With Magic 2015 fully revealed, and players able to get their hands on the new cards at worldwide Prerelease events this very weekend, we are officially in the home stretch of finalizing the champions for 72 Magic-playing nations. The player with the most Pro Points in his or her nation at the conclusion of Pro Tour Magic 2015 is crowned the national champion and will take part in the World Magic Cup with three teammates who will be determined through WMC Qualifiers over the summer. There are only two Magic-playing weekends—with three events—left for players to make up precious Pro Point ground: the aforementioned Pro Tour and the weekend before that, which will feature a pair of Grand Prix.
With 30 Pro Points earmarked for the winner of PT Magic 2015 and another 8 points for winning a Grand Prix, there is the possibility for a dark horse to emerge in almost every race, but there are a handful of names you can pencil into the captain's seat come Worlds Week in Nice, France. Looking through the list of players with more than a 20-point lead (or without other players from their countries having at least 15 Pro Points) there are some familiar faces who are likely to be heading to the World Magic Cup.
Valentin Mackl has been tearing up the Grand Prix circuit with four Top 8s this season and is the lone Austrian player on the board with 38 points. I would not be surprised to see the latest iteration of the Road Warrior grinding some Modern at GP Boston the weekend before the Pro Tour as he tries to add to his 34 points on the season. One more point would mean he was Gold for Pro Tour M15 and would put him within a Top 25 of making Platinum for all of next year. Austria has made the finals of a Worlds team competition twice—2007 and 2009—but Mackl would be aiming to win the title for the first time for his country.
Felipe Tapia Becerra is the current Rookie of the Year, captained the Chilean team at last season's WMC, and will almost certainly be back to try and get the team further than it did last year. He could also use an extra point to secure Silver for next season. No South American team has ever won the team competition at Worlds.
Tzu-Ching Kuo led Chinese Taipei to the first World Magic Cup title. He has had a quiet season and will need to feast on some bonus points at Grand Prix Taipei to improve his finish in the Players Club this year. With 23 points, he will hit Silver for next season by playing in Portland but can give himself a puncher's chance at Gold with a strong GP finish.
Pro Tour Return to Ravnica Champion Stanislav Cifka is more than 20 points ahead of Martin Juza and should be able to cruise to his second consecutive captaincy of the team for the Czech Republic. Cifka is already solidly Platinum for next season, despite a relatively quiet year. The Czech Republic has never won a team competition despite making it into the finals way back in 1996.
Fabrizio Anteri hails from South America but is living in England and is the only player from that country on the big board. Winning back-to-back Grand Prix makes up the bulk of his points and he will lock up Gold when he crosses the threshold of Pro Tour M15. Much to the chagrin of my co-commentator Rich Hagon, the English team has never won a team competition but it hopes to change its fortunes with some imported talent.
Serious question: Just how good is Jérémy Dezani? The Pro Tour Theros Champion has none other than Pro Tour Hall of Famer Raphaël Lévy chasing him down for the captaincy of the French National team. Lévy, you will recall, led France to its first win in team play last year, but it is virtually impossible for him to catch Player of the Year frontrunner Dezani, who is 31 points ahead of him. If I was going to pick a team right now to win the WMC based solely on its captain, I would have to pick France to repeat. You will be seeing a lot of Dezani that week in France, since he is locked for a World Championship seat by virtue of his win in Dublin.
Two-time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor Lee Shi-Tian will be leading the Hong Kong team for the second year in row. He has already locked up Platinum and it seems more than likely he will have a busy week in France with the World Championship very much in his field of vision.
There are also some heated races that will play out over the last two weekends of the 2013–14 Pro Tour season. The United States race is likely to be won by Reid Duke, who is much closer to the lead in the Player of the Year race—having just been passed by the Grand Prix Milan Champion Jérémy Dezani—than anyone chasing him down for the National Championship. He has a pair of Player of the Year winners in Owen Turtenwald and Josh Utter-Leyton all within a deep run in Portland of catching him. There is almost no way Duke will be dethroned with anything less than a finals appearance from Turtenwald or Utter-Leyton, and any kind of deep Day Two finish by Duke will lock it up.
