The World Magic Cup has quickly become one of the events I look forward to each Pro Tour season. There is an intensity to the event that is unmatched by any other tournament—even by the 200 proof field of the World Championships distilled over the course of the season—that stems from national pride. The Pro Points are nice, the money is sweet, but you need only look at the painted faces, the camaraderie, and coordinated wardrobes to realize this is not your average high-level Magic event. There is, ultimately, something at stake that no Expected Value calculations can measure. One unnamed team captain did say he was in it for the Pro Points but trust me, he is very much the outlier.
Each of the more than 70 teams at the tournament will he captained by the National Champion from that country. That is the countryperson with the most Pro Points over the course of last season's Player of the Year race. The list is populated with Grand Prix standouts, Pro Tour Champions, and Hall of Famers. Each of those teams then had three additional roster spots to fill over the course of three World Magic Cup Qualifiers. There is a much greater range of players here, with old school players putting an edge back onto their swords, PTQ grinders getting a shot at the highest level of competition, and with more than a couple of Pro Tour ringers thrown in for good measure.
One of the strongest teams on paper is Canada with a pair of Pro Tour Champions in National Champion Shaun McLaren and WMCQ winner Alexander Hayne, Grand Prix Montreal semifinalist Daniel Fournier, and Open Series Top 8 competitor David Goldfarb. Canada has been a country on the rise in Magic for several years now with Hayne and McLaren leading the surge, but in a team event there is more to calculate than just the sum of the player's resumes. The biggest X-factor for me is how the notoriously solitary McLaren will function in the structure of a team event.
"Despite having the 'lone wolf' reputation, I love team formats," said McLaren. "Some of my favorite Magic memories are from playing in the 3-player Team Sealeds at each Prerelease. They reward skilled teams and are always a blast to play."
Team Sealed is one of the obstacles that teams will need to clear in the tournament, but that the one that really has McLaren intrigued is Unified Standard. In this format, three team members must build as if the 4-of restriction was being applied to all three of their decks, stacked one on top of another, as a 225 card Standard-legal deck.
"Standard is wide open and incredibly complex. One of the best Standard formats ever in my opinion, where just understanding it is a challenge without adding in the extra complexity of juggling only having 4 copies of each card between 3 decks. Still, I'm confident we'll come up with some great decks," McLaren assured fans of Team Canada.
McLaren was excited about his teammates and was looking forward to doing well and continuing to build on the success that has seen him make the finals of two Pro Tours in his last handful of events.
"When you think of powerhouse Magic playing countries your mind doesn't necessarily leap to Canada, but we've been having a great showing lately. I think that trend is going to continue. I just want to keep playing strong Magic and improving. And hopefully I can cap of this year with a big win or two in France," said McLaren, who will also be playing individually in the World Championship that week.
One of the features of the World Magic Cup is the opportunity for players who do not have standing reservations at the Pro Tour Feature Match tables to get an opportunity to put their country on the Magical map. Australia has come close to the prize in World Team Competition, but returning National Champion Justin Cheung is hoping he can lead his team to uncharted territory. Back in 2007 Cheung was a member of the Australian team that went as far as the finals of Team Worlds before losing to the US team. Joining him on his quest to go one spot better will be WMCQ winners Justin Robb, James Young, and James Fazzolari.
"For me, Magic is less a career, and more a very enjoyable and rewarding hobby. Winning would be amazing in terms of giving me more opportunities to travel and compete, and would be especially sweet as part of a team representing my country," said the four-time Grand Prix Top 8 competitor who was optimistic about his team heading into Nice. "We have a good balance of experienced players and dedicated, up-and-coming talents hungry for their breakout performance."
If Cheung's team does well it will actually be a shared victory for the Australian Magic community which is coming together to help them prepare for the unique challenges of playing in team events.
"A major part of our preparation will be a team tournament in Melbourne two weeks beforehand that utilizes the same formats as the WMC, organized by Isaac Egan of Good Games," said Cheung, who described the event as a win-win. "This will be a fun tournament for the community as team events are rare, and also a great source of data and practice for us."
Cheung would obviously love to one-up his best finish, but his motivation was fittingly about giving something more to the Australian Magic by virtue of becoming World Magic Cup Championships.
"Winning the WMC would be a great way to raise the profile of Australian Magic and promote the game locally," he said. "A growing player base will support our case when it comes time for Wizards to distribute Regional PTQs and GPs. The location of Regional PTQs is a major concern for us due to our geographic isolation, and having a regular local one will sustain the tournament playing community."
