The WMC is one of the best tournaments of the year. Playing teams is always fun, and representing your country is a big honor. I feel like I represent Brazil every time I play, but this is different—when I play in a PT, I play for myself. I happen to be Brazilian, and that affects Brazilians in some way, I guess, but I’m still PV, and not Brazil. When I play the World Magic Cup, I feel like I’m Brazil and not PV. If I win, Brazil wins. If I lose, Brazil loses. It’s better in some ways, worse in others, but the pros far outweigh the cons.
I’ve been the captain of the Brazilian team three times before—twice under the old system, and once under the new one. Last time, three years ago, I felt like I let my team down. I was unprepared, played badly, and didn’t help them as much as I could. This time I wanted things to be different.
I followed the WMCQs with enthusiasm, and by the time they were all done, this was team Brazil:
• Lucas Esper Berthoud. Lucas is a player with PT experience who has been on the national team twice before, and I used to playtest with him for national tournaments. He’s an extremely hard worker and I was very happy he was on the team.
• Bruno Muller. Bruno is a player from Santa Catarina (which borders my state), and, though I didn’t know him as well as I knew Lucas, I had seen him many times before in local tournaments. I’d talked to him a bunch of times about articles and decks and knew that he followed competitive Magic and really cared about it, and this was his chance to break through.
• Leonardo de Castro, nicknamed Fadinha (which translates to Little Faerie). Leonardo is an MTGO Grinder who plays a lot of Magic and has had some PT experience before, so he was also a great fit. He also looks 12 though he is in fact 24 years old.
I was very happy with this team, because I knew everyone cared and played a lot of Magic. Besides, with a guy literally named Esper and another nicknamed Little Faerie, I didn’t see how we could lose.
As soon as the team was set, we created a Facebook group. Bruno quickly worked out the logistics and booked us an apartment a month before I even had a flight, and Lucas started playing Constructed. Closer to the event, Bruno would constantly generate Sealed pools that he would post and we’d all discuss. I did not play as much but I still followed everything that happened, which is my usual style of preparation for all tournaments. I felt like we left for Barcelona on top of everything.
We arrived Sunday in Barcelona, and immediately went to the apartment the Canadians and Italians were renting, where we eventually would meet the United States team as well.
Early on, it became clear to us that Red and Esper were two of the decks we were going to play, because not only were they incredibly strong, they also worked well together in Team Unified Standard, since they use a different set of fetchlands. Red didn’t take many cards from anyone, and we felt like Esper was the best Jace deck. Other teams chose to play Rally in that spot, but I think Esper is the best deck in the format and it would be a mistake to not play it if we could, as I think it only has one bad matchup (Red) and everything else is favorable. Besides that, there’s no deck that beats both Red and Esper, Everything that is good versus Esper is bad versus Eldrazi and vice-versa, so they make a fine pair.
The third deck was a problem. Eldrazi would be the easiest deck to play, since it runs no cards from any other deck, but it had four significant issues:
The deck is very soft to Red and there was absolutely no reason for a team to not play Red. We expected 33% of the metagame to be a very bad matchup.
Everyone knew Eldrazi was a possible deck, so we expected the number of sideboard slots (like Monastery Mentor or Infinite Obliteration) to be high.
Anything people had to do to their decks because of Unified Standard casually made their deck better against you. An Abzan deck or an Esper deck that would normally play Duress might have to play Transgress the Mind or Despise, both of which are better against the Eldrazi deck. You also have to split Ultimate Price and perhaps cards like Fiery Impulse, none of which are good versus Eldrazi.
The deck is bad. There’s a reason it doesn’t take anything away from anyone—it’s not playing any good cards. It’s inconsistent and its plan is not enough even when it works.
There was some disagreement on this point (Hayne thought the deck was quite good) but I was confident enough in my opinion that I knew we were not going to play it.
After Eldrazi, we tried some Mardu decks, which were close to working but ultimately couldn’t support the worse mana plus the lack of some of the cards from the other decks (Abbot, Duress). We considered taking cards away from those decks, but we thought they were running so well that we could probably find a better third. We also tried a White Weenie deck that was completely and utterly unable to beat an Arashin Cleric (or any other card, really).
