The Greatest Show on Earth

Posted in Making Magic on July 29, 2013

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.
"It's big. Really, really big. No, bigger than that. Even bigger. Keep going. More. No, more. Look, we're talking Grand Prix and Invitationals for jewelry. It's big!"

—Arna Kennerüd, Worlds Week Watcher

You should trust Arna Kennerüd. She's been around. She's even sighted the B.F.M., so when she tells you that Worlds Week here on is going to be huge, she's not kidding, and neither is your friendly neighborhood coverage team. You know, it's just possible, if everything runs incredibly quickly and smoothly, and every Top 8 matchup finishes in a clean sweep, that we might only be bringing you forty hours of live Magic from Amsterdam. Realistically, it's going to be closer to fifty hours. That's fifty hours of LIVE Magic broadcasting making its way to your PC, Mac, tablet, phone, or experimental device-of-the-future, on and in Japanese on Nico Nico. How on Earth are we going to fill up all those broadcast hours?

With the best of the best, that's how. Check it out:

Wednesday: World Championship, Day One

When you invite sixteen of the finest Magic players currently plying their trade around the gaming centers of the world, you'd expect some decent matches. Time for a quick "scientific" experiment. Here's what I came up with as a random set of pairings:

Eric Froehlich vs. Stanislav Cifka
Three-time PT Top 8 man from the US faces the PT Return to Ravnica champion.

Josh Utter-Leyton vs. Willy Edel
Reigning Player of the Year confronts one of the hottest players right now, Latin America representative Edel, now with four PT Top 8s to his name.

Brian Kibler vs. David Ochoa
All-USA clash as the Dragonmaster with his multiple PT titles takes on the man who is the engine room in team ChannelFireball.

Shuhei Nakamura vs. Martin Juza
Former Player of the Year Nakamura with five PT Top 8s faces off against one of the most dominant GP players of all time.

Ben Stark vs. Yuuya Watanabe
PT Paris champion Stark up against the defending champion Watanabe, already a two-time Player of the Year.

Reid Duke vs. Shahar Shenhar
The epitome of "hard work=success," Reid Duke faces the teenage sensation Shenhar, who already has three GP titles on his career highlight list.

Craig Wescoe vs. Lee Shi Tian
PT Dragon's Maze champion goes toe to toe with the man carrying the hopes of the Asia-Pacific region.

Tom Martell vs. Dmitriy Butakov
The PT Gatecrash title holder faces the man from the MOCS, king of the Online Magic world.

Yeah, thought so. They're all absolute box office. How many times will we get pairings like these? Every. Single. Round.

Of course, it's not just about the game play. Before we even get to Round 1, we'll be bringing you not one, but two live drafts of the format R&D described as the Best. Draft. Ever.

Having played a ton of this incredible format, I can tell you that the hype is right on the money. Modern Masters is an incredibly deep drafting format that rewards so many of the high-level skills this amazing field has demonstrated time and time again in abundance. Look for startling synergies, streamlined sophistication, subtle elegance, staggering power, and the kind of in-your-face to-the-death game play that is a feast for the senses. If you've not yet been exposed to the majesty of Modern Masters, the opening salvos of the World Championship are going to leave you drooling in the corner, pointing at your widescreen TV, and gibbering "I want one" through unfocused eyes. And, seriously, who wouldn't want that? [Wizards of the Coast cannot be held responsible for any drooling in the corner, pointing at widescreen TVs, or gibbering of any kind.]

You'd think we'd take a few moments and let you catch your breath after the first draft. But this is Worlds Week, and there's no time for rest. As the 16 players transition from Limited to Constructed, we'll have the pleasure of announcing the Magic Pro Tour Hall of Fame Class of 2013. Our estimates put that around 5:30 p.m. Amsterdam time, so set your alarms if you don't want to miss that. Who will join the ranks of Magic immortality?

Rounds 4–6: Standard

Standard turns out to be number two of a mere seven formats being showcased during Worlds Week. You all remember Standard, right? That's the Constructed format with cards from the last two years. So you get access to this lot:

That seems quite enough to be going on with. Our very own Jacob van Lunen summed up the state of Standard rather elegantly right here.

For those of you who just can't bear to click on a link, the gist is that you can play just about anything in Standard. There's Jund Aggro, there's Jund Midrange, there's Red-White-Blue Flash, Prime Speaker Bant, Bant Auras, Angel of Glory's Rise Rites, Naya Midrange, Bant Tempo, The Aristocrats Act 2, Grixis Control, Esper Control....

Ah, but wait. That's the Standard you could have been playing before something came along to shake things up a bit:

Yep, there's a new core set in town, and the sixteen players in the World Championship will do their best to sort out the nearly from the also-ran, the stone-cold from the out-in-the-cold, the heavy hitters and the just-missers. Whatever deck they choose to run in Standard, you can be certain of learning about how to play those decks at an incredibly high level, because with a Pro Tour stack of money on the line, this is no exhibition game. This is as real as it gets.

