(Editor's Note: League Weekend correspondents Meghan Wolff and Corbin Hosler contributed to this report.)
After the highest-stakes League Weekend so far, Magic Pro League member Ondřej Stráský and Rivals League member Eli Kassis emerged at the head of their respective Leagues.
For both, the glittering prize is a coveted seat at Magic World Championship XXVII later this year, and an invitation to join the MPL for the 2021-22 season. To simply remain in the MPL is a huge achievement; to stand atop a Rivals League pile hungry to get there is truly exceptional.
How did everything unfold? We'll bring you the best of the action and reactions as our League leaders put together their winning runs. Plus, we'll check in on the movers and shakers with everything still on the line, and the players whose League runs came to an end on a weekend of high drama.
Top of the MPL
With Swiss pools of three rounds each the order of business, Stráský knew he would be facing the best-of-the-best throughout the weekend. His first big step toward the World Championship came when claiming the sweep in his first pool, playing Dimir Rogues in Standard, over Hall of Famer Gabriel Nassif:
Super close match against Nassif, where I was behind on the clock by like 5 minutes. I barely managed to not time out and it was only 2 games!— Ondřej Stráský (@OndrejStrasky) April 10, 2021
3-0 and in first now!#MTGLeagueWeekend
For Swiss Pool 2 on Saturday afternoon, it was onto Historic but the wins kept coming for Stráský. Here he is, playing Bant Midrange, defeating reigning World Champion (and Magic Hall of Famer) Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa:
Two more wins followed, finishing off a perfect 6-0 on Saturday. Stráský was understandably happy about his day's work. "I feel pretty good," he said. "The goal is obviously number 1 [rank]. I think we've consistently had the best decks, which is thanks to my teammates. The key on Sunday will be luck and good preparation."
Stráský is notorious for ascribing his wins to good fortune, brushing aside his skill and work that positioned him for success. Whichever he chose to credit, it didn't matter as the victories continued to pile up in Standard on Sunday morning.
Got lucky.— Ondřej Stráský (@OndrejStrasky) April 11, 2021
Fellow MPL member Andrea Mengucci chimed in as well.
Nah you played incredibly well. Stop always calling luck. Hopefully I’ll dodge you next round!— Andrea Mengucci (@Mengu09) April 11, 2021
Stráský defeated Hall of Famer Seth Manfield (spotting a trend here?) in Round 8, and knew what that meant.
8-0.— Ondřej Stráský (@OndrejStrasky) April 11, 2021
Looking like back to back matches with PV for the Worlds slot.
Stráský seemed unstoppable. 8-0 became 9-0, and now a third successive win over Damo da Rosa would seal the deal for the top of the MPL standings for the season.
With his success for the season, Stráský was quick to acknowledge his support network.
First in the MPL!— Ondřej Stráský (@OndrejStrasky) April 11, 2021
Feels sureal to beat the best players in the world over such a large sample size, but I've played some great Magic throughout the year.
Big thanks to my team - Stan, Jakub, Brad, Seth and especially Ivan who worked his ass off this year.#MTGLeagueWeekend
Biggest thanks goes to my girlfriend @AnetaProko. I was bit worried my results would suffer after moving out of the Czech Magic house, but this past year was one of the happiest in my life and it's something that definitely reflects on my game.— Ondřej Stráský (@OndrejStrasky) April 11, 2021
Love you baby ❤️
He also looked to the future. "It's great – I've won a Pro Tour, a Grand Prix, and this is kinda like Player of the Year, but mostly I'm excited to play at [the World Championship]," he said. "Winning it and having my own card would be amazing."
Congratulations again to Ondřej Stráský! Here are the decks that got him over the line this weekend:
Top of the Rivals League
In the Rivals League, Eli Kassis has always been calm and clear-headed. Coming into the weekend, that was no exception. "I'm feeling very safe, but my ambition for MPL and [the World Championship] is definitely there," he said. "[The] goal for this weekend is to clinch first place of course, but most importantly to do my best and have a good time doing it."
Like Stráský, Kassis dominated from the word "go" over the weekend and, like Stráský, he was on Dimir Rogues in Standard. Here he is, rounding out a 3-0 record defeating Luca Magni in Swiss Pool 1 on Saturday morning:
Switching to Historic, Kassis unleashed what was undoubtedly the hottest deck of the weekend.
Sultai Ultimatum decks have been at the top of Standard, but hadn't yet hit the same heights in Historic. This weekend, that changed.
The deck originated from Brent Vos, himself an addition to the testing team that included Kassis, Luis Scott-Vargas, and Matt Sperling, all of whom played the deck.
