2015 is the first year Malta has participated in the World Magic Cup. Luke Vassallo (captain), Jason and Duncan Spiteri (no relation), and Ismael Lovegrove traveled from the tiny nation of islands, one of the most beautiful in the world. With a population of 400,000, it's hardly surprising the Magic community is tiny—probably less than a hundred people—but also close knit.
The veteran of the team, Jason Spiteri, participated in the World Championship in Rome, 2009, and has played in a number of Grand Prix. The rest of the team is much newer to competing at the professional level.
Team Malta, captained by Luke Vassallo
"It's really big for us all." Luke said, "We're playing against pros! In Malta we don't even have pros, we just play for fun. For the people here, Magic is a life. For us, it's a hobby."
Jason Spiteri smiled. "Before marriage and everything, I used to play a lot more Magic—this was a long time, maybe 15 years ago—but nowadays it's a lot harder. I've been to the World Championship before, but Malta has never had a team in the World Magic Cup. The World Championship was a good experience, but quite difficult. Now people from Malta this year have started traveling to Grand Prix. We attended four Grand Prix this year, and have been doing well."
"I had stopped playing for a couple of years," Vassallo said, "But I was in Liverpool for a festival, and decided to attend Grand Prix Liverpool. At the beginning I went 1-2, and was going to drop out, but my friends kept urging me to play on, and I won six matches in a row to make Day Two. Since then, I've been playing Magic Online for practice."
"I'm very excited to be here," Lovegrove said.
"Ismael is great," interrupted Vassallo. "It's his first Magic international tournament, and at age sixteen he's the youngest player to win the Malta Cup (a local tournament)."
"This is good experience," Lovegrove continued, "Playing against pros like Watanabe."
I asked the team what their expectations were coming into the World Magic Cup.
"My expectation is to win!" Duncan Spiteri said, smiling. "Hey, the pros do this for a living, so they have a lot more time to play. And yes it's a hobby for us, so we don't have the time to test. We have families and jobs and can't play Magic as much. But Malta is very small, so we could meet a lot, work together, and we did a lot of Team Sealed pool testing. We also had a lot of help from the Maltese players to help tune our decks. It was a joint effort by the Maltese community. We had a lot of players playtesting decks and feeding information back to the team."
Team Malta has been squaring off against some difficult teams today, but no matter the outcome, they're just happy to be here.
I caught up with Team Malta after Round 3.
"We're having a lot of fun," Duncan Spiteri said. "Sure, we're 1-0-2, but that just means we're undefeated."