As we entered the final League Weekend of a tumultuous season, it looked as if the leads Seth Manfield (MPL) and Matt Sperling (Rivals League) had accumulated would be ample to see them wrap up seats at Magic World Championship XXVII in October.
Down the Saturday stretch, however, those leads looked mighty tenuous. Here's what happened on the biggest weekend of the season so far.
Magic Pro League
Manfield entered the weekend with an outstanding six match lead over Gabriel Nassif and Reid Duke, 49 points to 43, with Martin Jůza one further back on 42 points. It seemed inevitable the other three Hall of Famers would battle it out to join Manfield at the World Championship.
Nassif started to change that narrative early, with a win over Duke in the Naya Adventures mirror:
There are few better ways of taking care of business than beating your immediate competitors, and Nassif completed a double of Duke in Historic, this time with the Dimir Control list that Reid himself had developed:
Here's Nassif at the end of a most satisfactory Day One of action:
Outdrew Reid again in the Control mirror this time and won the last one vs Rei who was on Bant Angels. He never drew a CoCo and it still felt close.— Gabriel Nassif (@gabnassif) July 3, 2021
5-1 overall today which puts me 1 pt behind Seth (0-6) and 2 pts ahead of Juza (4-2) and Reid (3-3).
Tomorrow could be spicy!
Although Nassif's 5-1 Saturday was garnering attention, Martin Jůza, too, had put together a solid first day:
Won last round of today vs Javiers Phoenix 2-0.— Martin Jůza (@MartinJuza) July 3, 2021
still one point behind Gabe
In no small measure due to the double defeat by Nassif, Duke was 3–3, and was then two back from Nassif. But Manfield?
So #MTGLeagueWeekend has been roller coaster of emotions for me. Not feeling good and had a terrible day. I have bad matchups that I am facing repeatedly, while running bad and punted one match badly. My competitors are first class so whatever happens happens. Ty to my supporters— Seth Manfield(Envy) (@SethManfield) July 3, 2021
So what does a "terrible day" look like for one of the best in the world? 2–4? 1–5? Unfortunately, it was the perfect storm of an 0–6 Day One for the race leader. Urgently looking for way to stem the bleeding, Seth continued his quest for a victory—any kind of victory:
After yesterday's horrific day I decided to fire up a practice match to try to boost my confidence, it unfortunately didn't go the way I hoped it would. pic.twitter.com/vyInRg3XlB— Seth Manfield(Envy) (@SethManfield) July 4, 2021
But despite all this, the reality was that his outstanding season and Top 8 at the Strixhaven Championship afforded him exactly this kind of breathing room.
As Day Two began, he remained on his 49 points, one ahead of Nassif, and a further two ahead of Duke and Jůza, tied together on 46. Despite the worst possible start to the weekend, former World Champion Manfield remained a favorite to return to the biggest stage. With back-to-back wins to start Sunday, he was right on the brink of clinching.
Up next, another former World Champion, Javier Dominguez:
It looked like the Spaniard's victory would delay Manfield's celebration, but then the news filtered through of losses for both Duke and Jůza:
Manfield was ready moments after confirming his success:
With 3 rounds left I have clinched a top 4 spot for Worlds and the MPL next year! Honestly want to cry and probably will, I'm so happy but this has been so stressful. Looking forward to representing Team Envy at Worlds!! Time to finish last 3 rounds of #MTGLeagueWeekend in style— Seth Manfield(Envy) (@SethManfield) July 4, 2021
With those remaining matches done, he took a moment to reflect on an epic season:
Most of my time as a professional MTG player has been made up of worrying, preparing, thinking, stressing, and playing. There aren't enough times when you get to celebrate an accomplishment, they are rare and hard to come by. Tonight I will be celebrating. 🥳🥳🥳— Seth Manfield(Envy) (@SethManfield) July 4, 2021
It wasn't just Manfield looking eagerly for news of Jůza and Duke: Nassif was pushing for a World Championship seat of his own, and was helped significantly by turns like this:
When a World Championship seat is on the line, it isn't the record that matters but just getting there. Nassif went on to register not only one of the performances of the weekend, but of the entire season with a Twitter thread to prove it:
After locking Worlds with my win vs Rei, I won the last two vs Brad (Creativity) and Marcio (Phoenix) to end up 10-2 over the weekend. Special thanks to Reid who tested a lot and came up with the Dimir list for Historic and Jaberwocki for the Naya Standard one.— Gabriel Nassif (@gabnassif) July 4, 2021
And with that, Seth Manfield and Gabriel Nassif joined Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa and Ondrej Strasky as the MPL members locked into October's Magic World Championship XXVII showdown.
Magic Rivals League
With a 5 point lead coming into the final League Weekend, Matt Sperling knew there were only two possible storylines:
This weekend I'm playing to make Worlds and I have a lead, so it's guaranteed to be a dream or a nightmare depending on how I do. Streaming at https://t.co/hAYfjWFqcp 8:10am PT sat and sun— A Shark Token (@sickofit) July 3, 2021
As with Manfield, things didn't start out well for Sperling:
0-2 so far. If you're the kind of person who likes looking over at a car crash or laughing at an old man falling, don't miss this. Streaming at link below. https://t.co/7U7q0azc7y— A Shark Token (@sickofit) July 3, 2021
But being of the game's best means things can change fast:
2-2 now :) :) :)— A Shark Token (@sickofit) July 3, 2021
Before turning around yet again:
2-4 today. Not happy with how I played but I'm on pace to get it done...— A Shark Token (@sickofit) July 3, 2021
Elsewhere, Day One was all about two Japanese players pursuing Sperling. Yuta Takahashi started a miserable day for Luis Scott-Vargas here at the start of Saturday:
Although comprehensively the opposite of “new tech” the Cycling decks were in the thick of it this weekend.
