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The Week That Was: The Regional Championship to Play

May 10, 2024
Corbin Hosler

Ready for a run?

Eleven Regional Championships. Just one month. It's the ultimate stress test of Standard in the wake of Pro Tour Thunder Junction, and as we move on from Seattle and begin a marathon month of international play, it's also a rare opportunity for players to earn coveted Pro Tour and World Championship invitations directly.

Frank Karsten has covered in detail the myriad ways to qualify for the highest levels of competitive Magic play, and Regional Championships are a huge part of that. They've also evolved into the de facto gathering point for all of a region's top Magic minds. Not only is it a key avenue for established Pro Tour players to find their way back onto the invite list, but it's also a critical direct line from local game store play to the Pro Tour: it starts with a qualifier at your local store, turns into a Regional Championship trip and can end with a direct ticket booked for Magic World Championship 30.

That's the dream that Pro Tour has thrived on for three decades, and its appeal is stronger than ever—right now there are thousands of players across the world sleeving up Standard decks in anticipation of playing one of the most meaningful tournaments of their lives. Regional Championships have themselves become a source of statistical pride: many players still waiting for their big breakthrough count their successes in RC terms. These events have been a big draw since their debut and continue to grow in popularity.

Which brings us back to today: the Standard Regional Championship season has begun, and it will be a sprint. Over the next five weeks we'll see Standard metagame shifts—things have already begun to move at the first pair of major events post-Pro Tour—we'll see worthy winners and Pro Tour regulars and surprise decks and players going on the first real tournament run of their life and Hall of Famers returning to the game and it will take place across a whirlwind global tour that will leave us breathless but fully ready for Pro Tour Modern Horizons 3 in June.

It's a lot to take in; add in online Magic and the paths to meaningful competitive play abound right now. But it's a dream that has gripped the Magic world for almost 30 years—and I do mean the world (more on that later)—and one that keeps hopefuls awake at night with the question: what if it could be me?

Because miracle moments do happen. The powerhouse Magic teams of history can be outdone by the new crew working hard enough; Nicole Tipple showed as much when she brought the Magic viewing world along for her ride up to a win-and-in for the Top 8 of her first Pro Tour.

Those dreams are first made possible at the Regional Championship level, and that's what's on the line over the next four weeks. It all began last weekend, with players taking to tournaments in Brazil and Canada to get things started—and it didn't take long for another first-time Pro Tour dream to come to fruition.

The Chase in Canada

Liam Hoban knows how rare real opportunities to qualify for the Pro Tour can be: the 26-year-old Calgary native has spent the last eight years trying to get there. With a supportive family and a competitive streak, Hoban went to work—he tested in paper, he tested online, he tested mental Magic on the way to work. He put in late nights testing and long days playing tournaments. He spent most of the last month locked in Discord calls with Andrew "Curly" Huska, the partner-in-crime who helped Hoban put the finishing touches on his Regional Championship deck.

In other words, Hoban has been putting in the work for a long time. And while he put together a few deep Regional Championship runs, before last weekend he was one of those players waiting for a chance to finally break through.

That wait is over.

After qualifying for the latest Canadian Regional Championship via Murders at Karlov Manor Sealed at his local store Sentry Box Cards, all of that dedication came together to create the perfect tournament for Hoban—and a memorable one for his parents Sean and Ronaye, whom Hoban called his biggest supporters and who spent all weekend furiously following along on their phones.

"I felt like this was the most prepared I had been in a while, but I wasn't feeling overly confident. It wasn't until the end of Day 1 when I had the best Day 1 record [7-1] I've ever had that I really started to believe this might be the tournament I finally break through," Hoban recalled. "I was well-rested, eating very healthy, and knew that I was playing some damn good Magic; and it started to become a possibility in my mind that this might be the tournament."

That it was. It was not without some drama along the way—Hoban's Day 2 started off with two quick losses before he rallied—but when the dust had settled Hoban was cleanly into the Top 8. Once there, his Azorius Control took, well, control, and three matches later Hoban had very much broken through.

"The first 24 hours after the tournament felt rather surreal, I remember waking up the morning after with a feeling of slight disbelief at what I accomplished, and my phone has not stopped buzzing from congratulatory messages from friends and family," he said. "The single thought that has replayed the most in my head is that I get the opportunity to play for the ultimate prize that most Magic players only dream of: being immortalized on a Magic card. I can't wait to play amongst the best players in the world on the biggest stage."

Hoban's victory was the capstone on an instant classic of a Top 8 that included newcomers like Hoban and high-level veterans like Edgar Magalhaes (and Jonny "ginky" Guttman in ninth, securing an invite back to the PT). The Top 8 itself featured six different decks just like the Pro Tour did, albeit a different six decks (Bant Toxic was nowhere to be found in Seattle but finished the Canadian RC atop the Swiss standings).

And it's just the beginning. Jonathan Lob Melamed picked up a win in Brazil with Four-Color Legends in a Standard event that against featured six unique archetypes in the Top 8, showcasing how deep and unsolved this format remains.

That's why all eyes are now on the next slate of Regional Championships: Australia/New Zealand, Europe/Middle East/Africa, China, Chinese Taipei, and Japan/Korea are all taking place on May 25-26. That means two weeks for would-be champions to scour over the lists and metagames from Brazil and Canada to try and find the latest edge in a format that seems more wide open than ever. It's an unenviable challenge, but it's exactly what keeps Magic players coming back.

As for Hoban—at least for the moment—the pressure is off.

"Qualifying for the Pro Tour has been my biggest goal, and I have had previously come so close to obtaining it. To finally get there after eight years feels incredible," he marveled. "The fact that I also qualified for the World Championship is mind-blowing. This undoubtedly ranks at the top of my Magic career, but I don't plan on letting this be the pinnacle. I know that I have lot more to give and plan to reach higher heights."

The Road to Magic World Championship 30

Over the last few months, Frank Karsten and I have been looking back at the previous Magic World Championships as we prepare for the upcoming 30th edition of the event. Recent weeks have seen us cover the rise of two of the game's early legends in Kai Budde and Jon Finkel, and this week we're looking at 2001.

By that point, the Pro Tour and World Championship field was truly global; organized teams were cropping up across regions, and the World Championship title itself had a bit of a world tour around that time. But when nearly 300 players gathered in Toronto for the 2001 event, it was when the defending champion Finkel was at the height of his powers.

But despite that, it was a Tom van de Logt from the relatively small country of the Netherlands. A three-time Dutch national champion already, Logt's victory on the international stage may have come as a surprise to the larger Magic world but not to Logt's community. They knew what they had cooking, and within a few years the Netherlands would deliver multiple Pro Tour and World champions as well as multiple Hall of Famers

Tom van de Logt, 2001 Magic World Championship Winner

That Hall of Fame list includes my column partner Frank Karsten, so who better to ask about what made the Dutch Magic community so special?

"In the early 2000s, the Netherlands had several strong players, almost all of whom were teens or students. Due to this homogeneous group with plenty of free time, an abundance of nearby tournaments, and some healthy competitive rivalry, the level of play increased rapidly," he explained. "Since the country was small, we were often able to gather all qualified players, Pro Tour regulars and first timers alike, in a single location for several days of proper preparation. This was particularly important at the time because Magic Online did not exist in its current form yet, and there was not as much information available on the internet as there is today. So having a good group of players who can gather in one location, and who include newcomers to improve their level of play, was particularly helpful in building a strong community."

There's 21 years of separation between the two, but van de Logt's run to the World Championship looks a lot like Hoban's. He'll have his chance to add his own name to the history books when Magic World Championship 30 kicks off on Oct. 25.

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