For many players, the end of the season brings about a well-earned break—a giant exhale from the always-frenzied end of the season. But for just a few players, the end of the season is exactly when things ratchet up. The Magic World Championship is starting next week. And the elite, high-dollar, high-pride tournament brings with it a whole new amount of stressors, right when things could be easing up. Soon we'll have crowned a new World Champion!
But for these players, they wouldn't have it any other way. In fact, five of those players are so entangled and ensconced, they took a pit stop in the middle of testing for the giant three-format event to stop over here at Grand Prix Indianapolis.
Second-ranked Seth Manfield, fifth-ranked Steve Rubin, twelfth-ranked Andrea Mengucci, and two fourteenth-ranked players, Mike Sigrist and Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa all took a vacation from testing to play at the Grand Prix. I caught up with all of them to talk Worlds—lessons learned and lessons yet to be learned—and to find out what the heck they are doing here! Shouldn't they be testing or something?
(14) Mike Sigrist: “Wizards flew me here on the way to Seattle.” #WhatAreYouDoingHere?
Mike Sigrist's car pulled up last to the Worlds station. It wasn't until during the latter half of the Pro Tour Eldritch Moon Top 8 that he even knew he was going. But that doesn't mean he wasn't prepared for the eventuality. In short order, he already had a four-man testing team: Hall of Famers Luis Scott-Vargas and Damo da Rosa, and Pro Tour Eldritch Moon Top 8 finisher Sam Pardee.
“My priority was to test with Sam,” Sigrist said. “I get a lot out of testing with Sam; and he was already committed to LSV and PV when I qualified.” Which was crazy, because Pardee himself didn't know he was in until just about the Top 8. “Things move quickly with Worlds.” Sigrist shrugged as if to say “that's that.”
Talking about why he liked Pardee so much, Sigrist said, “He's just so logical; he unemotional and doesn't get attached to things—well, some things. I mean, he's never tied to playing, like, a Voice of Resurgence deck.” He continued, “For the last Pro Tour, my deck was the Black-Green Delirium deck. But I didn't think it was particularly good; I wasn't sure.” But when Pardee said it was on board, Sigrist was sold. That's why he needs Pardee.
Though the team is fantastic, there's an irony in the fact that Sigrist's he's not even following the one lesson he learned last time. “The only thing I learned, I didn't do again this year—have a smaller team.”
(5) Steve Rubin: “A little practice never hurt anyone.” #WhatAreYouDoingHere?
Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad winner Steve Rubin actually took Sigrist's advice that he himself couldn't take. Rubin said, “I did the big-team thing, but I don't think you need it for Worlds.” For this time around, he's just playing a bit with Andrea Mengucci, rather than a regimented team structure. And even much of that is them palling around as friends. “There's a lot of legwork [without a team], but you'd end up playing against a lot of your team anyway.”
This decision for Worlds comes from ideas Rubin's been discovering lately. “A lot of times, when I listen to other people, I do worse than when I just try it myself. It look me a while to learn that.”
“It's not that I'm always right,” he paused before continuing, “I'd just rather do it myself and be wrong.”
“I have been playing with Andrea,” he qualified, “but just for having someone to play against, and also we're there for a week, and really, it's boring.” He qualified that seemingly insane statement that Worlds week is boring. “It sounds weird, but all your friends are there, but you can't really talk to them because they all want to talk about Magic, but they can't.”
Rubin's been practicing hard for Worlds, and for him, this Grand Prix almost seemed like a break. “That's actually a perfect way to put it,” he said about the “break” aspect of a fifteen-round, high-purse tournament.
“And I don't have a team, so I can play whatever deck I want. You know, PV and Siggy are here, but I bet they're not playing what will at Worlds; I don't have those kind of restrictions.”
Unlike last year, all the formats are pretty rehearsed, so Rubin felt much comfortable iterating with just himself and Mengucci.
(12) Andrea Mengucci: “I had nothing to do at home.” #WhatAreYouDoingHere?
Mengucci however, was not feeling quite as confident with his situation. “Everything I've ever practiced in my life,” he said, “it's going to be so different.” And the players, he said, “They are not only the best, they are the most experienced.” He was worried.
