We are less than one month away from inaugural World Magic Cup at Gen Con. Four players each from more than seventy countries are qualified to compete in this event that will crown the top Magic nation in the world. There has never been a Magic tournament like this and I wanted to take this opportunity to dig into the details of how it's going to unfold, get some insight into what the people behind the scenes were thinking about as they created a new team tournament format, and look at the teams expected to do well.
You can find the list of national teams here. Each team is led by the Pro Point leader, who was crowned the National Champion at the end of the season in May. The last three spots were filled out by the winners of three World Magic Cup Qualifiers held in each country. The last spots were finalized earlier this month to give teams a few weeks to prepare, because what happens when those teams arrive in Indianapolis will be unlike any team event in the history of Magic.
The event kicks off Friday, August 17, with seven rounds of individual play. Pairings will be done in the Swiss fashion based on individual points, but teammates will never be paired against each other or put in the same draft pod. The action starts with three rounds of Magic 2013 Booster Draft, and then the format changes over to Standard for the last four rounds of the day. Players will earn 3 points for a win, 1 point for a draw, and 0 points for a loss, just like any other tournament, with the top three members of the team's points added together for a team score.
Then comes the first cut...
The field gets winnowed down to thirty-two teams based on the team point totals. Not only are a little more than half the teams eliminated, but each team is also trimmed to a three-person squad. Wizards set up the event so that having that "extra player" on each team allows each country to field a squad even if someone misses the event—all four players are not required for Day One but three players are mandatory for Day Two. Aside from making sure countries can field a team, it also lends an extra element of drama to the proceedings.
"I think one of the most exciting aspects is the way that the 'Sword of Damocles' just keeps on coming at the players," said my webcast boothmate Richard Hagon. "At the end of Day One, somebody from every team is out. Everybody from teams outside the Top 32 are out."
While we spoke over a chat interface I swear I could hear the sound of his hands rubbing together while he cackled fiendishly. "Since nobody knows which team member is going to fall by the wayside until the end of Day One, that makes deck choices for Day Two extraordinarily difficult," Hagon continued. "You can't simply 'assign' a format to a particular player prior to the event and tell them to test that format exclusively, so strength in depth is going to be really important."
One of the most compelling aspects of the competition will be which team member gets eliminated—and whether or not that is something desirable. Take the American team for an example, with two seasoned pros in Brian Kibler and Luis Scott-Vargas and two relatively inexperienced players in Alex Binek and Joe Pennachio. The fourth player still fully shares in the team prize and is able to stay with the team throughout and offer guidance to the remaining teammates. The question has to at least be asked: Is LSV more valuable playing or coaching his two rookie teammates through the treacherous waters of Day Two?
Day Two kicks off with three-person Team Sealed with eight pools of four seeded teams. The pools are seeded along an S-curve, putting the top-seeded team in the same pool as the lowest-seeded team, and so on. The chart below displays how the pools will be constructed (numbers represent the team seed).
Pro Tour Hall of Famer (and someone who knows a thing or three about team events) Mike Turian was one of a handful of people who helped design the World Magic Cup, putting down his everyday hat of Customer Engagement Systems Manager for Wizards of the Coast to channel his old R&D self. He explained the seeding—something that has been used before for a Magic event but never quite like this.
"The Master Series events had seeds at the start of the event, but from that point on it was single elimination," said Turian. "Playing only teams within a seeded pool to advance is a great new format. I'm hoping that some classic rivalries end up within the same pool, especially as over the years the rivalries transcend from typical country divides to World Magic Cup-specific rivalries. That always makes for a compelling subplot to the event."
The other exciting part of the start of Day Two is the format: Magic 2013 Team Sealed. But unlike a regular Sealed Deck event where a single player gets six booster packs, the three-person team will get twelve boosters to divide among three decks. It will be a completely collaborative deck-building experience for each team.
Each team will play the other teams in its pool once. After three rounds of Team Sealed, the top two teams will advance out of each of those eight pools of play, sending half the field home with this mid-day cut. Since it's likely not all pools will have a clean cut based on record, the tiebreak will be overall team seed (head-to-head results don't work as a tie-breaker in four-team pools).
The sixteen remaining teams will be re-seeded based on a combination of their team points from Day One and the first half of Day Two, and four new four-team pools will be formed for the second half of Day Two. The format switches to Constructed, where one member will play Innistrad Block Constructed, one will play Standard, and one will play Modern. Once again, each team will battle the other three teams from its pool in round-robin style.
"I'm excited to see Magic 2013 being played at the World Magic Cup," said Turian. "It is always exciting to see how a new set changes Standard. Likewise, seeing Innistrad Block played will be a fun treat. I'm expecting great things from the event coverage. As I have recently attended fewer events in person, I have greatly appreciated the expanded web coverage. I'm sure the World Magic Cup will be a fantastic event to watch online."
At the end of Day Two, the top two teams from each of those four pools will advance to the culmination of the weekend coverage: the Sunday Top 8 bracket. The teams will play the same three Constructed decks they used on Day Two but they can switch pilots from Saturday to Sunday. The single-elimination bracket will be seeded 1–8 like an individual Pro Tour Top 8, with teams playing best-of-three matches. By Sunday afternoon, a new top nation in the world of Magic will be crowned.
