When we think about Magic on the international stage, a few things come to mind. Pro Tours hosted in exotic locations. A full weekend of coverage to watch as the tournament unfolds. More than anything else, we think about the best individuals of the game duking it out. Shota Yasooka in the finals of Pro Tour Kaladesh. Luis Scott-Vargas making three Pro Tour Top 8 appearances in a row. Owen Turtenwald and Yuuya Watanabe being inducted into the Hall of Fame. Márcio Carvalho squaring off against Brian Braun-Duin in the World Championship final.
The World Magic Cup doesn't have much of that.
It has so much more.
"For me, the feeling of playing in the World Magic Cup is miles better than playing in the Pro Tour," said Greek captain Bill Chronopoulos, who led his team to a memorable second-place finish in 2014 and will be making his third straight appearance at the event. "In my country, playing in the World Magic Cup is a big deal; it's by far the biggest tournament here. Everyone wants to be part of the team, especially after watching us live on camera playing for the trophy two years ago."
The World Magic Cup creates those memories for competitors and spectators alike. Everyone remembers the Bonfire of the Damned that famously eliminated the United States in 2012, and the "Daneblast" that handed Denmark the title in 2014.
Great moments in coverage and Magic history, indeed. But unlike some of the most memorable plays in Pro Tour history, moments from the World Magic Cup live on for much longer. You can see them in the teams that spend weeks preparing for the tournament. You can see it in the heavily attended qualifiers across the world. You can see it in the race for captaincy during the course of the season.
More than anything, you can see it in the players. They drive long distances to try to qualify. They arrive at the event decked out in proud displays of their culture. They gather in droves in local gaming stores, college dorms, or even at home to watch their countrymen represent their Magic community to the world.
"Representing your country is very exciting," explained Scottish captain Stephen Murray, who will be making his fourth World Magic Cup appearance when the event kicks off November 18 in Rotterdam. "Playing for the national team is the ultimate goal for so many players when they play Magic. I know players who don't have time to play in Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifiers or Grand Prix, but they always, always go to the World Magic Cup qualifiers because it is such an honor."
Murray would know. He's played in nearly a dozen Pro Tours and participated in Worlds 2004, an event that had a team component but was primarily a solo event. Ever since he began playing during Invasion, he was used to taking a 10-hour train ride down to England to play in qualifying tournaments. His story represents the struggle many players in smaller countries face in playing Magic at the premier level—logistics make it difficult to find as many opportunities as players in larger nations.
The World Magic Cup is the perfect event for those players, and the effects of the event last long after the convention center doors have been locked. The stories are retold often, the feature matches played on repeat. Moments like this—the visceral reaction of Team Scotland upon finding out they would advance to the Top 8—go viral. Players return home to a country ecstatic to welcome them back as ambassadors of their Magic communities.
"At casual Friday Night Magic at home, some players don't follow the Pro Tour or the best players in the world, but everyone still knew about the World Magic Cup and watched it," Murray said. "People like underdog stories in general, and the rest of the world is always happy to root for the smaller countries like Scotland, Guatemala, or Malta to do well. The United States is, by default, the bad guys, because everyone knows how good they are and wants to beat them."
For most of the players who will take the stage in the Netherlands next week, the World Magic Cup is more than a tournament—it's a dream come true.
"Representing my country has been a dream of mine, even back in my early days of Magic," Malaysia's Pang Ming Wee said. "I think most people were truly inspired and proud when the Malaysian team was on camera for the first time, defeating Ivan Floch and the Slovak Republic in 2014. We could see the aftermath of that with increased attendance in the WMCQ's for the following years.
"The local community started to pay attention again to the upcoming World Magic Cup. The hype and pride is once again [at its height] with just weeks [to go before] the big event. The team assembled for the 2016 Magic Cup in Rotterdam is the country's strongest lineup ever, and as a nation, everyone feels it's our tournament to lose.
"We are their inspiration."
When Chronopoulos, Murray, and Ming Wee sit down for Round 1 of the World Magic Cup just a handful of days from now, representing their countries against some of the best Magic players in the world, they'll be an inspiration to us all.