As is now tradition for a North American Team Grand Prix, either LSV or I will be ranking the teams. I drew the short straw this time, and had to wade through this lackluster list of attending teams.
Reminder: In terms of self-evident truth content, these rankings make “all men are created equal” look like baseless speculation. Actually, the relative intelligence of the participants also casts some doubt on that one. But my point is, if you disagree with any portion of the rankings, you are wrong.
This time around I’m going to name every category after what an average team might think after walking up to the pairings board and learning that they are playing against the listed team(s).
“If we can beat even one of these guys, that’d be something special.”
1) PGO (Owen Turtenwald, William Jensen, Reid Duke)
I got cute last time I did this and ranked them 2nd. They punished me immediately. They also won the Team Draft Super League. “It’s still Sealed deck. You never know who will open a bad pool and be knocked out.” Okay Jo from Rounders, who are these—the luckiest guys in the world? They get there nearly every time—it’s silly. (Aside: Jo gets a lot of heat for trying to get her boyfriend to not put his whole bankroll in action at 300/600 limit. Wasn’t she pretty much right about everything? Heads up NL with everything you own in play and the main event are not gambling? You sure? Did my generation of card gamers do to “I couldn’t lose” from Rounders what the generation before us did to “Greed is good” from Wall Street? These characters are offering thin, clearly flawed rationalizations for their destructive behavior and yet these passages became decision-making mantras to a generation of money-obsessed fans. I’m “Team Jo” at this point in my life. Okay, back to the rankings.)
2) Eric Froehlich, Ben Stark, PVDDR
Last article I tried to spell out Paulo’s name, misspelled it, and someone from Latin America yelled at me in the comments. So it’s PVDDR this time. This whole list of rankings might just end up being a list of lessons I’ve learned along the way.
This is the most powerful iteration of the BenS/EFro team. My one reservation here is that BenS and PV are both pretty stubborn and could chew up some clock arguing during deck building while EFro shakes his head. But they probably won’t argue for long enough to really tank their chances, and man this team is good at Limited if they don’t get in their own way. Three of the worst people to face in a pod you had to 3-0, for example. Not “two of those people plus Andrew Cuneo,” not “one plus two friends who don’t play much anymore,” but three of those people. Yikes.
“Ben Rubin, okay that’s not so bad.” “No, STEVE Rubin.” “Damn.”
3) Dem Boyz (Mike Sigrist, Steve Rubin, Alexander Hayne)
Did they need to do anything in the TDSL to earn our respect? No. But they did it anyway, making it all the way to the finals and in many ways having a more impressive overall performance week-to-week than PGO by not needing the 9th match every round and arguably drafting better. Either way, this team is a powerhouse of top, active pros, and nice guys you don’t mind rooting for. And if you’re doing a fantasy draft, your wallet won’t mind that you’re rooting for these guys either.
“We still could win out after this loss and maybe make it.”
4) Sam Pardee, Jacob Wilson, Matt Nass
Consistent performers in Team Sealed, where deck construction is the primary puzzle. Obviously they can play too, but I don’t know if they get all the way up to #4 on play skill alone. But they don’t have to. They will play well and build extremely well and give Matt Nass something with a ton of synergy. They could easily win the event.
“I know these guys: two of them never say anything, and the third never shuts up.”
5) Matt Severa, Andrew Cuneo, Dustin Stern
This is a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster, but both Severa and Cuneo have performed really well (won) in shifting configurations, and they don’t seem particularly hard to work with. Dustin Stern is an old-school player who has recently been playing a ton of Limited and spending a lot of time thinking about and discussing Limited, to excellent results online. He has a bit of a too-cute streak running through some of his analysis, where he finds something that works and might be undervalued, but it pulls him too hard in that direction. From the look of this tribal set, it’ll be harder to zig when all the cards say zag on the type line. This is another team that passes the “3 guys you don’t want in that pod you have to 3-0” test. Hard to put them much higher though without much firm evidence that Stern has top-level chops IRL in a two-day event, but I’ll take a chance here.
“You read it wrong—those guys don’t team together.”
6) Pat Cox, Ari Lax, Craig Wescoe
This is higher than some would put them, but I predict that these three players will find the right landing spot for their Team Limited talent. We’ve seen these players all over the map in the past team wise, and those teams have has their share of successes. I’d trust Ari or Pat to anchor a team if they had to, and Craig is a “niche” player (an expert at aggressive Limited decks) that Ari and Pat will understand how to use to his maximum potential. This is my big swing for these ratings, and we’ll see how it works out.
“It could be worse, I guess.”
7) Thugs & Hugs (Frank Skarren, Seth Manfield, Chris Fennell)
Long time readers know I keep picking this team as a sleeper to Top 4 and I don’t intend to stop now. They have lots of experience together and Chris will be particularly helpful with a new set and a lot to digest in term of synergies and card evaluations. Seth brings world-beater-level talent to the anchor seat. Lastly, Frank Skarren brings a good attitude and helps everyone sleeve their deck if there’s a time crunch before the first round.
“Maybe we can get an autograph.”
