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So You Wanna Start a Magic Team?
Have you found yourself practicing for tournaments too often all by yourself? Do you know people you like to play with but getting together is always a big hassle? Maybe you only manage to get together with other players whenever you are all at the game store. Have you seen dudes at tournaments with t-shirts declaring their allegiance to some private Magic team or club? Maybe you’ve thought about starting a team of your own.
I’ve been administrating the longest-running team in the history of Magic, the Texas Guildmages, since 1996. We meet almost every single Tuesday night at my house in the suburbs of Dallas, Texas. I can tell you that forming and being a part of a team has been the single most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in my nineteen years in the game. I formed the team for selfish reasons, but I soon learned that serving the players on the team was just as important as whatever it was I hoped to gain by creating a team to help me. In two months my team will celebrate its 800th weekly team meeting with a big party. As our team heads towards this latest anniversary, I’d love to share with you a little of the history of my team. Then I’ll talk about the kinds of things you may want to do when you start a team of your own.
A Brief History of the Texas Guildmages
I didn’t need a team when I first started playing Magic. I already had a group of friends that I played games with. We all got hooked on Magic at the same time in 1994 when the game was very new and tournaments were a brand new idea. Tournaments didn’t really matter much to us anyway, at that time. We met, on a rotating basis, at one of our homes each Friday night. Before long, we decided to try tournaments. We played in several kinds of events. The most fun were giant multiplayer games called “Circle of Doom” games where as many as eighty or a hundred players would sit in a giant circle of tables. You could only attack the players directly on either side of you. Your spells and effects could affect only two players on either side of you. The more serious tournaments used huge single elimination brackets and awarded pretty good prizes. Of course, there was only one constructed format at the time, it wasn’t called Vintage or Type I yet, because it was the ONLY format there was. Slowly, tournaments got more sophisticated, the competitive waters became more shark-infested. Pretty soon I was the only one in our little group of friends that still wanted to play in tournaments. Now, I needed a team.
Tournament Magic changed forever in January, 1996, when the Pro Tour was introduced. Suddenly there was a chance to play serious Magic at a national, and even international level, and to be recognized with fame and maybe even fortune. The series, after all, was originally called the Million Dollar Black Lotus Magic: the Gathering Pro Tour. There were no qualifying tournaments for the first Pro Tour event, held in New York City. When Pro Tour Qualifiers began a month or so later, I attended the first one in Dallas. I was eliminated by a red-headed kid named Bryan Sammon. That tournament awarded two seats to Pro Tour Los Angeles, the second-ever Pro Tour event, and one of the seats was won by my Magic mentor, a college student from Mesquite, Texas, named Minh Huynh. I had been home for a couple of hours when Minh suddenly appeared at my door to tell me he won the tournament. Pro Tour Los Angeles introduced booster draft to professional play. Minh finished high enough to qualify for the next event, Pro Tour Columbus in July 1996. That event was block constructed; Ice Age and Alliances only. During this time, Minh invited me to start playing regularly at his hangout, Games Galore in Arlington, Texas. Those were the two big scenes back then, Game Chest in Valley View Mall in Dallas and, on the west side, Games Galore in Arlington. Game Chest’s big dog was George Baxter, top eight finisher at the first Pro Tour event in New York. Games Galore had Chip Hogan, the winner of a sort of pre-Pro Tour National Championship at a Philadelphia game convention (I believe it was Origins).
