Who among you has not dreamt of glory while sleeping on the floor of inexpensive hotel room, in the bucket seats of the road trip jalopy, or on the lumpy couch at a friend's house on the eve of big Magic tournament? Isaac Sears tried to keep those grand dreams at bay by telling himself he would probably just go 0–3 and drop while he tried to find a comfortable position on Josiah Skallerup's couch the night before the 26-year-old went on to win the first 2014 WMCQ in the United States.
Isaac Sears, 2014 US National Team member
"That way if I did worse I wouldn't be tilted but obviously hoped and knew I could do way better," said Sears, "but I only dreamt of doing as well as I did."
The Santa Rosa, California, resident has won a ChannelFireball 5K and made the Top 8 of the StarCityGames Legacy Open in Los Angeles. He can be found hitting all the local store events when he is not working. Those store events gave him enough Planeswalker Points to be qualified to play in the WMCQ, and he came in armed with the Rabble Red deck that debuted at Pro Tour M15 and was recently written about by Tom Ross—Sears's muse for this tournament. While he had fooled around with similar decks in the past, this version wasn't something he had played in a tournament before.
"That's why if you watch the coverage of the finals, you'll see me pull out two pieces of paper with minute scrawlings. Because I copy/pasted the decklist and sideboard plan from Tom Ross's all-you-need-to-know-about Rabble Red article the night before," said the newest member of the US National team.
Sears faced little resistance, dispatching the rabble throughout the Swiss rounds and barely played a match to three games until dropping a match to Brave Naya (despite it being a very good matchup for aggro red decks, with all their shock lands doing your work for you) down the backstretch of the events leading into the Top 8.
"I finished 4th in the Swiss after drawing my last round against Neal Oliver," said Sears, who went into the Top 8 with a healthy attitude. "Zero down and three to go! Everybody's won an eight-man at some point in their life and at that point that's all it is."
He faced three different flavors of black decks in his elimination rounds: with Mono-Black Aggro, followed by Mono-Black Devotion, and finally Black-Green Devotion. Drown in Sorrow was very much on his mind throughout all three rounds, but no form of sorrow was in store for Sears last weekend and he became the first person to join US National Champion Owen Turtenwald on the team heading to Nice, France, for the World Magic Cup.
"It felt surreal and like I could fly simultaneously," said Sears who will sit on one of 72 National teams competing for the World Magic Cup. "It's gonna be a great honor and the closest thing my lazy butt will ever get to being an Olympic athlete."
Sears was excited about the chance to play alongside two-time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor and 2011 Player of the Year Owen Turtenwald, and they have already begun planning for the event.
"We've talked about it a bit and, once the rest of Voltron is assembled, we'll probably start testing; most likely via Magic Online given how far the commute would be otherwise," said Sears, who will also continue hitting up his local stores and every tournament within reach. "I play at a local store in Santa Rosa called Outer Planes Comics and Games during the week but then on the weekend (if there are no PTQs going on) I go to either the ChannelFireball Game Center, Versus Games, or occasionally over at Forgotten Path Games in Vacaville."
While playing in the World Magic Cup will be something completely new for Isaac Sears, it is old hat for another of last weekend's WMCQ winners. Pro Tour Hall of Famer Olle Råde has been playing high-level Magic since he won Pro Tour Columbus in 1996, and this past weekend he earned his third opportunity to try and win a team title for Sweden.
Olle Råde, Hall of Fame and 2014 Swedish National Team member
"Which means that I join only a few other Swedes who have made it to the World Championship team event three times," said Råde. "Some may know that I made the World Magic Cup last year as well, but I suspect few recall that I actually played for the Swedish team in 1998 due to pass-down when the runner up of Swedish Nationals didn't end up going, due to his panic fear of flying."
By virtue of his Pro Tour Hall of Fame status, it has been a long time since Råde has had to worry about qualifying for a Pro Tour—all members of the Hall of Fame are invited to every PT. Unlike some of the more recent inductees, Råde picks and chooses his PT appearances and, even at the Grand Prix level, he isn't able to summon the level of focus needed to excel in those events.
"Whenever I go to a Grand Prix, I have a hard time motivating myself to do really well. And just the travel itself is rewarding enough," he admitted before adding that he able to access the so-called fire for National pride. "With the WMCQs it's a whole other story. I've actually played in every WMCQ that has been organized in Sweden. And last year I won one, earning me the invite to Amsterdam."
Ironically, he credits playing in a Grand Prix with helping him get to the World Magic Cup in Nice, France.
"This year I was planning on playing all three (WMCQs) as per usual, learning the local metagame and adjusting as the season went along," said Råde. "I guess the preparation of playing at GP Utrecht the weekend before this one was crucial. And I got a pretty good grip of the format, even though I skipped the Standard Pro Tour in Portland."