8) Scottsdale Foundation (Paul Rietzl, David Williams, Matt Sperling)
A Top 4 team back when their skills were sharp, the wheels recently came off at both GP Cleveland (after an 8-1 Day 1) and the Team Draft Super League. For example, I opened a rare (Bontu) in the TDSL that I had never cast or played against before. Then I punted in the final match against PGO to lose the round. If you aren’t drafting well because you don’t know all the cards and you aren’t playing well, that’s a problem… but keeping this team afloat are two things: 1) Paul Rietzl never stopped playing on the Pro Tour like the rest of us, and 2) the set is only one week (!) old at the time of the Grand Prix. This will be an exercise in short prep for every team, which plays to the advantages of experience, teamwork, and raw skill rather than homework and repetition. The fact that in two of our recent poor performances we had 8-1 or 9-0 Day 1s and then blew it completely on Day 2 is both a strength and a warning sign here—we know our way around a Team Sealed, but we might not have our Day 2 chops anymore. Sell rating here.
9) Gamers Helping Gamers (Jon Finkel, Jamie Parke, Chris Pikula)
You ever see the movie 25th Hour? It’s an underrated film about a man’s last hours of freedom before a prison sentence. (Yes, I initially had an Ed Norton movie reference for every team, but I cut it down.) How do you free your mind of distractions in that context and get something meaningful done? Anyways, Jamie Parke is getting married the week after the Grand Prix. Congrats Jamie. Big Jon Finkel can still play and share Onion articles as good as anyone and Pikula is so dialed in for this event that he gave his wife a 24 hour reprieve from blasting death metal music when the set came out on MTGO. For all of these obvious reasons, I don’t hate their chances.
“I think that’s a Platinum pro? I dunno.”
10) Ben Weitz, JC Tao, Tim Wu
“And if I hit the switch, I can make the MASSSSSDROP.” All of those Berkeley draft camp reps help their teamwork and general proficiency. That’s a plus. The minus is that this event takes place before they can spend multiple weeks off at draft camp. Not an easy out and never a team you’re hoping to play against early, but if it’s the last round and only pro teams remain you might actually be knocking on wood that they’re your draw.
“What do they talk about at breakfast?”
11) Brad Nelson, Martin Dang, Thomas Hendricks
I’m always very skeptical of a newer team where there are language barriers at play. I once famously put my fantasy draft points where my mouth was declaring that a BenS + Shuhei + Juza team wouldn’t do well at GP San Jose a few years back (even though each one is good at Magic) because communication is so important. They didn’t do well. And let’s make one thing clear about that analogy: Brad Nelson is no Ben Stark and Martin Dang couldn’t carry Shuhei Nakamura’s backpack to a Limited tournament. Sell.
“Those are the Canadian Affinity guys.”
12) Jon Stern, Alex Majlaton, Josh McClain
Three solid players that usually form the boundary in the rankings between the teams full of known pros and the teams with one or more big question mark on the roster. It doesn’t take much for these guys to make Top 4, but takes even less for them to go 11-4 and head to the bar.
“Leave your Game Day mat in your bag this round. Just do it, please, I’ll explain later.”
13) YoungBloodZ (Donald Smith, Oliver Tiu, Noah Walker)
I like these guys. I give Oliver a hard time about one silly tweet that became a meme, but only because I can’t help myself. Donald Smith and Noah Walker can and do play Magic at a high level. The team would be higher if you took any two and put them with a really experienced anchor who had spent decades building Team Sealed decks and winning at Team Limited. But even as constituted, don’t sleep on this team or you’ll be headed back to Game Day empty-handed.
“I love these guys! This’ll be fun.”
14) The Nice Guys (Christian Calcano, Daniel Gardner, Miguel Gatica)
One of these guys could go on a run and Top 8 a GP but together what are the chances two or three of them will be hot enough to go on a streak? I have to give them a Sell rating based on raw limited talent and experience.
“Thank God it’s not Australia or 2003.”
15) Punt Factory I (Osyp Lebedowicz, Ben Seck, Ben Lundquist)
Two game designers and one guy who likes really fancy donuts. That’s pedigree.
“Sweet, we got paired against randoms.”
16) Hawaiian Gardens Oath (Ben Yu, Mani Davoudi, Jameson Painter)
Not so fast. These guys don’t have the sharpest technical play chops, but Vegas guys always enjoy and practice Team Limited and eventually they figure it out. I do have a theory that players like Mani Davoudi and Christian Calcano are simply too nice for Team Limited. Like most of my theories, there’s probably nothing there, but it’s fun to think about.
17) Adam Snook, Matt Costa, Dave Shiels
I have never heard of Adam Snook. Based on the company he keeps, I assume he’s a lanky blonde kid who knows how to play Magic.
18) Phoenix Foundation Dentists (Gaudenis Vidugiris, Greg Ogreenc, Stephen Neal)
There are two players on this team I’ve spent a fair amount of time hanging out with whose name I am not confident I can pronounce correctly. They really shouldn’t even let me do the rankings.
“My Grandpa told me about these guys.”