But enough about how the event will work... what about who's playing? My conversation with Hagon quickly moved on to which teams we thought might make it through all three cuts to be playing on Sunday.
I am big fan of Jeremy Neeman, the Australian National Champion, who has put up very impressive Paulo-like numbers in his young career, and Justin Cheung has played at Team Worlds before. John-Paul Kelly has finished as high as 10th at Pro Tour Austin. Jonathan Winter plays the role of young upstart on the team. Neither Rich nor I would be shocked to see the Australians shuffling up to play on Sunday.
"Austria have a great history in team events, twice finishing in second place at Worlds in the last five years," said Hagon while acknowledging that this pick was something of a dark horse. "They have Thomas Holzinger from the Pro Tour Avacyn Restored Top 8, GP stalwart Gerald Leitzinger, an unknown in Thomas Angelmahr, and a young man who I think may have a big future in the game—Ben Leitner."
Belgium is going to be the fashionable pick for anyone who has followed the Pro Tour. The squad features Pro Tour Paris Top 8 competitor Vincent Lemoine as team captain, four-time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor Maryjn Lybaert, Pro Tour Honolulu Top8er Christophe Gregoir, and Pro Tour and GP veteran Peter Vieren.
Alexander Hayne came from several lengths back going into Pro Tour Avacyn Restored to win the event, the Rookie of the Year title, a seat at the Player's Championship, and the captaincy of the Canadian team. Throw in Marc Anderson, Lucas Siow, and wildcard Jamie Blanchette and you have reasons for continued optimism about the resurgent Canadian Magic scene.
"Confession time. I had literally never heard of Akira Tanaka and Sunao Nakai until they won their WMCQs," admitted Hagon while still choosing Japan as one of the teams he expects to see playing on Sunday. "So why pick Japan? Well, Yuuya Watanabe recently won his sixth Grand Prix title in his sixteenth GP Top 8. Yuuta Takahashi has multiple GP titles and a Pro Tour Top 8. They're defending champions. Oh, and when you look at who didn't win the Japanese WMCQs, that suggests that Tanaka and Nakai are probably more than competent. Since 2004, Japan fell outside the Top 8 teams at Worlds precisely once. I don't see that success level dipping in Indianapolis."
Hagon felt that Sam Black's loss in the WMCQ that was won by Alex Binek was the rest of the world's gain. Black is easily at the top of the deck building heap right now, but Brian Kibler and Luis Scott-Vargas have been known to show up with a format-defining deck or two themselves. They are also two of the very best players in the game at this moment. I will admit to a certain amount of pride in the home team—and isn't that the point of this event?—as did Mike Turian.
"I know I will be tuning into the coverage to see if Brian Kibler and Luis Scott-Vargas can lead the United States to victory!" declared an always beaming Turian. "While for most events I'm rooting for a large swath of players, in the World Magic Cup I know the one team I want to win."
Hagon, of course, had different rooting interests...
Said Hagon, "As everyone around the world knows, nothing is more important than the bragging rights between England and Scotland. England have four solid contestants—Richard Bland; Carrie Oliver; Manveer Samra; and a 'secret weapon' in Marco Orsini-Jones, who might just deliver some truly amazing decks into the hands of his teammates. That said, the Scotland team of Andrew Morrison, Bradley Barclay, Chris Davie, and Stephen Murray is pretty close to being precisely the four names you'd get by simply voting for 'Best Players in Scotland Right Now.' I expect both sides of the border to be in the Top 16, but whether or not either can push on and get into Sunday is another question."
The tournament might very well be Slovakia's to lose, though, as they have an insane level of talent and experience in every seat, starting with Robert Jurkovic as the National Champion. Pro Tour statistician Richard Hagon broke down the team seat by seat:
"So, Robert Jurkovic. All-time leading Pro Points holder for the Slovak Republic; part of the Magic Online Championship at Rome in 2009; and part of the Slovak national team at Worlds in 2000, 2005, 2006, and 2010, including the overall team World Champions in 2010—is he on the WMC team for 2012? He is.
"So, Ivan Floch. Second place all-time Pro Points holder for the Slovak Republic; part of the Slovak national team at Worlds in 2004, 2005, 2010, and 2011 including the overall team World Champions in 2010—is he on the WMC team for 2012? He is.
"So, Patrik Surab. Who? Oh, you mean the Patrik Surab who was part of the overall team World Champions in 2010? Is he on the WMC team for 2012? He is.
"So who is the last member of the team? Filip Valis, that's who; a man who is 'only' the fifth-highest Pro Points accumulator from the Slovak Republic; and a man who has played on the national team in 2006, 2008, 2009, and 2011.
"Nobody comes close to this level of team experience, and while Sunday could see them missing out on a second team title in three years, it's hard to imagine Sunday starting without them."
That was our eight team picks for Sunday, but once they shuffle up and start playing, anything can happen. What teams did we overlook in our picks? Head to the forums and tell us why. And if for some bizarre reason you are not going to be in Indianapolis for "the four best days in gaming" you can tune in at DailyMTG.com to watch all the action live!