Hold on a second. Wait, it's late November? November 2017? Where did this year go? Weren't we just in Dublin, watching Lucas Esper Berthoud add to the list of Brazilian Pro Tour Champions? Wasn't Marshall Sutcliffe just shaking hands with Gerry Thompson, congratulating him on winning Pro Tour Amonkhet in Nashville? Aren't we barely a month past Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa becoming Player of the Year as he won Pro Tour Hour of Devastation in Kyoto? And then William Jensen beating just about everyone for three days as he claimed the 2017 World Championship title, moments after Musashi beat Genesis to become Team Series Champions? I'm not imagining things, right? Seth Manfield won Pro Tour Ixalan a matter of hours ago? And—I don't think I'm making this up—I've only just finished writing the preview for the 2016 World Magic Cup. Seriously, what happened?
Well, I guess a year of professional Magic happened, and it's been a good one. Fun Pro Tours, excellent Champions, a truly superb World Championship, and an energy-packed kickoff to the 2017–18 Season, with Seth Manfield adding to his own World Championship with a Pro Tour title, over the God-Pharaoh's Gift–wielding Canadian Pascal Maynard. And so, with the festive season firmly in our sights, it's time for the end-of-year celebration of all things Magic that is the World Magic Cup, returning this weekend to Nice, France. (I will not do the obvious joke. I will not. Which is nice of me.)
While the World Magic Cup certainly has some of the best players in the world on display—Yuuya Watanabe and Shota Yasooka of Japan, Reid Duke and Gerry Thompson from USA, and Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa and Carlos Romão of Brazil all spring to mind—this isn't a tournament designed to feature their talents. This is a truly global celebration, and for many of the 73 countries taking part, this is far and away the most important weekend of the calendar. So, expect to see many grizzled veterans of previous team campaigns coming out once again to do battle for honor, glory, and country. Yes, there's plenty of more prosaic rewards on offer, too, in the form of Pro Points and the always-delightful disposable income, but it's the flag and national pride that truly get the heart pounding.
This year sees some tweaks to the rules for the tournament, so regular viewers should probably forget what they think they know and let me lead them by the hand. If you're new to the wonders of the WMC, welcome. Here's how it works:
First of all, teams comprise exactly three members. The first of those, who was known at the end of the 2016–17 Pro season, is the captain. That's the best-placed finisher in the Player of the Year race from each of our 73 competing countries. The other two players both reached the WMC squad through their National Championship. Seat number two on the team goes to the National Champion, and the third slot goes to the beaten finalist from Nationals. In the event that one of the finalists is unable to attend, the slot slides down to the winner of the 3rd/4th-place playoff.
So now we have our team. In a typical team event, each of the three players is assigned a seat for the duration of the tournament. So, if you're in seat A, you will play only A-seat players from opposite teams. B plays against B. C plays against C. To claim victory, you and your teammates have to win any two of the three individual matches. Do that, and the overall match is over. There's no need to play out the third match, which is, to borrow a tennis term, a "dead rubber." Sometimes players will go the distance, just for the pleasure of the competition, but on the scoreboard it won't matter. Reach that second individual match win, and your team wins and scores 3 points. This system applies to every round of the World Magic Cup, so if you're struggling to keep up with all the different things going on, just remember this:
Two individual wins mean your team wins and gets 3 points.
When our 73 teams sit down on Friday morning, the first format facing them will be Ixalan Team Limited. This isn't a format that sees a lot of play at the premier level, but we've seen Grand Prix Providence, Grand Prix Shizuoka, and the Team Series Championship Final between Musashi and Genesis all using this combination of boosters and matches. Each team receives twelve Ixalan boosters and has to create three 40-card (minimum) decks, using any amount of basic lands they want, in addition to the cards they've been given. In addition to those main decks, every card in their pool has to be assigned to one specific player, to form their sideboard. So, the players can't share things like counterspells or artifact removal—each card has to "belong" to a single player.
So what kind of decks can we expect? The first big difference between Team Sealed and regular individual Sealed Deck is that the vast bulk of powerful cards are going to get played. In normal play, if you're a red-green Dinosaurs deck, you might not find room for a powerful rare that has double black in its mana cost. In Team Sealed, that's not a problem, because there's almost certainly a player on your team who is heavily black anyway, and that powerful rare will be right at home in their deck. Another difference is in the weight of tribal cards. In individual Sealed, getting a tribal flavor in a deck can be tough, as there often aren't enough Vampires, or Merfolk, or Pirates, or Dinosaurs for you to really play up the tribal synergies. Again, in Team Sealed this is much less of an issue. With twelve packs to open, there are going to be a decent number of common cards in each of the four tribes, giving players a good shot at being able to concoct a tribal deck that looks quite a bit closer to a Draft deck than a typical Sealed deck.
