Who and what goes into a Pro Tour-winning team? We sat down with several members of Team Revolution to get a peek into the ingredients for a winning weekend. Hall of Fame member Raphael Levy connected American Melissa DeTora with a number of French players (including new Hall of Fame inductee Guillaume Wafo-Tapa) to prepare for Pro Tour Gatecrash in Montreal in early 2013. The team was small, but the payoff was immediate: DeTora made her first Pro Tour Top 8.
Over the next year and a half, the team has ebbed and flowed, both in size and results; the high-water mark so far coming at Pro Tour Theros, with three team members turning up in Sunday play. Wafo-Tapa (who has since left the team), French finalist Pierre Dagen, and winner Jeremy Dezani proved that the team was capable of repeating their success.
The current lineup is 10 players, a number that may vary slightly over Pro Tour events to come due to the variance in who is qualified for the event, but Levy was clear he is happy where the team is. "We were too small in Montreal, and too large in Valencia. 10 is perfect." Membership is managed as a group by Levy, DeTora, Dezani, and Dagen, while for other purposes, Levy serves as "team captain," a role that is less about telling other players what to do and more about leading in simple (or not so simple) logistics. For each Pro Tour, the team must coordinate to meet in a common location for a week or more to brew, play-test, discuss results, and share opinions. There's food and lodging to procure, Booster Draft and Constructed testing to balance, and even a degree of recreational time to slip in.
For this event, the team spent nearly a week near Providence, Rhode Island, preparing for the PT and Grand Prix Boston (where they put Pierre Dagen into the Top 8), followed by a week in Portland of focused preparation. That's a lot of cards, but newcomer Brad Nelson says that the chemistry of the team kept things light.
"[Pro Tour Philadelphia 2011 champion] Samuele Estratti is the funniest person you'll ever meet," says the 2010 player of the year. "He kept us crying with laughter. And Daniel Antoniou reminds me of my little brother" — former Pro Cory Baumeister — "and it's just a great feeling hanging out with him." Antoniou is the kid brother to the whole group, at age 18, and moved from his native Cypress in order to get access to more than one Pro Tour Qualifier per season. It's working well; he's spending his second Pro Tour testing and playing with this group of top-notch pros and, unsurprisingly, he is relentlessly enthusiastic about all of them.
The other team members we spoke to shared similar thoughts; it's clear that mutual fondness is as much a motivation for the team as a desire to compete. But don't take that as a sign that the team is unmotivated. Levy says it's the success of the team that brings in great players like Nelson and newcomer Joel Larsson, while the addition of those players drove up the enthusiasm for testing for this event.
While many teams focus on filling particular roles: the deck designer, the deck tuner, the limited specialist, or the theorist, Team Revolution have focused on accumulating players who brew. Everyone, says Levy, contributes to figuring out the format, and the end result is that they have excellent test gauntlets and a better sense of the overall nature than some of their competitors. "We're known for being a team that brings innovative designs," and even when they have a tough weekend at the tables – such as at Pro Tour Journey Into Nyx earlier this year – they're able to challenge people's understanding of a format.
Nelson agrees. "Team Revolution has the highest possible density of deck designers. We're able to hash out so many questions just by talking through them," saving testing time and wasted effort on useless builds. He sees his role as slightly less of a deck designer, and more of a specialist in metagaming, and he's proud of the work his team did in anticipating the format at Pro Tour Magic 2015. The team settled on the mono-colored Rabblemaster Red deck, though even with accurate predictions about the metagame it took time to bring everyone on board. Player of the Year frontrunner Dezani settled on the deck, he said, only a couple days before the tournament began.
If the team has a soft spot, it may be Limited testing. As a small team, they run the risk in draft practice of thinking that they've figured out the format, when they've actually just figured out their teammates. They get in a few drafts (Levy estimated that they did 10) and spend time discussing interesting picks, but where other teams are generating detailed pick orders of every card in the set, they are content to stick to generalities. Nelson admits that Limited may be a team weakness. "If we fail to put somebody in the Top 8 this weekend, it might be because we didn't focus enough on our drafting," he said.
Regardless of where things settle out this weekend in the final results, the team loves where they are at. Levy anticipates change, but with the baseline they've set over the last two weeks, hopes for stability.
For players looking to take their game to the next level with organized play-testing, Team Revolution offers a number of takeaways. It isn't necessary for a team to be the best at everything in order to be the best, sometimes; we can play to our strengths. If you find people you love to play with, testing comes easily. Be accepting of change in your group, and be mindful of what works and what doesn't. And challenge yourself, and your group, to hunt bigger game.