he first time I ever recall hearing about eventual Pro Tour Hall of Famer Raphaël Lévy was when an odd little mono-green deck called Legion Land Loss started popping up on the late, lamented Magic Dojo. He had played the deck to a Grand Prix title in Lyon and it would not be the last time a mono-green deck would propel him to victory. Just a couple of weekends ago, in Amsterdam, Lévy was the captain of the French National team that won the World Magic Cup, and his weapons of choice included Forests and an assortment of Elves.
World Magic Cup 2013 winners, Team France: Timothée Simonot, Raphaël Lévy, Yann Guthmann, Stephane Soubrier
The recently crowned champion was very nearly not even the captain of the team when fellow Hall of Famer and countrymen Gabriel Nassif closed out the 2013 season with yet another Top 16 finish in his storied career. It pulled him into a Pro Points tie with Lévy. The first tiebreaker for the Captaincy was Grand Prix Top 8s during the season, which would favor Lévy if his teams Top 8 counted. The second tiebreaker was best Pro Tour finish on the season, which would have favored Nassif. The Grand Prix finish met the letter of the law and Lévy was crowned the French National Champion for the second year in a row.
"It was definitely bittersweet. I was glad I would play the WMC and lead the French squad again, but I respect Gabriel too much, as a Magic player—and most importantly, as a friend—to celebrate and show how much it meant to me," said the man who would ultimately bring France its first ever title in World team competition.
This was the third time he was a member of the team. This was the second straight year at the World Magic Cup, but his first time goes all the way back to 1997, when he was just fifteen years old. The team, which also featured eventual GP Como winner Michael Debard, defeated a US team that featured Bob Maher, Jr. and Justin Gary in the final round to finish 7th. Last year, the team finished in 10th and Lévy said he took hard-fought lessons from last year going into this year's WMC. He also brought a heaping dose of confidence and a dash of unfinished business.
"There was no doubt in my mind that we had the best team on paper coming into the tournament and that we had to bring the title back, to write the chapter missing in French Magic history," said Lévy of his teammates. Timothée Simonot had Pro Tour experience as well a GP win, Stephane Soubrie had been on last year's team with Lévy, and Yann Guthmann came with a Constructed pedigree. "I was extremely motivated by what was at stake. We prepared seriously for the event, spending four full days in a hotel lobby in Amsterdam to prepare and came up with a good strategy in Standard. I never had my eyes anywhere else than on the trophy, and while in some tournaments, looking too far ahead might cause disillusion, we had what it takes."
There are a lot of things to stay on top of in a regular tournament, but add in multiple formats and four players per team and you can increase that by an order of magnitude. Lévy felt like the team may have made some minor missteps while building their decks for the Team Sealed portion of the event but they never let those missteps deter them from their destination.
"I'm extremely proud of the way we handled things. We kept our cool when things didn't go right, we stayed focus, high-fived each other at the beginning of rounds to show not only our motivation but also our trust in each other."
Lévy went 14–1–1 in his matches on the weekend, playing in every leg of the event, which must have gone a long way to building that trust. "I didn't want anyone to coach me as I make some atrocious mistakes when someone talks to me at the same time. At the end of Game Two in the semifinals against Iceland and for the first time of the tournament, Stephane came to sit next to me, he started to think with me on a play, and I totally messed up. It turns out I was dead anyway, but I'm glad they trusted me enough to let me play on my own."
Lévy felt so good about the playtesting process that he plans to rejoin forces with the team for Pro Tour Theros in Dublin. Plus, they will need to show off the brand-new hair styles they promised in their post-WMC interview with Nathan Holt of Walking the Planes. Not that Lévy was waiting until Dublin to hold up his end of that promise despite any objections his girlfriend might have had.
Raphaël Lévy after his World Magic Cup victory shave
"I've always wanted to shave my head," said the freshly shorn champion. "But I needed a good reason to do it—Monica would have let me do it. We've been telling Tim to shave his head for a while because his haircut is awful. Sometimes during Day 2 I told the team that if we win, we have to shave our heads!"
The team was reluctant at first but Lévy made it clear to them that they would not care one bit about shaving their heads if they were doing it in the reflection of a World Magic Cup trophy. Lévy felt like the focus that promise brought him was enough that he is considering a tattoo should he cross winning a Pro Tour off his Magical bucket list. Focus is a huge part of Lévy's life; he has become an avid martial artist. Magic is a grueling intellectual sport and he has found the need for physical sport to help keep his head in the game.