With that said, options are clearly good to have, but the teams at the World Magic Cup are going to be under the gun from the word go, because they are only getting 70 minutes to narrow those options down to their final submitted decks. Now, 70 minutes might sound like plenty of time—you're probably used to building your Sealed Decks in less than half that time. But, by the time you've sorted out the cards in the first place, assigned all the sideboard cards at the end of the build, and registered and checked your decklist submissions (as nobody wants a game loss for misregistering a deck), the time you have left to actually build your decks is closer to 40 minutes. That's 40 minutes, for three decks, from 180 cards. This is no simple task, and ensures that the WMC gets going with a bang; there's no easing into the competition.
Of course, building the decks is only step one of the Limited puzzle. Now they have to be tested against other teams. In this year's competition, Friday morning is given over to Ixalan Limited play. Teams will play three matches, and in each round they will, if possible, be paired against another country on the same match record. So, Round 1 is a truly random pairing, then all Round 1 winners face off against each other in Round 2, with 2-0s on a collision course in Round 3, while, in the 0-2 bracket, countries will be looking to escape Limited with at least one match win.
Whatever their score at lunchtime on Friday, with 3-0s sitting pretty with their perfect records and the 0-3s desperately hoping that the afternoon will go better for them, it'll be time to turn our attention to Standard. Well, I say "Standard," but that's not quite technically true. The official name for the Constructed format is Team Unified Standard Constructed. In a lot of ways, this is just like the Standard you play on Magic Online, or at your local Friday Night Magic. There is, however, one critical distinction. Apart from basic lands (which can go in any combination and amount in any of your three decks), each card in Standard may only appear in any one player's decklist. The ramifications of this innocuous-sounding rule are enormous, and well beyond the scope of this article. However, here are a few of the more obvious deck-building issues it throws up:
- No two players can play the same deck! You may think Ramunap Red is the best deck in Standard right now, but only one player can play Hazoret. Only one player can play Lightning Strike. Only one player can play Soul-Scar Mage. Under these rules, it is literally impossible to play the same deck as a teammate.
- Decks that share colors can be problematic. White-Blue Control and White-Blue Cycling sound like different decks, and of course they are. But, for the purposes of the World Magic Cup, they are far too close to work out. Censor, Fumigate, and Settle the Wreckage are all cards that overlap, and only one person gets to play them in Nice.
- Once you reach the sideboard, things can get very tricky indeed. Take a card like Negate, for example. Sure, every control deck in the world wants them, but what about one of the real powerhouse decks in Standard, Temur Energy? Transforming into a more controlling deck after sideboarding is part of the appeal of this midrange deck, and if you've got a true control player on the team, chances are those Negates are unavailable.
So what will teams do with this unique deck-building challenge? Starting out with a mix of Ramunap Red, Temur Energy, and some kind of control deck seems reasonable, but maybe we'll find teams branching out to play Mono-Black Aggro, or the Grixis Tokens list we saw from Grand Prix Shanghai a couple of weeks ago. Whatever they choose, this isn't going to be quite the Standard that we're used to.
Something else that won't be quite what we're used to is the way Friday afternoon works. The goal on Friday is to play as little Magic as possible! The important number to remember is four—that's four match wins. Reach that goal, and you're done for the day, safely through to Day Two action. So, let's say nine teams sweep their morning, and come into Team Unified Standard at 3-0. Four or five of them will win their Round 4 match and advance to 4-0. That's it! Job done! Day Two for you! See you tomorrow! For the teams at 3-1, they'll try to finish the job in Round 5. At 3-2, a match win in Round 6 is enough to secure Day Two and an early trip back to the hotel. So, if you reach four wins before Round 7, the final round of the day, you've done everything you need to, and you get to come back on Saturday.
In Round 7, we'll know how many teams have already booked their spots in the Top 32 for Saturday morning, so we'll know (because we're smart) how many seats are still up for grabs in the final round. Once the final standings for the day are known, it will be the next best-placed finishers who played all seven rounds who will fill out the remaining slots for the Top 32. It's a good bet that a 4-3 record will be good enough, but it isn't absolutely certain. It's also possible that some 3-4 records will suffice, but, again, we can't be sure until we see it all play out. What is certain is that, in Rounds 4–6, any team on three match wins is going to guarantee a Saturday appearance with a win.
