Introducing your UK and Ireland World Magic Cup Captains

Posted in Event Coverage on August 15, 2015

By Craig Jones

With the conclusion of the 2014–2015 Professional Points season at Pro Tour Magic Origins earlier this month, the captains for the World Magic Cup had been decided. The United Kingdom, through a quirk of geography (it's complicated—I still get UK and Great Britain mixed up and I live here!), gets to send four separate teams, and I thought I'd track down the various team captains and give them an introduction.

Fabrizio Anteri

Fabrizio Anteri – England

This is Fabrizio Anteri's second stint as captain of the English World Magic Cup team. Last year he was captain of the team that made it all the way to the semifinals before falling to the eventual winners, Denmark.

It was an unconventional English team, given that Anteri is originally from Venezuela and fellow teammates Francesco Giorgio and Riccardo Reale both hail from Italy. As Anteri also has Italian ancestry and can speak Italian, anyone thinking they'd be able to overhear the English strategy in the team portions would have been surprised to find themselves up against a team conversing to each other in Italian. Whatever. As a proud patriotic Englishman I'll have to say they took us to a third place finish on the world stage and did us proud.

Anteri has been living in London for the past four years and been a fixture on the UK Magic scene for a while. As he said: "At first I won a PTQ and people's original thought was, who's this guy? But then I did well at more tournaments and people started to notice."

By now, Anteri has also made himself well-known on the international scene with five Grand Prix Top 8s, including back-to-back wins at GP Warsaw and GP Manchester last year. The one thing that has been letting him down is the Pro Tour, with a Top 50 finish being his best so far. "It's the Pro Tour, the highest level of play. I feel I've been unlucky in that some games didn't fall my way, but I have a lot to improve for the Pro Tour."

As for his hopes on a possible team, Anteri didn't name names. "It would be unfair." He's just hoping for: "Solid players. Players that will play well for the team."

Recently Anteri had been commuting up to Nottingham whenever a new set was released. While the player pool is smaller there than in London, it contains a lot more experience and he's been using this to learn a lot more about the new sets as they come out.

I asked him about the standard of play in England as a whole. "I have no clue why England doesn't do better given the size of the player base. Maybe it's grown too fast and there are a lot of new players that lack the high-level experience," Anteri speculated.

With a bit of luck Fabrizio, and players like him, will knock England into shape and drag us up to some sort of level on the international stage.

Stephen Murray

Stephen Murray – Scotland

I wasn't surprised to hear that Stephen Murray was the Scottish team captain. Murray has been around a while and has a lot of experience of high-level play. This was the third time he qualified for the World Magic Cup. He also had a further three appearances on both Scottish and combined UK teams at previous incarnations of the World Championships.

He qualified for the captaincy by virtue of a 42nd place at Pro Tour Fate Reforged back in February. Other than that he had had a quiet year Magic-wise, with only one Grand Prix appearance and missing a lot of the qualifying seasons.

This led to some nervous moments late on in the season. "I was watching Duncan Tang going to all the Grand Prix knowing I couldn't defend my position," Murray said. There was also a scare when Andrew Rayner looked to have made Top 8 at Grand Prix Lille. Murray was going to send him a congratulatory message for making Top 8 and was disappointed for his fellow countryman when he saw he'd missed out on tiebreaks.

As for potential teammates he mentioned there were a number of players he'd be happy to see there because they were good – up-and-comers like Tang and Rayner, or experienced hands like Bradley Barclay and Gary Campbell. Then there were others he'd be more personally happy for (rather than happy for having a stronger team), such as any of his brothers, who just started to take the game more competitively.

About the standard of play in Scotland overall, Murray said, "The concentration of competent people is quite high. Everyone is noticeably improving."

I asked him his thoughts on the upcoming World Magic Cup and his preparation.

"Always been optimistic. We'll all get together ahead of time. Maybe meet up with the English or other similar teams." He said it was important to be proactive. "Everyone should know their roles. Make sure everyone is comfortable with their deck choices. Have a strong team ethic."

We also joked a little about what sometimes happen with smaller countries having one recognizable player and three unknowns. Jokingly referred to as the Cloudgoat Ranger team (A 3/3 that brings along three 1/1s) and how that never really works out.

Pip Griffiths

Pip Griffiths – Wales

Pip Griffiths had one of the more interesting and complicated stories on how he made it to the Welsh captaincy. Griffiths had been captain of the Welsh team for the past three years. "Not through honor or valor," as he jokingly put it.

