This year may be the last ever World Magic Cup – it is for the foreseeable future, at least. This has been a special event that has brought together so many players from different countries to play in a single tournament. I want to pay tribute to this event by describing my own relationship with the tournament, and how the team prepared. For those who aren't aware, this year the United States team consists of myself, Dylan Brown and Justin Andrus. Dylan and Justin were the top two finishers at U.S. Nationals, while I ended up as the team captain by having the most pro points in our country last year.

Qualifying for the World Magic Cup when living in the United States is quite difficult. There are smaller countries that don't have many players attending their Nationals, and the team captains don't actually have many pro points compared to some other teams. In my case, not only do we have one of the largest National Championship tournaments, but in order to have the most pro points in the United States it means at least coming close to being Player of the Year. This has led to me attempting and failing to qualify for this tournament in many prior years. This will be my only opportunity to compete on this stage, and it is something I am really looking forward to.

Preparation

Dylan and Justin were not players I was very familiar with before working with them for the event, and the preparation for this event has provided a new perspective on team trios events for me. Even though they were complete strangers to me about a month ago, I've learned it is possible to adapt and work with players while learning their strengths and weaknesses within a relatively short time span.

Unlike a team Grand Prix where you are usually very familiar with your teammates, this is a tournament where you have no control of whom you are playing with. This creates a bit of variance that is completely outside of your control. Luckily for me I am happy with my two teammates and wouldn't have it any other way. I'm sure we will be seeing more of Dylan and Justin in the future.

The first step for us was creating a way to chat online with one another. This may seem pretty basic for some players who are looking to play an event with each other, but it really is useful to start discussions way before the tournament starts. It was at least a month before the WMC when we started the conversation about how best to prepare.

Considering at that time the actual tournament was still some weeks away, we knew that locking in our Standard decks early would be a mistake. However, the tournament is also part Limited. Getting a good grasp on Guilds of Ravnica Limited early could allow us to use the time closer to the tournament primarily on Standard. We also got reps in with several the top decks in order to find what best fit our playstyles individually.

Team Unified Standard

I know this particular Team Unified Standard format isn't one that we commonly see, but that made figuring out popular deck configurations that much more interesting. Remember, because this is a team event there cannot be any cards that aren't basic lands overlapping between the decks. In a format with a small card pool like Standard this definitely creates some challenges. Luckily at this point the metagame is pretty well established, and I don't think we will see anything too strange in terms of team deck selection.

Potential Team Configurations

Keep in mind while this article is going live while the World Magic Cup is going on, I don't actually have any knowledge of what other teams are actually playing, but here's what we expect.

The biggest conclusion we came to is that each team was likely to have a Golgari player. I wouldn't be surprised if every single team that ends up making Top 8 has Golgari in their lineup. I believe that Golgari is the best deck in Standard – it has all the tools to beat every other deck. In our testing it outperformed all the other strategies and it has been crushing both online and in paper.

Beyond the fact that Golgari is the best deck, there aren't many other top choices that have major card overlaps with it. Selesnya Tokens sometimes tries to play Vivien Reid, and if the Golgari deck has Karn, Scion of Urza there are arguments for that elsewhere, but compared to other card overlaps this isn't a huge deal. It means that you aren't going to play a deck like Dimir Control that wants Vraska's Contempt, but those decks aren't particularly popular.

Once we figured out Golgari would be one of the decks, there were a few different options for how best to support it. Here are some of the top options we are expecting:

Golgari+Izzet Drakes+ Boros Aggro

Golgari+Jeskai Control+Selesnya Tokens

Golgari+Jeskai Control+ Mono-Red Aggro

Golgari+Izzet Drakes+Selesnya Tokens

Certainly, there are more combinations than these, though based on the current guild-based format I would expect the vast majority of teams to be on one of these lineups. Once we were able to narrow down the range of lineups we expected to see it was a big help, as it meant we could start more focused testing

Choosing Our Decks

Once we were ready to lock in decks, we decided to call on Standard expert Brad Nelson for some advice. It is never a bad idea to ask for help, and sometimes another voice can help give you additional direction. His first piece of advice was that I should play Golgari – after all, I made Top 8 of GP Milwaukee with the deck and have the most experience with it.

Justin did have a Grixis Control deck he liked, but in the end three-color decks – especially his particular decklist – just overlapped too much with other decks. Dylan also brought up the idea of trying to show up with three decks that beat Golgari, but unfortunately you could argue that there isn't a single deck in the format with a positive win percentage against Golgari, so that plan was out the window.

We quickly learned during the testing process that Justin likes to play control decks. This could have been challenging if we had two control players on the team, but that wasn't the case. Initially the Mono-Red Midrange deck looked very appealing and we thought we would play that. Mono-Red Midrange plays Goblin Chainwhirler but also can go over the top of the opponent with cards like Siege-Gang Commander and Banefire.

We wondered if we could play both Mono-Red Midrange and Jeskai Control alongside the Golgari deck. Unfortunately, we eventually realized those two decks had some overlaps that were hard to work around. In this case the Legion Warboss and Star of Extinction out of the sideboard were the cards we couldn't seem to work around.

That meant we had to choose between either the Big Red deck or Jeskai Control. We never seriously considered Izzet Drakes as we didn't feel super confident in finding the right build of the archetype. Also, we concluded teams realistically would only have one blue deck, so that meant Jeskai Control or Izzet Drakes but not both. Justin likes to play control decks so all roads eventually seemed to point to him playing a version of Jeskai Control.

Once we found what we believed to be the top two decks, the options were limited for a third deck. None of us really consider ourselves to be a beatdown player, which led us to stray away from the white aggro decks. With the Sacred Foundry in the Jeskai deck we also wouldn't be able to play Boros Aggro, so we wanted to find some other white deck that made sense. Mono-Red and Mono-Blue Aggro were decks we tested but found to be too underpowered.

It can be tough to come up with a third deck after using up a lot of the top cards in the format building the first two. However, we have been keeping up closely with recent results. Even though Selesnya decks had been lagging in terms of results for most of Guilds of Ravnica Standard, they have recently been picking up popularity. We decided to investigate this, and eventually were able to land on a version of Selesnya Tokens that Dylan was happy with.

Our lineup is: Golgari, Jeskai Control and Selesnya Tokens

For specific card choices, our biggest question was what was the best version of Jeskai Control? One version has four copies of Treasure Map to fuel out Niv-Mizzet, Parun, and the other one is more of a card draw and counter-based version with a bunch of Chemister's Insights. While I liked the idea of the Treasure Map version for mirror matches, in the end I thought it best Justin play the version he was most comfortable with.

He went with the draw-go style Jeskai Control deck, and I believe it was the right choice for him. Sometimes making a choice based on your playstyle and comfort level is the right move. We all wanted to gain percentage points against Golgari since it should be quite popular. His version of Jeskai Control is pretty well set up for that matchup because of all the card draw. Our configuration is one that I am happy with, as we are all comfortable with the decks we are playing and know the sideboard plans well.

This is an event that I am honored to be a part of, and hope that the United States can find success, as for some reason as a country we have yet to break through in a major way at the World Magic Cup. Hoping for a deep run, and make sure to tune in and follow the action!

Thanks for reading,

Seth Manfield