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The Week That Was: Any Given Sunday Top 8

June 09, 2023
Corbin Hosler

Anyone can win.

That's the resounding message coming out of a super weekend of Regional Championships across the globe. To borrow maybe just a little bit of Rich Hagon's iconic bravado, it's about as big of a weekend on the competitive calendar as any other this year, and the five Regional Championships played qualified dozens of players for the Pro Tour and some for the World Championship following that. It was high-stakes, global Magic—and it's just the beginning of the cycle.

If you get as excited about metagame shares and unexpected breakouts and technology the way we do around here, this is a treasure trove. If you're a player looking for your next Pioneer deck, it's everything you could ask for. Heck, if you're a content creator looking for off-the-wall strategies that nevertheless found success, there's plenty. You can even sleeve up Tibalt's Trickery. There's weeks worth of decklists to pour over—and you can catch Frank Karsten's Metagame Mentor column to get started on thatand what we saw across the globe this weekend is going to define the weeks and events to come in the leadup to Pro Tour Lord of the Rings in July.

I'm getting a little ahead of myself. The Regional Championship cycle is what feeds the Pro Tour (in this case Pro Tour Lord of the Rings) and the Magic World Championship. There's a dozen such Championships in each of the cycles this year, and we just wrapped five events over a single weekend. Congrats to the five champions who earned a seat at Worlds later this year!

  • Bradley Schlesinger (United States)
  • Jianwei Liang (China)
  • Archi Peralta (Mexico, Central American and the Caribbean)
  • Théo Jacques-Griffin (East Canada)
  • Weng Heng Soh (South East Asia)

We had nearly 2,000 players play in the five Regional Championships last weekend, each with their own Top 8 cut. It's especially important coming in the first weekend of the cycle, as we've seen players behave very sensitively to the results from the previous weekend's Championships. Five tournaments is a lot to follow, but that's a massive data dump for players looking ahead to their own Regional Championships—which guarantees that the storylines we saw emerge this weekend are going to reverberate for months to come.

Let me try to put in context what it's like juggling so many tournaments as both a player and coverage reporter. Especially with the refreshed Pioneer format serving as the proving grounds for the tournaments, there was simply a lot to care about this weekend, no matter what your angle.

Interesting format? March of the Machine is just the latest set to shake up Pioneer, and it even put a crucial card into the winning player's list at the United States Regional Championship at Dreamhack Dallas. Rakdos Midrange was the most-played deck at the mammoth 1,150+ player event in Texas—but put zero copies into the Top 8. Mono-Green Devotion was resurgent, but Gruul Vehicles took down two Regional Championship titles on the weekend—and US Regional Champion Bradley Schlesinger may have helped rename the build to "Gruul Seekers" after the addition of Voldaren Thrillseeker proved key to his victory and joins the Reckless Stormseekers already in the deck. I was fortunate enough to watch a bunch of Brad's games in person this weekend, and it was genuinely impressive how the seemingly straightforward Gruul beatdown deck could adapt and roll with the many different twists Pioneer threw at it.

Spicy decks? I'll leave it to Frank to cover the full breadth, but if you're like me and root for the "other" category whenever you see a metagame breakdown then you like what you saw this weekend. Archfiend of the Dross? Really? Alongside Metamorphic Alteration, you betcha.

Metamorphic Alteration 602612

Diverse field? Sure, Rakdos Midrange and Mono-Green Devotion combined for just over 30% of the worldwide metagame last weekend, but neither was particularly dominant; four of the seven most popular decks failed to win half their matches. That's great news if you're looking to get an edge on the non-rotating format with your favorite deck.

Good stories? How about the player who braved a super typhoon on their flight into the country before rushing straight to the morning players meeting? How about Théo Jacques-Griffin, a 17-year-old upcomer from Montreal who picked up the game late last year but rose all the way to East Canadian Regional Champion after mastering his Azorius Spirits deck in the format. How about a community stalwart breaking from his usual judge role to go on the run of a lifetime?

How about big names? Logan Nettles was one of the Pro Tour regulars chasing an invite in the last few rounds (and with a clutch string of wins down the stretch secured his invite. Popular streamer AspiringSpike (Evart Moughon) delighted fans with his own deep tournament run, while the old-school Sol Malka was back and playing as steady as a rock on his way to a Pro Tour invite (with a black-red deck, of course).

How about newcomers? We had plenty of those—and that's what really made this weekend stand out to me. I've been a part of a lot of really cool, and really ambitious, Magic events. From coordinating a trio of near-simultaneous streams across three continents (while navigating Mexico City by myself in one of my first international assignments. A story for another time), to prepping and broadcasting a full-on Beta draft straight out of 1995, to beta-testing the Innistrad Mobile Escape Rooms of 2016.

But this weekend wasn't just a collection of decks, innovations and iterations. It wasn't a showcase of the best 50 players in the world who seemingly rise to the top of every Pro Tour and perfect the latest and greatest tech. It wasn't Top 8s dominated by some testing team that's lightyears ahead of everyone else.

Instead what we saw last weekend was reminiscent of some of the best years of Modern gameplay: Don't worry about the "best deck." Just worry about your deck.

On the 2023 Regional Championship Pioneer circuit, that recipe remained the same. The Top 8 finishers across regions weren't a rundown of the most accomplished players on the past five or 10 years, but rather players who put in the work to master their very own unique gameplans and sometimes very different challenges. Look, I've seen a note going around playgroups titled "a simple interaction every combo player should know against Mono-Green Devotion" and then it's six paragraphs of flowcharts just to master one turn against one deck.

That's a major appeal to eternal formats, and that depth only comes with experience. It's one of those level-up moments in Magic when you realize that the same matchup with the same decks and even the same hands can turn out very differently based on who is playing—and who they're playing against. In a large-field tournament and a varied format, it's practically impossible for players to jump in with a sideboard guide and be good to go. Maybe not great for the player jumping formats every week, but it was the perfect setup for the players who found success in the five Regional Championships.

Look at the five decks that won:

  • 2x Gruul Vehicles
  • Atarka Red
  • Azorius Spirits
  • Rakdos Sacrifice

Where are the Fable of the Mirror-Breakers? The Cavalier of Thorns and Karn, the Great Creator? Atarka Red is a throwback to an old Modern deck that I don't think anyone had on their radar entering last weekend but it was enough to carry Jianwei Lian to victory in China.

For this super weekend, it wasn't raw power that carried players to the Pro Tour—it was prowess. That's Magic at its best, and it was a blast to cover in person and follow and watch online.

Looking Ahead

The best part? We get to do it all again this weekend! Well, almost anyway—there's two Regional Championships this weekend rather than five—but with Europe/Middle East/Africa and Chinese Taipei competing this weekend it's going to be another huge influx of Pioneer innovation.

After a disappointing opening weekend, will Rakdos still reign supreme? Will we see the new Rona, Herald of Invasion deck combo out on camera? Lotus Field decks had a strong weekend all things considered, are they poised to take up the mantle at the top? It's not very often we see such a lackluster performance across multiple events for the top decks, which means there's still a long way to go before players figure out this Pioneer field. That makes for some terrific viewing, which you can do this weekend on the LegacyEuropeanTour channel, with commentary by Filipa Carola, Matej Zatlkaj, Filip "Skura" Skórnicki, and Will Hall.

Things slow down just a bit after that as we wind down the Regional Championship schedule. Pro Tour Lord of the Rings at MagicCon: Barcelona is now less than two months away and if the action coming out of the first RC weekend is any indication, it's going to be a sweltering summer.

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