The 2022–23 season all came down to this. Dozens of Regional Championships, three Pro Tours, and hours spent both drafting Wilds of Edraine and studying Standard led the 105 qualified competitors to Magic World Championship XXIX for a chance to showcase their game and claim the title of World Champion.
With 14 rounds of Standard on Friday and Saturday, the road to the Top 8 was grueling for everyone involved. And that was just the warmup to the stacked Top 8 bracket itself. But when the dust settled and tens of thousands of viewers arrived in to watch the final match of the World Championship there were just two players remaining, each ready to stand atop the Magic world.
One side sat Jean-Emmanuel Depraz, one of the most consistent players of the past five years. The French pro had been here before. Specifically, he was the runner-up at Magic World Championship XXVII in 2021, where he came up just short against Yuta Takahashi. With more Top FInishes to his name, this was another chance to claim the one Sunday accolate he's narrowly missed so far: the trophy.
On the other was Kazune Kosaka, making his first career Top Finish after a dreamlike run through the World Championship and the Pro Tour season in general. Kosaka qualified for the World Champs without making a Top 8 appearance in any of the three Pro Tours this season, thanks to his strong and steady performances across the board. It's been a long journey to here for the Saitama City native who first picked up Magic in 2007.
The decks were similar. Depraz was rocking Esper Legends, formerly a crutch of the format but one of the decks in the middle of the pack at the World Championship. But with
The first game featured two key cards in both decks facing off. Depraz deployed both
Almost exactly the start each player was looking for. Depraz began to lightly pressure Kosaka's life total, but the Japanese player was going wide on the ground with rats and soon began pumping his team with Virtue of Loyalty.
Left with a hand of reactive cards and a board of creatures that were quickly falling behind the Virtue, Depraz drew one of his best cards for any situation:
He did not. What he did have, however, was a growing army of Rat tokens quickly amassing +1/+1 counters. Even with the life buffer from Sheoldred, it was a good plan for Kosaka.
But Raffine has been a Standard standby since it was printed, and not just because it's an evasive creature. The ability to sculpt a hand with Raffine's ability is crucial to its success, and in this match it allowed Depraz to find a way around the swarm. Rats can't block, and Depraz was interested in attacking.
Up a game, this time it was Depraz's turn to lead with the threats. First came
But Kosaka had clutch answers: a pair of Cut Down to cleanly answer both creatures. It gave him some room to breathe, and he took the opportunity to deploy a Raffine of his own. With the only creature in play, it looked as if he had found the stabilizer and was ready to progress his own board.
But the hits kept coming from Depraz. He continued his near-perfect curve out with
But his hand was not empty.
Ertai Resurrected stonewalled Kosaka's next play, a
Kosaka had only dropped a single game in the Top 8, but now he found himself down two games to none. And when the third game started with a mulligan to five, the challenge level stepped up another few notches.
But Kosaka wasn't going away easily. With Thalia and Lord Skitter his curve was strong for a mulligan, and he began to fill the board with Rats. Depraz was also rolling, with Skrelv hanging out untapped to protect
That sent Kosaka on the offensive. He used Rat tokens to poke at Depraz's life total, but with Dennick providing lifegain and Raffine providing counters to make it bigger, the former World Championship runner-up had everything he needed to absorb the blows.
The status quo favored Depraz, so Kosaka tried to force some action by chump-attacking with his team. But successfully sniffing out Eiganjo, Seat of the Empire, Depraz kept his key creatures out of harm's way by keeping them on the bench. Already ahead of resources and with his Raffine-fueled army outpacing Lord Skitter's Rats, the tension around the stage began to mount as Depraz took what would become the final turn of Magic World Championship XXIX.
Just like Javier Dominguez several years ago, a former World Championship finalist has returned to the largest stage the game has to offer and shown the Magic world that he is its World Champion.
Congratulations Jean-Emmanuel Depraz, Magic World Champion XXIX!