Preparing for a Pro Tour can be a daunting task, with a fresh draft format and a Standard metagame newly impacted by banning and additions alike. If it's your first Pro Tour, the journey becomes all the more momentous and harrowing.
If it's your first Pro Tour, it's probably helpful to have someone else along for the ride. Someone to share your frustrations and celebrate your victories with.
That's just what each member of Team NorCal has at Pro Tour Aether Revolt, plus five. Only one member of the team, captain Jason Smyth, has been to a Pro Tour before. They're all Regional Pro Tour Qualifier winners from Northern California (with one outlier from SoCal) here to play, to support one another, and to represent their state.
Team NorCal (Left to Right): Huaxing Bai, Caleb Van Patten, Dan Besterman, Jason Smyth, Mike Mei, Harold Chow
"I think representing our local area is very important, because outside of us, we have a whole community of players at the local level who strive to make the Pro Tour," said team member Mike Mei. "If we can represent them and do well, I think it's a win not only for us, but for everyone in our area."
These goals resonated through the team, as they focused on doing well at this tournament and looked hopefully toward future Pro Tours, not only for themselves, but for friends they play with, and against, at Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifiers back home.
"A lot of our goals are to get acquainted with the Pro Tour Team Series, and to maybe requalify, because seven of us are all first-timers," said teammate Dan Besterman.
"Right now, my goals have already been met. My team has totally supported me," said captain Jason Smyth, who lost his luggage earlier in the week and had to make it through several days without bags or cards. "I have a very supportive team, and that's what we're here for. Regardless of how well we do here, we're going to support each other for the next Pro Tours too."
The formation of their team wasn't only about mutual support, as it also gave them a starting point for attacking a relatively unknown Standard metagame, a particularly tricky hurdle for first-time Pro Tour competitors.
"Their thought process was great," Besterman said of his teammates. "We did a lot of problem solving together, we learned a lot, and definitely helped each other. It's been great."
"I think Jason has been a great example in introducing a lot of rigor," Mei said. "We have a known gauntlet and we have events like the SCG Tour to give us baselines for archetypes we want to explore. We look at these baseline archetypes and look at the weaknesses in the metagame. Then it's like an entire feedback loop where we try to react to the baseline decks with these new archetypes we develop, and then we fine-tune all the decks we expect in a given metagame."
They don't feel the need to play the same Standard deck because they're on a team, instead being flexible with regard to each player's preference.
"We go with the decks we're comfortable with," Mei said. "So you might see something different from each and every one of us, or you might see us all piloting the same decks."
Great Magic players and great teams all get their start somewhere, and that start includes the kind of support that the members of NorCal offer each other. Teammates have the ability to turn a harrowing experience into a great one, and NorCal looks to be on the right track.
"I've been really nervous this whole week," Besterman said. "Even if I'm confident in Standard or Draft, I still feel really nervous, like I'm never going to hit a point where I'm really comfortable with this, because there are so many people and so many great players here. It's pretty humbling."