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The Week That Was: Fortune Favors the Old

March 17, 2023
Corbin Hosler

Welcome back to the Week That Was, and welcome to the middle of a spirited Standard sprint through a dozen Regional Championships across the globe. Last week we checked in on Zen Takahashi winning the Australia/New Zealand Regional Championship, while Rei Sato took down the event in Japan and John Daroen won the Southeast Asia tournament.

Takahashi's run to the title was everything we've come to look for in these Regional Championships: a longtime Magic player coming back to the competitive scene with the return of tabletop events and finding their way back to the Pro Tour. With Pro Tour Phyrexia fading and Pro Tour March of the Machine at MagicCon: Minneapolis in May coming into focus (along with the scope of the tremendous team-ups coming in March of the Machine) I must admit: I'm extremely excited for the next few Magic sets as we resolve the Phyrexian invasion storyline and then head into Middle-earth, a favorite of mine!

But the story of this Regional Championship season began to unfold with that trio of events.

We thought we knew what that story would look like: which players were able to navigate the sure-to-be-tricky waters of midrange mirrors all weekend long? Then Rei Sato sat that narrative alight with his surprise victory at the Japanese Championship nearly 200 competitors strong piloting Selesnya Toxic, a build consisting of no nonland cards that didn't come from Phyrexia: All Will Be One. Suddenly, a "solved" Standard format was anything but, and with that the Regional Championship season was off and running with some intrigue.

It's pretty nice when a plan comes together.


I could of course be talking about the Standard environment designed by the R&D team inside Wizards of the Coast; they work on sets and formats years in advance and their almost-always thankless work sets the stage many months later for a deck like Rei Sato's to come along and pay off their endeavors. But in this case I want to give some insight into the "coverage world" view and the way things typically play out for viewers of these Regional Championships across the world over this six-week sprint: you need a good villain, and few are better villains than Sheoldred, the Apocalypse—and by extension the Grixis Midrange deck that has been looming over the format ever since Nathan Steuer used it to win Magic World Championship XXVIII six months ago.

And then as the events played out across the weekend in tournament halls across longitudes, the "villain" of the format—the deck everyone knows they're going to have to beat to win it all—was met by a worthy if ironic challenger: the Phyrexian Toxic deck, a welcomed addition of aggro. Two top players with a resume of success winning opposing tournaments and leaving questions wide, wide open: where would things go from here, and who would adapt best to the unexpected developments?

You can't draw it up much better than that—and that catches you up on everything you need to know to understand the stakes when things only sped up this week, with four events happening from South America to Europe to Asia to North America. Not since the height of the Grand Prix circuit have we seen a tournament crunch that makes week-to-week adjustments so important, but it's fascinating to follow.

And it comes then as no surprise that the Legacy European Championship in Naples, Italy featured a monster Top 8 headlined by Hall of Famers and PT winners—but what may have come as a surprise to some was that the stacked Top 8 was then taken down by a relative newcomer who honed his deck playing MTG Arena. It's another perfect intersection of historical greats and upcoming talent; Like I said, it's nice when a plan comes together.

As Frank Karsten predicted in his weekly Metagame Mentor column, players adjusted to the explosive starts made possible by the Toxic deck, and at least in Europe the week two story was the "Revenge of Grixis Midrange." It occupied most of the top tables in Naples and emerged victorious in the hands of Michael Rohrböck after he narrowly defeated former champion Thoralf Severin's innovative Esper Legends list (more on this later), in a Top 8 that also included Gabriel Nassif, Andrea Mengucci and Nico Bohny. You'll want to check out Frank's article for the finer details of what carried Rohrböck's build to the top, but suffice to say the Austria native who has made runs at Austrian Nationals in the past found the best adjustments to punch his ticket to the next Pro Tour as well as the World Championship later this year.

"Gix's Command got me to 9-0 on the first day by removing a lot of small creatures, but also the biggest," he explained of his success. While testing teams have largely embraced a return to traditions and large-scale testing houses prior to major events, Rohrböck's preparation came the way so many top players do these days: he perfected his list on the MTG Arena ladders. "I made Mythic once and had like a 75% winrate in the Best-of-One queue!"

