Know Your Pools

Posted in NEWS on August 3, 2013

By Nate Price

A longtime member of the Pro Tour and Grand Prix coverage staff, Nate Price now works making beautiful words for all of you lovely people as the community manager for organized play. When not covering events, he lords over the @MagicProTour Twitter account, ruling with an iron fist.

Just like last year, with the ruins of Day One behind us, there are a number of high-profile bodies left strewn in its wake. World Champion Yuuya Watanabe and his Japanese compatriots fell in the final round, as did the stacked Swedish team. For every powerhouse that fell by the wayside, an underdog surprised us with a stellar first day performance, such as Ireland's perfect 7-0 run on Day 1.

The 32 teams that remain have been split into eight pools of four teams. All the teams in a pool will play one another, with the two top–performing teams advancing to the Team Constructed stage. There are a few key facts to bear in mind about this round–robin phase. It doesn't matter if your team just scraped through Day One if you beat all the teams in your pool. All you need to do is to finish in the top half of your pool and you will advance to the next phase. That said, scores on Day One are still important, as they are used to determine seeds in each pool. In the event of things coming down to tiebreakers, being the higher seed means everything. It is possible for three teams to get a 2–1 score, and in that case being the lowest seed will mean you are out.

Pod 1

1 - Ireland: Marcin Sciesinski, David Tuite, Stefano Rampini, Sean FitzGerald

16- Estonia: Hannes Kerem, Mikk Kaasik, Rauno Raidma, Simon Robberts

17 - Croatia (Hrvatska): Grgur Petric Maretic, Toni Portolan, Matija Vlahovic, Antun Lujic

32 - Malaysia: Rick Lee, Khoo Shawn, Razif Rosdin, Jason Yap

Ireland leads the charge as the first seed in Pod 1.

First up in the leading group of the day is Ireland, sitting atop the standings by virtue of their undefeated record in yesterday's play. Led by Marcin Sciesinski, the Irish team has a very moderate amount of Pro Tour experience. David Tuite is their only player without an appearance on the Pro Tour, but the experience of the rest of the team is fairly limited as well. Still, while they might be around the middle of the pack as far as Pro Tour experience, there is some veteran leadership from the likes of Sean FitzGerald and captain Sciesinski.

Behind them sit Estonia and Malaysia. Estonia is being represented by two returning members from last year's squad: Simon Robberts and Hannes Kerem, the all-time leader in Pro Points for Estonia. Kerem has seen a good amount of success on the World stage, experience he'll be able to use to help his team. At Worlds in 2008, Kerem managed to defeat Hall of Famer Kenji Tsumura to advance to the Semifinals before being eliminated. Last year, he and Robberts led the team to an 11th place finish in the inaugural World Magic Cup. Malaysia, meanwhile, returns no players from their 32nd place team from last year. Still, captain Rick Lee is a veteran of the 2011 team, and the fourth most experienced player in Malaysian history. Malaysia has a history of strong performances on the world stage, with four Top 8s in international team play, the most recent coming in 2008, where the team, led by Invitational Winner Terry "Bluffmaster" Soh, finished 5th place.

The most experienced team in this pool is Croatia. Led by grizzled veteran Grgur Petric Maretic, the team boast three very experienced, strong members. Toni Portolan and Maretic each have multiple National team appearances, including a strong 5th place finish last year. They also have over 40 Pro Points apiece. While Matija Vlahovich doesn't quite have the same level of Pro Tour experience as Portolan and Maretic, he has an incredible 74% win rate across over 4,000 sanctioned matches of Magic. Of all of the teams in this group, Croatia may have the most to prove as they look to improve upon their already stellar performance from last year.

Pod 2

2 - Singapore: Kelvin Chew, Chang Chua, Aik Seng Khoo, Lee Benedict

15 - South Africa: Craig Leach, Bruce Raw, Andrew Wright, Harris Fong

18 - New Zealand: Walker Macmurdo, Jingwei Zheng, Jason Chung, Digby Carter

31 - Scotland: Stephen Murray, Jamie Ross, Alan Hutton, Bradley Barclay

Singapore, not to be outdone, comes into Day Two as the second seed.

Singapore comes into the World Magic Cup boasting one of the most experienced teams in the field. All four members of the Singaporean team have multiple Pro Tours under their belts and over 100 Pro Points between them. Team captain Kelvin Chew is making his second consecutive appearance as the National champion after a stellar Top 8 finish at Pro Tour Return to Ravnica to start the season. All of the other members of the team have represented their country at some point, as well, with the best finish coming thanks to Kelvin Chew and Lee Benedict two years ago, where Singapore finished 5th.

