I wish this were a tournament report about how I led the US Team to the championship in the inaugural World Magic Cup but it's not. But you knew that already. You may even know how it ended—a miracle Bonfire off the top to win a game I had in hand the very next turn knocking us out in the Top 16. The team that vanquished us Chinese Taipei led by Tzu-Ching Kuo went on to win the tournament leaving us to wonder what might have happened if that Bonfire on top had been any other card.
A lot of people had high hopes for the US Team this year due to the presence of me and LSV on the squad. In truth it was the two of us who brought the team down at least as far as actual records are concerned. LSV finished Day 1 with merely two wins while I started well but lost my last two rounds to finish 4-3. Thankfully Alex and Joe were there to carry us both posting 6-1 finishes on the day to secure our team the third seed going into Day 2.
Team events are a strange beast but team events for which you don't even choose your own team are even stranger. I was excited to hear that LSV won a WMCQ several months back but when Alex Binek and Joe Pennachio won their slots I was mostly just nervous. Neither player was one whose name I'd heard before so I had no idea what to expect. Turns out I was pleasantly surprised.
On top of that it was hard to know what to expect going into the tournament from the event itself because the World Magic Cup was completely new. Sure there was the team portion of the World Championships before but that was very different. At Worlds the individual rounds were the center of attention and the team competition was virtually an afterthought. In fact in many years the members of the US Team didn't even work together because members came from different playtesting groups who didn't want to risk their performance in the main event.
That wasn't the case at all at the World Magic Cup. Rather than being a nice side event for those players fortunate enough to qualify the team competition was the entire event so the focus was always on how the group was doing as a whole. We worked hard to ensure that everyone was playing a deck that they wanted to play and felt they could do well with. I talked last week about our preparation but I didn't want to reveal any specific details of the decks we were testing. Amusingly only half of the team played decks that could have even been in my article since I wrote it on Wednesday night and LSV and Alex both audibled to a deck right before the Standard rounds started on Friday.
It's one thing to change your deck at the last minute and have to wonder if you're making the right decision but it's another thing entirely to find out that half of your team is swapping to decks they've literally never played. That's one of the unique features of team events—you're never totally in control and you have to trust your teammates to make their own decisions. Sure in the team rounds you can try to help them with their plays but everyone has to draft their own deck and make their own plays in order to get there. But LSV felt confident that swapping to ramp was the right choice trusting in Martin Juza's advocacy for the deck and Alex seemed excited to play ramp since that's what he qualified with in the first place. In LSV's case he was only able to put up a single win but Alex went undefeated in the Standard portion so all in all it worked out.
Leading up to the tournament we generally all felt that Naya and Delver were the two decks we were interested in playing. We felt like Naya was better if the field was heavier with Zombies Delver and other Birthing Pod decks while Delver was better in a wider open field with more ramp and control. Up until the morning of the event we were evenly split with Alex and LSV on Delver and Joe and I on Naya. While Joe and I disagreed on some specifics regarding the proper build for a Naya deck it was something he'd been playing for a while and had experienced solid success with so I decided not to push any of my opinions too strongly.
In general LSV and I defaulted to the perspective of encouraging both Joe and Alex to play what they felt comfortable with rather than whatever our notion of the "best deck" was. There's a lot to be said for familiarity especially for players competing in their first high-level event under the lights. You're a lot less likely to crack under the pressure of your first feature match if you're playing a deck you know inside and out so we encouraged Joe and Alex to just do their thing and gave them our input where they asked for it or we felt it was particularly important.
Here's the deck I ultimately played which should probably come as a surprise to no one:
- 4 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Blade Splicer
- 3 Borderland Ranger
- 2 Elvish Visionary
- 1 Geist-Honored Monk
- 2 Huntmaster of the Fells
- 4 Restoration Angel
- 1 Sublime Archangel
- 1 Thragtusk
- 1 Zealous Conscripts
- 1 Mikaeus, the Lunarch
- 2 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
The biggest things that probably stand out about this deck are the Sublime Archangels. Archangel is the best breaker in town against other green decks and does a passable Hero of Bladehold impersonation against ramp. Most green mirrors these days tend to turn into huge ground stalls that are broken only by a massive Bonfire of the Damned or stupid Birthing Pod tricks. Sublime Archangel seeks to break that dynamic by just letting you kill your opponent. Frequently she serves as three to five power worth of haste damage the turn she comes down and she generally just represents lethal every turn after that.
I hear lot of people complain about Bonfire these days and frankly I don't get it. Yes there are games in which one player miracles a Bonfire and wipes the other player's entire board. But there are also games where that player has Bonfire in his or her opening hand and doesn't have an opportunity to cast it for value the entire game because he or she is on defense the whole time. Cards like Sublime Archangel and Wolfir Silverheart (along with Mikaeus and Gavony Township) help to actually close out the game to avoid the risk of losing to a Bonfire off the top. Silverheart in particular can let you establish a board position that beats even a miracle Bonfire. If you actually make deckbuilding concessions to the card's existence it's not the game winning sweeper people seem to think it is every time it comes up.
