Chances are, if you’ve been spending much time on Hipsters of the Coast, you’ve at least heard of Team Draft League. For those unaware of it, here’s a brief history lesson (for those who feel they know what it is, feel free to skip to the next section):

Reki, the History of Kamigawa

Team Draft League was founded in the fall of 2013. It was designed to get friends from our small community playing together and to encourage everyone to play to win (rather to rare draft or goof off). The rules were simple: each week, your three-person team (which you chose and committed to at the beginning of the season) would play another team. Whichever team won that match, won all cards opened in it. If you wanted to keep your cards or make it to the postseason, you had to play to win. Simple, right?

Since its inception, the league has seen two major changes. First, in season five, team creation changed. Initially, players agreed to be on a team together and that was that. Since last season, teams have been created by a player draft (captains draft the players for their three-person team). This has led to the most balanced and exciting season yet, and has (in this author’s humble opinion) been a boon for the league.

Secondly, the league is experiencing ever-increasing excellence among its players. Five players who’ve been around since the beginning have now competed at the Pro Tour. The average skill level has risen dramatically, both from the improvement seen within the league and from the talented pool of players who have since joined it. This has changed the feel of the league from a fun, competitive get-together into a serious competition (that’s granted, still pretty fun), one that is attracting many of New York City’s best players.

Grand ColiseumI’m not ashamed to admit it—I’m anxious about this next season (and pretty much every season) of the league.

Every player has gotten so damned good. Folks are having fantastic tournament results. The last-picked players for the next season are players who could easily be (or were) TDL champions in seasons past and are major threats at present. Absolutely no one in the league is a slouch. And while the bottom line has increased substantially, the top bar has exploded. The Shadowmage Infiltrator himself has joined the league. If you’re not intimidated or excited at the prospect of facing Jon Finkel himself, then you’re not human (or know much about Magic).

Reflecting Mirror

I admit, it’s strange to feel so anxious about TDL. Yes, everyone has improved, but so have I. I’ve made the postseason of every season I’ve played (all but Season 3, when I took M15 summer off). I had my best personal league record ever and my best tournament result ever at GP Cleveland. My team has also excelled; we’re the top seed for the playoffs and have a chance to win it all (which would make two TDL wins for me and frequent teammate, Richard). I’m feeling stronger than I’ve ever felt, and I have competed with the best the league has to offer (well, except for this season’s additions).

This confidence is tempered by the anxiety I feel about facing every single team. I know that I can and have beaten these players at least once, but they’re all great players—there won’t be any easy or free wins. I trust my new teammates to carry me—I just hope to be a good enough teammate for them. I’m excited, but it’s overshadowed by anxiety. Perhaps this anxiety is best encapsulated in a short story from yesterday afternoon.


I’m at Twenty Sided Store’s PPTQ. It’s the final round of the swiss portion, round 5, and I’m 3-1 with good breakers and a strong WB deck. There are too many X-1 players, so I’m not going to intentionally draw my match. My opponent sits down in front of me—we’d just had a friendly chat about Sealed strategy and card interactions—and sighs, his expression slightly pained. He acknowledges that this is going to be a tough match and that he would rather be facing someone else to make the top 8. Jason (who’d delivered me my loss in round 3 and then double IDed into the top 8) leans in and tells him the same.

I don’t know how to react to this. Sure, I feel like a competent player, but I’m always focused on how I can improve. I don’t think about how other people view me; I think about the mistakes I’ve made, the lines of play that worked out, and what I can do to catch up with my friends, now that they’re all amazing Magic players. I bristle at the thought of being good enough, because that implies that there’s little to no room for improvement. I don’t ever want to be the best player in the room or the tournament or the league, because then I don’t have someone to aspire to beat.

Hrm. Sounds like the league’s the right place to be, after all.

I do my best to brush off what I realize is a compliment, draw exceptionally well, win, and make the top 8 as the second seed. I draft an okay deck and lose in the semifinals (which makes three times in a row that I’ve lost to the tournament winner in the semifinals of a Twenty Sided tournament). I’m forced to recognize that I’m indeed much better than I was when I returned to Magic in 2010, but TDL continues to challenge me to become much, much better. Here’s anxiously, excitedly looking forward to it.

And hey, if I do badly this season, hopefully next season’s captains will look favorably upon me.

And, heh, as always, thanks for reading.

—Zachary Barash

Zachary Barash has been playing Magic on and off since 1994. He loves Limited and drafts every available format (including several that aren’t entirely meant to be drafted). He’s a proud Cube owner and improviser, creating entire musicals from scratch every week. Zach has an obsession with Indian food that borders on being unhealthy.

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