Worlds Week 2014 Preview

Posted in Feature on December 1, 2014

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.

No chat, no greetings, no "hope you're well," no extended metaphor introductions. Here's why:

Worlds Week

Two of the finest words in gaming. If you're coming back for another dose of five-day amazing, welcome! If this is your first Worlds Week, strap yourself in for an amazing ride. I'm Rich Hagon, and I'll be your host at the Newsdesk through every twist and turn of the best week of the Magic year.

Programming Alert: If you're reading this on Monday, December 1, you would normally have most of the working week to gear up your body and mind for the Magic onslaught that is a typical three-day Pro Tour. Today is the end of your normal week. Worlds Week begins tomorrow, which means you have very few hours left to close your bills, buy the cat, feed the 50-inch TV, pay the door, take your Significant Other off the hook, and hug the phone. Worlds Week starts Tomorrow!!!

Here's what's coming your way:

Tuesday

We begin with 24 of the finest Magic players doing battle across seven rounds on Day One of the World Championship. So who exactly is showing up to play in this exclusive affair?

Four Player of the Year Winners—You could start with the reigning Player of the Year Jérémy Dezani. He started off last season strong, winning Pro Tour Theros, and never let up. Or you could have the previous Player of the Year, Josh Utter-Leyton. Or the one from 2011, Owen Turtenwald. Or the man who has won two Player of the Year titles, Japan's Yuuya Watanabe.

Three 2013–14 Pro Tour Champions—You might want to find your winner among winners who've been doing their winning recently. In addition to Pro Tour Theros champ Dezani, the roster of champions from the last year features Canada's Shaun McLaren (Born of the Gods), America's Patrick Chapin (Journey into Nyx), and the Slovak Republic's Ivan Floch (Magic 2015).

Pro Tour Theros Champion, Jérémy Dezani

Four Hall of Famers—Four members of the game's most exclusive club will be duking it out in Nice. There's Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa of Brazil, with his nine Pro Tour Top 8s. There's the home team hero Raphaël Lévy, the man who has played more Pro Tours than anyone, ever. There's William Jensen, the man who claims the record for the most number of Grand Prix Top 8s in a season, at an astonishing eight. And then there's fresh-into-the-building Pro Tour Amsterdam champion Paul Rietzl, inducted into the Hall of Fame at Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir in Honolulu last month.

More Pro Tour Winners—Looking to checkmate the opposition are a pair of Pro Tour champions with a background at the chessboard. Tom Martell won Pro Tour Gatecrash in 2013, while Stanislav Cifka claimed victory in Modern with his Eggs Combo deck at Pro Tour Return to Ravnica in 2012.

Four More Title Holders—It isn't just at Pro Tours where players strut their stuff. Israel's Shahar Shenhar comes to Nice as the defending World Champion. Reid Duke initially made his reputation as a Magic Online Champion. Lars Dam is the current Magic Online champion, and Sam Black is a Team World Champion from Memphis in 2008.

Defending World Champion, Shahar Shenhar

Four Grand Prix WinnersJacob Wilson, Lee Shi Tian, Willy Edel, and Nam Sung-Wook have all taken down giant tournaments on the Grand Prix circuit. They may not have had Craig Gibson take their photo with a Pro Tour trophy, but they've all been close. Lee Shi Tian has three PT Top 8s. Edel has four, and has been 2nd twice. Jacob Wilson was the beaten finalist behind Shaun McLaren at PT Born of the Gods, while Nam Sung-Wook also made the finals, missing out to Patrick Chapin at PT Journey into Nyx.

Three "Rookies"—Hardly inexperienced, the remaining three players at the World Championship have yet to claim a title of their own, yet none would be implausible winners. Kentaro Yamamoto has two Pro Tour Top 8s. So does Yuuki Ichikawa, from just five PT starts, and he probably has the biggest fan base of anyone in our 24, as a leading streamer in Japan. Then there's the actual "Rookie," our Rookie of the Year Ray Perez, Jr., and he's definitely not coming just to make up the numbers.

Yamamoto, Ichikawa, Perez

So that's the field, but how are we going to separate them? We begin with Vintage Masters, an Online format come to life for this day only to start our World Championship coverage. The players will be randomly drawn into three tables (or "pods," as we like to call them), and will play three matches within their pods. You'll see two players draft their decks, packed full of some of the most powerful cards ever printed—and no, the players don't get to keep all those gorgeous Black Lotuses that they draft!