Anyway back to the World Cup. I do find it somewhat strange that the tournament used the individual rounds for seeding on Day 1 rather than just playing team rounds all the way through. Perhaps the logistics of running that many team rounds is more difficult but the unique characteristic of the World Magic Cup is that it is a team event and for a huge percentage of the competitors it really played out no differently than a normal event. For those who are unaware the format of the event included three rounds of M13 Draft and four rounds of Standard on Day 1 after which there was a cut to the Top 32 teams based on the three best records on the team. After that point the tournament largely reset—standings from Day 1 were no longer relevant except to seed the Day 2 pools and serve as tiebreakers.
There were some peculiarities with how this system played out. In the final rounds of Day 1 for instance I was paired against one player whose team was already essentially mathematically eliminated and another player whose team needed the win to secure a spot in the second day while mine was already locked. This creates situations in which players have extremely mismatched incentives—the first player could have easily just conceded to me since he was losing absolutely nothing by doing so while the second player asked me to concede so his team could make it. I didn't ask for the concession nor did I grant it but it's easy to see where matches could be decided by something other than actually playing Magic when so many people have different things riding on each match.
The problem did not go away in the team rounds the next day—if anything they were more obvious since who advanced and who did not from each pool was much clearer. We were in a situation in the first set of team rounds against Greece where we were 1-1 and would be locked with a 2-1 finish while they were 0-2 and could not advance. Despite that we would be eliminated if we lost and Brazil won. LSV and I talked about the situation and decided we'd ask if they'd be willing to concede but actually didn't particularly want them to. We both agreed that we'd rather play and win but if we lost without asking for a concession in that spot we'd feel dumb. They said they didn't really want to play but they felt it wouldn't be fair to the Brazilians so they had to.
The really awkward thing is that Brazil couldn't make it even if they won if we won as well so they could have just offered Estonia the draw. This would still guarantee Estonia top seed coming out of the pool at 2-0-1 and also guarantee Brazil that they would make it if we lost because if we lost and they also lost we'd make it instead of them because of the seeding tiebreakers. We explained that to Greece and they said that if Brazil drew they'd concede to us. Ultimately we played and won but the entire situation was just very strange.
Ultimately I think some of these situations could be avoided by actually making people care about how they finish within their respective brackets. The way the payouts worked is that everyone who made the same round but failed to advance got the same amount of money and same number of Pro Points. If instead there was an incentive for teams to try to finish in the Top 48 or Top 24 and so on there would be much less of an issue with potential concessions and people not caring about their rounds. Now I hope people don't misunderstand me—I'm not suggesting that the tournament was rife with concessions or anything of the sort. In fact I don't know of any that occurred but given the vastly mismatched incentives I'm sure they did. But if that one extra match win could mean another Pro Point? Well that Pro Point could be the difference between that player making it back as team captain next year or not. And that's a big deal.
All told the World Magic Cup was an awesome event. I had a great time both playing in and preparing for the event with my fantastic teammates LSV Alex Binek and Joe Pennachio. As I said before Alex and Joe were really the ones who really carried the team while LSV and I smiled for the cameras. Both of them went 6-1 on Day 1 and both also posted 2-1 finishes in the Team Sealed portion. Joe actually didn't lose a single match in Standard all weekend and Alex did a great job piloting the Modern deck LSV had planned to play on short notice. I'm the one who went 1-2 in Block to knock us out thanks to one unfortunately timed Bonfire of the Damned.
While it was amusing to me to see essentially all of the teams playing Jund in the Block portion of the tournament I can't imagine it made for good viewing on camera. Most of the countries at the event probably didn't have much incentive to play Block outside of the WMC itself so it's not really surprising that essentially everyone showed up with the same deck. While I imagine Legacy would be somewhat prohibitive from a card availability perspective it seems like there must be some better way to make the third match interesting. If the WMC occurs around the same time each year it's going to always catch the tail end of the Block format. While I love Block Constructed smaller formats tend not to hold up as well to long-term scrutiny. Then again if someone had figured out some kind of deck that was 90% against Jund they would have just walked through the entire tournament since it was essentially the only deck in the room.
That's it for this week. I'm going to be taking next week off from both writing and videos since I'm going to be in Seattle for the Players Championship. I'm actually writing this right now from Jon Finkel's apartment in New York City where I've been staying since the end of Gen Con to test. We haven't gotten a ton of Modern in just yet but I've played quite a few drafts and with GP Boston/Worcester this weekend I expect to be quite prepared for the 40-card formats.
So who's got a Modern deck for me?
Until next time