The great ones can be known by just a username.
Let's get this out of the way up front: Magic is not the same as the esports where online "gamer names" are common: Jon Finkel was Jon Finkel, Kai Budde was always just Kai. But then came the rise of Magic Online (and, later, MTG Arena). Over the many years since a handful of players rose to notoriety not through their physical performance at a tabletop tournament but through a string of online victories. In the days before the full ubiquity of social media, these Magic Online endbosses would be whispered about in pro circles, known only to a select few if anyone.
That's not the case as much anymore, but spend enough time in the Standard queues a month or so before a Pro Tour—or the Cube trophy leaderboard while it's up—and you'll find the tradition is alive and well.
These online legends are familiar to longtime readers. Jaberwocki. Fffreak. Sandydogmtg. Wrapter. Tangrams. Ginky. Also known as Logan Nettles, Brad Nelson, Brandon Burton, Josh Utter-Leyton, David Inglis, and Jonny Guttman—a group with dozens of Top Finishes and titles behind them. These days "our" Reid Duke may be more famous than his professional American football counterpart with the same name, but once upon a time he was simply reiderrabbit.
That list continues to grow, as ways to play the game competitively evolve and grow (see Cherryxman) along with it. And now there's one more name to add to the list of rising online stars: Marco Vassallo.
Or as he's better known, TrueHero—the winner of Season 1 of the 2023 Magic Online Champions Showcase.
Congratulations to Marco Vassallo of Italy, the MOCS Season 1 Showcase Champion! pic.twitter.com/EwIhQpcU8f— Magic Online (@MagicOnline) May 21, 2023
Now, I spend as much time on Twitter as the next Magic coverage writer... well I guess that might not be very helpful. The point is I was following Vassallo's run through the MOCS via social media, and I couldn't help but notice that every reply to any tweet from the official coverage accounts was immediately met with a barrage of "Is that TrueHero?!?"
That's just how it goes when you're the Magic Online specialist that Vassallo is. And after winning what is undoubtedly the coolest format at the highest level (with due respect to March of the Machine, Vintage Cube is still the Magic Online fan-favorite), Vassallo met Sean Goddard, the victor of the Modern bracket, in the championship final of the MOCS. Both players qualified for the World Championship with their final appearance, but with the $20,000 first-place prize on the line it all came down to a final match of Modern.
In the biggest match of his life, Vassallo's
"I'm extremely happy with the result," said Vassallo, who entered the MOCS coming off a Day Two appearance at Pro Tour March of the Machine. "I'm a Magic Online grinder and content creator. I've won a lot of Magic Online Challenges and I made the Top 8 at LEC Naples, but this is the most important in my career so far.
"I have to credit my teammates. Without a strong team behind you, it is impossible to reach these kinds of results; Magic is a team game. I would like to thank the guys from CamioncioTeam: Michele Carretta, Andrea Piemonti, Alessandro Parisi, Enrico Tognarini, Gabriele Nardella, Gianluca Andreano, Roberto Maria Bia, Luca Chiassoni and Lorenzo Terlizzi. I would also like to thank the guys from Parma who've been "forced" to test Cube Draft."
The extensive rooting crew for the MOCS might explain why Vassallo was so successful. The eight-person MOCS is structured so that the winner of the Vintage Cube locks in a spot in the finals against the winner of the follow-up Modern portion, and that made this one of the highest-stakes Cube drafts ever conducted.
Of course, the other reason for Vassallo's success is the most likely: he put in hours and hours of practice for this particular Cube experience that paid off in the "Blue-Green Special" draft archetype Vassallo perfected heading into the tournament. And every Vintage Cube deck is made better with multiple pieces of Power Nine.
"My Pack 1 Pick 1 was
The Magic Online Champions Showcase is, well, a showcase of the best players in the online ecosystem. It features a unique path to the World Championship adjacent to the Pro Tour, and allows players with varied backgrounds an opportunity to compete when they otherwise could not.
That suited Vassallo perfectly. He had just begun his journey into competitive Magic when the pandemic upended plans, and Magic Online offered him a sanctuary to refine his quickly developing skills in older formats.
"I played a ton of Magic Online, and I met players eager for victories with the same competitive spirit as myself," he recounted. "I learned Vintage the best—that was the format in which I qualified for three Showcase Challenges, unfortunately without winning any. I met Michele Carretta and Andrea Piemonti, and together we created "CamioncioTeam," an Italians Zoomer team with the goal of reaching high levels within the new competitive circuit. I've improved a lot with them, managing to evolve from just being a player of eternal formats to playing all formats, including the Cube."
Vassallo will very soon find himself a long way from Cube drafting with friends at home. He now has the World Championship to look forward to, plus some all-important bragging rights.
"Now whenever Piemonti will ask me 'how many [Grand Prix events] have you won?' I can reply with 'and how many MOCS have you won?" Vassallo added with a laugh. "I'm very excited to work with my team for the rest of the year!"
The MOCS is the bridge that brings us from Pro Tour March of the Machine to another online event (Arena Championship 3) before the next cycle of Regional Championships kicks off at the beginning of June. We'll dig into that more in the coming weeks, but there's a ton of high-level Pioneer coming in the coming months.
Barcelona and the next Pro Tour are just two months away, and will feature a Modern format that hasn't seen the Pro Tour stage in quite a while—it was last seen at this level also in Barcelona in 2019 at Mythic Championship IV where Thoralf Severin won it all with Tron, to be exact.
All of that means a very busy two months ahead for both competitors and those of us on the coverage team (I'll be at Dreamhack Dallas, myself, to cover the event in person). Pioneer was put through its paces earlier this year, but the addition of March of the Machine is sure to shake things up in a format that has plenty of new things going on.