South Africa's performance here this weekend is very reminiscent of the amazing run Uruguay made at last year's World Magic Cup. As one of the least experienced teams in the field, South Africa will be drawing on leadership from their captain Craig Leach. He is the only player on the team with either Pro Tour or Grand Prix experience. Considering the team's 71st place finish last year, they have already smashed that performance, and are looking to continue their run and escape from this group stage.

On the other side of the coin is South Africa's Tri Nations rivals, the Kiwis from New Zealand. Led by Grand Prix Auckland champion Walker Macmurdo, all four members of the New Zealand National team have experience on the Pro Tour. With the second most successful player in New Zealand Magic history on the team, last year's captain Jason Chung, there is a wealth of experience both in individual and team play to draw from. While New Zealand has never made the Top 8 of a team competition, this year marks the strongest team they have assembled, and they have put them in a great position to change that.

Up last in this group is the quartet from Scotland. This year marks the second consecutive year that Scotland has competed under its own flag after a five year stint as a member of the Great Britain national team. Captained by Stephen Murray, a veteran of three previous national teams, Murray also has the most Pro Points in the history of Scottish Magic. Combined with Brad Barclay, himself a four-time national team member and second-place all-time in Scotland, the team has a great amount of leadership, imperative considering the relative inexperience of their fourth member, Alan Hutton, who has no Pro Tour experience and only one Grand Prix under his belt. After a fantastic 6th place performance last year, Scotland is going to have to put up a good result in this pod to avoid elimination due to their tiebreakers in order to top it.

Pod 3

3 - United States: Josh Utter-Leyton, Jason Gulevich, Joe Spanier, Dan Cecchetti

14 - Venezuela: Daniel Fior, Nestor Materano, Oswaldo Rafael Marino, Luis Luks

19 - Greece: Simon Bertiou, Konstantinos Triantafyllou, Nikolaos Molohadis, Ioannis Filippidis

30 - Israel: Shahar Shenhar, Eviatar Olpiner, Niv Shmuely, Niv Danieli

The U.S. Team is led by Player of the Year Josh Utter-Leyton.

One of the biggest stories in Stage One of Day 2 is the potential matchup between the United States and its captain Josh Utter-Leyton and the Israeli team helmed by Shahar Shenhar. Both Utter-Leyton and Shenhar are competitors in the Top 4 of the World Championship that will be taking place on Sunday. Joining these two all-stars are a bevy of new faces and one returning champion. Israel's Niv Shmuely, captain of last year's 53rd place team and the third most-experienced player in Israeli history, returns to support Shenhar in Israel's bid to better their previous performance. Evitar Olpiner is another returning national team member, having been a part of three other national teams dating back as far as 1998.

The United States sends three players to support Josh Utter-Leyton lacking Pro Tour experience, making them one of the least experienced teams in the format. Fortunately, their player/coach/captain is the current Player of the Year and charter member of one of the biggest teams in professional Magic. Returning for his second stint as US National champion, Utter-Leyton has his work cut out for him. Last year, the United States finished a disappointing 12th place after the biggest Bonfire of the Damned caught on film. This year, Utter-Leyton and team are in a great position to better that record, currently sitting at third in the standings.

In roughly the same boat as the United States is the Greek national team. Led by Simon Bertiou, the third most experienced player in Greece's Magic history, the Greek team contains two players, Konstantinos Triantafyllou and Nikolaos Molohadis, who have no Grand Prix or Pro Tour experience. Still, this marks Bertiou's fourth national team, and his experience and leadership has been essential in helping Greece to make the Top 32 of this tournament. Venezuela has only slightly more experience than Greece, with Nestor Materano and Oswaldo Rafael Marino marking their first major tournament this weekend. Fortunately, they are supported by captain Daniel Fior, the all-time Venezuelan leader, and Luis Luks, a three-time Venezuelan team member. Still, with Utter-Leyton and Shenhar helming their respective teams, Greece and Venezuela have their work cut out to make it out of this group stage.

Pod 4

4 – France: Raphaël Lévy, Stephane Soubrier, Yann Guthmann, Timothée Simonot

13 – Thailand: Sethsilp Chanpleng, Sittisak Wachirakaphan, Nutdani Sadangrit, Pech Songkwamcharoen

20 – Luxembourg: Steve Hatto, Artur Queiroz, Charles Thoss, Yoann Mendes

29 – Belgium, Vincent Lemoine, Xavier Vantyghem, Marijn Lybaert, Emmanuel Delvigne

Raphaël Lévy, Hall of Famer with nearly 1000 played Pro Tour matches, leads the fourth seen France team.

