“Luck of the Irish? More like Wrath of the Titans!”
Just one of many things said by Irish around the world describing our historic finish in the World Magic Cup last weekend.
Hey guys my name’s Dave Tuite and I was one of the lucky few that managed to make the Irish team this year. I was kindly asked to write a tournament review for Manaleak.com and hopefully it will be the first of many!
The Irish team known by Rich Hagon as the team that would turn up and enjoy the experience regardless, as the underdogs, Ireland had everything to play for. It was a reasonable assessment considering Ireland’s agonisingly low standing in the bottom ten of last year’s World Magic Cup. This was all to change and regardless of what happened last year none of us could have foreseen the outcome of this weekend.
The majority of this article will be focusing on my games but this is mainly that I was unable to watch most of the others but will include plays from all four players!
The Core Set of this year, at least in my opinion, has a much lower power level than the previous years. There is a distinct lack of cards on the same level as Thundermaw and [card]Thragtusk[/card] that alone can blow a deck apart when it is played. That said I have noticed the rise in power of creature enchantments with the like of [card]Mark of the Vampire[/card] seeing major play even in a removal rich environment.
The core sets in general also seem to have been moving towards minor combos within the set itself, see the Witch combo this year and the “Of the Empire” set from previous years which can not only appeal to our inner Johnnys but can play a key role in the decks as you will see below.
While we didn’t open an extremely strong pool, I think it is fair to say that it was at the very least consistent. Marcin being a God of building sealed decks, having been in the top 4 of GP Vancouver last year, we mainly sat back and let the maestro go to work, removing un-playables as we went.
Having done some research on the variants that could be produced from a M14 pool we decided on mono black (played by Marcin), U/W tempo (played by Stefano) and R/G Slivers (played by Sean) with me sitting out as coach. Key players in the decks included [card]Liliana’s Reaver[/card], Witch (with two Newts), several pacifism types of enchantments and a hell of a lot of Slivers!
Round 1 – Bye
Of course it wouldn’t be the Irish team in an international tournament without a bye, but this time around the magic gods decided to show favour on us with it in the first round! Now this is a blessing in disguise as while some would seek reprieve from the 34oC heat I sought out the traders and garnished some very useful information.
Amongst this information we found that a huge number of [card]Lilianna of the Veil[/card], [card]Lifebane Zombie[/card] and [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card] were sold just before the event. While to some this might sound obvious it confirmed our suspicions that Jund and America Control would be major players in the weekend giving us a slight edge on deciding whether or not to keep opening hands or not.
Ireland- 3 Points
Round 2 – Greece
Of course starting the tournament with a bye is a double edged sword as you have to play people who have already been successful with their decks. Placing myself between Stefano and Marcin, I left the more straight forward agro deck to fend for itself. While there were some strong plays from Greece’s middle seat there are few things that stand up against the onslaught of a double striking Liliana’s Reaver.
Forcing awful blocks and the knowledge that we didn’t see much removal in the deck we pressed the assault. The look of glee in Marcin’s eyes as when he played a series of enchantments with a [card]Blightcaster[/card] in play removing 2, if not three creatures a turn was priceless!
Sean was in a little bit of dire straits with a removal spell after removal spell being played against him nearly every turn and followed up with a [card]Shivan Dragon[/card] he was quick to fall to the one two punch. Stefano played a series of fliers and narrowly dodged a defeat in the mirror match with [card]Air Servant[/card], tapping just enough creatures to steal victory with exactsies!
Final score 2-1 Ireland- 6 Points
Round 3 – Croatia
Now while we weren’t aware of it at the time we have since been told that some of the players on this team were animals in their local Magic environment, namely Toni Portolan. Not content with winning “Just” a PTQ, on the same weekend Portolan goes on to win a WMCQ to qualify for his country. This wouldn’t be the first time we would play the Croatians on the weekend but it was by far the hardest fought!
