Welcome to the conclusion of the Rathe Times series, Flesh and Blood is a Team Sport! Although this series is wrapping up, hopefully your journey is unfolding. If this is the first team article you've encountered, let's pause real quick and loop you back to parts 1 and 2.
We are approaching the 2022 Pro Quest Season with haste, and the only better day to join a team than yesterday, is today.
In article one, we talked about the hows and whys of joining a team: the potential benefits and upsides, as well as the logistics on joining or creating your own team. We talked about the tools that my team uses for improvement and cohesion, as well as some of the benefits of team play. Then in part two, I focused more on expectations and realities, roles, and commitments.
For the finale, I have reached out all over the world to different teams in search of greater truth. I asked for any wisps of wisdom, nuggets of necessary knowledge, parsimonious plunkets of pilferable principles, insights discernments enlghtenments and awarenesses...
In a word, ideas.
As a team captain, I know that we often work better together, and our incredible community of teams delivered.
Teams are People Too
James Remund reached out to me when I first put out the call, and had three years of experience as Team Captain to distill for us. He put this forward:
When trying to work together as a competitive team, a proper schedule can help more than you may think. Having a specific time each night, or specific days each week, where everyone knows to meet up (online or in person) to grind out test games can help with theorycrafting and advice as you all learn your roles.
When running a team, it’s important to know each member's strengths and weaknesses. For instance, in our 7 man team we had dedicated “Deck Brewers” whose job it was to try and break the meta; a competitive team who basically made testing a 2nd job; content creators; and a manager who helped schedule everything, making sure we were all doing our parts.
But probably my number 1 piece of advice: don’t forget that everyone on your team is a person too. Focusing only on grinding out games and working will burn everyone out quickly. You’re traveling around the country to play a game after all. Spend some time with your team making memories and having fun outside of the game. Some of my favorite memories with The Jackals include not just the times we swept a tournament, but also the times we went to a barcade after to hang out, or went to Universal [Studios] as a huge group to celebrate a birthday. Also, if everyone in a group gets along that well, you’ll all be able to take constructive criticism from each other well, and grow.
If you have the brainspace for it, think about spending time making content for your game. If you manage to grow, it can help cover costs; but more than that, thinking about the game critically and putting words to “paper” can help with cementing ideas on the meta or just the larger game as a whole.
Work Toward Clear Goals
One of our local players- and US Nationals Top 8 Player- John Siadak had this to say:
[The roles of a team member are] sort of two sides of the same coin.
Team Members: Know what you want from a team and be prepared to provide for your team appropriately. For example, if you want testing partners, you need to make sure you are available to test and willing to test not only your pet deck but what the teammates want to test against. If you want help deck building, make sure you are open with your teammates about your ideas and keep their tech secret if it's not public.
Team Leaders: If you are a team leader, make sure you have a firm idea what you want your team to be and have clear ideas how to accomplish your goals. If you are planning to be competitive locally, then consider recruiting people from other states and testing online. If your focus is subsidizing costs- either gas money or hotel rooms- then maybe locals make more sense. If you want a sense of in-person camaraderie, then make sure you pick supportive people for your team. Having a set of goals for your team will make it easier to know who to recruit.
Manage Your Headspace
Joe Colon of the Hyperloops had more sound advice to share, paying special attention to headspace:
In general, I tell [my teammates] to play what they are comfortable with and know the matches, even if they don't feel it's the best deck.
Also, take care of their health, physically and mentally. Getting enough rest, not letting mistakes or losses wear on them, and overall trying to feel prepped.
Most of it is just trying to be in a good place (physically and mentally). In most situations you or the team has put in the reps and should roughly know what you are doing. Just have to let your experience take you through the motions.
People Matter Most
Sean Biava, of Team Kitchen Fable, gave a wide response that focused more on the humane aspects of the game, with this to say:
The phrase "if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together" absolutely applies here. If you're building a team (or even a playgroup), you're going to be herding cats each step of the way and it won't feel like you're getting anywhere. But occasionally, you'll look back at the relationships you've built and your tournament results and it will all be worth it.
People are more important than results. I've seen guys on the team with significantly less talent than most others move up the ELO ladder because the team invested in connecting with that person versus hounding them on their play. It's the friendships people make playing that incentivize them to invest more time into the game. This is Flesh and Blood; it is a people-centric, community-based game. It is meant to get you face to face with other people. Lean into that.
Be a player/team that focuses on integrity & kindness first. It's not the fact that you called a judge that rubs people the wrong way, it's how you did it.
Diversity Makes the Dream
Jason “Trogdor” Jones offered this alongside, talking about how his team formed up and what he perceives to give them their strength:
"Fyendal's Chosen" was formed of a bunch of UK players who had got to know each other over lockdown. [We were] some of the first players in the UK to pick up the game and who got to know each other really well playing online. This moved into real life when we could meet: friendship and the realisation we had some good players.
We decided to form a small team and testing group, which we have expanded twice over the last year. We discuss ideas, scheduling, deck design, testing, events we go to; we have good conversations with other players and groups outside of the UK.
In the 2021 Road to Nationals season, we claimed 80% of wins and 80% of top 4's across the UK scene. It really was earlier friendship and love of the game that allowed us to become a team, and we support each other even if we can't get to the same events, as many of us are not close. We spread from London all the way to Glasgow in Scotland.
We also come from all walks of life, allowing us different takes on strategies. I like the maths and ratios, for instance, and organize shirts, hotels, and travel for many of us. Others are better deckbuilders or testers; others have good relationships with other great players in the world.
Having these diverse skill sets and views allows us a fun, sociable, supportive, and competitive team. Having everyone with the same types of personality would not work.