France leads Pool 4. Championed by Hall of Famer Raphaël Lévy, the all-time lifetime Pro Point leader who has played close to 1000 Pro Tour matches, France has been mentioned by many as one of their favorites for the title. France not only features Raphaël Lévy, but Grand Prix London 2013 winner Timothée Simonot as well. In Team Unified Standard, they are running an innovative Mono-Green aggro deck with the off-beat card choice of Druid's Familiar, described as "going deep" by commentator Luis Scott-Vargas and as "the green Hellrider" by Lévy himself.

Next is Thailand. Their team members only have 14 lifetime pro points and one Pro Tour appearance between the four of them. Accordingly, at first glance, they may be outmatched by the powerhouse that is France.

Luxembourg, literally the smallest country in contention today, is in third seed. The team only has 8 lifetime pro points between its four members. In other words, an underdog in this stacked pod.

Belgium has returned with a vengeance after their disappointing performance at last year's World Magic Cup. When a team features a four-time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor (Marijn Lybaert) and Pro Tour Paris semifinalist (Vincent Lemoine) you should watch out. Nevertheless, they come into this pod in fourth seed, so they need to win several matches to make it through.

Pod 5

5 – Austria: Thomas Holzinger, Manuel Danninger, David Reitbauer, Marc Mühlböck

12 – Hungary: Tamas Nagy, Adorjan Korbl, Gabor Kocsis, Ervin Hosszö

21 – England: Eduardo Dajgalik, Roy Raftery, Carrie Oliver, Andrew Devine

28 – El Salvador: Ricardo Cabrero, Jose Urbina, Javier Morales, Adolfo Galdamez

Austria has made quite a run for the top spot in this event, and their efforts were rewarded with a fifth seed finish at the end of Day One.

Austria was one of the early favorites going into this event, and they easily cruised into Day Two. Team Austria has two players with a Pro Tour Top 8 to their name: Thomas Holzinger and David Reitbauer. Holzinger finished 7th at PT Avacyn Restored in 2012, and Reitbauer placed 2nd at the World Championships in Rome 2009. Moreover, this tournament marks the fourth Austrian team appearance for Reitbauer, and the third in a row for Holzinger. In other words, there's a lot of experience on the Austrian team.

Hungary came in second in Pod 5. The team contains two of the most experienced Hungarian players: Nagy has 75 lifetime pro points, and Kocsis has 55. Both of them have played over 100 Pro Tour matches. The other Hungarian players have no Pro Tour experience, but they all have some Grands Prix under their belt. Last year, Hungary finished in 4th place, and they are looking to improve on that performance.

England is up next. The most experienced players on the English team are Eduardo Sajgalik, who has a Top 8 at Pro Tour Return to Ravnica, and Carrie Oliver, who is on the team for second successive year. All four players have solid Grand Prix experience. After a heartbreaking 33rd place last year, missing out on Day Two by the slimmest of margins, England was thrilled that they didn't miss out again.

El Salvador rounds out the pool, and they have a rough ride ahead of them if they are to make it through. There are only 7 lifetime pro points between the four team members, so they seem to be the underdog in this pod. Nevertheless, they will be eager to prove us wrong and show what they are capable of.

Pod 6

6 – Australia: Justin Cheung, Riley Knight, Matthew Anderson, Sasha Markovic

11 – Iceland: Alvin Orri Gislason, Orri Ómarsson, Ragnar Sigurdsson, Hedinn Haraldsson

22 – Brazil: Willy Edel, Carlos Davi Montenegro, Enzo Real, Allison Abe

27 – Slovenia: Robin Dolar, Boris Robic, Peter Kunic, Andrej Rutar

Australia has brought one of the coolest Unified Standard decks into Day Two.

Australia is one of the big stories of this tournament. Running an innovative Young Wolf - Rapid Hybridization concoction in Team Unified Standard, they racked up enough wins to lead Pod 6. Team leader Justin Cheung is the most experienced player on the squad: he has three Grand Prix Top 8s and was part of the 2008 National Team, which finished 2nd only b behind the USA. Amongst the four, only Riley Knight has no Pro Tour experience. The three others have played at the Pro Tour before, where they have won more matches than they lost.

Iceland finished 11th yesterday! That's both surprising and impressive because Iceland, a relatively small country with only 300.000 inhabitants, has never been known for its Magic prowess. Indeed, the four team members only have 12 lifetime pro points between the four of them. Despite that, they have a shot at making their mark now.

Brazil was touted by many to be one of the favorites going into this event, and they did not disappoint. The country's team is headlined by superstar Willy Edel, one of the few players who got to compete in both the World Championship and the World Magic Cup this week. Edel has four Pro Tour Top 8s to his name, most recently finishing in the Top 8 of Pro Tour Return to Ravnica. For Edel, this is his third Brazilian team appearance. The others are newcomers to the National team. Allisan Abe is the most experienced player besides Edel, as he has two Grand Prix Top 8s to his name.

