Magic has a way of sticking around.
I'm not just talking about the game's 30-year history, which is something I think that gets away from us from time to time. Thirty years ago – 1993 – was a very long time ago. Magic released closer to the moon landing than to today. And I love that history. It's why I care so much about writing this column, why so many people across the world work so hard to qualify for the Pro Tour and why those who make it remember it forever. A future Top 8 appearance means something to so many people precisely because of the 30 years of Top 8s that came before, and Magic's future is inexorably tied to its past.
But that's not what I mean in this case. Magic has a way of sticking around in the lives of players – every set brings back lapsed players who still have an old favorite deck in their closet – and that's no less true for battle-hardened tournament grinders than it is Commander players.
The Magic retirement meme (made famous by Ondřej Stráský) is relatable for a reason; stick around Magic long enough and you'll find that whether you've played one year or 30, you'll find the game can surprise. For Stráský, that meant a string of high-profile finishes right after announcing his "retirement" from the professional Magic circuit. The famous quote from The Godfather ("Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!") feels tailored to Magic sometimes. Going back further, players like Jon Finkel (okay, mostly just Finkel) had a tendency to show up to Pro Tours and reel off a Top 8 performance after not playing Magic at all for the previous months.
Is there something to be said for less is more?
Maybe. Obviously, none of the rest of us are Jon Finkel (and built a preternatural Magic talent) so nothing tops strong preparation. But I do think there is something to be said about playing under less pressure; it's a lot easier to play well when you don't have a bunch of external factors weighing on you over a long tournament weekend. A weekend of high-level Magic is one of the toughest mental challenges on the planet, and we've all watched tournaments playing late into the night on Sunday where it's easy to see just how fried the brains of the finalists are. "Get a good night's sleep and drink a bunch of water" may sound trite, but it's the first piece of tournament Magic advice anyone will give you. Putting yourself into a position to enjoy the tournament regardless of the outcome of your matches sometimes paradoxically leads to winning more matches.
That's the mindset longtime Pro Tour player Christoffer Larsen has tried to adapt as life and Magic have kept him on his toes throughout a very unpredictable 2023.
"Before I went to the Regional Championship in Lille, I said I was done playing Magic on a professional level," he began, "But after this, that might change."
"This" was a second straight Top 8 appearance at the European Regional Championship in Lille. It comes just months after doing the same in Athens, and qualifies Larsen for the Pro Tour in Chicago in early 2024.
Back to back! After his European Championship Top 8 in Athens just a few months ago, Christoffer Larsen (@ChrisTheDaneLa1) 🇩🇰 took the same deck, largely unchanged, to yet another Top 8 this weekend. Incredible! pic.twitter.com/EC61z0nY3S— PlayMTG (@PlayMTG) October 1, 2023
A longtime veteran of the Grand Prix circuit, Larsen has been a mainstay at large Magic tournaments for more than a decade (his first GP Top 8 came in Miami in 2013). A decade of success followed, culminated by a pair of Top Finishes in 2020.
Life has changed dramatically since. For starters, Larsen is managing a newborn, which can certainly put a dent in the travel schedule. But it's more than that. Looking back on a decade of Magic success, Larsen isn't interested in grinding out every tournament he can find anymore. But he is interested in making every tournament he does play count.
"I love playing tournaments, and I love seeing everyone there," he explained. "Pro Tour The Lord of the Rings in Barcelona was one of the best tournaments in a long time. It was the big scene coming back to Europe, and it was great catching up with guys I've four or fives times a year for a long time even though they're on the other side of the ocean. I'd go even if I wasn't qualified. It's companionship, friendship, everything Magic is great for.
"But I can't do the same grind I used to, and it doesn't bring me the same pleasure it used to. I still play a lot of Magic, but now I do it in a more fun way – lots of Cubing. I was never a big testing guy, anyway."
Is Cube the best testing method for your next Regional Championship? Probably not (although a lot of fun). But here's the thing: I've heard stories like Larsen's dozens of times. The common thread isn't how they spent their time away from relentlessly probing Standard sideboards, but that they found some way to engage with Magic that, to borrow another phrase, sparked joy. When you're a 10-year Pro Tour veteran, a lot of times mindset matters more than the margins.
"I want to be able to sit down at the table and be happy with whatever outcome I get," Larsen explained. "I'm most interested in having fun. Obviously, I want to play all the big tournaments. I going to do my best, as anyone should. But I don't have to grind in the same way and I'm not as focused on a particular result like I was back in the day. Win or lose – and I'd rather win – but if I can get up at the end of the tournament and say I did my thing and had fun, I'll be happy. I'd like to chain invites and qualify for the World Championship, but I feel like if I don't get there that's okay, too. At the Regional Championship, I had a shot at Worlds and that would have been great, but the Top 8 was a great result and this didn't change that."
Next up for Larsen is Pro Tour Murders at Karlov Manor taking place at MagicCon: Chicago on Feb. 23-25. Deep in diapers, Larsen is taking the easygoing approach that has worked so well for him this year while he looks forward to traveling the world again to play Magic.
"Back in the day it was about joining up with the best team, but these days I have a bunch of good friends in Discord I play with, so I'm not sure exactly what Chicago will bring," he explained. "Getting everyone together in a testing house two weeks before the Pro Tour was always one of the best parts that I remember the most, so if I join a team I'll enjoy that trip down memory lane.
"If not, I'll probably just play Rakdos Sacrifice again."
It's not often you see Pro Tour players discuss their deck selection in advance of Round 1, much less this early. But Larsen not only knows that there's more to winning at the highest levels than hiding information, he knows exactly how well the deck has performed for him.
Rakdos Sacrifice has been Larsen's deck of choice in recent years, and he's become quite adept at cooking
"Six bad matchups in a row" is how Larsen described one part of his tournament run. But mastery matters, and he defied the traditional wisdom to make the Top 8 cut with a 12-3 record. Knowing Larsen might cook some cats in Chicago doesn't do anything if you can't actually stop the stew.
Chicago is still months away, and before we get there we have a whole host of Regional Championships to sort out.
Lille was one of the first, and November will be an extremely busy month for the all-important qualifying tournaments that seed both the Pro Tour and World Championship field. This weekend will feature a Regional Championship for Australia and New Zealand, as well as one in China. From there, Nov. 4-5 is a super weekend of four RCs across the globe, and things wrap up a month later in the United States.
It's a packed schedule, and one Frank and I will cover in full. (This week Frank caught us up on the latest Modern decks, perfect if you're headed to a RCQ soon.) Watching the field build and then sort itself is one of the most enjoyable parts of covering the PT – you never know where the next big storyline will come from – and the next World Champion may be lurking in one of these Regional Championship fields. The action is back this weekend!