In a tournament as small and as exclusive as the World Championship, the preparation process is somewhat different from a larger event. The metagame is contained, and rather difficult to grasp. There are also four formats spread across two days, rather than just one or two.
Time is limited, and all your opponents are formidable in their own special way.
To boil it down to its core, this is a cutthroat event where the best players in the world are battling for a hefty prize pool and Professional Points, and of course the coveted title of World Champion.
Team Up or Go Solo?
Does the ancient adage of "The Art of War" apply, where you keep your friends close and your enemies closer? Or does the line get kind of blurry as to who is a friend or foe?
With only 24 players and fourteen rounds, there's a good chance you might even run into a fellow teammate.
Interesting questions ensue.
Would you choose a deck that is different from your team if the risk of friendly fire is real? How many players make up an optimum playtest group? How much information are you willing to share among each other and if so, are you prepared for the mirror match?
If you wanted to avoid all the above issues, is it possible to juggle four formats on your own? Or perhaps you can split the workload by pairing up with just one other confidant and hedge a little?
Let's take a look at how the dynamics has played out, and analyze the behavioral relationships and decision-making processes between members of each team.
- (15) Joel Larsson, Magnus Lantto, Martin Dang, Martin Müller
- (10) Owen Turtenwald, (2) Mike Sigrist, (6) Jacob Wilson, (19) Alexander Hayne
- (7) Ari Lax, (17) Steve Rubin, (4) Seth Manfield, (9) Brad Nelson
- (24) Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, Thiago Saporito, (11) Ondřej Stráský
- (3) Paul Rietzl, (8) Samuel Black
- (1) Eric Froehlich, (13) Shahar Shenhar
- (14) Shaun McLaren
- (12) Yuuya Watanabe
- (25) Kentaro Yamamoto
- (5) Lee Shi Tian
- (21) Antonio Del Moral León
The North American Alliances
- Owen Turtenwald, Mike Sigrist, Jacob Wilson, Alexander Hayne
- Paul Rietzl, Samuel Black
Three teams consisted of four players, which means half of the field had the assistance of three others. They were willing to share information with each other and the trade-off was additional time and exponential insight.
Turtenwald, Sigrist, Wilson and Hayne make up the first of three four-man alliances. Despite operating independently from Rietzl and Black, both teams came to the same decision to run Affinity, resulting in them occupying a quarter of the Modern metagame.
However, it was the pair who had the secret tech everyone's been talking about in the form of Ghirapur Æther Grid.
This was an effective trump against the other four players. In Rietzl's words, "The Æther Grid's excellent in the mirror and I loved our list. It's also very good against the Elf decks, Lingering Souls decks, and Infect."
Samuel Black, along with Paul Rietzl, arrived on Affinity for Modern, utilizing Ghirapur Æther Grid as some solid sideboard tech.
The same wasn't true for Standard though. Turtenwald chose to jump on the Abzan Bandwagon, while his other three teammates settled upon Jeskai and the Rietzl/Black duo were on different decks as well.
- Ari Lax, Steve Rubin, Seth Manfield, Brad Nelson
The second of the four-player teams consisted of Lax, Rubin, Manfield and Nelson. The first three accurately deduced an aggressive metagame and chose Hexproof Auras, a deck that Reid Duke had piloted to the finals at the 2013 World Championship. Nelson deviated away from that, preferring to go with Jund instead.
Aside from that small difference, the entire team was generally in unison, a fact made more evident seeing how they're all piloting Abzan Control in Standard.
- Eric Froehlich, Shahar Shenhar
I'm not saying that it happens all the time, but too many cooks can spoil the broth.
Froehlich had a single playtesting partner, but one was probably all he needed since it was two-time World Champion Shahar Shenhar. Both decided on White-Black Tokens in Modern and Jeskai in Standard.
Mathematically, that makes sense. When a group is smaller, the probability of everyone coming to a consensus is higher.
The Nordic Union
Across the Atlantic, the Scandinavians have banded together, forming an impressive European roster.
- Joel Larsson, Magnus Lantto, Martin Dang, Martin Müller
One of the main reasons resulting in their alliance is probably due to the fact that they were good friends to begin with, while their proximity to each other just makes sense.
Lantto details, "The Swedes traveled to Copenhagen to meet up with the Danes. That made playtesting much easier and we were able to get more work done."
Magnus Lantto, along with fellow Swede Joel Larsson, traveled to Denmark to test with their teammates before the World Championship.
With only a couple of weeks to combat four formats, time was definitely of the essence.