Lucas thought the third deck was very likely to be Abzan, so he tested a bunch of Abzan configurations, even before we arrived in Barcelona. Abzan Aggro had two main problems:
The mana was awkward. You had to play a ton of tap lands, since you only had access to Windswept Heath, and that made your curve worse, and it specifically made the card Warden of the First Tree much worse since you were unlikely to be able to play it turn 1, activate it on turn 2, and then play one of your numerous 3-drops turn 3.
You wanted some cards from Esper, namely Duress and Ultimate Price, which I thought were both very important, but also Shambling Vents. Our configuration had Abzan playing 0 Duress and 1 Ultimate Price, which severely weakened it against Esper and Red—the two decks we thought were going to be the most popular. Esper in particular seemed very tough to beat and in practice the deck won few games against it.
That said, it still looked like the best bet for our third slot, because nothing else we had was any good. Lucas built a version of it with 8 painlands, which was a bit harsh but meant you could support Warden, and the deck ran surprisingly well—the damage was rarely an issue despite the number of gold cards in the deck, since even the Red deck in this format doesn’t have a ton of reach (when it kills you, you take 30).
The Abzan deck remained our top contender until the Temur deck showed up. The Temur deck was Hayne’s adaptation to a deck that Mike Sigrist had bought to playtest for the last PT, and it was rebuilt on the assumption that it would beat Red and Esper, the two decks we thought were going to be the most popular in the tournament.
At first, I was skeptical. Not only did the deck underperform when we originally built it, but it also didn’t seem like it actually beat Esper, or maybe even Red pre-board (though I think you’re a heavy favorite post-board). The creatures in Esper were a big problem. Jace, Ojutai, and Dragonlord Silumgar were all capable of winning the game singlehandedly. The deck had few ways to deal with Jace and no ways to deal with the Dragons. You could play Rending Volley out of the sideboard to deal with Jace and Ojutai, but that wouldn’t deal with Silumgar, and you couldn’t play too many because Red wanted them as well.
Other people on our testing team seemed to think it was good, but I remained skeptical. I thought that was due to a misunderstanding of how good the Esper matchup was combined with a desire to find a third deck, since no one liked Abzan as much as we did. Naturally, if you don’t have a good third deck, then the bar for a third deck is lower and you start accepting lower win percentages.
It did seem that people were cooling on Abzan, but I didn’t really understand why—they kept calling it “bad mana Abzan” and saying “the mana doesn’t work,” and when we told them “actually this mana base we have works” they just kind of ignored it. Multiple conversations would go like this:
“Why don’t you like Abzan?”
“Well, the mana is bad.”
“Actually this mana base we have is not bad, have you tried it?”
“It’s annoying because you can’t play and level Warden.”
“Well this mana base we have can do that, have you tried it?”
“And if you play painlands you take so much damage…”
“The damage doesn’t matter that much, you should try it.”
“Yeah the mana just doesn’t work.”
Then, next day, someone would say
“Oh I only wish the mana in Abzan worked.”
“But we have…”
And someone else would jump in-
“Yeah you can’t play Warden that’s very annoying.”
And that was basically how the entire Abzan conversation went, which was somewhat frustrating from our side. Still, we were happy with it, and we decided that our best plan of action was to focus on Abzan while everyone else focused on Temur, because that would give us a good deck either way, and if Temur didn’t work then people could come to us for Abzan.
