By Derek Gallen

Developing an understanding of Limited has proven vitally important to my progress with Magic: The Gathering—so when I first heard my peers were starting a Team Draft League I pounced into action, eager to solidify my participation. This announcement unveiled within me a hidden platform, an elevated stratosphere where I could apply my work—the mountain of articles read, videos watched, games played, discussions slung—while collaborating with like-minded friends who also were dead-aimed on improving their Limited game. I immediately began fielding potential teammates.

Most, though, had gotten a lead on me and had already assembled their teams. My initial forays turned up empty until I spoke with Sean Morse while deckbuilding after an eight-man draft at the LGS. Sean seemed like the ideal teammate in that, like me, he had left the game for a decade and came back around the same time I did, as we regrew our game in tandem at the LGS.

Sean earlier this year had moved in with Dom, a warm LGS regular who discovered Magic later in his life, and who became our third. Dom and Sean were a good-looking couple of guys, so much so that our team name was quickly decided. We became Team Handsome.

The rules to Team Draft League are an alternative to the commonplace eight-man pods. Three people to a team make each draft a six-man assemblage, intensifying the drafting process: You and your teammates are each responsible for noting significant cards shipped to opposing team members, strategically hate-drafting powerful cards, and maintaining sensitivity to signals. After collaborating on deckbuilding, match wins are scored, and it’s first to five wins that claims the victor. Players can and are encouraged to comment on a teammate’s line of play, mulligan decisions, and sideboarding. Note-taking is copious and shared between rounds. The required skill level is high, and an individual’s commitment to the team is of utmost importance.

But ensuring a successful team means more than knowing the format and playing the actual game. It means understanding your team as a greater entity than yourself, and doing your part in navigating it through the weekly league matches. Let’s say team A and team B gather for their match. Both team A and B are of overall equivocal prowess in terms of skill level and competency in the format. Decks are drafted well on both teams, and the six sit down to play. What then separates the two? How can we predict who wins? Is it the bombs opened or the draws going in one or another’s favor? I like to think that above these, the single factor that best strengthens a team’s chances to win is cooperation.

Cooperation is knowing each person’s style of play, including how each member drafts the format, evaluates card quality, and what colors or strategies they favor. This way, when the team sits down after a draft to evaluate the card pools each player has selected, the team should be comfortable explaining their deck ideas to each other. My teammates should be able to contextualize my card pool to my draft style, and aid me in optimizing my strategy and sideboard approaches based on what they each saw go by during the draft.

Cooperation also is exemplified through effective communication. This means understanding how to ask for, express, and receive information during games in a manner that gives away the least amount of information possible, while also respecting someone’s decision-making process. In other words, when I need an outside opinion regarding whether a line of play I have landed on is correct, I ask my teammate. He or she listens, then concurs or offers a contrasting viewpoint.

Something specific will evolve from this exchange: My line of play might be called into question, and I am put in a position to defend it. Disagreement should beget a constructive argument. After the best line of play is decided, the game goes forth—hopefully to a victory!. This practice is vital to becoming more adept at evaluating what is actually happening in each game. It also strengthens and refines your inner player’s monologue: Lines of play will become clearer, and trust in your fellow teammates will bloom.

What happened in season one, Born of the Gods-Theros-Theros draft? Team Handsome lost our win-and-in for the playoffs. Season two we decided to run the team back. I knew we could make the post-season if we were focused, and my confidence in drafting Theros reached its height as Journey into Nyx was spoiled. So I rallied my teammates. I knew we lacked in the cooperation department, and that that was why we had failed. Team Handsome was beset by inter-team bickering, a contemptuous fog that we fed, and that thickened into false judgements and silent accusations. I made a call to arms to improve on trust, communication, and drafting frequency. And from what I could sense, it was working. Sean, Dom, and myself were incredibly motivated to win, and I believed I had assuaged any negativity or lax-mindedness. We were renamed to Team Goblin Bushwickers. We won our first week’s match.

But when we lost week two, efforts fell apart shortly thereafter. Enthusiasm dwindled—even my own—and we finished at a miserable 2-2, giving up our final week’s match by not even playing it.

In the end, we got slaughtered from not doing the work, not putting our all into every week. Dom was traveling and we needed subs, which threw our mojo off-balance. And I was infuriated that my efforts did not pan out the way I had envisioned. I do not believe our team was capable of the kind of cooperation required to succeed. That said, I had watched us all improve our Limited game dramatically. As individual players we were each for the better, and could apply our interests to the future. So we dismantled Team Goblin Bushwickers—not only in the face of defeat, but because new rules were implemented which demanded that we change things up and assemble new teams for season three. Dom and Sean paired off with new groups, and I was reset to fielding potential teammates.

One night at the store my Legacy specialist Justin and I spoke of working together on a future draft season. I asked him to join me for season three, aka M15 season, shortly thereafter, and he said yes; he loves Core Set drafting. Soon after we recruited Kadar Brock, and our team name was christened: Arts and Leisure Suits. Among us stood an architect, a visual artist, and a fashion expert. It made us all laugh, and was delightfully apropos.

Over the past few weeks, we have been blowing up each other’s phones with excitements and disappointments over M15, which looks to be an exciting set to draft a billion times. Our training tactics are very serious and secret. We have plotted ways to get a leg up on card evaluation and strategy—especially me, as this will be the first Core Set I will have drafted with a full year of soulful dedication to Limited behind me.

I want to win—more than ever—and I have a renewed faith in a fresh start. The league is growing; more and more are wanting in on the challenge. A Limited PTQ season that roughly coincided with the last season of TDL proved the league’s value in our lives, as league members’ performances at PTQs resulted in a plethora of top eights and one win (Hunter!). In my heart, I know it is only a matter of time before a few other leaguers make it to the Pro Tour— and I hold that thought of the future inside, feeling it warm me, as I selfishly need a piece of it for myself.

Derek prefers all things black leather, but dislikes rolling dice when resolving Hymn to Tourach. He cannot be terrored. Effects that prevent or redirect damage cannot be used to counter this loss of life.

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