This week we got to watch the World Championships, and what a player to win the World Championship. Since the MPL was put together, Jean-Emmanuel Depraz has been on my shortlist for best technical player and most impressive player. If Jean has any leaks, it could only be in deck selection. He always impresses me with his play, and he stands out while winning games that almost no one else would.
We kicked off the event watching Nathan Steuer, our former World Champion and another candidate for best player in the game. Nathan has an uncanny ability to understand what's going on in each game by honing his hand-reading skills and understanding what his opponent's play means for the next few turns. Nathan plays about as close to perfect Magic as you can get. I love Nathan, and he is at minimum a top-three player in the game right now, but I did not like the start of his draft with Up the Beanstalk over good red removal spells in Torch the Tower and Witchstalker Frenzy.
I want to leverage tempo in this format, and while it’s nice to have a way to pick up extra cards, you want Up the Beanstalk to fall in your lap when you happen to be in green or, specifically in my eyes, Simic. This is not the format where you want your theme to be “all my cards cost five mana.” I’m curious what the conversations about Limited were like in that house, and I'd love to discuss it with them. If I had to guess, maybe Nathan wanted to downscale red in his pick orders because he thought it would be heavily contested, and green, which is also a very strong color, would potentially be less contested. I'm curious about his thoughts on that topic.
On day two we saw Reid Duke roll his pod with a similar strategy. Up the Beanstalk and Ramp was a bit messy, but his deck was consistent with multiple ramp spells and a solid top-end of three Hamlet Glutton. Reid is another player who’s on the very short list of best players in the world. He is crushing the competition this year with another top 8 at Worlds to follow up an impressive Pro Tour victory. Reid didn't play any games with his deck before the Pro Tour he won. I was in the house with him, he wanted to play Lotus badly but chose the team deck and took down the whole event. I could never say enough good things about Reid, but one thing I noticed that separates him from everyone is his ability to focus on each game like it's the finals of a Pro Tour. He never loses focus on winning and is vigilant about making the right plays whether he’s 5-0 or 0-5. Of Reid’s many admirable qualities, this is one I’d like to work on myself.
Standard looked a little exciting and diverse for a change. We saw a lot of different archetypes. Aggro represented with decks like Simon Nielsen’s Soldiers and Team CFB's White Aggro. We saw Domain Ramp played by both Reid Duke and Gabriel Nassif, and we also saw typical midrange decks like Anthony Lee’s Golgari Midrange and of course, the boogeyman, Esper Midrange and Esper Legends played by a large percentage of the field, including both finalists and your champion Jean-Emmanuel Depraz.
I was curious to see how surprised great players like Ondrej Strasky were to see a metagame breakdown of tons of Esper. After the bannings that took out Fable of the Mirror Breaker, everyone was shouting from the rooftops to play Esper. Esper lost nothing because it didn’t want to play Reckoner Bankbuster due to Raffine, and the deck was so streamlined and solid against every deck in the format that wasn’t a Fable deck. Looking at the Standard results, it seemed like Esper was still doing fairly well, but I saw less of it a few weeks later.
I don’t know exactly what happened, but I’ll say it again, Esper probably has no bad match-ups in the metagame, and if it does, it’s probably only slightly unfavorable. Esper contains the strongest cards left in the format in Raffine and Sheoldred and can protect them with the best one-drop in the format, Skrelv. Plaza of Heroes is the best land we’ve seen in Standard in quite some time. The deck is a lot like Mardu Vehicles in that its biggest issue is its mana and not drawing cards on curve, but it’s incredibly difficult to beat when it draws well.
If I played a tournament this weekend, I would definitely play Esper. Generally, it’s bad to play a deck that just had a great showing at a major tournament the week before because people all come in with plans against the deck, but I think Esper is as close to bulletproof as I’ve seen in Standard in a while. I don’t think at the moment you can play Esper and have it be a bad choice.
Worlds felt different this year because of the size of the field, and I’m not used to it being a large size. Ever since my return to the game, it’s been a smaller field tournament, and it’s sentimental to me because I remember it being a dream to play in such an exclusive event. The first season I played, I beat Shahar Shenhar in round 15 of Pro Tour Origins. I knew I had locked up a Worlds slot with that win. I almost immediately had a panic attack and had to run to the restroom to splash water on my face. I didn’t think my next round mattered all that much since I was 11-4 and thought I was basically dead for anything but top 16. However, everyone was seated when I walked into the room, and my name was on the loudspeaker to be on the main feature, as I had a win and had no idea I was in the running. I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited about a win as I was about beating Shenhar to lock my slot in a small-field Worlds, even as I finished the tournament, made it all the way to the finals, and won Player of the Year. In that moment, the Worlds slot is what mattered most to me.
Speaking of Player of the Year, Simon Nielsen has won the title with an unbelievable season. He’s made the top 8 in three major events in a row, and while it’s been done before, it’s rare and immediately puts you in the conversation with incredible company like Jon Finkel, Luis-Scott Vargas, and Nathan Steuer. He also won the Fless and Blood National Championships in the middle all of it. His attitude about the game is inspiring, as he’s always trying to learn and play. Simon is just a gamer. I can’t help but admire his approach to life.
Worlds was fun to watch, and while I didn’t actually have FOMO for playing Worlds itself, it gave me the itch to play some competitive paper Magic. Unfortunately, there aren't any events I’d want to go to for quite some time, so hopefully that itch doesn’t fade.
I’m not sure how much I want to pursue playing as many Pro Tours as possible, or even any right now, but I still love this game and want to play when I can, focus on making content, and streaming as much as I can to keep in touch with the game and community I love.