Stefano’s match was extremely tense, I have never in a game of Magic seen so many creatures neutralised by [card]Pacifism[/card], [card]Closterphobia[/card] etc. While it is fantastic removal against most decks, playing against green I dreaded a [card]Naturalise[/card] from an opponent! With a Baloth clocking up with an [card]Advocate of the beast[/card] on board but thankfully it never came!
A shout from Stefano signifies the end of that match with Marcin finishing his game to “See what would have happened”. Regardless Ireland proceeds into the next round undefeated!
Final Score 2-0 Ireland- 9 Points
The deck choice for us after the Star City Games Open on the previous weekend was an easy one. With the resurgence of Jund in the format and the consistency of America control; these options seemed to be mirrored by the majority of those in the top 16 as highlighted in the coverage.
Jund was simply too good to not play, as was shown by Sean’s amazing undefeated run with the deck, and America control is possibly the second most consistent deck in the format. What was left for us to choose was a third deck and while originally I had been an advocate of Bant Hexproof, when shown the Elfball deck, played by William Jensen the week before at the Starcity Open, I quickly changed allegiances! While following the overall structure of the deck I made some pivotal changes for better or worse.
The Deck: Elf Ball
4x [card]Arbor Elf[/card]
4x [card]Avacyn’s Pilgrim[/card]
4x [card]Craterhoof Behemoth[/card]
4x [card]Elvish Archdruid[/card]
4x [card]Elvish Mystic[/card]
4x [card]Elvish Visionary[/card]
4x [card]Kalonian Hydra[/card]
3x [card]Voice of Resurgence[/card]
4x [card]Garruk, Caller of Beasts[/card]
3x [card]Wolfir Silverheart[/card]
2x [card]Elderscale Wurm[/card]
3x [card]Loxodon Smiter[/card]
2x [card]Ray of Revelation[/card]
2x [card]Ready / Willing[/card]
2x [card]Renounce the Guilds[/card]
1x [card]Scavenging Ooze[/card]
3x [card]Selesnya Charm[/card]
[card]Garruk, Caller of Beasts[/card] was by far the star of this deck; with turn three Garruk potentially leading to a guaranteed victory as soon as turn 4. The ability to drop an early Garruk and completely reload my hand with both threats and mana elves leaves the majority of my opponents behind in the dust.
I chose to run Voice of Resurgence over Loxodon Smiter main deck purely for the reason that he had more interaction with the meta in my opinion and with elemental tokens quickly becoming a threat with the number of elves it made people reconsider many of their choices on whether to attack or not.
[card]Elderscale Wurm[/card] definitely had to get an honourable mention as in general he just says no to agro both mono red and r/g variants as they are simply unable to deal with him.
After the success of the deck I was expecting to be slogging it out with the mirror quick often which explains the inclusion of Selesnya Charm in the board, it also has uses against a number of other decks such as Jund and America Control.
Lastly Renounce the Guilds definitely had some interesting interactions with other decks, not only for horrific match ups this deck has against [card]Boros Reckoner[/card].deck but also because no deck EVER expects this to have removal. I will go into more detail of this interaction later on.
I chose to leave out small Garruk as while originally he had been in the board against Olivia, I felt he was too narrow as he only killed her on the turn she came in making him potentially useless in my opinion in the late game.
Round 4 – Austria
Having taken a back seat for the sealed portion, starting my first game of the weekend against a pro was not really where I wanted to be. Not only this but it was a deck to which I have a really bad match up. In our call on the Meta we thought that Aristocrats would not be a deck that was possible due to a greedy mana base and it also locks out other decks such as Jund, which we thought would be an automatic inclusion into the 3, apparently this was not the case and despite a turn 4 Garruk the onslaught of multiple 5/5 demon tokens eventually took its toll.
A win for Sean and a loss for me just leave Stefano and Austria’s third seat in a mirror match with all to play for. I’ve always found that control mirrors can be quite tedious but with red introduced into the mix it does lend to some explosive plays.
