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The Week That Was: Champions Return to the Pro Tour

December 16, 2022
Corbin Hosler

Matias Leveratto knows about pressure.

All about it, in fact. He's been there. Under the brightest lights in the biggest Magic tournament of his life, Leveratto performed. He famously beat Brad Nelson in the finals of a Mythic Championship in 2019, capping a near-miraculous return to high-level play. To win that tournament (and subsequently qualify for the Rivals League, something he considers one of his greatest Magic accomplishments), Leveratto faced down the odds again and again on his way to victory. It was one of the most enjoyable success stories of the Arena era to follow, and demonstrated that the dream was still alive for someone to come back to the game after years away and rise all the way to the top of the Mythic Championship.

So it won't surprise you to find out that Leveratto defied the odds again in his return to the Pro Tour in 2022. After all—here at The Week That Was you're used to hearing stories of players overcoming long odds to make Pro Tour dreams come true.

But even grading on that curve, this particular Leveratto story jumped out to me, for degree of difficulty if nothing else.

"When the return of physical tournaments and the Pro Tour were finally announced, I knew that my goal was to qualify again," he began.

So far, so good.

"Unfortunately, the qualifying season for the Regional Championship took place at the time that I had gone to live three months abroad," he continued.

Uh-oh. That doesn't sound great.

"But I was lucky enough to at least have one chance—I was returning one day before the last weekend of Regional Championship Qualifiers."

A "quick" plane ride across the globe brought Leveratto home in the nick of time, and jet lag fighting for space with sideboard guides in the champion's brain, he was at the table, finally. A deck and a chair.

"In the end I managed to qualify by winning a Modern RCQ playing Living End," Leveratto finished.

That's Magic under pressure. And it's what brought Leveratto back to the Pro Tour after his recent Top 4 finish at the South America Magic Series Regional Championship (ultimately won by Alejandro Sepulveda).

Next up is the Pro Tour at MagicCon: Philadelphia. For Leveratto, it's a tournament three years in the making.

"This comes after having managed to establish myself in the professional circuit and qualify for the Rivals League, and I was very excited to travel around the world—one of the things I like the most—and compete together with my friends Sebastian Pozzo and Luis Salvatto. 2020 was going to be a great year, it started with the Worlds Championship in Hawaii and I was already planning the rest of the year. Covid arrived and ruined all I had in mind. All the tournaments became online and the possibility of traveling the and sharing experiences with many players from all over the world was put on hold."

Now Leveratto is back. He's one of dozens of players across the world who have qualified for the first Pro Tour of 2023 with their performances in Regional Championships. The past five weeks have been a wild sprint through the Pioneer format as players punch their ticket back to the PT while at the same time pushing Pioneer forward with successive high-quality events.

The stakes are meaningful, and players have responded in kind. We've seen the return of "Pro Tour" houses and teams have formed across the world to dissect the previous weekend's results and put in the work to prepare for a field trying to one-up last week's Top 8. As Leveratto put it, the Regional Championships are a perfect glimpse into what the Pro Tour will look like.

"The Regional Championship in Chile was a mini-preview of what the Pro Tour could be, since I traveled to compete with several of my friends from Argentina," he explained. "I've been playing Rakdos Sac in Pioneer for months now and it's the deck I used to win the Mana Traders' tournament in October, so I felt pretty confident. In any case, I knew that it was going to be very difficult because it was going to be a very big tournament and that it only distributed four places for the Pro Tour. But despite the difficulties that we always have in Latin America to compete in the professional circuit, do not give up. Far from discouraging me, that motivated me to try to classify and be able to LATAM at the top and show that due to the level of play we deserve more opportunities.

"Now that I have qualified for the Pro Tour, my objective is going to be to prepare myself like never before to try to reach the top."

We'll see Leveratto again in Philly after his epic Rakdos run. And with thousands of players across the world keeping a keen eye out to take in the results, the South America Regional Championship set the stage for what was to come half a world away a week later.

Meanwhile, In The Other Hemisphere...

Joseph Karani was one of those players anxiously awaiting the latest tournament decklists. (I suggest Frank Karsten's column for that.) Karani is the rare player who gains more from theory-crafting and analyzing formats than he does slamming hundreds of practice games, and the numbers coming out of South America only furthered what he had come to believe after watching Regional Championship results roll in from North America, Europe, and Asia in the preceding weeks: Rakdos Midrange was the deck to play.

"There's no amount of testing one person can do to get a full understanding of a format the way you can with following the results over the course of hundreds or thousands of games," he explained. "Too many players will focus on hard testing. What I want to do is the mental reps of the matchups with a look at the data.

"Before this tournament, I watched all the Regional Championship coverage I could find. I watched the games and studied them and digested the data. The way I approach Magic, I don't have time to test all the time, so in the week leading up to the tournament I looked at all the data and locked in the deck and just wanted to tune it. At that point me and other Winnipeg locals played a ton over the week, making sideboard guides and a plan for every matchup. It was tiring, and I would say it was 90% theory and 10% testing, but it was worth it in the end."

I'd say so. Not only did Karani's team put four members into the Top 16—the Winnipeg Magic community will be well-represented in Philadelphia—but Karani himself turned in an undefeated Day 2 performance, a spectacular Top 8 run and a victory at the F2F Tour Championship that doubled as the West Canada Regional Championship.

Karani—who burst onto the Magic scene in 2019 with a win at Grand Prix Indianapolis alongside teammates Mohamad Qadi and Kevin Brown and added a Top 8 at a Face To Face Open that year—can't wait to get back to the Pro Tour.

"I had taken a step back; online play didn't really interest me the same way playing in person does, so I was really excited when the Face 2 Face Tour was announce again and the Pro Tour came back. I thought it was time to saddle it up again and see if I could run it back and maybe play on the Pro Tour again.

"Then this happened. Looking at 2023, I'm going to every Pro Tour I can. Plus I have a World Championship invite, which is still unreal at this point to even think about. That was never on my goal radar; I don't know how to even process that yet."

Karani plans on putting a ton of work into Magic over the next year (plus a recent appearance on the First Strike podcast) and he can't wait to keep going.

"It's going to be a lot more work, but I welcome it and I'm excited to do it again," he said. "I get to do it with a very strong Winnipeg community supporting me. I'm a very emotional guy, and I was crying and hugging my boys when I won. We have a very strong community of Winnipeggers—we aren't a big city and we have brutal winters so you may as well play some cardboard with your friends, you know?"

Don't worry, Joseph. Philadelphia gets plenty cold, too. We'll see you there.

Looking Ahead

I keep saying it, but it really is a booming period for high-level Magic. To wit, Eternal Weekend in North America just went off without a hitch and featured some of the most iconic Magic gameplay we can hope to see (and yes, a lot of taking the initiative as well), and it generated a ton of great stories in itself, plus some very worthy winners who took home some very cool prizes!

Next up on the path the Pro Tour is the Mexico/Central America/Caribbean Regional Championship taking place this weekend in Mexico City. With that, we'll be off into 2023 and turn our eyes to the Pro Tour that's just two short months away—February 17–19, 2023!

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