For the 32 competitors here in Las Vegas, all roads lead to the World Championship. The culmination of a season of play, a series of set championships, a monthslong points race and a final, furious flurry of testing, Magic World Championship XXVIII is the pinnacle of competitive play and the biggest tournament of these players' lives. Ensconced in the spectacle that is Magic 30, everything came down to this.
And in one of the biggest moments in their lives, Julian Wellman and Nathan Steuer came up clutch. Two of the field's youngest players showed they're ready to take on the World Championship, and both finished the day 7-1 after meeting as the final two undefeated players late. Along the way we journeyed through Dominaria United draft and five Standard rounds featuring a field full of Esper and several players who came prepared to take advantage of that fact. Here's how we got there.
Deft Dominaria United Drafters
It's rare for a draft format to divide opinions weeks after its release, but Dominaria United is the rare set to do that. With dozens of multicolor cards, kicker cards, and a bevy of mana fixing lands, the format has proven to be a classic.
Perfect for a World Championship showdown.
This weekend brought Limited back to the highest levels of competitive play, to the delight of many in the field. For longtime players such as Reid Duke, Mike Sigrist, and Shota Yasooka, it was a welcome return to a staple of the Pro Tour. But for some of the newer players who qualified for this event largely via online Constructed play, Draft was both a major point of emphasis and the source of their biggest concerns.
Any doubts were laid to rest quickly though. The largest testing team in the field, and by far the most successful team of the past season, dominated the Dominaria United draft at a level reserved for some of the most masterful team performances in Pro Tour memory.
More than enough to impress at least one former World Champion.
Apparently Team Handshake had a 17-4 record in draft (excluding teamkills) for an 81% winrate! Small sample ofc but an incredible level of dominance at the world championship level, and I hope it continues into the constructed rounds 🤝🤝🤝— (Tempo) Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa (@PVDDR) October 28, 2022
After three rounds of Draft, all four undefeated players hailed from the Team Handshake squad:
- Julian Wellman
- Nathan Steuer
- Jonny Gutman
- Tristan Wylde-Larue
That's how you take a field by storm.
"We had a testing team of nine people, so we were able to get complete draft pods to practice in and I think that really helped us," explained Wylde-LaRue, who finished Friday 5-3.
"I knew lots of people liked the base-green domain decks and would pick the lands highly. I liked drafting Jeskai the most, but other people weren't as high on it. I ended up first-picking
And with that, we were off to the Standard races.
The Kids Are All Right (On Top of the Standings)
The biggest takeaway from Day One of Magic World Championship XXVIII was clear: the torch has been passed in competitive Magic.
As the players converged on Las Vegas, we all wondered whether the latest generation of online-first players could manage the pressure of the moment against seasoned vets like Reid Duke and Logan Nettles (both of whom also got their start on Magic Online many years ago), as the World Championship brought together competitors who all qualified in a myriad of unique ways. And after one day of competition and a leaderboard filled with competitors who got their competitive start on MTG Arena over the last few years, that question has been answered.
The Hall of Famers are still here. But resumes don't win matches: players do. Eight rounds of Day One play showcased that everyone at the World Championship was capable of staring down even the best to ever play the game without blinking.
Shore Up to . . . soar . . . up!@MtgJulian takes down the first Standard round at #MTGWorlds with Izzet Tempo and a little draft combat trick making big waves!— PlayMTG (@PlayMTG) October 28, 2022
More Magic, live now at https://t.co/GF4H5so3jq pic.twitter.com/YCCNj4VnXg
Wellman and Steuer led the way. Two of the most successful online players this year, with Steuer the endboss of Magic Online Champions Showcase events and Wellman spearheading incredible success at Championships across the season, met in Round 5 of Magic World Championship XXVIII still undefeated.
It was Wellman who emerged unscathed from the battle, and he would cruise into Day Two from there adjusting to the bright lights and stage of the World Championship.
As the dust settled on the Standard rounds, the other takeaway was that the 68% Esper Midrange field may have actually been more open than expected.
Wellman blazed a path with Izzet Tempo as Jean-Emmanuel Depraz chased right before with Mono-Blue Tempo deck, the pair cut their way through a field of
Players shift gears Saturday morning as they return for Day Two and six rounds of the exciting Explorer format. It's a challenging triple format event (along with Draft and Standard) that tests the mettle of the players by putting a spotlight on whether any team was able to gain a true advantage against the field. You can find all the Explorer decklists online now, with the seven spiciest of them as highlighted by Hall of Famer Frank Karsten.
As Steuer and Wellman lead the way, we'll watch six rounds of Explorer setting a Top 4 returning Sunday. The stakes to win it all are clear: $100,000 first-place prize, the glory of being featured on a future Magic card, and the title of World Champion. We’ll see the next step begin at 9 a.m. PT tomorrow, live at twitch.tv/magic.