After a week of playtesting, they had come to the unanimous decision that they would all be running Living End in Modern.
Dang and Müller emphasized that Hall of Famer Olle Råde was pivotal in helping them arrive at this conclusion. "Olle's played a lot of Modern and we trust him. He shared with us that Living End might be a great choice for this event, primarily because it is under the radar and that it might not be heavily sideboarded against."
With the Modern deck choice quickly settled upon, the four had more time to focus on Standard. However, rather than agreeing upon the same deck, they had an even split.
Two of them landed on Atarka Red. The other two landed on Esper Dragons.
Dang was on the former. The deck that won him Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir. Lantto followed suit. You'd think that Larsson would play with red cards too, because that was what he won Pro Tour Magic Origins with. Instead, he jumped to the opposite side of the spectrum, choosing the control deck along with Müller.
Larsson explains, "I think Mono-Red isn't as good as they think it is and I wasn't able to convince the other two to switch sides. I think Esper Dragons is a good deck against an unknown field because it has counterspells, kill spells, and discard spells to deal with any surprises. It has the ability to beat Abzan, and well, the mirror is a mirror."
In any case, Larsson has Foul-Tongue Invocation just in case he runs into his own teammate.
- Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, Thiago Saporito, Ondřej Stráský
While most of the teams have generally displayed unanimity, the party of Damo da Rosa, Saporito and Stráský were in stark contrast.
Being the "little boy who plays Merfolk," Stráský naturally chose to go with his pet deck. Damo da Rose chose with attack the metagame with Grixis Twin, while fellow Brazilian Saporito favored Abzan.
Ondřej Stráský worked with the Latin American contingency of Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa and Thiago Saporito for this event, going with his comfort zone for Modern but staying on the same deck as the other two for Standard.
What was the reason for the disparity?
Saporito explains, "This is mostly due to the fact that we have different play styles and there are so many decks in Modern to choose from. Since Paulo played Grixis Twin at Grand Prix Charlotte and I played Abzan at Pro Tour Fate Reforged, we kind of just went with the deck we had the most experience with."
Damo da Rosa made Top 8 at Grand Prix Krakow with Dragonlord Ojutai on his side and followed that up with a win at São Paulo. Everyone was happy with that choice and the trio are all signed up to pilot Esper Dragons, incidentally also Larsson's and Müller's choice, so there might be some lengthy mirror matches today.
The Lone Wolves
Rounding off the remaining five players are the ones that went solo.
No eyebrows were raised when we got the confirmation that Shaun McLaren had been on his own, owing to his reputation of being a lone ranger, but Lee Shi Tian was alone due to circumstances.
"I'm simply going to play Red-White Burn for Modern and Abzan Aggro in Standard," he said. "They seem like safe choices and I didn't have the luxury of a playtest partner. To be honest, I was busy with my job and discussions to meet up with the Japanese were unsuccessful. We originally had plans to form up in Tokyo."
That brings us to a major shocker. Despite living in the same city, close friends Yuuya Watanabe and Kentaro Yamamoto did NOT prepare for the tournament together.
Watanabe had a rather simple response to that. "The decks that I like, Yamamoto didn't. The decks that Yamamoto likes, I didn't. That's why!"
True enough, both Japanese players are piloting vastly different decks in both Constructed portions.
"I know what he is playing, and he knows what I am playing, but we practiced separately," Yamamoto explained. "For Standard, I'm playing Red-Green Dragons and Watanabe-san is playing Jeskai. For Modern, I played TarmoTwin and he played White-Blue Control. Different style!"
Lastly, Antonio Del Moral León's decision to go solo was backed by strategy and sound reasoning.
"Originally, I intended to practice with Damo da Rosa, Saporito, Stráský, and Shenhar, but I think a group of five seemed like too big a group considering the tournament is only among 24.," Del Moral León explained. "I think three or four is the right number."
That was why he (and also Shenhar) chose to break away from the envisioned team of five and turned to his proverbial best friend, Magic Online.
Antonio Del Moral León opted to go it alone after his initially planned team got too large.
Del Moral León's formula was plain and simple. By simply playing a deck that he was already more than familiar with, he was able to free up more time to prepare for the other three formats.
"I've put in 15 hours on Magic Online a day, equally split between Standard, Modern Masters 2015 Edition Booster Draft, and Magic Origins Booster Draft. Splinter Twin is a solid deck and I know the ins and outs already."
Put yourself in their shoes. What would you do if you qualified for the World Championship one day? Would you team up or go solo?