Fostering Friendship, Cultivating Competition in the Team Series

Posted in Event Coverage on February 3, 2017

By Meghan Wolff

Meghan is one half of the Good Luck High Five podcast and an adjunct professor at Tolarian Community College. She loves Limited, likes Modern, and dips her toes into each Standard season. She's decidedly blue and is the #1 hater of Siege Rhino in the Multiverse.

For some players, the Pro Tour Team Series is a solidification of a camaraderie and sense of friendly rivalry they've felt for years. For others, it's an evolution in the way they approach the tournament, fostering a new sense of excitement and team spirit.

In the inaugural season of the Team Series, 32 teams, representing old friendships, new relationships, cross-continental partnerships, and high hopes all around, are racking up points at Pro Tours in hopes of making it to the Team Series finals at the Magic: The Gathering World Championship.

Teams range from regional playtest teams supporting first-time Pro Tour competitors to super-powered conglomerates of the best players from multiple countries and continents. No matter their composition, the teams share a sense of dedication and participation in something bigger, whether that's aiming for a top spot at the end of the Team Series, or having a great set of friends to experience the Pro Tour with.

Team Tapas (Left to Right): David Mines, Garry Lau, James Wilks, Matthew Anderson, Ryan Cubit, Riccardo Bragato

Team Tapas is "the biggest Australian contingent we've had in a while," said captain Ryan Cubit. It's made up of Australia's four World Magic Cup representatives, plus two more players qualified for the Pro Tour. Many of them are looking to qualify for Pro Tour Amonkhet, whether by reaching Gold or Silver in the Pro Tour Players Club, or by finishing in the top spots of this event. Some goals are more modest.

"I'm trying to wake up in time tomorrow morning," team member Ricardo Bragato said on Friday afternoon.

The members of Tapas tested with a handful of other qualified players from Australia. Having so many Australian players qualified for the Pro Tour in Dublin was cause to celebrate. Tapas did a lot of team building and, as they called it, "testing and trying the local produce."

"It's been so good to have a bunch of great friends from Australia to play with," said team member David Mines.

Team Genesis (Left to Right): Martin Dang, Martin Müller, Michael Majors, Brad Nelson, Seth Manfield, Lukas Blohon

While Tapas shaped their team according to geography, the American members of Team Genesis went out of their way to nab some of the best European players on the Pro Tour.

"Most of us were on a team before the Team Series, and once we realized that there was going to be a six-person squad, we just aggressively attacked these two [gesturing to Seth Manfield and Lukas Blohon] to try to get them on the team," said captain Brad Nelson.

The recruiting strategy has worked well for Genesis so far.

"Some of these guys I know very well, and some of them I only get to see when I go to a high-level event, so I'm getting to know them better," said team member Seth Manfield. "I think we're forming more of a camaraderie, being that it's the first time I've tested with a lot of these guys, seeing how we mesh, what our strengths and weaknesses are, bouncing ideas off each other. It's been working out well."

"We had a lot of fun," Nelson said. "We enjoyed our time. We watched a lot of music videos. We work hard and we play hard."

For the members of Genesis, the Team Series is changing more than the way they prepare for the Pro Tour. It'd also reshaping the way they approach the weekend of the Pro Tour itself, where team spirit has become a bond that persists throughout the weekend.

"One of the biggest issues with professional Magic is you want to work with a collective, but you want to care about your individual results," Nelson said. "We're going to care so much more about seeking out our team's results, especially when we're at the final Pro Tour before Worlds. It's going to be really exciting."

Craig Wescoe, captain of Team Top Level, noticed a similar shift in attitude.

"For Pro Tours, you're primarily interested in finding your own deck to play," Wescoe said. "You want your teammates to do well, but the Team Series makes you personally invested in their success, so when it comes to things like finding those last few sideboard cards for your teammate, you're more motivated to help do that. I'm excited about rooting for each other. I feel like their success is my success."

The thrill of watching teammates succeed isn't the only way the Team Series has changed player dynamics in Dublin, as the new team structure encourages friendly rivalries and fosters additional competition.

The combined Team D3 Go! and Team Puzzle Quest (Left to Right, Top to Bottom): Paul Rietzl, Andrew Cuneo, Jelger Wiegersma, Brock Parker, William Jensen, Reid Duke, Shahar Shenhar, Ben Rubin, Jon Finkel, Owen Turtenwald, Tom Martell, Matthew Costa

"For me personally, and for us as a team, we're very excited," said Hall of Famer William Jensen. He's a member of Team Puzzle Quest, one of two teams sponsored by D3 Go!

"We got to work with a great company in D3 Go! and there's a lot of anticipation for the Pro Tour and the Team Series. There's been a lot of friendly banter on social media, a lot of friendly banter on Twitter, and I think everybody's just excited. It adds a new dynamic to the Pro Tour, a new element, and I think it'll be really engaging for the fans. We're all excited about it. I'm really looking forward to seeing how it all plays out."

In the spirit of friendly rivalry, "I think we're going to win," he added.

Team Channel Fireball Ice (Left to Right): Eric Froehlich, Ben Stark, Ondřej Stráský, Joel Larsson, Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, Mike Sigrist

For members of Team Channel Fireball Ice, the Team Series made concrete what had often existed in spirit.

"I'm really looking forward to it. It's something that we've never had, and we've always felt a little bit like it," said Pro Tour Hall of Famer and Channel Fireball Ice captain Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa.

"There has been team rivalry, there has been team spirit, but it was never official, it was just something we felt, and competition that we created for ourselves. And now there's something meaningful that exists. There's more justified rivalry and friendship. It makes me feel like I'm part of something bigger in a way that I wasn't before, so for me, it's been really, really exciting, and I hope it's exciting for people who are watching too."

For team member Joel Larsson, that solidification of team rivalry adds new pressure to his weekend performance.

"I think I'm more excited and nervous," Larsson said. "You want to provide for your team. You want to be there and do your best, obviously, and get great results so we can win this competition in the end, because I feel like we have a great shot, and I don't want to disappoint anybody. That brings some nervousness to it, but there's also a lot of awesome things going on."

Pro Tour Hall of Famer and member of Channel Fireball Ice Eric Froehlich is thrilled about the ways in which the Team Series encourages players and spectators alike to engage with the game.

"The Team Series is incredible. It adds all this credibility, it adds all these storylines, it adds all this interest, it adds all this extra talk outside the tournaments," Froehlich said. "It adds so many different ways to engage with the game that you might not have had before. You can see all these great cards, you can see all these great Magic storylines, and now you can follow your favorite players and your favorite teams."

"The thrill of the competition's already awesome," he added. "Having people talk about Magic, having friendly rivalries, having competition, having this be promoted, having these outside sponsors, there's so many positives. There's a lot of work to do, but the end result is so good that I'm really excited. I hope it takes off in the way I expect it to."

Keep an eye on your favorite teams and players as they battle in Dublin at Pro Tour Aether Revolt by tuning in to Magic's Twitch channel, or by stopping in for updates on the Wizards website.

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