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Magic World Championship XXIX Preview

September 11, 2023
Rich Hagon

"World Champion." It's two words, instantly understandable, infinitely hard to win, and the glittering end of season prize. Let's start with the facts:

For Magic World Championship XXIX it's a deceptively simple schedule.

Friday, September 22

  • Rounds 1–3: Wilds of Eldraine Draft
  • Rounds 4–7: Standard
  • 12 match points (a record of 4-3) or better required to advance to Day 2

Saturday, September 23

  • Rounds 8–10: Wilds of Eldraine Draft
  • Rounds 11–14: Standard
  • Top 8 players advance to Sunday

Sunday, September 24

  • Standard Format Top 8 single elimination
  • Best-3-out-of-5 games to win the match
  • Sideboarding starts after Game 2

Simple, right? But let's look at the devil in the details.

The Path to Winning the World Championship

First up, it's Friday and the most important draft of their lives. Suspicious that I might be laying it on a bit thick? Well, alright, there is a little bit of room to maneuver here but the first three rounds on Friday morning are a significant factor determining who goes further—and who absolutely won't be your World Champion come Sunday evening.

Normally, a Pro Tour has between 250 and 300 players. With Swiss pairings it means you play someone on a matching record (ie 3-0s face other 3-0s where possible), and it takes 8 rounds with 256 players to reach a single undefeated record at 8-0 (ignoring draws). As the top tables continue to play each other, the math demands 16 rounds of play across two days to have a reasonable chance that the cut to the Top 8 on Sunday will be 'clean' ie not have to rely on tiebreaker math.

The World Championship doesn't have 250-300 players. It has just over 100 players. There might be a lone undefeated player as early as 6 rounds into Friday (not round 8 like a Pro Tour). As the tournament progresses, only 14 rounds are needed to determine the Top 8. For our drafting players on Friday morning they'll be in groups of 8, and (again, barring draws) each table will produce one 3-0 record, three 2-1s, three 1-2s, and–here it comes–one 0-3. Depending on exactly how many players make it to the start line, that means 13 or 14 players finishing their draft with zero wins, and four rounds of Standard ahead.

Players need a minimum of four match wins to advance to Day Two. You see the math here.

There's a fair chance that nobody starting 0-3 makes it into Saturday. A bad draft, a single misplay, and a tough opposing deck is all it takes to knock the wind out of your World Championship sails. Of course, it's possible to fight back from 0-3 – just ask former World Champion Yuta Takahashi. But in among all those Constructed wins, our 0-3 players will need to come back on Saturday and likely 3-0 that morning's draft. A simple road to victory this is not.

629654 Candy Grapple Into the Fae Court

With Draft arguably more important than it's ever been it's also quite the format. Wilds of Eldraine is dripping with flavor, so whether it's an apprenticeship for sorocery in Blue-Red, the sequel to Hansel and Gretel in Black-Green, or going to the ball with White-Red Celebration, there are going to be some very familiar elements on display in the Limited rounds.

Friday rounds out with the aforementioned four rounds of Standard. This is a rather different Standard than we might have imagined, say, a year ago, with Wizards of the Coast announcing a new approach to the format: we're now seeing the results with Standard not rotating this fall as it traditionally has.

What does this mean for the impact of Wilds of Eldraine on Standard? Three initial answers spring to mind:

  1. We don't know—yet!
  2. Since the cards are going into a larger pool than before, that should theoretically dilute some of the shakeup, taken across the whole set. At the simplest level, Wilds of Eldraine cards have more competition to replace if they're going to justify their selection in Standard decks.
  3. If there's less overall 'churn' in the metagame, that ups the spotlight on cards that can go into existing archetypes and potentially push them over the top.

With four wins the gateway to Day Two, even the perfect 3-0 drafters will need some success in Standard to keep playing.

If they do, Saturday repeats the menu from Friday: a second Wilds of Eldraine draft is followed by the crucial Standard portion of rounds 11-14 that determine the Top 8. It will be scramble for those places on Saturday afternoon, before all the best-of-five game drama that you'd expect from the final day of the season, culminating in our World Champion.

Who Wins the World Championship?

So, who's it gonna be?

Nathan Steuer.

Nathan Steuer, Magic World Championship XXVIII

I mean, that's where we must start at least. Here's the case I'd be making, if I were Nathan Steuer and I liked talking about my accomplishments this season:

  1. I'm the defending champion. I literally know how to win a World Championship.
  2. It's not like I've been out of form. I made two out of three Pro Tour Top 8s this season, and converted one into the title at Pro Tour March of the Machine.
  3. I expect to work harder than anybody else.
  4. Even though it's weird to say this, I am by consensus the "Best Player in the World" right now.
  5. The field only has 100 or so players, not the 300 players I find at Pro Tours. Less variance, fewer genuine contenders, excellent.
  6. I am demonstrably on the best Magic testing team, both in terms of preparation and outcomes in tournaments.
  7. That means we don't get out-drafted, and we don't get out-metagamed.
  8. Even if I don't win this, it's likely that one of my teammates will. Sad face, happy face.

