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The Week That Was: The December Dream

December 22, 2023
Corbin Hosler

Just in time for the holidays and the end of the year, we've crowned our final Regional Champion of 2023.

Daniel Weiser's incredible run through a truly massive field at Dreamhack in Atlanta was a fitting end to a three-month Regional Championship cycle that saw us crisscross the globe, watching Pioneer twist and turn and discover in ways none of us expected.

Through it all, players continued to innovate right up until the very last moments before Atlanta kicked off, with Amalia Combo taking the spotlight—and two of the Top 8 spots. We also saw an incredible stat that I don't think anyone would have predicted before the Regional Championship season began with Adrián Iñigo Tastet winning the RC in Lille with Lotus Field Combo:

There were 11 different decks among the 12 Regional Championship winners, and not even one of them was Mono-Green Devotion and the much-feared Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx—the boogeymen that started out months ago as enemy No. 1.

Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx

It's been a busy stretch, to say the least. Weiser is the last to join this cycle's winners circle, and did so with one of Pioneer's most polarizing decks: Azorius Control.

"I have a lot of experience playing the deck, and I wanted to play something I had practice with and enjoy rather than just the deck all my friends were playing," Weiser explained. "I've played a bunch of games with blue-white in the past, but none with this exact list. I changed a few cards to account for new stuff, showed my list to a few people and went from there."

I say polarizing not just because of its speed—in a format where decks like Boros Convoke or Heroic can easily win on turn 4, Azorius Control runs no creatures—but because it's been very up or down as the Pioneer season has gone on. It was actually the most popular deck in the room for at least one event, whereas in others it didn't show up in great numbers or perform well.

That changed in Atlanta. Azorius Control proved to be the perfect foil for a field that ranged from hyper aggro to angry bird spam to Amalia Combo to the infamous Cat-Oven duo to the classic Rakdos Midrange. Azorius Control was the fourth most-popular deck choice among the Georgia field, and posted the highest winrate among any deck in the top 12.

Simply put: it was a very good weekend to employ Yorion, Sky Nomad as a companion.

Weiser's path to the Top 8 was clean; he dropped only one match in his first 12 rounds (and just six games overall). And once there, Weiser found himself as one of the most experienced players in the group—he posted a pair of Grand Prix Top 8 appearances back in 2017.

In fact, the last of those came at Grand Prix New Jersey on Dec. 17, 2017 (Ixalan Limited)—exactly six years ago to the day of this appearance.

Six years after his last major Top 8, Weiser reeled off six wins to clinch the trophy, the Regional Championship title and the seat the World Championship that comes with it.

"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. "For me, Magic has been a way to stay connected with people, with friends I've made traveling. It's great to see friends who I haven't gotten to see in the past five years or so. I haven't had massive aspirations with Magic, but it's been nice to go to tournaments and enjoy playing and seeing friends."

It was a similar feeling for Ryan Primdahl, whose finals run at the F2F Tour Regional Championship stop in Toronto two weeks ago qualified him for his first-ever Pro Tour.

"It still doesn't feel real," he said. "I had so many people congratulate me on my 8-0 run in Day 2 and tell me throughout Day 2 that they were rooting for me. 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.. In Magic or anything else in life that you put a lot of effort into, it's the mistakes and bad moments that often stick with us. So it's nice to add an unforgettable moment into that mix."

Ultimately, I think that's what the Pro Tour is about for many of us: moments that matter. On the coverage team, we're lucky to get to share those moments both with the audience but also with the players we ask to open up and be vulnerable and engaging and funny all while continuing to win matches of Magic against the best in the world.

Weiser represents a bridge to Magic's veteran talent; Primdahl on the other hand is someone who came of age in their Magic career in a very different era.

"These Regional Championships are the first high-level competitive tournaments that I've played in," the 23-year-old explained. "I'm thankful for Magic Online because it allowed me to get a ton of experience playing against strong players when we couldn't play in person. I frequently play Leagues and Challenges on Magic Online."

Primdahl worked with a group of friends (tentatively) named Team Gemstone Tavern in the weeks leading up to the Regional Championship, and immediately gravitated to his favorite archetype: Izzet decks with lots of cantrips like Opt or Consider (or in the days when I first got into Magic, Ponder and Preordain).

"When I saw that Izzet Phoenix put up some strong finishes with new upgrades like Picklock Prankster and Sleight of Hand, I was pretty convinced to play it," Primdahl said. "The inevitability of Arclight Phoenix and Treasure Cruise let you stay afloat in the grindy matchups, and the cheap removal and counterspells allow you to stabilize in the aggro and combo matchups.

"In a deck like Izzet Phoenix, you have so many cantrips that it's not uncommon to see over half your library in each game. This makes you more likely to find the exact card you need for a certain matchup or board state."

The next challenge for Primdahl as he continues on his path to the Pro Tour?

"Well, over the holidays I'll be finding a Standard deck for the next RCQ season, playing a lot of Modern to get ready for the next Regional Championship and looking for a group to test Limited with for the Pro Tour," the Ontario native said.

That's a busy schedule for a many busy reaching new heights in his Magic career.

So what's the common thread between both Weiser and Primdahl's Regional Championship victories? It's certainly not their deck style. No, it's something usually more important in Pioneer: they played their favorite deck.

Yes, occasionally a deck like Geoform or Eldrazi or Hogaak will pop up and it's wrong to not play it. But the majority of the time we've seen success in nonrotating formats like Modern and Pioneer come from players who have mastered an archetype. With such a huge field (1,307 to be exact, one of if not the largest invite-only fields ever assembled for Magic), it's not all that likely that your rounds are going to look like a gauntlet of just the format's top two or three decks. To wit, in Atlanta the five most popular decks combined to comprise about 50% of the field—that means that even if you predicted the metagame perfectly you can expect over half of your matches to come against something other than what you correctly predicted would be most popular.

That makes every Pioneer tournament an experience unto itself, and that was especially true in this tumultuous season.

It's all leading to Pro Tour Murders at Karlov Manor coming in February at MagicCon: Chicago, where the best in the world will come together to try and sort out what's what in the new Pioneer. It's going to be a blast. We'll see you next year!

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