The threshold of seasonal Planeswalker Points needed for eligibility in a WMCQ varies from country to country based and ranges from 50 points to 300, and here is a quick breakdown of what is needed in each country:
300 Points: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, and the United States
200 Points: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, China, Czech Republic, England, Greece, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Russian Federation, and Sweden
100 Points: Chinese Taipei, Colombia, Denmark, Finland, Hong Kong, Hungary, Indonesia, New Zealand, Norway, Puerto Rico, Singapore, Slovak Republic, South Africa, South Korea, Switzerland, Thailand, and Ukraine
50 Points: Belarus, Bolivia, Bulgaria, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cypress, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Estonia, Guatemala, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Northern Ireland, Panama, Peru, Romania, Scotland, Serbia, Slovenia, Turkey, Uruguay, Venezuela, and Wales
There was much Twitter buzz this weekend as former Team World Champion Sam Black marched his way through the 130-person field at the WMCQ in St. Louis. As he reached the Top 8, and eventually the finals, various National Champions began comparing rosters. In the end, it was not to be and the relatively anonymous 23-year old recent graduate of University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign by the name of Alex Binek was tweeting:
PTQChamp Pumped and honored to be a member of the US National Team for the World Magic Cup! @bmkibler @Top8Games
He had defeated Sam Black and became the latest in a long line of relatively anonymous members of the US National team. Now, plenty of those aforementioned team members have gone on to be the likes of Justin Gary, Bob Maher, Michael Jacobs, Luis Scott-Vargas, and Paul Cheon, so I figured I had better find out a little more about Mr. Binek and why he is known as @PTQChamp on Twitter.
Apparently he became the first student from his college to win a PTQ when he qualified for Pro Tour San Diego in 2010, when he picked up the moniker from his friends—although it was not exactly for his win.
He explained: "I received a lot of heat for sideboarding in Pillarfield Ox off of my white splash for Game 2 of the finals against a Mono-Red Aggro deck. The group would then joke about it whenever I chose to play seemingly underpowered cards in a draft format by saying, 'Well if the PTQ Champ is playing so-and-so, then it MUST be good.' The nickname stuck so I made it my Twitter name."
Binek played on that Pro Tour and has made Day Two of the only Grand Prix he ever played in—Nashville, earlier this year—which, coupled with some success at a StarCityGames Open in Memphis gave him the Planeswalker Points he needed to be eligible to play in the qualifier. His weapon of choice for the event was Wolf Run Ramp with a full set of Cavern of Souls to help him combat the counter magic of the Delver decks prevalent in the field. He came into the tournament with only one aim:
"My goal in the tournament was to play tightly and feel like I did the best I could," said the newest member of the US National team. "Also, I just wanted to go have a good time with my friends and maybe experience some success. I definitely knew that I was capable of winning the tournament, but I did not come in with the expectation of first place."
In the Top 8 of the tournament he had to face off against Delver, Esper Control, and then Sam Black's Delver-less Delver deck in the finals. Perhaps the most exciting play of the Top 8 came in the semifinals when he utilized his Cavern of Souls to stick an uncounterable Zealous Conscripts and steal (or as team captain Brian Kibler calls it, "pay the iron price") a Karn Liberated that was trembling on the brink of going ultimate. Binek had discarded a pair of Mountains to Karn before he stole it, restarted the game, and had those two Mountains to work with.
"I won Game 4 very quickly thanks to having that extra Sol Ring on my side of the board," laughed Binek.
In the finals against Sam Black, Binek took a quick Game 1 when Black stumbled and he ramped into a quick Primeval Titan. In the second game, Cavern of Souls proved its worth but it was another nonbasic that made it possible for Binek to have enough time to win.
"Game 2 went very long, and I won it mostly thanks to my two Cavern of Souls naming Golem and Giant. I eventually stabilized with my Primeval Titan fetching up Glimmerposts for a total of 12 life gained and killed Sam with giant, trampling, Inkmoth Nexuses," recalled Binek who was suddenly playing on the National team with Brian Kibler. "Honestly, I was a little bit shocked. The whole day seemed to fly by, and before I knew it, it was over, and I was on the national team. It didn't really sink in until the next day, and I began to get extremely excited for the experience of playing in the first World Magic Cup!"
While Twitter was going crazy at the prospect of Sam Black joining the National team, Binek was not without a network of support along the way.
"We had a car of five guys that drove over from Champaign, IL, and they were all extremely supportive the whole way through," Binek said, acknowledging Jon Cheng, Martin Schank, Dan McNamara, and Marc Castillo. "Other than that group, I had a lot of friends back in Champaign texting me throughout the Top 8 wishing me luck, and I could never have succeeded without the testing and cardboard support of David Kolschowsky."
I asked Binek if he had anything to say to the US fans who find themselves putting their support behind an unproven commodity in him.
