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The Week That Was: The Year That Was (And Will Be)

January 06, 2023
Corbin Hosler

If 2022 was the year that we dipped our toes back into the return of tabletop Magic, 2023 is the year that we dive fully back into the Pro Tour.

The last year of competitive Magic has been like many before it: unpredictable. As we navigated a busy field of online events and the leadup to Magic World Championship XXVIII, no one—including among our coverage insiders—saw Nathan Steuer emerging as the best player at the World Championship (though I have to say it wasn't long before it became clear what we were witnessing).

Steuer's victory at the Magic 30 festival was a taste of what's to come in 2023. It's almost a month out from MagicCon: Philadelphia, and the atmosphere at the World Championship in Las Vegas was electric as more than 10,000 attended the event that played host to Steuer's run. We'll be running that back even bigger in Philadelphia as it serves as the major kickoff for the 2023 Pro Tour season, though we've actually been filling seats at the 2023 Magic World Championship for the last few months via the Regional Championships.

But I don't want to get too far ahead of myself. Let's back up a little bit and set the stage here. After all, in just a few weeks we'll hit the content cycle for Pro Tour Phyrexia: All Will Be One in Philladelphia and it'll be off to the races.

Let's take stock of where things stand on the path to the Pro Tour.

What Would You Say You Do Around Here?

Along with Frank Karsten and the Metagame Mentor column, I'm back in 2023 with The Week That Was. As I wrote here in my first weekly column, The Week That Was column years ago originally written by Brian David-Marshall was what hooked me on competitive Magic. I followed along every week for the latest format updates and stories of players who went from their local FNM and made a breakthrough at the next level. I could see that path for myself, and when my own breaks came later it was in part because I saw the ways it was possible.

We're almost six months into these columns and the time has flown. I think we've been able to recapture some of that feeling. To put it frankly, we've never had better metagame analysis than you'll find in Frank's columns, and I love that the weekly flow and rejuvenated tournament circuits around the world has given us a solid string of new and returning faces to competitive Magic to feature. You can expect more of the same in 2023 as The Week That Was returns to the Pro Tour.

Looking Back

Thanks to the regional format of the, well, Regional Championships, it's easy for players in one part of the world to miss updates from another since large, high-stakes tournaments have been happening all over, but we've actually been on quite the sprint over the past three months. We just wrapped the final Regional Championship in China to help set the field for the Pro Tour in Philadelphia and the World Championship at the end of the season. Throw in a handful of big online events and you have one of the busiest three-month stretches of high-level Magic we've seen in years.

Some numbers to put it in perspective.

  • 2,900+ players competed in Regional Championships (that's a lot of Pioneer decklists!)
  • 162 invitations to Pro Tour Phyrexia: All Will Be One
  • 13 invitations to Magic World Championship XXIX
  • And at least former champion enjoying the ride

All of that is a table-setter for what's to come this year. And while the particulars of high-level Magic have changed over the last few years, everyone who has competed in these Regional Championships has done so in pursuit of one simple goal—dream—that has driven players to shuffle up sixty since that first Pro Tour almost 30 years ago in New York.

Play Magic, see the world, win the Pro Tour.

Each of those 2,900-plus decklists isn't just a datapoint for a metagame calculator. They represent players like you and me who had a good run at Friday Night Magic or Game Day and wondered if we could take the next step. Each of those nearly 3,000 Magic players across the world moved from prereleases to FNM to Regional Championship qualifiers, and their dedication led them here and gave them the opportunity to fulfill those Pro Tour dreams.

Which brings me to Brandon Ortiz.

He's one of those players who has put the work in for years without a chance to shine. He first picked up Magic in 2009 and began playing competitive in 2016. For six years he worked to level up his game, moving through the ranks of his local scene on the way up through his region. His hard work culminated in a Regional Championship qualification, and he traveled along with 112 other players to Mexico City for The Gathering Showdown Series that served as the Regional Championship for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean.

But he did a lot more than that.

I said qualifying for the Regional Championship was the culmination of Ortiz's work. Well, that was until the tournament started. Once it did, his unorthodox choice of Keruga Fires proved perfect for the late-season Pioneer metagame that had warped to beat Mono-Green Devotion and compete against Rakdos Midrange. He took the field by surprise and in fact ran into the Fires of Invention mirror in the finals against Alonso Mijares, where Ortiz accomplished something he has dreamed of for more than half a decade: a major title and an invitation to the World Championship.

"I was very happy with my deck selection; my prediction worked," Ortiz explained. "I was expecting a lot of Rakdos and Mono-White, which I thought Keruga Fires had the tools to win fairly easily. I ended up beating four Rakdos Midrange decks and one Mono-White between the Swiss rounds and the Top 8 matches. After this, my goals for Magic in 2023 are to playing more competitive events to prepare for the Pro Tour and World Championship so I can have the best performance I possibly can."

Ortiz's victory gives him the exclamation point on his Magic resume, but it also revealed something about the Pioneer metagame that has become clear over the last few months: it's a lot more open than people initially perceived when fears of a Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx-dominated format abounded. Mono-Green Devotion proved defeatable, and it was a nice surprise to finish out 2022 with a pair of peripheral decks meeting in the finals of a big event. As Frank pointed out in his article, most of the decks in the format hovered near a 50% win rate, meaning that skill with a particular archetype was more important than any other edge possible.

Looking Ahead

Ortiz joins the dozen or so other players who have guaranteed themselves a seat at the World Championship later this year. You can start your own path to the Pro Tour with store-level RCQs; you can find tournaments on the Store and Event Locator or your regional organizer's website. RCQs through April 3, 2023 will feed into the third cycle of Regional Championships.

But first, the Pro Tour. I expect the hype level for MagicCon: Philadelphia Feb. 17-19 and the triumphant return of the paper PT and everything that comes with it at Pro Tour Phyrexia: All Will Be One. Personally, I'm looking forward to the first major international tabletop "Gathering" in three years featuring high-level tabletop competition.

One of the best parts of the Pro Tour circuit is the connections you make with diverse people across the world, and like everyone I've missed my friends from other places around the world. Philladelphia, here we come!

Just make sure you've seen Rocky before you show up.

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