19) Lan D. Ho, Daniel O’Mahoney-Schwartz, Igor Frayman
Igor Frayman might be the first person I ever saw Team Draft and the first person I ever saw play Texas Hold’em. I was just a kid but man he seemed to just know how to really game and shoot the s***, and I looked up to him. What does that mean for the October 2017 power rankings? Not much I suppose, but I’m really rooting for these guys. Dan OMS and Lan D. Ho are also ancient community presences. The 25th anniversary team Pro Tour deserves to have these guys somehow qualify.
20) Andrew Pacifico, Geddes Cooper, Trey Van Cleave
Normally, in this column, when I say, “Be careful before you Team Draft against this crew,” it means it’ll be hard to win. But sometimes I just mean that it’ll be hard to enforce the rules and collect your winnings.
“I probably should know the other two but I don’t.”
21) Marcio Carvalho, Javier Dominguez, Artur Villela
Marcio can make a pretty convincing claim for best Limited player of the last couple of years. And unlike the Adam Snooks of the world, the fact that I have never heard of Javier Dominguez or Artur Villela might just be my own sheltered, xenophobic social media bubble, not a reflection of skill.
“I recognize a name but it could be another guy’s brother, I don’t know.”
22) SCG Tour Traveling Cast (Tom Ross, Jody Keith, Todd Stevens)
Has a team of three SCG pros ever done well at one of these GPs? Let me know in the comments.
23) Yu & Who? (Stephen Nagy, Benjamin Peebles-Mundy, Jarvis Yu)
Benjamin Peebles-Mundy might be the name I’ve said the most times in my life (it’s fun to say) where I would have no chance to pick him out of a lineup. Stephen Nagy is a name I’ve never said in my life. Jarvis is a friend and a damn fine Magic player. Not sure how Jarvis got here but I hope he has fun.
24) Punt Factory II (Eli Kassis, Shaheen Soorani, Dan Musser)
Three guys you absolutely want in that hypothetical pod where you have to 3-0 to make Top 8.
25) Likeability Razz (Ben Friedman, Joe Demestrio, Michael Segal)
Ben claims that Michael Segal is the best player never to have played in a Pro Tour. The odds of him not being a MTGO grinder from Russia or Brazil are so low that I refuse to use that in my rankings in any way. In any event, you know what’s better than the best non-PT player? The good PT players.
26) Ricky Chin, Maxime Auger, Eduardo Sajgalik
I almost didn’t rank this team but then I remembered that Eduardo did me proud last time I ranked him plus some friends he likes. Go get ’em.
“I heard they both gave Pascal a foil ‘Goyf to make this happen.”
27) (Rail)Birds of Paradis (Pascal Maynard, Kevin Antcil, Ulysse Gagnon Paradis)
These people submitted their teams to be ranked. Instead, I will try to roast them without having to rank them. How do you rank the worst airport sandwiches you ever took half a bite of and then threw away? Aren’t they all tied for last?
(In no particular order.)
Not Ranked (NR) – Ryan Saxe, Hayden Bedsole, Zac Hill
Zac Hill is a veteran of the Seattle-based, tongue-in-cheek tournament “The Smart and Thinvitational.” Quick aside: I believe the best roasting I’ve even given anyone at any time was when Cedric posted that he was headed to one of the early iterations of the Smart and Thinvitational and I asked, “You doing coverage?” I’m proud of that one. Back to Zac and company—if this was a Grand Prix of Pretentious Language Usage then they’d be genius-level great men. But this is Magic. You can’t confuse it into submission—you have to play.
NR – Rob Castro-Bosbach, Colette LeRoux, Ben Bohnhoff
Greg and Colette are trying to see if I would rank a team with Colette and two fake players. Not going to fall for it.
NR – Delta Flyers (Tyler Hill (Gold), Max McVety (Silver), Andrew Elenbogen)
NR – Look Ma, No Chance (Tom Ma, Marc Tuttle, Marius Cholewa)
Tom Ma has a Pro Tour Top 8 (Amsterdam that Rietzl won). If that doesn’t give aspiring pros hope, nothing will. Marc Tuttle and Marius Cholewa are what you get if you take Tom Ma and take away one Pro Tour Top 8 from his resume.
NR – Has Requested to Follow You (Tony Levesque, Nathaniel Clark, Travis Dewing)
I’m neither accepting nor rejecting them into the rankings in hopes that they can’t re-apply next time.
NR – Jake Mondello, Ray Tautic, Crywolf102190 (Devon O’Donnell)
Jake figured that he could post a 2015 MTGO leaderboard of some kind with Crywolf102190 atop it and expect to make the rankings. If the guy’s name was Russian and he had that high-finishing username with 6-digits appended to it, it might have worked. But if someone named Devon O’Donnell was great in 2015, I would have heard of him by now. And I don’t even know what type of leaderboard it was. It could have been most wins in the Pauper Commander Swiss queues (Competitive).
NR – Daniel Ward, Ammi Ribar, Eroll Farr (24th @ DC)
Another team that gave me their resume alongside their name submission (like the Delta Flyers above). Maybe the fact that the resume was only 9 characters long and included the number “24” should have been an indication to leave it off? I like Danny but he just left me no choice here. A single Team GP Top 24. That and two slices of bread, and you’ve got yourself a s*** sandwich.