It was a scene beyond Martin Müller's wildest dreams when he started playing Magic around five years back. He and the rest of the Danish national team had won a wild and seemingly impossible match against Greece in the World Magic Cup 2014 to become just the eleventh nation to win a World Team title in the two decades of international Magic competition. It was a long, exhausting weekend and the team was no doubt looking forward to sleeping in their own beds as they pulled into the gate at Copenhagen Airport. The scene that greeted them must have seemed like something akin to the Beatles' arrival at Idlewild Airport some 50 years ago.
More than 100 Danish Magic fans were waiting for their Champions at the airport, to cheer their historic victory. It was a welcome surprise for the team to be greeted like rock stars.
A crowd gathers to greet the 2014 WMC Champions.
"The immediate reaction was pretty stunning," recalled Müller. "We have all received a lot of positive feedback from Danish Magic players during this last year. I think that we made it easier for other Danish players to believe they could have international success—especially because Denmark had been very quiet in terms of Magic accomplishments before the 2014 World Magic Cup."
Müller, who started playing the game when he was twelve years old, could never have imagined such a greeting when he attended the Scars of Mirrodin Prerelease at Fanatic in Roskilde, Denmark. The store created a nurturing environment for younger players, including a pre-FNM tournament each week for players younger than eighteen years old, but Müller knew he was on a collision course with tougher playing environments.
"First of all, I am competitive person by nature. If you just try to play as much Magic as possible, you are eventually going to play in a PTQ or a similar event. If you do well, you start to think to yourself that maybe you should try to win one of those things," said Müller of the natural transition from under-eighteen events to competing in PTQs and GPs. It was in his fourth Grand Prix that he got his first taste of international success, when he finished in the Top 16 at GP Warsaw 2013 playing what would now be called Abzan Aristocrats.
Müller became a fixture on the Pro Tour the following season, with a handful of strong finishes—including a seventeenth-place finish at Pro Tour Born of the Gods—and found himself leading a Danish contingent into the World Magic Cup. They were happy to have reached the Top 8 and made their way into the finals, but as their tournament fate came down to a Game 3 between Denmark's Simon Nielsen and Greece's Panagiotis Savvidis, it seemed impossible for Denmark to come back.
"It is definitely the craziest match I have ever been part of. I basically thought that we had no way of winning if our opponents played perfectly, and even if they did not, we still needed to be insanely lucky," said Müller, who had won his match and was in the coaching scrum behind Nielsen. "I think that coverage said that we had approximately a five percent chance of winning. I thought that was a huge stretch—I believe it was closer to one percent."
Nielsen was stripped of his hand by an ultimated Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver, but the top of his deck provided a perfect sequence of Siege Rhino, Duneblast, and finally Wingmate Roc for one of the most memorable comebacks in Magic history. Müller credited the win to not letting his pride of being the Captain get in the way of all the experience that was on the team.
"I think it worked out great. Nobody was in a position where they felt like they would be carried, and I think that it was the key to keeping the motivation up," said the returning Danish team member. It was a very good year for Danish Magic, and despite all Müller's personal success it will be Martin Dang who captains the team this weekend. Müller had to fight his way through a MMCQ to return this year.
"I think that there has been some kind a momentum since the WMC 2014," said Müller of the suddenly surging Danish Magic scene. "But also I think we have several talented players just waiting for a chance to show their skills."
For Müller, it was a bittersweet year that saw the highlight of winning the World Magic Cup but also the heartbreak of falling just 1 Pro Point shy of the crucial Gold level in the Pro Players Club.
"I had some tough choices to make balancing school and Magic. I had to skip the first Pro Tour last season and a lot of Grand Prix," said Müller, who knew he had to choose to put both feet in one camp or the other. He decided to wait until after the World Championship to make that decision.
"I felt like I did not play optimally, so in that sense I was pretty frustrated and really wanted to go back and prepare my A game," he said of his performance in that elite field, where he finished sixth. He was still on the fence about how much time he wanted to commit to the game, but when he found himself heading back to the World Magic Cup after winning a qualifier, he came down firmly on the Magic side of the question.
"I have decided to put my primary focus on Magic and less on school; I really feel that it was what kept me down last year," he said, and the results thus far have been very encouraging. He made the first Pro Tour Top 8 of his young career in Milwaukee, and has another Grand Prix Top 8 on his résumé. Coming into this weekend he is sitting on the same amount of points—34—that he amassed all of last season. He fully expects to add to that total this weekend.
"Our team is very strong. We have National Champion Martin Dang, who won a PT and a GP this year. We have Christoffer Larsen, who has had multiple GP Top 8s in his career, which includes winning a GP this year. We have Daniel Lind, who has been playing Magic for a long period of time and had a pretty good GP finish in the last GP in Brussels. Myself, I have two GP Top 8s, a Top 6 in Worlds, and a PT Top 8 this year. I really think that it helps to have played the tournament last year with success, and I feel like the Magic careers of everyone on the team are kind of peaking right now. That is a great place to be, going into a tournament."
That's a much stronger statement than the one he gave me last year heading into the World Magic Cup: "I think the Danish team is quite good, and have a decent chance of doing well."
Martin Müller interacts with fans after landing in Copenhagen following the 2014 WMC victory.
November Player of the Month: Tom Martell
I am sticking with the World Magic Cup theme for the Player of the Month for November, and strength of schedule is no small factor as well. When you have go through the top player in the game right now to win the finals of the Grand Prix, you get bonus points in a month that offered no fewer than seven Grand Prix winners to choose from. The Pro Tour Gatecrash Champion will be looking to add yet another trophy to his mantel when he joins US National Champion Mike Sigrist and fellow WMCQ winners Neal Oliver and Joel Sadowsky in their attempt to win the first World Magic Cup for the United States. The country hasn't won an international team event since 2008.