World Magic Cup Preview

Posted in Competitive Gaming on December 11, 2018

By Rich Hagon

Rich Hagon combines a deep knowledge of the players of the Pro Tour with a passionate love of the game. He's a regular commentator for Pro Tour and Grand Prix live video coverage, and is the official Pro Tour Statistician. He has been covering Magic events since 2006.

If you've read one of these before, you already know that the World Magic Cup—hereafter, the WMC for short—is one of my favorite events of the year. Like the Pro Tour, it showcases some of the best players in the world. Like the Pro Tour, it showcases multiple formats. Like the Pro Tour, it's a three-day festival of Magic, culminating with a Sunday Top 8. And, like the Pro Tour, everyone playing wants to win. But, unlike the Pro Tour, the WMC has a special atmosphere all its own, and I'm not going to sugarcoat this.

Put simply, the WMC is the one flagship event of the year that most of us—the regular local-store gamers—have a legitimate shot at competing in. Whether we're from one of the powerhouse states across America, one of the small but fiercely proud Nordic countries, one of the Eastern European nations with a checkered 20th century political history, one of the Latin American new kids on the block, or one of the giants of the Asia-Pacific region, for this weekend, only we get to freely, openly, and, with goodwill toward all, wrap ourselves in our nation's flag and hope for the best games, the best Sealed pool, the best Standard matchups, and the best topdecks of our lives, as our representatives look to bring home the WMC to us. And no, not everyone who competes in the WMC is a Pro Tour Champion—there are plenty of players at the WMC who haven't yet played on a Pro Tour, much less won a PT—but every single one wants to represent their country with honor. And, very possibly, with warpaint.

This year, 74 nations come to Barcelona, Spain, to do battle. Perhaps more than any other tournament of the year, the elimination "guillotine" keeps on moving at a frantic pace. Here's how it works:

Friday morning: All 74 countries of three team members each get a Sealed Deck pool from Guilds of Ravnica, comprising twelve boosters. That's enough to make three Sealed Decks of 40 cards or more, with all the non–main deck cards being divided up between the team members during the build. Then they play three matches with those decks. In each round, as soon as two team members win their individual matchup, that's the round claimed for the team. There are no "2-1 wins" at the WMC—although you'll often see players in the third match playing out their games just for fun and bragging rights, even if the points for the round have already been awarded. Although nobody gets eliminated during the Sealed Deck portion of the event, with 74 countries, it's by no means certain that a 4-3 record will be enough to advance to Day Two, so any teams sitting at 0-3 after the Sealed are in deep trouble.

Friday afternoon: Now we switch to Team Unified Standard. Apart from basic lands, any given card can only be assigned to one player on the team. So, no splitting cards between players; if you sleeve up one Teferi, Hero of Dominaria in one deck, that's the only place you'll be able use the Planeswalker across your three decks. It doesn't matter whether you use one copy, or all four, or whether the cards are in your main deck or sideboard. Remember the rule: one card equals one deck.

On Friday afternoon, four is the magic number—get to four wins, and you're done for the day. After Round 4, that likely means four or five teams advancing to Day Two with perfect 4-0 records. In Round 5, all the 3-1s face off, knowing the winner advances. In Round 6, it's 3-2 where the winning side gets to put their feet up. And then, in the last round of the day, Round 7, everyone on 3-3 gets to try to make it in. Try? Well, in that last round, the 3-3 winners are going to end the day with a winning record at 4-3 . . . but that won't be enough for some of them. Only the top 32 teams advance to Day Two, and that means tiebreak heartbreak for those teams who lost a lot of their matches early in the day, creating bad tiebreaks for themselves. Expect some real drama on Friday night, when the teams in the low 20s and early 30s get revealed. From 74 to 32 is a brutal cut, and there are going to be some massive favorites on the outside looking in by the end of Friday.