With the Austrian one win up and the clock ticking down it really was on Stefano to pull this back. [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card] hits the board uncountered and knocks the Austrian down to 6. Coming back around to Stefano he activates his [card]Mutavault[/card] and goes for the kill, Austrian tries for a [card]Warleader’s Helix[/card], Stefano reveals a [card]Dispel[/card] with a smile. Damage goes through sending the game to one all on the last of the extra turns. First draw for Ireland but as yet undefeated!
Final Score 1-1 Ireland- 10 Points
Round 5 – Mexico
This was our first feature match of the weekend and being the only two teams at the time that were undefeated in the tournament this was a tense start. Being the only member of the team without Pro-tour experience I can tell you playing under a camera adds a whole new element to the game.
There is the obvious added pressure of being under a camera but not only this you do question yourself and the hands that you keep way more than usual. Luckily for me at least this wasn’t the case in this match!
I was off to a strong start against our Mexican opponents. I have never seen someone look so disappointed as a Jund player having just played his only creature, a [card]Lifebane Zombie[/card], miss in a deck containing 34 creatures and having to look down the barrel of double Garruk in hand. Things grew progressively worse for the Mexicans when I drew a whopping 4 cards from Garruk!
Having seen the coverage since I have seen the double [card]Barter in Blood[/card] in his hand but looking back I understand what is going through his head, he HAS to kill Garruk who will simply draw cards if he does not. Bartering at that point leaves me with an unmolested Garruk and game on board. Untapping, bringing in plenty of elves before dropping the Craterhoof Behemoth from Garruk spelled a quick defeat.
With the closure of Stefano’s game and a slightly disappointed cry of “That’s it?!” from Sean we came to the realisation that hey we might be ok at this whole Magic thing!
In the middle of the interview with Brian David Marshal after we get a look at Stefano’s cool and composed persona – “I was never really behind. Necromancer is painful for me but after a while I can just take too much advantage from Sphinx’s revelation and [card]Supreme Verdict[/card] and so it is a problem but not so much so it was ok” or to summarise “It was fine” Such cold words we could only ever expect from a fantastic Control player!
Final Score 2-0 Ireland- 13 Points
Round 6 – United States of America
You often hear about America going into major tournaments like these being the big bad wolf; having some of the greatest players in the world, and with such a huge pro player base to draw from it is easy to see why. The only one of these players that I had heard of before was of course Josh Utter-Leyton, which luckily at the time he was sitting out, but it is still intimidating to have him on the other side of the table giving advice.
I am playing against R/G agro which isn’t a bad match up. I make plenty of dudes in the early game and so always have the option to block if required. My sideboard has some good options such as Elderscale Wurm, but more on that later.
It would appear real pros don’t require to remember triggers it seems, with Sean playing a 2/2 [card]Huntmaster of the Fells[/card] against U/W control before passing and winning the game anyways!
Sean – “Huntmaster?“
Opp – “Resolves“
Sean- “Cool, so back to the story, your go by the way, so …shit, the triggers!“
Last game comes down to me with Sean winning his 2-0, EVEN with the above, and Stefano unfortunately losing. It is unusual for two agro decks to take so long considering we have very little interaction with each other’s decks; both of us making big plays and knocking large chunks of each other’s life totals over the course of a single turn.
There is a play in our final match I managed to pull off in this match, which I feel I just have to mention. Not only as it won a match I was soon going to lose but because it’s perhaps the play I’m most proud of in the history of my magic career!
So I have 5 lands on board, including a Gavony Township, two elves and a Voice of Resurgence. My opponent Jason taps out for a [card]Hellrider[/card], to join his Boros Reckoner, [card]Firefist Striker[/card] and [card]Stromkirk Noble[/card] on the assault. Jason swings knocking me to 6 with Hellrider triggers and Firefist Striker means Voice of Resurgence cannot block. I play renounce the guilds, leaving him to sacrifice Reckoner and sacrificing Voice leaving me with an Elemental token. Token blocks Hellrider, and each of the other gets blocked by an elf, tap and pump with Gavony leaving the Americans with a resounding “Huh”. Playing a hydra on my turn sealed the fate of the game.
