, “I told them, ‘Yeah, as long as I get to build the decks.” Ari and Craig were quite fine with that. Chris qualified his statement by saying, “I’m pretentious and I always think I’m right.” He shrugged.
The team had some ideas worked out beforehand, and they seemed to be executing it well well. Chris said, “Craig gets all the red and white cards, and then they hand me the pile.” But that doesn’t mean Craig won’t get some of his cards stolen. While building the Sealed pool today, Chris said to Craig, “Ok, you can’t have these three, but you’ve got the rest.”
Fennell continued, “No matter what, I always get handed the deck that’s going to go thirty turns,” so there are some specific things he needed to go that distance. He said, “I needed the Pyrotechnics and Arc Lightning to regain all the tempo, then I could win from there.”
Craig had to change his deck around a little to cover for the loss—he could no longer go hyper-aggressive with some of his best removal cards taken. But the team worked together and reworked a build that they agreed made for a better two decks than they had before.
As other players have mentioned, this type of group dynamic requires a high level of trust. That level is clearly present with this team. Fennell went further, saying that it requires “earned trust.” When Ari and Craig defer to Fennell, it’s because they know he’s earned it. Fennell said, “I joined their Pro Tour team a year and a half ago specifically for my limited skills. And the team has seen a big improvement in performance.” So when Craig and Ari defer it’s because of trust.
Wescoe expounded on that idea. “The plan going in was: If there’s no agreement, default to Chris.” The plan is working so far. This team dynamic certainly seems like the type that can vault themselves into the Top 4, even though this is their first event together.
Even the little things during matches have lined up well. Chris said, “I don’t like be to interrupt during the games . . . but I will often miss life total changes, and Craig will be like, ‘Uh, Chris, two damage.’ I’ll be like, ‘Oh yeah.’ He’s done that like thirty times so far.”
Certainly there are advantages and disadvantages of any team. For example, Chris doesn’t always necessarily want to be the deck that’s going to thirty turns—“it’s really taxing” over the course of the tournament, he said. But that’s part and parcel with trying to find a team that works. As the saying goes about omelets and eggs: If you want to be on a team with Craig Wescoe, you’re not getting the white cards.
Finding the perfect team is almost as difficult as finding the perfect cup of coffee and piece of pie. Each might exist somewhere out there, but even if you haven’t found it, that doesn’t mean you can’t full enjoy some tasty, caffinated times.
Heck, I can barely hang with anyone for a whole weekend, not even considering that these teams hang while playing one of the most difficult games around. So, if you can all stand each other for fifteen rounds and you can be this deep in Day 2 and still be in contention for Top 4, you might’ve found something special indeed.
This is Lax, Wescoe, and Fennell’s first time out, but—based on how they talked about each other, and help shore up each others’ weaknesses—it might not be the last.