On Friday morning, 74 teams started. After three rounds of Team Sealed and ten rounds of Team Unified Standard, only eight teams escaped the carnage. Their Top 8 performance came with invitations and airfare to the upcoming Mythic Championship in Cleveland . . . and the opportunity to fight for the title, the trophy, and additional prize money.
The road to the final victory started with the quarterfinals, and over the course of four matches we saw a variety of decks: eight Golgari Midrange, four Selesnya Tokens, four Izzet Drakes, three Jeskai Control, two Boros Aggro, one Boros Angels, one Turbo Fog, and one Big Red. But even more importantly, we saw 24 passionate Magic players battle for their respective nations.
Hong Kong Defeats Slovakia
Team Hong Kong 2018: (left to right) Alexander Dadyko, Wu Kon Fai, Lee Shi Tian
Hong Kong made their first World Magic Cup Top 8 with a bang. Headlined by recently minted Hall of Famer Lee Shi Tian, who has five Pro Tour Top 8s on his resume, they went 8-0 on Friday and Saturday. In fact, they were the sole team who hadn't dropped a single match yet throughout the event, and they didn't stop in the quarters.
Team Slovakia found themselves in their fourth World Magic Cup Top 8, all led by captain Ivan Floch. The Pro Tour Magic 2015 winner always does a tremendous job coaching his teammates, and he was switching back and forth between tables to give gameplay suggestions throughout the match.
The Slovaks prayed to their god and he delivered! Slovakia advances to the top 16!!!!! pic.twitter.com/ka54pvQOKw— #ivancoverage (@ivancoverage) December 15, 2018
Seat C was a Golgari Midrange mirror between Hong Kong's Alexander Dadyko and Slovakia's Milan Niznansky, and it was the first match to conclude. The first game was a quick affair where Dadyko emerged victorious. In the second game, Dadyko used a pair of Llanowar Elves to ramp into an early Vraska, Relic Seeker, which went unanswered for too long. When the Pirate tokens were joined by Carnage Tyrant, Niznansky had no way out. Indeed, six-mana haymakers are key in the mirror match.
In the B seat, the two captains faced off. Lee Shi Tian was playing a more combo-oriented Izzet Drakes version with Warlord's Fury, Crash Through, and Maximize Velocity, while Ivan Floch was playing a fairly standard Jeskai Control deck. Their first game in particular was expertly played by both of them, and the high-level plays were a real treat to watch. It was my favorite game from the World Magic Cup thus far.
It started when Lee got back two Arclight Phoenixes on turn four but declined to attack to play around Seal Away. Several turns later, when Floch had four mana open, Lee again decline to attack, this time playing around Settle the Wreckage. These lines of play never gave Floch any opportunity to profitably use his mana. Finally, when Lee had to start attacking into open mana, he found the perfect balance of attacks to mitigate the worst-case scenarios, presenting lethal yet playing around three different possibilities for Floch's hand (one Settle the Wreckage, one Seal Away, or two Seal Aways). There were no easy solutions to Floch, and the game was a well-deserved victory for Lee.
Although Floch then won the second game with Niv-Mizzet, Parun, they never got to play their third game because the match in Seat A finished before that: Wu Kon Fai, playing Boros Angels, defeated Richard Hornansky and his Selesnya Tokens deck. Although Hornansky surprisingly took the first game, the one-two punch of Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice and Lyra Dawnbringer eventually proved unbeatable for Selesnya's assortment of 1/1s and 2/2s. In Game 2, even a massive March of the Multitudes couldn't punch through the Angel tribe, especially since Wu lined up his blocks in a way to minimize the undergrowth trigger from a potential Kraul Harpooner. And Game 3 had a similar conclusion: Selesnya Tokens again succumbed to the massive lifelinking fliers.
Team Hong Kong defeats Team Slovakia 2-0
Israel Defeats China
Team Israel 2018: (left to right) Yuval Zuckerman, Amit Etgar, Shahar Shenhar
For Team China, captain Liu Yuchen returned from the national team that made Top 8 at last year's World Magic Cup. Both he and Xu Ming had a Pro Tour Top 8 to their name already, making them among the worthiest Magic players from China. Although teammate Song Long hadn't won as much, he was hoping to carry his teammates today. But his opponent, the captain of Israel, was a tough one.
