All roads lead to the World Championship. And there's a lot of roads, all littered with food tokens from Wilds of Eldraine draft prep, that will bring players to Las Vegas very soon.
We're exactly a month out from Magic World Championship XXIX at MagicCon: Las Vegas, and everyone across the Magic sphere is focused on the epic weekend. MagicCon returns to the United States after a stop in Barcelona (where first-time Pro Tour player Jake Beardsley won it all with Rakdos Evoke), and the Pro Tour season culminates with just over 100 players set to compete in the expanded World Championship field.
It's Nathan Steuer's title to defend, and it's an opportunity for him to add another highlight to his historic year. Players have been watching Wilds of Eldraine previews roll out with an eye toward anything that might make the cut in a larger Standard format. They'll be cramming as many drafts as possible into the next three weeks, and Pro Tour judges will be learning the intricacies of Standard's (and Wilds of Eldraine Limited's) most ridiculous interactions.
With the World Championship looming what does that mean for us in the coverage world? It's impossible to tell everyone's story, but everyone's story is worth telling. Over the course of the next month, you're going to see a veritable trove of World Championship content from us. That includes the most unlikely paths, the most improbable decks, Limited breakdowns, Standard overviews, and more data than you knew you needed (check out Frank Karsten's column for the up-to-the-minute Constructed developments). We'll also share some of the fascinating stories behind our qualifiers, and you'll hear of players with this many top finishes or that many Magic Online qualifications. And for the Magic boomers like me, we'll go on and on about Grand Prix Top 8s.
I can't wait to help share those stories over the coming weeks. But it also makes me think: Am I missing the Forest for the Treefolk?
Twelve Ways to Vegas
Magic evolves regularly; it's what keeps the game fresh. And this past year has been no exception. In fact, it's been a blast to be part of bringing back the Pro Tour. Especially coming off a high (and hot) point in Barcelona, it feels like we're recapturing a lot of the
Magic... charm that has made the Pro Tour so special for the past three decades.
The World Championship evolves too, although to a familiar form. The smaller fields of World Championships hosted both in person and online over the past several years are gone: this year we'll have a field more similar the World Championships of old, with swaths of the globe represented among the roughly 100 entrants.
As the world and Magic have adjusted over the past year, I don't think many people realize exactly how many paths there are for high-level Magic play right now. With distinct paths across tabletop, Magic Online, and MTG Arena, plus the increased opportunity from the expanded field, there hasn't been a clearer path to the top of the Pro Tour in recent memory.
Which brings me back to the World Championship and the stat that took me aback and led to this column: Did you know there were a dozen different ways to qualify for the World Championship? I didn't. And as I began to break down how we might represent this field to readers and viewers, I realized the story of Magic World Championship XXIX can't be distilled into a handful of columns or between-round segments on air.
Twelve different roads brought these players together. Some, like Jake Beardsley, exploded onto the scene, making the Top 8—then winning—at a Pro Tour. Others never broke through or played a high-stakes, feature match on camera, but they performed strongly across tournaments.
What about those who aren't Pro Tour standouts? Regional Championships launched this year, and for some World Championship competitors that was their ticket. Those events bring the best players from regions across the world together.
Maybe shuffling physical cards isn't your thing? Multiple online paths produced qualified players, and we've seen the online-to-tabletop pipeline turn out some of our game's greatest players, including Reid "reiderrabbit" Duke, the Hall of Famer who added a Pro Tour trophy this year.
One thing is certain: every player competing at next month's event will have gotten there in their own unique way along one of these many paths.
- Top 8 (or 36+ match points) at one of the three Pro Tours in 2023
- Top finishers at one of the three Arena Championships in 2023
- Top finishers at one of the three Magic Online Champions Showcase in 2023
- Top finishers in Adjusted Match Points across Pro Tours in 2023
- Top finishers from Regional Championships
- Top 4 finishers from Magic World Championship XXVIII
Tally all those up, and you get a dozen different paths, any one of which might provide us with the next Magic World Champion.
So, before we dial into the stories of so many incredible individuals and their paths, I think the details, challenges, and achievements mean more when we take a step back and realize just how big this thing is.
The World Championship isn't just another Magic tournament, or even just another Pro Tour. It's all of this thing affectionately referred to as the grind but perhaps more accurately described as "loving the hell out of every minute chasing, and eventually living, the Pro Tour with friends." It's that thing we follow to late-night testing sessions and early-morning PTQ carpools, which sometimes takes you from your friendly local gaming store to a high-takes Pro Tour across the world. It's the same dream repeated dozens of times over, different in every detail but universal all the same, brought together for one celebration of the game—and the con next door doesn't hurt, either.
Digging into the Details
Like the World Championship players who are studying Wilds of Eldraine and prepping for Vegas, I'm learning as much as I can about the diverse list of competitors.
The beauty of this event is that it brings together some of the biggest names in the game's history—we've got Hall of Fame legends like Kai Budde, Reid Duke, Gabriel Nassif, Willy Edel, Seth Manfield, and Shota Yasooka among others representing the most well-known qualifiers—with some of the game's rising stars and best regional players.
Looking at the online side of things, the story that immediately jumps out to me is that Ondřej Stráský pops up among the digital qualifiers. If you missed it, Stráský was a key part of the famed "Czech house" that spent several years dominating online events and breaking formats along the way. If his appearance at the World Championship means anything—and it does—we haven't heard the last of the Czech House.
The Regional Championship qualifier list has a few surprises for us. Thoralf Severin won a Pro Tour in 2019 with Modern Tron, but it was his performance at the Regional Championship level this year that earned him a spot. Another name players will recognize from the online event days is Rei Sato, who enjoyed a very successful multiyear run and has now found his way back to the top of the game.
All of this is only scratching the surface of what's to come in Las Vegas. It's going to be a melting pot of the top players in our game over the past year, but when Round 1 begins, everyone will have the same record, regardless of their accolades beforehand.
Every tournament is a story unto itself, and I can't wait to see what tale Magic World Championship XXIX tells.