Final Score 2-1 Ireland- 16 Points
Round 7 – Chile
Going into this game we had a genuine discussion of whether or not we ask for an ID. We are already locked for day two with a $1000 in the bank; but we are on a winning streak. We are undefeated and if we win this match we are guaranteed to end the day top of the standings! We have to do it; we came here to play Magic, let’s go out with a blaze of glory!
I could have sworn it was in the bag game one, I had a paired Silverheart smashing face every turn; he manages to pull it back though with a series of blocks from [card]Strangleroot Geist[/card]. This game really highlights the raw power of Scavenging Ooze in this deck as the number of creatures that have died slowly begin to refuel not only a stabilisation in terms of life but growing it into a threat that can also swing back for considerable damage!
Game two is relatively unremarkable, turn 3 Garruk makes for some easy decisions and a turn 5 Craterhoof ends the game rather rapidly.
Game three, however, is all to play for; he learns that killing my early game is the way to victory. Incinerating my turn 2 [card]Elvish Arch Druid[/card] there was no way for him to see the other 3 in my hand! Red spot removal can only go so far with Druids rapidly becoming 4/4s and the ability to pump out enormous amounts of mana makes everything in my deck accessible.
Garruk drawing into Craterhoof and Elderscale Wurm spells disaster for the Chilean with barely enough mana, I play Elderscale Wurm with a known Craterhoof in hand, he reveals the top card of his library; a [card]Mountain[/card]. We erupt in celebration as he offers me the handshake.
Ireland has done the impossible of both starting and ending the weekend in first place! Leaving us as the favourites to win it in Day 2!
Final Score 2-1 Ireland 19 Points
End of Day 1
Total Score – 19 points 6 wins 1 Draw
Ravnica Block Sealed – Top 32
We got quite lucky with our RTR pool which was definitely a change from yesterday. Selesnia was a snap decision for us with not only the powerful [card]Armada Wurm[/card] but [card]Advent of the Wurm[/card] to back it up! We decided to go for a grindy gates deck with plenty of removal, counter spells and the very destructive [card]Gaze of Granite[/card] to boot to be played by Sean. Marcin played a slightly more experimental 4 colour deck, containing some really powerhouse cards but with a slightly shaky mana base.
Round 8 – Estonia
Straight away we start seeing problems. I face an extremely aggressive Boros deck, dropping a creature with evasion nearly every turn while burning any possible blocker I have out of the sky with either Mugging or the more powerful Warleader’s Helix.
Sean is on fire this weekend pulling back a victory for Ireland. Marcin unfortunately starts seeing these mana issues that I mentioned above, this mana issue will continue to haunt Marcin throughout this section not receiving any game where either he was not mana flooded or mana screwed. Several times I saw Marcin in games with at least 4 blue cards in hand but no Islands! With the first loss of the event so far our ego takes a bit of a hit but we carry on regardless.
Final Score 1-2 Ireland 19 Points
Round 9 – Croatia
As we had beaten Croatia once already in the competition the previous day we were confident that we could repeat the process and get ourselves a place in the next section. These guys are really friendly, and while there was much at stake on the outcome of this match, most of the game was relaxed. I faced the mirror but I think it is fair to say that I had an edge flooding the battlefield with Wurm tokens quickly taking the lead.
Marcin again hits these mana problems with an amazing hand but no ability to allow them to influence the board! Sean steals a victory with a diversity of removal spells finally clocking up the 20 damage needed for the kill.
Final Score 2-1 Ireland 22 Points
Round 10 – Malaysia
So this is the decider. Both teams need a win to progress and having gotten some info from the more than helpful Croatians we have a fair idea of what we are coming up against. My opponent has the terrifying [card]Blood Baron of Vizkopa[/card], which my deck simply cannot handle if it hits the board.