Skill Matters... Kinda
Arc Bound, or the Metrix Iron Workers, of Italian Nationals, had this to say:
I think it is really important to set a skill cap in the team, but not to put too much weight on it. Talent and willingness to learn are as important as skills when it comes to building a team!
Also, human skills are the most important requirement: you can have the best player ever, but if he is a toxic person, the whole team is going to suffer and therefore perform less well.
I like to let all decisions in the team be taken by a vote after some discussion; this helps create the feeling that everyone is important and contributing to the team is the same way, without letting anyone feel excluded.
To create strong bonds, it's good to meet regularly, playtest and play together, but without being obsessed by it. For example, before the nationals we were playtesting at least once a week all together; but now we are kind of on a break, as the meta will probably shift soon. It is important not to lose sight of the goals ahead (Pro Quests, Calling; protours) so that the team won't loose momentum, but breaks are also important!
Regarding the selection process, for the Metrix Ironworkers (Italian Team) I first selected some good players that I really liked to play with, then proceeded to create a test, which everyone should take in order to get into the team. Once a new member would get into the team, we would review the test together, adding the newcomer point of view and improving the test. Every member was required to be present for the "admission exams", and we voted together on every person that took the test.
It is also important to keep the group in the order of 5-10 people, at least at the beginning, because bigger groups are harder to organize and keep together. I set a max member cap to 7 when I published the "recruiting" announcement, and made all the exams public, to both create the hype in the community and motivate people to try before missing out!
Making the process public gave the team visibility. We then brainstormed names and came up with "Metrix Ironworkers" and I proceeded to find a sponsor to create a logo and print team t-shirts, which we all used during the Italian nationals. Seeing some members in the top 8 picture is great advertising for the team!
Brandon Flores from Cold Foil Control wrote the following in contribution:
#1 is accountability. It is like a diet: you need a reason to stay on it. We try to do discord once a week and in person another day. This forces us to focus.
Local game nights are fun, but aren't always the best practice. The team allows for faster growth and iteration. The team makes practicing sealed and draft much easier and at a higher level. Our team created two cubes to save money.
Remember why you play the game: to have fun. At Nationals, when people were asking about our jerseys, I just responded we are a group of dudes who like to drink beer and jam games at our local brewery every week.
Consistency & Efficiency
Łukasz Cichecki, the first Polish National champion, chimed in with:
So, what I could recommend (excluding what was already said by others) would be consistency & efficiency with playtesting sessions.
Every team should have a clear purpose, and everyone should be on the same page when it comes to achieving the goal. In my group's case, we wanted to prepare for the draft portion of Nationals. We would meet every week on the same days (without any exceptions) and would draft with people from group only. Then, after each draft, we would share the afterthoughts and feedback with each other: tips on drafting, sequencing plays, gameplans for each of the 9 matchups, etc.
This principle- and doing it consistently- ensures quality and makes the session better than just "weekly Armory with random community people". Also, having a set time/day makes it easier for people to commit to the goal and find a time each week.
As for diversity, I would also add that having players who used to play other card game is great. Very often they come with different point of view/experience and can find fresh ways of how to evaluate matchups/drafts/play pattern.
And for last, for the leader it requires commitment in order to have successful team. It cannot be done half-assed, so if the leader is not serious and taking things lightly, the team will collapse eventually.
Teams Are Crucial
The Card Guyz proffered an excellent round up to the whole shebang:
Teams are crucial in the game space for developing players. A person in life can only make it so far by themselves, and we believe this is true in the card game space as well. Having multiple minds to bounce ideas off of will help improve everyone involved.
When forming a team, it's crucial to find people that you have good chemistry with and keep the group tight. We have watched extremely large teams do fairly well, but it's not reasonable to have a team of a very large size while being able to build a tight knit bond with everyone. There will inevitably be some backlash within the team and divisions that form. We want to keep our team tight for that reason and build a much stronger bond with each one of our players to ensure they are able to reach their maximum potential.
As far as practice and improvement go, it's all about repetition and creativity. When you have a team of people to cycle through and test new ideas, you are able to create a masterpiece of a deck much quicker and eliminate the options that aren't viable.
As far as realities and roles go, you just let the group take its natural course for the player side. Leaders and creative designers will emerge naturally instead of forcing people in to a role. Kyle and Alex are the Owners and take the role of managing sponsors, keeping up with direct articles like this one, managing inventory, managing social media, and the players themselves. It's important to have competent managers to keep the team happy and also listen to the players and incorporate yourselves as much as possible.
You might have noticed that we are all kind of saying the same thing here, just in a bunch of different ways- and what can we say? These are indeed some of the most important things to consider! Years of experience taught us all these things, and now we can share those lessons with you.
- Diversity is important.
- Mental Health is important.
- Treat each-other with respect.
- Treat yourself with respect.
- Treat your community-at-large with respect.
- Play the game you like to play.
- Play the deck you like to play.
- Play with people you want to play games with.
- Stay true to your word.
- Be open and honest with your teammates, and with yourself.
Thank you for checking out the Rathe Times series on teams and team play. If you have maybe seen TCG Team Membership as a dream to achieve, I hope that I have uncovered some of the tools, tips, and tricks you might make use of in that accomplishment. I hope that you use these tools and try to join up with an established team, or better yet: plant the flag for your own team. You get to stand on the shoulders of giants, now, having done the research.
We all want to see each other succeed, and that most definitely includes you.
Our narrator, Mark Chamberlain, is a long-time card game player-- but they're all sitting on the shelf while he practices Guardian in Flesh and Blood. Mark is based out of Colorado Springs, USA.
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