The day before the tournament, we split up (we went to the MTG store to buy a bunch of copies of Bounding Krasis that we might play, as well as four new Dixit expansions for me because Dixit is great), and then decided to just head home instead of going back to their apartment, because all that was left was to make a decision. Everyone seemed neutral on the topic and afraid to give their opinion, and Leonardo, who was going to play either deck, said he felt equally comfortable with either. At some point I made it clear that I thought we should play Abzan. My opinion was based on two things:
I thought we had an above-average team with above-average decks (you can’t really do better than Esper and Redonly worse), so I wanted a safer third deck. It was possible Temur was a great deck, but it was also possible it was horrible, and we knew Abzan was never going to be bad, It would always be its mediocre self. If we got the metagame right, then maybe Temur was going to be great, but who knows what people are going to do? People are crazy—what if there’s a person playing Mardu, different Esper builds, White Weenie, Mono-Black Control? We knew Abzan Aggro would be OK against those decks because it’s Abzan Aggro, but we had no idea how Temur would fare. Even inside matchups, it was harder to predict how good it would be because Collected Company can be the best card ever or do absolutely nothing, and I didn’t think we needed that kind of range.
Leonardo had ample experience playing Abzan Aggro but almost zero with Temur. He said he felt equally comfortable with both, but I didn’t believe he would play both at the same level. Not only did he have a lot more experience with Abzan but I also thought the Temur deck was trickier to play. Making mistakes with it involves failing to see lines you should take, so you don’t know that you’re making those mistakes. When watching him play with both decks, I thought he played Abzan slightly better. There are also some things that you just can’t do that well without experience, such as knowing which hands to keep or what cards to side in or out.
Since we were effectively “tied,” those felt like good enough arguments to sway our decision towards Abzan.
Then, we get back to the house to a message from Siggy saying “we’re all Temuring.” I asked “Do you feel confident enough in it that you should try to convince me to play it as well?” and Siggy replied “no, it’s just a hunch and us trying to nail the metagame.” Then Martell and Hayne both replied saying they thought the deck was actively good and they were looking forward to playing it, which was annoying because I was already happy with our decision to play Abzan.
We tested Abzan and Temur some more and then I changed my vote to playing Temur. I didn’t think it was the better deck, but you don’t play with some of the best players in the world only to ignore them when they tell you they are confident in a deck. Normally, if I have a strong opinion, I’ll hold to it no matter what, but this was a scenario we all thought was close, so good people from your team saying “I think this deck is very good” has to count for something. For me, it counted enough that I was willing to change my thoughts and play the Temur deck. The rest of the team was either neutral or on board with Temur for various reasons, so we decided to play it.
In the end, those are the three decks we played:
Seat A – Lucas: Atarka Red
If you want to play this deck in Standard:
Seat B – Leonardo: Temur
We had a slightly different list than the other people on our team (more untapped lands, one more Temur Charm, one Atarka sideboard), but the main principle is the same: play some guys, apply pressure, and leave up countermagic while having instant-speed threats.
If you want to play this deck in Standard: I really wouldn’t recommend it, as it’s mostly a product of our metagame expectations for that format. That said, the mana base can really improve with more fetchlands (you’ll at least play 4 Wooded Foothills), and you’ll want 4 Rending Volleys for sure. It’s also possible this is a Jace deck (Bounding Krasis untapping Jace—ding ding ding!).
Seat C – PV: Esper Dragons
Our Esper deck was also slightly different from the Italians because I like 4 Ultimate Price—the fact that it now kills Jace makes it not-bad in the mirror, so I think it’s worth it since it’s also the best against Red, plus you have Jaces yourself when it’s bad. You become a bit soft to Shambling Vents and Hangarback with this configuration (whereas Disregard is great versus both), so it depends on the metagame you expect, but I think I’d stick with 4 Prices. The key is that we all had 4 Duresses and I think they performed admirably—they are the best complement to Jace, Ojutai, and Silumgar, and those are the cards that win you every game, so I think not playing 4 is a huge mistake.
If you want to play this deck in Standard:
This deck is incredible. I think if you play it correctly you don’t lose to anything. Among the four teams that played a variation of it at the WMC, we had only one loss, and that was the mirror. I’d highly recommend it for Standard.
For placement, we decided that we wanted the Temur deck in the middle. This was due to a belief that the captain of the team would usually want to be in the middle to help the two other teammates, and the captain can either play Esper (the most “complicated” deck) or Mono-Red (the faster deck, so they’re able to help sooner, plus the only deck that beats Esper, which is likely to be in the middle). Since we had a deck that we thought was fine versus Red and Esper (though I still had some doubts about the Esper matchup), it made sense to put it there. A and C were mostly random.