Team Israel was led by twice World Champion and four-time Grand Prix Champion Shahar Shenhar, for whom this was actually his first Top 8 at another type of premier event. Making it while leading two compatriots (fifteen-year-old Yuval Zuckerman, the youngest player in the entire tournament, and Amit Etgar, also in his World Magic Cup debut) made it all the more special for him. And if they would win out today, then Shenhar would join a very exclusive club of players who have won both individual and team World Championship events.
Israel made Top 8 for the first time ever !!! ???????????????????????? I'm so proud of my teammates!! They have played marvelously against tough teams and Very tough opponents ♥️♥️ #MTGWMC— Shahar Shenhar (@shaharshenhar) December 15, 2018
In Seat A, Liu Yuchen, playing Golgari Midrange, dispatched Yuval Zuckerman, playing Boros Aggro, in two quick games. Despite the Boros Aggro deck having an advantage due to being on the play, Liu stabilized with Wildgrowth Walker, then turned the battlefield in his favor with the six-mana part of Find // Finality, and finally rode Vivien Reid to victory. He won Game 2 with a pair of sweepers from the sideboard: Golden Demise and Ritual of Soot.
In Seat C, Israel's Golgari Midrange deck piloted by Amit Etgar came out victorious. Carnage Tyrant went the distance in Game 1 as Xu Ming's Big Red deck did not contain Star of Extinction in the main as an answer. Game 2 was a midrange slugfest where, amusingly enough, Find // Finality was cast as a board sweeper by both players. (Etgar cast it naturally, whereas Xu exploited Dire Fleet Daredevil.) But after a long game, Vivien Reid sealed the deal. As if Carnage Tyrant didn't have enough keywords already, the Vivien emblem added several more keywords and additional points of power, which were instrumental in setting up a lethal attack.
In Seat B, we had a battle between two Steam Vents decks. Shahar Shenhar was playing Izzet Drakes while Song Long was on Jeskai Control, but the key card for both was Niv-Mizzet, Parun. In Game 1, Shenhar's Niv-Mizzet went unanswered while Song was unable to find his footing. In Game 2, there was a double Dragon showdown, with Niv-Mizzet on both sides. Song came out ahead because he got to untap first and used the triggers from his draw step, the casting of Chemister's Insight, the casting of a Syncopate for X=0 on his own spell(!), and then the two card draws from Chemister's Insight to deal 5 damage to the opposing Niv-Mizzet. With the lone Dragon standing, Song took the second game.
But their third game was one for the ages, as Shenhar managed to beat not one, not two, but three Niv-Mizzets! The first one was taken down by Ral, Izzet Viceroy. The second one died to a jump-started Beacon Bolt. But the third one was problematic, especially since an Ixalan's Binding prevented Shenhar from casting another Ral, Izzet Viceroy. But by then, Song was already down to 5 life, and Shenhar was able to set up a lethal flurry of spells in a single turn after resolving a Niv-Mizzet of his own. The cards drawn by Discovery // Dispersal and its corresponding cast trigger represented 2 damage. Opt also dealt 2 damage. And then another Opt dealt the final point of damage. With these optimal plays, Shenhar carried his team to victory.
Team Israel defeats Team China 2-1
France Defeats Japan
Team France 2018: (left to right) Timothée Jammot, Arnaud Hocquemiller, Jean-Emmanuel Depraz
Japan took the trophy at last year's World Magic Cup, so they were the defending Champions hoping for two consecutive victories. This year's captain, Ken Yukuhiro, has four Pro Tour Top 8s and ten Grand Prix Top 8s to his name. Together with teammates Moriyama Masahide and Naoya Nanba, they went 6-0 in all Standard rounds they played on Friday and Saturday.
France was led by Jean-Emmanuel Depraz, winner of Grand Prix Warsaw 2017 and Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan Top 8 competitor. Although all three members of the French team were making their World Magic Cup debuts, they all remembered when France took the title in 2013. Like their opponents, they were hoping to elevate their country to be the first two-time World Magic Cup Champion.
TOP 8 !!!#mtgwmc— J-E Depraz, Team France Captain (@JEDepraz) December 15, 2018
Israel had the dragons, but France has the fire.
In Seat A, we saw another one of Ken Yukuhiro's trademark brews. His take on Selesnya eschewed token makers like March of Multitudes, Saproling Migration, and Trostani Discordant and instead had a more aggressive bent with Nullhide Ferox, Dauntless Bodyguard, and Thorn Lieutenant. On the back of some of those creatures, Yukuhiro's draw in Game 1 was fast enough to win before Jean-Emmanuel Depraz could find his sixth land for the Find // Finality and Carnage Tyrant he was holding. But in the other two games, Depraz was successful in stabilizing with Wildgrowth Walker and sealing the deal with any of his six-mana spells.
