February 17 begins a series of incredible experiences for Magic: The Gathering that will extend throughout the year. Not only is it the opening of MagicCon: Philadelphia—with a teaser of March of the Machine, the next Standard expansion—but the start of Pro Tour Phyrexia, the first premier tabletop Magic competitive event since the Players Tour Phoenix in 2020.
Philadelphia, Minneapolis, and Barcelona all host Pro Tours throughout this year, offering a remarkable opportunity for Magic's best and most promising competitors to battle it out for the coveted title of Pro Tour Champion and a share of the $500,000 prize pool.
With the return of tabletop play, competitive Magic players will try and break Pioneer post-Phyrexia: All Will Be One release while developing Limited knowledge of the recent Standard expansion. In particular, there's one special team that aims to mirror their digital success onto the tabletop: Team Handshake. This team dominated the 2022-23 season, and displayed remarkable success during the MagicWorld Championship XXVIII in Las Vegas where Nathan Steuer claimed the trophy.
Now they look to maintain a firm grip on the competitive scene. As one of the most successful testing teams in competitive Magic, Team Handshake has a plan to extend its dominant presence with the upcoming Pro Tour.
Currently, Team Handshake consists of a lineup with familiar and fresh faces for the team:
- Simon Nielsen
- Jonny Guttman
- David Inglis
- Zachary Kiihne
- Matti Kuisma
- Tristan Wylde-Larue
- Karl Sarap
- Julian Wellman
- Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa
- Arne Huschenbeth
- Javier Dominguez
- Reigning Magic World Champion, Nathan Steuer
Former World Champions Javier Dominguez and Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, the latter also a Hall of Famer, are among those to join an already strong team—combining a mixture of Magic's old guard and current competitors. Team Handshake formed in early 2020 as a bunch of ragtag Magic Online grinders (formerly called Team Swan MTG), and with the focus on digital play in the years since they kindled a competitive spark that took them to outstanding success at numerous Championships and Magic World Championship XXVIII.
"We jokingly call ourselves Team 50%: we were 50% of the Top 8 and Top 16 at the New Capenna Championship, and 50% of the Top 4 and Top 8 at World Championship XXVIII. That will be a tough feat to match, but hitting 50% again is the goal for Pro Tour Phyrexia," explained David "Tangrams" Inglis, a World Championship XXVIII competitor. "There's little left to prove at this point as we crushed all three Championships last year, and Nathan (Steuer) won Worlds. I think most of us see this Pro Tour as more of a victory lap—a chance for us to finally meet in person for the first time."
After meeting through Magic Online and testing numerous Discord servers, Team Handshake will make their in-person connection at Pro Tour Phyrexia, with those first few having kicked it off at the World Championships XXVIII in Las Vegas. "The Gathering" is one of the most crucial and memorable aspects of Magic, where the team will look forward to testing and spending time as a collective.
"Getting to travel again for Magic is a real treat, and as this is my first in-person Pro Tour and first high-level tabletop event, I am excited about this experience," said Jonny "Ginky" Guttman, Neon Dynasty Championship Top 8 finisher. "Meeting players I have tested with for years but still have not met in person—while spending a full week in a team house testing all day every day—is my ideal way to spend a week. I really love playing high-level Magic, and this tournament will be a collection of the world's best players for me to prove to myself how good I am at Magic. I can't ask for much more than that."
Some of Team Handshake met in person for the first time at World Championship XXVIII last year, but as the tournament consisted of 32 players not everyone on Team Handshake was invited, making Pro Tour Phyrexia and their duration in Philadelphia an experience they relish.
One challenge Team Handshake faces is transferring their online success to tabletop Magic, where Pro Tour Phyrexia offers an in-person competitive experience for the first time in three years. In terms of testing, using Magic Online and MTG Arena offers the highest density as you can squeeze in more practice time. "Playing online Magic all the time is better for improvement than playing a lot of tabletop Magic by a wide margin," Guttman stated. "You play more games against tougher competition more often, and as someone who was a borderline casual player at the beginning of the pandemic—and learned everything I know from online play—I am very excited to crush some 'Paper Boomers' who don't know what a online Championship was in Philadelphia."
Inglis agreed, appreciating the ability to play more games of Magic digitally without worrying about external factors. "There are no judge calls, no triggers to remember, and no glancing up at the clock when my opponent takes a slow turn. I get to focus entirely on the game itself and think about deeper strategic elements, like trying to deduce what's in my opponent's hand. I've had the chance to improve those more nuanced skills over the last few years of digital Magic, and I'm hoping to retain that even with all the extra distractions of paper Magic for Pro Tour Phyrexia." That isn't to say Inglis was without tabletop play experience. "The last time I played a paper tournament I had
(Oko was the dominant card at Mythic Championship VI in November 2019.)
With World Championship XXVIII, Team Handshake shuffled into smaller testing teams to ensure the field remained exciting but with Pro Tour Phyrexia they are together as one, intending to qualify as many members as they can for the next Pro Tour in Minneapolis. "One of my favorite parts of competitive Magic has always been getting to play with and against the best in the world, and I really hope that most of Team Handshake can stay qualified for a while so we can keep playing together," said Guttman. Playing against Magic's competitive best is one thing but achieving this with the support of your own gathering takes it to another level, forging relationships that will last for a lifetime.
While it appears effortless to simply focus on Pro Tour Phyrexia and maintain playing Magic at the highest level, some members of Team Handshake have a unique objective in mind. "The number one goal I have for this Pro Tour is to teach the old people on my team my jokes. Javier (Dominguez) and Paulo (Vitor Damo da Rosa) both don't ever understand what I am saying, so hopefully, after spending infinite time with them in Philadelphia, they will finally understand me. Clearly, there is a direct correlation between being a World Champion and being out of touch with the youth," teased Guttman.
Perhaps Pro Tour Phyrexia will mark the the younger generation of Magic players furthering their domination into tabletop play, defeating some of Magic's most elite players such as Reid Duke, Luis Scott-Vargas, and Gabriel Nassif across these Pro Tours. Team Handshake's authority in digital Magic tournaments is nothing short of incredible—but Friday at Pro Tour Phyrexia starts a new journey. Tune in from 11 a.m. ET on February 17 and 18, and 9 a.m. ET for the Top 8 playoff on February 19 over at twitch.tv/magic to see them write the first chapter.