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The Week That Was: Many Hands Make Qualifying Light Work

December 02, 2022
Corbin Hosler

I love the Pro Tour testing house.

That's perhaps a misnomer these days, as it's not just Pro Tours – starting with the Pro Tour at MagicCon: Philadelphia in just a few months – that draw up to a dozen competitors to share a rental for up to two weeks before a tournament with the sole intention of playing so much Magic that the result will be a material edge once play begins.

The history of high-level play owes a lot to these groups. Perhaps you can trace the origin of this all the way back to those early late '90s testing teams that were tearing up the scene at the time. But one is for certain: over the past decade of high-level Magic, these testing houses were the norm and result was teams emerging more prepared than anyone else in the room (or the world) for the Draft or Constructed format of choice.

Along the way, much Magic is played, and more made. The best stories to come from this tradition rarely had to do with exactly which card was higher in a draft order (though plenty of that was pretty important along the way, too).

With the return of the testing house for recent in-person events (Andrea Mengucci and Javier Dominguez organized a lively one for the Regional Championship in Bulgaria last weekend), it's been a fun throwback as a new generation of Pro Tour players navigate their path and veterans return to the PT. Across the world, teams of Magic players are coming together to do what they dreamed of since their first Friday Night Magic: break the format.

So with the global string of Regional Championships in full swing, I've been thinking about the success of these testing teams – and today I want to focus on the "team" part of that. It might be easy to assume that when we say "teams of up to a dozen players" that it means 12 players who will be competing in the Pro Tour or World Championship in question. But that's not always the case; being a good teammate often means contributing without competing. It's not unheard of for some teams to have designated, non-qualified members dedicated to things like format tracking, draft orders or even cooking for the house – format-breaking is hungry work.

This is even more magnified when it comes to the highest level of competition; namely, the World Championship. The event has always been more exclusive than even the Pro Tour and while the size of the field itself has fluctuated over the years, the small-field nature of things has meant that players work in smaller groups. Finding help from those outside the tournament can be hard to come by. All in all, it's a little more complicated than you might expect for even the best players in the world to prepare for a World Championship tournament that often tests skills across multiple formats.

That's where Anthony Lee comes in.

A Pro Tour competitor in his own right, Lee was battling for his breakthrough to the next level. Working with some of the best teams from across the world, the Australian native had experienced his share of success – two Grand Prix Top 8s speak to that – but he never found success rising to the level of the World Championship.

His friends and teammates did, though. So Lee did what good teammates do: he threw in for the cause, with his time, expertise and strengths as a format analyst. He watched along with the rest of the world as his teammates played under the brightest lights, anxious for the chance to earn his own way there one day. He was such a dedicated part of the team that in the one case he couldn't make it, his team made sure he was there anyway – a life-size cardboard cutout of Lee graced the halls that weekend.

Well, after the Regional Championship for Australia/New Zealand last weekend, Lee won't be watching from the sidelines any longer, in cardboard form or no – he'll be competing at the World Championship in 2023 following his Regional Championship victory.

"It's amazing to realize that I will get to play in a World Championship after helping competitors for the last five of them," Lee explained. "People were incredible supportive throughout the event, both on this side of the world and the rest as well, and I genuinely believe that meaningfully helped. Those are the people who make it worth coming all the way from Perth."

The format story from week one of the Regional Championship loop was that Mono-Green Devotion wasn't the boogeyman some had feared in Pioneer. The deck underperformed in the first set of events (see Frank's column for more) and the ANZ Magic Super Series Top 8 was more of the same – both of the deck's pilots were knocked out in the quarterfinals and the finals was a Rakdos Midrange mirror between Lee and former Grand Prix winner David Mines, whom Lee dispatched in two games to earn the title and invites to the first Pro Tour next year along with the 2023 World Championship.

"I was reasonably confident going into this event because of course being part of such a strong European testing team is undeniably a compelling advantage, but qualifying was far from a safe bet between both natural variance and that many Australian competitors have been reinvigorated by the return of competitive organized play that suits our region very well," Lee explained. "I was happy with how I played the games throughout the event and could feel how our preparation was getting me wins I wouldn't otherwise have gotten, which is one of the best things you can feel in an event. I had several very intense matches, whether because they involved sweating some critical draw steps or being very technically demanding, so the whole day was full of excitement."

A day of excitement, to put it lightly. Lee's friends and teammates who have been the beneficiaries of his generosity were ecstatic to watch him finally earn the landmark victory he's been working toward for years.

"Anthony's understanding of the game is very deep, and he's extremely good at figuring out how decks work and why," Dominguez gushed. "Anthony has been really helpful and supportive through all of my big Magic scores, and he has also been helping other friends out as well. I'm really excited for him, it is finally his time to play Worlds, and hopefully he takes it home!"

With his win, Lee has set himself up for a big 2023 with the World Championship tournament waiting for him at the end. But he's not making any concrete plans quite yet.

"I don't like to set specific goals and I very much believe in focusing on adapting as we see things unfold. So I'll try to keep doing what I've been doing for the last few years – making sure I contribute as much as I can to whatever testing groups I'm a part of, and whatever it brings me or my colleagues will be a gift," he explained. "So, basically, I have no idea what's next and I prefer it that way!"

While Lee may not want to know exactly what's coming next, the path to the Pro Tour and the World Championship rolls ever on. A handful of players added their names to the World Championship invite list last weekend, while dozens more qualified for the first Pro Tour of the year – and for many of them the first Pro Tour of their careers.

The Regional Championship in Japan/Korea was won by Rei Hirayama, who defeated Masamasa Kyogoku in another Rakdos mirror finals after a brilliant Top 8 that included Hall of Famers Shota Yasooka and Shuhei Nakamura. And it was Azorius Control that took Michael Martin Go to victory at the Regional Championship for Southeast Asia, adding another wrinkle to the settling Pioneer metagame. But In Canada, Christian Trudel showed that Nykthos is still a force, winning the tournament with the big-mana brew.

Coming on the heels of big events in the United States, Europe and Brazil two weeks ago, the Regional Championships are sorting out Pioneer while feeding the first Pro Tour and setting up the stories that we'll watch unfold all the way through the World Championship.

Hirayama was well-aware of the future available to him that had been made possible by the many greats who have come before him from Japan, and he took the time to honor one of this after his victory: the late Kazuyuki Takimura, who was also recognized with a special memorial at the event.

"The person I want to convey this victory to the most is Mr. Takimura," Hirayama said in part after his victory.

Looking Ahead

Two weeks of Regional Championships are in the books, and the players and stories that will come to define 2023 are writing their first chapters today.

There are four more rounds of events to come, with dates for China's postponed event pending.

As the corner turns on 2023, all eyes will be on the first tabletop top back, coming at MagicCon: Philadelphia. While the best from around the world will convene to determine a victor, players who didn't make the trip will be competing in Regional Championship qualifiers.

What does it mean to battle at a Regional Championship? This look back at the DreamHack Magic Showdown in Atlanta captured how important it is for players aiming for the Pro Tour and beyond.

The World Championship invite list is growing, and the Regional Championships keep delivering. It was a lot of fun watching Lee's run over the weekend, and I can't wait to see him and the rest of our winners at the Pro Tour next year!

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