Grand Prix Pittsburgh isn't just the last Grand Prix of the year. It's the last Grand Prix before the World Magic Cup on Dec. 11-13, and that means it's nearing crunch time for those players participating in Magic's most global gathering.
That includes a loaded Team USA. With Joel Sadowsky, Neal Oliver and Tom Martell joining captain, seventh-ranked and reigning Player of the Year Mike Sigrist, the United States will surely be looked at as one of the favorites to win the event. But even a team with that much skill can't prepare alone.
That's where 19th-ranked Shaun McLaren and No. 10 Alexander Hayne come in. Along with Hunter Platt and Justin Richardson they make up Team Canada, a strong group in their own right. They conspired with the Americans from the beginnings to form a North American alliance, and they formed the basis of a group furiously preparing for the World Magic Cup.
Team USA captain Mike Sigrist, along with teammates Joel Sadowsky, Tom Martell, and Neal Oliver, talk to Brian David-Marshall at Grand Prix Pittsburgh about their World Magic Cup plans.
The team didn't stop there. Italy, with pros Marco Cammilluzzi and Andrea Mengucci, joined up next, followed by Brazil and its captain and hall of famer Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa. It's a large team, but one Oliver believes will pay off for everyone involved.
“We've been pretty active online so far,” he said. “We're going to meet up a week before the tournament and get the serious testing done.”
That testing will be sorely needed, since the WMC presents a challenge most players aren't used to dealing with. The team Sealed Deck portion of the tournament is something anyone who's played in a team event before is familiar with, but the true challenge is in Team Unified Standard. In the unique format, each team is only allowed to use up to four copies of each card across all three decks. That means no more than four Jace, Vryn's Prodigy or Flooded Strand. The added restriction on deckbuilding makes teamwork — and, in some cases, shared sacrifice — all the more important.
The tools are there, and early favorites in the format include Atarka Red, Dark Jeskai, Abzan and ramp strategies. But while that's a good starting point, it's almost certainly not where most teams will end up by the time the tournament rolls around.
“It's definitely going to take a lot of work to figure it out,” Oliver admitted. “There are a few things that may seem obvious on the surface, but you have to go deeper. If everyone is going to have an Atarka Red deck you don't really want to be playing Ramp, so it's going to take some time to figure out what we want.”
The World Magic Cup in the past has been a tournament famous for its unique flare and dramatic moments. From team costumes to the iconic “Daneblast”, the event has always brought the best Magic has to offer to the forefront, both in gameplay and community, this year is likely to be the same.
With some friendly rivalry between testing teams, that is.
“This is a bigger group than you usually work with for a tournament, but with as big as this event is it should be good,” Oliver said. “And if we get paired up we'll just have to beat them.”