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The Week That Was: The Triple Treat

January 20, 2023
Corbin Hosler

Okay, I'll start things off with a bit of an admission: I know the last three months of Regional Championships was the busiest stretch of high-level Magic we've had in quite a while. Thousands of players across the world competed to qualify for and then play in Regional Championships that feed the Pro Tour in 2023. It's been a wild ride we've covered here at The Week That Was, and it's felt a lot like the old days of week-in and week-out meaningful results. And I thought there might be a bit of a lull before Pro Tour Phyrexia next month at MagicCon: Philadelphia.

I was wrong.

Can I interest you in not one, but three high-level tournaments last weekend?

I've been talking to winners week after week, and it's all leading to the Pro Tour next month. There's several events I want to wrap up this week, and let's start with the one that had my favorite deck of all time in the finals.

Steiner On Top in Trieste

Nearly 400 players showed up to battle things out in Modern at the Grand Open Qualifier in Trieste.

Competitive Magic over the past few months has been largely focused on Pioneer. It was the format of all the dozen Regional Championships that capped off 2022, and it will be the format of the first PT at Pro Tour Phyrexia in Philadelphia later this month (you can get tickets to MagicCon here).

But this last weekend belong to Modern. Ever since the format debuted in 2011 at Pro Tour Philadelphia (and brought us an Infinity Faeries victory), it's been a fan favorite and I've been playing Merfolk since that day. The deck gave me my first major Top 8 and as anyone who is a longtime reader knows, I never miss a chance to bring it up.

So the finals of LMS Trieste was dang near perfect: Merfolk in the hands of Micheleb vs. Stefan Steiner on Temur Rhinos.

574555 Lord of Atlantis Violent Outburst Crashing Footfalls

And—spoiler—while it didn't work out very well for the fish in the end, the tournament demonstrated everything players have come to love about Modern over the last decade, such as eight different decks in the Top 8:

  • Mono-White Hammer
  • Izzet Murktide
  • Jeskai Breach
  • Izzet Prowess
  • Five-Color Creativity
  • Merfolk
  • Five-Color Zoo
  • Temur Rhinos

Check out Frank's column this week for all the up-to-the-minute details for Modern but this is the gold standard of diversity when it comes to nonrotating formats. There are certainly the current "best decks" (Rhinos, Murktide, Hammer) but let's be real: no one besides me expects to see Merfolk in the Top 8, and absolutely no one expected to see Wild Nacatl make a reappearance in major Top 8. (Shoutout to Manuel Danninger for the Zoo brew.)

These breakthroughs are no small feat; the tournament is littered with the names of the best players in Europe, including a Top 16 appearance by Andrea Mengucci. But the day belonged to Steiner, who went 11-3-1 in the Swiss rounds with the latest iteration of cascade. The powerful and consistent deck may struggle against a resolved Chalice of the Void, but it has the tools and speed to keep up with anything in the format, and Steiner put on a masterclass with the deck on his way to victory.

Busy Modern Weekend in North America

While Steiner was dominating in Italy, the stakes were higher than ever across the pond for the sixteen competitors in the NRG Series Championship. The exclusive event was the culmination of the yearlong NRG season, and featured the best players on the circuit – not to mention in North America.

It was a mixed-format tournament, but the 16 assembled players are skilled in any format in front of them. That includes Raja Sulaiman, the NRG Series veteran who qualified for the Championship as a season points leader. The 31-year-old has five NRG Series Top 8s to his name along with two wins in those appearances. He first broke through at Players Tour Phoenix in 2020, posting a Top 16 finish, and has been on steady climb since.

That culminated last weekend, as he cruised to the Top 4 and then the finals, where he squared off against Jesse Robkin, who qualified for the event after a memorable season of her own on the NRG Series circuit. It was Sulaiman who took down the ultimate match, and he punched his ticket as the latest NRG Series champion.