The first game he managed to drop it on curve completely destroying my game plan, having only two non white creatures in the deck. Marcin yet again struggles with the mana problems in his deck, this time holding out for longer but still succumbing to the same issues, losing his game. I catch a break in my second game when he does not manage to draw the Blood Baron simply trampling over him. Third game I get what any players wants to see, an opponent mulliganing to five! He is clearly digging for this Blood Baron, which in of itself is a good sign as it means he cannot win without it! On the final turn of the game he drops the Baron but it is too late, I drop a [card]Rogue’s Passage[/card] and make my Wurm token unblockable going in for the kill!
Sean had an equally tense game, both decks were heavy on removal and not only this but they had a second Blood Baron in this deck too! Between this and Primordial it was looking like it would definitely be a horrifically close game and it really came down to the last turn. Dropping double [card]Ubul Sar Gatekeepers[/card] to kill the black primordial after using Gaze of Granite to kill not one but five cards on board! Best play of the game involves bouncing the infamous Blood Baron with a top decked [card]Simic Charm[/card] to swing in to victory!
Ireland progresses to the top 16!
Final Score 2-1 Ireland 25 Points
Standard – Top 16
Round 11 – Estonia
More Aristocrats came my way at the start of the second lot of Standard. Trying to play around a possible [card]Blasphemous Act[/card] is horrible as you have to try race whatever hits the board, the inclusion of Boros Reckoner make Wolfir nearly unplayable in this match up to boot.
Like other games the first and second passed reasonably straight forward, we smashed into each other, taking a game each. Sean, nearly like clockwork, won his game while unfortunately Stefano lost his.
Game three for me was by all accounts quite tame for the majority, I had a few elves and a voice and he had a Blood Artist and a Boros Reckoner late game, both of us relatively unscathed. Playing a Hydra I saw victory only two turns away, swing it becomes an 8/8 knocking him to 12! It is so close I could taste it! All I needed was one more turn for Kalonian Hydra to become a 16/16 and murder the Estonian!
However next was a card that I had been dreading seeing boarded in against me all weekend, [card]Mark of Mutiny[/card]. Swinging with a now 18/18 trampler there was nothing I could do; it was the end of that game. It explained the small argument that my opponent had with his team mates, going into his third game he had kept a bad hand but kept it because it had the Mark in it, a bold play but one that pulled off in the end!
Estonia to become our unspoken rivals in the competition being not only the only team to take a win off us but the first to take 2 off us set us back on our heels a bit.
Final Score 1-2 Ireland 25 Points
Round 12 – Belarus
This was the second of our feature matches and while we were slightly more used to it, it is still a very different experience than playing a regular game. What most people don’t realise is that they ask you to not start your game but they don’t stop the clock while you are waiting so theoretically you can run out of time quite easily if not careful!
First game I get an easy with a mana screwed opponent, while Sean takes a paddling to Bant Hexproof. A huge lifelinking, first striking, trampling [card]Fiendslayer Paladin[/card] rampages through his defences with very little Sean can do pre board. While Jund often has no problem killing a single creature with its assortment of spot removal these cards can be dead in against this deck.
With only one card in his deck able to deal with it, i.e. [card]Olivia Voldaren[/card] defeat was quick to follow. There was a really funny moment when Marcin turns to me and asks “How is Stefano doing?” I turn away just long enough to hear “Gain eleven, draw eleven cards” Turn back, “He’s fine!”.
Sideboard options for Jund against Bant Hexproof are quite strong, siding out the spot removal and taking up the otherwise slightly clunky removal of Barter in Blood and [card]Lilianna of the Veil[/card]. Bant is forced to overextend on creatures leading to an easy victory for Jund. I on the other hand cannot stem the tide of life loss from Zombie after Zombie dropping on the board.
I eventually succumb to exactly lethal. Looking at the top card of my deck, [card]Craterhoof Behemoth[/card], just one turn away! It happens I guess but it always sucks!
