The Result

As if there were ever any doubt, from the moment the Japanese team was decided months ago, people expected huge things of this team of all-stars. They didn’t disappoint! Shota Yasooka, Kenta Harane, and Yuuya Watanabe were among the scariest—if not the scariest—team to sit opposite from at the World Magic Cup, and their triumph when all was said and done surprised no one. I’m talking about a team that had over 1,200 Pro Points between them! In previous years, the World Magic Cup had been something of a white whale for Team Japan, but these three were ready to upend the history books altogether.

Throughout the weekend, we were treated to a rare display of stone-cold mastery from Team Japan, and none shone brighter than Shota Yasooka. Known for the way he effortlessly crushes his enemies with off-the-wall control decks, Yasooka showed us that he can play both sides of the court as he cracked skulls up and down the tournament with—of all things—Ramunap Red! As a dedicated control player, much of his success with the deck doubtless came from knowing exactly how to pressure opposing control decks—find their weak points, attack with timely precision, and hit ’em where it hurts. There’s no better example of this than when he masterfully took down Mattia Rizzi in the semifinals, when Team Italy were finally vanquished in their third consecutive Top 4 appearance.

The Top 8 itself was stacked beyond belief. Team Germany demonstrated characteristic efficiency, dropping only a single match on their way to Sunday, but both of their losses came at the hands of Team Poland, who impressed us all with a deep run all the way to the finals. Team Slovakia enjoyed the expertise of Pro Tour Champion Ivan Floch, and Oliver Polak-Rottman led Team Austria to a very strong finish. Team China was a dark horse, quietly wrapping up their nation’s first Top 8 appearance, and Team Wales turned up on Sunday morning proudly dressed as dragons after clinching a finals appearance in a thrilling win-and-in against Team USA late on Saturday.

Ultimately, however, no one was able to stand up to the pure dominance displayed by a team that was never anything other than tournament favorite. A hearty congratulations to Team Japan, who definitely lived up to the hype!

The Moment

The Spirit Award at the World Magic Cup is a wonderful way to showcase teams who make a special effort to represent their countries, usually through a national costume. This year, Scotland, Mexico, and Wales were the deserving recipients, and you can see why. Scotland’s war paint was the talk of Day 1, and Mexico was appropriately on-theme with Mesoamerican-influenced costumes. These teams added to the incredible atmosphere of positive competition that accompanies events like this, and it didn’t stop with them—the US team had Bandit Keith-style bandannas, and the Australians were in matching Socceroos jerseys.

Displaying flair like this didn’t cost these teams competitively, either. It was Team Wales that soared above the field on their dragon wings, perhaps benefiting from the comfort brought about by wearing pajamas to a professional Magic event. After going undefeated on Day 1, they locked up a Top 8 appearance with relative ease, all while clad in their striking dragon onesies.

We saw an incredible moment during their quarterfinal against Poland. The Welsh Captain, Phillip “Pip” Griffiths, was doing everything he could to lock up his match against XXX. Precariously poised and trying hard to stabilize, XXX had the ground locked up, but Griffiths took to the skies with a Glorybringer. It wasn’t enough to seal the deal immediately, but the second one absolutely was, and won Griffiths the match. The Welsh captain won a clutch game on the back of two mighty Dragons, while dressed like a dragon himself!

But the best moment of the tournament for me was something that would have gone unnoticed by more or less everyone watching coverage this weekend. While in the feature match area for the incredible US vs. Wales contest that wrapped up Day 2, Sam Rolfe was playing against Reid Duke, and everything was on the line. Rolfe, with his captain at his side, was beginning to turn the corner against Duke, and Griffiths was visibly feeling the pressure. Without taking his eyes from his opponent and the match in from of him, Rolfe gripped Griffiths by the hand under the table and squeezed reassuringly.

It may not sound like much, but for me it was an incredibly raw and powerful show of the emotions that are rarely on display from our poker-faced and highly reserved Magic pros. Team Wales won the hearts of many around the world after their performance this weekend, and it was a special thing for me to personally see their connection and unity as a team in such a real way.