Facing a Team Unified Standard event is there someone you would want deciphering that format more than Pro Tour Hall of Famer Frank Karsten? The Dutch National Champion for this year's World Magic Cup team is eager for the task.
"I like the puzzle of how to minimize overlap while still ending up with three strong decks," said Karsten, whose team will be working with the team from Belgium to playtest for the tournament. "Most of the Dutch team members will travel to Nice directly after GP Strasbourg, and that gives us a few days to break Standard before the WMC starts."
Though known for his no-nonsense analytical approach to Magic, Karsten waxed poetic about why he believed his team would be the last one standing at the WMC.
"Cooperation has always been a way of life for the Dutch. Since a large part of our country lies below sea level, people who wouldn't maintain dikes and pumping stations with their neighbors would drown. If we can cooperate to prevent flooding, then we can cooperate to win the WMC!" he said. "If you consider that metaphor to be too farfetched, then let me say that the Dutch team consists of four great Magic players. That might also be important."
Karsten introduced the three WMCQ winners and why he expects them win alongside him.
"I think we're going to do well because my teammates have been playing Magic together for years, are friends, and are skilled at the game. Thomas Hendriks is one of the best and most active players in the Netherlands nowadays. He has a Grand Prix Top 8 to his name, last year in Antwerp; Roy van den Oever has the most lifetime Planeswalker points of any non-Hall of Famer in the Netherlands—he's been to the Pro Tour and a WMC before; Iso Been is the youngest member of the team, but I was impressed when I watched his deliberate play at the WMCQ. I have a lot of faith in him."
The Netherlands is almost a decade removed from the era when it was one of the most dominant countries in Magic, and Karsten was hopeful that a strong showing by the team could inject some new Dutch blood into the Pro Tour scene. He also had his eye on something shiny.
"The Netherlands has taken the Team World Cup before, but that was almost ten years ago, and nowadays we don't even have a Gold-level pro anymore. A WMC win may resurrect Magic in the Netherlands," said the Hall of Famer. "For me personally, it would mean the first title at a major event. I've made plenty of Top 8s at Pro Tour and Grand Prix, but I have never been able to take a winner trophy."
Do you remember reading about the English-Venezuelan alliance in history class? Me neither, although I do vaguely remember something about a dispute over the territory of Essequibo and Guayana Esequiba—alright fine, I googled that. The point being that when you think of England there are plenty of countries that you might quickly associate with them but Venezuela is not one of them. So how did the English WMC team end up in a playtesting arrangement with the South Americans?
Enter one Fabrizio Anteri, who is a Venezuelan living in England and thriving on the Grand Prix circuit in Europe. Anteri actually knows more members from the team on his home country—which includes two of his close friends—than the one he will be playing with: David Inglis, Francesco Giorgio, and Riccardo Reale.
"I actually just know one of my teammates, barely know the second and don't know at all the last one. We have been organizing ourselves with Facebook and will meet in France," said Anteri, who recognizes that none of the names on his team sound like they hail from England. "It's fun that three of us speak Italian, so our conversations during the event won't be as easy to understand for others as if we were talking in English."
Anteri hopes he can give Rich Hagon the one item on his Christmas list this year...a World Magic Cup title for England. Something England has never accomplished in their Magic history.
"I love how the British community has taken me (in)," said the two-time Grand Prix Champion. "The guys respect me a lot and are always very friendly whenever I show up in an event, I have also made very good friends. So it will be an honour for me to be part of the team that gives England such a great title as World Magic Cup Winners if that happens."
While Rich is rooting for Anteri and company, I will be throwing my national rooting interests behind frequent TWTW interview subject Owen Turtenwald and WMCQ winners Isaac Sears, Andrew Baeckstrom, and Neal Oliver.
"Each have made Top 8 of a Grand Prix and won a WMCQ. They're all clearly very good at Magic and I expect they will try their best to represent the team," said Turtenwald, who plans to play a ton of Magic with the World Championship also on his schedule that same week. "I would be very happy to win the World Magic Cup and it would be an honor to bring that title to my country."
I want to hear about who you will be rooting for during the World Magic Cup and how you will be showing your National and Magical pride during the event. You can always reach me via Twitter at @Top8Games.
Congratulations to Ari Lax for being the October Player of the Month on the strength of his win at Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir in Hawaii. It was an amazing run for Lax. He was determined to improve his Limited game and went out of his way to land free agent draft experts Neil Reeves and Chris Fennell for his playtesting team. And then he followed up a strong Limited run with his Planeswalker-packed Abzan deck in Standard. He also locked up the first seat for the World Championship in 2015 with his win.