Thursday: World Championship, Day Two

Magic 2014 may have made its Constructed presence felt on Day One, but now it's time to see how the cards play in the Limited environment. We start Day Two with three rounds of M14 Draft, and it will be interesting to see how the big names adapt—the two draft formats are about as far away from each other in style as it's possible to get. Underneath it all, of course, is the drama of each table, locked in mortal combat for three rounds. Be honest—if you sat down to draft with the Player of the Year, the Magic Online Champion, three Pro Tour winners, the defending champion, and a Hall of Famer, how often would you expect to go 3–0 in the pod? And guess what? That might not even be the "good" table!!!

With Limited now behind them, those in contention know that the next three rounds will settle whether they get to come back for Sunday play. Our fourth format of the weekend is Modern, with a card pool going back almost a full decade, to the days of Mirrodin. Standard may be wonderfully diverse, but once you add thousands of cards to a format, it's no surprise that things get a little crazy. You can easily make a case for twenty-five to thirty distinct decks being totally viable in Modern, and that's one of the beauties of the format. You can't sit at home, relentlessly testing the three "tier-one" matchups you expect to face, plus a couple of "rogue" strategies you know a few people at your local game store like to play. In Modern, anyone could be playing anything, and with a World Championship field of just sixteen players, you can bet that they'll be looking to outsmart each other every bit as much during deck selection as in the matches themselves.

Every style of player is catered to in Modern, and it's arguably the format of the weekend, where the cards themselves are shown at their most lustrous and alluring. Whether you're watching the raw power of Affinity, the smash-face of Burn, the "oops-I-win" of Splinter Twin, the off-the-wall Living End, the intricacies of Melira Pod, or just plain old Blue-White Control, every deck in Modern is a wondrous construction of moving parts, and seeing those parts go through the hands of so many great players is sure to be a highlight of Worlds Week.

Splinter Twin
Birthing Pod


We've played twelve rounds, featuring sixteen amazing players, covering Standard, Modern Masters, M14, and Modern. We're well on the way to twenty hours of live video coverage. Surely we're almost done? Turns out, we're just getting started...

Friday: World Magic Cup, Day One

Seventy-one nations. OK, let's try that again, but really think about that.

Seventy. One. Nations.

That's seventy-one national communities who speak the same language as you, the language of Magic. That's seventy-one groups of players travelling their nation in a bid to represent their communities in the rarefied atmosphere of Worlds Week. That's seventy-one sets of fans sitting back at home cheering on their friends and national heroes. And that's seventy teams of four players trying to take the trophy away from you.

The inaugural World Magic Cup in Indianapolis last year was a fantastic event, and while I can't absolutely guarantee a repeat of the Chinese Taipei v Puerto Rico final, I can promise you every bit as much drama, pomp, circumstance, and thrilling Magic action as we close toward a Magic Sunday that will never be forgotten. That road to Sunday begins for our teams with the fifth format of the weekend, Magic 2014 Team Sealed. Although all four team members get to take part in the deck-building process, only three play the matches, with decks built out of twelve M14 boosters per team. That usually gives you enough synergy that the decks are way more powerful than you'd get in conventional Sealed Deck play, and sometimes even beyond that of a normal booster draft too—after all, nobody else at the table is trying to steal the best cards out of your deck (or if they are, your team is probably doing it wrong!).

While each of the four-person teams feature the winners of three national qualifier tournaments, every team also boasts its National Champion for the year, awarded to the player with the most Pro Points that season. As you can imagine, that leads to some pretty exalted company leading the way for their teams, and it's no surprise to find that six of the World Championship lineup will be back on Friday to launch another bid for glory. For Brazil, Willy Edel. For the Czech Republic, Stanislav Cifka. For Hong Kong, Lee Shi Tian. For Israel, Shahar Shenhar. For Japan, Yuuya Watanabe. For America, Josh Utter-Leyton. By the time the World Magic Cup begins in earnest, we'll already know which of those six are still in contention for the individual world title. That double—leading the national team to global triumph, coupled with individual victory in the World Championship—is the absolute pinnacle of Magic achievement. It is almost literally Herculean—although maybe I should save that line for Theros—and whichever of our Super Six come into team competition with a seat on Sunday already locked up, we are going to be very excited.

The Magic 2014 Team Sealed rounds allow the teams to settle into the tournament, and for the first night nerves to dissipate. They need to, as Rounds 4–7 bring us format six, and it's a doozy. Unified Team Standard demands that three decks be built within the Standard format, but (apart from basic lands) those decks are only allowed a combined four copies of any particular card. Put simply, there will not be three Esper Control decks sitting next to each other. Ever. There won't be three of anything sitting next to each other. Not only does that utterly transform the Standard metagame, it also allows all sorts of otherwise niche cards to potentially shine. At the end of Round 7, all the points will be tallied, and the Top 32 teams will advance to Saturday.