In the summer of 1996, the first year of the Pro Tour, George Baxter decided to start a Magic team for the purpose of practicing for, and participating in future Pro Tour events. Rather than turn to his pals, many of whom were on their way out of Magic for careers or other interests, George Baxter held a series of tournaments. The seven players who performed the best in this series of small tournaments would join Baxter to become Team Dallas. I finished eighth in this series of tournaments. George gave me a hearty pat on the back and told me he’d give me a call if one of the other guys didn’t work out. That call never came. In the fall, as Pro Tour Dallas approached, I started a weekly practice session at my house for the guys I played with at Games Galore. We were becoming a tight-knit group, and I posed the question. Why don’t WE form our own Magic team? There were a few eye rolls because Magic players aren’t, in general, the kinds of conformists that love structure and politics, things they might imagine a team would entail. Quickly enough, however, eight of us decided to band together and make it official. We had a month-long series of votes to decide what to call ourselves. I solicited name suggestions from everyone in the group but, guess what, all the names that eventually received votes were my own creations. In the end, the name that got the most votes was NOT Knight School, nor was it DAMAGE (Dallas-Area Magic And Gaming Enterprise). The name that the players liked the most, or hated the least, was Texas Guildmages.
This is a good time to share with you the secret of creating a good team name. There is none. All team names sound stupid until you make the name mean something by creating some history with it. ‘Yankees’ is not a clever name for a baseball team, but when you create the championship tradition of the New York Yankees, the name becomes cool. No one thinks the L.A. Lakers have a stupid name, because they have a mighty tradition of success, but their name means nothing, of course. The team moved to Los Angeles from Minneapolis, a city in an area known for having, you know, LAKES! Don’t listen to other people when they say your idea for a team name is stupid. Of course it is, all team names are stupid right up until they become awesome.
Just as we were getting a little sponsorship money and some cool t-shirts, one of our eight, Jason Page, got more and more interested in fraternity life at University of Texas at Arlington and less and less interested in Magic. The official roster of the team therefore started with just seven players including Cortney Cunningham, Minh Huynh (our guru), James Jenkins, Scot Martin, James Murphy, James Stroud and myself.
There was a thought then, and continues to be today, that “officially” being a team doesn’t really get you anything. Sponsors have come and sponsors have gone. But let me tell you this: when we began the team only three of us had played on the Pro Tour. In short order, all of us had Pro Tour experience. Almost every player that has ever joined us has gone on to some amount of success on the Pro Tour. For years and years after the Pro Tour began in 1996, I could proudly report that there was at least one Guildmage in every event.
In a few weeks, our team will celebrate its 800th weekly team practice. We have the longest running team in the history of Magic. Is starting a Magic team worth the trouble? Absolutely.
What Do You Want From Your Team?
What are the things you most want from your team? Maybe you want to be a part of something. Maybe you want to get serious about competitive Magic and want to assemble some players who feel the same way. Your goals are your own, but it’s important that you have some idea of what those goals are before you put together your team.
Some Things to Think About
When you start putting together a team, remember that this project isn’t just about what you want, it’s also about what your prospective teammates want as well. People aren’t going to join up simply because you want to start a club. They want to get value out of the deal. For this reason, make sure that you provide a service to the team, and even more importantly, that the team eventually provides a service to its members. In the long run, one service the team can provide to its members is a sense of belonging to a valuable organization. In the beginning, however, you have to provide the service. I did this by creating a home for Magic players. I made Tuesday nights at 7:00pm a thing. The players that came over knew that they could count on the practice happening every week. Sixteen years later, players hardly ever call before they show up, but back in the day, people would call asking two terrible questions. “Are we playing tonight?” It takes a long time to gain people’s confidence. It takes almost no time at all to lose their confidence. If you want your team practices to be successful, you are going to have to be extremely consistent. The other awful question they would ask when they called was, “who is going to be there?” There is only one good answer to this question, “You will, as soon as you get here!” You don’t want your teammates to weigh the value of their participation based on who else is going to be there on any given week.
Where I live, near Dallas, things are spread out over a great and wide space. Two of my teammates, Mark Hendrickson and Steven Bruce, each drive from way across town. Mark lives in Allen, a good forty-five minutes from my house. Bruce lives close to Garland, almost as far as Mark. When people inconvenience themselves to be at your practice, you owe it to them to have the best possible atmosphere, so put a little effort into it. For one thing, I welcome all the dudes on Tuesday night to help themselves to soda pop and bottled water from my refrigerator, at no cost at all to them. I spend about twelve bucks a week filling up the fridge with drinks. It’s a little thing, but it makes my guests feel welcome. Maybe you can’t blow that kind of money on your teammates every week, but you can do the most important thing: provide a consistent time and place for your team to meet.
