The biggest event of the year is almost here. Sixteen players from across the 202 0–21 season will meet at Magic World Championship XXVII and battle to decide who is the next World Champion.
While these players will also be fighting for their share of the $250,000 prize pool and the opportunity for the winner to have their likeness featured on a future Magic: The Gathering card, there's more at stake than prizes.
Rewind to the 2005 World Championship, one of the most exciting moments for Magic players in Japan. There, in Yokohama, the Player of the Year title and winners of both the 2005 World Championship and Team World Championship were swept by Japanese players:
- Takuma Morofuji, Masashi Oiso, and Ichirou Shimura gave Japan its first World Team Championship.
- Katsuhiro Mori claimed victory in the World Championship.
- Future Hall of Famer Kenji Tsumura cemented his legendary status, edging out victory for 2005 Player of the Year by just a single point.
It was an exclamation mark on a period of Japanese domination across the Pro Tour, establishing the country as a competitive Magic powerhouse filled with incredible talent—and building a legacy that continues through to today.
Bridging across years, the veterans and rising stars of Japan are almost a third of the World Championship XXVII field—Yuuta Takahashi, Rei Sato, Noriyuki Mori, Yoshihiko Ikawa, and Keisuke Sato are ready to bring the World Champion title back to Japan.
Takahashi is known as the "King of the Faeries" for his love of the Modern Faeries lists beginning back in Lorwyn. He burst into the scene with a breakthrough finals appearance alongside Kentaro Yamamoto at Pro Tour San Diego 2007. He followed that up with two Grand Prix wins in 2008 at Kobe and Shizuoka then never looked back, picking up more Grand Prix Top 8s in the years to follow and adding two more Top Finishes at Pro Tour Eldritch Moon in 2016 and Players Tour Nagoya in 2020.
Rei Sato has been playing Magic since 2001, but it wasn't until 2012 at Grand Prix Shanghai where he made a name for himself as a strong Limited player. Sato has two Grand Prix wins during his career—Grand Prix Hong Kong 2017 and as teammate with Ken Yukuhiro and Kentaro Yamamoto at Grand Prix Nagoya 2018—with three more Grand Prix Top 8s to his name. His solid performance throughout the 2020–21 season let him reach World Championship XXVII stage by qualifying for, then battling through, the MPL Gauntlet.
Ikawa's breakout tournament finish came at 2010 Pro Tour San Diego. Like Magic World Championship XXVII, it was a dual format event featuring Standard and Booster Draft. Building a career with five Grand Prix Top 8s and plus a finals appearance at Mythic Championship I, he is a stickler for fundamentals and looks forward to the challenge that the World Championship draft will bring.
"It may seem surprising, but I have a higher win rate in Limited than in Constructed," Ikawa said. "I think that having a draft round will work in my favor."
Keisuke Sato is known for his love of Magic, mahjong, and ramen—not necessarily in that order. Getting hooked into Magic thanks to Urza's Legacy, he began battling at a high level in early 2010s. With two Grand Prix Top 8 finishes, his Top 16 finish at the Kaldheim Championship led him to make it to the Top 4 of the Challenger Gauntlet—and his World Championship XXVII seat.
When Keisuke Sato realized he qualified for Worlds, it was a surreal experience. "I didn't feel it right away," he explained, but once it settled, he was elated. "My dream came true just by attending this event."
If any of these players could be the newest rising star, it would be Noriyuki Mori. Mori's meteoric rise to the World Championship began in 2019 where he was introduced to Magic in college. While continuing his education through grad school, Mori racked up an incredible total of more than 25,000 games on MTG Arena while competing in various online tournaments. "I often participate in the SCG Tour online, where I qualified for [the Kaldheim] Championship," he said. And at that championship, he put his practice to work by earning his first career Top Finish.
Following in the footsteps of innovative Japanese players before him, such as MPL all-star Ken Yukuhiro, Mori brought powerful rogue decks to premier events where he performed well. First, with a Gruul Food list at the Kaldheim Championship, followed by his own spin on Izzet Control at the Challenger Gauntlet. Mori shared that he is drawn to the deck-building challenge that Magic presents and enjoys finding new decks to break a metagame.