Regarding who was going to play each deck, we thought Lucas was a natural fit for Red, since he’s played this kind of deck a lot before and he was the second most experienced player on our team (contrary to popular belief, this Red deck is not easy to play. I think a lot of teams lost percentage points when they threw Mono-Red to their worst player, and in the few feature matches I watched I always witnessed a lot of bad plays from the Red player). My playing Esper also seemed natural, as I’ve played the deck for a long time and I’m good at it. Leonardo with Temur wasn’t a great match, but no one would be a great match with the Temur deck because it was new and no one had a lot of experience with it, so it was the best we could do.
The tournament started with Team Sealed, which was the format I was worried about the most. The main issue we had with it was that we didn’t really know what to do with the green deck—should it be tokens? Eldrazi? Aggressive or defensive? Normally I liked the 5-color green converge decks (such as my PT deck that splashed for Radiant Flames and Quarantine Field), but in Team Sealed there’s little benefit to doing it since you’re going to end up playing those powerful cards in a deck no matter what.
The biggest conundrum happened when we had a lot of tokens, and then could either play a more aggressive version with Swarm Surges, or a slower version with Eldrazi. You could theoretically play both, but sacrificing all your tokens to cast an Eldrazi and then drawing Swarm Surge didn’t seem very appealing. I favored Swarm Surge with 1 potential Eldrazi (or 2 tops), whereas Lucas favored the more defensive Eldrazi approach with more Swarm Surges. In the end, I was just praying we weren’t faced with that decision because I didn’t know what the right answer was.
Reality was very different. The pool we got almost built itself—it was far and away the easiest pool to build of the 10+ we practiced, and we were done with 20 minutes to spare, whereas normally we had to rush to do everything because we were running out of time. We had a bunch of gold cards that directed us to specific archetypes, and we really couldn’t have built anything else.
Our first deck was a very strong RG landfall build, with three Valakut Predators, two Grove Rumblers, two Evolving Wilds, a Mi$ty Rainfore$t, and a light splash for some blue cards (Exert Influence and something else that I don’t remember). The deck was very good and Lucas said he doesn’t remember playing a 5th turn.
Our third deck was easily the worst of the bunch, but it was still not bad—a WB Allies build with two Drana’s Emissaries and March from the Tomb but lacking the usual life gain synergies, so it was mostly BW good stuff. This was the deck Bruno played.
We went 3-0 without any complications and then it was time for Standard.
Our first match was against Denmark, and I had a lucky turn-1 Duress that took my opponent’s Dragon Fodder and left him with a hand of two Become Immenses and only an Abbot for a threat, which I then killed. That enabled me to win the normally very hard game 1, and then game 2 with Tasigur recurring Foul-Tongue Invocations. The Temur deck lost to Rally, and the Red deck beat BW tokens.
Then we played our feature match against Belarus. I won a very long game 1 in which I didn’t think I played very well, and then won a quick game 2 in which I think I did play very well but unfortunately wasn’t on camera. Red lost to Naya Eldrazi that had a lot of sideboard for it, and it was all between Temur and Esper. When I started watching, game 2 had just finished. After a brief but heated discussion with the table judge regarding the speed of play (in which I was 100% right, thank you very much), we ended up stuck on 3 lands for a while and lost on turn 5 of extra turns. I’m not sure we would have won the game even if we had drawn more lands, though, as the opponent just outclassed us with Jace and Ojutai.
Our following match was against Singapore. I played against the 4-color Rally deck, and I think I played game 1 extremely well—the great majority of people in that tournament would have lost the game many turns before, but I played in a way that let my opponent get unlucky and he did.
Then I made one of the worst plays of my career.
I had 10 untapped lands in play, was at 1 life, my opponent had a 1/1 and played a Sidisi’s Faithful. I cast Ultimate Price tapping Swamp and Shambling Vent. Then he attacked with his 1/1, and I died. Yeah, that’s me, from genius to idiot within the same game. I think I was still a bit tilted about the slow play in the feature match, but of course that doesn’t excuse it. I won game 2 and then we learned that the Temur deck had won, so we didn’t have to play the last game.