"When we were testing in the lobby in Amsterdam, I needed breaks; I can't play Magic for more than 1.5 hour straight outside a tournament, and when I chose the hotel we would playtest in, I made sure there was a treadmill I could use," said Lévy, who trains in BJJ, a cross between judo and wrestling. "Whenever I travel to a GP or PT, I try to find a gym to meet people to train and spar. To give you an idea of how the BJJ community works, Brad Freitas, a Magic player from Honolulu, noticed the BJJ shirt I was wearing at GP Austin. He contacted me on Twitter and invited me to train at his gym for PT Dark Ascension. It's a very physical activity as well. You pretty much leave everything you have on the mat when you train, even if it's just for one hour. It helps me think of something else than Magic and have a fresher look at the game every time, especially when preparing for the Pro Tour."
Winner, Grand Prix Austin 2012
Lévy talked about his martial arts helping to keep him sane during a tournament and how the limits of his sanity were tested in the finals of the World Magic Cup when their team's fate hung on the turn of a card on multiple occasions. Their team was down one match to Hungary and Lévy was waiting to play his Game 3 but before his game could start Timothée Simonot had to climb out of a one-game hole or Lévy's Game 3 would not be needed.
"I thought I would never get to play that last game but I just couldn't believe that idea," recalled Lévy, who would get to play his Game 3 when Simonot drew a Kessig Wolf Run to force his match to a Game 3—that would take place after Lévy played his long-awaited game. "I got to play and win my Game 3 and we were then all behind Tim. Stephane was way too nervous; everyone could sense it and he left the Feature Match area for the decisive game. It all looked too easy when Adorjan Korbl missed his fourth land drop. When we played our first Rakdos's Return, I was hoping the card he kept wasn't Olivia. But it was and he cast it the turn later. When it came down, I knew we had four or five draws to deal with it otherwise we would lose. In the beginning, we did have very good odds, any removal/Olivia/Rakdos's Return/Bonfire of the Damned would have worked."
While some (read: me) might have been disappointed that Simonot did not just flip his final card over right off the top of his deck, Lévy explained that his teammate actually needed to protect the information pending certain potential topdecks.
"Before the last draw, Yann started his drum roll on the table, I clapped my hands thinking soooo loud: 'ALLEZ!' I know exactly what went through Timothée's head before he peeled his last card. He didn't want to flip the card as if it was a removal spell, the game wouldn't be over yet, same if he had drawn Olivia herself. I would probably have done the same. But we couldn't lose. Not then. We were too close. So he slowly revealed it—before windmill slamming it. I think Yann and I were the first ones to actually see the card. If you look at the video taken by Sean you see me running in the background to go find Stephane who heard a lot of screaming but didn't know what was happening.
Timothée Simonot's event-winning topdeck, World Magic Cup 2013
"That was by far the most exciting and dramatic moment of my entire career," Raph said simply about where the win ranked in his Hall of Fame career. "I wasn't sure two weeks ago, but now I know it is the most important title of my career.
"People in France were supporting us and genuinely cheered for us the whole time. They aren't usually very active during PT's. They know we're there playing, but they don't feel involved. At the WMC, we were representing them. I think the whole team felt this national pride when we read on forums: 'France won the World Cup! We're World Champions! Wouhou!'" said Lévy of the support he and his teammates received. "We also got support and messages from everywhere in the world. From Brazil where my good friend Jonathan Melamed lives, from the US where my teammates Melissa de Tora and James Searles woke up very early to watch the finals, and obviously from South Africa where my girlfriend, even though she doesn't know much (anything?) about the rules, was cheering louder than anyone else."
I could not let the interview end without asking Lévy about his predilection for green decks throughout the arc of his career and why many pros seem reluctant to pick up a Forest-fueled deck unless it is doing something combotastic like Elves.
Raphaël Lévy at the 2000 European Championship
"I've had plenty of success with green decks. I don't quite understand this hate people have with green decks," said Lévy, who ticked off a number of successful decks he has played. "Back in '98, Legion Land Loss was by far the best Extended deck in the format but even after I won GP Lyon, no one seemed to pay too much attention to the deck. I had a good run at GP Barcelona '11 finishing 21st with Eldrazi Ramp, and even after I claimed this deck was awesome, no one followed. When I played Elves at GP Singapore in '11 and finished 9th, no one paid attention either. I was extremely surprised that after we showed our green deck at the WMC, no one played it at GP Warsaw. Most people told me they didn't have the time to play with it and that it looked quite hard to play...
"Even though I don't force myself to play green, I have to say that I'll try any deck that has Elves and/or Birds in it before ruling if it's not good," concluded the freshly minted World Magic Cup champion. Maybe he can get a tattoo of one of his favorite mana creatures if he wins Pro Tour Theros.
Brian David-Marshall is a New York–based game designer who has been involved with Magic since 1994, when he started organizing tournaments and ran a Manhattan game store. Since then, he has been a judge, a player, and one of the longest-tenured columnists on DailyMTG.com, as he enters his second decade writing for the site. He is also the Pro Tour Historian and one of the commentators for the Pro Tour.