Meanwhile in game 2 of Stefano’s game his opponent, playing R/G agro drops the new mana barbs uncountered, a death knell for RWU control.
Game three however Stefano is a different beast, coming down to the line, Stefano, burns, bounces and straight up murders any creature that gets in his way leaving Ireland with a win for this round! In the photos in the background you can see Sean and Marcin celebrating but it really doesn’t cover how excited we are. One more win to top 8 in WORLDS!
Final Score 2-1 Ireland 28 Points
Round 13 – Hungary
To say we were confident going into this match would have been an understatement, and to be honest, it was possibly our downfall. We had received information on what decks they were playing from our network of spies but as the last match had ended so late we didn’t have much time to work on this information. Both myself and Sean and rapidly in the lead with one game up leading to the comment to Kim Warren, one of the Judges while sideboarding:
Dave – “We haven’t planned for the future once this weekend – we aren’t about to start now!”
It was at this point I think our luck ran out, in my second game I failed to hit 6 mana with three Garruk and 3 Craterhoof in hand and get destroyed in game three, mulliganing down to 5.
Sean wins his second game but game 3 rapidly goes wrong for Stefano, digging eleven cards between [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card] and [card]Think Twice[/card] Stefano fails to draw a single removal spell. A huge Thragtusk on board with an Olivia Voldaren and a Wolf run as back up spells defeat for the Stefano and by extension the Irish. Having amazing tie breakers we were likely top of those not getting into the top eight but first some context…
Sean has had the unfortunate history of just missing a spot on the Irish team for years. Earlier in an interview:
Sean – “I have like four 9ths in twelve or thirteen years. I’ve missed Top 8 quite a few times, but after thirteen years, it’s finally paid off. I said on Facebook that they obviously should have put me on the team years ago! I told you I was good at Magic!”
Just after the Game, Marcin says “Well at least we came ninth?!” I turn to Sean, just realising what has happened and nearly fall over laughing! I don’t think we could have planned it better if we had tried!
And so ends the Irish dream. Despite having a ranking of third on the swiss standings after the cut off, we were knocked out by the new seeded pool system meaning that Estonia and Hungary would progress out of our pool. We had an amazing run and left many commentators unable to vocalise their surprise on our surge of victories on Day 1.
There were talks of offering us PT Dublin invites based on our standings. While it is only a possibility it could set a new precedent for the Pro Tour circuit of inviting the home team to the host country’s event. This could have a number of impacts on the game such as both increased numbers of people going to WMCQ’s (as they would double qualify for events) and improve PR in the countries and indeed surrounding countries of the intended event.
We think we made the right choice of decks based on the Meta and we were more than happy to finish where we did, there is always next year!
The new legend/Planeswalker rules make for some interesting card interactions such as digging for ten with the new Garruk, using [card]Lilianna of the Veil[/card] to murder two creatures or stealing an opponent’s Olivia Voldaren to kill it etc! While I’m not 100% convinced it was the right move for Magic I am sure that it will definitely alter the dynamic of the game in years to come.
Having started my magic career at the height of Cawblade, some of Magic’s most recent toxic Meta, the introduction of unified standard was amazing. No team wants to bear down against a team with 12 Thragtusks or 12 [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card]s etc. It allows for a variance that otherwise would not be there and a relatively healthy split of the Meta.
All in all the Magic World Cup was an extremely enjoyable experience and well run event. I would like to thank all those who lent us cards, helped us test, all of our opponents, the judges, the folks back home for all of their support, Joe Neary for the fantastic banner over this article, the Irish shops; The Gathering, Dungeons and Doughnuts and Gamers World for giving us to play throughout the year, team Northern Ireland (who acted like a second Irish team going over there!) but most of all my fellow team mates. Could not have done it without ye guys and I look forward to fighting with ye tooth and nail to get a spot again on the team next year!
I am Dave Tuite and that was my take on the Magic World Cup 2013 :D