The Continuing Evolution of Team Face-to-Face Games

Posted in Event Coverage on May 1, 2016

By Josh Bennett

Team Face-to-Face Games began as a confluence of Canadian talents, but has grown to become so much more. Their roster now boasts superstars from four continents. They've played format-defining decks at the last few Pro Tours – Thopters, Mono-Red, Eldrazi. Last weekend their own Steve Rubin took home the gold at Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad with their White-Green Tokens. I sat down with Walter Sobchak lookalike and reigning Player of the Year Mike Sigrist to ask him about the team, how they've found success, and what keeps them from resting on their laurels.

When I caught up with Sigrist, he had just closed out a 7-0 start with a pair of losses to the mirror match. Face-to-Face's White-Green Tokens deck is everywhere this weekend. “I sit down, I'm playing the mirror. Look to my right, tokens mirror. Look to my left, tokens mirror.” When I suggest that this is the price of his team's Constructed success, Sigrist exclaims with mock frustration “Can we just name us Team of the Year already?” Of course, most of his teammates had left in search of dinner, so photo opportunities were somewhat limited. Sigrist conscripted Alex Hayne, and they posed with an absent Steve Rubin. “This is actually great,” said Sigrist, “because this is the Team GP team. We were WTD – Who's That Dude? – but I guess everyone knows who Steve Rubin is now.”

Mike Sigrist, Alexander Hayne, and Steve Rubin (absent)

I get things started with a roster run-down. Sigrist ticks names off on his fingers. “Well there's me, Steve Rubin, Jon Stern,” then he interrupts himself. “We gotta get Jon qualified again. He's not Q'd for the next PT, and he might be the most important member of the team. He's the glue. Total Team Dad, handles all the logistics, keeps everyone on task, heads up our team meetings.” That all rings true to me. Stern is a pragmatist, even-tempered, and a guy who seems to get along with everyone, with a lack of ego that is invaluable in a team setting.

The current team roster is a real powerhouse. Joining Sigrist, Rubin, and Stern is a cast of big hitters. From North America, Alex Hayne, Jacob Wilson, Sam Pardee, Nathan Holiday, Brian Braun-Duin, and Josh McClain. Add some Hall of Fame Star Power from Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa and Shuuhei Nakamura. Then two power players from across the Atlantic: Ivan Floch and Ondrej Strasky. “We also had Thiago Saporito, but he left to work with the Brazillians.”

I ask if there were any concerns about the number of players, and if it was hard to manage a group of that size, but Sigrist waves it off. “It's more about finding the right people. It's a great group. We're all very driven, and we all focus on the work. I think that's our biggest strength: how we prepare. Getting together two weeks in advance, I think that's something other successful teams are going to start doing. It would be hard to overstate how important the extra week is. We also have a pretty rigorous routine. We've been doing this for quite a few Pro Tours now and every time we're finding ways to improve our prep.” I ask after the team meetings he mentioned earlier. “Every day we have meetings to go over what we've learned and what we're working on. Some people hate them, but I love them. It's not just about information, it's about the discussions that information brings up. Playing Magic is important, but talking and thinking Magic is too.”

With so much time and so many players, making the best use of that time seems like a daunting task. “It can be tough, especially the first day, everybody just wants to draft. Naturally, draft is awesome. We actually have a rule: The week before the PT, no in-house drafts. If people need a break from testing and want to go play MTGO on their own, that's fine, but no live drafts. It sort of breaks that way naturally, because while early on you still want to be brewing up new ideas, getting the data from pre-PT standard tournaments is a big factor in your testing, so your best Constructed testing comes after you get that.

“The thing about testing is, you're never sure, even at the end of it. It often feels worse than it is because you've spent your time playing games against a great player with perfect knowledge of your deck. So as you get closer to the PT it feels like your deck is getting worse and worse. And you have to guard against getting too far from what people will actually be playing. At one point in testing for PT Origins, playing the Thopters deck, people were expressing doubts about the deck and Sam Pardee just said ‘Well, I haven't drawn an Ultimate Price all week.' We'd completely taken it out of our decks, and it was abysmal against Thopters; it only killed Whirler Rogue. Sam's the guy who sees the whole picture, you know, you've got all this stuff you've learned from testing, and Sam can cut through to what really matters. He's often the one who gets people on board saying ‘This is the deck to play.'”

I ask if it's possible to correct for those kind of biases in playtesting, but Sigrist explains it's not so easy. “You just try to be aware of it, that's why I love that quote about Ultimate Price. We use it to remind ourselves all the time. And you try to remember that things are going to be a little easier at the actual Pro Tour. You don't want your testing to get inbred, but you also don't want to rely entirely on stock decks. We're still working out that balance. At Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar we brewed a bit too much. This time around we spent too much time on stock lists. We actually had a version of Tokens early on but it wasn't beating Humans. At that time you want to be trying as many new things as you can, and we had zeroed in on Bant Company and Humans as the two big decks to beat, but we should've come back to it sooner. I mean, if you want your deck to beat Humans, you can do that. The question was if it could do that while still beating Bant Company.”

The responsibilities of teammates extend into the tournament as well, including all-night Saturday testing to help make the most of a Top 8 opportunity. I asked how their team approached sharing information about the actual Pro Tour metagame, how it might differ from their expectations and any lessons their teammates may pick up on the fly during Day 1. “That's something I think we could be doing better, sharing our experiences from Day 1 to get ready for Day 2. Every PT we take a look back on how we prepared and how the event went, and look for things that didn't work, or could be improved.” It's that kind of forward thinking that has helped make them grow.

Hard work for hard-won results — Team Face to Face Games has transformed into one of the Pro Tour's powerhouse teams.

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