Slovenia is in fourth seed. Their team features two of the country's top players, Robin Dolar and Andrej Rutar, in addition to two relatively inexperienced players, Boris Robic and Peter Kunic. Slovenia finished in a respectable 15th place at last year's World Magic Cup, and they are looking to improve on that.

Pod 7

7 – Mexico: Dalibor Trnka, Emmanuel Ramirez Sanchez, Victor Escamilla, José Miguel Lopez

10 – Turkey: Emir Alimoglu, Cem Erdogan, Batuhan Ucuzal, Deniz Kara

23 – Czech Republic: Stanislav Cifka, Leos Kopecky, Kristian Janda, Michal Mendl

26 – Ukraine: Mike Krasnitski, Iurii Babyxh, Konstanin Yaroh, Vlad Ovsyannikov

Mexico, always a passionate team to watch, will be competing in the first stage of today in seventh seed.

Mexico leads Pod 7, having finished in 7th place yesterday. Amongst the Mexican team members, National Champion Dalibor Trnka has the most Pro Tour experience. Emmanuel Sanchez is also no slouch, having finished in the Top 8 of Grand Prix Guadalajara earlier this year. The final two Mexican players, Victor Escamilla and Jose Miguel Lopez, have no Pro Tour experience. Nevertheless, an important aspect of the team play is communication and asking teammates for advice; Trnka and Sanchez will certainly be able to help out if a difficult situation arises.

Turkey is up next. Cem Erdogan and Emir Alimoglu are two of the country's best and most experienced players, having played a ton of sanctioned matches at the top level. Both have been on Turkey's national team before, but they haven't had their breakout performance yet. The other two Turkish players have no Pro Tour experience, and will probably be happy that they have two veteran players to aid them.

National Champion Stanislav Cifka is the only player on the Czech team who has played a Pro Tour before. Now, he hasn't just played a Pro Tour; he has won one. He slaughtered the opposition at Pro Tour Return to Ravnica with his Eggs deck. In the past, the Czech Republic has done very well in the team competition. Most importantly, the country finished 3rd at the World Championships in Rome 2009. But that team included veterans Lucas Blohon and Jaklovsky. It will be interesting to see if Cifka – who had to divide his efforts between the World Championship and the World Magic Cup – can lead his teammates to make it through the pod play.

Ukraine rounds out Pod 7. The team is solid across the board. National Champion Mike Krasnitski took the trophy at Grand Prix Verona 2013 and is a Silver level pro. Konstantin Yarosh finished 7th at GP Moscow 2012, and both Iurii Babyxh and Vlad Ovsyannikov have played at the Pro Tour before. Nevertheless, being in fourth seed, they will likely have to go 2-1 or 3-0 to get through this pod.

Pod 8

8 – Chile: Felipe Tapia Becerra, Roberto Castillo, Rodrigo Lopez, Fabian Lucero

9 – Slovak Republik: Ivan Floch, Martin Lauko, Robert Gregor, Hugo Ferreira

24 – Finland: Max Sjoblom, Sami Häggkvist, Hannu Vallin, Antti Humalamäki

25 – Belarus: Sergey Telipko, Pavel Miadzvedski, Evgeniy Zakharenkov, Ihar Klionski

Chile, featuring Rookie of the Year Felipe Tapia Becerra, is going into Day Two as the eighth seed.

In the final pod, Chile is in first seed. Lead by Silver level pro and recently crowned Rookie of the year Felipe Tapia Becerra, their goal might be to show the Latin American world that playing and winning Magic at the highest level is possible if you put your mind to it.

Slovak Republik is next. The big name to look out for is Ivan Floch, one of the most experienced players in the room. He has 135 lifetime pro points, played in over 250 Pro Tour matches, and took the win at Grand Prix Lisbon 2012. None of the others Slovakian players have much experience, however. Last year, the Slovak Republik finished in 8th place. Could they make it the Quarterfinals once again?

Finland is a very experienced team, one that should not be underestimated. The team's four players add up to as many as 146 lifetime pro points. Sjoblom and Haggkvist are mainly responsible for that. National Champion Sjoblom made it to the Top 8 at Pro Tour Philadelphia 2011, and Haggkvist finished in the Top 8 of Grand Prix Gothenburg 2010. For both of them, it's their third appearance on the Finnish National team.

Belarus finished just one place below Finland, and as bottom seed might be outmatched in this pool. None of their players have any Pro Tour experience, so one might call them a little wet behind the ears. However, solid performances have gotten them this far, so they are in with a puncher's chance in what is a fairly tough group.