I just realized that 20 years ago this month I organized my first ever Magic tournament. There had been a couple of small tournaments around NYC but this was the first one with a big prize, judging staff, and "internet email" that you could use to register. We had several hundred people show up and learned pretty quickly about everything we did not know about running events. Just take a look at the prizes for our single-elimination event that went all the way down to third place.
When you compare that long-ago event to today's tournaments, it's like comparing an old silent film to today's blockbuster IMAX extravaganzas. We didn't know if we'd even get enough turnout to run another event, much less that there was something called a World Championship that had already taken place for the game. Higher production values than what we put together in New York, but still a far cry from what Worlds looks like 20 years later.
As we teeter on the brink of the release of this 20th tournament anniversary blockbuster, which will feature full video coverage of every draft, every round, and every single match on Sunday, I'm pleased to unveil the trailer for this year's competition by the incomparable Nathaniel Holt and Shawn Kornhuaser.
I sat down with a small sampling of the vast army that will be bringing you the wall-to-wall coverage of this amazing event to get into what we can expect to see in terms of formats, players, and who we expect to playing on Sunday. Joining me at the table to discuss streaming the best players in the world playing Magic on a Tuesday (!!!) were Organized Play columnist Mike Rosenberg, Limited Information columnist Marshall Sutcliffe, primer of Prereleases Tim Willoughby, my Sunday wingman Rich Hagon; and Pro Tour Champion Simon Goertzen, who will be making his Worlds coverage debut (and carrying all our bags as is the fate of all rookie team members).
BDM, Sutcliffe, Willoughby
Hagon, Goertzen, Rosenberg, Styborski
BDM: I know Simon will only be with us through the Swiss rounds of the World Championship, but if the rest of you got to choose only one of the two events to cover, which would it be? Personally, as much as I adore the World Championship I would opt for the excitement and fanfare that surrounds the World Magic Cup. Thankfully I do not have to choose.
Sutcliffe: World Championship! While I love the unique aspects of the World Magic Cup, nothing can replace the electricity of the very best players in the world competing for the title of World Champion. So few players get to hold that title, and all of them want it.
Willoughby: As much as I love the World Championship, the World Magic Cup is my favorite event of the year. I love seeing everyone's senses of national pride swell, and the friendly banter between teams as they vie to take home the trophy, not just for themselves but for their entire nation.
Hagon: World Magic Cup. The pageantry, the pride, and the staggering levels of drama.
Goertzen: World Championship for me. Team play is incredible, and even better when infused with national pride. However, there is just something magical about the best players in the world playing the best game in the world.
Rosenberg: Why not both?
Styborski: World Championship. The best players in the world playing some of the best Magic found anywhere? After getting my taste of it in Seattle in 2012, I've hungered to enjoy it in-person again.
BDM: We are starting out with the all-star game, the World Championship. I am very curious to see how our Rookie of the Year Raymond Perez, Jr. acquits himself against this field of Pro Tour Champions and Hall of Famers. Who do you have your eye on from the two-dozen competitors?
Goertzen: It's great to get to witness Patrick Chapin in such a high-level competition. He knows how it feels to be the runner-up at Worlds, and has had his eye on the trophy longer than most of his competitors. If he finds the right angles to attack the different metagames, I expect great things of him.
Willoughby: I think that of the players in the World Magic Cup, the one who I'm most interested to see this year is William Jensen. He's already stated that this is the event he's tested for most in the last year. When you combine a fierce work ethic with very strong natural talent, you can expect fireworks. Honorable mention goes to newly inducted Hall of Famer Paul Rietzl. He has a great win percentage against other Hall of Famers, and that's essentially the field he's up against.
Hagon: Yuuki Ichikawa. He's twice demonstrated his ability to beat a strong Pro Tour field and reach the Top 8. Now it will be great to see him in a field where 'very good' is replaced by 'totally outstanding' round after round.
