I love bringing you all the action from the commentary booth during these events, as I feel like an everyday Magic fan who happens to get the best seat in the house. I've never been afraid to ask questions and I use that tendency to ask the questions that I think the viewers at home would want to know.
This week is a special week on the tournament calendar: it's Worlds Week!
Worlds Week is like taking two unique Pro Tours and squishing them into one mega-event. Although they aren't technically Pro Tours. One half is the World Magic Cup—a team competition featuring players from many countries around the world—and the other half is the World Championship—a sixteen-player tournament showcasing the best players from the last year of tournament Magic.
This is serious business. Over five days of play, personal and national pride will be on display as the teams and players work their way up the ladder. Since this column is focused on Limited, I'm going to take a closer look at the Limited formats that will decide who becomes the World Champion and which team becomes the World Magic Cup Championship team.
World Magic Cup
The World Magic Cup is a team event. Each team consists of four players from each country represented. However, only three of the four players actually play each day. With three players, the obvious choice is to use the same format that the team Grand Prix uses: Team Sealed.
Team Sealed is a fascinating format. It looks a lot like normal Sealed Deck, except it's adjusted for a team of three instead of just one. While the similarities are obvious, what is not obvious is the effect that using a full twelve booster packs for just three people has. It's profound.
I remember the first twelve-pack Sealed pool I opened. It was with Brian David-Marshall at the first World Magic Cup. We wanted to get a feel for what the players were looking at when they cracked those packs, and how the deck-building portion would play out. So we sat at a table, cracked twelve packs, and started laying out the cards.
BDM and I get along very well, so we were able to narrow down a few decks right off the bat and get a pile of "other stuff" going that would eventually become our third deck. I mentally noted that if we did not get along well (we do disagree on card evaluations from time to time) that this process would have been much more tedious.
The teams have a limited amount of time to build the decks, and if there isn't some harmony or leadership hierarchy in place, things can go from magical fun time to red-faced arguments pretty quickly.
Back to BDM and me building this pool. He had already built out one pool before, so he let me in on some knowledge after I started making comments about how many playables we had: These decks were going to be comparable or better than draft decks.
I was surprised to hear this. Sealed is generally a step slower than Draft and lacks the cohesion that finely tuned Draft decks offer. Not so in Team Sealed. We had extra removal spells lying around and were trying to figure out what to cut to fit them into one of our decks. I'm not talking about junky six-mana removal either, I'm talking about high-pick, and very glad you have it, removal.
Team Sealed offers challenges and opportunities that aren't present in any other form of Magic.
On Day One of the World Magic Cup, the teams will be constructing Magic 2014 Core Set sealed decks. This format is still new, and it's unlikely that too many teams have had the chance to fully grasp all of the intricacies of the Team Sealed format yet. Those who have put in some time will be vastly more prepared than those who have not. The big question I have is if there will be a Sliver deck from every team or not. It's not unreasonable to just jam all the cards that have the word "Sliver" on them into one of the decks, give it some mana fixing (it will likely be red, white, and green), and call it a deck. My assumption is that after twelve packs are opened, there will be enough to make a good Slivers deck.
Slivers are the solitary standout linear archetype in Magic 2014, but are there others? Not that I can see. Sure, there are other good strategies available, but none as obvious or narrow as Slivers.
So what do the teams look for beyond that?
Raw power. They will assemble the decks that offer the best compromise between power and consistency. Even though Core Set Sealed is often thought of as a bomb-driven format, making the change to Team Sealed changes that. The decks will have to respect the bombs of other decks (almost every bomb opened will find a home in one of the decks) while still streamlining their own build for maximum effectiveness.
I'm curious to see what the teams come up with. After Day One of the tournament (including the Constructed rounds), the Top 32 teams will advance to Day Two.
Hopefully, the teams have all the wrinkles ironed out of their work shirts for Day Two, as the Limited format is Team Sealed again, but this time it's the full Return to Ravnica block. If they thought the Magic 2014 deck-build portion was difficult, wait until they are staring down 168 cards of all colors from the last gold block.
Each team will get four Return to Ravnica, four Gatecrash, and four Dragon's Maze booster packs. They will then face the clock as they come up with the best builds from this guild-based block. It will be mayhem. The sheer number of options is daunting, and the power level potential of the resulting decks is staggering. While the initial wall of cards will be tough to climb, once the picture is clear, the players will have access to some of the most powerful Sealed decks we have ever seen.
I would expect to see something along the lines of two straight-up guild-based decks, and one multicolor monstrosity. My guess is that there will be some bombs and good cards in a few guilds that will guide the path there, and the rest will be patched together into the other deck. Either way, the players also face the difficult decision of who plays which deck.
There are three main outlooks on this:
- The best player gets the best deck. This maximizes wins from that deck, attempting to set up a situation where only one of the other two decks has to win each round to seal the deal.
