There are many wonderful things about the FIFA World Cup and Women’s World Cup in soccer. National pride, competition among the best players in the world, flopping, questionable officiating, fake injuries, and a beautiful game are all on display every time the men or women take the pitch in a World Cup event. What really takes everything to dizzying heights is that each event only takes place once every 4 years. Injustices or personal failures can’t be righted until at least 1461 days later. This extreme timeline gives every moment of every game a certain significance that you really don’t see outside of the World Cup or the Olympics (which is also on an every- 4-years schedule).
How do we translate any of this to Magic: The Gathering, a game played on kitchen tables instead of grass, and in convention center meeting rooms rather than grand arenas?
Let’s start by noting that the World Championships remains primarily an individual event. There is a team portion that involves three person national teams, but it lacks the drama and appeal of what we hope the World Cup could be. The fact that it takes place in the shadow of the individual event is one reason it comes up short, but not the only one. Perhaps the most important shortcoming is that it happens too often. As noted above, you can’t trot something out every year and expect the same drama that you get with an Olympics or World Cup.
Another major shortcoming of the World Championship team competition is that it often doesn’t include the best players in the world. This is a major problem.
While it features too few of the top players, the World Championship features too many countries to be compelling. The World Cup features only 16 teams and even there the group stage is much less exciting than the quarterfinals, in part because matchups often involve subpar teams.
Another missing element is the “elimination game” moments that occur in the World Cup well before the final match. When the World Cup gets down to 8 teams, it’s win or go home.
Addressing the above issues, here’s what we need to keep in mind when creating the event:
1) Take place only once every 4 years
2) Be its own event rather than one connected to an individual championship
3) Somehow involve the faking of injuries
4) Invite only 8 or 16 teams
5) National teams must include that nation’s best players
6) There must be elimination matches before the finals
The Magic: The Gathering World Cup
Every four years, in a location to be determined by a corrupt governing body (the Official Corrupt Committee) to be assembled from members of various participating countries, eight national teams of four players each will battle for the World Cup.
Why eight teams, and how do we select them? Eight teams is a number I’ve chosen to make sure there aren’t many teams thin on talent, while still maintaining enough teams to have a robust competition with several nations competing. Teams will be selected using the Pro Points standings from the 3 years prior to the year the World Cup will take place. So for a 2012 World Cup, we would use the 2009-2011 pro standings to determine which eight nations amassed the most points. It’s simple, and it’s sure to get the top nations right where we want them, into the event.
Why four players per team, and how do we select them? Four players per team is a deviation from the traditional three-man squads we’ve seen at the World Champs, but I think it’s better to let more players compete if the event is only to occur once every four years. More than four players and we risk the event being hard to follow as a spectator as well as the less deep nations possibly having to include players of a much lesser caliber than their top talent. The way we select the players is that the top three players in pro points in the same timeframe described above (2009-2011 for a 2012 tournament) are selected for the team. If any declines their invitation, the slot passes to the next player willing to attend. Those three players then vote and select a fourth teammate. If they can’t reach an agreement, the above-mentioned Official Corrupt Committee will select a person from among those nominated.
The tournament begins in the quarterfinals, with the 1 seed playing the 8 seed and so on (seeding determined by pro points as with qualifying). Lose in the first round of the tournament and your country’s World Cup is over. Matches are best 3 of 5, but if you should have mulliganned that one-lander in game 5, you’ll have four years to think about it. That’s the way it is, and that’s the way we like it.
The first format will be Unified Standard, in which each team must build four decks using Standard deck construction rules, with no more than 4 copies of any card other than basic land allowed for the entire team. Pairings are done by pro points in the relevant tournament period, with the top players squaring off and so on down the line. Matches are best of 5, and the first team to take 3 matches advances. Should the four initial matches finish 2-2, a tiebreaker match will be played by any player the team selects (who must use the deck they used in their prior match). Selections for tiebreaker player will be made by each team captain (player with the most pro points) after consultation with the team and will be revealed simultaneously.
Are you getting excited yet? We’re not even in round 2 yet and we can already expect some amazing matches and upsets. Ideally team v. team match will take place with none of the other six teams competing at that particular time so that viewers of the webcast can focus on the action and tune in when their country is scheduled to compete, or watch them all.
Round two (the Semifinals) will be a new format I’ve named “Dual Sealed Deck.” Each player is given 7 boosters (1 more than typically used to build a sealed deck) to build TWO sealed decks. For each of the first 4 games of each 5 game match, players must alternate between their submitted A deck and B deck. For game 5, the players may select which deck to play, and may sideboard (but they may not sideboard OUT any basic lands). Will players ADD say, 2 swamps and 3 removal spells to their decks, bringing their deck to 45 cards? We’ll see. I’ve long thought there should be a format where having more than 40 or 60 cards was common, and although this format will be too time consuming during deck construction for regular play, for a once in a lifetime World Cup, its perfect.
Did I mention players can talk to teammates during deck construction? There will be a time limit to ensure that one player doesn’t build all the decks, but assistance can be provided, making teamwork and trust very important elements of the competition.
The finals will be team booster draft, done in the “money draft” style alternating team members seated around the draft table. The “hook and cut” will be in play as players fight not only to make their deck good, but also to make their neighbor’s decks bad. I could write volumes on why this is a great Magic format and makes for great finals. Having the draft be adversarial and involve potentially unorthodox picks in order to account for the team format makes for great viewing in a draft viewer and great fun for the competitors.
I considered a few more elaborate options for how to structure the finals, but he beauty of simplicity shouldn’t be sacrificed without good reason. With draft finals, we’ll have the game in its purest form on center stage in a pressure-packed finale to the World Cup.
The Official Corrupt Committee must make sure than whomever runs the World Cup can provide enough prize support to entice participants to travel to the event. I’d like to think players would do it for pride and for the Cup but that’s not realistic if you’re asking someone to travel across the world for a gaming tournament. The other alternative is having the event a few days or a week before an event people are already traveling to like a PT. This makes a lot of sense and is probably the best solution.
Proceeds (ad revenue) from the webcast of the tournament and the online written coverage of the event should in part fund the prizes awarded to the first and second place teams. If a particular site or company wants to run the World Cup and provide prizes, they could be the FIFA and put their name on the event and their banners on the coverage. Either way, the prize support seems like something that could be put together.
Let me know what you think of the idea of an MTG World Cup on twitter @mtg_law_etc.
(For those of you who haven’t checked out my new MTG humor website MTGLampoon.com, please do so and tell your friends about it if you like what you see.)