There was no result from the Top 4 of the World Championship that wasn't going to be stupendous. The last two winners of the title were facing off in one bracket while a Pro Tour Hall of Famer squared off with one of the least known players, in the midst of a breakout finish, in the other. Patrick Chapin had declared that winning Pro Tour Journey into Nyx was his PTQ for Worlds and he was out in front of the field from the crack of the first packs.
Chapin dispatched Pro Tour Theros Top 8 competitor Kentaro Yamamoto in three quick games and found himself three more wins away from fulfilling his two-decades old dream of becoming the World Champion. From the other bracket, of two past winners of the tournament, it was reigning World Champion Shahar Shenhar—barely older than Chapin's dream of winning the title—who triumphed over Yuuya Watanabe to face the Hall of Famer in the finals.
It was the first time that either player in the finals of a World Championship had ever been there for a second time. Going all the way back to 1994, when Zak Dolan was crowned the World Champion over Betrand Lestree, no finalist from the event had ever made that deep a run into the tournament again. Now there were two players who had each reached the finals previously facing off with $50,000, Platinum status, and an invitation to next year's World Championship all on the line.
Chapin had last reached the finals half a decade ago in New York City, when he lost to Israeli National Champion Uri Peleg. He was facing another Israeli National Champion, in Shahar Shenhar, and even had the same floor reporter from the 2007 Worlds, in Tim Willoughby, keeping an eye on all the action. Coincidences aside, it was a tremendous match with huge legacy implications on both sides of the table. The matchup appeared to slightly favored Chapin, who was playing Abzan Midrange and who had just defeated Yamamoto playing Sidisi Whip deck in the semis. Shahar was playing a similar list to Yamamoto's and it seemed all lined up for Chapin to pull off his called shot from the Pro Tour's batting box.
It seems as though nobody told Shahar Shenhar. Earlier in the week, we described Shenhar as one of the Dreamchasers, a handful of players who could be playing for their World Magic Cup title on the same Sunday as they played for the individual title. It seems the word we were really looking for to describe Shenhar was "dreamcrusher." Much like last year, when all the headlines being written in the back room were about the worst to first tale of Reid Duke, only to have them rewritten in the wake of Shahar's remarkable win over Duke in the finals, Shahar was not about to be the footnote in someone else's piece of history.
Shahar, who played more Magic on all five days of World Week—every round of the World Championship and through both rounds of pool play in the World Magic Cup—dispatched Chapin in three games. Throughout the match, Shenhar matched his opponent's no-nonsense table presence with a minimum of table talk and little unnecessary motion. There was a moment in the final game when Shenhar was under some pressure and low life from a Siege Rhino. He had landed Pharika, God of Affliction and could kill the Rhino at the cost of a little trample damage. You could see the preparation that Shenhar, Josh Utter-Leyton, Tom Martell, Willy Edel, and Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa had put into the matchup when the reigning Champion made multiple Snakes to block and play around a removal spell that could drop him within range of another Siege Rhino's enter-the-battlefield ability.
All the thinking had been done ahead of time and Shenhar showed none of the pressure he was under as he made two Snakes and proceeded to make it even harder for his opponent to claw his way back into the game, much less the match. It was not until his Hall of Fame opposition said "Congratulations" that the ageless veneer of professionalism fell away to be replaced with the ebullient grin of a 21-year-old Magic player just coming into the peak of his powers and his own special place in the history books as the first ever repeat Magic: The Gathering World Champion.
And that was just the back half of the Sunday action.
When last I wrote this column we were on the eve of the World Magic Cup, and it not only lived up to my anticipation but way exceeded any expectations I might have had for the event. From the red hoodies of team Peru to the natty shirt and ties of Team Uruguay to the ferocious gear of team Dominican Republic, the national pride of the assembled nations of Magic: The Gathering was a sight to be seen and an event to be remembered for ages.
I want to look back at some of the teams and their stories that I will remember from the World Magic Cup 2014.
Team South Korea, led by National Champion Nam Sung Wook, reminded me that not all topdecks happen on camera or even on the beat of the text coverage reporters. I walked over to watch the last round of pool play and the South Korean team was playing to fight their way into the Top 8. The last game of the last match saw an empty-handed Korean player who had just a Prophetic Flamespeaker going up against a pair of Sylvan Caryatids; Sidisi, Brood Tyrant; and a Zombie token. The Korean team huddled around and was playing as one—not that there were many decisions to be made with no cards in hand. They drew a Dragon Mantle and enchanted the double-striking trampler, drew a card and attacked. The opposing team tanked for a while and finally decided that even with all the available red mana they only needed to put the two Caryatids in play to live through to their next turn. The card the South Koreans had drawn, though, was Titan's Strength and they were able to trample over for 16 points of damage to steal the win and make their way into the Top 8 as the top seed.
Talking to the team afterwards I was surprised that there was not more emotion from them, considering that they had just qualified two more teammates for the Pro Tour by virtue of being in the elimination rounds. They looked at me quizzically and said they would save their celebration for the Top 4, when the invitations kicked in. They still thought the Pro Tour invitations were on the same schedule as last year, but when I explained that everyone playing on Sunday would be heading to Pro Tour Fate Reforged they did a timeshifted team high five.
Team Greece would dispatch the South Koreans in the quarterfinals. Greece came into the Top 8 as the bottom seed, but they were used to that after a steep climb all weekend long. They clawed into pool play as the 32nd seed and had no margin for error if they wanted to advance to the round of 16. They made it into the second round of pool play as the 15th seed and once again found themselves without any losses to toss around. They made it as far as the finals. The team was a pleasure to watch play. While they waited for their opponent in the finals—England or Denmark, after the Greek team took out the heavily favored American team in the semifinals—there was some debate about the match-ups each outcome would present. It did not matter to the Greek team, which was just looking to play as much Magic as possible.
As we waited to go live with the results from the match, we had graphics ready for both Team Greece and Team Denmark, but it was really looking like Greece was going to close it out. It was the final game of the final match and Denmark looked to be in a hopeless state. Their hand and graveyard had been exiled by an ultimate from Ashiok, but a Duneblast off the top would not have been enough to win. A topdecked Duneblast, followed by topdecked Siege Rhino and Wingmate Roc however…. The so-called Daneblast may have clawed its way to the pinnacle of Magic moments for me and was certainly the most exciting Magic moment of the calendar year.
Both Rich and I were able to do the wrap for the tournament without wearing a horse head and tutu by virtue of both of our personal rooting interests getting knocked out in the semifinals of the event, but we did both agree that England and the US put up performances that we could take great national pride in. Watching David Inglis realize he had qualified for the first Pro Tour of his career was certainly an emotional moment, and I am excited to renew the discussion of doing the wrap with a horse head from Washington, DC, in February.