Saturday morning: The 32 remaining teams go into more Unified Standard, this time in pool play, in groups of four. These are balanced based on their standings on Friday. So, one group features the number 1, 16, 17, and 32 seeds, while another features 2, 15, 18, and 31, and so on down to 8, 9, 24, and 25. Whichever group you're in, the plan is the same: win twice. After a randomly paired Round 1, the two winners face off, as do the two losers. The winner of the winners' bracket, at 2-0, advances to the next phase of pool play with a round to spare. The loser of that match faces the winner of the losers' bracket match. Both at 1-1, the winner will determine who joins the 2-0 in the next phase. As for the team who loses both their opening matches, it's the end of the road. Yes, played two, lost two means bye bye, and not the good kind of bye bye the pros get in the early rounds of Grand Prix!

Saturday afternoon: Now we're down to sixteen teams, and it's more Unified Standard pool play. The 1, 8, 9, and 16 seeds form group 1, following the same pattern as the morning, with 4, 5, 12, and 13 forming the last group. Again, two wins are needed to advance, two losses eliminate you, and the 1-1 teams will play the last round of the day to decide which four teams join the four 2-0s in the Top 8.

Sunday: And now we're down to straight elimination. Four quarterfinals, two semifinals, and then the championship match itself. It's Unified Standard all the way, and, as throughout the tournament, two of your three players need to win their individual matches to claim the round in your favor. Last year, Japan held off an excellent Poland side to claim the title. But who will it be this year, joining Chinese Taipei (2012), France (2013), Denmark (2014), Italy (2015), Greece (2016), and Japan (2017) as Champions of the World Magic Cup?

In order to give you the best guide possible to likely winners, I've delved deep into the statistical scrapbook. Rather than simply dismissing teams that I think are logically unlikely to win, I'm going to make sure that I tell you about every team. So, here they are, but, long before they can win the whole thing, teams must make Day Two. From there, there are a ton of variables—what group you find yourself in, whether you happen to face good matchups, whether the best teams in the tournament have already been knocked out in upsets in other groups—so once you reach Day Two, almost anything can happen. But reaching Day Two at all can be a very tough task, so I've grouped the teams together by their historical ability to get out of Day One and find their names in the hat for Day Two.

Yet to Reach Day Two

Costa Rica, Cyprus, Ecuador, Honduras, Indonesia, and Northern Ireland

Costa Rica will rely on captain Carlos Pal, who has a Grand Prix Top 8 from earlier this year, while Rodolfo Nunez has been here twice before. Cyprus has Daniel Antoniou as captain, the first of our players who has been to every WMC. Christian Wijaya is the best known on the Indonesian team, having played 18 GPs. Northern Ireland sees Simon Carmichael and Dean Convery return to the WMC. Ecuador has two players yet to experience WMC, GP, or PT play, while captain Francisco Miranda returns from last year, when they finished 55th. And finally, a special good luck to Honduras. They haven't made Day Two before because they haven't played before! They're welcomed into the WMC fold for the first time this year, so all the best to Klisman Lopez, Jose Icaza, and Francisco Jose Mejia Morales.

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Team Ecuador 2017—Ecuador is one of the six teams working toward a historic Day Two berth in 2018.

Reached Day Two Once

Bolivia, China, El Salvador, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, Puerto Rico, Romania, Russian Federation, and Switzerland

It's a surprise to find that Switzerland has only reached Day Two once before, and they should improve on that stat this year. They're led by Andreas Ganz, and Ivo Grossholz is also a Grand Prix Champion. Michael Hitz has a ton of experience with 72 GP starts, and I'm confident that "Ganz, Hitz, and Grossholz" is the best name for a legal firm in this year's WMC.

The Russian Federation has a true star in Dmitriy Butakov. Twice a MOCS Champion, he also has a pair of GP Top 8s from very few starts. He'll need support from Denis Andreichikov, who has five Pro Tour starts, and Evgenii Dushinin, who only has GP experience. China and Luxembourg also have strong captains in Liu Yuchen and Steve Hatto, respectively. Liu returns from the team that made the Top 8 last year, and both he and teammate Xu Ming have a Pro Tour Top 8. Hatto is another who has played in every WMC, with their best finished being 30th in 2013.