Speaking of Saturday, we're sticking with Team Unified Standard, and that means the same players, with the same decks as Day One. Now, though, we're into what we call "pool play." Our 32 remaining teams are each assigned one four-team pool to play in. These pools are seeded, so the teams that first made it into Day Two will be seeded first, then the teams that reached Day Two during Round 5, then the Round 6 qualifiers, and then the teams that made it during the last round on Day One. Although that means each pool will feature mixed levels of Day One success, there's usually a group or two that features multiple tournament favorites, and you may hear the phrase "group of death" on air at some stage. At least, you will if I have anything to do with it!
In pool play, the goal is simple—win two team matches. In Stage 1, Round 1, the teams are paired randomly within their pool. In Round 2, the two winning teams face off, and the two losing teams do the same. The team that reaches 2-0 is through and sits out the final round. The team that falls to 0-2 is done and eliminated from the competition. That leaves the two 1-1 teams battling it out to see who advances to Stage 2 of pool play, featuring the Top 16 teams.
The system for Stage 2 is exactly the same as Stage 1: 2-0 advances to the Top 8, 0-2 goes home, and the 1-1 teams fight for the remaining qualifying slot from the pool. In the last round of Saturday evening, eight 1-1 teams will look to join the four group winners in the Sunday showdown that is the Top 8.
And so, with 65 of 73 teams eliminated, Sunday will see the Top 8 play out. And you'll see it play out live, with every match brought to you direct from Nice, as we'll be showing you the entirety of the quarterfinals. So, if your country has made it to Sunday, you can be sure of seeing them in action. At the news desk, Maria Bartholdi and I will be your hosts, with Brian David-Marshall attempting to communicate in dozens of languages out on the floor before bringing you the best of the interviews in English. In the booth, trying to keep track of three matches at once, will be Marshall Sutcliffe, Tim Willoughby, and Riley Knight, while expert analysis comes from Simon Görtzen and Matej Zatlkaj. Our filmmakers Nathan Holt and Shawn Kornhauser have been at it again, and Enter the Battlefield will showcase more great stories from around the world. Our text team of Blake Rasmussen, Mike Rosenberg, Frank Karsten, and Corbin Hosler will dig their way to the best stories around, and Craig Gibson will, for the thousandth year in a row (it seems), deliver you images that fully capture the joy and drama of this special event.
The Top 8 itself again features Team Unified Standard, and will be a straight knockout bracket. Win two of your three individual matches, you're through to the semifinals. Do it again, it's a place in the final. Do it again, and that's it—you're World Magic Cup Champions!
But who is going to claim that honor? At first, I thought I'd spoil it all for you by correctly listing all 73 countries in their 1–73 finishing order. Assuming all teams were created equal, that would be quite the achievement. When I asked on Twitter for some comparable mathematical unlikelihoods, the best offer came from German Grand Prix Champion Florian Koch, who said it is a roughly similar number to the relation of the gravitational to the electromagnetic force between two protons. I don't know about you, but I always find proton analogies to be brilliant at getting a point across to a wide audience, so let's run with it. Just in case you're not up to speed in proton-land, let me also say that getting the finishing order correct happens once out of every X attempts, where X is a number with (experts differ) 35 or 36 zeros in it. In summary, a completely accurate 1–73 list may be a bit beyond me.
So, instead, here's my idea of sixteen teams that could get as far as Day Two, eight teams that might reach the Top 16, and finally eight teams that might be playing on Sunday. I think this should give you plenty of material to mock me savagely in the hugely unlikely event that I get any of these wrong.
Austria – Two Top 8s in five starts is an excellent return. Captain Oliver Polak-Rottmann is in his third national team start, and has four GP Top 8s and one title. National Champion Elias Klocker has two GP Top 8s, so there's some depth to the squad.
China – Both Captain Liu Yuchen and National Champion Lu Chao are on their second national team appearance. Despite being former Team World Champions in 2009, China has yet to reach Day Two of the WMC competition.
Croatia – Their best finish of 5th place came in the first WMC in 2012. Since then, only one Day Two. This looks like a good squad: Captain Vjeran Horvat has a Grand Prix title, playing in his fourth national team appearance, while Toni Portolan has represented his country no fewer than seven times.
Czech Republic – Their best year was 2013, when they finished 3rd. Inconsistent overall, though, with only two of five Day Two appearances. A lot rests on Hall of Famer Martin Jůza, but Tomas Langer has plenty of Grand Prix experience (27 starts, 59% record, one Top 8).