Rosenberg: While the 2014 World Championship features some incredibly talented individuals, the player I am most looking forward to see during 2014 Worlds Week is Lee Shi Tian. Asian Magic has been so heavily dominated by the Japanese pros over the game's history, and Lee's performances in the last two years as well as his undying passion for the game and his regional community have me excited to see what he'll do next.
Sutcliffe: Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa. People seem to take Paulo for granted. He is one of very few players who can be talked about in the top three or four best players of all time. And he still plays! The guy is a legend in our game, and somehow still gets overlooked all too often. Also Huey Jensen. You may have heard of him.
Styborski: I'm excited to follow William Jensen. After an incredible delivery on his first year post-Pro Tour Hall of Fame induction, his mix of teammates, talent, and experience is always a pleasure to follow. Facing the best of the rest of the world should reveal his depth in explicit terms.
BDM: Which format (VMA, Modern, KTK, or Standard) are you most excited to see these guys play in? I remember being shocked by Reid Duke's take on the Modern format last year and I think there is room for us to be surprised in that format again this year.
Hagon: Modern. I've loved it ever since it began (I was a huge fan of Extended before that), and nothing I've seen in the format has ever disappointed me. I don't expect it to in Nice, either.
Willoughby: I think I'm most excited about seeing 'real life' Vintage Masters draft. It is comparatively infrequently that you get to see someone contemplating a piece of Power Nine in draft. More than that though, this is a draft format that is deep and interesting, and creates some very memorable games.
Sutcliffe: Khans of Tarkir. I like Vintage Masters, but that format has some "truths" to it and the players in the tournament will know them. Khans has a much wider range of strategies, which makes for more interesting viewing.
Rosenberg: Vintage Masters, not close. VMA is a format that went live on Magic Online a scant three days before I started working for Wizards of the Coast, so not only is it one of my least explored formats, it was also a blast to sample what was going on during that short window where I could still play in the 8-4s. I'm looking forward to seeing how the 24 competitors tackle this one.
Goertzen: Out of the four formats, Vintage Masters is the least explored, at least concerning high-stakes, professional-level events. How do players prepare, what do they come up with? Who puts in the required hours of practice, and who still knows all the cards from when they first came out?
Styborski: Vintage Masters is a unique draft format that I loved catching in draft videos and other recaps. Watching it in person, with actual cards, is something I never dreamed I'd get the chance to see.
BDM: Where do you think Modern sits after our first major event at GP Madrid? Were fears of a combo planet unwarranted?
Goertzen: Nobody is disputing the power of Jeskai Ascendancy, but it's currently a niche card in an already-powerful format. We do have to see, however, how the "combo" of Treasure Cruise and cards in graveyards will affect the format, especially concerning archetype viability.
Hagon: Yeah, Madrid was a really interesting weekend. I guess the question is whether our players will be bold and try to do something with, say, Jeskai Ascendancy, or whether they'll prefer something 'safe' like UR Delver or Birthing Pod.
Rosenberg: Players concerned about the sky falling in the Modern format is comparable to folks from my hometown of San Diego being concerned about a heavy rainfall of half an inch. While I do think some of the combo cards that started a lot of this chicken-little mentality are better than how it is currently represented, and while I do think the new blue delve spells are format-shifting in a big way, I also think it's a refreshing change of pace and I am anxious to see how Modern continues to develop.
Sutcliffe: Fears averted. Sure, there are some of the usual suspects for Modern around—Scapeshift, Splinter Twin, Birthing Pod—but the rumors seem to have been quelled overall. There were seven Treasure Cruises and fifteen Dig Through Times in the Top 16 of the event, however, so Modern has been shaken up for sure.
Willoughby: I would say that my fears of combo in Modern are more delayed than anything. So far, the beast hasn't reared its head too much, but I can't help but think that combo isn't dead... it's just resting.
Styborski: While combo seems quelled, I'm more curious to see how far cards like Treasure Cruise will go in shifting the format. I wouldn't be surprised to see something unexpected, built on the card selection and draw the new delve cards deliver.