In fact he kind of ended up in the captaincy role sort of by default, with a little bit of minor controversy—the sort that sees him getting some gentle ribbing from the rest of Welsh Magic community.

He first made captain by qualifying for Pro Tour Gatecrash. (He asked me not to mention his record there, and as someone also with some less-than-stellar Pro Tour performances on their résumé, I can sympathize). His three points from that tournament were surpassed by longtime Welsh player Daniel Godfrey, but he was currently out in Singapore, registered to that country and unable to change it in time. A similar scenario prevented a roving Italian student taking the slot the following year and the captaincy remained with Griffiths. This year he managed to hold onto it by dint of a day two finish at Grand Prix Utrecht.

He was realistic about his prospects. "I like playing Magic, but I have a dog … and a job. I don't have the time to make the commitment required to compete at the very top level."

He was happy to be the lucky beneficiary of a three-time qualification to the World Magic Cup. And to represent Wales. "We're the only team with a dragon on the flag!"

He talked a little about the Welsh Magic-Playing community. "The Welsh community is tiny, maybe a hundred active players."

Although he didn't have to battle through the WMCQs for the past three years he likes to go along and cheer on players. "WMCQs are a great excuse to catch up with friends. They also get the community to grow tighter together. It gets everyone to raise their standards."

He mentioned one of the changes for next year he did like was that the WMCQs were being more spread out. More opportunities to catch up on friends without the qualifying season being compressed into a couple of weeks.

He ruefully mentioned his run as the Welsh captain might be in danger of coming to an end as another Welsh player had recently qualified at the last Regional Pro Tour Qualifier. Who knows, though? A good finish here at Grand Prix London …

Stephen Madden

Stephen Madden – Northern Ireland

I must confess, I didn’t realize Northern Ireland had their own team. Back when I was a wee coverage whippersnapper flying out to cover the Irish Nationals, it was a combined Northern Ireland and Ireland team. Current team captain, Stephen Madden, soon put me straight. This was going to be the fourth time Northern Ireland would send a team to the World Magic Cup.

Madden started playing around the time Rise of Eldrazi came out. Last year he came through the WMCQs to make the team. This year he went one better and supplanted Alan Warnock as Northern Ireland's team captain (Warnock had been team captain for the past three years).

This was done on the strength of his performance at Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir earlier this year. If you followed the video coverage for that event you will remember Madden as the one who ran the innovative Strength of the Fallen deck.

"I considered playing Strength of the Fallen here. It was good for [the Pro Tour in] Brussels, but not today. Too many Dromoka's Commands."

The one downside to being the team captain is Madden can't play the WMCQs. He was a little disappointed about this, but said he planned to go along and watch to see who his eventual teammates would be. "One is only two minutes from my house. It would be wrong not to go."

He also mentioned how good the World Magic Cup was for smaller countries like Northern Ireland. "A tiny community like ours gets to send four people to play. Same as a massive country like the US."

Susann Heidemueller – Ireland

I was also hoping to catch up with the Irish captain, Susann Heidemueller, as the story of her qualification was interesting. While I was at Grand Prix Lille just over a month ago one of the storylines was Tomoharu Saito's attempt to hit Silver in order to qualify for both the last Pro Tour of this season and the first of the next. After a 9-0 start he faltered on day two and was left needing a win in final round. He was denied by Susann Heidemueller of Ireland. The win didn't take Heidemueller into the Top 8 (she was one of three players on 37 points that missed out on tiebreakers), but what it did do was make her team captain for Ireland.

Unfortunately, she wasn't competing today. But I was able to talk to longtime Irish judge, Oli Bird, who works in the same office as her, to get a little more information.

Up until Lille, it had been a two-horse race between two other players, neither of which is currently based in Ireland. Then Heidemueller stepped up to claim the slot with her eleventh-place finish at Grand Prix Lille.

The story wasn't quite over there, however, as Marcin Sciesinski, one of the two players originally jostling for that team captain slot and a former Irish team captain, had a chance to reclaim the slot at Grand Prix Dallas the following week. A 3-4 record was not what he needed, and the captaincy remained Heidemueller's.

Neither me nor Oli was a hundred percent sure on this point, but we think Heidemueller may be the first female team captain at the World Magic Cup. I hope she and her team do Ireland proud.

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