Latvia, Malta, Puerto Rico, and Romania all have players with respectable career notes. Gints Dreimanis and Viktors Kazanskis have five WMC starts between them for Latvia. Captain Anton Morgenstern returns from last year's team for Malta. Luis Prieto has played for Puerto Rico before, which has an incredible run to the final to look back on from the first WMC in Indianapolis 2012. And Raul Porojan, captain of Romania this year, has three GP Top 8s. For Bolivia and El Salvador, this looks like a struggle. Captain Marco Vargas played in 2015, but that Bolivian team finished 71st of 73, while two of the three players for El Salvador have no WMC, GP, or PT experience. A second Day Two appearance for either of them would be a fantastic achievement.

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Team Russian Federation 2017—This year Team Russian Federation is looking to top their performance of 2014, when they reached Day Two for the first time.

Reached Day Two Twice

Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Ireland, Japan, Lithuania, Panama, Paraguay, Macedonia, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, South Africa, Venezuela, and Wales

Canada and Denmark look the most promising of this group. Adam Ragsdale has a pair of GP Top 8s, and that represents solid support to PT Champion Alexander Hayne. The concern must be that despite a ton of talent, Canada has frequently failed to deliver at this tournament. For Denmark, Simon Nielsen returns from the 2014 championship team so famous for "Daneblast," and his "number 2" looks to be Oscar Christensen, who has 3 GP Top 8s (one of which is a win).

Next come Japan and New Zealand. They each appear to have one big name on their team—Ken Yukuhiro for Japan and Jason Chung for New Zealand. Japan are the defending champs, but the team last year was crazy good, and it's very unlikely that Moriyama Masahide and Naoya Nanba can replace Yuuya Watanabe and Shota Yasooka, both Hall of Famers.

If Croatia or Peru does well, look to their captains to be major influences. Vjeren Horvat has played on the last four WMC teams for Croatia, while Peru has Francisco Sifuentes. He's in his third WMC start here and has three GP Top 8s, all since 2017. He hasn't yet cracked it at the Pro Tour level (23-21 from four starts), but it's possible that's on the way.

For a large part of this two–Day Two group, plenty have players with WMC experience. Hristiyan Ivanov represents Bulgaria for the sixth time, looking to reach at least another Top 16, as they've done the last two years. Chile has captain Patricio Roman in his fourth WMC. Colombia has two players returning from last year, when they so narrowly missed out on Day Two. Karl Sarap as captain is in his third WMC for Estonia, while the same is true for Ireland captain David Murphy, whose team made Day Two last year. Vladimir Trajcevski headlines the Macedonia team in his fifth WMC start, South Africa's captain Kaloyan Petkov also returns from 2017, Venzeuela's Humberto Patarca makes it three WMC outings this year, and Sam Rolph will lead Wales once again. Lithuania sees Domantas Zavadskis return from last year, which is also true for Panama's captain Jaime Soriano Salazar and Paraguay's Andoni Astigarraga. As for Norway, they're captained by Sveinung Bjornerud. Although a newcomer to the WMC, he has plenty of experience and was part of the Norway team that reached the World Team final in 2011 in San Francisco.

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Team Japan 2017 reached Day Two for only the second time last year, on their way to taking the Cup.

