This past weekend, Team Italy became the 2015 Magic World Cup champions. It was an exciting event which featured an embarrassed American team that didn’t make day two, a weird tournament structure that kept the Brazilians out of the top-16, and a stunning upset in the quarter-finals which saw the team from France knock-off the heavily-favored team from Japan. But when the dust had settled and the World Cup was over I was left wondering, what’s the point of all this? Let’s break down what I feel are the defining characteristics of the World Magic Cup, whether or not they’re worth keeping around, and what Wizards can do to make immediate improvements next year.

What’s the Point of the World Magic Cup?

A Global Stage

The biggest thing the World Cup has going for it is that it truly features top players from around the globe. Coverage of non-North American tournaments was already lacking and recent announcements imply that coverage won’t be improving anytime soon. While there is some strong coverage in Japan and Europe for some events, we almost never get quality coverage of events from places like Thailand, Scotland, or Guatemala, all teams which made the top 8 of this year’s World Cup.

In fact, 73 teams are featured as part of the World Cup, which is amazing, but it begs the question: if Magic is so popular around the world (which it is) and players from across the globe can compete at the highest levels (which they can) then how come there’s so much focus on the competitive circuits in North America? And, to be fair, this problem isn’t solely for Wizards of the Coast to take all the blame. Where’s the equivalency of the SCG Open series in Europe? The closest thing they may have is the BOM Tour, but that’s not quite the SCG Open series.

Suggested Improvements: I want to see more international competition at a high level. I don’t want the World Cup to be the only time of year that, as a fan, I get exposure to Magic players from places that never host Grand Prix events like New Zealand, Macedonia, Serbia, or the Ukraine, all teams who advanced to day two. While it may be too late to get the ball rolling for 2016, let’s hope Wizards realizes how passionate fans around the world are. Not to take anything away from the USA and Canada, but neither team made day two, which brings us to…

WMC Qualifiers

The top four players in the United States by pro points in the 2014-15 season were Mike Sigrist, Eric Froehlich, Samuel Black, and Brad Nelson. Sigrist’s position earned him the captaincy of Team USA where he was joined by Tom Martell (31st overall), Joel Sadowsky (339th overall), and Neal Oliver (36th overall). Clearly there is a gap between the best American players and the team that actually traveled to Barcelona this weekend. No offense to Sigrist, Martell, Sadowsky, and Oliver, but it’s clear we could have done better.

Perhaps I’m biased because I’m an American myself and I’m just bitter about the upsetting loss. Or maybe when I think of the World Cup I think of the amazing quadrennial soccer tournaments (football for our non-American readers) that feature the best-of-the-best from around the world. So why does the Magic World Cup feature players who won random one-day tournaments instead of players who should more realistically be representing their country?

Suggested Improvements: Unfortunately there’s no governing body for international Magic competition like there is for other sports. But, perhaps there should be? Maybe the DCI should take the reins on this one but maybe another organization can get together to manage this kind of international competition. Then we could even expand to feature things like the Magic-equivalent of the Ryder Cup and also have regional championships as well. While a 73-team tournament is a spectacle, it kind of sucks to finish in 73rd, which brings us to…

Team Competitions

There is exactly one high-level competitive constructed team tournament on the calendar each year and it just took place. Why is this the case? We get a few limited team tournaments on the Grand Prix circuit but zero team competition on the SCG circuit or any other circuit that I’m aware of. I hear that the OGW pre-release will feature Two-Headed Giant. That’s nice.

Suggested Improvements: This one is easier said than done. However, what I want to see here is more team competitions at every level. Maybe you’ve heard of a little thing called Team Draft League. It turns out that team competition is exciting and entertaining but we see it so rarely. Eventually a tournament organizer out there will figure this out (maybe by reading this very column) and decide to throw some money behind team competitions. If Wizards pushed this more then TO’s would jump on the opportunity much quicker. The real question though is, how do you run a successful team tournament, which brings us to…

Pod-Seeded Competition

A lot of people hated on this format and I can understand why. It isn’t really meant to be used in the way Wizards employed it for the World Magic Cup. The benefit of seeded pods is that it gives pre-ranked teams the advantage of not having to play each other until they get out of group play. The Olympics, for example, are good use of pod-seeded competition. You don’t have to worry that the fantastic matches will happen in the first few rounds of competition, resulting in lop-sided blowouts in the final rounds. That’s the theory at least.

Brazil finished day one in 3rd place overall with 16 match points. This put them in a pool with 14th-place Thailand, 19th-place Guatemala, and 30th-ranked Argentina. They went 1-2 in their pod and had 19 match points. This eliminated them from moving on to the top-16 in the tournament even though after those rounds Brazil still had the 13th-most points in the standings. The thing is, match points  should never come into play.

Suggested Improvements: Get rid of swiss pairings on day one altogether. Come up with a way to rank the teams coming into the tournament. This goes back to my point earlier about the need for more international competition. The World Cup, for all its glory, is not an ideal way to decide which country is the best at Magic. A system similar to the IIHF for Ice Hockey might be better. At the very least it would allow us to properly rank countries coming into this tournament, and use seeded pods from the very start of the event.

International Magic Competition

What I would love above all else is to see more legitimacy given to international Magic competition. The World Cup is great, but it’s the only game in town. It should feel like the culmination of ongoing competitions. If I were Wizards, I would take a look at the IIHF for Ice Hockey. There are 50 teams ranked by the IIHF and those rankings change based on points earned at the World Championship and the quadrennial Olympics.

Furthermore, the 50 teams are divided into five divisions based on relative skill level. Success at one level allows you to be promoted to the next level, while failure can result in relegation. This results in a more prestigious champion at the premier World Championship, but still gives countries that are building up their program a championship they can strive for. Unfortunately there’s no IIHF for Magic, just Wizards and the DCI, so the responsibility falls to them to bring International Magic competition to the next level so it becomes a year-round celebration of the global game instead of a once-a-year enjoyable side-attraction that we’ll forget for the next 300 days or so.

What We Learned is a weekly feature here at Hipsters of the Coast written by former amateur Magic Player Rich Stein, who came really close to making day two of a Grand Prix on several occasions. Each week we will take a look at the past seven days of major events, big news items, and community happenings so that you can keep up-to-date on all the latest and greatest Magic: the Gathering community news.

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