Like all competitors, Arne Huschenbeth had imagined what winning would be like. In his mind, he envisioned the stage, the crowd, the smoke and pyrotechnics. But when his time finally came, it was to a much different scene: he was in his room, quietly playing as the clock ticked past 3 a.m. at his home in Berlin, Germany.
But as Huschenbeth won the Kaldheim Championship, none of that mattered.
"It's hard to put into words what it feels like to win. You always dream about it, and you see it one in your head. But the meaning is still the same, and you saw me shaking and being excited," he reflected in the hours after he defeated Grzegorz Kowalski in two quick matches. "It's an incredible feeling to have this thing you'll keep forever—to know that you were a master in this moment and that can never be taken away. It's hard proof that it wasn't a fluke, and that all the work I had put in paid off."
The dominant Top 8 performance Huschenbeth capped an incredible weekend run for the 23-year-old that saw him defeat former World Champion Javier Dominguez twice on his way to earning a championship trophy in just his second career Top Finish.
It was the culmination of a lifelong arc for Huschenbeth, who was introduced to Magic at seven years old. He began consuming Magic content as soon as he could, traversing across Europe to play Pro Tour Qualifiers before he was out of high school. He attacked his first Fate Reforged FNM draft in 2015 with the same tenacity that would later win him the fans around the world watching the Kaldheim Championship—and before long he was ready to try and follow in the footsteps of all the pro players he was watching online.
"I couldn't get it enough; I just could not get enough," he recalled. "I was 17 years old, getting up at 5 in the morning to travel six hours to play to a PTQ, taking trains all over the country. ... Looking back, it was almost reckless, really. But that's the fire you have to have."
Huschenbeth had more than enough of the fire, and it wasn't long before he started putting up results. He made the Top 8 of his third-ever Grand Prix, and won his tenth. He moved up the ranks of pro play and amassed seven GP Top 8s over a four-year period, wowing some of his peers in the process.
"Arne has an uncanny ability to take a lot of unknown pieces of a big puzzle and connect them," explained Rivals League member Thoralf Severin.
"When we are talking about previews, [Arne] is incredibly accurate on the power level of cards," continued Severin. "He just has this ability to think through very complex systems, like a metagame, and be on the right side of his assumptions way more often than not. And even if not, he knows why he is wrong. Honestly, I can't remember seeing him making the same mistake twice. His memory is unbelievable. He can pretty much recite all the Top 8s since he started watching coverage. This combined with his crazy work effort of playing so many matches means he just knows about everything."
Severin summed Huschenbeth with glowing words. "All of that makes him an absurdly good deckbuilder, where the bar for him starting with a deck blueprint is already where us normal people would at least need multiple iterations to reach."
That's the highest of praise coming from his countrymate and Mythic Championship IV hero Severin. After his Grand Prix win, from the outside looking in Huschenbeth was on the fast track to a high-profile career, but things hit a snag: his success never quite translated to the highest-profile tournaments in the world.
"I just never really broke through," he said bluntly. "And I was questioning whether I wanted to keep going. You have three bad tournaments in a row, and you start asking yourself if you're wasting your time. I wasn't always happy with myself. I made Top 4 of [Players Tour Online 4] last year, but after I fell off the train after the Season Grand Finals, I needed a break."
In short, Huschenbeth's previously burning fire now merely smoldered. Missing automatic qualifications for tournaments, he decided it was time to take a break and spend more time focusing on his studies, like his mom always asked him to.
It was a much-needed reset for Huschenbeth. He regrouped, looking toward the person who had first taught him to play Magic all those years ago: his older brother Niclas, who competed as a chess player and earned the title of Grandmaster in 2012.
"Of course, he was an inspiration to me, he's my brother and he's an absolute master. He's one of the youngest grandmasters in chess Germany has ever had, plus we have a younger brother who plays chess and Magic—so strategy definitely runs in the family," Huschenbeth explained. "My dad taught my brother chess when he was five, and he was in chess clubs when he was seven years old. I learned to play chess when I was five, and [Niclas] was 11 years old and playing in tournaments and would demolish me whenever we played, so I never really got into it. It was kind of boring to me. So he taught me Magic and we played a lot on vacations. We didn't know about Pro Tours or anything, we just cracked some packs and played with 80 cards."
That's where the fire had first sparked for Huschenbeth. After a break and reflecting on what drew him in originally, he decided it was time to mount a return. Without an invite from previous performance, Huschenbeth was tasked to qualify for the Kaldheim Championship through MTG Arena.
From his Qualifier Weekend success in January, he was back with a renewed focus. With an excellent metagame read and three incredible days of play later, Huschenbeth has more than just a new title to his name—he found his fire and confidence again.
"Humans tend to always think lesser of themselves, but the lesson I learned from this whole experience is that when that fire is burning and you really put all of your work and time into something, you can really achieve anything," he said. "Now I'm looking at the MPL and the World Championship, and I want to do more content creation. Seeing how people reacted to my interviews ... while I was playing gave me infinite confidence about my personality, and that gives me to the confidence to stream, coach, even start a Youtube channel and everything."
"Why not? The support I got during the tournament was crazy, and I was blown away by it. People kept calling me, and even though I was playing from my room it was amazing encouragement and I wanted to make them proud."