The Challenger Gauntlet kicked off the Postseason in style, sending Sam Pardee, Noriyuki Mori, Arne Huschenbeth, and Keisuke Sato to the Magic World Championship XXVII in October. These representatives of three continents join Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, Ondřej Stráský, Gabriel Nassif, and Seth Manfield from the Magic Pro League, and Eli Kassis, Stanislav Cifka, Matt Sperling, and Yuta Takahashi from the Rivals League.
Now only four spots remain, and for those we have not one, but two Gauntlets, spread across four taut, tense, terrific days of gaming. Two Gauntlets? Don't worry, preview readers, I'm going to type twice as fast.
The MPL Gauntlet
It's Thursday September 2, Friday September 3, and Saturday September 4.
It's a simple formula for this one. First, take ranks 5–12 from the MPL:
- Martin Jůza
- Reid Duke
- Marcio Carvalho
- Javier Dominguez
- Jean-Emmanuel Depraz
- Rei Sato
- Brad Nelson
- William Jensen
Then, add ranks 5–20 from the Rivals League:
- Luis Scott-Vargas
- Riku Kumagai
- Grzegorz Kowalski
- Corey Burkhart
- Austin Bursavich
- Luis Salvatto
- Thoralf Severin
- Jacob Wilson
- Luca Magni
- Zachary Kiihne
- Mike Sigrist
- Yoshihiko Ikawa
- Chris Botelho
- Bernardo Santos
- Alexander Hayne
- Ma Noah
Those 24 players spend Thursday and Friday playing twelve rounds of Standard, trying to be one of the eight left standing going into the weekend. There, the optimal octet will face a double-elimination bracket, but with one critical caveat: in this bracket, there will be three Magic World Championship XXVII seats awarded.
The first two will go to the winners of the Upper Bracket, where two back-to-back wins on Saturday secures them a World Championship slot. The third comes from the dogfight that is the Lower Bracket, with that side's bracket winner claiming the third seat.
So who might fill those coveted World Championship seats?
As you'd expect, the MPL players involved bring us a slew of talent:
- three Hall of Famers in Duke, Jensen, and Jůza
- three giants of the modern game in Carvalho, Dominguez, and Nelson
- a pair who are quietly demonstrating they belong at the top in Depraz and Sato
Although Martin Jůza finished 5th in the MPL season standings, there was a comfortable gap between him and Seth Manfield ahead. For Jůza, an automatic trip to the World Championship was a long shot, as the final events of the regular season played out.
One of the toughest competitors on the circuit, and a man who famously hates to lose more than he wants to win, Jůza a has spent six months repairing the damage of the February Kaldheim League Weekend, where everything went wrong. Everything. A perfectly reasonable deck piloted by a perfectly excellent player combined for a perfectly unreasonable 0-11 record, plunging Juza into the bottom half of the MPL. And that's what he's been fighting back from ever since, now poised to complete the comeback.
By and large this group have made their mark in league play, not at the three Championship tournaments that have punctuated the season. Brad Nelson has a Top 8 at the Zendikar Championship, and former World Champion Javier Dominguez made the Top 8 at the Kaldheim Championship, but Duke and Jensen in particular have struggled, with each taking just a single point from three Championship tournaments. Expect both to perform here when the stakes are highest.
As for the group from Rivals, there are many dangers lurking. Grzegorz Kowalski is a former Team Series Champion and World Championship finalist; Mike Sigrist and Luis Salvatto are former Players of the Year; and Alexander Hayne and Thoralf Severin are among those who have the experience of hoisting the trophy at the end of a massive event.
But two names stand out from the standout names: Austin Bursavich, and Luis Scott-Vargas. For Bursavich, his stratospheric rise to the top starts as recently as November 2019, where he announced himself on the global stage with a Top 8 finish at Mythic Championship VI. 2020 began with another Top 8 at Players Tour Phoenix before the definitive statement: a title-winning tour de force at the 2020 Season Grand Finals. Technically excellent, outstanding at metagaming, emotionally rock solid—Bursavich has everything needed to succeed.
The same is true, of course, for Scott-Vargas, a Hall of Famer whose personal history is interwoven with that of the professional game. From 2007 to today, only 2017 does not have Scott-Vargas in a premier event Top 8 somewhere. Yet this weekend feels, as much to him as to us, as the latest of last chances.
After an 8-4 record in the first Strixhaven League Weekend, that featured a perfect 6-0 in Historic, he sat in 3rd place in Rivals, in prime position to claim a World Championship seat. Once again, Standard got in the way, while his Historic dominance was becoming, well, historic. It was Yuta Takahashi who ensured that Scott-Vargas would finish exactly one point shy of automatic qualification, meaning that he now faces a full weekend of Standard, needing to flip the format script of these last few months.
The Rivals Gauntlet
It's Thursday September 2, Friday September 3, and Sunday September 5.
By the time the Rivals Gauntlet begins its Top 8 on Sunday, there will be precisely one seat remaining at Magic World Championship XXVII. Like the MPL Gauntlet, Thursday and Friday feature a total of 12 rounds of Standard, with a cut to the Top 8 on Sunday. In that Top 8, it's a conventional double-elimination bracket, with the overall tournament winner completing the World Championship lineup.
Competing for this are 24 players, here from three distinct routes through the season:
- MPL season ranks 13–16: Andrew Cuneo, Lee Shi Tian, Shota Yasooka, Ken Yukuhiro
- Rivals League season ranks 21–32: Matthieu Avignon, Kai Budde, Louis-Samuel Deltour, Kenji Egashira, Ivan Floch, Kenta Harane, Christian Hauck, Shintaro Ishimura, Theo Moutier, Sebastián Pozzo, Miguel Simões, Jakub Tóth
- Challenger Gauntlet finishers 5–12: Gavin Thompson, Ian Birrell, João Moreira, Logan Nettles, Jan Merkel, Sam Rolph, David Inglis, Matti Kuisma.
The MPL quartet are a profoundly powerful group. Cuneo has been around professional Magic for as long as there have been premier events to be around. Lee has battled time zones as well as opponents, but mastered timeshifted Magic play as the season progressed. Fellow Hall of Famer Shota Yasooka plays at a blistering pace, and may well be the best Japanese player of all time—no small accomplishment. As for Yukuhiro, if any deckbuilder can unlock a back-end Standard it's him.
For those from the mid-table of the Rivals League, this is a chance to turn an average season into a highly successful venture, since a World Championship seat forgives a lot. Possible headline acts include Hall of Famer Kai Budde, Pro Tour champion Ivan Floch, and former Constructed Master, Argentina's Sebastian Pozzo.
But it may be the battle-hardened competitors from the Challenger Gauntlet who see themselves as having the best chance to progress. All eight made it to the final day of that Gauntlet, and there'll be no rustiness for this group as they tackle Standard once more. Nettles, Merkel, Rolph, and Inglis were among the pre-event favorites last time round—but spare a thought for Matti Kuisma.
Of the Top 4 from the Challenger Gauntlet, only Kuisma failed to convert his position into a World Championship seat. The phlegmatic Finn will require a solid dose of one-step-at-a-time if he's to make it one step closer to the promised land this time around.
And so, the lines are drawn, the fields are set, and there's no hiding place. Twelve players are already in the World Championship field. Four more will claim their seats. Watch the Magic World Championship XXVII field emerged with all the action unfolding live, September 2–5 at twitch.tv/magic!