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The Week That Was: See The World Playing The Game

March 24, 2023
Corbin Hosler

One of the old quips used to market the Pro Tour years ago was "Play the game, see the world." And while that was long out of marketing use before competitive Magic let it fade away, a week like the one I just had will remind you how true that old saying can still be.

That's the phrase that keeps echoing in my mind as I consider the whirlwind week and the feelings shared by the week's biggest winners. Traditionally, those words might mean to follow the Pro Tour stops over the world, visiting faraway countries and providing experiences otherwise inaccessible—and at its best that's exactly what the Pro Tour does. But it's also a reminder of just how truly global of a game Magic is. The list of countries competitors hail from is always dozens deep at the Pro Tour level, and the Regional Championship cycle we're storming through right now really drives the point home: the path to the Pro Tour comes in many different forms.

Follow me on a tour of the events of the last week in Magic. Every stop on this trip features a player somewhere along in their own journey to the Pro Tour—for some, their success is the culmination of years of hard work; for others it's the very start of their road. But they all share something in common: they just had a very good weekend of Magic, and there's more to come on the route to MagicCon: Minneapolis and Pro Tour March of the Machine.

Let's begin this excursion with The Gathering Showdown Series in Mexico City. It not only brought the best in the area together for a 60+-player high-stakes showdown with Pro Tour invites and even a World Championship spot on the line, but the winner would be crowned the Regional Champion. In a hectic weekend of high-level Magic, we can consider the Regional Championship the ground zero for today's trip.

Standard has been a quickly evolving format in this Regional Championship season now nearing the end of its first month, with Phyrexia: All Will Be One making a huge splash and shaking up a format previously dominated by Sheoldred, the Apocalypse. At least, that was the takeaway from the first round of Regional Championships as Rei Sato stole the headlines with a Selesnya Toxic list that came out like a well-Phyrexian-oiled machine en route to the title in Japan. But things shifted back toward the Grixis Midrange decks in the week following, setting the stage for Jesús Adán Calzada Tovar as he squared off with the rest of the highly regarded field at the Regional Championship.

Grixis was again the deck of choice for the field, but there was a new development to account for: Standard innovators compleating work on Reanimation concoctions to bring back Atraxa, Grand Unifier. Calzada Tovar showed off exactly how devastating a plan of attack it can be, curving discard-plus-value outlets like Liliana of the Veil, Bloodtithe Harvester, and Fable of the Mirror-Breaker into potent combo pieces with The Cruelty of Gix.

The win will send Calzada Tovar to the World Championship, and it came only after a grueling Top 8 in which he battled through not one, but two Grixis Midrange decks before meeting Cristian Zuniga and his Mono-White Midrange deck in the finals. The finish also qualifies Zuniga for the upcoming Pro Tour March of the Machine.

From one Regional Champion to another; the next stop on our global Pro Tour (tour) is Naples, Italy, where a week ago Michael Rohrböck tried his hand at tabletop Magic after a successful years-long run on MTG Arena and found it wasn't so different after all; he just keeps winning. It may be 6,500 miles between the two winners, but in six short weeks they'll come together in Minneapolis to share a draft table.

For Rohrböck, the victory in Naples was a stop along the three-week road trip he was on with Magic buddies (a Regional Championship trophy is a hell of a roadside souvenir!) and it's a whirlwind that the St. Pölten, Austria native is still adjusting to. He's gone from drafting with a small group of local friends to thinking about how he might prepare for the World Championship.

"I'm really looking forward to the Pro Tour and to Worlds," he said in the days following his victory. "I've always wanted to go to Las Vegas and now the Magic World Championship is offering me the opportunity to make that wish come true!"

Perhaps drawing inspiration from local drafter turned Pro Tour breakthrough Benton Madsen, Rohrböck is embracing his unlikely story: he considers himself just another Magic player who played in some Sealed Regional Championship Qualifiers because he liked the format, and now he'll be competing at the World Championship.

"The bottom line can only be one thing: a call to all Magic players out there to go to the big tournaments and try your luck," he explained emphatically. "Even as a casual player you can win something—if it's your moment and you have a great run, anything is possible. Preparation for Worlds will definitely be a challenge. In any case, I will probably be the big underdog, but maybe there will be another surprise!"

Let's jet back across the Atlantic and head to Dallas, Texas next, for the Hunter Burton Memorial Open. Every year the charity event brings in hundreds of players from across North America to compete in a high-stakes Modern tournament, and in 2023 there were Regional Championship invites attached to the weekend. It made for an amazing weekend of Magic I was thrilled to be a part of. If you're not familiar with the history of the event, I would highly recommend learning more about it. It's an unforgettable event and one of the most unique paths to the Pro Tour. And just like Rohrböck said, sometimes it's just your weekend. Just ask 10-year-old Colin, who made the Top 4 of the RCQ as his family made a group trip out of the charity weekend.

While I can't draw you a line on the map to the next tournament, Arena Championship 2 was another seismic event in the Magic ecosystem that crowned a winner last week. Hiroshi Onizuka outlasted 30 others online experts to win it all, showing mastery of the Historic format against a stacked field that included Innistrad Championship winner Yuuki Ichikawa, the aforementioned Pro Tour Phyrexia finalist Benton Madsen, Pro Tour champion Jan Merkel and former world champ Yuta Takahashi. That's an international list of competitors all checking in from their homes to connect through the game—and give us a preview of some of the world-class Magic to come at the World Championship later this year.

But no matter how many events we have, how many miles you could travel trying to keep up with everything from a big-picture standpoint, the path to the Pro Tour always comes back to this: it's an intensely personal journey that's still gripping no matter how many times I've seen it. As Onizuka put it after beating Ichikawa and Kethis combo mastermind Ondřej Stráský in his Top 8 run, qualifying for the World Championship was a dream. And I never get tired of watching dreams come true.

That's a heck of a lot of Magic in a single weekend—and this was supposed to be a "light" week with only one Regional Championship! It just goes to show how much Magic organized play has expanded over the preceding months, and how many opportunities there are for players to move from the Friday Night Magic tables or the draft queues of Magic Online to the Regional Championship path that leads to the Pro Tour.

Looking Ahead

The "light" week of Regional Championships is behind us, and things get busier than ever in the coming weeks. There's a lot of opportunities for fans of all formats, with a Modern NRG Series event in the United States while East Canada and China will hold Regional Championships in a Standard format that still defies definition—the emergence of the Reanimator decks could force the Midrange decks to swing in a direction that leaves them vulnerable to aggression. It's the perfect push-pull of an engaging format that offers players who are one step ahead of the field this week the opportunity to be the next to pursue their Pro Tour dreams.

This weekend's Regional Championships will be followed up with events in South America and the United States next month, which will give us the final field—not to mention a critical last look at the format under Atraxa's thumb—before we head into Pro Tour March of the Machine May 5-7.

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