Last year marked a watershed moment in Hungarian Magic. Their national team, headed by Tamas Nagy and Gabor Kocsis, had broken through to the Top 8 for the first time at an international team tournament. After a compelling quarterfinals match against a kilted Scottish squad, the Hungarians were unceremoniously bounced from the tournament by Tzu-Ching Kuo and the eventual champions from Chinese Taipei. Kocsis and Nagy took the loss personally, making it their sole mission this weekend to advance their team into the finals.
Standing in their way in this endeavor was Pro Tour Return to Ravnica champion and World Championship competitor Stanislav Cifka and the Czech Republic. Consistently dispatching opponents throughout the weekend, the real highlight from the Czech team has been their unorthodox choices for the Unified Constructed potion of the tournament. They were one of the few teams in the tournament to skip the two largest decks in the tournament, UWR Flash and Jund.
Would Hungary be able to redeem themselves after an unceremonious exit from last year's World Magic Cup semifinals, or would Stanislav Cifka and the rest of Team Czech Republic advance?
Stanislav Cifka (UB Control) vs. Ervin Hosszú (UWR Flash)
Running the team from the middle, Cifka opted for the unorthodox UB Control archetype for the Czech blue control deck, rather than the far more standard choice of UWR Flash, as the Hungarian Hosszú was running. With Nephalia Drownyard as his primary win condition, Cifka was more than happy to see that his opponent was playing a Hallowed Fountain control deck. Unfortunately, his elation wouldn't last long.
One of the most important things in a control matchup is completing land drops. Mana is key in battles of permission and card drawing, where the inability to cast multiple cards in each turn really makes permission wards impossible to win. Cifka began his match with a reasonably good open, matching Hosszú Think Twice for Think Twice. Where Hosszú's spells garnered more lands, Cifka drew more and more spot removal. He stalled out on lands in the early part of the middle game, first getting stuck at four, then five, then six. With Hosszú sitting on twelve lands, Cifka finally drew his seventh. The advantage Hosszú had in mana manifested itself when Cifka picked a fight over a Restoration Angel that would flicker an Augur of Bolas.
Cifka looks for a way past the multiple angles of attack that Hosszú has been presenting.
Near 10 life, the Angel was dangerous, especially considering the Warleader's Helixes in Hosszú's list. Cifka chose to Snapcaster Mage back a Doom Blade to deal with it, leaving him tapped out. This let Hosszú fill up his hand with a massive Sphinx's Revelation, while Cifka was running low on resources. The massive advantage gained by that Revelation paved the way for a pair of Warleader's Helixes to end the game.
The second game brought the other side of the coin to light, as Cifka drew far too many lands to compete. To make matters worse, the removal spells that he had been drawing instead of the lands in the first game would have been incredibly important in the second game, as Hosszú sided into an aggressive deck, adding Archangel of Thune to join his Thundermaw Hellkites. Facing down the pair of fliers, Cifka drew lands and Dissipates as his life total melted away. By the time he had taken his last hit, Cifka had drawn twelve lands and six spells. Hosszú had sideboarded perfectly and took advantage of Cifka's stumbles to seal the first match for the Hungarian team, putting them one match away from achieving their goal of the finals.
Michal Mendl (Gruul Aggro) vs. Gabor Kocsis (Selesnya Aggro)
Right next to Cifka, Michal Mendl was embroiled in a punchy match with Gabor Kocsis. Gruul Aggro is capable of some of the fastest starts in Standard, but between Loxodon Smiter and Voice of Resurgence, Selesnya Aggro is one of the best decks in the format at blunting assaults.
Kocsis looks for a way through in a battle of aggressive green decks.
This match began with a very straightforward draw from both players, but the fact that Mendl was on the play proved to be the deciding factor in the first game. Ramping into an attacking Flinthoof Boar and Hellrider, Mendl ran all over Kocsis. In addition to an incredible amount of front-loaded damage, Mendl had Mizzium Mortars to clear the path for his attackers, ending the game soon after it began.
