It only takes three events: your local Regional Championship Qualifier, the Regional Championship itself, then the Pro Tour. Succeed at just three events and you can battle among the best in the game to become Magic's next World Champion.
And whether you're starting down this path for the first time or a veteran with years of practice to draw upon, any player who makes it to the World Championship can take home the final—and perhaps most important—trophy of the season.
Magic World Championship XXIX shows this in spaded. The field includes players who made their mark on the Regional Championship circuit, players who leapt into the spotlight with Top 8s at the Pro Tour, and players who diligently wracked up the points needed to compete on Magic's biggest stage across each one of the season's Pro Tours.
With a season defined by tense matches, surprising finishes, and friendships and teammates that shape the world of competitive Magic, these are just a few of the stories from competitors poised for greatness at MagicCon: Las Vegas.
Almost a year ago, Miguel Castro, from Madrid, Spain, lifted the trophy at the very first EMEA Regional Championship in Sofia, Bulgaria. It was a career highlight that kicked off a stellar season and qualified Castro for the Magic World Championship.
"It was awesome, because I tested with one of my friends a lot," Castro said of the Regional Championship. "We prepared very well for the tournament and we both qualified for the Pro Tour. I also qualified for the World Championship, so it was also a very good experience."
While Castro has two Grand Prix Top 8s and a host of Pro Tour appearances to his name, his success this season has still come as something of a surprise.
"When [the season] started, I was just preparing for the Regional Championship and my goal was ... to qualify for the Pro Tour, and then try to do well at the Pro Tour, but nothing more than that," Castro said. "But I ended up winning the Regional Championship and qualifying for the World Championship and then requalifying for the Pro Tour two more times. So much bigger than my goals."
Castro first picked up Magic in the early 2000s. Eight years later, Return to Ravnica brought him back to the game.
"That brought a lot of nostalgia from when I was a kid and I played with my friends in the original Ravnica. So I decided to try it, and then got into the circuit and started playing competitively just because I wanted to aim higher," Castro said.
Like the Regional Championship, Castro's favorite memories of playing Magic are highlighted by the friends he gets to test and play Magic with along the way.
"I remember the first time I qualified for the Pro Tour, that was very nice, but especially the second time a couple of years later because I tested with some friends for a Grand Prix here in Spain. One of my friends and myself, we both Top 8'd the Grand Prix and it was just a great memory. More recently, at the last Pro Tour in Barcelona, having three teammates in the Top 8 was also a very special experience."
At Pro Tour March of the Machine in Minneapolis, Castro had a nailbiter of a match against his teammate. A win meant qualifying for the next two Pro Tours, while a loss would put him back on the hunt for an invite. He prevailed, meaning that he'll be back at the Pro Tour in 2024.
But for now, Castro has the World Championship ahead of him.
"I didn't think I was capable of this at the beginning of the season. I never really thought about having the chance to compete in the World Championship. I just won a tournament, and almost a year later I'm here about to compete. It's what I've been seeing from coverage and Pro Tours for the previous years, but I used to see that from my home and having the chance to be a part of it, it's just incredible."
Marco Del Pivo
Marco Del Pivo has had a season of remarkable last chances. He played a Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ) for the first EMEA Regional Championship in Sofia, Bulgaria after having the chance to test with Andrea Mengucci, Javier Dominguez, and Marcio Carvalho and their team. He won the LCQ, then went on to lose the win-and-in for the Regional Championship Top 8.
"I think that the funniest part is that I never realized that I qualified for the Pro Tour because thanks to all my teammates at the beginning I just understood that I was playing a good game and I didn't care about the result," Del Pivo said. "So at the end of the tournament, I didn't realize immediately that I qualified, but I was happy because I played a good tournament. Then when I realized I just qualified, I started cheering with my friends."
It's those friends—including iconic Italian player Andrea Mengucci among them—that defined Del Pivo's Magic experience and his most important memories of the game.