Kassis rolled on, finishing Saturday with a perfect 6-0:
Stoked to be 6-0 in #MTGLeagueWeekend— Eli Kassis (@Eli_Kassis) April 10, 2021
Let’s run it back tomorrow for worlds and MPL
With Sperling and Scott-Vargas looming large in the rearview mirror, and with the same Historic technology in their hands, it was still going to be a tough road to the World Championship. Following a loss to Sperling, Kassis salvaged a 2-1 record on Sunday morning before returning to his Historic Sultai Ultimatum list for the final critical Swiss pool. In Round 11, he faced Corey Burkhart. Brace yourselves for this over-the-top moment:
Still, there are no style points in the Rivals League—just one at a time for each victory—meaning Kassis had to go up against Luca Magni in the final round to secure his World Championship and MPL invitations.
Like Stráský, Kassis knew he too hadn't done it alone.
Cannot express how over the moon I am right now. MPL and Worlds are both firsts for me. I want to thank my teammates, the sickest squad around. Also a special thank you to @brent_vos for breaking it!— Eli Kassis (@Eli_Kassis) April 11, 2021
Talking to our reporters Meghan Wolff and Corbin Hosler, it was clear that for Kassis this was a celebration decades in the making that meant the world to him. "Getting to compete at the Worlds stage was a dream for me when I was young in my career," he said. "I've been playing Pro Tours since the mid ‘90s, but Worlds was like the [Pro Tour] of [Pro Tours]. I barely missed the MPL qualification when they were first announced and that was a rough miss. So getting another shot at it has also been a dream come true."
It was season-long dominant performances which ensured we'll see Stráský and Kassis at Magic World Championship XXVII. Racking up the points was no easy feat against the best players in the world, but both ended their league play staggering results. For Stráský, his League Weekend record of 39-19 was a 67.2% league match win rate; Kassis clocked in with a record of 41-16, or a 71.9% league match win rate.
Historically, "Hall of Fame stats" are firmly in the low 60% lifetime match win rate across premier events. Against the best-of-the-best throughout the season, both players truly earned their places in victory.
And they weren't alone in making moves over two days of play. What else was going on during this busy League Weekend?
A Tale of Mono-Red
Lee Shi Tian has been battling all season, and the struggle has sometimes been uphill. He needed a good weekend to avoid relegation to the Rivals League, and he got it. Mike Sigrist summed it well:
For Mono-Red fans who follow Lee for his Mountain-ous plays, here are the fiery decks Lee brought to the battle:
Lee finished the weekend with ten wins, and now remaining in the MPL looks much more likely than it did last Friday.
Another player not averse to a burn spell or two is Martin Jůza, who struggled with Mono-Red at the previous League weekend. As could be expected from a Hall of Famer, he bounced back with a vengeance and earned the third-best record in the MPL over the weekend with a 9-3 that saw him rise in rank back in the top eight players of the League.
A Tale of Farewell
Competition cuts both ways, and for every masterful play to clinch victory there's a disappointed player with a loss to their name. For Piotr Głogowski, Chris Kvartek, and Raphaël Lévy, those losses added up to their relegation from the MPL to Rivals League invitation for next season. Kvartek and Lévy were both gracious and philosophical about their performance, while Głogowski offered his expected humor-meets-tongue-in-cheek quip as he reflected on his season.
please cure covid I need modern tournaments to perform— Piotr 'kanister' Głogowski (@kanister_mtg) April 11, 2021
In the Rivals League, it was John Rolf, Ben Stark, Ally Warfield, Beatriz Grancha, and Joel Larsson who fell short of their goals. Looking ahead as challenger for next season, with the Strixhaven Championship still ahead to compete in, each will continue to be fearsome competitors.
For Stark, at least, the glass seems to be half full.
On the one hand I'm gonna have to win my way in to tournaments again, on the other hand though this means more time to draft! https://t.co/LMaPINW7dj— BenS_MTG (@BenS_MTG) April 12, 2021
A Tale That's Almost Unbelievable
The match of the weekend was undoubtedly the MPL showdown in the final round of Standard between Ken Yukuhiro and Rei Sato.
First, the decklists:
Regular coverage fans will not be surprised to find Ken Yukuhiro featuring in the "Really? Really?" gameplay slot, showing off an interesting deck. But this match was something else. It's well worth checking out the full VOD.
But here's something to whet your appetite.
As YourWorldHistoryTeacher said in chat: "This is disgusting." This is, of course, Magic slang for "gobsmacked amazing to watch" which we can't emphasize enough.
And so, another League Weekend is in the books. Congratulations again to our big winners, Ondřej Stráský and Eli Kassis, for their success across the 2020-21 season. Join us again for the next Strixhaven League Weekend, taking place live May 15–16, when more seats at the World Championship are secured, more MPL invitations are earned, and more must-win matches will be played front and center.