BDM: I have Patrick Chapin defeating Josh Utter-Leyton in the finals—and fulfilling the mission he described so calmly after winning the Pro Tour to get there—with them beating Tom Martell and Shahar Shenhar respectively in the semis. I want a bracket and a winner from you guys.
Hagon: The toughest thing about this is knowing where the players are regarding VMA. It's the format with the biggest disparity between players in terms of fundamental Vintage experience, and also with VMA (specifically, online). Almost anyone you pick could be 0-3 coming out of VMA if they haven't done their homework, so this is a real minefield. Still, let's say Dezani, Shenhar, Watanabe, and Floch, with Floch defeating Dezani in the final.
Willoughby: It's kind of cool that for the World Championships there is basically no bracket that doesn't look awesome. I think if I had to pick one it would be Yuuya Watanabe, Raphaël Lévy, Patrick Chapin, and Shaun McLaren. The first three are all fantastic deck builders who are adept at picking the right deck for the metagame, and I can't help but think that in a small field, metagaming can get even more important. Shaun is my wild-card. It's hard to argue with the results he's had in the past year, which encompass both Standard and Modern. Given that he's 6-0ed twice at the Pro Tour in the last year in Draft as well, he seems a solid choice.
Rosenberg: I think the Top 4 is going to be Reid Duke against Willy Edel, and Yuuya Watanabe against Lee Shi Tian, with Edel and Lee winning their matches and moving on to the finals, where Edel will finally end this horrendous run of bad luck and take the title and the trophy.
Goertzen: In the Top 4, Patrick Chapin beats Yuuki Ichikawa, and Owen Turtenwald beats Raphaël Lévy. Owen is victorious in the finals.
BDM: Is it just me or is there an insane level of energy at the World Magic Cup? It has quickly become my favorite event of the year. I love meeting the teams and seeing players like Tzu-Ching Kuo make a name for themselves.
Rosenberg: It is, hands down, the most exciting format to watch, and also the format with the most emotion in the room. If you aren't excited to see the World Magic Cup in action, you're a Grinch.
Goertzen: The atmosphere at the World Magic Cup is absolutely special. I love how there are so many smaller countries, which nonetheless put up impressive teams. Every single one of the competitors will be honored to be part of this year's WMC, and you can expect them to do everything they can for their team, and for their country.
Willoughby: Energy is the word for the World Magic Cup. Team play in general tends to up the energy in a room (as everyone is looking to spur on their teammates), and when you throw in a healthy dose of national pride, you end up with a tournament that everyone feels invested in doing well in.
Sutcliffe: It's not just you! This event is special. The World Championship is like the most distilled down version of a competitive Magic tournament I can imagine, but the World Magic Cup is special. It showcases the game's international appeal as well as paves the way for players from around the world to show what they have.
Hagon: Saturday of Worlds Week has no equal in the Magic calendar. Sunday is the pinnacle, but the tension of Worlds Saturday is electrifying. (I'm literally—literally—goosebumping as I type that.)
BDM: Team Canada seems absurd to me with a pair of PT Champions and what seems like the wind at their country's back of late on the competitive Magic scene. Which team are you expecting to see playing on Sunday? If you pick your home country I am going to ask for another team that you expect them to trounce in the finals. (Obviously I think Canada is going to get mauled by the US in the finals.)
Hagon: I'd be really surprised if USA didn't make it to Sunday. Once there, I see potential threats in last year's beaten finalists Hungary, a very strong Sweden team, North American rivals Canada, and possibly Spain (whose team is full of "nearly-stars" rather than Headline Acts). For winners, though, I fancy a repeat of 2007—Nico Bohny is back for Switzerland, and their team looks rock solid.
Willoughby: I am hoping to see Slovakia against the Netherlands. Frank Karsten basically wrote his PhD thesis on optimal game theory with shared resources, so he has to be a great pick for Team Sealed and Unified Standard, right? Meanwhile you have Ivan Floch and Matej Zatlkaj on the Slovak team. Both have experience on a national team before. Both have recent Pro Tour Top 8s. One is a Pro Tour winner. Overall, I think they are my pick to lift the trophy.
