Titles are a powerful incentive for players, but those competing in the World Magic Cup Top 8 were often driven by much more.
For the team from Greece, it had been a hard-fought battle to make it to Top 8. Without top seeding in the pool rounds, the Hellenic team needed several crucial wins to earn their elite place. Their first Team World Championship Top 8 since 2008, they played for the pride of their countrymen back home. It was the contact flow of support, through social media and calls, that propelled Greece to their deepest run in years.
Similarly for South Korea, it was pride and history at stake. Captain, Platinum Pro, and World Championship competitor Nam Sung Wook had earned the highest individual result for the country to date, a finalist appearance at Pro Tour Journey into Nyx. Now, with his teammates dedication and skill on display, a South Korean team made team history with its Top 8 top seed here in Nice. Winning would unlock a new era of Magic in South Korea.
Throughout the World Championship and World Magic Cup, the current options in Standard have been mined well. Across both teams, the players and decks remained the same from Day Two:
Seat A: South Korea's Joo Hyun Oh with Black-Green Constellation against Greece's Socrates Rozakeas using Mardu Midrange
Seat B: South Korea's captain Nam Sung Wook with Mardu Midrange against Greece's Bill Chronopoulos using Temur Midrange
Seat C: South Korea's Kim Sang-eun with Mono-Red Aggro against Greece's Panagiotis Savvidis using Sidisi Whip
Standard Alternates: Woo Cho Jeong for South Korea, and captain Marios Angelopoulos for Greece
The Sidisi Whip and Black-Green Constellation decks were graveyard value decks that leveraged Whip of Erebos to great effect. Mardu Midrange relied on token production, Butcher of the Horde, and Planeswalkers like Sorin, Solemn Visitor to overtake opponents. Temur Midrange used mana creatures like Elvish Mystic to power out early Polukranos, Word Eaters and more, while Mono-Red Aggro got the job done quickly, but efficiently.
While Greece sought glory in their first team world event Top 8 since 2008, South Korea was looking to make their first Top 8 representation a memorable one.
The match at Seat C ended first, as is typical when a deck like Mono-Red Aggro is involved. Kim, wielding one of the fastest decks in the format, valiantly pressed every attack he could in his first game against Savvidis. Sidisi, Brood Tyrant and plenty of creatures to block with gave Savvidis the time he needed outlast the onslaught and win the first game. The second game was a similar rush, where Kim put Savvidis down to 9 life quickly. However, Kim drew more Mountains than creatures as the game progressed.
Savvidis stalled the battlefield out with two copies of Courser of Kruphix, leaning on his removal to stop any chance of Kim's comeback from there. While it ended quickly, it was Greece that clinched the first point of the showdown.
The battle in Seat B was wrapped next, and the Mardu deck for South Korea fared well, using Butcher of the Horde to quickly close out the first game win for Nam. In fact, that game ended even faster than his teammate with Mono-Red Aggro in his first game.
In the second game, and early Hornet Nest for Chronopoulos was a pest for Nam. With End Hostilities and too many lands in hand, Nam was content to let Chronopoulos build up his battlefield first. Eventually pulling the trigger when Savage Knuckleblade appeared, Nam played Chandra, Pyromancer to begin playing cards from his library: Chained to the Rocks, Battlefield Forge, and more appeared. Joined by Sorin, Solemn Visitor, Nam's cards provided all the work he needed, and the flying vampires from Sorin were the threats that earned Nam South Korea's tying point.
Team Greece was oft underestimated this weekend, but not anymore.
It was at Seat A where the struggle was real.
In the first game Rozakeas threw creature after creature at Joo, who worked hard to stabilize. It led to Goblin Rabblemaster and the swarm from a Hornet Queen facing off. Doomwake Giant gave the edge to Joo, and Rozakeas didn't have more bodies to play. With clear dominance of the battlefield, Joo didn't give Greece the chance to recover again.
The second game was, again, and affair where Greece pressed in with creatures like Goblin Rabblemaster and the first ability of Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker early. Joo's Doomwake Giant and Whip of Erebos helped address the Planeswalker, but it took Greece's Wingmate Roc token along with it.
