I have come to absolutely love World Magic Cup Qualifier weekend. It really makes you appreciate the social network that connects the game all the way around the globe. As we were getting underway for the second day of the Magic Online Community Cup at Wizards HQ there was a crackle of excitement at word that Matej Zatlkaj had nabbed the last berth on the Slovakian team for the World Magic Cup.
Zatlkaj had been chasing after the berth and had made the Top 8 of a previous WMCQ this season. For the second season in a row, the member of the European coverage team was edged out of the captaincy by former World Team Champion Ivan Floch. Zatlkaj was thwarted throughout the WMCQ season last year but erased that all with his victory early on Saturday morning—at least early Saturday morning from our Pacific Northwest perspective.
"The last two years of trying to qualify were extremely frustrating because I didn't even get close to winning any of the WMCQs I attended. I had no Top 8s to show for my efforts and things just didn't go my way." The three-time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor found things on an upward trajectory for this season's WMCQs. "I spent a lot of time testing my deck on Magic Online and I have managed to first get 10th, then my first Top 8, and finally a win in the third WMCQ. It was awesome because it was a while since I actually won a proper tournament!"
"I don't think there's anyone in Slovakia with such a passion to represent our country so I'm absolutely…ecstatic to be on the National team; my first time since 2003!" exclaimed Zatlkaj, who would not be the last big-name player on the weekend to secure a spot at the last possible moment.
Updates from various tournaments continued throughout the weekend. We followed along with Chris Pikula on Twitter as he went 4–0, 5–1, and then finally picked up the fatal second loss at the WMCQ in Philadelphia on Sunday. By the time the special Khans of Tarkir pre-Prerelease event for the Community Team wrapped up, we were supposed to be breaking down the streaming kit but were distracted by the start of the Top 8 that was being streamed from the East Coast. The bracket was pretty stacked, with four accomplished players paired against four relative unknowns.
By the time we made it to the post-show dinner, Grand Prix Top 8 competitor Phil Napoli, two-time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor Andrew Cuneo, and Grand Prix Louisville champion Brian Braun-Duin had all fallen by the wayside. We sat around a cell phone, glued to the match between Grand Prix Las Vegas Champion Neal Oliver, with Mono-Blue Devotion, and Charles Zhang, with White-Black Midrange. Oliver had been hunting a WMCQ win across the country and—like Zatlkaj—had a previous Top 8 during the hunt. Also like Zatlkaj, he secured the berth on the last possible weekend.
Oliver rounds out an American team captained by Owen Turtenwald and featuring previous WMCQ winners Isaac Sears and Grand Prix Louisville Top 8 competitor Andrew Baeckstrom. The team is relatively inexperienced when you compare it to some of the European teams with multiple Pro Tour Top 8 competitors—such as the Slovakian entry into the World Magic Cup with Zatlkaj and Floch—but the team has some young and hungry competitors. That includes GP Vegas winner Oliver, who booked flights to all three tournaments with a single-minded goal of getting himself to Nice, France, to play in the team event.
"The World Magic Cup was just a tournament I thought was very cool and something I really wanted to qualify for. No big Magic tournaments those WMCQ weekends made it an easy choice for me to go," said Oliver, who was beginning to feel the toll of crisscrossing the country by the time he got to the City of Brotherly Love. "When I was flying to Philly I began to think I may have gone a little too hard on the tournaments by attending them all. But in the end the trips were justified."
Oliver played in the PTQ the day before the WMCQ with disappointing results. He spent some time that afternoon with Team World Champion Sam Black, who allayed any concerns Oliver may have had about committing so hard to qualifying for the event.
"We ended up going to a marionette show since he knew of this sicko puppet master," said Oliver. "Show was great, but on the car ride over we were talking and he said that 'the best decision I have ever made was when I started going to all the big Magic tourneys I could attend a few years ago.' I'm pretty pumped up after my win and it was such an amazing flood of emotions when I won, that I had actually achieved this ridiculous goal I set for myself when I had originally booked my trips out east to try and qualify."
After dinner, we went back to the Wizards offices for one last, late-night draft before everyone went home for the evening. And we were once again huddling around a small screen, watching a big match. It was the finals of the Canadian WMCQ and Pro Tour Avacyn Restored Champion Alexander Hayne was in the finals against Joshua Lloyd, a strong player from Saskatchewan. James Turner and Graham Stark of LoadingReadyRun fame were particularly interested in the outcome—they are proud Canadians, after all. As the finals stream started up for us we heard the commentator say something about a Sphinx's Revelation, which sounded like it had to be good for Hayne…
…except that it wasn't.
"I was playing Mono-Black, splashing Nissa—demonstrating my range—and he was playing a Planar Cleansing version of White-Blue. I Thoughtseized him turn two to clear the way for Underworld Connections on turn three, but his first draw was Syncopate, so I struggled the rest of the game until he drew Revelation and finally put me away, as was bound to happen," explained Hayne, who in a shocking turn of events was not the white-blue player.
Lloyd took Game 1, but the Pro Tour Champion knows a thing or two about playing with—and against—control decks and took down the last two games to become the second Pro Tour champion on the Canadian World Magic Cup team.
"I felt the deck wasn't as good as it was when I first played it, and had been mainly playing it afterwards due to familiarity," said Hayne of his decision to not be the guy casting Sphinx's Revelation at the WMCQ. "When the control deck switched from being the deck with the best sideboard to the deck that wins Game 1, but is always worse post-board because people get to take our their removal; the black deck, which in Daniel Fournier's hands had really impressed me the previous WMCQ, became my new weapon of choice. Partly because Nissa was unbeatable, but also because of all the great sideboard options."
"I was in the lead for captain for a while, until Shaun (McLaren) won the PT," said Hayne, who took the most convoluted route onto the team possible. "Then I would have caught up at Pro Tour Born of the Gods but missed Top 25 on tiebreaks. I ended up playing all three WMCQs, coming 18th in Toronto, Top 8ing in Montreal—despite missing Round 3 due to flight problems—and finally winning in Edmonton."
Hayne had high praise for Fournier, regarded by many as one of the top up-and-coming players in Canadian Magic. Canadian National Champion Shaun McLaren could not have been more excited about the team that was forged for him over the three-weekend gauntlet.
"First WMCQ winner was Dave Goldfarb (and this is his first breakout performance, he has been grinding a lot of PTQs and SCG events) and Daniel Fournier (who is an excellent player on a hot streak), both of them are from Toronto," said McLaren. "Hayne is a superstar and I couldn't ask for a better teammate. I'm really excited for the event and expecting great things from the entire team and will be more surprised if we DON'T put up a great finish."
Another team that will have great expectations placed upon it is the Swedish team, captained by Pro Tour Gatecrash finalist Joel Larsson. Hall of Famer, Pro Tour Champion and five-time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor Olle Råde, and 2010 Worlds semifinalist Love Janse were already making up a team that Larsson was very excited about. The addition of relatively unknown Poya Nobari did nothing to diminish that excitement.
Larsson explained that Nobari was an old-school player and put him on the same skill level as Janse. This is the second year in a row that Larsson will be leading the team, and he is hoping to shore up some of the weak legs of the tournament that the team put up.
"We were a bit unlucky in the Sealed portion, but the deck preparation turned out great and we went X–0," said Larsson, who was looking forward to the challenge of Khans of Tarkir Sealed as compared to the more straightforward Core Set Team Sealed from last season. "I feel more involved because of the complexity and the fun of the format. It usually makes me perform much better."
Larsson will be diving deep into Khans of Tarkir over the next couple of weeks as he prepares for another PT as a member of Team Revolution…as will almost all of the National Champions.