Rosenberg: Team Mexico. Their captain, Marcelino Freeman, is a solid player from that region and this country has been on the cusp of breaking through at a big event like this one. It'd be great to finally see a country as passionate as this one get their big finish.
Sutcliffe: Japan. They have Yuuya Watanabe. Pretty sure that speaks for itself. I envision them losing to the team from the United States of America, of course.
Goertzen: The Slovak Republic has an incredible team featuring Ivan Floch and Matej Zatlkaj. The question is if Joel Larsson, Olle Råde, Love Janse, and Poya Nobari from Sweden can give them a run for their money.
Styborski: I expect the Slovak Republic to put in some great work on the weekend. Ivan Floch is in the middle of his career-high season, and Matej Zatlkaj has been circles at the edges since his Pro Tour Top 8 breakthrough. I've been super-impressed by those guys, and this seems like a great year for a deep run.
Of course, the headline duo on the United States team—top ranked Owen Turtenwald and winner of the largest Magic event ever Neal Oliver—are hard to imagine in a losing scenario.
BDM: We saw some weird decks pop up last year because of the way the colors got spread out across three decks. What the heck happens in Team Unified Standard? Any guesses to how that gets split up across a team?
Hagon: It's an awesome puzzle every year, and you need to solve it to: (a) make day two, (b) get out of the Top 16 pools, and (c) win on Sunday. If anyone can come up with a "Metagame Trio" that truly solves the format, they're going to win the Cup, plain and simple. As for what that is, you need better brains than mine...
Goertzen: Unified Standard deck building is dictated by mana consistency. You can go the easy route and build Mono-Red, freeing up a lot of dual lands and cards for the other two players. Even playing three different clans seem viable, as each has their personal fetch land and tri-land. Once you have the basic alternatives mapped out, the interesting part is how to metagame against them while under the same deck-building restrictions.
Sutcliffe: I haven't put a lot of thought into this yet, but my assumption is that we'll see something like an Abzan deck, a Jeskai deck, and an "other" deck. The other slot can be something aggressive like Mono-Red or White-Red Tokens. Or it could be something tricky like Jeskai Ascendancy combo. Or something else entirely.
Willoughby: Team Unified Standard seems complicated, to say the least. The tricky bit is really the mana bases, as many of the power spells in Standard only really go in one deck anyway. I think that, much like at Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir, one of the most interesting elements of this format will be sideboarding. It seems reasonable that with enough preparation, the likely deck configurations could be mapped out, and if that's the case, then some fairly radical sideboard plans might enter the fray too.
Styborski: After watching how teams handled mana fixing in Khans of Tarkir Team Limited at Grand Prix Nashville, I'm confident that it's going to be mana, not spells, driving deck decisions. With Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx and plenty of devotion still lingering, monocolored decks should be popping up to fill in the holes the three color options leave behind. How teams balance between multicolor and consistency is a result I can't wait to see.
BDM: How skill-testing do you think Team Sealed is, and is there a danger of teams under-preparing for this complicated format?
Hagon: The closest Magic gets to full-on panic mode is the last ten minutes of deck construction for Team Sealed on Friday morning. Walk around the tournament floor then and you can cross 20 countries off your list right there, before the first turn of Round 1. It's huge.
Rosenberg: I think this is the format players will be most prepared for, actually, and I also think that this particular set (Khans of Tarkir) is one of the most skill-intensive for Team Sealed.
Sutcliffe: Team Sealed is incredibly skill-testing, particularly in this format. With so many options, the teams simply have to have prepared ahead of time and must know the format cold. The clock runs quickly and every second counts.
Goertzen: As a team format, Sealed Deck multiplies the deck-building complexity while reducing the overall variance. This format will reward only the teams that approach it with the respect it deserves.