Reached Day Two Three Times

Belgium, Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, Finland, Germany, Guatemala, Hong Kong, Iceland, Israel, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, Philippines, Portugal, Singapore, Slovenia, South Korea, Turkey, and Uruguay

There are a lot of very good teams in this group, with half a dozen potential winners in Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, Hong Kong, Netherlands, and Slovenia. Belgium has turned two of their three Day Two finishes into Top 8s and has one of the hottest players around right now in Pascal Vieren. He hit Platinum status recently, thanks in part to a perfect 10-0 in Standard at Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica. Michael Milis represents strong support. For the Czech Republic, Martin Jůza is of course the standout, a Hall of Famer with close to $350,000 lifetime winnings. Martin Hrycej looks an able number two, with 32 GP starts at a 63% win rate. Germany has done well in recent years, and Marc Tobiasch was on both the 2016 team that finished ninth and last year's third-place team. Captain Christian Hauck has four GP Top 8s and a Pro Tour Top 8 from PT Ixalan last year. That looks like a very good one-two punch. It's more Hall of Fame action for Hong Kong, led by Lee Shi Tian, with his 5 Pro Tour Top 8s. Wu Kon Fai should offer valuable support. The Netherlands has Thomas Hendriks, who has played every WMC since 2013. Although not star names, Daan Pruijt (one GP Top 8) and Tijmen Blankevoort (played on 2016 team) look to make the Netherlands one of the strongest-across-the-board teams in the competition. As for Slovenia, they have Robin Dolar captaining, who has played in every WMC, along with a third appearance for Matic Penko.

Other teams in this group with star power include Israel, where two-time World Champion Shahar Shenhar once again leads the way; Italy, which features "Mr. WMC" Andrea Mengucci yet again, the man who has finished first, third, and fourth in this competition; Portugal, where Márcio Carvalho needs no introduction; Singapore, which can rely on the leadership of Kelvin Chew, who reached the final four at the 2017 World Championship; and South Korea, which can boast online standout Nam Sung Wook, playing in his fifth WMC here.

More familiar names in this group are Marcelino Freeman of Mexico, in his sixth WMC; Finland's Matti Kuisman, in his third; Jan Ang of the Philippines in his fifth start; Turkey's captain Yusuf Kemal Vefa, the champion of Grand Prix Prague 2017; and Iceland's Ragnar Sigurdsson, in his fourth WMC start, which includes an epic fourth place in 2013.

For the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, and Uruguay, reaching Day Two on three occasions is an outstanding achievement from three of the smaller Magic communities. All three have at least one returning team member, and if any can escape Day One, it will once again be a major triumph.

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Team Portugal 2017—Márcio Carvalho is back with Team Portugal for 2018, trying to bring the team to Day Two for the fourth time.

Reached Day Two Four Times

Argentina, Australia, Belarus, Brazil, England, France, Hungary, Poland, Serbia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, and Ukraine

Personally, I think the winner is lurking in this list. Brazil, England, France, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and Spain can all boast at least two rock-solid players with pro experience. For Brazil, that's 2002 World Champion Carlos Romão, supported by Joao Lucas Caparroz, who wins 60% at the GP level. For England, Francesco Giorgio (part of the 2014 Top 8 team) is joined by two-time National Champion Autumn Burchett. They should again be a tough matchup for anyone. France has Platinum pro Jean-Emmanuel Depraz joined by Arnaud Hocquemiller, who has a GP Top 8 and Pro Tour experience. Akos Kenyeres is the Hungary captain in his third WMC, while teammate Gabor Kocsis is in his fifth. Poland has two of the three team members who went all the way to the final last year in Grzegorz Kowalski and Radek Kaczmarczyk. Ivan Floch has been part of every WMC for Slovakia, with Milan Niznansky returning from 2016, and Richard Hornansky, a GP Champion. And then there's the home team, headlined of course by reigning World Champion Javier Dominguez, but joined by Standard standout Toni Ramis Pascual. They could go a long way this year.

Argentina, Serbia, and Sweden may not have the depth in their squads, but they all have at least one excellent pro. For Argentina, it is, of course, the reigning Player of the Year, Luis Salvatto. Success breeds success for sure, but he's a Pro Tour Champion and reached the final of the Team Series with Hareruya Latin. Aleksa Telarov represents Serbia, as he has in every previous WMC. He will certainly expect at least another Day Two result here. And for Sweden, it's Joel Larsson, Champion of Pro Tour Magic Origins in 2015. Still only 27 years old himself, he's playing alongside two teenagers in their first WMC, so a lot rests on his capable shoulders.

