The phone buzzed and Ben Broadstone picked it up, quietly thankful for the distraction as the Magic at Arena Championship 3 wasn't over yet.
It was his friend Miles on the other line, and he was frantic.
"Hey! So I've been watching the broadcast and looking at the tiebreakers and the math and I think it will be a clean cut... if you win your next match you'll be in the Top 8!"
So, no pressure then.
It's the kind of thing heard time and again before they play a win-and-in for a major Top 8, and it always elicits a groan from someone watching as a friend or teammate inevitably ups the stakes by raising the tantalizing possibility of the Top 8—something that many players strenuously attempt to avoid for fear of clouding their game in the moment.
I love it; I understand the benefit of the mentality of not looking too far ahead, but it's a friendly lie—everyone in the tournament has thought about what their path to the Top 8 might look like and you may as well embrace it. When someone is nervous about playing on camera, my go-to is simple and effective (every second counts on broadcast). I understand, but if you want to win the tournament you're going to have to pull the Band-Aid off at some point, so you may as well get it out of the way.
It's like casting a spell into two blue mana in Modern. You just have to at some point.
So if there was any doubt in the Seattle native's mind about the significance of the moment, it was gone the moment Broadstone picked up that phone. Miles' call had left no doubt that it was all on the line. But there's one thing Miles didn't know: the broadcast was roughly an hour behind the real tournament play (allowing the stream to feature far more gameplay than otherwise possible).
Broadstone had already won his match, and the call came as confirmation of what he had suspected but hardly dared to believe: he was headed for the Top 8 of Arena Championship 3.
"I started screaming at him on the phone that I had won," Broadstone laughed as he recalled the moment all the Magic behind his computer screen became very, very real. "I came into Day Two at 3-3, and I didn't even know if winning out would make the Top 8 so it was a shock. My mentality going into the day was to just focus on each match because you're still playing for a lot of money no matter what. But I won my matches and things kept breaking my way. It was just unreal."
Not bad for a kid who dreamt his first Pro Tour dreams before high school.
"I never expected it to go like this," he reflected. "I first picked up Magic in eighth grade and started playing at Card Kingdom in Seattle. It jumpstarted me, and before long I was traveling to Vancouver for tournaments. I started playing on the Grand Prix circuit in 10th grade, and I loved it. I was playing every weekend. For Christmas I would ask my parents for trips to Magic tournaments."
It was a good run. Broadstone participated in tournaments ranging from Canada to the United States to Europe, while he put up some solid results (a few Grand Prix Top 32s, some Pro Tour Qualifier Top 4s) he enjoyed the ride almost as much as the Magic.
Fast forward to life after college, and MTG Arena brought Magic creeping back into Broadstone's life. He's a fan of Legacy and Modern formats in tabletop, but the digital game made drafting very accessible and soon the 25-year-old was rising through the ranks and learning the ropes of a new competitive system.
"I try to play every weekend MTG Arena event there is," he explained. "I've had some close calls on Day 2s before, and then I finally did well enough in one of the qualifiers to receive a bid to the Arena Championship.
"I was nervous going in; most of my circle of competitive Magic players weren't active. I was especially worried about draft since I'm more of a Constructed guy, so I watched a lot of NumotTheNummy on Twitch and leaned on his guidance. For Standard, I wasn't sure exactly where to start but I knew that someone would bring a deck that was prepared to beat Rakdos, so I started playing against anything that was at least 5% of the field to get a feel for things. I found out nothing beats Rakdos, and I thought that
Want to get the most out of this weekend's live #AC3 coverage? Check out the metagame breakdown for some surprises aiming to unseat Rakdos!— MTG Arena (@MTG_Arena) May 26, 2023
🐉 Read here: https://t.co/L2OKE1AL2v pic.twitter.com/BFeCXulUkV
A perfect Day Two run was evidence Broadstone made the right call. And if the Top 8 came as a shock, the run he put together through a diverse Top 8 was nothing short of heartstopping.
Ondřej Stráský headlined the group, another notch in his reluctant belt. Stráský has been behind some of the best Standard innovations of the MTG Arena era, and the running joke (or is it?) about his impending retirement adds another wrinkle as he emerges from the Czech House to not just add another Top Finish but qualify for the World Championship as well, which he did by winning his quarterfinal and semifinal matches to advance to the finals of the Arena Championship.
There he met Broadstone, whose path was as tough as it gets: he had to brave three grueling games against a member of Team Handshake—the best team in the world—in Austin Bursavich before taking on the Selesnya Enchantments concept that had taken much of the field by surprise. Some tight play on his part paved the path to the finals and the World Championship invite that came with it.
Congrats to Benjamin Broadstone! Our first finalist for #MTGArena Championship 3! Check out this interview following the match that helped him qualify for the World Championship! #AC3 pic.twitter.com/Lf7lSr19no— MTG Arena (@MTG_Arena) May 28, 2023
"Playing throughout the Top 8 I really felt no pressure at all, I was blessed to be where I was," Broadstone explained. "It was just my day and all the breaks went my way. One opponent made a blunder with their spell. My semifinals opponents got stuck on one land. When I cast a Chandra in the last match, I was 99% sure he had a counterspell, but I had to cast it. When I did and he conceded, I was in shock."
"I've never even gone to the Pro Tour. Now I'm going straight to the World Championship. I have to thank Miles, he was who I shared all of my excitement with during the tournament. I have no idea what Wolrds will be like at all, but I'm excited. I can't lose from the spot I'm in at this point."
Broadstone's story is similar to the many Regional Championship competitors gearing up for competition this weekend. The return of the Pro Tour along with the rise of parallel high-level digital play has given players more opportunities to compete than we've seen in a very long time, and like many Broadstone is making use of all the avenues available to him (his vanquished quarterfinals opponent Bursavich is another prolific cross-platform gamer).
That brings us to the super weekend of Regional Championships at hand. Frank has it covered in full detail in this week's Metagame Mentor, but suffice to say it's going to be the busiest weekend of global Magic we've seen in a very long time, at least since some of the Grand Prix megaweekends of the late 2010s (I seem to remember one ridiculous run where we coordinated broadcasts across three continents). With a dozen Regional Championships on tap between now and the first of July (with the Pro Tour in Barcelona following soon after), a refreshed Pioneer format will be put through its paces beginning with five key tournaments this weekend that will set the field for the events that follow.
It all begins this weekend with events in the U.S., Mexico/Central America/Caribbean, South East Asia, China, and East Canada. The U.S. Regional Championship will be streamed live on the DreamHackMagic channel and will look to answer a key early question: will the new boogeyman Boros Convoke live up to the hype, or will the format be ready for the newcomer?
I'll be in Dallas at Dreamhack for the U.S. Regional Championship, providing updates on both official channels and my personal Twitter. After taking a break from Standard (and March of the Machine drafts, let's be honest), to read Frank's column and catch up on Pioneer, I'm extremely excited to see where things go with tournaments all over the globe this weekend.