The Deck

Going into the weekend, there was an overwhelming expectation that every team would field at least one Energy deck and onoe Hazoret deck, with the “third deck” offering players the greatest number of options to choose from, generally in white-blue. Some teams subverted this, with Germany reaching the semifinals with two aggro decks flanking an Energy-based control deck, but for the most part, this “third deck” was a white-blue deck of some kind. Approach of the Second Sun fared the worst of these, with God-Pharaoh’s Gift doing a slightly better job as the tournament progressed, but the all-star white-blue deck was the one based around Drake Haven.

White-Blue Cycling

Piotr Glogowski of Team Poland, 2nd Place at the World Magic Cup 2017

Played masterfully by prominent Polish streamer and MTG Top 5 favorite Piotr “Kanister” Glogowski, White-Blue Cycling put up the numbers at the World Magic Cup, helping to propel Team Poland to their finals appearance. This deck attracted a lot of attention for its consistency—when half the deck cycles, it’s not too often that you’re at the mercy of a bad draw—and also for the raw power of Drake Haven and the quality of the cards that enable it. Many cycling cards—Cast Out, Censor, and the like—are played in decks outside the archetype, which speaks to the deck’s general playability.

Additionally, the late game-plan of Abandoned Sarcophagus is backbreaking against many decks that would seek to draw out a game. Casting an Abandoned Sarcophagus is essentially a permanent Yawgmoth’s Will for this deck, usually allowing access to 8-10 cards in the graveyard. Many times throughout the weekend we saw this deck take its licks, stabilize on 7 or 8 life, then turn the corner with Haven or Sarcophagus. Don’t underestimate the staying power of this list!

Where this deck struggles is in staving off early aggression, as we saw in the finals matches between Glogowski and Yasooka. Cards like Renewed Faith go some way in helping the aggro matchups, but given that it takes some time to set itself up and start firing on all cylinders, fast aggro curve outs can tear this strategy to pieces. When contesting Drake Haven, consider their reliance on Settle the Wreckage, and if they’ve got a Drake Haven out and mana available, assume that any number of 2/2 flyers could materialize at any moment.

The Takeaway

No one is attempting to claim that Standard currently enjoys a healthy level of diversity, but regardless of how you feel about that fact, we saw some fresh faces this weekend. Due to the restrictions of the Team Unified format, each team’s “third deck” was often the focal point of their configuration, and led to exciting and under-explored matchups. As a result, we saw new depths of the Standard format, which lent an air of novelty and real fun to the weekend’s proceedings. Given the speed at which formats tend to be “solved” these days, the way in which Unified Standard shook things up may be an important data point for premier-level play—finding a way to showcase unexplored territory at the highest level, as this weekend did, could be something to do more of in the future.

When Rivals of Ixalan arrives in January, take note of the decks that performed well at this event. There’s no doubt that energy-based strategies will remain a force to be reckoned with until Kaladesh rotates out, but all the same, updating established strategies with new Rivals cards will be one way to get ahead early. The excellent people that do text coverage have got the hook-up with every single deck list registered at the World Magic Cup, so as we begin to get a sense of what Rivals will bring, it’s an opportunity to sketch out how decks like Mardu Vehicles, White-Blue Approach, or even Green-White Aggro might look once the new set hits.

Team events continue to be among the most positive and rewarding Magic tournaments on offer, and the World Magic Cup really is the best of the best in this regard. The atmosphere between the winning teams took many forms—compare the highly collaborative approach of Team Poland or Team Wales with the independence shown by the winners of Team USA or Team Japan, but almost without exception, competitors relished the opportunity to share their skills and knowledge on a team of three. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again—with so many team events coming our way next year, now is a great time to find two other mighty wizards and start forging a dynamic that will lead to success in these tournaments.

Next week it’s all about Modern, with GPs in Madrid and Oklahoma City. It will be a welcome breath of fresh air to showcase a new format on the big stage, and I can’t wait to get across it with you all next week!