After lunch, it's time for our first Constructed format of the week, and a Modern format that appears to be wide open. Despite many "sky is falling" prophecies of doom upon the printing of Jeskai Ascendancy and Treasure Cruise in Khans of Tarkir, the Grand Prix in Madrid a few weeks ago suggested that the format is well balanced, with Birthing Pod putting up excellent numbers after a period of being largely "out of sight, out of mind." What will the pros bring to the table? Tuesday afternoon will give us the answers over four more rounds.

Tuesday Coverage Highlight—With hundreds of Vintage Masters Online drafts between them, Pro Tour San Diego Champion Simon Goertzen and Hall of Famer Randy Buehler really know their stuff in this incredible format. They'll lead us through the synergies, blowouts, complexities, and sheer entertainment of Vintage Masters, kicking off our five days of awesome with live drafting action on Tuesday morning.

Wednesday

Unlike a typical Pro Tour, there is no "cut to day two," meaning that all 24 of our World Championship competitors will be back in harness on Wednesday morning. Once again, Limited starts the day, but now we bring things bang up to date with three rounds of Khans of Tarkir Draft. This time, though, the pods won't be randomly assigned, but will be in scorecard order—meaning that the best players from Day One will be on a collision course first thing Wednesday morning.

Regular coverage watchers already know that "the fourth loss is usually fatal'—at least, that's what we say at most Pro Tours. But this isn't most Pro Tours. There are only 24 players, 14 rounds instead of 16, and we're not looking to find a Top 8 on Wednesday; we're looking to find our Final Four. We've run the simulations, and as a very rough guide, 9–5 (nine wins and five losses) may well be enough to make it. If someone utterly dominates at the top of the leader board (as Shouta Yasooka did at the Players Championship in 2012) then someone might sneak in at 8–6.

You probably shouldn't expect to see anyone running away with things, though. Imagine this:

You spend Tuesday morning defeating Josh Utter-Leyton, Yuuki Ichikawa, and Tom Martell in Vintage Masters Draft. That's the equivalent of winning the Top 8 of a really tough Limited Pro Tour. Then you beat Paul Rietzl, Patrick Chapin, and Yuuya Watanabe in Modern. That would be an incredible path through a Constructed Pro Tour Top 8. And then you have to defeat reigning Player of the Year Jérémy Dezani in a Modern playoff to get to 7–0 overnight.

Realistically, that's unlikely to happen. Instead, you're going to find players clustered together at 5–2 and 4–3 and 3–4, all desperately scrapping to come out of Khans of Tarkir Draft on Day Two at a minimum 5–5 record, and with hopes of the Top 4 still alive.

That brings us to the second afternoon, and the introduction of our fourth format of Worlds Week, Standard. Someone will be unveiling the deck that will win him at least five matches over multiple days in order to be crowned World Champion on Sunday. But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Here, on Wednesday afternoon, we'll discover who the Final Four will be, and the decks they'll be using to determine the champion. Mono-Red? Abzan Midrange? Blue-Black Control? Or will Mardu Midrange continue to prove the winning choice? By the end of Wednesday, twenty will be on the sidelines, and four will have some very special plans for the weekend.

Wednesday Coverage Highlight—Watch out for developing rivalries, as players can face each other over and over again. Here's a scenario of how that might play out: Match One would be in Vintage Masters draft on Tuesday morning, assuming that they're in the same pod. Then, at (say) 4–1, they're paired again in Modern. Both at 5–2 overnight, they find themselves in the same Khans of Tarkir Draft pod, and face each other for a third time at 7–2. Now firmly among the leaders, they play in Round 12 in Standard, with the winner almost certain to make the Final Four. And then, if they both make it in, they could face each other for a fifth and deciding time on Sunday for the title! The rivalries in these events are the stuff of legend, and when Top 4 is on the table, look for the sparks to fly on Wednesday afternoon.

Thursday

Thursday is an excellent day for washing clothes, dishes, children, and dirty money, and it's also a good day for applying for new jobs, since you got fired from your current one for spending Tuesday and Wednesday sitting around watching the World Championship all day. Unfortunately, if you made the mistake of actually going to work, thinking that you'd be able to watch all the coverage back on Thursday, bad news—there aren't enough hours of Thursday to get through it all, before:

Friday

The text team of Blake Rasmussen, Nate Price, Mike Rosenberg, Adam Styborski, Corbin Hosler, and Josh Bennett are going to have their work cut out for them on Friday. It's the busiest, craziest, weirdest, and wonderfulest day of the Magic year—Day One of the World Magic Cup. There, 288 players representing 72 nations, competing in formats that are rarely seen outside this most rarefied of atmospheres. Those 288 players bring compelling stories to tell of qualification, travel, goals achieved, and dreams realized—and that's before embarking on a game-play journey that will see four of them crowned as World Magic Cup Champions on Sunday.

