The annual World Magic Cup is only a few weeks away, where representatives from 73 countries from around the world will converge in Rotterdam to face off for global Magic supremacy. There have been qualifiers throughout the year, and it's all coming to a head soon. If you want some great hype, check out Mike Rosenberg's article from just a few days ago.
Here in Fort Worth, three of the four representatives from Team USA are battling it out individually, but in a few weeks they'll be teaming up to play a bevy of formats—including one that's never been played before at this level of competition, Team Unified Modern.
Third-ranked Owen Turtenwald is captaining Lee Marino, Soohwang “Paul” Yeem, and Kevin Jones have been figuring out how to tackle not only the variety of cards they'll need to sleeve up, and who gets to play what, and who gets to sit where, and when, but also how will they best compete as a team?
I talked with each member in attendance—Owen, Lee, and Paul—to find out a little more about how they got here, and where they go after this weekend.
(3) Owen Turtenwald—Captain
Obviously the biggest name on the team is two-time Player of the Year, Owen Turtenwald. All the players are so glad to have him, and have been looking to him to ready themselves.
“I told everyone that to prepare, they should just play Modern—any deck! There are so many decks in the format to think about.” Turtenwald said. Which is fantastic advice, as the most expansive, and newest format will be the trickiest to prepare for.
As for the event itself, a tournament Turtenwald's played in before, the Player of the Year said, “It's unique because I get to play with players I usually sit across the table from. Like, I hadn't met either [Marino or Yeem] before this.” That camaraderie means something to Turtenwald. “As much as I want to do well for me, I want to do well for them.”
“And also, the pride of the country.” The statement sounds slightly funny coming from Turtenwald, but he meant it. “You know, I used to think that was kinda silly, but when I played [in the WMC] two years ago, I learned it's real.” He said, “You know, people have a favorite deck they want to do well in a tournament, or a favorite player, but for this, there's a favorite country—ours.”
Once he said this, both Marino and Yeem nodded thoroughly. The spirit of the Cup is strong, even in a country with such fierce Magic individuality as the United States.
The country pride aspect of the World Magic Cup was also big for Denver's Lee Marino. “I've been getting messages from people at my local store, and all around the country, saying ‘Do us proud!' Man, is that what's it's like?” He laughed. The fate of the country's Magic resting on his shoulders is what hit Marino the most.
“It's awesome to say that you're on the US team. ‘Yes, it's me and three other guys, playing for the US.'” He beamed when he spoke about it.
It was with the same enthusiasm that he spoke about Turtenwald. “I mean, he's arguably the best player in the world. It's been a great experience just talking with him about Magic.” Marino went on to say, “We all love playing Magic, but we also all have a second hobby of thinking about Magic.” And the experience of talking with Owen and Paul and Kevin has allowed him to revel in both his favorite hobbies simultaneously, all for a bigger cause.
Not everything is altruistic for Marino, but who can blame him. He's attended three Pro Tours, won an MTGO PTQ and has finished well in Star City Games events, but is yet to reach his peak. “This could really be a breakout moment for me, because if we can work well enough as a team we get invites to the Pro Tour. That would be great.”
Marino won the WMCQ after losing his first round, then winning all the others, and is so grateful to feel like he earned this awesome reward. His vibrancy was unbounded, and when I asked how it felt, he said, “It's just awesome to get to fly to the Netherlands to play this crazy game.” He shook his head.
When it came to the formats, Marino talked about how tough figuring out Unified Modern really is—especially with the new rule that once you use any copies of a card, no other deck can use it. This was a rule change from the old “maximum of four copies across all decks” rule for other Unified Constructed formats.
It can be tough looking for cards that don't overlap, and uniquely linear archetypes that won't get watered down when people want more popular cards in the format. “Like Ad Nauseam, for example,” Marino said. “It even plays weird lands too ... or something like Merfolk that just plays Islands and Mutavault.” The stock of those decks rise in Unified Modern. Marino's a Burn player at heart, but knows that Lightning Bolt is a coveted card for many archetypes.
Rotterdam will be all about teamwork, in every aspect.
Northern California's Paul Yeem was the quietest of the group. Though he's an extremely skilled player on Team East-West Bowl, maybe part of the reason for his muteness was from the odd way he made it to the team.
At his WMCQ, the Top 4 was three East-West Bowl members and Turtenwald. Turtenwald won by beating Yeem in the finals, and it seemed like Yeem's dream was dead.
That was, until Owen Turtenwald went and won Player of the Year. This meant that he had passed the other American in the lead for team captaincy, No. 2–ranked Seth Manfield, in Pro Points, so Owen became captain of Team USA. Because he was now double qualified for the World Magic Cup, his spot was passed down to the finalist who he'd defeated oh so many months ago—Paul Yeem. Turtenwald wasn't kidding when he said he was teaming with people he usually plays against.
When I asked Paul about how he felt, he diverted saying, “It's just a big sigh of relief to have Owen in the back for us.”
Though Yeem has had consistent results over the last few years, this opportunity is definitely his biggest yet, but even now he remains stayed.
“It's a team event. It will be a great opportunity to improve.” When he said this line, Turtenwald nodded behind him. Turtenwald has never been one for blustery pomp and circumstance, just rugged self-betterment. Hearing Yeem speak this way seemed to strike a chord in Turtenwald.
Seeing these three standing together, it was clear they didn't know how well they will work as a team, but were confident that the others were all on board to try to do the country proud—for themselves, and for all the Americans watching them.
After this weekend, they'll take a last look at the Modern field, and set to work. Kevin Jones, the last piece of the puzzle, will soon be joining them and after that, it's off to the races for Team USA.