As previously mentioned, Team France and Team Denmark were two of four countries to have won the World Magic Cup and two of three teams this year to feature a returning winner. That leaves Team Italy as the final nation in that esteemed group.
Not everyone gets the opportunity to represent their country in a tournament of such a high caliber, despite endless dreams and deepest desires. To return to the team once again is a display of consistency as well as proof that you're one of the worthiest candidates your country can send as a representative. For Andrea Mengucci, this year's World Magic Cup marks his third appearance—twice by clinching the title of Italy National Champion and once by winning a 200–300-person World Magic Cup Qualifier. Anyone who has ever tried will attest that it is no easy feat, which makes Mengucci's reappearances even more respectable.
2015 World Magic Cup—Fantastica Italia!
As Mengucci and his team strolled into the venue, they informed me that they were about to engage in an intense battle. What could possibly be so exciting on a Thursday afternoon during the World Magic Cup player registration?
"We going to practice some Team Sealed against Team Portugal right now; jamming in some practice with the Draft Master might be helpful in gaining some last-minute insights. He might have won the Grand Prix, but we're going to beat him this time."
Team Italy gets last-minute practice against Draft Master Márcio Carvalho and Team Portugal.
Well, long story short, they did not.
The Italians were crushed by No. 8-ranked Marcio Carvalho and his team. To be fair, the odds are rarely in your favor when you're up against a Limited master who most recently won back-to-back Kaladesh Limited Grand Prix. Then again, how much did Team Italy prepare for Team Limited? Have they unlocked the secrets of Kaladesh yet?
According to one of the World Magic Cup Qualifier winners, Alessandro Casementi, they were also in attendance at Grand Prix Rotterdam last week. "It was a perfect time to practice and take a break for our intense Modern preparation. It's not always that easy to meet up and practice, but we did have a team house this week." Mattia Rizzi and Alessandro Portaro, the other two World Magic Cup Qualifier winners, also echoed the sentiments and shared that they've been spending a lot of time on figuring out Team Unified Modern as well.
Mengucci added, "I didn't do so well at the Grand Prix myself, but there were a lot of important things to be learned. Every tournament is an opportunity to accumulate experience for the next battle. That's how we become stronger and better." It's true, because no matter who tries to teach you these lessons, you won't understand it until you go through it on your own.
Andrea Mengucci, 2016 Italy National Champion
I was about to ask about regrets and disappointments. And then, I remembered that things went exactly the way the Italians had wanted. In Mengucci's words, "Everything was perfect last year. I had the best captain (Marco Cammilluzzi), the best teammates (William Pizzi and Francesco Bifero), the best tournament experience, and the best result one could possibly ask for. I have literally nothing but happiness when I think back of that moment when we were crowned the 2015 World Magic Cup Champions."
Andrea Mengucci celebrates victory with Team Italy in 2015.
How did Mengucci feel about being back as the only person in the room who can even harbor the wildest dream of winning back-to-back World Magic Cups? Surely that had to be a one-of-a-kind emotion? Team Italy has a different team composition this year, but that doesn't change the fact that they're still the defending Champions.
"It is an honor to be even in the position to feel this way, and I feel very, very good about it. I wouldn't call myself a defending Champion since we had a different team and I wasn't even the captain last year, but I want to say that if we win it this time, it will be a repeat victory for our country. I'm not doing it for myself, I'm doing it for Italy."
Team Italy 2016 (from left: Andrea Mengucci, Alessandro Casamenti, Mattia Rizzi, and Alessandro Portaro)
As a two-time Italy National Champion, a two-time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor, and a Platinum pro, it's fair to say that Mengucci has captured the attention of the Italian community as well as earned the respect of his fellow countrymen within the past few seasons. Being deeply respected gives one strength, and loving Magic deeply gives one courage in the face of adversity. Patriotism and support from his nation ensures that nobody's will is stronger than Mengucci's today.
To survive this challenging tournament that he calls the "Olympics of Magic," Mengucci will need to ensure that the fire inside him burns brighter than ever. Keeping his heart strong, mind right, and soul straight, it is his hope that he'll lead Team Italy to yet another victory—this time as the 2016 Italy National Champion.