When the last Pro Points of the 2012–13 season were handed out at that event, seventy-one National Champions were crowned and left only this weekend's slots left to be determined for the World Magic Cup in Amsterdam. The races for the title of National Champion ranged from neck and neck to needing a miracle finish to a handful of players hoping nobody from their country would pass them in their absence from PT Dragon's Maze.
"I had 25 Pro Points, and I was not Qed for San Diego sooo..." trailed off Costa Rica's National Champion Miguel Gatica, who was forced to sit home sweating Carlos Pal's performance. "He needed a Top 8 to take away the title from me. Or (Cristian Zúñiga) needed to win the Pro Tour."
This will be the sixth time that Gatica gets to represent Costa Rica in a World competition and the third time he has been the National Champion. Despite rooting against Carlos Pal during the Pro Tour (or at least rooting for a 9th-place finish), Gatica would love to see him round out the National team this weekend and was looking forward to preparing for the tournament taking place in Amsterdam this summer.
"We have a really good relationship with Canada. I'm part of the Mana Deprived Team," said Gatica. "And for this event, Jon Stern and myself decided to join both countries and work together, the eight of us."
Canadian National Champion Jon Stern returns to World competition eleven years after his last National Team berth when he qualified to represent his country at Worlds 2002 in Sydney, Australia.
"That was my first professional tournament and launched my stint on the Tour, as I managed to win a PTQ while down under," said the Pro Tour Gatecrash Top 16 finisher. "I started 1–5 in the individual portion but battled back to a 10–8 record. Unfortunately, the team finished in a disappointing 21st place. I don't think we had official captains back then, but I guess I was acting captain when Nationals winner Jurgen Hahn decided the flight was too expensive."
Canada is a country that was once a force at World competition and Stern was hopeful he could continue to stoke the resurgent fire that has been burning in Canada for the past few seasons. Stern looked back to a former Team World Champion—and Pro Tour Champion as well—for inspiration.
"For my money, Gab Tsang was the best player in the country when I started playing competitively and was part of Canadian teams that won the title in 1997 and finished 2nd in 2000. It will be difficult, but I'd love to see Canada get back to that level," said Stern, who has become part of the Mana Deprived team. While the once strictly Canadian team has expanded its reach with players from Asia and South America, there is much national pride in the success of that team.
"I've had a strong sense of having the entire country rally around me all year as I competed as a member of Team Mana Deprived. It's an amazing feeling to know that any personal success will be celebrated as a victory by the entire community, and I'm really excited for the chance to officially represent them at the World Magic Cup."
Stern came into Pro Tour Dragon's Maze with just a 3-point lead over Alexander Hayne. A Top 25 by Hayne, a Top 16 by Maksym Gryn, or a win by Sebastian Denno would have all unseated him and sent him to a Qualifier this weekend, but he managed to hold on to his lead and is excited about the team so far.
"Andy Peters will be a force to be reckoned with once we get him a passport, and Tyler Woolley plays a ton on Magic Online," said Stern, who would still like to add some firepower in the last spot. "My biggest cheers will be for Alex Hayne at the last WMCQ, but there are plenty of others I'd love to work with. I think team chemistry will be an underrated factor at the WMC and one of our greatest strengths."
Australian National Champion Justin Cheung will be playing on the National team for the third time in his career. He got to play on the inaugural Australian World Magic Cup team last year and got as far as the finals of Team Worlds in 2008 at Memphis before falling to the American team on Sunday. It was not the last time an Australian team would get that far but Cheung had his eye on the trophy.
"Jeremy Neeman, Adam Witton, and Ian Wood made the finals at Worlds 2010, so it would be great to go one better!" said Cheung, who is always amazed by the well-wishes he gets from players at home. "There has been a lot of support and encouragement from local players. It's really heartening to know how many brave the time zone difference to be awake at outrageous hours to watch the coverage and cheer us along. Representing Australia is truly an honor."
"The team is looking quite promising at the moment. Riley Knight is a talented newcomer and Matt Anderson is an innovative deck builder. I'm hoping my experience can combine with their enthusiasm and creativity to create a well-balanced team. With yet another member to add it can only get better. This weekend's WMCQ is being held in my hometown of Sydney, so I am going to be biased and hope one of my local mates can win it!"
Another country that has twice come up one match short of winning the team competition is Austria. Thomas Holzinger is the team captain for the second year in a row and is spurred on not only by getting past that last round but by the legacy of tremendous former Champions from his country.
"The Austrian team made it to the Finals at Worlds twice—2007 and 2009—which is a pretty nice motivation for finally winning the title, but also the National Champions we had were players I was always looking up to—Helmut Summersberger, Niki Eigner, Thomas Preyer, Oliver-Polack-Rottmann, and Benedikt Klauser, to name the most known."
