2023 has been a celebration of Magic and the gathering that comes with.
Nowhere has that been more apparent than at Magic World Championship XXIX at MagicCon: Las Vegas. For the past year players have been vying for a coveted seat at the final tournament of the season. All those roads led to Las Vegas for a chance at the title and the lion's share of a $1,00,000 prize pool.
There were 105 players when action kicked off on Friday with Wilds of Eldraine draft, and 50 of them returned for Day Two and a chance at the Sunday Stage.
That brings us to the Top 8:
- 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)
A stacked Top 8 is fitting for the World Championship, and a day of play left us with an incredible finals matchup between Jean-Emmanuel Depraz and Kazune Kosaka.
Here's how we got there.
In addition to the World Championship title, there was also the matter of the Player of the Year race to settle. A number of players came to Vegas with a shot at the title, but after the Top 8 cut there were only two contenders remaining: Duke and Nielsen.
It was the Dane who came into the weekend with a narrow lead over Duke. And the title would be Nielsen's if he could at least keep pace with the American on Sunday. Duke needs to catch up and overtake Nielsen's finish in the tournament to flip it his way.
The first match pitted the Player of the Year candidate Nielsen against the first-time Top Finisher Lorenzo Terlizzi. For Nielsen it was an uphill challenge due to Terlizzi's Esper Midrange holding an edge over the aggressive Azorius Soldiers deck Nielsen came armed with.
For Terlizzi, the Top 8 appearance was the culmination of a dream a decade in the making.
In 2016, a 12-year old kid showed up at my LGS with his parents, asking whether the store would organize a tournament to qualify for the pro tour because he wanted to qualify; everybody laughed at him. This kid is @terlollo15 and is now in Worlds top8.— Mattia Oneto (@Schiapponetor) September 24, 2023
That's the kind of journey the World Championship offers Magic players, and Terlizzi's path to Worlds is the kind of run that anyone can aspire to. His sprint to the Top 8 included matches against Pro Tour champions from the past and Regional Champions from the past year. But he held up through the gauntlet, and was rewarded with a hard-earned Top 8 berth.
Unfortunately for Terlizzi, his quarterfinals match against Nielsen was unremarkable. He was forced to mulligan down and never got off the ground in the first game, discarding to maximum hand size several times before picking them up. Things didn't improve from there, as unfortunate draws and bad timing doomed what was one of Terlizzi's better matchups.
It wasn't the Top Finish introduction Terlizzi was hoping for, but with a solid string of performances in 2023 and now tournaments in 2024 to look forward to, it was a successful World Championship for the Italian by any measure.
The next match over was a similar story: relative newcomer Kazune Kosaka was facing off against Hall of Famer and Brazilian Magic legend Willy Edel, making his first Sunday stage in a decade. Playing two of the defining decks of the format in Esper Midrange and Domain Ramp, respectively, the games had the potential to get very complex – anyone who watched Edel's final round on Saturday knows just how much the two decks can grind.
But that's not how it went down in the Top 8. With a night of preparing to face the opposing deck, both competitors had an idea of what might be the most important cards to play, protect or plan for in the match. The result was a match that played out much more efficiently than it did at various points throughout the weekend.
That turned out to be a bad omen for Edel's Domain Ramp deck, which was adept at going over the top of most of the field but needed time to set up. Instead, Kosaka's draws lined up well against the late-game threats from Edel, and he was able to lean on his removal and countermagic to keep the Hall of Famer's best threats from hitting the table. And if the ramp deck can be contained (don't let them resolve
After 11 years I played at the sunday stage again. I’m so happy with it. Thanks for all the love and good vibes - couldn’t get there without them— Willy Edel (@edelgenius) September 24, 2023
I hope these two accept some toys instead of the trophy they asked me
See ya in Chicago (or at the next standard challenge)#MTGWorlds pic.twitter.com/zu0Qt8S4Mt
With two matches down and two to go, all eyes were on Reid Duke to see if he could keep pace in the Player of the Year race. But first we headed to Greg Orange and Jean-Emmanuel Depraz, locked deep in a battle of Bant Control vs. Depraz's Esper Legends. Two of the lesser-represented decks on the weekend, the Top Finish marked another Top 8 run for a pair of players used to making them; Orange won Pro Tour 25th Anniversary and Depraz has made a habit of playing in finals over the past few years.
