Last year our national team made it’s highest finish ever – 8th place. Surely though that isn’t good enough for us. This article is directly intended to the UK players travelling to Worlds this year and to the players who aspire to get there next year. This is going to sound very much anglocentric, but nationalism is what Worlds is all about.
Considering we gave the world so many good things such as football, Shakespeare and a Nazi free Germany (and one or two bad things; America, Michael Macintyre) it is disappointing that we lag behind countries such as Slovakia and Belgium at Magic. We need to step up our game and invoke the principles that helped us dominate the world in so many other areas. As far as I know we have seven players qualified for Worlds this year; the National team of Dan Royde, Eduardo Sajgalik, Tim Pinder, Jamie Hannah, Dan G, Richard Bland and myself. The question is, are we going for fun, to simply represent our country and have a holiday in San Fran, or to try to seriously take it down?
Last year we had an exceptional team featuring two level 5 players. This year our team is another cracker. Royde is a GP winner and one of the finest players in the country, Eduardo (although he is quasi Canadian/French and a national team mercenary) is another top player who has a GP top 8 and 4 Nationals top 8s. Tim and Jamie proved how good they are at Nats and give us an all round squad. But the other three players; DB (Richard Bland), DanG and myself shouldn’t just be going for the individual portion. We should all go and contribute to the team effort.
Last year Richard Bland, Joe Jackson and myself spent a few days at the ManaLeak shop testing with the local players. It was useful for several reasonsair track gymnastics. Firstly for the obvious testing purposes, since we got through more games with the help of the dozen or so players at the shop that helped crunch the numbers; secondly it helped organise us insofar as our travel arrangements; and thirdly it allowed us to get to know each other better and built morale and spirit. We should do the same this year. Royde, Pinder, Bland, Eduardo and Hannah (DanG will just get whatever deck we create off us anyway)- if you’re reading this (and you better be) then you we need to work out a date for us all to spend a weekend together in Worcester and make sure we’re prepared for Worlds. The shop provides a perfect testing environment (open for as long as we need, on site food and refreshments and access to all the MTG cards in the world!). Or if you guys can suggest a better alternative location then please contribute, the important thing is that we’re all together group testing, face to face. So, that all being said, we haven’t much time and now that Innistrad is out we should get to work as soon as possible.
Why do England fail at the World Cup? Why do we consistently under achieve? I don’t think it’s the lack of quality in the squads we send. Not when we have players like Stevie G and that other scouser who plays for Manchester. I don’t even think its a management issue, Capello is one of the world’s best. I think it’s a matter of belief. Well, that and the lack of a winter break in our domestic season. The belief though; doesn’t just come from the players, but also the country. The point I’m getting at, albeit in a rather long-winded way, is that other players need to support the National team. The local Worcester players will, should we manage to organise a get-to-gether, and the players local to each team member need to help out when it comes to testing and preparation too.
Real deck testing takes a heck of a long time, and 99% of people don’t seem to do it properly. Each matchup needs to be tested, pre and post board, alterations need to be made then tested again. New decks need to be tested. Pre and Post board. Alterations being made then tested again. Every single matchup. It’s not just about learning which decks are good, and what beats what, but it’s learning HOW each deck beats every other deck. All of this takes time and effort, but the rewards can be huge. Being on the team is a responsibility, and if you go unprepared you are, quite frankly, letting everyone down.
Okay, so now on to the formats. Worlds this year will feature 3 new formats. Standard will be post rotation with Innistrad. Draft will be Innistrad and Modern will be post bannings. Let’s take a quick look at each in turn, starting with Standard.
The new Standard environment will reward those who explore. With the loss of Zendikar block and M11 much will change. [card]Squadron Hawk[/card] will be gone, as too will fetchlands and Valakut. Mono Red will lose [card]Lighning Bolt[/card] and [card]Goblin Guide[/card], and [card]Tempered Steel[/card] loses [card]Steel Overseer[/card]. There will be no more Eldrazis, no more [card]Splinter Twin[/card]s, no more [card]Preordain[/card]s and no more [card]Jace Beleren[/card]s. This will be a completely new format even before we add Innistrad in to the mix. Tackling Standard will require lots of practice and an open mind to new ideas. Where will control be without Preordain and Hawk? which aggro deck will be the best one? and are there any combo decks that haven’t been found yet?
This will be my fourth World Championship and one thing I’ve found is that most, MOST players focus 90% of their attention solely on Standard. This is a mistake that can be exploited, especially in the draft portion. A prepared drafter, someone who knows the archetypes and what values to place on the cards is at a tremendous advantage. Worlds is a unique event in that even if you are struggling and have no chance at making the Top 8, then you have a duty to battle on for the good of your team and team mates. This means that even after a horrible day 1, you can still make up a lot of ground in the other portions. You can also take advantage of the dip in morale of your opponents. Treating each day as separate and individual can help you focus on just winning the matches in front of you. If the whole team can go in confident of their drafting skills, irrespective of how standard went, then you can really start to tally up the score. Should you all make it to Worcester, then we will definitely get in a few drafts.
Modern is an immensely deep format. It is still in its embryonic stage and there is so much left to be explored. The new bannings will affect the format quite significantly as the bannings of [card]Preordain[/card] and [card]Ponder[/card] leave the Red Blue combo decks a little short on spells. Tonnes of work has to be put in, but I don’t think that it is where the time is best spent. Individually speaking Modern won’t matter at all if your first two days were poor. Yet, again this is where a lot of ground can be made up for the team side of things. As I said earlier, most players only really test the Standard so the players who are prepared for the Modern will be ahead of their competition. The team will receive just as many points for 6-0ing Modern as it will from Standard so it is definitely wise to prepare. I think that perhaps the best way to do this is to divide the work up between the team and have some players test Standard and others Modern. Of course this will require trusting each other’s conclusions but can be very rewarding. Due to its depth though I think that Modern should be given the least amount of attention, second that is to the Legacy that will be involved in the Team matches.
The team should go with the same decks. This not only shows confidence in each other, but solidarity. Yes it can backfire if you all choose badly, but I prefer this approach than hedging your bets by playing different decks. Supporting one another is crucial to breaking down the individual desires of each member. Showing that you all have confidence that you have the best deck will feed into one another’s drive when it comes time to play.
Worlds is the most important and most fun Magic tournament of all. It goes long and can be very draining. Confidence is huge and that comes with preparation. I’m sure that Tu will be enthusiastic about the possibility of the whole team (and by that I mean every UK player qualified) coming to his shop and grinding out the sessions all night long.
To anyone responding to this article in the comments, I ask that you join in and offer your advice and help in making the Nationals team as strong as it can be.
Thanks for reading, and thanks for sharing.