However players chose to prepare, the stakes of these tournaments bring out the best. Mengucci is one of the more accomplished players of the last decade, but he's made a conscious choice to focus on streaming and content creation over the last few years. But there's one thing that never changes.

"I hadn't played a lot of Standard in over a year, so it was fun to discover it again—I prefer older formats but the pro dream makes me excited to play anything!" he said after his Top 8 run with his own Grixis Midrange crafted by a team led in part by former World Champ Javier Dominguez as well as Marcio Carvalho, Marco Del Pivo, Christian Calcano and Anthony Lee (Lee went on to make the Top 8 at his own Regional Championship in Australia). "We used Discord as our primary platform to organize and tested on Magic Online and Magic Arena. I'm super happy with this result. It not only qualifies me for the Pro Tour but also gives me some self-confidence about being able to compete in the newest formats. I'd love to do well at the Pro Tour and possibly try to qualify for Worlds. I'll be working with the team of Reid Duke's and I'm exciting to try my hardest alongside great players like Gabriel Nassif and Seth Manfield."

And he'll be competing alongside another familiar face.

Europe wasn't the only place the format's mainstay saw a comeback: Grixis also won the Regional Championship in Brazil thanks to Adriano Melo. At this point with two of two events going to fully over to the Grixis Midrange dark side, we were fully in Episode V territory here.

But this Standard season won't be figured out that easily—or at this rate figured out at all by the time Pro Tour March of the Machine comes along two months from now. William La Hay was victorious in the West Canada Championship with a mono-White Land Destruction (ish) deck that has to be seen to be believed, while Cheng Han Lin won the Regional Championship for Chinese Taipei with another unexpected challenger in Azorius Soldiers.

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The Phyrexian invasion opened things up to a degree no one expected, and we're all the better for watching this push-and-pull-and-blow-up-all-the-lands evolution of Standard that will come to a peak at the Pro Tour. And in attendance there will be one group of friends who did what every group has dreamed of on the long hours of drives, trains or planes on the way to Magic tournaments: they went to the Regional Championship together, and after a dominant weekend they're now headed to the Pro Tour together.

Severin is headed to the World Championship and the rest of the team to Minneapolis. It's so rare for a team to take a tournament by such storm, but this crew pulled it off down to the last teammate; it's pretty nice when the plan comes together.

Looking Ahead

After the last few years I don't know if I'll ever get tired of writing this: it's a busy time for competitive Magic. There's Regional Championships happening across the world—and the path there begins with a Regional Championship Qualifier near you. For the players who have qualified for the Pro Tour and the World Championship over the last two weeks across the first handful of Regional Championships, their focus now turns toward Pro Tour March of the Machine MagicCon: Minneapolis on May 5-7. For the rest of us, all eyes turn toward The Gathering Showdown Series, the Regional Championship for Mexico/Central America/Caribbean. It's a rare light weekend before a return to multiple events with tournaments in China and East Canada the weekend following.

Peeling back to consider this Regional Championship season in context, the Week 1 rise of Aggro (Selesnya Toxic) was met with a predictable backlash from the rest of the format, but even with Grixis running rampant we saw innovations from all angles breaking through. That bodes well for this weekend; the targets have shifted and deck builders will now have to prepare for a wider range of decks than I think anyone thought possible before the release of Phyrexia: All Will Be One.

As the Regional Championships build out the Pro Tour field, we'll continue to follow the stories of those taking the next steps on their path to the Pro Tour. And I didn't even get to the Arena Championship 2 happening this weekend!

Players will draft Phyrexia: All Will Be One and compete in Constructed rounds of Historic (I know I'll personally be rooting for anyone playing Merfolk in Historic!).

I also want to highlight a truly unique event happening this weekend in Dallas, Texas. The Hunter Burton Memorial Open combines a great cause with Regional Championship Qualifiers, plus some high-stakes tournaments in Modern, Pioneer, and Legacy, with proceeds helping to fund outreach and suicide awareness programs. It's a one-of-a-kind event that draws hundreds of players from across North America and will be a tune-up on the way to the United States' own Regional Championship next month.

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