Team Denmark went into this tournament as the reigning champions and one of the favorites. Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir champion Martin Dang took the lead as national champion, last year's captain Martin Müller returned via the World Magic Cup Qualifiers, and Christoffer Larsen, himself no stranger to the spotlight with three Grand Prix Top 8s on his résumé, won another World Magic Cup Qualifier. Rounding out Denmark was the steadfast Daniel Lind, who was coaching during the Unified Standard rounds. It came to no surprise they aced the tournament so far, going 3-0 in the day's Team Sealed portion.
Team Brazil on the other hand was more of a wild card, featuring three as-of-yet little known members. However, their captain was none other than No. 6 Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, a Pro Tour champion, member of the Hall of Fame, and arguably the most accomplished player in the event. Damo da Rosa had also used his connections to build alliances abroad. In preparation for this event, Brazil had been working together with the United States, Canada, and Italy, forming one of the largest and most intimidating super-teams in World Magic Cup history.
While a large number of teams took the easy way out and decided to run some version of Eldrazi Ramp, simply because its overlap with other decks was largely non-existent, the aforementioned super-team had found a unique solution to the puzzle of Unified Standard. The Brazilians and their allies came equipped with a Temur brew, credited to Pro Tour Avacyn Restored champion Alexander Hayne of Canada, featuring megamorphs, a few flash creatures, and Collected Company. This was paired with the more mainstream choices of Esper Dragons and Atarka Red.
The Danes found a way to avoid Eldrazi Ramp too. They brought White-Black Tokens, and paired it with Atarka Red. This allowed them the luxury of running one of the greediest decks in the format: 4-color Rally had recently brought three Scandinavians into the Top 8 at Grand Prix Brussels, including Martin Müller who was happy to be again playing it here.
The behemoth Brazil matched up against the defending champion team Denmark in the first round of Team Unified Standard.
Because of the unique structure of the World Magic Cup, the teams' 3-0 records meant that a win in this round would almost guarantee advancement to the second day of competition.
Martin Dang (W/B Tokens) vs. Lucas Esper Berthoud (Atarka Red)
Dang kept a hand with Duress, a pair of Secure the Wastes, and some lands, and I didn't even need to walk over to the other side of the table to see what spells Esper Berthoud held. He revealed two copies of Abbot of Keral Keep, two copies of Wild Slash, and a singleton Temur Battle Rage which Dang made him discard.
Esper Berthoud's progress was hardly impaired by the Duress. After two Abbots, one Titan's Strength, and a Dragon Fodder, Dang was already in deep trouble. His Secure the Wastes provided insufficient protection against Esper Berthoud's onslaught and his own deck failed to cooperate, stubbornly refusing to give Dang much needed business spells.
Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir champion Martin Dang was on the back foot all match against Lucas Esper Berthoud
In the second game, Dang was first into the fray with a Knight of the White Orchid on turn two, while Esper Berthoud was taking it more slowly. Still, a couple of turns later, Dang and his token deck were actually being "out-tokened" by Dragon Fodder and Hordeling Outburst.
At this point my attention was momentarily with one of the other two games and when I returned Dang and Esper Berthoud had already picked up their cards. What happened? "He combo'd me out," said Dang with a shrug and an expression of "meh" on his face, referring to the deadly combination of Become Immense and Temur Battle Rage.
Martin Dang 0-2 Lucas Esper Berthoud
Martin Müller (Rally) vs. Leonardo De Castro (Temur Megamorph)
The early turns here were very much about tempo. Playing first, De Castro led with Rattleclaw Mystic and Deathmist Raptor, while Müller, on the draw, tried to keep up with Elvish Visionary and Grim Haruspex. Müller chump blocked Deathmist Raptor with his Elf for an additional card-draw trigger which De Castro denied him by pointing Fiery Impulse at the Haruspex. With no creatures on the board, facing two on his opponent's side, things were definitely looking grim for Müller at this point.