Denmark – Champions in 2014, they also made Top 8 in 2015. Winning captain from 2014 Martin Müller returns, and Andreas Bendix Nielsen has represented his country before. No surprise if they go a long way.
Dominican Republic – The raw numbers never seem to matter. On paper, they have little chance of making Day Two, but that's true every year, and they're three out of five so far in reaching pool play. Only Captain Caupolican Lopez Yapor has been here before, and none have any Pro Tour experience. Maybe it won't matter. Again.
France – Excellent record in this competition, with four out of five Day Twos, two Top 8s, and a victory in 2013 (Rakdos's Return!). They have an excellent captain in Pierre Dagen (two Pro Tour Top 8s, three Grand Prix Top 8s), and Alain Bardini also has a GP Top 8. Day Two is the minimum expectation.
Germany – They so nearly got their first Top 8 last year, finishing 9th. They will do well to get that close again this year. Captain Marc Tobiasch returns from that team, and has a Pro Tour and Grand Prix Top 8. But teammates Philipp Krieger and Moritz Templin combine for 53% at the GP level, and that's unlikely to be good enough at the sharp end.
Greece – Truly brilliant record in this event. They are five for five historically making Day Two, they twice made the Top 8, and they won it all last year. Obviously, the only way to go is down, but, Captain Makis Matsoukas aside, this looks a very inexperienced team, and keeping the Day Two streak intact would be a good result.
Ireland – Second national team start for both Captain Michele Gravina and National Champion David Murphy. Looking to reach a second Day Two in this competition, with 9th in 2013 their previous best.
Latvia –They'll be looking to improve on only 20% Day Twos. Andrejs Prost returns as captain yet again, and Viktors Kazanskis has four Pro Tour starts behind him. Day Two isn't mission impossible this time.
Malaysia – They have a tremendous record of success, making four of five Day Twos, with a best finish of 13th last year. Captain Joe Soh is in his fourth national team start, while Wee Pang Ming, the National Champion, is in his third. Both have Grand Prix Top 8s, and Soh has a GP title. Every chance of yet another Day Two.
Portugal – Portugal has a superb captain in Márcio Carvalho, but the other two team members have only two Grand Prix starts between them. Making a fourth Day Two in this competition is going to be tough, but Carvalho is a very, very good player.
Singapore – Solid record, with three of five Day Twos. Anchored by Captain Kelvin Chew, who has both a PT Top 8 and a GP title, they must have a chance at another Day Two appearance.
South Korea – Best finish was 5th here in Nice in 2014. All three team members have represented their country before, led by Captain Nam Sung Wook, who has both a GP and PT Top 8, with a win at the GP level.
Wales – Very experienced team, with every chance of improving on one of five Day Twos so far. Captain Philip Griffiths is in his fourth national team start, while Aaron Boyhan is in his third. National Champion Sam Rolph, meanwhile, has three Pro Tour starts and a solid 64% win rate at the GP level.
Argentina – Their worst finish was 55th last year. No Top 8s, but three of five to make Day Twos. All three have previous national team experience, and have a tremendous leader in Luis Salvatto (four GP Top 8s, one PT Top 8). Every chance of another Day Two, and maybe a first Top 8.
Australia – Best finish was 6th last year, which will be tough to repeat. Ryan Cubit and Captain David Mines have previous national team experience, and Mines has their only GP Top 8. They will still expect to make Day Two.
England – Finished an outstanding 3rd in 2014. All three players are in their first WMC, but Captain Niels Molle has two GP Top 8s, and Autumn Burchett, the National Champion, had a great PT debut, finishing 11th at Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar. High hopes and reasonably low expectations, as usual.
Hong Kong – Very solid record, with three of five Day Twos. Yam Wing Chun has had two strong performances at the last two Pro Tours, making the semifinals in one and going 11-5 in the other. They will need his very best captaincy to go deep into Day Two.
Poland – Already three for four on Day Twos, with Top 8 in the inaugural WMC 2012. This is a very strong-looking team, featuring Grzegorz Kowalski (three GP Top 8s) and Piotr Glogowski (Top 8 Pro Tour Ixalan) together with Radek Kaczmarczyk, who is in his third national team appearance. They have every chance of going a long way this time.
Scotland – Outstanding record in this competition, with four of five Day Twos and two Top 8s. Also an excellent squad with two long-serving members in Captain Bradley Barclay (seventh national team appearance) and National Champion Stephen Murray (ninth national team start). First-timer Duncan Tang has plenty of GP experience (20 starts, 62% win rate). A strong contender for another Top 8.
