"I want to redeem our nation after the weak showing last year," said Team Denmark's Martin Müller. At only nineteen years of age, Müller is part of the Danish team for the third year running now. Under his leadership, the Danes won the World Magic Cup in 2014, but in 2015 they "only" made it to the Top 8. And yes, Müller was joking when he said this. In fact, he was still laughing when he told me what went wrong last year: "Well, I wasn't captain, right?"
"Although to be fair, the team with [Martin] Dang and [Christoffer] Larsen was probably the best we ever had," Simon Nielsen chimed in. The 22-year-old linguistics student hadn't himself been on the 2015 team whose praises he was singing, but he did win Denmark's second World Magic Cup Qualifier this year and had also been part of the winning Danish team in 2014. Müller mentioned that the previous year's team had not only been strong but a lot of fun too.
"Two years ago, though, I only narrowly beat someone in the race for captain, and he immediately won the next WMCQ. So he thought he was way better than me," Müller said, then added with a smile, "I think he was proven wrong."
Martin Müller (second from the left) and the victorious 2014 Danish national team!
This year, there really was no arguing with Müller's claim to the title of National Champion. With Top 8s at the 2015 World Championship, Grand Prix Brussels, and Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar, along with another Top 16 at Pro Tour Eldritch Moon, the 2015–16 season was a spectacular one for Müller. He secured the top spot in the Danish race for most Pro Points of the season with a double-digit lead and was ranked No. 14 in the world.
"Given our performances these past two years, anything less than Top 8 would be a disappointment," Müller said about his goals for this event. Nielsen, who had reached Gold in the Pro Tour Players Club on the back of his second place at Grand Prix Brussels and a tenth-place finish at Pro Tour Eldritch Moon, said, "I would really like to qualify our teammates to the Pro Tour. I know that's what pulled me into the scene two years ago. Giving them that opportunity would be nice."
As for their testing process, Müller admitted, "It was definitely not me who took the captain's role here. I had two go back home after Grand Prix Rotterdam, for school. It was mainly these three guys who did all the work."
"These three" referred to Nielsen, Anders Gotfredsen, and Asger Lundblad. Said Nielsen, "We also played the Grand Prix together and stayed in Rotterdam for some final testing. We had decided on two decks already and only needed to figure out our third. Of course, Martin stayed in contact with us and provided some guidance. Making sure we didn't panic and do something stupid, mainly."
"In my experience it's really easy to overthink Team Constructed," said Müller. "To see any kind of overlap and dismiss a set of perfectly fine decks just because they might be worse than if you could choose your cards freely."
This was one lesson Müller had learned at his previous outings at the World Magic Cup. Nielsen added, "Team work is really important. At the WMC in 2014 I felt like we were a four-player team playing against a lot of three-player teams."
Müller counseled caution concerning coaching, saying, "If you interfere too much … It's hard to make your friends play better, but it's really easy to make them lose. I think it's best to concentrate on your own game most of the time."
"Sure. You have to know your teammates," said Nielsen. "Know when to ask for help. Know when to interfere and when not to."
Talking about teammates, Müller recalled, "Anders [Gotfredsen] was on the team in 2011. He's a Grand Prix grinder. I think he just lost his win-and-in in Warsaw a few weeks back." "Asger [Lundblad] is more of a new player," Nielsen said. He plays a lot, though."
Team Denmark 2016: (from left) Martin Muller, Asger Lundblad, Anders Gotfredsen, and Simon Nielsen
21-year-old Lundblad, a computer programming student, was the last one to join the team, winning the final Modern WMCQ. He was also the last of the four to discover Magic. Said Lundblad, "I've only been playing for three years. I was really excited when I qualified for the team. Playing with these guys is great; testing was great."
Anders Gotfredsen, meanwhile, was the oldest of the bunch at 27. The programmer had also been the first of them to gather experience at the World Magic Cup, at the inaugural event in 2012. This year he returned, after winning the Standard WMCQ, to a new world where Standard had been replaced with Modern. When asked whether he preferred Standard or liked Modern just as much, he winced. "No, I like Standard way more."
Gotfredsen had been with the game since 2009, playing in more than 20 Grand Prix events during that time. He hadn't made it to a Top 8 yet, but he had already earned 5 Pro Points in the young 2016–17 season—more than in all his previous seasons combined.
"And we get how many at this thing here? Like 8?" he joked, counting the Pro Points for winning the event. Müller joined in the fun and pointed out, "11, actually, if you count the minimum 3 Pro Points from the Pro Tour you're qualified for then. That's almost Silver Level right there!"
"In all seriousness though, I'm super happy with our team and we put a lot more effort into testing than we did in 2012," said Gotfredsen.
Would this be the year for the first nation to win a second World Magic Cup title? The Danes were clearly among the better candidates for a repeat victory, with two players on the roster who had claimed the trophy two years ago and another strong result last year. Or as Gotfredsen put it: "I like our chances."