After ten rounds of play across Innistrad: Midnight Hunt Draft and Standard, the Top 4 of Magic World Championship XXVII was set.
It was a perfect mix of old and new, longtime competitors and rising stars of the past few years. After 12 of the 16 players were eliminated, it was Ondřej Stráský, Jan Merkel, Jean-Emmanuel Depraz, and Yuta Takahashi who advanced to Sunday to play for the title.
And the Top 4 was a surprise in more ways than one. Not only was it lacking any of the Hall of Famers in the field, it also featured a surprising mix of Standard decks. Two players who brought their own deck to the World Championship—Takahashi's Izzet Dragons and Depraz's Temur Treasures—alongside Merkel's Grixis Epiphany and Stráský's Izzet Epiphany.
The road to the Top 4 gave us all the storylines we could want, starting with perhaps the most dominant Standard player of the past few years in Stráský.
The emergence of the "Czech House" testing team defined multiple Standard formats in recent years, and he entered the Top 4 after having dominated yet again with an undefeated 7-0 run to the Top 4.
Even more incredible was that he wasn't the only unbeaten Standard player.
Takahashi had the worst possible start with an 0-3 Draft that forced him to rely on Standard to make it through—and it worked. His incredible metagame call of Izzet Dragons was matched only by his impeccable play with the deck. He was nearly written off after those early rounds but posted a perfect 7-0 Standard record to advance clean to the Top 4.
Merkel and Depraz battling through tough Tiebreaker matches, Merkel dispatching testing teammate Matt Sperling while Depraz had to win a back-to-back—and third on the day—round against the indomitable Sam Pardee.
In the end, the World Championship was won in a legendary run that goes down in Magic competitive history—and how we got there started with these four.
The Top 4 Elimination Bracket
The top seed kicked things off: Stráský faced off against Merkel. There had been a few dominant runs for players in the World Championship, but Stráský was trying to be the first to go wire-to-wire undefeated.
But any hopes of that particular brand of immortality were quashed early. Pro Tour Kobe 2006 winner Merkel leaned on the disruption of his Grixis build of
That shifted attention over the other undefeated Standard player, as Takahashi and his 7-0 Izzet Dragons deck matched up against Depraz's unique Temur Treasures list. It was a matchup that Depraz wasn't thrilled about playing, which put him in the same boat as everyone else who had paired against Takahashi this weekend.
The Japanese superstar lived up to the billing and took two straight games off Depraz, though they were far from blowouts. In the decisive game Depraz knocked Takahashi all the way down to 3 life before the Izzet player stabilized the board with
The "King of Faeries" started to look very much like the "King of Dragons" now.
That set up Merkel and Takashi in the Upper Finals, with the winner securing a spot in the Title Match. Both longtime players had experience in this type of pressure-cooker showdown, and the upper finals was a highlight of Standard's best.
The Grixis Epiphany deck that Merkel had built with fellow World Championship competitors Matt Sperling, Eli Kassis and Gabriel Nassif was the talk of the tournament entering the weekend, and it had acquitted itself well enough to send one pilot to the Top 4 with others just barely missing. Now whichever player won a matchup they almost certainly hadn't prepared for specifically would find themselves one more away from the trophy.
The battle went the distance as the players split the first two games. Takahashi, who so ecstatically celebrated when he made the Top 4 yesterday, was replaced today with a man intent on making every play perfectly. As Takahashi navigated the long duel in the final game, he was the one who was able to set up an
No over-the-top celebrations this time: Takahashi was all business while there was still work to be done.
The Lower Bracket
That left the task of determining Takahashi's opponent, and the upcoming two elimination matches would be best-of-three matches to determine a victor. The first was a chance for Stráský to turn things around against Depraz in a matchup, one that most saw as favorable for the Czech House star..
But Depraz's Temur Treasures list came out firing on all cylinders, and he took the first game of the set by applying early pressure and then running out
Things had already been much more difficult for Stráský on Sunday, and now he suddenly found himself veering toward elimination. But Stráský wasn't out of it, and he pulled off a wild comeback in the next game to keep things going.
Back on his feet, Stráský maneuvered his way through a tricky third game and was able to stabilize after early damage, even getting an
That loss seemed to take the wind out of the previously unassailable Izzet Epiphany's sails, and after two straightforward games later in a lopsided second match it was Depraz who had pulled off the upset apparent and sent himself into the Lower Final.
Depraz's reward? Another date with another
This time, it was less about Depraz playing around the combo potential and more about weathering the disruptive storm presented by Grixis, and that resulted in a first game that involved a small army of
But when Depraz found a timely
He followed that up with a familiar story in the next game: accumulate value from
That allowed him to briefly stabilize, but when Depraz had removal for the blue bomb it was off to the second match.
Things went much better for Merkel the second time around. This time, when he was able to stabilize at 3 life he had an answer for the inevitable
Innistrad: Midnight Hunt Standard gave us its share of huge comebacks throughout the tournament, and Merkel was on the verge of another as we headed into the decider—but it wasn't meant to be.
Depraz played out a steady stream of ahead-of-schedule
With that, the Title Match for a season like no other was set: Yuta Takahashi and Jean-Emmanuel Depraz battling to become Magic World Champion XXVII.