There is one Magic tournament that is like no other, and it is right around the corner. Of course I am talking about the World Magic Cup, which will feature national teams from more than 70 different Magic-playing nations competing for more than "just" the cash prizes and Pro Points that come with success at the highest levels of Magic. Players are competing for all the Magic players back at home hoping to add a World Magic Cup title to their nation's trophy case.
Teams of four players have qualified. The player in each country with the highest Pro Point total was crowned the National Champion. The next three spots were handed out via World Magic Cup Qualifiers in each country. With rosters set, the teams were then left to their own devices to playtest and figure out the two formats: Battle for Zendikar Team Sealed and Unified Standard. Each format involves building three decks, and one of the challenges teams will face is figuring out which player sits out each leg of the tournament to act as team coach.
There will be text and live video coverage of every round of this unique tournament. I caught up with some of the people I will be working with throughout the weekend to find out what they are expecting to see. Joining me at the round table were...well, why don't I let them introduce themselves?
From left: Rich Hagon, Nate Holt, Randy Buehler, Tim Willoughby,
Neale Talbot, Marshall Sutcliffe, and Tobi Henke
BDM: First of all, tell us who you, what your role will be at the event, and what you will do to prepare for the weekend.
Rich Hagon: The WMC is both the most fun and the most challenging of our live broadcasts. There are hundreds of players we don't always get to see at the Pro Tour level, and it's partly my job to know about their Magic stories.
Randy Buehler: I'll be doing commentary, and I've been trying to line up Team Sealed builds to go with drafting the format. Draft can help you know the various tricks that come up in Limited, but you've got to actually build Team Sealed pools to really understand what the decks themselves are going to look like. Meanwhile, Unified Standard is another format that you just have to try to build decks for to really understand how it works. That, plus reading Frank Karsten articles.
Tim Willoughby: My role will primarily be in the feature match area, where I'll be bringing updates to the booth on what's going on off camera and making sure that the best of the action makes it to your screens. I'll also be doing some booth commentary on matches. My preparation has included a number of Team Sealed practices, and a lot of theorycrafting about Unified Constructed.
Neale Talbot: I'll be on text coverage. I prepare by devouring Magic streams, Magic Online events, and caffeine in various proportions.
Marshall Sutcliffe: I'll be doing play-by-play commentary as well as some work at the news desk. Preparing for the WMC is different than any other tournament. My main focus is getting to know the teams, as I want to have the best idea of which teams to watch.
Tobi Henke: My job will be writing, and my preparation is reading. Reading about people, about teams, about the formats, and reading coverage of previous years' World Magic Cups. I also talked a bit with Frank Karsten about Team Standard, which was quite enlightening.
BDM: What makes the World Magic Cup such a special event? For someone who has not been to or seen the WMC before, describe the atmosphere that comes from players competing for their countries.
Henke: At a regular Magic event, you play by yourself, for yourself, and against everyone else, essentially. At any given team tournament, you're no longer on your own—and that changes the dynamics already. But the World Magic Cup goes way beyond that! Not only do you have your teammates, you're also playing for your country. And even with your opponents, you have the shared experience of the qualification process, the same sense of accomplishment.
Sutcliffe: It's the electricity in the room. Sure, you get the whole "playing for my country" thing, which is amazing, but I love the mix of full-time professional Magic players with the bright-eyed WMCQ winners, many of whom are playing their first event on this level. I'd describe it as a nervous excitement. Each team is excited about the possibility of being the next World Magic Cup Champion, but given the offbeat nature of the formats and the fact that the team members are often not able to get together for extensive testing, there is a palpable curiosity about if their strategies will work out. I love it.
Buehler: All the national pride on the line generates a tournament that feels more like the Olympics, or maybe a World Cup soccer tournament. Flags are everywhere, and that taps into a natural competitiveness that is just awesome.
Talbot: The WMC is the only event with true international representation. It's the Olympics of the Magic circuit, with every country able to win gold.
Willoughby: The big thing about the World Magic Cup is that it is the time when it becomes cool to get behind your country and cheer, rather than picking players to watch or decks you prefer. The teams have a sense of pride in what they are doing, as nobody wants to let their country down. In some respects, team play takes the pressure off a little, as your team can help you out if you are having a rough time, but there's still the feeling that the teams are playing for something big. Even seasoned veterans come to realize that they have a rare opportunity when on a World Magic Cup team to do something special.
BDM: The easiest way to describe Unified Standard is to imagine stacking all three Standard decks and sideboards on top of one another and having that stack still be a Standard-legal deck. The toughest part of building them may be stretching 20 fetch lands across those three decks. What do you expect to see teams bring to the tables?
Buehler: So many of the Standard decks nowadays overlap by so many cards that I think Unified Standard will be a quite interesting puzzle. In particular, there just aren't enough fetch lands to go around, so we may see a lot of folks using Eldrazi decks and/or red aggro decks. But then again, everyone knows that, so the metagame should get quite interesting.
Willoughby: Fetch lands are definitely the bottleneck in Unified Standard, and I'd imagine that as a consequence we'll see a few different decks being played that might not have made the cut at the last Pro Tour. I can imagine Eldrazi ramp or a pure mono-red strategy proving attractive, not least because they allow other decks to get more than their fair share of lands. The tough thing, of course, will be that everyone knows that going in. I can't help but think that Infinite Obliteration will be a regular inclusion for many decks, in the face of the menace that is Ulamog.