Other returning names in this group are Australia's David Mines (third WMC), Belarus captain Anton Volotovich (second), Thaliand's Thirawat Chaovarindr (second), and Ukraine's Oleksii Riabokon (second). That each of these four nations has secured Day Two in a majority of the WMCs run so far is a tremendous effort, with three of them having also reached the Top 8. Ukraine is the exception, but they may not be by the end of Saturday.

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Team Brazil 2017—In 2018, Team Brazil and the rest of the four–time Day Two competitors look to join the elite group of five-timers.

Reached Day Two Five Times

Austria, Chinese Taipei, Greece, Malaysia, Scotland, and United States

Don't hold your breath waiting to find out who has successfully navigated their way to every single Day Two, because nobody has managed it. Not Japan, not USA, nobody. So, this is as good as it gets, in terms of getting your team into contention for when the high-stakes matches happen on Saturday and Sunday. For all six of these countries, this is a great achievement. Can they keep it going?

Austria – With 3 Top 8s, this looks like an excellent Austria team once again. Elias Klocker is last year's National Champion (that team made the Top 8), Marc Muhlbock was on the 2013 squad, and double GP Champion Immanuel Gerschenson is the sole first-timer on one of the most complete units in the field.

Chinese Taipei – Winners of the inaugural WMC in Indianapolis 2012, they continue to have a great history in the event, making Day Two on all but one occasion. All three team members here are newcomers to the WMC, but captain Yeh Chih-Cheng (often known as Peter Yeh) has three GP Top 8s, including a Team GP title at GP Indianapolis 2018.

Greece – Superb record, with five of six Day Two appearances, and barely missing last year in 34th. Champions in 2016. Captain Makis Matsoukas returns from last year and has a PT Top 8 from when he finished 3rd at Pro Tour Kaladesh in 2016. Franck Pappas and Michalis Foukarakis make their WMC debuts here, with Pappas having played Pro Tour Eldritch Moon in 2016 and Foukarakis having made ten GP starts.

Malaysia – Brilliant record, but still looking for a first Top 8. Joe Soh is in his third WMC start and has three GP Top 8s, including a title in 2017. Hang Shenh Kwan has some GP experience, but Kayne Yong has yet to start at WMC, GP, or PT level.

Scotland – WMC standout Stephen Murray returns for his sixth WMC start. Fabulous record for a small country, with five of six Day Two appearances and two Top 8s, best finish being sixth in 2012. Captain Dani Anderson has three Pro Tour starts, while 26-year-old Holt Hauser has decent GP experience with sixteen starts.

United States – Their lone Top 8 came in 2014 when they finished in 4th place. All three team members are in their first WMC, led by new Hall of Famer Seth Manfield. He has a PT title, a World Championship title, five GP titles, and over $325,000 lifetime winnings. Dylan Brown has a GP Top 8 from ten starts, while Justin Andrus has a 62% win rate from four GP starts.

So, of those six with the best historical records, it looks to me as if Austria might have the best chance of going a long way in this year's competition. The thing is, though, this year's competition is even more open than many previous iterations. There are very few obvious standout teams. You truly can make the case for any of the 32 teams that emerge from the mixed Sealed Deck/Unified Standard play of Day One to enter the pool play and then go on again, make it through to Sunday, and then have three rounds of sustained luck and brilliance combined, before carrying off the trophy back to . . . well, where?

For that, you'll have to join us on Friday from Barcelona. We can't wait to share the glory of the World Magic Cup with you once again.

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Team United States 2017—could Team USA 2018 be the first team to reach Day Two six times, and possibly bring the trophy home to the States?

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