The World Magic Cup is many things to a lot of players. A chance to snag bragging rights for a year. A free trip to Gen Con. Another tournament to try and take down.
But for some countries it means much more than that. For many players from smaller countries, it's an introduction to a world they might not otherwise have entered and a boost to their Magic communities at home.
"It's the best days of my life," said Nicolas Righetti, a Uruguayan playing in his first pro event. "It's really incredible."
Righetti is part of a Uruguayan team with exactly one Pro Tour appearance to its name, but yards of respect for the game and national pride—as just about anyone can see from their matching shirt-and-tie team dress that matches the colors of the Uruguay flag.
Mauro Betschart, who has the team's lone Pro Tour appearance, said the tournament was more than just the experience of a lifetime for the four members of the team—it also meant a great deal to the players back home.
"We're a small community of sixty to seventy players. Even Prereleases are big for us," Betschart said. "The World Magic Cup qualifiers gave a boost to the players. Everyone who qualified played."
Betschart said the WMCQs were part of a big year for Uruguayan Magic, complete with the first PTQ the country has held in years.
"A lot of players who hadn't played in years started playing again," said Righetti. "Mauro's brother (Alejandro Betschart) was the two-time national champion and came back and played."
"It was really important in Uruguay," he said, adding that players from the country helped out with cards, playtesting, and advice for their national team.
The trip hasn't been entirely magical for the foursome. Martin Castillo, who has never played in so much as a Grand Prix, was actually taking his first ever trip on an airplane to get to the World Magic Cup. He said he was incredibly nervous to take his first flight.
"It was scary for him," Betschart said, "but funny for us."
All four of the players hail from the same town, but found they have drastically different play styles. So different that all four players selected different decks for the Standard portion of the event. Each player picked something familiar and stuck with it.
"In this great experience, you don't want to play something you're not comfortable with," Betschart said.
The team members said their goal was to make Day Two, but that they would be happy even if they didn't make the second cut on Saturday.
"We're just happy to be here," Betschart said.
Just as happy to be here is the squad from El Salvador, a team tied with Uruguay at just one Pro Tour appearance. Like their fellow South Americans, the team sees the World Magic Cup qualifying process as a big boost to their Magic community back home.
"It's a really big thing for our country," said Juan Navarro, who Top 64ed a Grand Prix and played at Pro Tour Avacyn Restored in Barcelona this year.
"It's totally different than what we're used to," agreed teammate Juan Pablo Vega Trigueros.
And it certainly is. El Salvador is one of the nations at the World Magic Cup with its very first national team. In fact, no El Salvadorian has ever represented the country at any Magic World Championship.
The third Juan on the team, Juan Canizales, said that, in that way, it has opened up the country to the scope of the game.
"I think it's amazing to see the actual size of Magic," he said, motioning around the hall.
Because of its nation's relative inexperience, the team has tempered its expectations for the weekend. Like Uruguay, the team members said they'll be happy with making it to Day Two, but, as the team's lone non-Juan (Ivan Oro) said, "We're taking this very relaxed."
That didn't stop the squad from a marathon playtesting session yesterday that steered two of the players—Pablo Vega Trigueros and Canizales—off their intended Standard deck on to something the team liked even more.
In that way, it's been a bonding experience for the four players, Navarro said. None of them really knew each other before this weekend, but they've quickly grown together after traveling and staying with one another so far.
The group is, however, splitting up after the tournament for their own travels. Oro is headed to Grand Prix Boston before making his way to Grand Prix Costa Rica, and the others are staying in the US for various lengths before also making the trip to Costa Rica.
Oro, for one, hopes his travels will net him another prize: a return trip to the World Magic Cup next year.
"I want to steal the medal that he has," Oro said of Navarro's national champion medal he received this weekend for coming in as the team captain.
For his part, Navarro said he was sure Oro could do it.
But, he added, the important part was what the tournament means for their small country, with a population about the size of the state of Indiana.
"It's nice for us to have the opportunity," he said. "Hopefully players get the taste of competitive play in a small country and start playing."