"Having a lot of friends, is that a strength?" Del Pivo joked. "Because I'm not thinking that I'm a good player or the strongest player or something like that. I just think that I learn fast and I have so many friends that help me and I just think that having them is my best strength."
With his focus on playing each match and tournament as best he can, rather than on long-term goals, Del Pivo's success this season continues to be a surprise to him.
"I just want to play the best Magic I can and try to make a little improvement every tournament. My goal every Pro Tour or every tournament that I play is something like, okay, I need to qualify for the next Pro Tour as a first goal. Then I try to qualify for something else, or put up a big result. For example, I never expected to play the last Pro Tour. I'm chaining Pro Tour after Pro Tour right now, and I'm shocked. I'm still shocked."
"I think that wow is the only thing that I can say about the World Championship. It is a dream. I think that it is just a dream for me. I'm not a guy that has so much time for playing Magic, and I try to put every effort that I can into Magic while I'm working. I'm living a dream right now that everyone shares with me – girlfriend, friends, teammates, everyone. I don't know how I can describe this emotion."
Olsen started playing Magic in 2018, drafting on MTG Arena with friends. The passion for competitive play grew from there.
"I liked the way I got started out playing, which was playing on MTG Arena and screen sharing a ton of drafts with some friends who had been playing the game longer than I had."
After making the Top 8 in Ottawa in the second round of Regional Championships, Olsen played in his first Pro Tour of the season in Minneapolis, at Pro Tour March of the Machine. There, in the last round of the Swiss, Olsen found himself facing reigning Pro Tour champion Reid Duke in a win-and-in for the Top 8.
"I was pretty calm, which is what a lot of my friends were surprised about. The thing I was most worried about in the second game was going to time because our games had been very long and more than losing, I was worried about the match running out of time and us not finishing."
Olsen won that critical match, propelling him into the Top 8 and his spot at the World Championship.
"I was certainly hoping for it," Olsen said of qualifying for the World Championship. "Probably the point where I thought it was most likely was when I had made the Top 8 of Regionals because it's just like, oh, I just need to win three more matches and I am qualified to the World Championship. That ended up not happening, but for it to happen so soon afterward, just at the following Pro Tour, was great."
"I think everybody has one big hope that they're going for, nobody's showing up with anything less than wanting the big trophy. But I think you'd be pretty happy with any success you can get. I started competing in Magic around 2020 when I was playing in the Players Tour, but that was right before the pandemic and that kind of put a damper on things for a couple of years. To be back in the first year of post-pandemic paper Magic play has been very exciting. And to Top 8 my first Pro Tour, and now I'm here at [the World Championship], it's very great."
Last year, Brent Vos was one match away from making Magic World Championship XXVIII.
"I missed the World Championship last year by a sliver because I was seventh and Top 6 made the World Championship in the New Capenna Championship. So I really wanted to make the World Championship this time around. That was basically my goal," Vos said of his season.
Vos has been playing Magic for over two decades, though he only started playing competitively eight years ago. In addition to his seventh-place finish at the New Capenna Championship, he's had other remarkable milestones.
"The first one was making second place at a team Grand Prix with Frank Karsten and Bas Melis, another friend of mine. That's a great one. Brussels, where I got Top 4 at the first Players Tour event that got me qualified to Rivals with the Lotus Breach deck, which we kind of invented, so it was really cool. I think that's my favorite one."
The Lotus Breach deck that Vos played in the Pioneer portion of the Players Tour makes sense for a player who's interested in exploring unique ways to approach a format, rather than going with the de facto best choice—something Vos is well-versed in figuring out.
"I'm very analytically driven, so I'm very statistical and I like to find avenues that others don't look for. So I try to find combo decks and I try to find decks that attack a certain axis of the game rather than just lean into the best deck."