And he talked to Lee Shi Tian about Worlds, and didn't end up feeling better. “Lee said Worlds is a different type of Magic.” Mengucci gave an example, “Because you know everyone's decklists, you have to mulligan a lot of hands, you know. I don't do that. You know, I see good lands, good spells, I keep.”
He has been testing like a fiend but that didn't dispel his nervousness. Certainly for him, this was because he wasn't even close to expecting to be competing here in the first place.
“During the Pro Tour, I didn't realize how good shape I was in for Worlds. It came out of nowhere ... I was Silver and Silver for the last two years ... My only goal was Gold. And I ended up making it to Worlds.” He shook his head; he was still kind of amazed about it.
Trying to sum up how he felt about the whole thing, he tried to translate an Italian film quote. “'The waiting is the thing.' You know, it's what the thing really is.” He got a bit frustrated because he wanted to find a better phrase, but I think he nailed it. For him, the time before Worlds is kind of the best time.
Even describing his time with Rubin playing and testing, he said, “Really we're more buddies. We have fun together, talk about girls and life, you know.” Mengucci is having the time of his life, even though he's nervous as all get-out.
(2) Seth Manfield: “I just like to play in Magic tournaments.” #WhatAreYouDoingHere?
“Just because Worlds is important to me, doesn't mean that GPs aren't important to me too.” Manfield said to me when I asked him about testing for next week versus competing in this event. The man has had fantastic success on the Grand Prix circuit, so you can't really blame him. This is his home.
“I'm not really testing with anyone—I mean, me and JC have been talking—but it's basically a free roll from here to Worlds,” and so he's here.
However, much like Mengucci, though Manfield was in his element about Worlds he said, “Honestly, I'm not feeling great about it.” But that didn't have as much to do with his testing as with the format changes from last year. “There were four formats last year, and the one unknown format [Modern Masters] I felt really confident about.”
“Worlds is to me the biggest tournament of the year. I'm definitely stressed about it. Whenever there's uncertainty, I feel nervous,” he admitted. “There has to be a lot to fall my way this year, like last year, but I can do it.”
Perhaps this uncertainty came from his anti-climatic performance at the last Pro Tour, which ultimately resulted in top-ranked Owen Turtenwald taking an almost-sure Player of the Year slot from Manfield. But if anything, that's providing him more fire going into Worlds.
“I was on such a heater; it had to end at some point,” he said. “I just felt like I was winning all the time,” he said, in a surprisingly dejected tone. “It was good to come down to Earth.”
“In a way, the last Pro Tour keeps me fighting.”
(14) Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa: I'm practicing right now! #WhatAreYouDoingHere?
“Worlds is great,” were the first words from ten-time Pro Tour Top 8-ing Paulo Damo da Rosa on the subject. “It's super-competitive, but it's also super casual because you personally know everyone.” He was jovial and ready.
“It's also the tournament where you most feel like a celebrity.” He talked about the interviews, the treatment at the event, and the grand spectacle of it all.
Damo da Rosa is a storied competitor, and always in the top picks for the Worlds tournament, and this year he's added even a bit more fire in his belly.
“I've been testing a lot more this time.” Damo da Rosa said. On why, he explained, “I just realized it's more important to me than I first thought. For some reason it always felt like a bonus.” To many of us that might sound crazy, but that end-of-year victory lap can set in quite easily.
Damo da Rosa admitted that he had thought previously, “If you don't make Platinum, that's it. But if you don't do well in Worlds, that's ok.” But he's realized the err in his ways. “I don't think that was a healthy way to think about it ... I'm appreciating it more as my goal now.” The only problem is that means, now he's testing when he would be relaxing.
Such is the life of one of the best Magic players in the World.
Though few of us will ever get to experience competing in the Magic World Championship first hand, Mike Sigrist said something that certainly made me feel better about things, and perhaps it will for you too.
When talking about the Magic glory that is Worlds, the 2015–2016 Player of the Year said, “It's almost bittersweet, because I have so much fun watching at home. It's just the best, most exciting event we have.”
Though we might not participate, we'll be able to watch it all live—and real soon.