New Teams, New Terms

Posted in PRO TOUR MAGIC ORIGINS on August 1, 2015

By Marc Calderaro

At each Pro Tour, we see a little shuffling of players from team to team. Usually for mutual reasons, a player or a few will re-align with another group of players. It could be for time commitment, geography, mindset—all of the above. Often it's a matter of making sure you head is in the right space. Pro Tour preparation takes a lot out of everyone, so it's important to keep your head on straight. And finding the right mix of people that help you can take some time and effort.

There are tons of great teams to choose from this weekend. If you're based in Europe, perhaps a group like Team Thommo or the Cabin Crew would be right for you. For the former, names like Lars Dam, Martin Dang, Joel Larsson, World Championship-qualified Martin Müller, Christian Seibold, Matej Zatlkaj, and Pro Tour Hall of Fame member Nicolai Herzog tickle your fancy. Fabrizio Anteri, Lukas Blohon. Jérémy Dezani, (13) Ondřej Stráský, Robin Dolar, (13) Ivan Floch, Martin Jůza, and Hall of Fame members Frank Karsten and Raphaël Lévy might work well for you if you're leaning towards the latter.

In Asia, MTGMintCard has been gobbling up great players from all over, some from Europe too. Names including Huang Hao-shan, Tzu-Ching Kuo, (3) Lee Shi Tian, Valentin Mackl, Fabian and Patrick Dickmann, Nam Sung Wook, Park Jun Young, Tomoharu Saito, and Chapman Sim are all on the team.

And in Latin America, the newly named Dex Protection includes people like Marcio and Pedro Carvalho, (22) Pro Tour Fate Reforged Champion Antonio Del Moral León, Javier Dominguez, Marcelino Freeman, Thiago Saporito (though he's sponsored by MTGMintCard), and newly christened Pro Tour Hall of Fame Class of 2015 member Willy Edel. Dex Protection has grabbed people from Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Portugal and Spain. Under the tutelage and guidance of Edel, the Brazilian godfather, and Spain's first Pro Tour champion, Del Moral León, the team is hoping to help Latin Americans reach even higher heights than they already have.

Team Dex Protection

Though there are teams the world over, the most jostling, bustling, and competition among teams undeniably happens in the North America. With many options to choose from, players will sometimes shift from team to team, trying to find the best fit for everybody. The Pantheon is known for its rigorous pre-Pro Tour schedule; Team Ultra PRO is a large number of disparately located players; Face-to-Face and ChannelFireball (who worked together for this event) have a staggering number of strong voices in the room. Whatever your testing style, there's a team that's right for you, and it just comes down to finding them.

One of my favorite team stories for this Pro Tour is about Team Kirwan's Game Store. Named after the Regional Pro Tour Qualifier where each member qualified, the four players hadn't met before that qualifier and made a pact to meet in Vancouver a week early to test together. Ian Barber, Jonathan Delano, Michael Derczo, and Grand Prix Vancouver 2015 Top 8 finisher Daniel Ward honored that pact, and a new team was born.

There were a few players I grabbed between rounds making some moves between teams. Gaudenis Vidugiris and Zvi Mowshowitz formed a bit of a team in New York, calling themselves Team NYC, shifting from various stays at The Pantheon house. Shahar Shenhar made the move from the ChannelFireball team to The Pantheon, surrounding himself with the Pro Tour Hall of Fame legacy team. His experience was part losing, and all learning. Brian Kibler and Gerry Thompson joined a team known by most as "The Mighty Lucks," although both Kibler and Thompson threatened to quit if that was the official team name. So it looks like, for now, the name remains unofficial. Lastly, Pro Tour Hall of Fame member Patrick Chapin shifted to Team Ultra Pro.

Gaudenis Vidugiris has been living in New York for the last five years. With a family, and a city job, and that city in general, sometimes The Pantheon schedule is rigorous. There is always a house rented in the vicinity of the Pro Tour and attendance is taken. Vidugiris said, "It's sometimes hard to go on a regular schedule for the house. So [Zvi and I] didn't; at least for this Pro Tour."

The Team NYC started informally, but they soon picked up some notable local players. Andrew Boswell, Mark Schmit, Bryan Gottlieb, Pro Tour Hall of Fame member Alan Comer, and Gerrard Fabiano all joined in some form or another (though Fabiano credits much of his sponsorship and testing also to Ice Imports and AEther Gaming).

Team NYC (not pictured: Andrew Boswell, Gerrard Fabiano)

As far as how the team fared, Vidugiris said, "The main advantage was obviously getting to stay at home. Not having to take a week or two can really change things." He continued, "Because we weren't sharing a house, the testing started a bit earlier." Often the house method could be like a cramming session, while there was a more relaxed study period from Vidugiris. This was both good and bad. The team had a handle on the format…until last week.