The finest pro player in each country leads the team as captain, together with three World Magic Cup Qualifier winners, so the field is packed with some outstanding teams. Watch out for Hungary, who came within a single Rakdos's  Return of winning the whole thing last year. Sweden has a tremendous trio of Joel Larsson, Love Janse, and Olle Råde. Shaun McLaren leads Canada alongside Pro Tour winner Alexander Hayne. The 2007 champions, Switzerland, look outstanding with Nico Bohny as Captain. The 2012 WMC winner, Chinese Taipei, has an awesome one-two punch in Tzu-Ching Kuo and Huang Hao-Shan. Spain doesn't have household names, but they do have a superb lineup that could easily go the distance. And for those of you wondering about Team USA, you better believe they have a tremendous chance of being involved right up to the close on Sunday—Owen Turtenwald is the No. 1-ranked player in the world, and he's joined by TCG 50K winner Andrew Baeckstrom, Grand Prix Las Vegas champion Neal Oliver, and Isaac Sears fresh from his first GP Top 8 in Los Angeles.

The carnage begins on Friday morning with Khans of Tarkir Team Sealed. Each team gets twelve Khans of Tarkir boosters, and has to divide them up into three decks. That's important—three decks, not four. The rules of the World Magic Cup demand that three of the four players are in action in any given format, and that the fourth member of the team acts as an unofficial coach/cheerleader. How you decide which player is going to be on hand to dispense crucial advice, support, or ham sandwiches can go a long way to determining your success.

Stoke the Flames Promo | Mathias Kollros

In total, the teams have 60 minutes to build their decks, and the history of this event has shown us that, if one thing in the whole of Worlds Week is true, it's this: 60 minutes is not enough. As we go on air with ten minutes left in deck building on Friday morning, you can be sure that at least half the team members will be screaming at each other in what sounds like a million different languages, desperately trying to work out who gets which cards for their sideboards. It's utter chaos, and a great way to mark out the early contenders is just to look at who's sitting there calmly sleeving up their decks with ten minutes left on the clock.

From the deck-building tables it's onto the real battlefield. Each of the three players on a team plays a single opponent in a best two-out-of-three encounter, just like almost every regular match of Magic you've ever played. Beside them, their two teammates are doing the same thing. Once two players on a team win their individual matches, that's it—game over, and a round win to the victors. Teams are drawn in head-on nation vs. nation action each round. Look out for local rivalries like USA vs. Canada, the Slovak Republic against the Czech Republic, or Scotland vs. England.

After three rounds of Team Sealed, it's time to introduce our final format of Worlds Week (that's number six, if you've been paying attention.) It's time for Unified Standard, a format every bit as much about the deck building as about the playing. For those of you unfamiliar, here's a simple way to understand the "Unified" bit:

Imagine you have a trade folder, full of four copies of every card in Standard. You're on your way with two friends to a Standard tournament, and you have to build your decks from that single folder. Since it's your folder, you decide you want to play Abzan Midrange, so you take out four Siege Rhino, the Thoughtseizes, the Courser of Kruphix, the Sylvan Caryatids. Now your friend takes the folder. He wants to play Abzan Midrange too. He's got problems, though, because where all those awesome Siege Rhinos should be is an empty space—those Siege Rhinos can only be in one deck.

So maybe your first friend decides to be Mono-Red. He digs out Akroan Crusaders, Monastery Swiftspears, Lightning Strikes, Goblin Rabblemasters, and so on. Now it's the turn of friend number two. She wants to play Mardu Midrange—but where are the Goblin Rabblemasters and Lightning Strikes? Huh, already in the Mono-Red deck. So now what does she play? This is the test of Unified Standard—you only get four copies to spread among your three decks. As we'll see on Friday afternoon, trying to get three non-overlapping decks in Standard can be a very tough proposition, and the teams that do it best will have gone a long way toward making the Top 32 and a return to action on Saturday.

Friday Coverage Highlight—Alongside the regular team of Brian David-Marshall, Randy Buehler, Marshall Sutcliffe, Tim Willoughby, Rashad Miller, and (yes I'm still here) Rich Hagon, we'll be joined for the World Magic Cup by Hall of Famer Ben Stark. Join us for one of the more outstanding sequences of the entire week on Friday morning, when we force Ben to build all three decks from a Team Sealed pool, showing us all the deck-building subtleties that the 72 teams will be facing that morning.

PS: He doesn't know about this yet, so don't tell him.