Frank Karsten was also key in helping Vos to the World Championship this year, though in a much different role. Last fall, the first EMEA Regional Championship was approaching and Vos didn't realize he was already qualified. A fortuitous run-in with Karsten set Vos on the path that would lead to the Pro Tour and, eventually, to the next World Championship.
"I was at a wedding of a friend of mine and Frank Karsten was also there and he told me that I was qualified for the first Regional Championship in Europe. I didn't even know I was qualified, so I figured I might as well go with some friends ... I got ninth on breakers there, which qualified me for Philadelphia."
It's understandable that the Regional Championship wasn't at the top of his mind. This year, Vos's pursuit of a spot at the World Championship coincided with another milestone: the birth of his daughter, which came on the heels of the Pro Tour.
"When I boarded the plane she was already in labor, so when I landed in the Netherlands after an eight hour (or) nine hour flight, I had to drive to the hospital ... a half an hour later my daughter Emily was born. So I was running hot as they say."
Now Vos is on his way to the World Championship, and the capture of this one elusive goal has him thinking about the next.
"I always set goals for myself, and every time I make the goal, but the World Championship was one that I didn't make. So, you know, that and winning a Pro Tour, but that'll have to wait a little bit. It's the highest tier of Magic there is, and I'd love to be part of that conversation," Vos said. "I aspire to be the best Magic player, or very good at least, and you can only be the best when you beat the best. I've been doing it pretty consistently for the past year and now I want to get that extra step because I didn't make a Top 8 this year."
Benton Madsen has been playing Magic since Magic 2013, when a group of friends he was on a roadtrip with introduced him to the game. A dacade later, he leapt into the spotlight at Pro Tour Phyrexia, where he placed second. That second-place finish also propelled him into the World Championship much sooner than he'd ever anticipated.
"There was a point over the course of the summer where I was thinking about if there was anything I wanted to accomplish in the game. I was like 'Eh, it'd be kind of cool to make the World Championship.' and I figured that was a long time away when I had that thought. It turned out to be more like six months away and I don't know what to do about that."
Madsen has noticed that, when he's playing at his best, his ability to focus on the game in front of him stands out.
"I remember in a qualifier event, there was a moment where my opponent cast Duress, and the combination of the board state and him looking at my hand and being able to take a specific card meant that I was very dead. So in my head, I had packed my bags. I was ready to go home. I was getting ready to like, return to normal life, and he blundered and he took the wrong card. That gave me a chance to come back in the game, and then I won that match, and then I won the next match, and then I won the next match. But in my head, I had not really come back into the room, and I think part of the reason why things went so well was because I'd checked out mentally from fear of loss, whereas frequently in the past I would get in my head and I'm no longer really thinking about the games. I'm thinking about what this means to me, which is not ultimately useful to procuring it."
With so much on the line at the World Championship, it's a skill that will come in handy. While Madsen has some reservations about the Constructed rounds, since Standard has been less on his radar in the past year than some Eternal formats, he's most excited for the Wilds of Eldraine draft.
"The draft portion is this whole hour-long thing where you're not winning or losing at any point. You're just making decisions. Once the draft is over and you go to Round 1, maybe you're winning and you're trying to figure out how to not fumble it, or you're losing and the event's going poorly. But in the draft it's just play."
Ahead of the World Championship, Madsen is striking a balance between appreciating how far he's come this year, and still setting goals. As long as he's going to the World Championship, it doesn't hurt to try to win it.
"I'll take any record. My goal was to get here, so anything additional is funny money. I really did not think I would, so I won't be disappointed by any result. But in order to keep playing, which is the thing that I would most like to do, I would have to do pretty absurdly well. So if I'm going to aim for something now that I'm here, it would be that."
These—and 100 more—paths of success come together in pursuit of the most prestigious title of the season: Magic World Champion. Watch the battle for the trophy unfold at the final event of the season with Magic World Championship XXIX, taking place at MagicCon: Las Vegas September 22– 24. 2023!