Sitting at home and watching the coverage of Pro Tour Magic 2015, Råde became enamored of the Jund Planeswalkers decks that propelled two players into the Top 8 of the tournament. He discussed the deck extensively with MOCS and Community Cup competitor Jan van der Vegt and found himself done with GP Utrecht on Day One when he ran afoul of the Boros Burn matchup twice—van der Vegt did manage to go 12–3 with the deck, though. Råde began to investigate versions of the burn deck to find one that suited him.
"After testing a few different builds online during the week before the WMCQ, I settled on Shouta Yasooka's list from Portland," said the PT Columbus Champion. "What really impressed me was the ability to sideboard into more of a Red Deck Wins type of deck—with large threats like Stormbreath Dragon; Boros Reckoner; and Chandra, Pyromaster—catching people off guard when they sideboard against the aggressive burn shell the deck is based around. The decks I've had the most success with on the Pro Tour back in the day have all been red-white, so it didn't take that much to once again get me on board the Boros train."
Even had he wanted to, Olle Råde wasn't able to play in the PTQ the day before the WMCQ and spent Saturday before his tournament "doing the next best thing to playing Magic—watching others play Magic, being able to fully focus on the WMCQ the day after."
When it was finally time to actually play Magic, Råde got off to a rousing start with a 5–0 record before taking his first loss. He found himself in a one-game hole against an Orzhov Midrange deck a round later when, thinking he was on the brink of virtual elimination, an Obzedat loomed in the exile zone to finish him off on the next turn.
"I needed to draw a burn spell for 4 damage on my very last turn," recalled Råde. "At that point I really thought that I would be knocked out of contention, but a Boros Charm from the top proved me wrong and I was able to take Game Three and draw into the Top 8."
The Hall of Famer was in 3rd place going into the elimination rounds and faced off against a good friend—one he had conceded to in the finals of the first year of WMCQs—on the first rung of the bracket.
"This time we both wanted to make our way back to the World Magic Cup. After a mulligan to four in the first game, I was able to grind his White-Blue Floch deck down with Planeswalkers and timely burn spells in Games Two and Three," said Råde, who had been holding up his half of the bracket with their hard-fought match that lasted an hour and a half. "The other bracket had actually played out all the way to the finals before our match had even finished, which says a lot about how intense the match was."
Olle Råde has always been a rather reserved presence on the Pro Tour, but he could not contain himself when he took down the finals in another three-game match against Red-Green Devotion.
"I wasn't sure how good a hand of three Satyr Firedancers, Lightning Strike, Chandra's Phoenix, and two lands really would be," said Råde of the last mulligan decision from the tournament. "It turned out it was good enough, though, and I was pumping my fist and high fiving with all the spectators after sending a Warleader's Helix at my opponent and dealing 12 damage to his Polukranos on the very last turn of the match."
Råde explained his uncharacteristic display after the victory: "The rare feeling you get when you actually win a tournament is very hard to describe. But it's a feeling of both tremendous joy, but also of relief—that it's over. That you've played your best Magic for twelve hours straight, managed to do correct sideboard and mulligan decisions for an entire day, and play out the cards good enough to win the whole thing. There's no greater feeling when it comes to Magic!"
Råde was pretty critical of how he approached last year's event and was not going to underestimate the level of competition at this year's tournament. He's already begun to plot out the playtesting schedule with Swedish National Champion Joel Larsson.
"We won't make the same mistake twice, though, and with a Grand Prix in Stockholm in the end of October there will be no excuse not to get the team together and practice whatever formats Wizards will throw at us for the World Magic Cup. Regardless if it's Khan's of Tarkir Team Sealed, Team Unified Standard, Conspiracy Draft, or Vintage, we will be prepared this time!"
While being self-critical of last year's preparation is one force that drives Råde heading into the World Magic Cup in Nice, he is also driven by the memory of fellow Hall of Famer Raphaël Lévy leading his team to their first team championship in France's Magic history.
"Seeing Raph Lévy and team France do that was really an inspiration: how one established old Pro can take others under his wing to team success," said Råde. "It has been fun to see both Yann Guthmann and Timothée Simonot at the Pro Tour this season, and Simonot especially has had some good finishes, which makes it even more fun to see that the World Magic Cup got him on the Pro Tour this season to start with."
Whether you're an aspiring Pro or a Pro Tour Hall of Famer, whether you end up sleeping in your own bed or have pushed a couple of hotel chairs together with a pillow over your head to drown out the snoring of your five roommates, whether you have to take a long road trip or a local bus...good luck to everyone playing in the two remaining weekends of World Magic Cup qualifiers. I might be talking to you very soon.