Here's Takahashi's list, which will, I trust, not surprise seasoned Standard watchers:
Over in Historic, Takahashi was running Izzet Phoenix:
As commentator Corey Baumeister pointed out, the deck isn't just good, it's also a ton of fun to play:
Fellow Japanese player Riku Kumagai was also having a terrific Day One. Playing Cycling in Standard, Kumagai was on Bant Company in Historic:
The two faced each other in the final round of Saturday, with Takahashi claiming victory, ensuring both complied outstanding 5-1 records:
As we began Day Two, Sperling stood on 51 points, 3 clear of the rest of the Rivals field. Behind was a stack of global talent: Asia-Pacific was represented by Takahashi (48) and Kumagai (47); Hall of Famer Luis Scott-Vargas for North America (46); Europe with Grzegorz Kowalski (45); and Latin America in the shape of Luis Salvatto (45).
Sperling needed to avoid disaster, so this certainly helped:
1-1 today need to pick up another win— A Shark Token (@sickofit) July 4, 2021
Midday Sunday, he faced Zachary Kiihne. Sperling has stomped on much of the competition this season, and he's certainly been a crusher, so there was a certain aptness to the final moments:
Sperling isn't the easiest to read, but there was no disguising the joy he felt as he crossed the line. Should he go on to claim the World Championship, we'll know what to use for the montage:
Got there!!!!!! https://t.co/g5lkaOBWG6— A Shark Token (@sickofit) July 4, 2021
One Rivals League seat was left, and Yuta Takahashi was determined to make it his:
Corey Burkhart had also managed a 5-1 record on Saturday, and was continuing his rise up the standings on Day Two. In Historic, he brought this Esper Control list:
In the penultimate round, he took care of Takahashi:
Those words of Corey Baumeister were, not for the first time, prescient. Riku Kumagai also lost his penultimate round, ensuring that Yuta Takahashi would be joining the October showpiece:
〇MattSperling— Yuta Takahashi (@Vendilion) July 4, 2021
Locked MPL and World Championship.
I reached my dream over 15 years.
You read it here first: Takahashi reaching Magic World Championship XXVII just made the competition that much tougher for all concerned. Not as widely known outside of Japan, he's been a master of his craft for decades and is a dark horse for the biggest title of the year.
With that, Matt Sperling and Yuta Takahashi joined Eli Kassis and Stanislav Cifka representing the Rivals League at the World Championship.
The Postseason Stage
Seven League Weekends, three Championships, and eight World Championship seats locked—all behind us. Up next? The 2020-21 postseason, and claiming the eight other seats at the World Championship, as well as invitations for the final season of the MPL and Rivals Leagues.
Challenger Gauntlet – The field was set at the conclusion of the Strixhaven Championship. On August 6–8, we'll see the following battle it out where the Top 4 earn qualification to Magic World Championship XXVII and invitations to the MPL:
|Brad||Barclay||Zendikar Rising Championship|
|Jan||Merkel||Zendikar Rising Championship|
|Tomas||Pokorny||Zendikar Rising Championship|
|Toni||Ramis Pascual||Zendikar Rising Championship|
|Gavin||Thompson||Zendikar Rising Championship|
|Bernardo||Torres||Zendikar Rising Championship|
|Tim||Wan||Zendikar Rising Championship|
|Piotr||Wiktorzak||Zendikar Rising Championship|
MPL Gauntlet – September 2–5 will see both MPL and Rivals Gauntlets play out. For the MPL, there are three World Championship seats at stake, plus MPL invitations for the Top 8.
- Chris Botelho
- Corey Burkhart
- Austin Bursavich
- Marcio Carvalho
- Jean-Emmanuel Depraz
- Javier Dominguez
- Reid Duke
- Alex Hayne
- Yoshihiko Ikawa
- William Jensen
- Martin Jůza
- Zachary Kiihne
- Grzegorz Kowalski
- Riku Kumagai
- Luca Magni
- Brad Nelson
- Ma Noah
- Luis Salvatto
- Bernardo Santos
- Rei Sato
- Luis Scott-Vargas
- Thoralf Severin
- Mike Sigrist
- Jacob Wilson
Rivals Gauntlet – The final qualifier for this year's World Championship will come from the Rivals Gauntlet, with the top 4 also joining the MPL. 16 players are already known, with the final eight coming out of the Challenger Gauntlet:
- Matthieu Avignon
- Kai Budde
- Andrew Cuneo
- Louis-Samuel Deltour
- Kenji Egashira
- Ivan Floch
- Kenta Harane
- Christian Hauck
- Shintaro Ishimura
- Théo Moutier
- Sebastian Pozzo
- Miguel Simoes
- Jakub Tóth
- Lee Shi Tian
- Shota Yasooka
- Ken Yukuhiro
The postseason Gauntlets are going to be every bit as dramatic, tense, and challenging as the League Weekends that preceded them. With the regular season at a close, it's time to both congratulate and thank all the members of the MPL and Rivals, who gave us such tremendous matches, and to the eight players already heading to the greatest tournament of them all: Magic World Championship XXVII.
- Stanislav Cifka
- Eli Kassis
- Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa
- Seth Manfield
- Gabriel Nassif
- Matt Sperling
- Ondřej Stráský
- Yuta Takahashi
Who joins them? That's what we'll find out next. Join us for all the postseason action to find out!