Magic can be a solitary game.
Draft your cards. Don't look to your left or right. Eyes down, don't look up.
Build a deck. No talking during the process, no small talk with neighbors.
Play your match. Bright lights, cameras. A few clipped words with your opponent. An hour spent locked in your own mind, the only discourse coming with yourself, silently, while searching for a victory.
For the players at Pro Tour Amonkhet, it's all worth it, of course—but that doesn't make it any easier. Only one player can win the tournament, and you spend the weekend truly invested in your own performance more than anything else, never playing for more than yourself.
Unless, that is, you're a member of team MTG Mint Card, who came to Nashville with some very specific goals—none of which center around personal glory.
Spend just a few minutes with the leaders of the Team Series, and it's not hard to see why they fell this way.
"What we really want to do is qualify Nam Sung Wook for the next Pro Tour," explained Jason Chung, one of the five players from MTG Mint Card qualified for Pro Tour Amonkhet who are trying to get Nam back on the Pro Tour by placing in the Top 4 of the Team Series after this weekend. "That's the most important thing for us."
To do that, the team will likely need at least one player to post an exemplary performance. But the five players here this weekend—Chung, Lee Shi Tian, Huang Hao-Shan, Kelvin Chew, and Eduardo Sajgalik—are earnest and believable when they say they don't care which one of them does it, so long as they do well enough to get their friend and teammate qualified for Pro Tour Hour of Devastation.
This should come as no surprise. Teams MTG Mint Card and MTG Bent Card (which consists of Andrea Mengucci, Anthony Lee, Javier Dominguez, Christian Calcano, Michael Bonde, and Corey Baumeister) are the brainchild of team leader Lee, and the two sister teams formed along a not so traditional split. Rather than trying to stack one team with the best perceived talent, they took the two Silver-level players they had—players constantly fighting for the next Pro Tour invite—and split them between the two teams.
After all, that maximized the chances for all twelve players to qualify for as many events as possible.
That's when you begin to realize the Team Series is much more than just an added tournament structure for these guys. Maybe they're not paying lip service to all the talk of putting team success first.
"The Team Series really makes it feel like a team Grand Prix," Chung explained. "Obviously, you want your friends to do well, but it's different when it directly impacts you as well. I was watching my teammates last round and I've never been so invested in someone else's match. It really changes things."
Lee Shi Tian (center, background) and teammates had a close eye on Eduardo Sajgalik's match.
Maybe adopting a team-first mentality was easier for the pair of teams than most. After all, the team of mainly Asia-Pacific natives has long been playing for something larger than themselves.
"When people think of pro Magic, they usually think of the American superteams, and when they think of Asia players, they usually think of the Japanese teams," said Hong Kong native and five-time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor Lee. "But players in Asia-Pacific need people from there to look up to also. We don't have the resources that other parts of the world do—not as many Grand Prix or chances to play together in person—so we don't have a lot of room to fail.
"What the Team Series—and us doing well in it—does is show that there are a lot of good players across the world who may just not have the same opportunities. We know we are the underdogs compared to some of the American superteams with five or six Platinum players, but the Team Series shows we can compete with them."
The data certainly backs that up. The team recorded a match-win rate of over 70% in Magic Online Draft Leagues, with Chung leading the worldwide leaderboard for 3-0 trophies with 22; put four members into the Top 8 of last weekend's Grand Prix; and watched Kelvin Chew win it all in Beijing. (Chung claims this counts as his 23rd trophy.) They have done even better so far at Pro Tour Amonkhet, with the five team members going a combined 12-3 in the Friday Draft portion of the tournament.
Maybe the group will continue their hot streak and emerge from Nashville still standing tall atop the Team Series standings. Maybe their accomplishments will prove to the world that as a group they can play at the highest levels and compete with the superteams. Maybe that success will energize all those players watching from home and dreaming of being on the Pro Tour. Or maybe they'll accomplish a much simpler goal: get their friend Nam Sung Wook back on the Pro Tour.
After all, that's what teammates do.
Team MTG Mint Card