Willoughby: I think that Team Sealed is a very skill-testing format, and that Khans of Tarkir is a particularly complex set to play it with. Under-preparation is definitely possible here. In many cases, what that looks like is teams building decks that look like good draft decks and thinking that's good enough. With the number of packs opened between three people, I expect to see a few decks that are spectacular—undraftably good.
Styborski: Khans of Tarkir is a Limited environment that rewards great players. The Top 4 from Grand Prix Nashville is the exclamation on that point. I don't think it's possible to be under-prepared because it's really impossible to over-prepare: Every pool looked different and asked really subtle questions. Again, good teamwork and great skill will be revealed when teams dive in, and all the testing players can muster won't show every solution needed.
BDM: Give me a sleeper team.
Willoughby: I don't know how much of a sleeper they should be, but I'm going to say Team Hungary. Hungary has a strange relationship with the World Magic Cup, as even if the year in general has been unspectacular for Hungary, they always seem to bring their A game when it comes to this tournament. They just missed winning the whole thing last year, and made the Top 4 the year before that. In Hawaii I was talking to Tamas Glied, who said that the Hungarian team was more fired up about the World Magic Cup than they've ever been before. Regardless of any results from the last twelve months, do not count Hungary out.
Sutcliffe: Croatia. National Champion Vjeran Horvat won a GP this year, and Toni Portolan has had strong PT performances as well.
Hagon: That's tough, because to me the good teams are obviously good. Then again, I do spend weeks studying them...Let's say Croatia—no household names, but a vast array of experience.
Goertzen: Switzerland. Nico Bohny and Andreas Ganz are two of the best Swiss players of the last decade, and Samuel Marti won Grand Prix Valencia just last year.
Rosenberg: South Korea
Styborski: South Korea. While Nam Sung Wook is the darling star with his Pro Tour Journey into Nyx Top 8, the South Korean Magic scene has been quietly building up. I think the experiences in testing and teamwork Nam learned in his travels as part of Team MTG Mint Card will pay off with bringing it back to his home. They should be fierce competition.
BDM: Bold predictions time. It can be WMC or WC, your choice.
Willoughby: Bold prediction: for the second year in a row, we'll hear Rich Hagon singing a national anthem. It might require some last-minute swotting-up on his part, though, as I'm going to say that it won't be in a language that he speaks.
Sutcliffe: Japan will make the finals of the World Magic Cup.
Rosenberg: I expect the former winners and runner-ups to do well, but ultimately fall on Sunday. I expect a big showing from an underdog team in the World Magic Cup, off a top-deck in similar fashion to last year's Rakdos's Return. I am fairly sure the World Championship trophy will be going to either Asia or South America, but who wins it is up in the air. It could be Ichikawa. It could be Lee. It could be PV.
Goertzen: In the World Championship, Birthing Pod will be the most-played and overall most-successful Modern deck. A Black Lotus will be drafted, live on stream. Owen Turtenwald will not lose a match on his way to win the tournament.
Hagon: As long as we're clear that "Bold predictions" doesn't mean "Rich really thinks this is bound to happen," I'll offer you "none of the USA nine players in the World Championship make it to the final four," and one that I think is more likely, but incredibly impressive if they can pull it off—"Europe claims seven of the eight spots on Sunday for the World Magic Cup."
Styborski: Paul Reitzl makes it deep, or takes it all. With his induction to the Hall of Fame, the burden of having to play in more events than he'd prefer was lifted. Watching him at Pro Tour Magic 2015, he seemed more relaxed than ever and his play skill showed for it. He's among the most dangerous players when he's on his game, and without the distraction of any qualifications or Pro Points to earn, he'll be 100% committed to winning every game he plays.
Remember that you can watch all the action starting on Tuesday, December 2 as we kick things off from Nice, France, with the 24 best players in the game taking part in the World Championship. Who do you want to see on-camera in that first round? Let me know on Twitter at @Top8Games and I will do my best to whisper in the correct ears. See you all then!