Magic, especially professional Magic, is an intensely individual game. You win by yourself, lose by yourself, and at the end of the day, are accountable to nobody but yourself. Often you will practice with a team, and while you are invested in their success, your results are still on you. However, there is one event in particular that throws all that out the window: the World Magic Cup (previously the Team World Championships). In this unique event, you play with a team comprising Magic players from your country, and you operate as a unified front with one goal—to represent your country to the fullest extent. Not only do you have three other players at your side who win and lose along with you, you are playing for the pride of your entire country. That's an honor and a privilege.
Today I'm speaking with players from this year's World Magic Cup who have had the opportunity to serve on their national teams before. I asked them a simple question: what does it mean to play for your country?
Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, Brazil
Pro Tour Hall of Famer and Platinum Pro
It means a couple of different things.
First, it gives me a chance to represent something greater than myself—I don't play just for me, I play for the whole country. It's a very different feeling; it's like I'm in the Olympics. There are thousands of people who win when I win and who lose when I lose, so your feelings are magnified and each game means a lot more. Even though I am always Brazilian and I'm always representing Brazil when I play in anything, I don't test with the Brazilian players, I don't stay with them during Pro Tours. I don't even know all of them.
In an individual tournament, I play for Paulo first, for my team second, and for Brazil as a distant third. The World Magic Cup is the one tournament a year where I feel like I can give something back to my country. I'll play for Brazil first, for my team second, and for myself third. There's a lot of added pressure because of that. Not only am I on a team that expects the world of me because I'm the captain and the most experienced player by far, but I'm also letting my whole country down when I lose, which makes every loss even more devastating than normal. I've never won it, but I assume it would make every win feel better too.
Even though Brazil has two Hall of Famers, a World Champion, a Platinum pro, and many Gold and Silver players, we're still looked at as a "lesser" country in Magic. People are usually happy to see that they are playing against a Brazilian opponent in a tournament; the WMC is my chance to help change that, my chance to show the other countries that we as a nation can play in the big leagues.
The other thing is that, to me personally, the WMC is the chance to get a title that non-Magic players can recognize and admire. Most people don't know what it really means to win a Pro Tour or a Grand Prix, but "Team World Champion" is something that everybody can understand. The WMC is one of only two tournaments a year that let you say that, so it's a very big opportunity.
Owen Turtenwald, United States
Pro Tour Hall of Famer, Platinum Pro
I represented the United States at the World Magic Cup in 2014, and we made it all the way to the Top 4. The excitement and support I felt from the American Magic community was like nothing I had ever experienced before and nothing I have experienced since. With all the money and Pro Points at stake, I wanted to win for myself and my teammates. But I also felt extra pressure to win for my country, and as the tournament went on, it was clear there were thousands of people at home rooting for Team USA. I'm filled with both pride and excitement for the opportunity to do everything in my power to make Team America the Champions this year.
Andrea Mengucci, Italy
Having the most Pro Points and becoming the team captain is a great honor. I did that in 2014 and I felt so special!
This year I felt like I deserved it more, and I earned the respect of the Italian community, mostly after the World Magic Cup win last year.
It's the tournament that is followed the most by our community, way more than a Pro Tour. For example, I received way more compliments for my WMC win than I did for my PT final appearance. Players from small countries see it as a chance to make their country proud [on a global stage].
It's a great tournament for the community. It will have a very high profile in our country, and representing Italy is great!
Even people who don't understand Magic understand what the World Magic Cup is; when you tell them it's like the Olympics, and you play against the best players from each nation, they get excited.
Joel Larsson, Sweden
First of all, it's an honor to represent your country as the team's captain. That means that you've been the most prominent player throughout the whole year in your country. For me it's been the fourth time in a row, but if you nostalgically look back at that first moment that you picked up your first Magic card, you become way more humble about being the person lucky enough to represent your country at the World Magic Cup!
Another reason is now that I've played on the Pro Tour for a while, I've come to play in one of the "super teams." It's a tight group of individuals with the same goal: doing well in the Pro Tour. That also means it's hard to have time to hang out and test with all the friends from Sweden who become qualified through sporadic achievements throughout the year. The World Magic Cup lets me do just that. This year all of the players [on Team Sweden] are close friends of mine, meaning I will for sure have a blast preparing and playing regardless of the results!
Luis Scott-Vargas, United States
Hall-of-Famer, Platinum Pro
Wait, I'm not playing in this year's World Magic Cup... but I still can speak to this feeling. I've had the incredible good fortune to represent the United States three times (in 2006, 2007, and 2012). Even though our team never won the event, it was still awesome.
As these other players have said, once you are playing for your country, the tournament changes dramatically. You feel a responsibility, an obligation, to be the best Magic player you can be and to help your teammates be the same. The wins feel better and the losses feel more impactful, and these have been the tournaments I've cared about the most. Getting Bonfired out of the Top 8 in 2012 was one of the most memorable moments of Magic I've ever experienced, and I'm glad I could be a part of it (even if I wish the miracle had happened on the other side of the table).
I'm greatly looking forward to covering the World Magic Cup, and I hope I'll be able to bring you the emotion and feeling alongside the strategic analysis, as the combination of all those things is what makes this tournament great.