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The Week That Was: Rising to the Top

January 19, 2024
Corbin Hosler

When Daniel Weiser decided to make the trip out to a local store for his first Regional Championship Qualifier, he didn't see it as anything more than an opportunity to hang out with friends. That's what Magic tournaments have always been, first and foremost for the Minneapolis native ever since he picked up the game many years ago. It was an attitude that served him well over the years. It kept him calm and centered, and a reminder to treat Magic for the gathering it always is and not simply a tournament grind.

It was a mindset that also had helped to keep things in perspective as he climbed the ranks of competitive Magic, one rung at a time. By the time Weiser made the Top 8 of his hometown Grand Prix in August of 2017 and qualified for the Pro Tour, he was a veteran of all that the path to the Pro Tour had to offer. The path that began as a way to spend a Saturday playing Magic with friends took him to places he hadn't thought possible, and the experience was one that Weiser never forgot.

So, when Weiser heard that the Pro Tour was back last year, so was he. The laid-back, talented player rededicated his efforts and began to play more in-person events. He qualified for the Regional Championship at Dreamhack in Atlanta last month, hoping it would be a stepping stone on a path back to the Pro Tour via the Top 32 earned invitations, or at the least the perfect opportunity to catch up with Magic friends across the country he hadn't seen in years.

He wasn't prepared for what came next. The Regional Championship is more than just a required path to tread on the way to the PT—it isn't a PTQ or Grand Prix of old. There are only a handful of Regional Championships per cycle; and unlike previous tournaments, the Regional Championship circuit awards seats directly to the World Championship, a benefit that no other similar tournament comes with.

(For more information, Frank Karsten's overview of the ways to qualify for the next Regional Championship or Pro Tour this year has you covered.).

The response has been enthusiastic. There were more than 1,300 players who turned out in Atlanta—making it perhaps the largest invite-only Magic tournament ever held—and Weiser was enjoying his time back in the tournament trenches and time catching up with old friends in between rounds. But as the tournament went on, Weiser started looking less like a hobbyist out to catch up with friends and more like the two-time Grand Prix Top 8 competitor who was a master of the blue-white archetype he registered for the Regional Championship.

And when he eventually won it all, Weiser learned exactly what it means to be a Regional Champion: he has one of the first seats secured for the Magic World Championship.

"I've had success and won smaller tournaments, but I've never won any event like this over 1,000 people before," he reflected in the days following his dominant run. "I'll never forget the moment after winning my quarterfinals match for the Pro Tour invite, when I turned around to see so many friends cheering and giving me hugs."

Weiser's triumphant return is one of the success stories coming out of the last round of Regional Championships, which chained a 12-week span that featured 11 different Pioneer decks taking down events. And his story is one that players are looking toward today as they balance multiple Magic formats on the quest to join Weiser at the World Championship.

Back in November and December, I talked about how we were in a busy stretch of Magic. And we were—the release of a new set and a to-be-banned card in Geological Appraiser made it one of the most unpredictable three months in Pioneer's brief history. Things have calmed down since, but as we begin to look toward Pro Tour Murders at Karlov Manor Feb. 23-25 at MagicCon: Chicago, I want to recognize that for thousands of players across the world there's a lot more happening on their personal path to the Pro Tour than just Pioneer and Limited preparation.

While my attention has been on the Pioneer developments and the upcoming Pro Tour, there's a lot going on between those two events. For starters, the Regional Championship Qualifier cycle has seen players devoting their attention to Standard in recent weeks as they play to qualify for a future Regional Championship later this year. And there's the current Regional Championship cycle, which kicks off this month and features Modern gameplay across the world.

But there's a key difference between this Modern season of Regional Championships and the Pioneer season that preceded it. Whereas Pioneer stretched out across 12 weeks—giving players in each event ample time to dissect the previous results to devise their counterstrategy—the Modern Regional Championships that open in Brazil and Europe kickstart a span where the Regional Championships will come in about half of that. For a Modern format that's already considered in flux thanks to the banning of Fury, it's going to be a frenzy that I personally could not more excited to watch. And in the middle of it we get the Pro Tour!

You can find tournament success in Magic by specializing in a given format, but more and more high-level Magic tournament circuits are finding ways to reward players who can master multiple challenges like Stephen Dykman, the winner of the NRG Championship, who had to play Modern, Pioneer and Standard all in the same weekend to earn the title and the Pro Tour invite that came with it.

That level of mastery is a challenge that players gravitate toward.

"I've always thought it takes three strong formats to sustain a tournament series," explained NRG founder Norman Cohen. "So, it's very important to have that and for us to feature Standard when we can."

For the Magic competitor looking to become the next world champion, it's a tall task to master the circuit behind the Pro Tour circuit. But for the thousands of players like Weiser who are looking to fill their weekends with meaningful Magic with friends, there's no need to worry about all of that—there's just figuring out the carpool to the next RCQ at the store. It's a system designed to make the Pro Tour and even World Championship dream accessible to the most people in this global game, and 2023 brought us examples in spades.

That's what I'm reminded of as I look at the work Regional Championship regulars are putting in. They may be gathering up cards for the upcoming Standard qualifier while testing for the Modern Regional Championship coming up. And if they're qualified for Pro Tour Murders at Karlov Manor, they're looking at Pioneer and draft prep as well.

The destination is real, and the dream attainable. Look at Anthony Lee—he didn't just put up a strong start, but a complete Top 8 run at the World Championship.

Anthony Lee turned a Regional Championship invite into a Top 8 World Championship appearance.

Looking Ahead

As far as the Pro Tour itself, we're in the calm before the storm. With the event a little over a month away, testing teams are anxiously pouring over the Murders at Karlov Manor Card Image Gallery and will soon begin busting packs and devising pick orders.

Pro Tour Murders at Karlov Manor kicks off Feb. 23.

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