The Open Series event last weekend that premiered the Rally the Ancestors deck made moot some of the testing they had done, as they had to incorporate a new deck into the gauntlet. But also, because they were comfortable with the format already, it allowed the team to more easily audible into the deck—if they so chose. But changes like that don't often happen before the Pro Tour. Vidugiris said, "That was the first time in a while that the SCG results were legitimately relevant to Pro Tour testing," so it was a bit of a surprise for them. Nonetheless, the early schedule helped them obviate this curve ball.

"Overall, I was quite happy with how things went," Vidugiris said, and well enough that he could see himself doing that process again sometime in the future. But on the negative side, he and Zvi both lost "some really good, full-time Magic players" in The Pantheon, and Vidugiris admitted that they "maybe weren't quite the most effective communication-wise yet." But communication loss is expected from a new team. With a combination of some newer players, and some legends (including two Hall of Famers), Team NYC might have some legs going into the future.

Next up was (14) Shahar Shenhar, who had made the move to The Pantheon team. The first thing he made sure I knew was this: "I might be a bit biased, because I'm doing quite well at this Pro Tour. And I haven't done well at a Pro Tour in a while." Even if Shenhar didn't say anything more, that might be a good indicator of how things worked with the team. As Shenhar is a bit younger than both Mowshowitz and Vidugiris, the house schedule likely suits him much better—this time around he was roomies with Jon Finkel. It could be worse, I suppose. The team got a house in North Vancouver, and Shenhar said they holed up and got the work done.

He was happy with the situation overall. "I got to test with eleven great players I would definitely test with again," he said. Specifically the Limited testing was telling. "I was losing so much, I thought they were hazing me," Shenhar said. It turned out that they were just good, and they made him better at the format.

Because of that testing, Shenhar said, "I knew the format really well," and it was that knowledge that he credits his 3-0 to. As by his own admission, his deck wasn't close to a 3-0 deck.

It doesn't take a genius to know than when you put this group of people in a house for two weeks—(5) Owen Turtenwald, (21) Andrew Cuneo, (16) Reid Duke, (17) William Jensen, (10) Jacob Wilson, Josh Ravitz, and Pro Tour Hall of Famers Ben Rubin, Gabriel Nassif, Kai Budde, Jelger Wiegersma, and Jon Finkel—you're going to get some quality Magic. So it looks like as long as you can maintain the rigorous schedule, it'll be worth your while.

Next up was Hall of Fame member Brian Kibler, joined by returning Pro Tour veteran Gerry Thompson. Both were playing on the team specifically not called The Mighty Lucks—for the purposes of this article, at least. Kibler's testing process is often similar. "I do my thing, and I try to get people to help me do my thing," he said. And though Kibler liked his last group, he hoped that this team would be more conducive to his "thing." Made up of Brian Braun-Duin, Austin Bursavich, Chris Fennell, Brian Kibler, (7) Ari Lax, Michael Majors, Tom Martell, Ross Merriam, (12) Brad Nelson, and (19) Steve Rubin, the team has a strong amount of Platinum Pros, and just strong players in general.

Unlike the other teams I talked to, most people knew there was something to be improved for the next tournament, but they were optimistic that they could find what it was. The team has been together for a while, but are still settling how best to divvy up the workload. Both Braun-Duin and Thompson said they tried to streamline work by not focusing on crazy brews, but because there are some strong crazy brews here, they felt that choice left them a little behind the curve.

The team will likely re-strategize the next time, and perhaps feel more confident about their teamwork. Though Kibler understood and agreed with a lot of what his team said, the Hall of Famers said he had made the shift because, "My testing is basically doing my thing, and I want to find people who can help me do my thing." Sometimes that takes time, and we'll see soon if Kibler's thing was helped or hurt by the shift.

Lastly, I wanted to follow up with Pro Tour Hall of Fame member, Patrick Chapin. He recently switched from The Pantheon to Team Ultra PRO. We talked a bit at Grand Prix Dallas/Fort Worth, and he said he had loved his new teams' efficiency and communication when it came to Grand Prix preparations. He had talked about how Team Ultra PRO was full of players eager to get better, and eager to prepare. And with (2) Samuel Black heading the charge in the Midwest, while most of the other communication happened online, Chapin said their efficiency really worked well for him.

Team Ultra PRO (Not Pictured; Bob Maher, Craig Wescoe, Matt Severa, Brian Kowal, Adrian Sullivan)

I grabbed him at the end of the round to follow up here in Vancouver, and he said, "I'd rather hold off on retrospectives until after the event to make sure I'm focusing on the right stuff." There's no way I could argue with that. And really, Chapin's response could bode well for the testing with his team. If finding the right fit for you is finding the team that allows you to get into that zone, and into that mindset, perhaps Chapin has found himself a good match.

Players join together for tons of different reasons—similar play style, similar deck building, similar location, and similar life schedule. There are only two real metrics to decide whether the fit works—how you feel about the team, and how the results bore out. And one of those metrics can only be settled at the end of the weekend. Players will have to wait a bit longer to see how all this team stuff bore out. Perhaps we'll see some more shuffling next time around.