What are you going to do at your meetings? You’re going to practice constructed Magic, or you’re going to booster draft, anything that might be relevant for you and your team’s Magic goals. There are lots of ways to learn about Magic online and a growing number of ways to play Magic across the internet. Try to remember that there’s a reason you and your teammates are bothering to get together in person. You might be helping each other finish building decks, you might be trading cards or loaning cards to each other for an upcoming event. There will be people for whom the most important thing about the meeting is the chance to get out of their houses, to spend face time with you and the other members of the team.
What you aren’t going to do at your meeting is bore everything to death with Robert’s Rules of Order. By all means, have some announcements if you or other teammates have something important to say. Hold a vote for something important like adding a player to the team or to pick your team name or to pick out the design for your team’s t-shirt. Keep the administrivia to a minimum. You might like creating detailed minutes for each team meeting (I do a lot of this) but most Magic players like to play Magic when they get together. So keep the official part of your meetings simple and easy. I don’t think you can run a Magic team meeting like a meeting of the Rotary Club or the Freemasons. I’ve explained this concept many times using a superhero team analogy. When the Texas Guildmages were started, I probably wished that I was creating the Avengers (the comic book Avengers more than last summer’s cool movie version) but the team turned out to be the X-men. I probably envisioned having official team roll (we have that) and a mansion for a team headquarters (not quite) and ID cards that we can flash in order to let people know how important we are (not at all). We ended up being the X-men, a looser affiliation of crazed loners willing to pool their resources for some very specific sorts of adventures.
While you need to protect the team from being bored to death with administrative recordkeeping, it’s a pretty good idea for SOMEONE on the team to keep them. If you’re thinking about going to the trouble of getting a team started, this someone may well be you. On the other hand, if you can find someone on the team better suited to recordkeeping, by all means, put them to work. Keeping good records for the team helps your team in a couple of ways. First of all, they say that the only things we get better at are the things we put our attention on. When you care enough about the team to make sure records are kept, the team knows that their participation is appreciated and noted. Players want the same things from competitive Magic. We’d all like to get rich and famous playing an Intellectual Sport that we all love. But short of those riches and fame, we’d like a little recognition. Recognition is one of the things that a team can do better than just the dudes that meet up at the game store from time to time. With good records, you can reward participation in the group. We booster draft every week at our meetings, and I sell the boosters to the players that don’t already have their own packs. When a player reaches his 50th or 100th meeting, I recognize that player in front of the group and give him a free draft set for the evening. Maybe you won’t be able to be that generous, but even the simple act of recognizing a player in front of the other players in the group has value.
Keeping everyone in the team involved is not too hard to do when you are getting started, but what if your group grows in size? Every player that you expect to see again is another ball that you, as team organizer, are going to have to juggle. If you haven’t seen a guy in a couple of weeks it would be easy to forget to stay in touch with him. Don’t let that happen. If you want to develop a strong organization you have to keep in touch with everyone. This is another way that recordkeeping can help you, it can make it easy to monitor who’s showing up and who isn’t and how often. Not to be corny, but the old saying from the business world is completely true. “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Finally, make sure you try to do things together outside the constraints of competitive Magic from time to time. You forge relationships in the fires of long road trips to Magic tournaments and in late night gaming sessions, but you secure those relationships by doing even the smallest kinds of things together away from the game. Eating in restaurants creates opportunities for your team to interact when there aren’t Magic cards right in front of them. Go to the movies with teammates, go to bars and hang out, or to concerts. Whatever it is that you and your teammates have in common (besides Magic), do those things. Man does not live by bread alone!
There are many other things you are going to need to know when you start a Magic team, but I hope this article can help start get the ball rolling.
Thanks for reading.
Level II DCI Judge
Zanman on Magic Online
Zanman on Magic Online
Level II DCI Judge