Duke will be playing a lot of Magic in France. Even if he does not win the Player of the Year title, he will be qualified for the World Championship no matter how you slice up the invitation list. It will be his third year in a row at that tournament. If he continues his upward trend from the Player's Championship to last year's World Championship, there is nothing left for him to do but to win.
Slovakia is a country that has a very impressive track record in the team portion of Worlds competition. It won the title in 2010 at Worlds in Chiba, Japan, and a member of that winning team, Ivan Floch, is chasing down Matej Zatlkaj for the chance to replicate that feat. Only 4 points separate the two of them, and if either decides to stop in Boston on his way to the Pro Tour, it could be a huge difference-maker. Floch could use an extra 3 points to lock up Gold before he gets to the West Coast but will get there once he registers for the tournament.
You have a pair of Pro Tour Hall of Famers jockeying 1 point apart for the right to rock the orange jersey of The Netherlands at the World Magic Cup. Kamiel Cornelissen has tiny edge over Frank Karsten, and if either players shows up without the other in Portland, that will be enough to ensure the captaincy for that player.
Japan is tied with Germany for 2nd place all-time in team wins at World competition, with two wins apiece. Yuuya Watanabe has a 7-point lead over Kentaro Yamamoto to captain this year's squad. Watanabe has more than enough experience at that level of competition. He was part of a Japanese team that finished 4th one year, has won the Player's Championship, and closed out seasons strong with Rookie and Player of the year titles. It may be just a 7-point lead, but I like Watanabe's chances here.
Italy's Andreas Mengucci was a revelation at Pro Tour Journey into Nyx. He dominated the King of the Hill seat for longer than any other player and made his way into the first Top 8 of his young career. Now he finds himself tied for the lead to be the Italian National Champion with the only Italian player to ever win a Pro Tour—Samuele Estratti. It should be a great race between two of the most gregarious personalities on the Pro Tour.
Germany's Patrick Dickmann is 8 points ahead of his Pro Tour Born of the Gods co-Top 8 competitor Christian Siebold, with none other than literal and metaphorical Pantheon member Kai Budde 1 point behind Siebold. Germany is tied with Japan for the second-most wins in World team competition, winning in 2002—with Kai Budde at the helm—and 2004.
Canada won the team competition way back in 1997 and has been scrapping to get back ever since. The battle to lead this year's team features Pro Tour Born of the Gods Champion Shaun McLaren, with an 8-point lead over former Rookie of the Year and fellow PT Champion Alexander Hayne. Hayne has closed ground in the last event of a season before—during his Rookie of the Year campaign—and has shown more than a little proficiency with Standard this season. And 2 points off from Hayne is Jacob Wilson, who would love nothing more than to get a little revenge on McLaren with the Pro Tour win that got away from him in Valencia.
I cannot wait for the last Pro Tour of the season to get here. There will be no shortage of drama to be had. The World Magic Cup captaincy is just scratching the surface. Make sure to mark your calendars as we will be bringing you all the action from the opening draft right through to the hardware-packed awards ceremony.
I stand by my decision to award Sam Black the Player of the Month title in October near the start of the season, but it was tough to pass up giving it to Pro Tour Theros Champion Jérémy Dezani. I get to make up for that a little this month by giving Dezani the award for his dramatic win at Grand Prix Milan, which leapfrogged him past Reid Duke for the Player of the Year lead. With so much GP success already this year, and the five-event cap bearing down on him, nothing less than a win would give him the lead, and that was exactly what he did.
There was a lot of support for Fabrizio Anteri and his Manchester win but much of that support pointed back to his other GP win during the previous month. Both were impressive, but I cannot let this year come to a conclusion without the current best player in the game becoming Player of the Month at least once.