Saturday: World Magic Cup, Day Two

It's possible that you may think that you have commitments on Saturday. Actually, you only have one, and it's Magic. I'm really anxious that you not miss out on this for something as insignificant as a haircut, housework, or your own wedding, so I'm going to put this really starkly:

The Saturday of the World Magic Cup is the single best day of the Magic year. Period.

I suppose I should justify such an apparently extravagant claim. Saturday is all about Pool Play, and that makes it similar to a soccer World Cup or Olympic Ice Hockey. Teams are seeded into groups of four, and plays each other team in its pool once. On Saturday morning, we get to see our final format of the weekend, Return to Ravnica Team Sealed. That gives the teams four packs of Return to Ravnica, four of Gatecrash, and four of Dragon's Maze to build their decks. Again, one member of the team won't play a deck, but will get to be the coach, advising from behind all three players at the match tables. As the matches play out, you'll see entire teams huddled round the one remaining player as the round clock ticks down to 0, and watching a virtual four-on-four of extra turns with the win on the line is something that never gets old. I am literally (and I mean that in the literal sense of the word literally) getting goose bumps as I type this. If you have ever cared about the outcome of a game of Magic, this is for you.

The Top 2 teams in each pool advance to the final act of Saturday. It's Pool Play once again, but this time we shift to Constructed, and a return to Unified Standard. With sixteen teams left, and the possibility of a seat on Sunday now clearly visible on the near horizon, you can cut the actual tension with the proverbial knife. Almost every match is must-win. Last year, Chinese Taipei took out team USA with a Bonfire of the Damned that was, in my nation-neutral view, the single most thrilling moment of Magic ever captured. Team USA went home. Chinese Taipei became World Magic Cup champions. Those are the margins, those are the moments, those are the topdecks from the gods (oh alright, I'll save that one for Theros too) that can change your life.

Nothing comes close.

Sunday: All the Everything You Ever Wanted

Him: Honey, you know the wedding?
Her: The one you made me move from Saturday because Rich said you had to?
Him: Yep, that one.
Her: So?
Him: I can't do Sunday either, apparently.

Don't be Him, and don't make that mistake. You owe it to yourself to make Sunday a day to remember. You've watched sixteen of the finest players in the world play through twelve rounds across four formats, and now you're down to the final four. You've watched twelve more rounds across three more formats as seventy-one nations have battled it out to follow Chinese Taipei as champions of the World Magic Cup, and now you're down to the final eight. You've watched Wizards of the Coast give away $150,000 to players who haven't made it to Sunday. Now it's time to watch them give away another $208,000 to those who have.

Sunday is where the Magic happens.

We'll begin with the quarterfinals of the World Magic Cup. With so many nations competing, I thought it might be useful if I gave you a little guide to the teams. Along the way, I thoughtfully reference Josh Utter-Leyton's Mom, explain why the team you've never heard of doing brilliantly this year probably won't be Guatemala, and handily tell you exactly who is going to beat who in the final. All this, and in less than fifteen minutes. Go watch:


Of course, it's theoretically possible that I've got one, or maybe even more, teams wrong in my analysis, so you better keep watching just in case. The teams duke it out using Unified Standard, but they can switch their players around between decks, or bring in their Saturday coach to play when it really counts. You'll see the quarterfinals, the semifinals, and then we'll bring you the last two nations standing, one revelatory moment away from standing atop the pile of global Magic. What a fitting end to an incredible week of... you're kidding, seriously?

Apparently, we've decided that's insufficient entertainment for Worlds Week. So, once we're done with the World Magic Cup, it's time to turn our attention back to where the whole shebang began, with the World Championship. Four players will take to the stage for the penultimate act of our five-day drama. Whether it's a Hall of Famer, a Player of the Year or two, a Magic Online giant, or "only" a collection of Pro Tour Champions sitting there under the Amsterdam lights, you can be certain of a pair of three-out-of-five slugfests in the Modern format, until only two remain. Then, with the clock heading toward fifty hours of live Magic, it all comes down, as it always does, to a tussle of nerve and impulse, of intellect and courage, of skill and insight, of experience and passion, of deck against deck, mind against mind, until the final epoch-defining turn of a card.

Sixteen players. Seventy-one nations. Seven formats. Two titles. Five days. $358,000 in prizes.

The best of the best game in the world.

Be there.


Here are the webcast start times for each day. A complete replay of each day will be streamed starting approximately 30 minutes after the end of the day's live webcast. For those viewers wanting to avoid spoilers, you can access the stream directly at or with no risk of seeing the day's results.

World Championship Webcast Schedule

City Wednesday, July 31 Thursday, August 1 Sunday, August 4
Amsterdam Noon Noon 9 a.m.
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.
Paris Noon Noon 9 a.m.
Berlin Noon Noon 9 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.

Sunday's webcast begins with World Magic Cup Top 8 coverage through to the finals, then concludes with the Top 4 of the World Championship.

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