Saturday

Last year, only one team with a positive record (Sweden at 4–3) failed to make it into the Top 32, and Day Two. So, for the most part, win more than you lose, and you'll be back to try again on Saturday. For this second day of team competition, we move to the drama-soaked, incident-packed Pool Play format. The 32 teams will be seeded in scorecard order, and will be placed into groups according to their seeding. So, Group A will contain the 1st-, 16th-, 17th-, and 32nd-seed, while Group H will include teams 8, 9, 24, and 25. If there are two words you need to remember about Saturday Pool Play, they are these two words:

Seeding Matters.

Each team in the pool plays each other team once, for a total of three rounds. At the end of the three rounds, the top two teams will advance to the Top 16. How do we split teams on the same record, say, 2–1 (two wins and one loss)? By seeding. Any time there are two teams on the same record, the higher seed holds the tiebreak. What that means in practical terms is that it is an enormous deal if you can finish in the Top 16 on Friday. This guarantees you one of the top two seeds for Saturday morning, and that guarantees that a 2–1 record will be enough to get you into the Top 16. (Even in a three-way 2–1 split in a group, as the number two seed in the pool there's bound to be at least one team with a lower seeding than you in that three-way tie, and they'd be the ones to miss out, not you.)

2013’s World Magic Cup Champions, France!

Saturday morning is another go-round of Khans of Tarkir Team Sealed, but once we have our Top 16, it's time for a second round of Pool Play, and this time it's back to Unified Standard. Once again, Seeding Matters, and the top two seeds in the four remaining groups will know that they're two match wins away from Sunday. Nothing beats the tension of Saturday afternoon, as the sixteen teams get whittled down to the eight who get to come back for the biggest Magic show on Earth.

Saturday Coverage Highlight—The drama and tension of Saturday afternoon is unrivaled, but when it all gets a bit too much, we'll be joined by Magic Head Designer Mark Rosewater, who'll be sharing his memories of all the Worlds Weeks through Magic history in the company of Hall of Famer Randy Buehler. And because we can't squeeze it all in, Mark will be with us during Friday too!

Sunday

If I need to tell you why the final day of Worlds Week is something truly special, there's probably something wrong with me, and there's definitely something wrong with you! Sunday of Worlds Week is the NBA Finals, the Stanley Cup, the World Series, and the Super Bowl, back-to-back-to-back-to-back. It's like every Game Seven all at once. It is the absolute pinnacle of our beloved game, and a day simply drenched in stories.

Here's the rundown:

World Magic Cup Quarterfinals—We'll show you one match in its entirety onscreen, while BDM, Randy, and I settle in to bring you reports from the other three critical matchups.

World Magic Cup Semifinal 1—If your team makes it to the Final Four, you can be certain of seeing them in action live onscreen, as we'll be showing both semifinals from start to finish. With Unified Standard the deciding format, who will have found that perfect blend of card availability, metagame positioning, and raw power to take home the title?

World Magic Cup Semifinal 2—We know who's waiting in the final, but who will be joining them? Semifinal 2 will tell us.

World Magic Cup Final—The live action just keeps on coming, and it's time to put our first title on the line in the World Magic Cup final. Can France possibly repeat? Can Owen Turtenwald lead USA to triumph? Will Switzerland claim another team title? Or will one of the minnows complete a fairytale triumph? This is where we get all the answers.

World Championship Semifinal 1—Remember the World Championship, that thing you spent Tuesday and Wednesday watching hour after hour of the best in the business going at it? Well, here's the payoff. Standard is the format, and our four remaining competitors will be back where they belong in the Feature Match area. Who will have made it out of the minefield and still be in with a chance of Magic immortality? Can Shahar Shenhar possibly claim a historic double? Will Reid Duke go one better than last year? Are Watanabe, Yamamoto, and Ichikawa destined for glory? Or will we see the French raise the roof for Lévy or Dezani? You'll see every turn of this best-of-five encounter.

World Championship Semifinal 2—The end is in sight. One finalist is in place, now we fill the final chair.

World Championship Final—I'll be joined in the commentary booth by Pro Tour Historian Brian David-Marshall and Hall of Famer Randy Buehler to call home your 2014 Magic World Champion. To claim the crown, he'll have taken all that Vintage Masters, Modern, Khans of Tarkir, and Standard can throw at him, and he'll have bested a succession of Player of the Year winners and Pro Tour champions, Hall of Famers, Grand Prix title holders, Magic Online champions, and world champions.

He will rightfully deserve to be called the best of the best, and you'll be right there with us to see it.

Sunday Coverage Highlight—Well, all of it.

And then, just like that, we're done: 24 players, 72 countries. Five days of awesome. Five days of Magical Magic.

It really is the most wonderful time of the year. See you there.

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