For England, the first day of the World Magic Cup ended exactly the way it began: with a match against Denmark.
For the Danes, they hoped Day One of the World Magic Cup ended exactly the way it began: with a win against England.
Things got worse from there for England, as they started off 0-2 before staging a winning streak up to this point.
That match was Team Sealed, while this was Unified Standard Constructed. Not exactly a perfect rematch, but close enough. And with both teams sitting at 4-2 heading into the final round of the day, the rematch would decide which squad would guarantee themselves a first or second seed in Day Two with a win and which team would be hoping they didn't fall beneath the cut.
A win for either Denmark or England ensured Day Two advancement. A loss put their fates up to the tirebreakers.
Unified Standard is a unique format that presents teams with the very interesting limitation of not having more than four copies of any one card across three decks. This led many teams to choose vastly different archetypes, such as White-Blue Heroic, that wanted a narrow subset of cards so as to not dilute the rest of the pool.
But Denmark and England went a different direction. In fact, between the two teams all six decks had some number of black cards in them. Denmark's Martin Müller had chosen Mardu Midrange to battle against England's Fabrizio Anteri and his Blue-Black Control, while Thomas Enevoldsen was managing the Blue-Black Control corner for Denmark against David Inglis' Abzan Whip. In the final match sat Denmark's Lars Birch, facing off with Abzan Whip against Francesco Giorgio's Mardu Midrange deck.
While all three decks touched on Black, they do so in ways careful not to overstep the other. Blue-Black Control doesn't need any of the same lands that the other decks do, eliminating that hurdle. And because Mardu can play things like Crackling Doom while the Abzan deck can make use of Murderous Cut, the Blue-Black Control deck can still have access to Hero's Downfall.
Thanks to the luck of the match-ups, there would be no mirror matches even though both teams brought the same three decks to battle. On this day, both sides were spared the tedium of the Blue-Black Control mirror.
What resulted instead was a trio of interactive match-ups, including Birch's Abzan Whip featuring the Whip of Erebos that nearly every team found room for in some capacity, going toe-to-toe with Giorgio's Mardu deck and its full complement of Goblin Rabblemaster, Butcher of the Horde, and array of Planeswalkers.
Giorgio went first and got off to a quick start. A Seeker of the Way was followed by a Hordeling Outburst that fed a Butcher of the Horde on the next turn to crash through the typical Sylvan Caryatid-Courser of Kruphix opening. Next came a second Hordeling Outburst to further load up the battlefield.
With England's rocky start earlier in the day, a win would prove all the more critical.
It was a lightning-fast start, and one that demanded a strong response from Birch. He began his fight back with a Banishing Light on the Butcher, and a second Banishing Light took care of the follow-up Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker. A Siege Rhino hit the field for Birch, and just like that he had played catch-up.
That sent Giorgio to the top of his deck looking for help, and it delivered. Chained to the Rocks took the Rhino out of the way, and a Goblin Rabblemaster provided exactly enough tokens to swarm for the win.
Down the table, Inglis was down a game and struggling in the second against Enevoldsen, but Anteri matched the Blue-Black serve by dispatching Martin Müller in two games. That put the pressure on Birch, who needed a win in the second game to keep his team alive.
And Game 2 started off well for Birch. His Thoughtseize revealed a stacked hand from Giorgio, but his own hand was strong as well. Satyr Wayfinder began to fill his graveyard while Siege Rhino started working on the life totals.
Giorgio called to his side Chandra, Pyromaster, who picked off the Wayfinder and survived with one loyalty after tangling with the Rhino. Of course, the Rhino on the table was the least of his concerns after Whip of Erebos hit the table for Lirch.
Denmark was fighting to keep their head above their water, their tournament life potentially on the line.
The inevitability threatened by the Whip was a long-term problem for Giorgio, but he had an immediate answer for it before it ever got going. Utter End took care of the Whip permanently and the Rhino was Chained to the Rocks, leaving the Chandra alive for yet another turn.
It was a good answer for Giorgio, but he needed an even more perfect answer on the next turn, after Banishing Light brought back the Rhino and Nissa, Worldwaker animated a land. A pair of Crackling Doom was exactly that, removing both creatures while redirecting the damage to neatly finish off the Nissa as well.
That turned out to be the deciding play. A pair of Butcher of the Horde came down to work on Birch's life total, and the same Chandra that had survived against the odds since the fourth turn continued to ping away at Birch. A few draw steps later and its work was complete, making Giorgio and Team England victorious.
"That's the revenge!" Giorgio exclaimed as his team celebrated their improbable run from 0-2 to 5-2 and a second-seed for Saturday.
"We started 0-2, and we were disheartened," Inglis said. "But it's a marathon, not a sprint, and now we're in a really good position for Day Two."