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The Week That Was: Beyond the Pro Tour Trophy

March 03, 2023
Corbin Hosler

We're back.

It's been said before, but I'm famous for waiting until things are Very Official before fully committing. But with the heroic conclusion of Pro Tour Phyrexia firmly in the books—and champ Reid Duke's career coming full circle—it's well and fully true: the Pro Tour (and everything the Pro Tour brings with it) is back.

Over the last month or so, we've been focused this first Pro Tour, and the Pioneer format didn't disappoint. From Pro Tour testing houses to cameras and card spotters and spectators by the hundreds, it was the authentic feel of a classic Pro Tour.

But today we're going to focus on something different: the "everything the Pro Tour brings with it" part of things. For starters, that means breakthrough players are experiencing not nostalgia but awe at the Pro Tour, and the path the brought them there—and is about to bring hundreds more across the globe to Pro Tour March of the Machine in Minneapolis in May.

Pro Tour Phyrexia champion Duke had plenty of past Pro Tours to compare to. And given his inspiring comeback victory from down 0-2 in games to reigning world champ Nathan Steuer, it's easy to view Pro Tour Phyrexia from that lens; the rightful return to the top for one of the game's stalwarts demonstrating he's not going anywhere among a youth movement in the game's top ranks.

But that's only one story. And as Duke put it, if finalist Benton Madsen had drawn Gladecover Scout in his opening hand in every game of the finals, we might very well be filling the headlines with a different one over the past week. On one level, that's the humbleness Duke is known for (he did finish the Top 8 on a 9-1 streak, for the record). But on another, it's a very simple point Duke is familiar with after a finals run at the 2013 World Championship with a Selesnya Auras deck of his own ended in disappointment: narratives are sometimes built on the backs of Slippery Bogles.

Slippery Bogle Gladecover Scout

So as we contextualize the moments and celebration that was Pro Tour Phyrexia at MagicCon: Philadelphia, I want to make sure we don't miss these stories. Pro Tour trophies are the goal, and everyone's journey starts somewhere.

Benton Madsen

It would be a shame to not give Madsen some spotlight. The Pro Tour is nothing if not unique, and at its base level it often feels like a traveling show and a rotating cast of similar charactersappearing city to city. And as anyone who followed the Manhattan native's burgeoning career and his undefeated Friday run at Pro Tour Phyrexia on his way to the Top 8, Madsen is a character you don't forget.

An easy talker and slightly self-deprecating, his immediate response to putting the finishing touches on an 8-0 start was to point out that he could easily go 0-8 the next day; a reminder to himself as much as anyone that the ride could end at any time. He keeps himself (and the rest of us) on their toes and, as he put it, he likes pushing through that discomfort.

That's what's behind the drive of the other Pro Tour Phyrexia finalist, who first qualified via MTG Arena and was on the run of a lifetime in his first Pro Tour. He also didn't turn around and go 0-8 on Day Two; Madsen put together a strong stretch run in the pressure-packed final rounds followed by a dominant run through the Top 4. He dispatched Hall of Famer Gabriel Nassif and then Takumi Matsuura while dropping just one game, narrating his own underdog tale all along the way. With no expectations comes no pressure, and Madsen's infectious energy combined with his unconventional Pioneer deck choice made his Pro Tour Phyrexia run one to remember.

That thrill was shared by the other member of the Top 4, the one that Reid Duke went through on his way to the title.

Derrick Davis

Like Madsen, Derrick Davis was playing in his first Pro Tour. It's the natural next step for a rising player fresh off a Top appearance at the Regional Championship in Atlanta last year, and like Madsen he's way ahead of schedule by converting that opportunity into a Pro Tour Top 8.

But this story doesn't end there. In fact it's one likely to make waves again as we move to the next phase of the season, and it's the stuff friends cook up in between games of Magic at their local gaming store: Madsen and Davis tested together for the Pro Tour. Not only were they on the ride of their lives, they were on it together. Next up? The World Championship looms.

The Pro Tour Phyrexia Top 8 showcased a potential the blueprint of high-level events to come this year: Four Top 8 regulars and World Champion (Philadelphia had three Hall of Famers in Duke, Nassif and Shota Yasooka, plus current World Champion Steuer) mixed in alongside newcomers making their Pro Tour breakthrough (Madsen, Davis, Matsuura, and Chris Ferber). The Pro Tour is not just in good hands moving forward, but we get to watch legendary players we know square off against the next decade of rising competitors.

More importantly, the way the Pro Tour shook out showed just how possible the path to Pro Tour champion is in the revamped season. Local qualifiers lead to Regional Championship invitations, where a high-level performance can qualify you for the Pro Tour, just as it did Madsen and Davis.

And that brings us to the rest of the "everything else the Pro Tour brings with it." Because the reality is that the Pro Tour is more than just that traveling roadshow that pops up across the world a few times a year—it's an entire ecosystem that must offer players a path to facing off against Reid Duke in the finals themselves. A key component of that is the Regional Championship circuit, and the Pro Tour showed why. Davis, Ferber and Matsuura all earned their invitations from RCs and then found themselves playing on the Sunday Pro Tour stage.

As Frank covered recently, the second cycle of Regional Championships are upon us. Being honest, we know that the Reid Dukes of the world are going to be in contention in the waning rounds of the Pro Tour. But for us in the coverage world, the goal is to know as much about the Round 15 opponent in their second or third Pro Tour as we do Duke. That's not always possible but it happens more than you think, and the reason is that chronicling the Pro Tour is a gig that began long before decklists are due by starting down to the local Regional Championship Qualifiers—at least that's my goal.

Matsuura, Ferber and Davis may not have won their Regional Championships, but they didn't come out of nowhere either. Davis recently competed in the NRG Series end-of-year Invitational, for instance.

I say all of this to underscore the importance of the events on our doorstep. The Pro Tour will be back in May, but the two months until then will determine who is the face of the Pro Tour for the year to come. There are 12 Regional Championships spread out over the next six weekends, and the Standard format is going to be put through its paces with the addition of Phyrexia: All Will Be One in that time.

The schedule of action kicks off with a trio of events in Japan/South Korea, Australia/New Zealand, and South East Asia, and will run through the beginning of April with South America and then the United States wrapping up this set of events.

That will seed the Pro Tour field, and we'll have a new set of stories joining Duke, Davis, Madsen and the rest at the show. What I love about covering a game with a rich 30-year history of competitive play—and the return to the Pro Tour mold—is how much you learn moving forward by looking back. Who's The Beatdown is as relevant today as it ever was, and the next wave of great Pro Tour Magic players are showing up right there next to Reid Duke.

2023 is looking to stay a busy year for competitive Magic, starting with the Regional Championships this weekend. I can't wait to see what comes next.

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