We ID’d the last round, as did every one of the top 12 teams, putting us in 3rd place going into Day 2. Great system.
Our second Sealed pool wasn’t as easy to build, but it wasn’t particularly hard either. In fact, it was remarkably similar to our previous Sealed pool. Blue had 3 Eldrazi Skyspawners and a devoid theme, red had a bunch of landfall, and white and red had a bunch of Allies. We toyed with the idea of splitting red three ways for a bit (to pair the Outnumbers with the Skyspawners) but in the end settled for a configuration of UB (me), RG Landfall splash blue(Lucas), and WR Allies (Bruno). The RW deck was the weakest, but it wasn’t bad (it had Munda, Hero of Goma Fada, Lantern Scout, and Resolute Blademaster).
Round 1 Lucas quickly beat his opponent, and I quickly lost to mine who was playing a straight-up better version of my UB deck. Bruno was going to the third game when I started watching, and he kept a hand of two 3-drops, Smite the Monstrous, 4 lands. He drew 5 lands in a row, then a 3/1, then two more lands before he died.
Round 2 I quickly won my match against BW Allies and Bruno quickly lost his to UR. It came down to Lucas against a BG tokens deck. I think we had a good plan against them (aggression, 2 Boiling Earth, and a Rolling Thunder), but he managed to accelerate into some big dudes before we drew Boiling Earth and we ended up losing.
Now at 0-2, our 3rd place after Day 1 was starting to not mean much. Guatemala had beaten Argentina, and Argentina had beaten Thailand, so we needed Guatemala to beat Thailand and we’d be in if we beat Argentina.
Before the round, I approached the team from Guatemala and told them that we’d appreciate it if they played, instead of ID’ing or scooping. They would be first seed either way (even if they lost), but if they didn’t win then we had no shot, and Thailand could ID if we won (but not if Argentina won). Their reply was “of course we’re playing, we came to play,” which was a relief. I wished them good luck and went to my match against Argentina.
We won our match against Argentina and then moved to watch the Thailand versus Guatemala match. We thought the team from Guatemala had better decks, so we had our hopes up. Normally we might try to hide our result, since that stops the Thai team from trying to ID, but since Guatemala had assured me they wouldn’t, I didn’t see any harm in investigating. We moved close to their table and started watching their game. Thailand saw our happy faces and knew we had beaten Argentina, and they immediately offered Guatemala the ID that we knew they wouldn’t take. Then the player from Guatemala shook their hand, the game was over, and we were out of the tournament.
Afterwards I approached Guatemala and confronted them about it, and they seemed surprised that we hadn’t made the cut. I think they genuinely didn’t understand what was happening, and never meant any harm, but the way the situation turned out definitely punished us, because if they don’t tell us they aren’t going to ID, then we are going to wait until they are done to announce that we’ve won, and Thailand has to play to win instead of hoping to draw. In any case, it’s likely that we shouldn’t have shown up either way, as that might prompt a slightly slower pace of play from the Thai team, but at the time I didn’t think there was any harm. All in all it was an extremely frustrating experience and the cherry on top of what I’ve always considered a poor system for competitive play.
Regarding our deck choices, I don’t really regret anything. I don’t think Temur as a whole did well, but Italy won the tournament with it and I know their Temur player won a lot of key matches, so it can’t have been that bad, and it was likely better than the underpowered Abzan version we would have played instead. In any case, it was Limited that knocked us out, and not Constructed, so what we did in Constructed was almost meaningless (as long as we didn’t 0-4 it we would have had the exact same result).
Despite the disappointing result, I enjoyed the tournament very much—playing with Leonardo, Bruno and Lucas was a blast, testing with Italy/Canada/US was also great, and sightseeing afterward with the Brazilian players and Bruno’s wife Thais was a lot of fun. I hope I have the chance to play this tournament again next year, as it’s an incredible tournament and I really want to succeed while representing my country.