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The Week That Was: What Does it Mean to be a World Champion?

January 26, 2024
Corbin Hosler

What does it mean to be World Champion?

In the early days following his incredible Magic World Championship XXIX victory, Jean-Emmanuel Depraz admitted he found it hard to put into words what being World Champion meant. He was still processing the tournament and the memorable Top 8 where he came back from an 0-2 deficit to former PT champ Greg Orange to stay alive en route to ultimately winning the World Championship title—the same title that Depraz had come so close to once before with a runner-up finish to Yuta Takahashi at Magic World Championship XXVII.

Jean-Emmanuel Depraz defeated Greg Orange, Anthony Lee and Kazune Kosaka on his way to winning Magic World Championship XXIX.

It always feels a little weird to ask players what winning the Pro Tour or World Championship means to them before they're even done cleaning up the confetti. After all, it's not like anyone exactly has a clear plan for what life looks like post-World Championship and it's easy to understand why—it's not a problem for today, but for the future World Champion. Players spend their entire careers thinking about what it would be like to summit the mountain; they don't think much about the climb back. And what can being the World Champion even mean when you haven't spent a full week or month as the champ?

So, in the days following the World Championship when Depraz said he was still working it all out, I made a note to follow up with him after the new year.

And in that time, there is one thing Depraz learned about being the Magic World Champion.

"Winning the World Championship did come up during the holidays, mostly because I could trust my mom to tell anyone who listened," Depraz said lightheartedly. "Most of my family knows what I do, but they don't really watch; they barely know what Twitch is."

It certainly makes for an interesting conversation around presents with the extended family. How was your year? Me? Well, I kind of won the Magic World Championship. And here I just bombard my family with pictures and stories of my kids.

For soft-spoken Depraz, the attention has been a big adjustment. It's since become a recurring experience for a Magic player to recognize Depraz on the street and congratulate him for his victory—and for delivering a World Championship to France for the first time since Guillaume Matignon in 2010.

"It's not like 2023 was easy to process." Depraz reflected. "There was such a big gap between Worlds and the Pro Tour at MagicCon: Chicago that I've had a lot of time to think. I went from wondering if I was even still good enough for the Pro Tour, which admittedly I've been asking myself every year since the Magic Pro League ended, to feeling like the best active player in the world. It makes you think about how much weight we put on results, even for someone like me who has spent years trying to focus on the process. Am I actually a better player than a year ago, or two, or three? Probably, but not by much. It's all small increments."

Maybe those degrees of improvement in Depraz's game were the difference between winning Worlds and coming up just short—he's not the first World Champion to return and win after finishing in second place—or maybe the cards just broke his way this time. But there was never a doubt that Depraz has had the game capable of winning the World Championship for quite some time, if he ever got another chance.

"Being World Champion feels both great and overwhelming," he said. "After each big title, there's a disconnect between how you see yourself as a player and how others see you. The funny thing is that I do like the way I'm playing, but when people tell me about games or plays that impress them, it's rarely the ones that I take pride in. For example, even in the last game against Greg that people have repeatedly talked to me about—and understandably so since it was the most tense game—I'm not completely satisfied with how I played. I was very conservative and didn't read his hand very well. Conversely, there are small things I did in the earlier games, like attacking with a Skrelv on turns 2 and 3, that I'm really proud of and didn't really catch anyone's eye, except for maybe a curious, "why would he do that?" in the moment.

"I guess I'm becoming more and more aware of the differences between how I see the game and how the average Magic player, or even average Magic competitor, sees it. It's both validating—I see things others don't!—and a little weird to be congratulated on things that didn't stand out to me."

That's a revealing glimpse into the mind of a World Champion, and I think a reflection of another aspect of holding the most exclusive title in Magic: your journey forever belongs to you, but it's one shared by thousands more, for at least a few steps of the way. It's a memory made and the kind that over three decades of Pro Tour play has sparked the next champion to begin their own path.

That path won't be smooth. It never is. Making it to the finals of the World Championship is like making it to the Super Bowl, except harder. You consider yourself fortunate to get a shot and know that you aren't likely to ever get another. But you trek the path anyway, because just maybe your story could be like Depraz's, where the ultimate disappointment was just a step on the road to the ultimate destination.

"Life hasn't changed for me on a concrete, day-to-day level, but at the same time I feel like part of my life is behind me," Depraz explained. "I think my biggest lesson from 2023 as a whole is that in spite of all the Magic I've played in my life, I can keep learning and enjoying it, if I listen to myself about how much I want to play. I've been going on Magic trips with friends without playing the main event, which isn't something I would have even considered a few years ago. I'm helping three friends prepare for a Regional Championship in Ghent that I'm probably not going to play in myself. Basically, I'm trying to find a rhythm that suits me while still trying to improve and prioritize testing situations and processes that I'm most comfortable with. That might sound contradictory, but I've always won the most when my life and head were in the right place."

So what does it mean to Depraz to be the World Champion? The final time the question arose, he left it with the perfect description.

"A while back I wrote something in an article along the lines of this: 'one day, a result will give meaning to all of your past losses.'

"And that's kind of how I feel. Like all my efforts have been paid off, my losses have been "avenged" in some way, and now I can restart fresh."

A fresh start means a fresh set of goals. So, what does the World Championship have in mind for 2024? The final goal on Depraz's career list is a Pro Tour title, and as many Pro Tour Top 8s as possible as he looks to expand on a growing career legacy. Our first chance to catch the reigning World Champion in action? Pro Tour Murders at Karlov Manor Feb. 23-25.

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