Magic World Championship XXIX began on Friday with 105 of the best players in the game, each having spent months or years chasing a dream that was realized when they sat down and shuffled up: competing in a World Championship. This is the culmination of a yearlong season of high-level Magic play, and sitting down for that first World Championship Draft is when it hits for so many competitors that they've made it.
If competing in the World Championship is a heartening experience, making the Top 8 of one can be life changing. Especially so for the one player who will convert that Top Finish into a tournament trophy, the title of Magic World Champion, the $100,000 first-place prize and the opportunity to be forever immortalized on an official Magic card–that opportunity offered only to those who leave their mark on the game.
We started Day Two with the players who finished Day One at 4-3 or better. That meant that the 105 player World Championship field fell to just 50 players, which in such a tight tournament and small field meant that anything could happen.
The first player to punch their ticket to the Top 8 was a surprise to no one; in fact he was one of the players selected by their peers as most likely to win the World Championship.
Reid Duke is back on the World Championship Sunday stage. The Hall of Famer and ambassador of the game famously finished as the runner-up at the World Championship in 2013, falling to the buzzsaw of a run that was back-to-back World Championships for Shahar Shenhar, still the only player to ever win the title twice.
Duke may qualify as an "elder" statesman of the game in 2013, but this dominant run to the Top 8 of the World Championship (and his victory at Pro Tour Phyrexia earlier this year) proves something clearly: Duke is back at the top of his game, and soon he'll have a chance to etch his name on the most exclusive list in Magic's history; the winner of this tournament will become Magic's 28th world champ.
Duke was soon joined by Simon Nielsen, who dropped his first two matches of the tournament before reeling off 10 straight match victories in a row and earning an automatic spot on Sunday's stage. From there, the Top 8 rounded out quickly, with the following players making the cut thanks to exceptional performances across Limited or Standard or both.
- Reid Duke (Domain Ramp)
- Simon Nielsen (Azorius Soldiers)
- Kazune Kosaka (Esper Midrange)
- Lorenzo Terlizzi (Esper Midrange)
- Anthony Lee (Golgari Midrange)
- Greg Orange (Bant Control)
- Willy Edel (Domain Ramp)
- Jean-Emmanuel Depraz (Esper Legends)
Here's how we got there.
The Draft Fallout
Much was made about how important the Wilds of Eldraine Draft portion of the tournament would be. World Championship qualifiers agreed as one team spent six hours in their final pre-tournament Limited meeting, and the 14-round format gave a huge boost to those considered Limited experts.
It was a mixed bag for the top of the last season. Team Handshake has crushed Limited formats this year as a team, but it seemed other teams closed the gap for this tournament. Handshake certainly still took some Ws - Nielsen went on to qualify for the Top 8 – but the tournament's only 6-0 drafter came from a different squad.
"All of our in-house testing showed that Black-Red was far and away the best archetype by a significant margin," explained Eli Kassis, who defeated Chris Ferber in the final draft round to emerge as the only undefeated drafter across both days. "The one-toughness creatures in that archetype are the best for the Young Hero role and picking up counters. And in both of my drafts that's what was open!"
Kassis wasn't the only Team CFB Ultimate Guard member to pair a strong draft performance with a deep tournament run. Duke went 5-1 in Limited, and only dropped two games in his Limited wins along the way.
At the conclusion of Saturday's draft rounds, there were five players at two losses or better. After Duke locked up his Top 8 spot early, the game was on among the rest to join him. For that, we moved into Standard, the format that would define the stretch run on Saturday as well as Sunday's Top 8.
Standard Stage Set for Sunday
Nielsen was another player chosen as likely to Top 8, and his run of Top Finishes over the past 18 months has been nothing short of incredible. Nathan Steueur started a historic run of his own with a win at the World Championship last year, is it now Nielsen's time to cap his own with a world title?
He earned his chance with an incredible comeback. Starting 0-2 certainly wasn't in Nielsen's plans, but the consistency and resiliency for which his teammates praised him was on full display as he worked to dig out of the early hole. He picked up a win to finish the first Draft, and turned his eyes toward Standard where he felt comfortable.
And for good reason: Nielsen went on to rip off four Standard wins to qualify comfortably for Saturday, and kept up the perfect run when he returned. An 0-2 start turned into a 10-2 record, another Top Finish, and a chance at the World Championship title.
As for Duke, who had some time to pass after securing his Sunday seat at around 3 p.m. tournament time, it was the perfect chance to take care of something else he had on his mind this weekend.
Playing at the highest professional levels doesn't mean you can't have your own heroes, just ask Reid Duke. pic.twitter.com/vcXqijJYNh— PlayMTG (@PlayMTG) September 23, 2023
The Top 8 filled out from there, with one more player–Japan's Kazune Kosaka–who clinched a spot on Sunday before the final round of play. After stringing together high-level events over the past year, Kosaka finally achieved a true breakthrough at the World Championship, dropping just three individual games on his way to a perfect Day Two record and his first Top Finish. Chosen by a few of his teammates as a "sleeper pick" to win the tournament, Kosaka has certainly lived up to the hype. The first half of the Top 8 filled out when our Day One leader Anthony Lee locked up a spot next.
Four down, four to go. It all came down to Round 14 and a whirlwind of matches. When the dust settled after some mind bendingly complex games, our Top 8 was set with these five players joining the trio on Sunday.
- Jean-Emmanuel Depraz, who overcame Matt Foreman in the final round.
- Greg Orange, who defeated Cain Rianhard.
- Will Edel, victorious in a marathon 1-0 win over Kenji Sego.
- And Lorenzo Terlizzi, who toppled Ken Takahama.
Along the way, we saw a heaping of Wilds of Eldraine cards and the rest of the best Standard had to offer. With the rotation changed to a three-year window, the card pool available to World Championship competitors was larger than we're used to, and it resulted in mono-colored aggro decks, five-color ramp decks, reanimator decks, control decks, and of course Esper Midrange.
We went Up the Beanstalk, we went down do the depths to reanimate creatures, and we watched as the Atraxa players went over top of all it. Six different archetypes comprise the Top 8, and all eyes turn again toward the format as the eight remaining players vie for the title of World Champion.
Player of the Year Update
The return of the Pro Tour lit a cumulative fire among Magic's most competitive to kick off 2023, and at the conclusion of the World Championship we'll add another familiar phrase: Player of the Year.
The Player of the Year returns! The recipient will be determined at the conclusion of World Championship XXIX at #MCVegas.— PlayMTG (@PlayMTG) August 11, 2023
Competitors are being notified of this news. We'll have more to share as we get closer to #MTGWorlds
A handful of players came to Las Vegas in contention, but most slowly faded away over the weekend. The last two standings? Duke and Nielsen, who will now take their battle to the ultimate stage to settle things, as if there weren't already enough pressure at the World Championship.
All Eyes on Sunday
With that, the Top 8 is set. All that remains is to determine a winner, and a Player of the Year. With Duke and Nielsen on opposite sides of the bracket, that means a final determination on both of those things may not come until the World Championship finals. It's a captivating story for Magic World Championship XXIX and the perfect ending to a year that saw the return of the Pro Tour.
All the action kicks off Sunday, September 24.