Another Disappointing World Magic Cup for Team Brazil

The World Magic Cup is both the best and the worst tournament in Magic. It’s the best because it’s a team event where you get to represent your country, and the atmosphere is amazing—there’s a lot of national pride, but it’s also super friendly, and you see the enthusiasm of people from countries that you’re not used to seeing in the Pro Tour. It’s the worst because I literally never win in it.

At this point, I’ve been part of Team Brazil six times—twice in the old Worlds system, and four times in the WMC. My results in the WMC before this year were:

  • Day 2, eliminated in the first pod
  • Day 2, eliminated in the first pod
  • No Day 2

Every single time, I thought my team was great. Every single time was “the time” we were finally going to do well. This time, however, was different. This time we didn’t have just a good Brazilian team—we had the team. This was team Brazil 2017:

On the right, you have my favorite player in the world: me.

In the middle, you have Carlos Romão. Carlos is the Latin American trailblazer—he did for us what Fujita and Oiso did for Japan. Without his Worlds 2002 win, I might not be playing professional Magic at this point. On top of that, he was also a Magic Online World Champion (the only person to win both titles) and he got second place at a PT in the previous season. Carlos owns a Magic store in Brazil, and he also has two adorable golden retrievers, George and Sofia. I don’t actually know if they’re adorable since I’ve never met them, but I’ve heard so many stories about them this trip that I already feel a connection. If I ever see them and they don’t love me immediately I’ll be very disappointed.

And on the left, you have Lucas Esper Berthoud. He’s been on the National team four times, and he won PT Dublin this year. His work ethic is incredible—he practices constantly. He has almost no time, since he works full-time as a lawyer, but he makes it work anyway. He’s also a very good writer—you can usually find his reports on Reddit.

The funny thing about Lucas is that, even though everyone knew our team was good and everyone was really hyped, people often seemed to… forget about him. For example, take this excerpt from the WOTC website:

Poor Lucas…

Most people had high hopes for our team, myself included. We were the only team in history with three PT winners. We were also, to the best of my knowledge, the only team in the history of the new WMC with three Platinum players. Yes, this was definitely “the time.” I could already picture coming back to Brazil in glory, with a trophy, to a crowd chanting my name and to a swarm of journalists trying to take my picture or get an exclusive interview.

Instead, I had to content myself with a Brazilian forum where people discussed how much of an embarrassment our team was and how my numerous failures and mistakes as captain had led us astray. Representing a whole country can be amazing when you do well, but it’s not easy when you do badly, especially when it’s a country as passionate as Brazil.

So, if our team was so good, why did we do so badly?

I left Porto Alegre on Thursday night, arriving in Lyon about 20 hours later to play the GP with Carlos Romão and Ondrej Strasky. Ideally, we’d be playing with our third—Lucas—to get extra practice, but he couldn’t take any extra time off work, being a fancy lawyer and whatnot, so we replaced him with Ondrej.

Our Day 1 pool was mediocre. We built a B/W Vampires deck for me, a Naya Dinosaurs deck for Ondrej, and a U/B Control deck for Carlos. I had an abysmal individual record, but Carlos and Ondrej won some of their matches, so we advanced at 6-3.

On Day 2, our pools were very good. I had an amazing R/W deck with 2 Charging Monstrosaurs, and Carlos had an amazing U/B deck with multiple bomb rares. Ondrej got to play his favorite archetype: 4-color-Piratosaurs. Despite our good decks, we made a swift exit at 0-2. That was OK, though—the most important thing was still the WMC.

After that, we took a 7-hour bus to Nice, where we were going to meet with members from team Argentina, Portugal, Spain, Peru and, randomly, Christian Calcano. We had rented an entire apartment complex through Airbnb—4 different apartments that could theoretically house all of us.

The place was in an awesome location, in the heart of old town, full of close restaurants, and one block from the beach. The place itself, however, was kind of lacking. It clearly wasn’t designed for a tall person, and I had trouble going through doors and entering the shower—it sort of made me feel like Gulliver. Carlos literally couldn’t get his head below the shower head.

There was no way to regulate the shower inside of it, so you had to do it from the outside, which meant the door had to be open, at which point you flooded the entire bathroom, since the shower head pointed directly at the opening. Once you managed to actually get inside the shower, you got electrocuted every time you touched anything. I ended up showering with my rubber flip flops, and operated the shower handle by hitting it with the bottle of shampoo. To top it all off, there were signs on the walls asking you to please not throw condoms in the toilet.

