Neither Serbia nor Denmark entered the World Magic Cup as favorites. Both teams have some Pro Tour experience but neither country has ever had a competitor finish in the Top 16. Each country has just a single Grand Prix Top 8 finish to its name. They were teams that many gave a chance to make Day Two but few expected to go much farther.
And yet, here they were, sitting down across from each other on Sunday with the World Magic Cup on the line.
Captaining Serbia was Aleksa Telarov, who was battling with the Red-Green Midrange deck that several teams turned to in Unified Standard to preserve the mana-bases for their other two decks. He faced off against the Blue-Black Control deck piloted by Denmark's Thomas Enevoldsen. Denmark captain Martin Müller would use Mardu Midrange to face Boris Bajgo's Abzan Midrange, while Simon Nielsen rounded out Denmark's roster with Abzan Whip against Milos Stajic's Jeskai Ascendancy combo list.
Both Denmark and Serbia impressed all weekend, battling past juggernaut countries to reach the quarterfinals.
Denmark's three decks typified what many teams chose to play with in this tournament, while Serbia broke the mold slightly playing a combo version of Ascendancy rather than the Tokens variant that Yuuya Watanabe showcased at the World Championship earlier in the week. Serbia also chose to keep their third deck to just two colors, allowing their Abzan deck to have access to all the black cards it could want, whereas Denmark was forced to split those cards amongst Abzan and Mardu.
At the first table was Stajic, who had a very simple plan: resolve a Jeskai Ascendancy and assemble the combo to make an arbitrarily large creature that can kill Nielsen. And while Stajic's deck can also just generate an overwhelming mass of tokens to race, it was Nielsen who felt the pressure of attacking.
"I feel like I'm the beatdown here, because if the game goes long you'll be able to combo off," he explained to Stajic after the match. "I thought I needed to kill you as quickly as possible."
That's exactly what he did in the first game, thanks to a Sylvan Caryatid-fueled curve that topped out at a pair of Wingmate Roc. With Stajic light on land, that was enough to put Denmark ahead early.
Team Serbia's unconventional split of decks allowed for an interesting trio of Unified Standard options.
Down the table, things got even better for Denmark. Enevoldsen's Blue-Black Control deck carried him to victory while Müller won after using a clutch Stoke the Flames to destroy his own Goblin token in response to a Bile Blight, losing one creature but protecting the army that went on to finish off Bajgo the next turn.
Telarov got off to a much faster start in the next game, with his Red-Green Midrange deck churning out a pair of Heir of the Wilds early. Unfortunately, that's exactly what the player holding Bile Blight wants to see, and Enevoldsen used the removal spell to clear the way for his Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver on the next turn.
And that Ashiok went to work. After several turns of exiling cards from Telarov's deck Ashiok produced its own Heir of the Wilds for Enevoldsen. Prognostic Sphinx also hit the field, and when it was joined in the air by a traitorous Stormbreath Dragon (again courtesy of Ashiok), Denmark found itself up a match.
Denmark takes an early lead in their match against Serbia.
That put the pressure on Boris Bajgo to pull out a game against Müller. That meant withstanding the steady parade of threats Müller presented, first from a Hordeling Outburst and then from Goblin Rabblemaster and Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker.
It was a tall order, but Bajgo was game. A Siege Rhino traded with the Rabblemaster, Abzan Charm eliminated the Dragonspeaker, and Courser of Kruphix slowed the goblin assault. Bajgo was even prepared for the pair of Butcher of the Horde that Müller deployed next, with End Hostilities to clear the field.
Müller's assault had brought Bajgo all the way down to 3 life, but ht was running out of options to finish the job. Another Goblin Rabblemaster was handled by Drown in Sorrow, and with Elspeth, Sun's Champion and Duneblast in had, Bajgo was in full control.
But board control only goes so far. In the end, it was the life total that mattered most, and Crackling Doom combined with a Chandra, Pyromaster off the top of the deck provided Müller with exactly the damage he needed to close out the game and send Denmark into the semifinals of the World Magic Cup.
Denmark 2 – Serbia 0