In Seat C, we had the matchup between Moriyama Masahide, playing Izzet Drakes, and Timothée Jammot, piloting Selesnya Tokens. In Game 1, Jammot looked in a bad spot, facing down both Enigma Drake and Crackling Drake, but he was able to cast Trostani Discordant and tap four creatures to convoke Conclave Tribunal as a mana-efficient play to turn it around. And then he did it again, which was enough to win the first game. In Game 2, the Drakes were able to win a close race, tying their match at one game apiece. However, they never got to finish their final game because the match in Seat B was over first.
In Seat B, Arnaud Hocquemiller was able to execute his Jeskai Control game plan of dominating the game with countermagic and clearing the board with mass removal spells just like he had drawn it up. Especially after sideboarding, Hocquemiller almost seemed sweeper-flooded, as he drew Deafening Clarion, Settle the Wreckage, Cleansing Nova, and Star of Extinction. But the most memorable moment was how he won the first game on camera. In a fashion that was a recurring event this weekend for France, he used Expansion // Explosion to copy Fight with Fire and deal 20 damage out of nowhere.
Team France defeats Team Japan 2-0
Italy Defeats Australia
Team Italy 2018: (left to right) Tian fa Mun, Mattia Basilico, Andrea Mengucci
Team Italy made the Top 8 of the World Magic Cup for the fourth year in a row. The common factor in all of those years was Andrea Mengucci, leading multiple people to refer to this event as the "Mengucci Invitational." According to him, the secret is hard work: "If you want to do well, it's all about playtesting. If you put the work into it, you have an edge. My teammates said they've never worked this hard for an event, so I'm really confident."
Australia has not come close to the stunning consistency displayed by Italy, although team leader David Mines was on the squad when Australia made the Top 8 in 2016. Both Matthew Garnham and Benaya Lie are in their first World Magic Cup, but their Top 8 already proved that their relatively small competitive community can punch above its weight.
In Seat A, we had a white creature mirror between Tian fa Mun, playing Selesnya Tokens, and Benaya Lie, piloting Boros Aggro. In Game 1, both players used Venerated Loxodon to amass a huge battlefield presence early, featuring at least 13 power spread out between five creatures on both sides of the board. Team captains soon joined in to help navigate the complicated combat steps, but it was ultimately Mun who took it down, in no small part due to a massive March of the Multitudes. Game 2, in many ways, was a repeat of the first: both decks went toe-to-toe early on, but the Selesnya gold cards were just more powerful in the late game than anything the Boros deck could produce. Lie tried to turn it around by using Demystify to free his Lyra Dawnbringer from Conclave Tribunal, but the combo of March of the Multitudes plus Flower // Flourish still went over the top.
March of the Multitudes + Flower / Flourish is the new Deceiver Exarch + Spliter Twin. GW Tokens was the surprise of this weekend. Really loved it, especially in the hands of my teammate Tian Fa Mun! #MTGWMC— Andrea Mengucci (@Mengu09) 15 december 2018
Seat B was a Golgari Midrange mirror match between Andrea Mengucci and David Mines. Game 1 was over quickly as Mengucci was stalled on two lands and never found his third until it was too late. Game 2 revolved around lands as well, but in a different way: it was all about Detection Tower; David Mines controlled one, whereas Mengucci did not. This meant that Mines' Vraska's Contempt could get rid of Carnage Tyrant, whereas Mengucci had no way to deal with the massive hexproof threat. This proved decisive, and Australia won the match in the middle seat.
In Seat C, Italy's Mattia Basilico, playing Izzet Drakes, faced off against Australia's Matthew Garnham, playing Turbo Fog. In Game 1, Basilico's Drakes attacked Garnham down to 5 life before Cleansing Nova swept them away. Yet Basilico wasn't done: Niv-Mizzet, Parun, with Dive Down to protect it from Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, was able to deal the final 5 points of damage. In Game 2, Garnham was able to assemble the card-advantage combo of Teferi, Hero of Dominaria with Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin. Once he started shuffling Nexus of Fate into his deck, Basilico scooped it up. In Game 3, a single Enigma Drake went the distance, whereas Garnham's draw never came together. After the Australians extended their hands in defeat, the Italians shared their joy in a celebratory group hug.
Team Italy defeats Team Australia 2-1
Both Italy and France were keeping their dream of becoming the first two-time World Magic Cup Champion alive, and they would face off in the semifinals.