Posted in 2014 WORLD MAGIC CUP on December 6, 2014

By Corbin Hosler

The United States and Mexico share a long border, and players from the two countries frequent nearly all the same events in North America. In other words, these two countries are plenty used to competing against each other.

So, naturally, they flew halfway across the world to do it.

And there couldn't be more on the line. As both teams sat down for the first round of the final group stage, they did so in vastly different situations. As the top seed of the group, Mexico has multiple avenues to finish in the Top 8 of the tournament and return on Sunday. The United States, as team captain and No. 1 Ranked Player Owen Turtenwald put it, has been playing from the bottom of the standings all weekend. As the fourth seed in the pool, the Americans would likely need to 3-0 the group to advance to play on Sunday.

The neighboring North American countries squared off at the start of the second stage for team pool play.

The Decks

In Seat A, Emmanuel Ramirez Sanchez was handling what has become the most reliable archetype in Standard: Abzan Midrange. Across from him sat the United States' Andrew Baeckstrom wielding its opposite: the explosive but vulnerable White-Blue Heroic.

Next to them was Mexico's Marcelino Freeman wielding Mardu Midrange trying to take down the world's top-ranked player in Turtenwald and his Black-Green Constellation deck featuring showstoppers such as Doomwake Giant and Hornet Queen. And on the end Adrian Luna brought Temur Midrange to battle Neal Oliver's Jeskai Tokens list.

The Games

As Freeman drew a perfect opener and quickly knocked off Turtenwald to put Mexico up a game, the other two matches settled in for the long haul.

Oliver was able to get out early with the namesake of his deck courtesy of Raise the Alarm and Hordeling Outburst, but those were quickly outclassed by the Polukranos, World Eater and Stormbreath Dragon that Luna responded with. A Stoke the Flames to kill the Dragon and then a Chandra, Pyromaster gave Oliver a path back into the game, but Fanatic of Xenagos joined to continue to pressure his life total and bring the American closer to Crater's Claws range.

That is, until a timely Jeskai Charm allowed Oliver to both attack for 6 damage with his tokens and more importantly regain some of the life he lost. Now comfortably back in double digits, he was able to chain burn spells to finish off the Polukranos and then finish off the game with his tokens.

There was some back-and-forth in Oliver's game, but it had nothing on the game Baeckstrom and Sanchez were playing.

Things started off slower than the Heroic deck would like. Sanchez was on the play and was the first to the board with a Fleecemane Lion, which began trading damage with a Battlewise Hoplite from Baeckstrom. With both life totals beginning to dwindle, the two players began to go in opposite directions.

Mexico started off strong in their matches, but things quickly halted in the other matches.

For Sanchez, that meant going wide. Courser of Kruphix, another Fleecemane Lion and then a Sorin, Solemn Visitor meant he could attack for quite a bit of damage. A giant attack left Baeckstrom at 5 life and moved Sanchez back to 17.

For Baeckstrom, it meant going vertical. He began to load enchantments onto his Hero of Iroas and continuously growing it. Heliod's Pilgrim found an Ordeal of Heliod that both pumped the Hero enough to take down Sorin while also restoring Baeckstrom's life total. A pair of Favored Hoplites found their way onto the board to chump block the following turn while the Hero picked up a Stratus Walk and closed the life total to 12-5 in Mexico's favor.

The Pilgrim-into-Ordeal of Heliod trick was so effective Baeckstrom decided to repeat it the next turn, and Sanchez was forced to Bile Blight the now-12/12 Hero simply to survive. But the move also restored Baeckstrom's life total to 14 yet again, and when Sanchez couldn't find a way to deal that much damage the next turn he was forced to scoop up his cards.

Meanwhile, Oliver put the Americans up a match as he took advantage of a mana-light Luna to swarm over him with tokens. That shifted the attention back to Turtenwald and Freeman, who were locked in a Game 3 that could decide the entire match.

The United States need a 3-0 to ensure a Top 8 appearance,but with the number one ranked player of the world as their captain, anything is possible.

Both players enjoyed strong starts in the decider. Freeman opened with Seeker of the Way into Hordeling Outburst, while Turtenwald had the optimal Sylvan Caryatid-Courser of Kruphix start.

The first real haymaker came a few turns later when Turtenwald found Doomwake Giant to clear away all of Freeman's tokens. Freeman responded with a removal spell for the Giant and a Sorin, Solemn Visitor to begin to repopulate his side of the board, but Turtenwald had survived the early rush and hit the magical mark of seven mana.

That means Hornet Queen. And then a second Hornet Queen. More than enough to make the Butcher of the Horde Freeman found look silly. With the battlefield lost, Freeman began to take the direct route, with a Stoke the Flames knocking Turtenwald to 1 life and giving Freeman a chance to draw more burn for the win.

It was a good plan, and one that could easily have worked had Turtenwald not found Whip of Erebos to immediately pull himself out of the danger zone. A swarm of bees later, and the Americans had completed the first step on their final journey to claim a Top 8 berth.

Mexico 0 – United States 2