However, De Castro wasn't able to capitalize on his early board advantage. He had no follow-up play, whereas Müller simply summoned another Grim Haruspex as well as Sidisi's Faithful. Next, Müller cast Collected Company and got Nantuko Husk and what soon turned into Jace, Telepath Unbound.
De Castro wasn't quite out of tricks though. An end-of-turn Bounding Krasis and a hasty Savage Knuckleblade successfully ambushed Müller and killed the Planeswalker. However, Müller wasn't lacking spells and managed to keep De Castro's attackers in check for the time by throwing various smaller creatures into their path. What Müller was lacking was mana, specifically a fifth land and a second source of white mana, looking at three copies of Rally the Ancestors stranded in his hand.
When Rally the Ancestors was finally cast, it returned two copies of Grim Haruspex, two copies of Nantuko Husk, two copies of Elvish Visionary, and three copies of Sidisi's Faithful to the battlefield. And those returned most of De Castro's threats to his hand and allowed Müller to draw a double-digit number of cards. The rest was largely academic.
In the second game, Müller had Elvish Visionary, Zulaport Cutthroat, and then Fleshbag Marauder for De Castro's first creature. This game went even worse for the Brazilian. To add insult to injury, Müller had a second Fleshbag Marauder for De Castro's second creature and then the latter's Collected Company only came up with one lonely Heir of the Wilds.
In theory, the Temur deck was supposed to deliver the early beats here, but in reality De Castro's life total went into the single digits before he was able to stabilize.
Martin Müller 2-0 Leonardo De Castro
After these mostly lopsided games, I was interested to hear another opinion on this specific matchup. Can Temur ever beat Rally the Ancestors? "The deck does have a few counterspells," Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa told me later, after his own match had finished. "So if you get the Rally player into a spot where he has to Rally, then maybe. But it's hard. It's not a good matchup."
Christoffer Larsen (Atarka Red) vs. Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa (Esper Dragons)
Curiously repeating the beginning of the match between Dang and Esper Berthoud, the first game here also started with the casting of Duress. With it, Damo da Rosa took Dragon Fodder, leaving Larsen with Abbot of Keral Keep, Wild Slash, two copies of Become Immense, and lands.
Abbot of Kreal Keep remained Larsen's only creature for too long—and simultaneously didn't stick around long enough. After Foul-Tongue Invocation, Damo da Rosa was still at a healthy 15 when the Dragonlord Ojutai he had revealed earlier began attacking. Larsen died with two copies of Become Immense still in hand.
Larsen puts up a fight against one of the world's very best.
The revenge was swift. Monastery Swiftspear came down on turn one, Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh's spark ignited on turn four. There also was an Atarka's Command involved at some point, but this was a blink-and-you-miss-it affair and there were two other games still going on at the time.
Meanwhile, Martin Dang had finished his match and sat next to Larsen to discuss possible lines of play. The mulligan decision was easy enough: Wild Slash, Dragon Fodder, Chandra, Hordeling Outburst, Abbot of Keral Keep, and two Mountains—this hand looked absolutely great!
However, well-laid plans often go awry, and by turn three Damo da Rosa had countered Dragon Fodder with Silumgar's Scorn and summoned an early Tasigur, the Golden Fang. The Danes were reeling from this turn of events. Feeling they needed to take some risk to come back into the game, Dang and Larsen agreed that Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh should be their turn three play instead of Hordeling Outburst. Of course, Chandra was immediately lost to Foul-Tongue Invocation (revealing Dragonlord Ojutai).
Things dragged on for quite a long time and Larsen did manage to get up to five creatures eventually, and he was also able to take some chunks out of Damo da Rosa's life total. But the general theme remained the same. For example, at one point, Larsen tried to give his Monastery Swiftspear Titan's Strength in order to kill Tasigur in combat; Damo da Rosa naturally had Ultimate Price to prevent that. Another time, Larsen swung in with all of his creatures and responded to another Dragon-assisted Foul-Tongue Invocation with Atarka's Command to stop the lifegain and to get in some extra damage instead. Sure enough, Damo da Rosa had Silumgar's Scorn.
Brazil 2 – Denmark 1