Testing in such a cramped space proved to be challenging, but we managed to get some done. We even had a visit from BDM and the WotC crew:

At that point, Lucas was still in Brazil—he’d only be arriving Thursday night—but we were communicating online.

Early on, we decided that we wouldn’t spend much time in Team Sealed. First, we had already had some practice for it—I’d played the format in two GPs, and second, I felt like Ixalan Sealed was very intuitive. There are four tribes, and all you have to do is choose one not to play, after which the decks kind of build themselves. If a card says Dinosaurs, you throw it in the Dinosaur deck. If it says Merfolk, throw it in Merfolk. There’s really no mystery to it, and we thought the time would be better spent trying to find the optimal Standard configuration.

Our thought process went like this:

  • Most possible configurations will involve an energy deck (Temur, 4c or Sultai), an aggro deck (Mardu, Mono-Black, Mono-Red), and a third deck. The third deck would likely be U/W, Approach, or Gift, but could also be a secondary aggro deck (such as Green-White).
  • The metagame share for any deck caps at 33%. In fact, it caps at 33% for any given card. Whereas Temur/4c can be up to 50% in real life, here it would be 33% at most. Since many of the red cards clashed with Ramunap Red, the real amount of Temur you’d play against would probably be around 20%.
  • At most, 33% of the decks could have Chandra, Abrade, and Glorybringer, likely in either Temur or in Mono-Red. As a result, decks that are weak to those cards became better. Sultai was probably the most improved deck in the team configuration because Glorybringer, Chandra, and Abrade are the cards that beat it out of the Red decks.
  • Mono-Red is better than normal. In Standard, it only has one bad matchup, but that’s the most popular deck by miles, and the second most popular deck is the mirror. In Team Standard, however, its bad matchups cap at 33%, and will realistically be 20-ish at most. On top of that, if you have a bad matchup, then you probably don’t have a mirror. This puts Red in a spot where it’ll either have one bad matchup and two good matchups, or two even-ish matchups and one good matchup, which is an amazing place to be in. I wanted to play Red.
  • U/W will be over-represented, since every team needs a third deck.

Our early frontrunner combination was Mono-Red, Sultai, and U/W Gift/Approach. We assumed this would be the default configuration for most teams, since they were all real decks with no overlap. Both Mono-Red and Sultai became better due to the unified configuration, so this was looking really promising.

There was only one big problem: Sultai sucks. I have mad respect for Seth Manfield for winning the Pro Tour with this deck because it’s just not a good deck. I thought it was clunky and underpowered. It didn’t have enough interaction and it couldn’t beat their interaction. It was better than Temur post-board against control decks since you had Duress and Siphoner, but against anyone else it just seemed significantly worse. Our initial assumption was that Sultai would be a slight downgrade to Temur, but in practice it ended up being a huge downgrade.

The next thing on our list was to figure out whether Temur and Red could coexist, and whether it was better to have one full list and one handicapped one, or two slightly-handicapped decks.

There were four clashes:

  1. Glorybringer. This was the easiest to solve, since we didn’t feel like Red truly needed it, and, if it did, we could always revert to The Scarab God or Skysovereign in Temur.
  2. Chandra’s Defeat. This was also relatively easy to solve, as we felt it would be better in Temur as a way to answer Ferocidon and opposing Chandra’s, both cards that Red didn’t have a huge problem with.
  3. Chandra, Torch of Defiance. This was the first real problem, because both decks really wanted it. Chandra was really important against sweepers because it gave you a way to add pressure without making yourself more vulnerable to Fumigate or Settle the Wreckage, and it also made it so that you didn’t have to keep bad removal spells in your deck in case they boarded in a creature like Regal Caracal. Either deck could live without it, but both would be significantly worse.
  4. Abrade. This was the biggest problem, because both decks really wanted it. Red needed the removal spell, and it needed the spell for Soul-Scar Mage. We tried to replace Abrade with Invigorated Rampage, but that just didn’t work. You needed to kill creatures, especially against Sultai, and without Abrade you were kind of soft to Aethersphere Harvester, even with Mentors and Ferocidons.

