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July Strixhaven League Weekend Highlights

July 07, 2021
Rich Hagon

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:

Although Nassif's 5-1 Saturday was garnering attention, Martin Jůza, too, had put together a solid first day:

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 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:

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 those remaining matches done, he took a moment to reflect on an epic season:

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:

Yeah, double Extinction Event will tend to get things done, and that put Nassif just one game away from triumph:

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:

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:

As with Manfield, things didn't start out well for Sperling:

But being of the game's best means things can change fast:

Before turning around yet again:

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:

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:

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:

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:

First Last Invitation Source
Brad Barclay Zendikar Rising Championship
Michael Bernat Kaldheim Championship
Ian Birrell Kaldheim Championship
Ron Branchaud Strixhaven Championship
John Girardot Strixhaven Championship
Arne Huschenbeth Kaldheim Championship
David Inglis Strixhaven Championship
Evan Kaplan Kaldheim Championship
Matti Kuisma Strixhaven Championship
Lars Luckhaupt Strixhaven Championship
Jan Merkel Zendikar Rising Championship
João Moreira Kaldheim Championship
Noriyuki Mori Kaldheim Championship
Logan Nettles Strixhaven Championship
Yohei Nomiya Kaldheim Championship
Sam Pardee Strixhaven Championship
Tomas Pokorny Zendikar Rising Championship
Toni Ramis Pascual Zendikar Rising Championship
Sam Rolph Strixhaven Championship
Keisuke Sato Kaldheim 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!

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