That Mori finished fourth in his first premier-level event speaks to his level of skill, but he gives credit for that to teammates. "Thanks to my testing team members, I can optimize decks efficiently," he explained. "I am full of gratitude to my friends, who helped me test for the gauntlet." Mori is a member of the discord community called Akio Pros, organized by fellow Japanese player Akio Matsuzaki.
Will Teamwork Make the Dream Work?
Each of these players are excited for their chance to compete at the World Championship and are dedicating their time and energy into winning that title. Not only will they be relying on their own skill but also that of their teammates and community support.
Yuuta Takahashi, Rei Sato, and Yoshihiko Ikawa are preparing for Magic World Championship XXVII as a team, building on the success they've had throughout the season. Takahashi clinched a World Championship invite through his 2020-21 Rivals League season performance. The MPL and Rivals Gauntlets are where Sato and Ikawa claimed two of the four World Championship slots available that weekend on the back of a metagame call. Their consistency and skill proved, again, they are among the best Magic teams in the world.
These three have been friends for a decade, each veterans of the game who followed the mid-2000s era of Japanese dominance. Ikawa leads the team, however, "because each of my teammates have high play skills, we are learning from each other."
The three will also be working with fellow teammates and Rivals League competitors Riku Kumagai and Kenta Harane. Takahashi also shared that their team is working with Hall of Fame players Shuhei Nakamura—who also earned a Top Finish that weekend at the 2005 World Championship—and Kenji Tsumura, who has been the greatest mentor of Takahashi's career.
With so many of Japan's best collaborating, it's no wonder Ikawa is confident that his team will perform well at the World Championship. Or, as he puts it: "We are the best team."
Meanwhile, Mori and Keisuke Sato look to take their roads together. Mori continues preparing with his fellow Akio Pros teammates and extended an offer for Keisuke Sato to join the community and work together.
Akio Pros have been a boon to Mori and is full of players who began their Magic careers playing on MTG Arena. "We always discuss Magic and test new decks together," Mori explained. "They have good personalities, are eager to become powerful Magic players, and always give me a lot of suggestions through discussion." His preparation is similar to the Challenger Gauntlet where he and teammate Kazune Kosaka, winner of the 2020 RedBull Untapped World Finals, hunted for the best deck in the metagame.
For his part, Keisuke Sato intends to prepare for the Standard portion of Worlds alone but said he will be practicing the Innistrad: Midnight Hunt Draft format in his community. He feels his strength lies in Constructed, where he believes he is "overwhelmingly stronger" than in Limited. Since there are more rounds of Constructed than Limited at Worlds, Sato feels that will be his real opportunity to gain the advantage.
Sato demonstrated the results of his solo testing at both the Kaldheim Championship and the Challenger Gauntlet—the latter being a particularly fulfilling moment for him as a player. "It was my ticket to Worlds that I got after a tough battle, so I will never forget the sense of fulfillment when I achieved it."
Making it to the World Championship stage is more than just icing on the cake of a great competitive season. Each of these competitors fought through highly skilled opponents, grueling time zone differences, and the stress of a year unlike any other due to the ongoing pandemic. But through it all, these players are continuing to fulfill their competitive dreams.
"When I was a child, I bought a World Champion Constructed deck," recalled Takahashi. It was Kai Budde's winning 1999 World Championship deck. "It took 20 years, but finally I got my ticket to the World Championship!"
Mori not only has his eyes on the title but hopes for a rematch against Arne Huschenbeth, who beat him in the Quarterfinals of the Kaldheim Championship. "He plays well beyond description . . . [but] I will beat him next time!"
Seeing the results of these players, one can't help but appreciate the dominant performance of Japan on the premier stage. Japan has consistently produced players of high caliber, including six Hall of Famers and claiming the World Championship title most recently in 2012. The pressure is on, but these players are ready to represent.
With the World Championship only days away, every player's skill, testing, and determination will come to a head. Will Rei Sato, Takahashi, and Ikawa once again dominate the Sunday tables? Will Keisuke Sato continue to take the field by surprise? And will Mori see his meteoric story end with his face on a future Magic card?
#FindYourChampion and tune in to Magic World Championship XXVII, live October 8–10 at twitch.tv/magic, to see if these players will achieve their dreams of winning the title and adding their names to Japan's legacy of Magic success.