" have no idea how this happened," laughed Dave Tuite, still clutching Sean FitzGerald in a massive bear hug.
The final round of Day One had just come to a close, and Ireland had just closed the day out atop the standings, a perfect 7-0. After a night of sleep and celebration, they returned to a much less muggy event hall, ready to continue their domination. All smiles, they reflected on how fantastic their trip had been thus far.
"It's awesome," said Sean FitzGerald, incredulous that he was even in the room in the first place, let alone at the top of the standings. One of the older members of the Irish national team, FitzGerald is infamous for finishing just shy of cracking through to make the national team.
Team Ireland has been one of the Cinderella stories to come out of the World Magic Cup. The players, consisting of only a few Pro Tour appearances from each player, have been dominating all weekend.
"Everyone back home knows I've been trying to get on the national team for like twelve years," he continued. "I have like four 9ths in twelve or thirteen years. I've missed Top 8 quite a few times, but after thirteen years, it's finally paid off. I said on Facebook that they obviously should have put me on the team years ago! I told you I was good at Magic!"
Joining FitzGerald on his first national team are the captain, Marcin Sciesinski, originally from Poland but in Ireland for years now for work; Stefano Rampini, an Italian national also in Ireland for work; and David Tuite, the other Irish-born member of this year's Irish national team.
"It's funny," Sciesinski laughed, "Because even though it's Ireland, there's really three countries represented here. Stefano's Italian and I'm Polish. Dave and Sean are the only Irish people here. At the very beginning, when it turned out that I was going to be the Irish captain, I joked that it would be really funny if there were like three Polish people on the team with me."
Being a multi-national national team lends a little bit of rivalry to some matches that otherwise might not have meant much beyond the need for match wins. There are certainly some very obvious rivalries, though.
"We want to play and beat England," Tuite gushed. "That would be awesome."
FitzGerald had some other ideas in mind, gesturing to Rampini and Sciesinski.
"It would have been nice to beat Poland or Italy," he said, "You know, just to show them what they're missing out on."
There is one more country in particular that Team Ireland has very strong feelings about.
"I'm sure we wouldn't have wanted to beat Northern Ireland," Sciesinski said when discussing rivals.
"No we wouldn't want to beat Northern Ireland," FitzGerald confirmed solemnly, "Because Ireland only split into two countries Magic-wise recently. Up until that, we were all one community, and our community is incredibly small and tight. For us, it's awesome now that there's two countries because it basically means that we get to send eight players from the same community to the World Magic Cup instead of four, which is really cool. It was horrible to see them lose yesterday, because we did all of our testing with them, we're staying together, we have been going out together. They even came today, and they're bringing us food and scouting for us. It's like having an extended team."
"Such sweethearts," Tuite chimed in.
As FitzGerald mentioned, their local community is small, but it's incredibly tight.
"Pretty much every player knows every other player in our community," he said. "If you attend PTQs regularly, you know everybody. The only people you wouldn't know are the guys who won't travel. For example, Dave's from Limerick, so he plays in that region. I would know most of the players from Limerick except for the players who just play FNMs in Limerick, and he would know most of the players from Dublin except for the ones that never leave Dublin."
This smaller community has definite impacts on the opportunities for Irish Magic players in Ireland itself, but the community is growing rapidly. In the meantime, Ireland still has access to a much larger number of events such as PTQs by simply expanding their range.
"We travel to Scotland and England for extra PTQs," Rampini said with a smile.
"Yeah, anywhere in the UK is fair game," FitzGerald confirmed. "If it's somewhere in the UK it's usually alright. We're also lucky enough that we know most of the English players, so we can always make a weekend out of it. It isn't throwing away a weekend to travel in the UK for Magic; you're going to enjoy yourself as well."
"That's one of the reasons it's so fun to beat the daylights out of them,"Sciesinski deadpanned, drawing an uproarious laugh from the whole team.
Still, traveling out of Ireland to hit up PTQs in London doesn't come without its cost. The tournaments in England tend to be much larger.
