Eli Kassis. One of the veterans of the field. The longtime pro who has consistently upped his game over the years, his hard work paying off with a title at the Neon Dynasty Championship.
Nathan Steuer. The wunderkind and Magic Online endboss who has risen through the ranks of competitive play online over the past three years and put it all together in 2022 with a string of event victories, a World Championship qualification and now a finals run.
Two friends and competitors, now facing off where only one would earn the title of Magic World Champion.
As the finals opened, Kassis led with a pair of the flexible Wedding Announcement, while a pair of Make Disappear provided Steuer with a reactive opening hand. Instead, Steuer found Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, which he opted to deploy over leaving up interaction.
Fable proved one of the strongest cards in a wide variety of formats, and Steuer followed his first with a second copy. It led to a flow of Treasures, powering the second Make Disappear on Kassis' turn.
Ahead on both card selection and mana, Steuer found himself in commanding position to deploy what might be his best card against the Esper MIdrange decks: Invoke Despair, and it was aptly named. A bunch of sacrifices later, Kassis fell to the clean-up Liliana of the Veil that destroyed his hand.
It was a lightning-fast first game that turned on a dime; the second clash in the match was the complete opposite. Neither player cast a spell until the fourth turn, when Bloodtithe Harvester on Steuer's side opened the floodgates.
From there, an Anointed Peacekeeper for Kassis (naming the Infernal Grasp that did indeed reside in Steuer's hand) gave him the lead in tempo, and a follow-up Kaito Shizuke put him ahead on cards as well. On the defensive, Steuer tried to block with a Bloodtithe Harvester, only for it to fall to a channeled Eiganjo, Seat of the Empire. That exchange cleared the path for Kassis to resolve The Wandering Emperor, and a follow-up Raffine, Scheming Seer a turn later was more than though to beat Steur's land-heavy hand and send the pair into a third game.
The decider (of the first match of the best-of-three) saw competing three-drops resolved, as Steuer had Fable of the Mirror-Breaker against Kassis' Kaito Shizuki. Both players had found their engines and the match hinged on who could best leverage it, though it certainly took some time to sort out. The reflection of Kiki-Jiki gave Steuer a steady stream of Corpse Appraisers while Kassis leaned on Kaito and Raffine for his cards.
The result? As it has often in this format, Raffine's schemes proved superior to all other forms of card advantage, and a massive attack with four creatures allowed Kassis to pump an unblockable token to epic proportions to take down the first match of the World Championship final.
The opening game of the second match played out differently than the first. Neither player was able to get out to a huge early advantage, but both set up value engines with Reckoner Bankbuster for Steuer and The Wandering Emperor for Kassis. When Steuer attempted to fight back with a planeswalker of his own, Liliana of the Veil ran headlong into Ertai Resurrected. It was a game-defining play for Kassis, who followed up with Ao, the Dawn Sky.
Ao fell from the sky thanks to Infernal Grasp, but even more concerning for Kassis was completely whiffing on its trigger and finding nothing to put into play. That forced a chump-block to save his Emperor from Bankbuster, and Kassis was forced to pass the turn back ahead on board but with his shields down. Would Steuer capitalize on the moment?
He could, and did. He played a seventh land and lined things up perfectly for both a Sheoldred of his own as well as a Fable. That eliminated the advantage Kassis had hoped to gain, and when another Invoke Despair followed Steuer had again taken the first game of the match.
This time it was the second game of the match that went fast. Steuer landed an early Reckoner Bankbuster, but when it fell to a removal spell and he had no answer for the Sheoldred that followed, he scooped his cards up quickly to move to game three.
That meant that Kassis was now just one game away from winning the World Championship title. But a slow start with match point on the line meant he couldn't deploy Negate to head off Fable of the Mirror-Breaker. When Steuer transformed it into its creature side and began to accumulate value, Kassis looked for a way back into the game. Sanctuary Warden was a start, but it wasn't enough. Steuer found interaction on the top of his deck and finally broke his losing streak against Kassis evening up the title match with one match apiece.
This was it. One final match with the title on the line. A World Champion was about to be crowned.
But to start, Kassis would have to do it short on lands. He failed to find a fourth as Steuer systematically rstopped his early plays via countermagic, removal, and then Liliana of the Veil. That put Kassis heavily on the back foot and at just 10 life while Steuer built a battlefield with Corpse Appraiser and more. Sheoldred from Steuer was the final blow.
This time Game 2 belonged to Kassis. Steuer couldn't find blue mana, and the duo were quickly on to the final game, with absolutely everything attached to it.
A second turn Reckoner Bankbuster from Steuer forced the action from Kassis, but that left the door open for Steuer to deploy the topdecked Fable of the Mirror-Breaker to the board. And when Steuer untapped with Fable, he devised a gameplan around protecting a reflection of Kiki-Jiki. That meant holding up countermagic as Kassis struggled to make land drops, and several turns later the Reflection was ready to begin copying creatures–protected by a pair of counterspells.
That fourth land Kassis needed never came. But the Corpse Appraiser from Steuer did, and a it was all over. Nathan Steuer had battled back from dropping three matches in the row to Kassis, claiming the final victory screen of the weekend.
Congratulations to Nathan Steuer, the winner of Magic World Championship XXVIII and the newest Magic: The Gathering World Champion!