They tell me my mandate with this column is to catch everyone up on what's going on (this week) in Magic. Easy, right? I'll let you in on a little secret: it usually is because I'm well and truly committed to this game. It feels like there's no lack of stories to tell, and we often toss around more than a few ideas before we settle on a topic for the week.
I would say it's somewhat rare for me to be at a loss of how to tell the story I want to tell, but this is one of those weeks. Because when it comes to the field battling in the 2022 Magic Online Champions Showcase Season 2 (or just "the MOCS") there's so much to talk about. We've got Pioneer. We've got Modern Cube! We've got Magic World Championship invites on the line, and $70,000 in prizes to boot.
And look at this field.
You may recognize a few of the names there, and I'm positive you'll recognize a few more of them after the next year of professional Magic play. We've got Magic World Championship XXVIII competitors, former World Champion finalists and even Grand Prix regulars returned to the big stage, plus some of the best online players this side of Jabberwocki.
There's a ton on the line for all eight of those competitors. But if I had to pick one storyline that I'm personally excited to follow, it would be this:
"I have a goal for this tournament," MOCS regular Nathan Steuer explained bluntly. "I have a rivalry with buddy Sam Rolph, who just won the Arena Championship and qualified for Worlds, so my goal is to shut him up about the Worlds 2023 flexing and join him there."
Now that's some banter I can get behind.
Steuer will have his opportunity to join Rolph, whom he helped to a victory in Arena Championship 1 with a clutch pep talk. The Season 2 Champions Showcase will award 2023 Magic World Championship invitations to the top two finishers, and no one is more prepared for this tournament than Steuer – even as he juggles testing for this year's World Championship taking place in a few weeks at Magic 30 in Las Vegas.
That's what Magic's newest wunderkind was up to when we connected earlier this week, and honestly one of my favorite parts of this gig is gleaming information in hurried conversations with pros in between one of their 10,000 test matches. I'm chasing down a story, and it scratches that journalism itch I do sometimes miss from my days working at a newspaper. Not that Steuer wasn't generous with his time, of course – but the emerging Magic star has a lot on his plate right now.
"Yeah, I've been double-queueing Modern Cube for the MOCS and Dominaria United draft for the Worlds Championship," he explained. "I've been putting three to five hours a day into testing with my team for Worlds, but I've also dedicated a lot of time to doing well at the MOCS events and it would be awesome to get a World Championship qualification; the Showcases are where I've had my most success by far and I always want to put my best foot forward."
He's not exaggerating any of that. Steuer won the 2021 MOCS Season 3 title earlier this year and with this event will have qualified for four of the past five such events, a feat no one else has matched. He's the endboss of the Magic Online, and he's coming ready to live up to that reputation.
"My favorite part is practicing for Cube, because you can get a real edge there," he explained. "I've been working with Márcio Carvalho for this tournament. We worked together for the last 'Pro Tour' and came up with good decks and spent a few months racing together to qualify for this MOCS, so we worked together again and ended up registering the same deck for this tournament."
Steuer isn't the only Magic Online regular angling for a return to the top this weekend. Tommy Ashton, Players Tour Phoenix Top 8 competitor in 2020 and a familiar face to longtime Grand Prix and Pro Tour veterans, is back in a Top 8—and "stainerson" (as he's known online) is loving the ride.
"The last few years I've played a ton of Magic Online, much like the years—Decades!—before that," he explained. "It's been energizing to get to know a community of Magic 'Zoomers' who are starting to ascend the competitive ranks via digital Magic, and to be the old head among them. I regularly hang out with the friends I met through Magic 10 or 20 years ago."
Ashton's career is littered with Top 16 and Top 32 finishes at Pro Tours over the past decade, and he competed in the 2017 Magic Online Championship. And as the Magic world changes around him—Steuer is one of those "zoomers" who have overtaken online Magic—Ashton has found himself at home.
"Online play, specifically and almost exclusively Magic Online, has been my primary play outlet ever since they began offering PTQs, and was big for maintaining my sanity during lockdowns," he recalled. "Earlier this year I played a MOCS, and it was the culmination of two seasons of being super engaged, playing every event, coming up third on the Leaderboard, and then finally finishing in the Top 2. This MOCS season was way less grueling: I played an Open on a lark because I didn't Day 2 a team event, and won in a Sealed format I had never played. So this event is house money. Sure, I've been preparing diligently, but I don't think I'll be able to be disappointed the way that I was last MOCS, which was particularly cursed, and included my power going out during the Cube draft."
Power outages aside, stainerson is primed for a run over the next year. He's qualified for the upcoming Pioneer Showcase Qualifier (his favorite format), the first Regional Championship even in the United States, and the first Pro Tour 1 in 2023. He's been working with some of the same players on Team 7% whom helped him to his PT Top 8 in 2020, including Bobby Fortanely, Sam Sherman and Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica victor Andrew Elenbogan.
Looking past those events, Ashton knows there's Magic World Championship invites on the line this weekend, but it's not his primary goal for this tournament, or any of the others he's qualified for.
"This MOCS means I'm technically chasing an invite to [the World Championship], which isn't something I'm typically in position for; my usual goal is just to chain events because participating in them is fun and an opportunity to see tons of friends, not because I'm envisioning myself holding a trophy," he reflected. "I'm pretty excited to see what we come up with for the Regional Championship, because having a bunch of astute and open-minded thinkers to help you attack a brand new set for Constructed can often yield a huge edge."
Remember how I mentioned there are so many storylines that I want to follow? This is one of them. It's the kind of origin story that resonates with me more than anything else, and for Ashton a look ahead at his Magic career that comes from this tournament must begin with a look back at where it began.
"It's fitting that my dad is visiting me for the week following the MOCS, as he's the person who introduced me to the game, buying me a 4th Edition starter when I was in elementary school," he explained. "So heading into this tournament I wanted to thank him—as I mentally always do when accomplishing something big in Magic!"
Besides the online 2022 Magic Online Champions Showcase Season 2, there's tabletop Magic to be found as well. There are a pair of high-stakes Modern tournaments happening at SCGCon Dallas, and both award Regional Championship slots. The following weekend brings the Magic Showdown in Warsaw, where both the Grand Open Qualifier and the Classic Qualifier will be played out in Pioneer.
Coming up very quickly is Magic World Championship XXVIII at the Magic 30 convention in Las Vegas at the end of the month. Maybe after that Steuer can finally take a break to breathe. Or not.
"I've been testing with a great group of guys led by David 'Tangrams' Inglis and we're been working really hard for [the World Championship], we're constantly in calls discussing our latest results," he explained. "Beyond figuring out the best decks in the format, we've really been focusing on Draft and getting this format down. Limited hasn't been on the table recently and having a great understanding of the draft format is a great place to gain equity.
"My sights are set on showing I can compete with the best of the best at Worlds. It's the next step, and proof for myself that I can compete. It's something that felt so far out of my sights a few years ago, so it's a dream come true to even sit down and play at Worlds!"