These articles explain a lot of the forces which helped to balance our team throughout it’s existence. When a member left our playtesting group, we met as a group and discussed what qualities we wanted in a member. This is the result of a number of different configurations, trial and error and eventually discusses the optimal qualities that your team members should have.
Our history as a team was an interesting one. When we started out, it was myself (a consummate rogue player), one of my best friends (an avid netdecker), and one longtime collector, who didn’t know much about playing. From these relatively humble beginnings, we grew to be an impressive force.
We decided immediately upon a policy of NOT sharing all of cards communally. This was a great decision, and is one which I definitely recommend. If you do decide to share your cards between the different members of your group, you’ll run into problems when team members move away, or decide to quit playing. If you decide to take on someone with few cards, your communal resources will soon be stretched really thin.
The second decision which needed to be made was the size of our team. Initially, we wanted to make sure that we had an even number of people, so that all of our members could be playtesting at once during meetings, and that the number of potential playtesters should be large. We took on as many people as wanted to join, and we had a large group of people. This had its advantages, but eventually we learned that quantity isn’t quality, as supporting such a large group of testers eventually meant that we were sharing excessive quantities of cards, we unable to come to any consensuses, and had few people in our area to play against who were not on the team. So eventually, the three primary members of the team got together once again and decided to revise the plan.
What we decided on ended up being the best idea. We settled on a team of six members. We then chose people who we thought to be the best players (and consequently, the ones with the best cards), and called it good. We realized at this point that smaller teams ended up being better, because too many team members meant that if we had a really good deck, not everyone would get to play it because we didn’t have the cards. Additionally, we’d go to tournaments and our team mates would make up half the field. That’s not fun, and it’s no way to let your team support itself with it’s winnings.
After some people left, and others joined, we started to learn a little bit more about the processes involved in team dynamic. We noticed that our team was often very strong in one area, and lacking in others, and eventually we started analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of our group and looking to fill in areas where we were lacking. We eventually learned which qualities were most important, and which were least.
The qualities which are most important to have in a team are varied. You want someone who is good with rules, preferrably a medium to high level judge, as they will help to solve disputes and clarify abilities, resolve disputes, and can even provide some spare practice draft sets in a pinch. Remember that if you judge a tournament for a day, you get a free box of product.
The next most important quality to have is a high level of creativity. You want your team to function like a think tank, because teams which do nothing more than copy the ideas of others will never be on top. These creative people need not be consistent rogue players, but rather, people who can spot weaknesses in a design and find a good working solution. Obviously, these people need to have knowledge of the cards in an environment to be able to make optimal choices. Give them free reign, and don’t constantly criticize their designs, and these people will be the lifeblood of the team.
A good bargainer is another critical step. We set up a system in the beginning where our collector would take everyone’s individual trade binder, and make trades with people while the others played in the tournament. He would watch our games, and others, learning more about the game, while increasing the value of our entire team’s collections. Eventually, we all took over a part of this role, but he started us off with a nice burst of trading. Trusting your trader is very important, and making sure that your entire team has reached a decision about the value of cards is imperative. Having one or more members who are strong bargainers ensures that your team will always have enough cards to play every deck you want to.
Speaking of this, how many of a certain card do you need? I suggest that you should aim to have enough of a certain card that ½ to ¾ of your team could all be playing any card at any given time. Certain cards you’ll need multiple playsets of, while other times only a few would suffice. Remember that often times you’ll need to trade away your good cards in order to get good cards, so collecting everything is impossible.
Some of the qualities we thought would be important turned out not to be so. We thought that someone who was an impressive player in a certain format would be a necessity, but we found that not to be the case. With enough practice, and enough reading on the internet, everyone can become an expert on a given format. Also, considering the pace at which formats change in Magic, our expert often dragged us down with outdated advice and strategizing because “that’s the way you’re supposed to play in Format X.” For similar reasoning, you should also avoid looking for inflexible players who are unwilling to experiment with new things.
Due to necessity more than anything else, we also ended up adding someone to the team who had not only a place where we could consistently gather to play, but also a car to drive us to events. Eventually we learned that you could play just about anywhere, including Taco Bell, stores where tournaments were hosted, and even outside provided you have a towel to sit on and rocks to hold cards down. The car is a trickier situation, but remember that you can make good friends outside your playtesting team and can usually hitch a ride for them.
We also thought that having a lot of cards was an important part to making the team successful. After all, you can’t play at the highest level if you don’t have the best cards. However, replacing someone with a high quantity of cards with someone who has the ability to earn your team a high number of cards consistently is much more important. Eventually if these players with lots of cards stop trading, their card stack will become outdated, and their value to the team is diminished.
While it can be difficult to choose new members and to occasionally dismiss your friends from your team, it makes a tremendous difference in the value of your playtesting time and deckbuilding. I think that each of our member’s successes were due almost entirely to the fact that we did make our team function like a business, each person was responsible for doing what they were best at, and collaborating their results with the rest of the team.
Your team should meet at least once a week pre-tournament, and consider playing at different venues if that option is available Sending everyone to the same tournament means that typically only one or two members of your team can finish in the money in a given week, and your team will be losing out on many trading opportunities, and often be forced to play against each other.
The main topics we discussed in our meetings were the revaluation of certain cards, the decks we were likely to play in upcoming tournaments, and what kinds of matchups we expected based on the popularity of decks we saw at our local weekly tournaments. Obviously, the more matches we played, and the more opponents we played against, the better our information was likely to be, another reason to branch off to multiple sites.
So once you get a team started, you should be doing quite well for yourself. In the end, it may mean disappointing a few people, but it’s about success, and you should eventually reach an equilibrium where your team should be able to support itself. This means that each time you go to a smaller tournament, you should be able to get enough benefit from your prizes and trades to make up for the money you put into it. This can be difficult to achieve, but remember that you’ll be taking advantage of each person’s innate abilities at Magic and using their advice and your overall practice to enhance your own personal skills. You won’t be 100% responsible for your team, but each person will have an equal responsibility for producing their own statistics. Remember that trades are highly important here, so if you are weaker as a player, try to get some good trades in each time you go to a tournament.
Away team members are also something you should try to attain. In our case, we ended up with three of these, in each of the major cities we went to, Indianapolis, St. Louis, and Omaha. These people were great because they gave honest input, honest results, and ended up being a no-maintenance member, who never had to borrow cards, and rarely needed a ride. They don’t impact the size of your team because they live so far away that they make no impact on your card pool or your tournament scene. If you get a chance to take on an away team member, take it, but only those players who you think are good. Traders aren’t necessary in away team members because you can’t necessarily FedEx them your binder, so you have to rely solely on play skill. Remember to give what you take, which means giving them some information about what you have discovered about an environment. Away team members are not likely to be attained until you start to get a bit more recognized in different areas, and you’ll especially get them through traveling.
This should give you some information on how to start, the rest is up to you. Building a team is always different based on the members, so don’t allow my design to weigh too heavily on your design. This is to provide you with something to think about, not as a perfect design. Since every person who plays brings something new, you can never predict what will happen next.