As expected from this match, the second game was just as blazing fast as the first. Kocsis once again ramped into an early Hellrider, but this time it was stopped by a Loxodon Smiter. Mendl even added a Sublime Archangel to his side, giving him a chance to attack for a massive six damage. Kocsis struck back, sending a Thundermaw Hellkite alongside his Hellrider to demolish Mendl's life total, dropping him to 5. But this attack left Kocsis completely tapped out, giving Mendl the chance to pair his Archangel with a Silverblade Paladin, both double strike and exalted combining for well over lethal damage.
The final game was fairly anti-climactic given the blistering, yet intriguing, nature of the previous games. Kocsis simply found himself unable to draw a third land for a few turns while Mendl rode card after card from his Domri Rade to victory, eventually sealing the deal with a bevy of hasty attackers.
Leos Kopecky (Hexproof Auras) vs. Adorjan Korbl (Jund Midrange)
In the end, it all came down to the final match between Korbl's Jund deck and the Czech Shrek's Hexproof Auras deck. Things did not begin auspiciously for Kopecky. His first game mulligan to five cards went incredibly poorly for him. He was unable to find a third land, and he was simply run over by Korbl. From Farseek to Huntmaster of the Fells to Thragtusk to an eventual Bonfire of the Damned, Korbl had to exacerbate Kopecky's agony with a near perfect draw.
Fortunately for the Czech side, fate felt it fair to intervene. With Kopecky showing clear signs of disappointment as he mulliganed to five yet again, he set aside the top five cards of his deck, putting them into his hand one at a time, revealing the absolute best five cards he could ask for. He opened with an Invisible Stalker, the perfect creature to carry the auras and race against Jund's creatures, which excel at messing up combat, even against a Hexproof deck. With his torchbearer in play, Kopecky added an Unflinching Courage, Increasing Savagery, and Rancor on three consecutive turns, turning his Invisible Stalker into a 10/8 unblockable, hexproof lifelinker. Korbl didn't draw the all-important Liliana of the Veil or Barter in Blood, and he fell quickly to an incredible five-card start.
Kopecky's Hexproof deck shows how resilient the deck is to mulligans as he brings the team match to one final game with an explosive five card hand.
The final game was far more exciting.
"I finally get to start with more than five cards," Kopecky smiled. He still had to mulligan to six, but starting a card up is still starting a card up.
He opened the final game with the same Invisible Stalker he had ridden to victory in that amazing second game. This time on the play, Korbl was able to Bonfire of the Damned for one to clear it away before it got any bigger. To replace it, Kopecky added a Fiendslayer Paladin to his side. It was here that the fight began.
Korbl added a Huntmaster of the Fells to his side of the board. This would prove to be the key turn in the match. Kopecky began the process of loading his troops on the bus, adding Unflinching Courage and Ethereal Armor to his Paladin and beginning to bash. Unable to profitably block, Korbl just took the damage. Thragtusk brought him back up and gave him another creature to attempt to race with. The swings continued. Huntmaster transformed on Korbl's next turn, and a Vampire Nighthawk and Farseek allowed him to transform yet again, gaining 2 life and a 2/2 Wolf token. Another passed turn resulted in a flipped Huntmaster, once again hitting Kopecky for 2. This time, Korbl played a pair of Vampire Nighthawks to turn the Rampager of the Fells back into a Human, again bolstering his army and life total.
Hungary's teammates look on and offer their support as Korbl moves into the final turns of the match.
It was at this moment, with things incredibly back and forth that Kopecky revealed his haymaker: Ajani, Caller of the Pride. Life totals stood with Korbl at 13 and Kopecky at 3. The double strike and flying put Korbl down to 1, raising Kopecky to 15. He then followed it up with Geist of Saint Traft to block. Drawing his card, Korbl sent his whole team over at Kopecky, who was forced to block the Thragtusk with his Geist. When the dust settled, Kopecky was at 1. Korbl just smiled and passed the turn. During Kopecky's upkeep, Korbl's Huntmaster transformed, turning into a Ravager of the Fells and dealing the final two points of damage in an epic race to end the match, sending Hungary to their first World Team Finals.