Pro Tour Kaladesh is right on the horizon, but just beyond that is the Magic World Cup in November. The limited portion of that tournament will also feature the Kaladesh set. With all the WMCQs out of the way, I went looking for the English team members to introduce them and also find out how their preparations are going.
The story of how the English team came together has a few more wrinkles than usual this year. With the DQ and subsequent suspension of Fabrizio Anteri, what had previously seemed a locked-in and unassailable captain's slot suddenly became open. The players in contention were Eduardo Sajgalik, Autumn Burchett and former team member Francesco Giorgio.
Burchett caught everyone's attention with a 9-1 Standard record at Battle for Zendikar that gave her an early lead in the race for Constructed Master. Unfortunately, circumstances meant she was unable to attend many Grand Prix and without an invite to PT Eldritch Moon she could only stand and watch as both Sajgalik and Giorgio overhauled her Pro Point total.
Sajgalik is one of those nomadic Magic Pros where home nation is simply where they happen to be living at the current moment in time. He's been living in Canada for the past year or so. Some might think it odd him being eligible for the English captaincy, but it would be a harsh thought. Sajgalik lived in England for a while (I beat him out of the national team back in 2007) and has a lot of links with the UK Magic community. He has the experience, the ability, and I think he'll be great as captain.
Some thought should be spared for 2014 English team member Francesco Giorgio. Not only did he finish second to Eduardo Sajgalik in the race for English team captain, he was also beaten in the final of not one, but two of this year's WMCQs. There's close, and there's close.
This is the face of "close".
Two players that did win their respective WMCQs are Graeme Mcintyre and Pete Ward. I looked out for them in London this weekend to get their stories.
Graeme Mcintyre is formerly from Scotland (The Scots stealing our slots, mumble, grumble…) but has been living in Nottingham for the past three years. Mcintyre has high-level play experience. He played in the last European Championships in 2003 and has also played on 5 Pro Tours.
On a personal note, I was really pleased to see him win his WMCQ and make the national squad. I've known Mcintyre for a long time, ever since he was the young Scottish kid travelling to the PTs with us. For while he was a little burnt out on the game. With the change to the PTQ system and then introduction of the PPTQs, Mcintyre hit the road for as many events as possible, 41 overall as he told me, and had one of those horror runs of multiple Top 8 appearances without ever hitting that magic win that would qualify him for the RPTQ. That had sapped his enthusiasm. As he put it:
“I like playing Magic, but I hate the travelling. Getting on a bus early in the morning…”
Or being stranded in a train station on the way to Coventry as I remember recently.
Fortunately, things have turned around for Mcintyre. He won a Modern PPTQ with Jeskai Nahiri and then took down a Modern WMCQ. Outside Magic things are looking up as he's recently been accepted to study a PhD in Sociology at Leicester University.
Mcintyre writes regularly about Magic for manaleak.com. He tries to cover subjects other writers don't tackle because, as he put it:
“There's not a lot of point to writing set reviews after LSV has done his.”
He did a lot of preparation for the Grand Prix this weekend that featured a week of solid Sealed Deck practice and then a week of rigorous draft camp with Neil Rigby and others. Unfortunately it didn't pan out this weekend. I spoke to him after he'd just been blown out by Fumigate and then he lost the last round to miss Day 2. The preparation should see him in good stead for the Limited portion of the World Magic Cup.
I asked him about the other preparations and linking up with the rest of the team and he was positive.
“Eduardo has already done a lot of planning… using spreadsheets to work out the right Modern decks.”
(The constructed portion for the World Magic Cup is unified Modern. Teams need three Modern decks that don't share any cards other than basic lands.)
Pete Ward is only 19, but a veteran of playing trading card games. He'd been quite successful at another trading card game, but then that had died and he switched to Magic.
“It's taking me a while to get as good at Magic,” he told me.
The main problem is one of scale. The big tournaments in the other game were 400 players. With Magic the field is much larger and tougher.
“It's really hard to get onto the Pro Tour.”
Ward thought if he continued to play well he would get there. Last year he came close after losing two WMCQ finals. This year he had the breakout win that puts him on the national team.
He won the Standard WMCQ.
“I played green-white tokens. It was the best deck at the time,” he said.
Recently Ward has moved down to Cardiff with some other Magic players, including another player of promise, Sam Rolph. This will allow him to get more testing in.
Does he have plans to become a full-time Magic pro?
Ward has grown up on card games, playing them for the last 8 or 9 years. He said he was trying to go to more Grand Prix, but “they're quite expensive.”
Ward considers himself more of a Limited specialist.
This works out well for the team as Aaron Burns Lees, the last member of the team who I haven't mentioned yet, has a reputation for being a bit of a Modern expert.
With a Limited specialist, a Modern specialist and two players with a lot experience (including GP and PT Top 8s for the captain Sajgalik), the English team looks well-rounded this year.