The urge to compete flows through Stansilav Cifka's veins, and is has for as long as he can remember. A highly-ranked chess player, Cifka has made a history of seeking out the strongest players to test himself against, learn from, and eventually defeat. The World Championship offers Cifka exactly that opportunity: to defeat the best Magic players in the world.
"I love to play against the best players in the world, since you can learn a lot from it," Cifka explained. "It does decrease your chances of winning, though, when you have to go up against the 'monsters of the game'. Everyone at the World Championship is extremely good, as it was incredibly difficult to earn an invitation. There are definitely a few players I am wary of, but also eager to play, namely Jérémy Dezani, Owen Turtenwald, and Yuuya Watanabe."
It certainly can be intimidating going up against the best players in the game, even for someone like Cifka who certainly ranks among them. Still, there is always something to learn from every match, and there is no teacher like defeat.
"Every tournament and every match helps you to evolve as a Magic player," Cifka said. "One of the biggest learning moments for me came at Pro Tour Gatecrash in 2012, when our team had built a very strong Naya Humans deck before the tournament, but we ended up overthinking things. We settled instead on a version of W/U/R 'Control'. It was literally the worst deck I have ever played, and I hope it stays that way."
Cifka left those problems behind him this year, earning himself a spot as one of the top at-large bids in the tournament. His strong performances all year were reminiscent of early 2012, when Cifka's methodical and precise play earned him a victory at Pro Tour Return to Ravnica and an invitation to the 2013 World Championship. In addition to his own personal victories this year, Cifka has been fortunate enough to see one of his very good friends, Ivan Floch, take down his first Pro Tour title, earning him a travel companion on the way to Nice this year.
Things don't always work out as fortunate as this year has for Cifka, but he has never been one to let that stop him from finding value when it can be difficult to spot.
"One of my favorite memories from my earlier days of playing was a trip we took to Grand Prix Copenhagen with Martin Juza and some other Czech guys," Cifka reminisced. "We did pretty well at the tournament, but on the way back, our car had troubles, forcing us to have to spend a day lost in the middle of nowhere in Germany. We were more than a little annoyed and upset at the time, but when I look back now, I can only remember the good fun that we had on that trip."
This serves as a reminder that there is always something to be gained in the troubles that face us, be it learning in the wake of defeat, or simply enjoying oneself while stranded on the road. Cifka is bound to have another difficult road ahead of him at the World Championship, but he is already looking forward to the excitement and thrill of the experience.
"I love to play tournaments," Cifka excitedly revealed, "especially highly competitive ones like Pro Tours, and the World Championship is going to be especially challenging because of all of the other great players. Winning this tournament would be a dream come true for me, since there is only one World Champion in a year. I really want to make it into the Hall of Fame someday, and this winning this tournament would be one more step on the long road to it."