- The best player gets the worst deck. This gives everyone a more equal chance of winning as the weaker players on the team have access to more powerful cards and decks, while the better player can maximize his or her skill advantage with the lesser deck.
- The decks are distributed to the players whose play style they match best. The aggressive player gets the aggressive deck, the control player gets the control deck, etc.
Each team will have to find which solution makes the most sense for it. If there is a big skill gap between the best and worst player on a team, one of the first two options is more likely. If the players are all at a similar skill level, then giving the decks to the players to whose play style they're best suited makes sense.
The World Championship is my favorite tournament of the year. It takes sixteen of the world's best and most successful players and puts them in what is essentially the most difficult imaginable Magic tournament. Every single round is a feature match. Every opponent you face either has won a Pro Tour, is a Magic Online Champion, won the last World Championship, or has had yearlong success at the highest level possible. It's a showcase of who has been successful at pro-level Magic over the last year.
So what Limited formats will they be playing?
Let's just start things off with a bang: Modern Masters Draft. Yep, the highly sought-after and wildly popular Draft format is going to be the Day One Limited format of choice. Particularly popular among this group of high-level Spikes, Modern Masters offers linear archetypes aplenty (Artifacts, Faeries, Giants, Storm, Goblins, etc.) as well as more creative options like five-color good stuff, green-blue suspend/ramp, and black-green dredge. And that's really the beauty of this format: there are so many playable cards that you can switch directions sharply during the draft portion and still come away with a good deck. It feels almost Cube-like in that regard.
There is also plenty of mana-fixing available for those who veer too far off course, or just prefer to live on the wild side with five-color brews.
So what should we expect from the top pros? As with essentially all Limited formats, I expect the players who keep their options open, read the table, and move in on what is not being drafted to experience the most success. That said, there is something to picking a deck and sticking with it. Knowing the intricacies of a given deck can pay dividends. It's a risky strategy, but forcing an archetype is one way to get through a draft and make the best of what you end up with.
Some of the decks in the format just need critical mass of a given card type, others need certain key pieces to be in place and don't really care as much about what surrounds them. Knowing the differences is what makes forcing an archetype viable based on a table read versus not an option at all.
Watching some of the best players in the game draft one of the most skill-intensive and popular Draft formats in recent memory is going to be a real treat.
On the second day, this elite group will be drafting Magic 2014. Given the newness of the format, I expect some fairly wild swings in deck quality. Between building Constructed decks, practicing Modern Masters Draft, and preparing for travel, it's easy to think that Magic 2014 practice could slip through the cracks. I think this would be a major misstep, though, as ever since the core set resurrection that started with Magic 2010, the Core Set Draft environment has been complex and deep.
Sure, as a top-level player, you could look at the set list, do a few drafts, and feel like you have a good foothold for the format. But that would be leaving a lot of niche information on the table. Certain cards are not obviously good and take some time to figure out where they flesh out in the pick order.
Of Limited Importance
This will take the teams to the big final day, Sunday, where they will play Constructed to see who wins each tournament. In other words, there are two Limited portions of each tournament leading up to the final day. These events are critical to success on this big stage, and I hope you'll join me throughout the coverage to watch it all unfold.
Player Championship Webcast Schedule
|City||Wednesday, July 31||Thursday, August 1||Sunday, August 4|
|Los Angeles||3 a.m.||3 a.m.||Midnight|
|Chicago||5 a.m.||5 a.m.||2 a.m.|
|New York||6 a.m.||6 a.m.||3 a.m.|
|Rio de Janeiro||7 a.m.||7 a.m.||4 a.m.|
|London||11 a.m.||11 a.m.||8 a.m.|
|Moscow||2 p.m.||2 p.m.||11 a.m.|
|Tokyo||7 p.m.||7 p.m.||4 p.m.|
|Sydney||8 p.m.||8 p.m.||5 p.m.|
World Magic Cup Webcast Schedule
|City||Friday, August 2||Saturday, August 3||Sunday, August 4|
|Amsterdam||11 a.m.||11 a.m.||9 a.m.|
|Los Angeles||2 a.m.||2 a.m.||Midnight|
|Chicago||4 a.m.||4 a.m.||2 a.m.|
|New York||5 a.m.||5 a.m.||3 a.m.|
|Rio de Janeiro||6 a.m.||6 a.m.||4 a.m.|
|London||10 a.m.||10 a.m.||8 a.m.|
|Paris||11 a.m.||11 a.m.||9 a.m.|
|Berlin||11 a.m.||11 a.m.||9 a.m.|
|Moscow||1 p.m.||1 p.m.||11 a.m.|
|Tokyo||6 p.m.||6 p.m.||4 p.m.|
|Sydney||7 p.m.||7 p.m.||5 p.m.|