If Steuer does go on to win it, he'll also pick up the title of Player of the Year, traditionally (and still) awarded to the player who finishes atop season-long standings. As usual, there are a million and one convoluted outcomes that mean there are technically something like 25 players who could, come Sunday night, be Player of the Year, apart from Steuer.

Realistically, however, there are four.

Javier Dominguez

Javier Dominguez actually leads the race coming in, and is thus the only player who can guarantee being Player of the Year: become the World Champion! With two Pro Tour Top 8s this season (just like Steuer) that's not an unreasonable prospect. We could easily see Dominguez and Steuer swapping the lead throughout the weekend.

Simon Nielsen

Simon Nielsen, in third spot, also has two Pro Tour Top 8s this season. Even so, he probably needs at least a 10-4 record (which might be enough for a third Top 8), even if Dominguez and Steuer do poorly.

Reid Duke

Next in line is Reid Duke, the Pro Tour Phyrexia Champion. Like Nielsen, 10-4 is where his Player of the Year aspirations begin.

Gabriel Nassif

And then there's Gabriel Nassif, the longshot of the quintet. He probably needs a minimum performance of reaching the Top 8 before he can even start contemplating Player of the Year, nearly two decades after he won it in 2005. And that's assuming all kinds of misfortune for the other contenders.

As you'd expect, our coverage team will keep you up to date with who's in trouble, who misses the cut, who's in contention, who makes Top 8, who's closing in on the title, who eventually claims the silverware, and the winner of Player of the Year. It's a lot to keep track of, but our broadcast team of Maria Bartholdi, Mani Davoudi, Cedric Phillips, Marshall Sutcliffe, Paul Cheon, Eilidh Lonie, and Corey Baumeister will be all over everything that matters all weekend long. Plus follow everything online with Corbin Hosler, Meghan Wolff, Adam Styborski, and Jason King on the World Championship XXIX event page and PlayMTG social accounts.

Beyond the top five favorites above, a select but stunning lineup has been assembled with no fewer than eight qualification paths to World Championship XXIX. Each packed the Las Vegas field with World Championship contenders:

Pro Tour Phyrexia – A tremendous Top 8 featured Champion Reid Duke and two more Hall of Famers – Shota Yasooka of Japan, and France's Gabriel Nassif. And there was Steuer, of course.

Pro Tour March of the Machine – The Top 8 saw Cain Rianhard and Autumn Burchett feature, as well as the first Top 8 of the season for Dominguez and Nielsen.

Pro Tour The Lord of the Rings – Dominguez and Nielsen again; fan favorite Christian Calcano; the true legend of the game that is Kai Budde; and a fairytale Pro Tour debut for Champion Jake Beardsley.

MTG Arena – Just half a dozen qualifiers, but a genuine threat in the vastly experienced Ondřej Stráský and look out for Keisuke Sato.

Magic Online – Another small part of the field, but Bart van Etten of the Netherlands would be a worthy winner, and Sean Goddard certainly has the proverbial puncher's chance.

Regional Championships – The largest part of the field, with 44 qualified players. Also the part of the field with the largest range of experience and quality. In a field this small, somebody has to be the underdog, and most of those come from this group. Still, there are some with a genuine shot at taking it all down, with Japan's Rei Sato, Germany's Thoralf Severin, and Zen Takahashi from New Zealand among the most likely.

Adjusted Match Points – It's no surprise that the overall season points lead to a real influx of talent. Marcio Carvalho will look to improve on two World Championship final appearances, which is quite an ask. A 'greatest hits' lineup includes the likes of Hall of Famers Willy Edel and Seth Manfield, Alexander Hayne, Greg Orange, Sam Pardee, Yuuki Ichikawa, former World Champion Yuta Takahashi, and a shoutout for Daniel Goetschel, who many are quietly tipping as "the next Nathan Steuer." No pressure.

World Championship XXVIII – Eli Kassis, Jakub Toth, and Karl Sarap all get to have another crack at a World title, and so too does, yes, Nathan Steuer – he qualified for this event FOUR times: Two Pro Tour Top 8s; Magic Online; and last year's World Championship.

Even if he's the single most likely winner, Steuer is, of course, unlikely to emerge since there's precisely one of him and over 100 looking to overturn him. But there's no doubt that he has the tools to do it—and he isn't alone. The World Championship has delivered some astonishing moments and stories down the years and whoever wins it will be the biggest story of the season.

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