As you might expect the match between the two veterans went the distance, though it didn't look like it would go that way after a 2-0 start by Orange. But with his back up against the wall, Depraz did what he does best: stay calm and collected under pressure while playing Magic at the highest levels.
The turning point kickstarted Depraz, and the deciding fifth game was more of the same: his Esper Legends deck curving out and applying pressure until it eventually broke the gates and bested the Bant Control's decks defenses. Using
The last match to resolve was Duke's. All eyes turned toward the Pro Tour Phyrexia winner, who was squaring off against Anthony Lee and his Golgari Midrange deck.
Like Edel, Duke was also on Domain Ramp and was also playing against a midrange deck. The Golgari flavor carried new Standard stalwarts like
But it was Duke who struck first. Leaning on the over-the-top power of the ramp deck, Duke was able to fill the board with enough varied threats backed up by card draw that demanded a constant stream of answers from Lee. Those answers were not forthcoming in pre-sideboarded Games 1 and 2, and it was Duke who took a commanding 2-0 lead.
But this isn't a regular Top 8. This is the World Championship, where matches are all best-of-five. That meant that despite being down and needing to win three games in a row, Lee wasn't finished. And with help coming after sideboarding, the midrange player knew he had a shot.
And he wasn't going to throw it away. With determination, resilience and a heaping of new cards to bring in, Lee took the next game and put the improbable officially on the table.
The next two games were a masterclass in resource management, with both players trading board swings back and forth. But as the games wore on, it became clear that Lee's strategy was paying off, and he began to pull ahead. That went on to set up a magic moment for Lee as he completed the rare reverse-sweep, and another World Championship Top 8 for Duke that ended short of a title. But with another major Top 8 and a Pro Tour win on the year, Duke enters the 2024 season still one of the hottest–and greatest–players in the game..
And with that, the race was decided: Simon Nielsen was our Player of the Year.
With the Player of the Year decided early on Sunday, it was time to decide the Magic World Championship XXIX victor. Lee against Depraz, Kosaka vs. Nielsen. Four players with four different decks from four different countries; one would be crowned the World Champion.
A back-and-forth set of quarterfinals would give way to a lightning-quick set of semifinals. Golgari Midrange, Esper Legends, Azorius Soldiers, and Esper Midrange did not lend themselves to the kind of drawn-out games we saw with the Domain deck, and the possibility of an aggressive set of matches was on the table. And that's exactly what we got, though perhaps more lopsided than we expected.
Newly minted Player of the Year Nielsen was up first against Kosaka. Everything seemed to break Nielsen's way up to this point: he dropped the first two rounds of the tournament before reeling off an 11-0 run after that. But things went the other direction for Nielsen in the semifinals.
Mulligans and missed draws doomed Nielsen at the start of the match, while Kosaka was cruising in a matchup he had experience with on the weekend.
And the aggression from Kosaka didn't help, either. The rats swarmed and swarmed for the Japanese competitor battling fearlessly in their first Top Finish. Nielsen tried to fight back with a risky attack, but Kosaka called the bluff and took a huge step closer to the finish line. The good-natured Player of the Year soon extended his hand to congratulate Kosaka on making the finals of the World Championship.
All he needed was a finals opponent. That would come from either Lee or Depraz as they threw Golgari Midrange and Esper Legends into the fray.
Depraz's deck is filled with the best legendary creatures in Standard alongside
With a strong start, Depraz could keep the Golgari deck from ever getting off the ground; a deck full of adventure spells, removal or planeswalkers is going to struggle against a deck taxing its mana. Lee, the Regional Champion, knew exactly how challenging things could be and tried to play around the toughest of the threats.
But despite Lee's best efforts, Depraz's deck performed to a legendary level in the semifinals. Three straight games went to Depraz in decisive fashion, and with another sweep the finals of Magic World Championship XXIX were set: Kazune Kosaka and Jean-Emmanuel Depraz.