Temur, on the other hand, needed ways to kill Rampaging Ferocidon, Heart of Kiran, and God-Pharaoh’s Gift. When we tested Abradeless Temur versus Red, it struggled a lot with Ferocidon in game 1s, to the point where the matchup became bad, which we thought was unacceptable.

Ultimately, we thought that we were giving up too much by splitting the red cards—we were turning great matchups into bad ones, and that was just too bad. We had to decide between Sultai plus Red, or Temur plus a 2nd deck. We put that on pause for a while, and focused on our third deck instead.

The third slot was supposed to be a choice of lesser evils. We tried a variety of alternative aggro decks: Mono-White Vampires, G/W Tokens, and Jeskai Tokens, and they all seemed bad. The issue was that U/W Gift and Approach also seemed horrible to us. Gift couldn’t interact with anything, and would often just concede to Rampaging Ferocidon on the spot, though even something as simple as Confiscation Coup was already hard to beat. Approach was just a turbo-fog deck whose kill condition took a while to work and didn’t block. We really weren’t happy with any of the white decks, until we decided to try the U/W Cycling deck that the French played at the PT and Corey Burkhart played at the GP.

U/W Cycling was the first deck we tried that positively surprised us. It didn’t take many games to figure out that it was just a better version of U/W Approach, and the more we worked on it the more we liked it. The biggest difference between Cycling and other control decks was that your kill condition costs 3 mana, which was far less than any other kill condition, so you could sneak it in play and even fight a counter war over it, which made you favored versus any other type of control.

On top of being better against control, it was also better against aggro, because you were live to play a turn-3 Drake Haven, which could just dominate the game against their slower draws. In sum, it was just a much better version of Approach.

We liked it so much that we locked it in, and went back to working on the other two decks.

Most people on our team agreed that it was hard to split the red cards, so we tried a variety of things we could do with black. Traditional U/B Control was out since it clashed with U/W, but U/B midrange and U/B Gift were still possible. Unfortunately, neither proved to be very good, particularly once you had to cut Aether Hub, which made Glint-Sleeve Siphoner bad. Reluctantly, we settled on Mono-Black Aggro as the third best deck. We didn’t like it, but it seemed to be the best option. It could certainly beat anyone with its aggressive draws.

Then, all that was left was to decide which combination we actually wanted: Temur plus Mono-Black or Sultai plus Mono-Red. We ranked the decks like this:

1. Temur
2. Mono-Red

Vast gap

3. Sultai
4. Mono-Black

So our choice was basically between playing 1 and 4, or 2 and 3.

In the end, what tipped our choice the most was the fact that I was significantly more experienced with Temur than with Sultai (Carlos would play U/W and Lucas would play our aggro deck). I didn’t think I’d be bad at playing Sultai, but I’d certainly be better with Temur, and I’d know better how to react to any weird situation that could come up due to it being unified and decks being unpredictable.

We went to the site to get some last-minute cards and register our team. Lucas still hadn’t arrived, and, as we registered, we were met with the following conversation:

“So, do you guys know your third teammate already, or is this the first time you’re meeting him?”
“Er… we know him”
“So, he’s like, solid?”

Poor Lucas…

After registering, we had to get cards. The dealers had everything we needed, except for Impeccable Timing.

You see, we weren’t fans of Regal Caracal, and I didn’t even like Authority of the Consuls that much—I thought you lost a lot of games to Ferocidon, Chandra, and Bomat Courier, so I wanted cards that dealt with those. Impeccable Timing made sense. Except it was impossible to find.

The dealer didn’t have them. Our testing team didn’t have them. I asked some players I knew, and they didn’t have them. Finally, I asked on Twitter. No one replied. Or, rather, a lot of people replied:

But no one actually had the card.

So, in the end, we decided to just not play it, which was pretty awkward. It’s the first time in recent memory that I don’t play a card because I can’t find it. We could have tried to open Kaladesh packs if we really wanted to, but given that we weren’t even sure if the card was good, it seemed better to play it safe. Had we had access to it, we probably would have played one or two.

After registration, Lucas finally arrived, and we talked through things. He had been incommunicable throughout the last day, and thought he was going to play Red—he didn’t really like Mono-Black. About one hour before we had to submit lists, we agreed that he should play the U/B midrange deck he had played at Nationals. Carlos and I didn’t think that U/B was a better deck than Mono-Black, but we thought that he would be more comfortable with it and play better—same as I was with Temur. Besides, it wasn’t like we were giving up something great in Mono-Black. We thought both decks were medium.