The entirety of team South Korea huddled around Joo, while most of Greece remained spread out down the table. The confidence in, and pressure on, Rozakeas grew but it wasn't misplaced: two copies of Crackling Doom meant Greece had ways to protect his Planeswalker in racing, through Whip of Erebos's lifelink made it a challenge.
Arbor Colossus ate the second Crackling Doom, and Sarkhan with Wingmate Roc put Oh to just 1 life. The team spent some time figuring out their next play, using Whip to bring Arbor Colossus back and take our Sarkhan, rising back to 6 life, then using the rest of his mana to make the Colossus monstrous before it disappeared.
Five lands was an awkward spot for Rozakeas, holding Elspeth, Sun's Champion. Butcher of the Horde was the play instead and South Korea had to pause again. Courser of Kruphix came down, netting life from the land on top of the library and showing another Doomwake Giant on the way. The one in Joo's graveyard was Whipped into action, pulling him up to 11 life.
The quarterfinals now done to just one match, Team South Korea crowded around their teammate to provide support.
A sixth land let Rozakeas play Elspeth for an army of Soldier tokens. Two of them were converted into Butcher of the Horde abilities—lifelike and vigilance—given the looming Giant and Joo dropped back to 6 life. Whip pulled back Eidolon of Blossoms, revealing Polukranos, World Eater on top. Nissa, Worldwaker followed to turn a Forest into a 4/4 Elemental.
The Eidolon and Forest attacked Elspeth, and the token deferred some damage by blocking and being sacrificed to the Butcher. Joo gained no life this attack. Greece made more Soldiers on his turn before giving the Butcher vigilance and attacking Nissa to death. Doomwake Giant reduced Rozakeas to just Butcher of the Horde as a blocker. Everyone for Joo crashed in, and Greece's Utter End exiled the Whip.
Again, South Korea missed out on gaining life from their attack.
Joo had defeated Elspeth but was still hovering at just 11 life. Goblin Rabblemaster gave Rozakeas's Butcher of the Horde vigilance to push Joo back down to 6. Hornet Queen was Joo's play, and he crashed in with his other creatures. Polukranos, World Eater joined post combat, leaving Joo tapped out.
In Rozakeas's hand waiting Chained to the Rocks and Anger of the Gods. Rozakeas Chained Polukranos up, gave lifelink to the Butcher by sacrificing Gobble Rabblemaster, and brought forth the Anger of the Gods to put Joo back down to 1 life. See the Unwritten for Oh saw nothing, and Butcher of the Horde sent everyone to the decisive final game, now moved under the feature match stage lights.
As the definitive last game of the quarterfinals, the match between Greece and South Korea was moved under the cameras and lights.
Elvish Mystics and Sylvan Caryatid were Joo's early plays, followed by a Courser of Kruphix that was Erased. Rozakeas's Anger of the Gods leveled the mana counts but kept his hand full of seven cards. There were plenty of answers there: Crackling Doom for Arbor Colossus, Lightning Strike or Eidolon of Blossoms, Chained to the Rocks for Polukranos, World Eater, and Utter End for Nissa, Worldwaker.
Nissa, Worldwaker created a 4/4 Elemental before she was exiled, giving Joo one threat that stuck. Goblin Rabblemaster was Rozakeas's new plan, but a second Nissa, Worldwaker for Joo left him with two 4/4s on the battlefield.
After attacking Nissa to the graveyard, Rozakeas cast End Hostilities. It left Oh with few options, though Rozakeas was at just 2 life.
Elspeth, Sun's Champion was Rozakeas's first real threat, and it would be the only one he needed. Wingmate Roc joined the fray to pull Rozakeas's life out of range, despite a fresh Hornet Queen, on the other side. Joo fell to 6 life. He couldn't attack Elspeth as he didn't even have enough blockers to protect himself.
After casting Liliana Vess and considering which ability to use, he set the die down instead extended his hand. Rozakeas shook it and Greece, now clustered together, erupted in a cheer around him.
After an intense match, the handshakes from Team South Korea were offered, and Greece was on to the semifinals.
Greece 2 – South Korea 1