Slovakia – Three for five on Day Twos. Ivan Floch has won just about everything in the game. He's a Team World Champion, Grand Prix Champion, and Pro Tour Champion. Furthermore, both teammates have plenty of GP experience. Slovakia should reach Day Two comfortably.
Spain – Three of five Day Twos, and a solid chance of making a fourth Day Two here. Captain Javier Dominguez was the runner-up in the 2017 World Championship, and has over $113,000 in prize money. Both his teammates have PT experience and plenty of GP starts.
Peter Vieren, Kristof Van Holsbeeck, and Geoffrey Siron
Only two for five on making Day Twos, but both led to Top 8s. Best finish was 2nd last year. Two excellent players in Peter Vieren and Pro Tour London 2005 Champion Geoffrey Siron. Day Two is the minimum expectation, and there's a good chance of Top 8.
Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, Carlos Romão, and Lucas Esper Berthoud
Finished a miserable 52nd last year, but that's the only time they've missed Day Two. The team boasts three outstanding players, each one a Pro Tour Champion, and they're arguably the favorites here.
Eduardo Sajgalik, Kale Thompson, and Lucas Siow
Although Kale Thompson is in his first WMC, both Lucas Siow (third appearance) and Eduardo Sajgalik (fifth appearance) have plenty of national team experience. Sajgalik has two Pro Tour Top 8s, and Siow has four GP Top 8s and is a tremendous teammate. The Canadians should go far.
Gabor Kocsis, Tamas Nagy, and Ferenc Nagy
Two WMC Top 8s, finishing as finalists in 2013. Unbelievable experience in this squad, who have nineteen national team starts between them—which is just unreal. They have every chance of doing well again this year.
Andrea Mengucci, Adriano Moscato, and Mattia Rizzi
Only two of five Day Twos, but both were Top 8s, including their winning year in 2015. Andrea Mengucci returns from that squad. Mattia Rizzi has four GP Top 8s and a title, and Adriano Moscato has a couple of Pro Tour starts. The Italians look like a strong contender for another Top 8.
Yuuya Watanabe, Kenta Harane, and Shota Yasooka
Hideous record, bizarrely, with only one previous Day Two. Surely that improves here? Staggering numbers, with National Champion Kenta Harane pulling his weight (tremendous 69% GP win rate) alongside two titans of the game in Yuuya Watanabe and Shota Yasooka, both Hall of Famers. Easily contenders for the Top 4.
Thomas Hendriks, Kevin Grove, and Daan Pruijt
Three for five on making Day Twos, but yet to crack the Top 8. That could change this year, with two very strong players in Thomas Hendriks (captain, one Pro Tour Top 8) and Kevin Grove (65% win rate at the GP level, with two Top 8s). Daan Pruijt also has a stack of GP experience, winning at 65% from 37 starts. No outright superstars, but strong contenders overall.
Reid Duke, Oliver Tomajko, and Gerry Thompson
The US has made four out of five Day Twos, but only one Top 8. That was here in Nice in 2014. Two superb pros in Reid Duke and Gerry Thompson, both with two PT Top 8s. Duke is a former Magic Online Champion; Thompson is Pro Tour Amonkhet Champion. Still only 20 years old, National Champion Oliver Tomajko has 36 Grand Prix starts and a Top 8, and is surrounded by excellence. Top 8 looks a minimum requirement for the Americans.
Have I mentioned your team? No? Here's the thing—the World Magic Cup is gloriously unpredictable. Yes, there are some superstar teams. USA, Brazil, and Japan are, on paper, simply better than everyone else. But every round something comes along to get in the way. Maybe Ecuador gets twelve brilliant boosters on Friday morning. Maybe Brazil eliminates USA at 1-1 on Saturday morning. Maybe Ireland defeats England and reverses Brexit, and Dave Sea doesn't tell a joke about it on his stream. Maybe Bolivia, Venezuela, Malta, or someone completely unheralded will arrive with the niche Standard deck that can't be beaten in a field that doesn't have twelve Negates as an option. And, almost certainly, there'll be a Cinderella story of three first-timers who, wrapped in their flag and wearing some unfathomably ridiculous items of clothing, emerge to challenge the Pro Tour Champions and Hall of Famers that the best teams can boast.
One thing that we can predict with certainty, however, is that you'll be able to join us on twitch.tv/magic for all the action across three days this weekend. Make sure you do.
See you on Friday,