I think that overall, this was our biggest mistake. We didn’t communicate enough, and then failed to test the things that mattered. I should have tested Sultai more, to be more comfortable with it in case we had to play it, and we should have known more about the Mono-Black and U/B decks. I think we kind of just gave up and decided to play Mono-Black because the other people in the house were playing it, and then when we realized we might not want to play it, we were left without alternatives. We then had to go for a last-minute U/B deck that we thought was OK, but weren’t sure, and it ended up being kind of weak.

So, in the end, our configuration was:

Seat A: Carlos with U/W Cycling
Seat B: Lucas with U/B Midrange
Seat C: Me with Temur

Before the tournament started, we were called to the Japanese coverage to talk with Nico Nico. Nico Nico’s interviews are always more lighthearted, and it’s a nice change of mood. For example, they asked us a bunch of questions and had us draw the answer. To finish it off, they asked us to draw our favorite cards. Can you guess which ones they are?

Day 1 of the tournament started with Team Sealed, and we were faced with a nightmare of a pool. It’s not that our Sealed wasn’t good (though it certainly wasn’t great), it was just… weird.

In Ixalan, there are four tribes. Most of the time, you can build four Tribal decks. Sometimes, you can build three. We could only build one, and they were both the same tribe. It was completely impossible for us to build a Merfolk deck or a Vampire deck, and a Dinosaur deck would have been very bad. Instead, we had two solid Pirate decks: U/R and U/B. U/R was super aggressive, and U/B was controlling, splashing Vraska.

This left us with two good decks, and then we had to find a third. After much deliberation, we settled for G/W Dinosaurs Ramp. We didn’t think the deck was good, but also didn’t think there was much we could do.

This was probably our second costly mistake—we assumed that we wouldn’t need to test Ixalan Sealed very much because most of the builds in this format are intuitive. But we opened one of the few ones that were not intuitive at all, and then we had no idea what to do. Most decks are good, so it’s rare that you need to play the “best bad deck” in Ixalan, but we needed the best bad deck, and we didn’t know if that was a super aggressive deck, a ramp deck, or a mix of both. I think that had we practiced more, we would have had a substantially better third deck.

We ended up 1-2 on the day, and it was time for Constructed.

We kicked things off with a loss, and at that point our backs were against the wall, or maybe we were already dead. The WMC has a weird structure where if you 4-3 you might get in, or you might not. We knew we wouldn’t have the best breakers, but most 4-3 teams were going to make it, so we were hopeful.

We ended up winning our next round for a surge of confidence, but then lost the following one to end the tournament at 2-4. Without anything else to play for, we dropped from the event.

Very sad, isn’t it?

So, we were done with the tournament. Morale was at an all-time low, and I decided to go back to the room and drown my sorrows in chocolate.

Being eliminated on Day 1 at least meant that we could visit Monaco, which I was looking forward to. I didn’t know much about it, to be honest, except to know that there is a casino, rich people, cars, and a prince instead of a king for some reason, but, hey, it looked exciting, and I’d get to add another pin to my world map.

We woke up early to get to the train station, meeting Shahar’s dad and his brother on the way, only to find out that there had been a landslide on the tracks and all the trains to Monaco were canceled for the day. Sigh. Instead, we went to old town to look for a restaurant that Shahar’s brother said was absolutely amazing, except he didn’t remember the name or where it was. His description of it was, “it has turquoise windows and wobbly chairs.” After literally two hours walking, we miraculously found it, and it was closed.

At the end of the day, we went back to the site and got to watch Japan win their last match to make the Top 8. As I was about to leave, Shahar, who had hung out with us the entire day, came up to me and said:

“Hey, can you give this money to Luis?”
“Which Luis?”
“Luis, your friend who was with us.”
“His name is Lucas.”
“Ooooh, that’s right… Lucas Salvatto.”

Poor Lucas… he just won a PT!

On Sunday, we went back to the turquoise restaurant for brunch, and it was quite good, though at that point it could never match our expectations. We then managed to go to Monaco, which was pretty much what I expected.

In the end, I had fun on the trip, even though our result was pretty disappointing. Hopefully, I’ll have the chance to redeem myself next year


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