"I play Magic mostly to meet people and enjoy some exciting experiences. I feel so lucky to be able to go to this event and play against people from all over the world every single round. With that in mind, I understand the importance that the United States Magic community places on their representatives at the World Magic Cup, and the goal is certainly first place. I plan on working extremely hard these next two months to improve my game on every level, and I will do everything in my power to bring home the trophy for the United States!"
One of the players standing in the path of the success of the Kibler-led US team will be from their neighbors to the North—Pro Tour Avacyn Restored winner Alexander Hayne. The most recent edition to Hayne's team was Lucas Siow, a player who has had a decent amount of success after qualifying for his first Pro Tour during his senior year of college.Lucas Siow
"I spent pretty much the whole year traveling around the country playing Magic," recalled Siow. "I ended up being qualified for everything. However, after that I started attending a Ph.D. program. Trying to be competitive on the Tour and complete a Ph.D. at a top program ended up being a poor choice. My performance at both suffered. I made a few PTs—notably playing Thopter/Depths at PT Austin—but couldn't sustain success at either. So I ended up getting a Master's and moving back to Canada for my current job."
Once in Canada, Siow was not able to travel as much as he had in the States and turned to Magic Online for his PTQ quest to get back to the PT. He did make it to Pro Tour Philadelphia and did muster a handful of real-life Pro Tour Top 8s which gave him the Planeswalker Points he needed to be eligible for the WMCQs—although this past weekend was the last time he was going to be able to play, so it was all or nothing.
"I was very happy with my deck and thought I had an edge on the field," said Siow of his expectations for the event. "Gerry Thompson has made a career out of taking the best deck and changing ten cards to completely break a Constructed format. I have made a career out of taking Gerry's decks and tweaking five sideboard cards to win PTQs the week after. There was a PTQ the next day and I was hoping that at least the WMCQ would give me a better read on the local meta in case I guessed wrong. Turns out I had it right the first time."
Needless to say, Siow came in armed with a tweaked version of Thompson's winning deck from the SCG Open the weekend earlier
"I felt that his version was very strong against Ramp and weaker to control decks. I assumed that most people would netdeck him and thus Ramp would not be at the top tables," explained Siow of his choices. "I also knew I wanted Day of Judgment because his list DIDN'T have it. And when people saw my main deck they would assume I didn't either. So I started cutting sideboard cards for Ramp and adding cards for control and aggro decks."
There were four players with Pro Tour experience in the Top 8 and two former Canadian National Champions. One of those was Marc Anderson with Naya, who Siow had to beat in the semifinals. The Day of Judgment ended up being an MVC for Siow in that step of the bracket. Of course, every Magic player knows that once you cut cards for a specific matchup—like Siow did for Ramp—you can pretty much assure yourself of having to face down that deck on the brink of your goals, and that is exactly what happened. Getting to go first by virtue of his top seed was the edge Siow needed to get past Steve Tomik and his Ramp deck.
Siow was understandably excited to play on the National team and to play alongside Alexander Hayne.
"It's tough for Canadian players to sustain success on the PT. It's very costly for us to travel and we don't have the population density to support the equivalent of a SCG Open Series/Bazaar of Moxen (style) tournament series. Which means the way for us to get to better is really push ourselves and each other," said the repatriated Canadian. "Hayne is one of the best examples of that. He is so focused on the perfect play that it makes everyone else better. Even after a Top 2 at GP Montreal he didn't sit on his laurels. Whether they test with him or prepare to try and beat him, he drives you to compete. Hopefully this is just the beginning of some sustained success. David Caplan, Marc Anderson, and others are all part of a new wave that feeds off each other. It's an honor to be able to contribute to the community by representing the team and pushing competitive Magic in Canada."
While the country's big names are leading to a resurgence in Canada, Siow reminded me that it takes a local playgroup—echoing the experience of Binek—to make sure you get to each event and stay motivated once you get there: "Recently, I also experienced a renewed hunger when I was able to find a group of guys who make tournament Magic and traveling awesome again. Without them I wouldn't know what decks not to play. A shoutout to Jamie, Paul, Maksym, Daniel, Omar, and Halley."Ivan Floch
Last week, I got to interview Pro Tour Berlin Top 8 competitor Matej Zatlkaj about the Slovakian WMCQs—this past weekend's being the one of the three he could not attend. It turns out he was visiting NYC with his lovely girlfriend and I had a chance to grab some dim sum in Chinatown with the two of them and Limited Information columnist Steve Sadin. Zatlkaj informed me that none other than former Team World Champion Ivan Floch had secured the third seat on a team that already included Robert Jurkovic and Filip Valis to create a formidable squad he hopes to join with the one remaining WMCQ.
You can find info about all the upcoming qualifier events, including this weekend's second US tournament—in the heart of ChannelFireball country, Oakland, California—here. Don't let your Planeswalker Points go to waste—I might be talking to you next week!