For South Africa, the potential to rise into history was compelling as well: no team from the African continent had won the team portion of a World Championship. Winning their way to the World Magic Cup title would be historic for them, as well as the history of Magic championships. Defeating a World Champion and his teammates along the way would be another boost to their confidence, and rank, if they made Day Two.
There's only one team in the World Magic Cup they could have been playing against.
They already have the reigning World Champion. Now they wanted to add a team championship to their list of records. The team from Israel, captained by the talented 2013 World Champion Shahar Shenhar, was in good spirits. While he was the only returning member of the team from the previous year, his confidence in his teammates was foremost coming in to the event: Shenhar spoke highly of the new friends he made preparing to battle in the potential second set of Sunday games to play.
While Shenhar has traveled the world throughout the year, he found time to meet up with most of his team. "I played in a prerelease with them in Israel and we hung out for a day," he said. How does the team feel now that it's living up to the captain's expectations? "Feeling great. Our record is really great," he said. They had only taken one loss on the day. "Basically, the round we lost I felt like we couldn't really do anything. I drew really poorly; it was frustrating. I don't feel like I could have done more to help the team than I did."
With world caliber experience already under his belt, including last year's World Magic Cup, it seemed like his teammates were leaning on him hard. "Oh yeah," he said. "I've been 'triple queuing' as you say. The reason I say that is because when someone asks you a question [in a game]. To answer it you have to be paying attention to their match so you don't have to reassess during the game. If I don't have an answer I'll tell them they need to make the decision: they're the pilot. But I've been trying to pay attention to all the games so I can answer them. It's exhausting, different from the World Championship, more running around. I wouldn't say it's harder, just different. It's a different kind of environment as well."
While Team Israel and captain Shahar Shenhar sought a potentially memorable Sunday, Team South Africa's goal was looking to earn the field world title for the African continent.
Everyone on both sides were playing well-established archetypes. For Israel:
- Stav Brener with Blue-Black Control, the same type of build Ivan Floch and Stanislav Cifka used in their World Championship competition: answers, counterspells, and Pearl Lake Ancient to eventually win the game.
- Shahar Shenhar with Abzan Whip, the hybridized Whip of Erebos meets Hornet Queen and Siege Rhino in Abzan Midrange deck.
- Ilan Bassan with Red-White Tokens, the cleverly descriptive 'Plymouth Roc' deck Sam Black took to a ninth place finish in the World Championship. It makes tokens through a variety of means, including Wingmate Roc, but adds Heliod's Pilgrim for access to powerful Auras.
The breakdown for South Africa better matched the overall metagame breakdown:
- Leon Schlechter with Abzan Whip.
- Keraan Chetty with Mardu Midrange, the Butcher of the Horde meets tokens, burn, and other threats.
- Sinan Effendi with Temur Midrange, bringing Savage Knuckleblade, Polukranos, and other monsters to the battlefield from mana-makers with Elvish Mystic and Rattleclaw Mystic.
The first game between Shenhar and Chetty was a blink-and-you'll-miss-it affair: Chetty's Goblin Rabblemasters overran the World Champion before he could get his powerful Abzan tools online. The judges took that break to step in for a deck check.
Queue ominous music here.
The first Bassan-Effendi battle ended next, as Bassan's aggressive deck finally broke through the surprising resistance Effendi was putting up with three lands. With some freedom from player, Shenhar spent time on both of the neighboring matches sharing advice.
The Brener-Schlechter game, and match, was the slowest affair. Brener was using his Blue-Black Control deck to fight the power of Abzan Whip in Schlechter's hand. While Pharika, God of Affliction was online many enchantment creature Snake tokens were made, inching away at the control player's life.
Team South Africa shoots for an early match lead.
Eventually, Brener ran out of the answers he needed for Schlechter's threats, snakes aside. South Africa took the edge going into the second games.
It was Brener-Schlector's second game that started next, with the early turns filled with exchanging pleasantries like Thoughtseize and removal-for-guys. Schlechter had mana men, but no real threats sticking around. Those little guys kept hitting as a timely Abzan Charm nailed an end-of-turn Pearl Lake Ancient. Brener allowed it to happen given the second he had at ready in his hand.
Bassan-Effendi's second game fired next, with Bassan clearing away the powerful monsters Effendi kept playing. Ashwing Phoenix and Wingmate Roc soared high as Effendi found more lands than monsters in the final turns, allowing Bassan to claim the first match for Israel.
Shenhar and Chetty started their third game next after the South African took a game loss due to a sideboard issue. With Israel up a game, Shenhar could clinch the round for his team with a win. He worked hard stymieing Chetty, clearing away the likes of Goblin Rabblemaster and friends and playing as many blockers as his mana allowed.
Backed by last year's World Champion, Israel sought to surpass last year's result.
Meanwhile, Schlechter and Brener were still locked in their second duel, Brener using Pearl Lake Ancient to help answer the stream of threats Schlechter could now resolve. Perilous Vault undid all Schlechter's work to clear the battlefield again.
However, the Chetty-Shenhar affair had shifted into the World Champion's favor. A Siege Rhino and life gain from Courser of Kruphix diminished the explosive potential of Chetty's deck. Casting Hornet Queen from his hand, with another revealed on top on his library, drew a concerned looked from Chetty. Anger of the Gods answered the first Queen, and Double Rabblemaster was a solid start for the second.
But that wasn't the real danger for the South African: Shenhar cast two more copies of Seige Rhino in one turn to nearly devastate Chetty's life. It was enough that Shenhar's fliers could crash in for the victory that turn.
Israel 2 – South Africa 0