BDM: The WMC has been such an amazing platform for players to make a name for themselves. Just look at how terrifically the Danes from last year's team have performed this season. Who are you keeping an eye on for a breakout finish this year?
Willoughby: My sleeper team this year is unabashedly England. Last year we finished third, and team captain Fabrizio Anteri is back with a squad of players who are all good enough to cause a few upsets. I believe in you, boys!
Holt: Hungary. They've done really well at this event before with little attention. Tamás Nagy and Gabor Kocsis are WMC veterans at this point. I smell another Top 8 for them.
Sutcliffe: Italy. Marco Cammilluzzi and Andrea Mengucci are solid headliners for a team that is easy to overlook. That's a solid piece of Pro Tour experience to act as a foundation for a winning team.
BDM: There are some pretty stacked teams in the field this year, but that is true every year. What is it about this event that has left the door open for teams like Denmark to shock the world?
Henke: The WMC is just about the best team-building exercise one can imagine. Essentially it forces talented individual players to form a cohesive team unit. And if that works out, the structure built at the event—and also the connections made outside the team—will come in handy in the future. That's why past WMC champions have often done so well later on. On the flip side, players who are already part of well-established networks may have a harder time adapting to the situation. But that's all very speculative.
Willoughby: I think that one of the challenges that the "big name" teams face at the World Magic Cup historically has been that the Platinum pros have been spread fairly thin on testing, as historically the World Magic Cup has happened in the same week as the World Championship. Last year I know that the likes of Owen Turtenwald, Shahar Shenhar, and Shaun McLaren all had to deal with divided attention when it came to preparation and trust their teammates to make up some of that shortfall. This year, that all changes. It's rough news for teams with fewer trophies already in their cabinets, but with so many teams, there's always going to be a few surprises.
Buehler: The fact that previous results get wiped away each time a new pod is formed can lead to some wild swings. As long as you survive each segment of the tournament, you stay in great shape to win the whole thing. This helps the underdogs compete with the big boys—and once you get to Sunday, anything can happen.
Holt: Emerging from the Swiss means getting lucky that other teams in your pod lose, so there's an element that's out of the best players' control. In three years of Top 8s, I think Tzu-Ching Kuo was unstoppable in 2012, people underestimated France in 2013, and 2014 can be summarized by one word: Daneblast.
BDM: Give me your World Magic Cup Top 8 predictions and which country you think will win.
Holt: USA, Canada, Brazil, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Japan, the Netherlands, and my Cinderella champion—Hungary! Magyar győzelem!
Buehler: Japan, USA, Canada, Denmark, Brazil, South Korea, the Netherlands, Italy (last cut was Israel). Canada has the best one-two punch (and they are the only team with two Platinum
pros), but depth matters, and both the American and Japanese teams are deeper. I think I've got to give it to Japan, as their third is either the guy who came second at the last Pro Tour—Ryoichi Tamada—or a slightly out-of-form Hall of Famer in Kenji Tsumura. I like Neil Oliver a lot, but either of those is probably better than Neil, and none of the Americans can quite go toe-to-toe with Yuuya Watanabe.
Talbot: Top 8 in no particular order: Sweden, USA, Japan, Hong Kong, Slovakia, Brazil, Denmark, New Zealand. And to win? Going on team strength alone, still probably USA—though it's not really in their track record to win the WMC.
Willoughby: I have a hard time imagining Canada, the USA, Japan, or Denmark not putting up good numbers, and am certainly hoping for another banner performance from England, but if you are looking for teams worth keeping in mind, think about the Netherlands (with Jelger Wiegersma, who has done more Team Sealed than most other teams in the room), Hungary (who have a team very experienced in Worlds play), and Italy, who have a team featuring both Marco Cammilluzzi and Andrea Mengucci. I'm not sure which of them will get to play with the Siege Rhinos, but both are excellent players. That's eight teams. I'm going to give the win to Japan this year. One Hall of Famer, one slam-dunk first vote for Hall of Fame, one Pro Tour finalist who impressed a great many people in Milwaukee. Good enough for me.
Henke: The Top 8 will feature an even mix between expected and unexpected teams, and, in a change from previous years, one of the more accomplished groups of players will win. That could mean the United States, but could just as easily be Belgium, Austria, Italy, or the Czech Republic. Forced to pick a winner, I'd pick the Danes to become the first back-to-back WMC champions.
Sutcliffe: I can't wrap my brain around a full Top 8, so I'm going to predict the Top 4. They are: Japan, USA, Canada, and the Czech Republic. I refuse to pick a winner on the basis of my Fifth Amendment rights. (Fine, Japan has the best team, they should win.)
Hagon: Picking an actual winner is nonsense, especially this year. There are fewer "super teams" than in some other years, and the only team I'd definitively back to reach Sunday and the Top 8 would be the Americans—I just don't see them getting beaten enough on either Friday or Saturday to stop them pre–knockout rounds. It's easy to say Japan, because their lineup is bonkers, but that's been true before now and they (amazingly) have never reached Day Two of the WMC. So, I'm not sure about them. How about a South Korea versus Serbia final, with Aleksa Telarov claiming the title for the Serbs? Yeah, that'll do.