Sulaiman wasn't the only player conquering tournaments in America, or demonstrating a mastery of Modern. At the SCGCON Modern tournaments in New Jersey, players continued to push the format in several high-level events and added an entirely different set of decks to Top 8s that included Rakdos Midrange, Amulet Titan, Four-Color Elementals and even old-school decks Azorius Control and Eldrazi Tron.

David Nunez won the $20k event with Izzet Prowess, while Adam Snook found victory in the $5k with the relatively recent Rakdos Midrange brew that comes with one simple trick that opponent hate: its key creatures (Grief, Fury) evoke for free and then come right back thanks to cards like Feign Death, Undying Malice and Malakir Rebirth.

522163 522202 522157 Feign Death Malakir Rebirth

Players have experimented with the strategy ever since the evoke elementals debuted in Modern Horizons 2, and in Snook's list the deck seems to be closer to its final form than ever before. For the eight-time Pro Tour veteran, the Rakdos deck is everything he loves about Magic.

"I definitely lean toward any deck that can play Thoughtseize," the Upton, Massachusetts native explained. "Sometimes that's to my detriment, as it's not always well-positioned in the format. But for Modern and Pioneer, Rakdos is currently one of the best decks. I didn't make Day 2 of the main event, but I had much better luck on Sunday: I played a lot more turn one Griefs."

Hand disruption is as potent as ever in Modern, and it carried Snook to an undefeated record in the swiss rounds of the event. He entered the Top 8 with momentum and was able to grind out games against Amulet Titan with his maindeck Blood Moons and then the mirror in three long games.

That led him to a finals matchup with Robert Seder, a New York player who has faced off against Snook many times over the years in high-level events.

"Like me, he also sticks to a certain type of deck, except his choice is Control," Snook explained. "We most recently battled at the Regional Championship in Atlanta, Azorius Control vs. Rakdos Midrange, and he won that time.

"But I got my revenge on Sunday. My last play was a draw step Thoughtseize that I cast off his Teferi, Time Raveler that I had stolen with Ragavan earlier. The true Azorius versus Rakdos story."

You don't find many finishes more unique than that one. That's why the Modern world has loved the format over the past decade, and for Snook it was a breakthrough a very long time coming.

"The thing I'm most excited about is having a trophy!" he explained. "I started playing Magic when I got it as a birthday gift at 8 years old. I'm 33 now so I've been playing for a while. By the time I was 11 I was playing in the Junior Super Series consistently, and won when I was 13. In 2012, I got back into Magic and made the Top 8 of Grand Prix Baltimore alongside friends Dave Shiels and Matt Costa. From that point, I was hooked on competitive Magic. Playing in Grand Prix all year with friends is my favorite memory playing Magic, and I met some of my best friends and groomsmen in my wedding through the game."

It's been a long road to a trophy for Snook, but after last weekend he enters the rest of the 2023 season with momentum and a giant Magic bucket list item crossed off.

"I've won 7 PTQs and done pretty well in a lot of events, but hardware has eluded me so it'll be nice to have something to show," he explained. "At this point I'm qualified for Regional Championships in San Diego and now Dallas, so next up will be preparing for those events and using Magic Online to practice. The Pro Tour is the reason I play Magic, and playing in another one of those will certainly be my goal for this year."

Looking Ahead

There's more Modern coming, as the 2023 Season 3 Magic Online Champions Showcase this weekend will feature the Modern format as Magic Online experts play for a $70,000 prize pool. There are also two World Championship invitations on the line placing the stakes as high as they get for digital play. You can find streaming coverage this Saturday at 10 a.m. PT on Twitch.

SCGCon returns next month with a trip to Indianapolis Feb. 3-5, while the 2023 NRG Series will officially kick off in March.

But first comes the Pro Tour at MagicCon: Philadelphia. The first paper Pro Tour in years coming at a massive (Phyrexian-invaded?) festival has been the event we've had circled on our calendars ever since we crowned Nathan Steuer the World Champion back in October, and it's now just a month away. Until then, you can be sure competitors will be brushing up on their Phyrexia: All Will Be One drafts!

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