"The English PTQs are a big spike, anywhere from 100 to 250," FitzGerald informed me.
"Yeah, Kim Warren was judging at one recently that hit 250," Tuite said in agreement.
"Our record is something like 72," FitzGerald said after some thought.
But he admitted that things were always growing, and things are getting even better for Irish Magic every year.
"It's definitely growing," he said with a happy grin.
Sciesinski completely agreed. "The PTQ numbers are the best indication of this. They're always growing."
"Every new PTQ is bigger and better than the last," FitzGerald continued. "In Dublin, for example, there's just been a surge of young fellas who are pushing from casual gamers to guys that want to Draft or play Constructed six, seven, eight...well not eight, days a week. They play Modern on Sundays. Some of them joined a Legacy league, just borrowing cards. With a tight-knit community like ours it's easy to borrow cards."
As the newest generation of Irish players grows up, there is a perfect opportunity for these guys to introduce them to their own favorite formats.
"I love Commander," FitzGerald said, leaning back in his chair. "I run Jhoira, Master Artificer. We used to play every week, and you always wanted to keep everyone alive. You never wanted to just kill one person, because you didn't want them sitting out. So I decided to build a deck that either kills everyone at the same time or kills nobody. See, that's how you get people to buy you drinks!"
Sciesinski has a different preference.
"I hate Commander," he laughed. "I really like Limited, Booster Draft mostly. It's hard to say which format I like the best, because the formats are improving all the time. Every new format seems to get better. Triple Return to Ravnica was really fun. I used to draft Izzet aggro, and no one else liked drafting it, so it was usually open. Rise of the Eldrazi has a special place in my heart. It was the first set I drafted that was completely different. Every other format was about aggro decks, but Rise was about big creatures."
"I used to like triple Mirrodin for that reason," FitzGerald tossed in. "Each round was about twelve minutes..."
Rampini had his own opinions, as well.
"I like playing Constructed," he said, "And I prefer combo or control decks. I played Splinter Twin for as long as I could in Standard and it was my g-to deck in Modern as well."
Tuite was much more akin to Rampini and FitzGerald than Sciesinski.
"I'm definitely a Constructed guy," he told me. "Commander is my absolute favorite. Based on my Standard deck (Elfball), I'll give you one guess who my general is. [After four good, yet unsuccessful guesses] Ghave, Guru of Spores. I love the idea of making more spores than the population of China and then hitting people with them. He's a wonderful man."
As strong as their performance was, Tuite admitted that they didn't really understand how they had made it to the top like that.
"We actually thought we were pretty good at the start of the day because we got the bye," he joked. "You know, like all good teams do. We ended up starting and ending the day in the highest position, so it was pretty good, but we honestly weren't expecting it at all."
Ireland continues to win match after match, as they battle their way to a Top 8 finish.
FitzGerald admitted that it finally started to sink in about three quarters of the way through the day.
"When we beat Mexico on camera," he began. "It started to sink in that we might actually be quite good at this. We might have actually made the correct decisions about how to play our Standard decks. And then when we got the USA, and they have Josh Utter-Leyton...when you beat the USA, it's like, you've beaten one of the big dogs."
Now that they've beaten the big dogs, they have thrust themselves into the spotlight, making them a beacon for the generation of upcoming Irish players that they are so proud of. And with this success, they hope to have the spotlight they are shining on Irish Magic make things better for the next wave of players, something they can do to help the community that they're such an inextricable part of.
"If we win this, maybe they'll toss a few extra Pro Tour Qualifiers our way," Tuite hoped. "I just want to be able to say, 'So guys, we're going to Pro Tour Dublin!' That would be amazing if we were able to Top 4 and get ourselves invites to Pro Tour Dublin... You know what, to all the people rooting us on at home: it's okay, guys, we've got this."
Rampini just smiled and looked from Tuite to me. After a pause for thought, he let out a small laugh.
"I couldn't have said it better myself."