Fortune favors the prepared, and at the top level of play that means countless hours of playtesting to master the formats at hand. The World Magic Cup brings its own challenges to this. Teammates usually have to deal with being spread out across their country, as well as the constraints of their personal schedules and responsibilities. Once the logistics are out of the way, they need to learn how to work as a team. What are their various strengths and weaknesses? What are their roles in the collaborative art of team sealed? All this before you even talk about sitting down to playtest specific formats.
For six players this weekend, the race for the World Magic Cup is just part of a larger marathon. Josh Utter-Leyton, Shahar Shenhar, Willy Edel, Shi-Tian Lee, Stanislav Cifka and Yuuya Watanabe aren't just the captains of their national teams. They're competitors in the year's most prestigious tournament: The 2013 Magic World Championship.
That meant preparing for a staggering seven different formats: two individual draft formats (including player favorite Modern Masters), two individual Constructed formats, two different Team Sealed formats, and the brand new beast of Unified Standard Constructed. It means five days of competition at the highest level. They would spend two days playing against the game's best with money, prestige, and Pro Points on the line. Twelve rounds of concentration, excitement in frustration, and they wouldn't even get to sleep in the next day. Bright and early, they would sit down with their teammates and take on the world, and all in pursuit of a Sunday appearance that brings even more pressure.
Now you might think players would balk at adding so much to their plate. A World Championship victory is one of Magic's highest accomplishments. Wouldn't it be preferable to be able to focus all your energies on your individual performance there? In the abstract, perhaps, but to the team captains the chance to represent their country is an honor. They welcome its challenges because it means so much. Even Ben Stark, just inducted into the Hall of Fame and played his heart out to lock up a Top 4 berth at the World Championship, couldn't help but wish he was on the United States national team.
So how did the captains deal with those challenges? How did they prepare for this five day slugathon?
Stanislav Cifka, captain of Team Czech Republic, jokingly said that he just took care of everything. Their team was unable to do much collaboration, and so the focus was on getting each player a Unified Constructed deck that played to their strengths. Since Cifka's work for the World Championship left him the least prepared of his teammates, he would take on the role of coach and sit out.
Lee Shi Tian
Hong Kong's captain, Lee Shi Tian took this even further. Due to the relative inexperience of his team he would need to be in the managerial role. He couldn't budget the time for any real playtesting. Still, he felt confident about his ability to steer the Sealed builds, but like Cifka he would sit out the Constructed rounds and act as coach so that his expertise could work in all three matchups. He says that his extensive playtesting for the World Championship gave him a lot of insight into what he wanted out of Unified Constructed, and presented his teammates the three decks they would play.
United States captain Josh Utter-Leyton found a similar link between individual Standard and Unified Standard. His playtesting confirmed that they would want a Jund deck and a Blue-White Control deck, and so it was only a matter of finding the missing third piece. Meanwhile, his teammates could tackle the responsibilities of playtesting Team Sealed builds for Magic 2014 and Return to Ravnica block.
Shahar Shenhar and Team Israel knew they needed to get together in person to prepare for this event, but in the time leading up to it, they were spread out, particularly thanks to Shenhar's globetrotting. The solution was to congregate at Grand Prix Rimini and then head as a group to Amsterdam for some intense testing.
Brazil's Willy Edel was likewise pragmatic. Because he'd spent so much time playing Magic the last few months, he felt very comfortable with his deck for both Standard and Modern in the World Championship. He wanted his teammates to be as comfortable as possible in Unified Standard, so he told them to pick the two decks they most wanted to play, and he would build something out of whatever was left over. As a team they could concentrate on Team Sealed.
Yuuya Watanabe had no such reserve. Rather than divide the time he had planned for playtesting between the World Championship and the World Magic Cup, he would simply work more hours! Without him, his teammates would work on their sealed game. With him, they would bang out Unified Constructed. By the end of Thursday, he was already exhausted.
And that's the other thing about running this marathon: it isn't a walk in the park. Day after day of intense mental effort will take a cumulative toll on you, and you'll be your most tired on Sunday, when it matters the most! Shenhar, having just helped Israel make pool play with a 4-3 record, said that pacing yourself is the most important. "I'm not really tired, I feel good. I've just been making sure I eat and get enough sleep." Edel said the same, adding that he was most tired at the beginning of the event from jet lag. He made a point of his team's performance today having a positive effect. "I was disappointed with my result at the World Championship, but today we are doing well." It was the opposite for Lee, who said that fatigue had built up in him as Hong Kong struggled through the day, ultimately losing their round seven win-and-in. He said it with a smile, but he looked dead on his feet. Still, he wouldn't have had it any other way.