"Basically, the situation was me sitting on 26 points the whole season, being qualified for San Diego together with Helmut Summersberger and Oliver Polack-Rottmann, who had a total of 4 and 0 points. Basically, I needed them to NOT win the Pro Tour," said Holzinger of the scenario he faced heading into the last event of the year. "They didn't win the PT, so I became the National Champion despite finishing 8–8 and not even getting an extra point. It may sound pretty unexciting, since winning the PT is still a hard job, but Oliver was in a solid position throughout the whole Pro Tour and the Constructed deck seemed pretty solid."
Holzinger's current teammates are polar opposites when it comes to experience level, but he was optimistic about playing with each of them.
"Manuel Danninger won the first WMCQ despite having less experience at Magic. He started playing Magic a year ago but got some experience from other games. I am sure he will be somebody who can help the team. The second qualifier was won by David Reitbauer, aka "the Vize World Champion" who is still one of the top players you could wish for."
Greek National Champion Simon Bertiou needed a Top 75 finish at the Pro Tour to earn his third National title. He got off to a 9–1 start at the event and looked to be in great shape with his streamlined Azorius Control deck (the same one that took Andrejs Prost to a Top 8 finish) to pilot down the stretch.
"I considered myself a lock and had my eyes on Top 25 or Top 8 even," admitted Bertiou, who found himself staring down a Pro Tour Champion after a Day Two stumble. "You can imagine my disappointment after losing four in a row and being in need of a top deck in order to win against Stanislav Cifka. Sphinx's Revelation for 1 got me the Dispel I needed and won me a game I tried so hard to lose with the way I played. Props to Cifka for taking that with a smile and being an absolute gentleman about it."
Pro Tour Gatecrash finalist Joel Larsson has played on a National team once before when Sweden came in 7th in the team portion of Worlds 2011 in San Francisco. Larsson also put up an individual Top 16 finish at that event and thought he was all but locked in to helm the Swedish team at the inaugural World Magic Cup.
"It means a great deal to be the champion for Sweden! Last year, I was leading the race by some margin. If nobody had a great finish at PT Avacyn Restored, which Denniz Rachid did (by) Top 8ing the PT and slipping by me with a few points," said a relieved Larsson, who nearly saw Rachid snatch the title away from again. "I really feel pumped up for leading the Swedish team. It definitely feels like I got my back covered!"
I would feel like my back is covered too, if I had a Pro Tour Hall of Famer on my team.
"The Swedish team consists so far of me, Joakim Åberg, and Olle Råde," said Larsson. The latter of those players of course having five Pro Tour Top 8s, a Hall of Fame ring, and a Pro Tour trophy going back to the earliest days of the Pro Tour. "In the last WMCQ I have a lot of friends who I wish to qualify, but if I had to choose among the them I would like to see Denniz Rachid, Elias Watsfeldt, Kenny Öberg, or Ludde Londos."
Brazil's Willy Edel gets to cap off a remarkable Pro Tour season with a berth in both the World Magic Cup and the sixteen-player World Championship, but it is the team competition that has him the most excited of the two.
"I always loved team tournaments and if I had to—hypothetically—choose between playing the World Championship or the WMC, I would take the WMC in a heartbeat," said Edel, who first caught our attention as a finalist at the team Pro Tour in Charleston. "Besides being a team event, which is awesome, I can represent every single player who I see every day in stores and who played in these WMCQs. Representing my local community means pretty much everything to me, Magic-related."
With the likes of nine-time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor—and his Charleston teammate—Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa chasing him down, it is no wonder that Edel played in the earlier WMCQs to hedge his bets.
"Since the first WMCQ people came up to me saying that they really wanted to play with me and would put a lot of effort to play in as many WMCQs as possible," said Edel of the support he has gotten at home. "After I was confirmed as captain, everywhere I go I heard words of support and encouragement. Brazilians really love this 'playing for the country not for yourself' thing and I'm sure the WMC will have A LOT more of viewers on stream/coverage than any PT/PC."
Edel was excited about his current teammates but was reluctant to play any favorites when asked about the final upcoming qualifier.
"I have so many friends playing in the next qualifier that it would be unfair to name a few, but I hope that whoever wins shares the same passion I have about representing the country and wants more than just playing abroad. I want to play with some people who want really badly to be on the Pro Tour."
Whether you are in Brazil, Greece, Canada, Austria, Sweden, Australia, Costa Rica, or any of the other sixty-four nations participating in the World Magic Cup, you can look forward to the full coverage treatment of the event, as well as the sixteen-player World Championship. It is going to be five full days of video and text coverage kicking off on July 31.
That is going to be a lot of high-level Magic to write and talk about and as such we are packing a little extra firepower. Joining the video coverage crew for the entire week will be none other than Pro Tour Berlin champion Luis Scott-Vargas. It has been amazing to share a Top 8 booth with LSV for the past two Pro Tours and I am excited to hear his insights over the course of the two full events. On the text side we will be joined by Pro Tour Hall of Famer Frank Karsten. If you have never had the opportunity to read a Frank Karsten article about Magic you are in for a treat.