Magic World Championship XXVII has its Top 4.
10 rounds of play between the sixteen top players in the world for the 2020-21 season: Day Two of the World Championship brought it all together with a dominant run to the top, a comeback story for the ages, and a pair of tense tiebreaker matches with a Top 4 berth on the line.
A long season of competition brought these players the World Championship, and their mastery of Innistrad: Midnight Hunt Draft and Standard through two days brought us great moments, dramatic topdecks, deep decisions, and one of the best winner reactions to ever air from a Magic tournament.
And why not? It's the World Championship. All of that was what we saw unfold to reveal the Top 4 returning on Day Three to battle for the title of World Champion:
- Ondŕej Stráský (Izzet Epiphany)
- Yuta Takahashi (Izzet Dragons)
- Jean-Emmanuel Depraz (Temur Treasures)
- Jan Merkel (Grixis Epiphany)
Here's how we got there.
Stráský Dominant Once Again
It's hard to overstate just how influential Ondŕej Stráský has been to competitive Magic over the past two years. As part of the famed "Czech House," his testing group that includes fellow World Championship competitor Stanislav Cifka, Stráský has been responsible for creating or popularizing numerous format-defining decks—and he was at it once again at the World Championship.
His Day One started with a 3-0 run through Innistrad: Midnight Hunt Draft and, after a narrow victory against Sam Pardee, Stráský emerged as the only 5-0 player on Day One. It set him up perfectly for play on Day Two—now needing only two more wins to secure a Top 4 slot—and brought along with it the pressure of pacing the field.
Not that it slowed him down anyway. Stráský cleanly and quickly picked up the two wins he needed with a 2-0 and done for the day start to secure Top 4.
Stráský said that while he didn't expect to reel off a 7-0 run, he was confident his team had the best Standard deck for the tournament.
"If I don't win tomorrow, I'll be disappointed," he admitted. "I like my chances; our deck is great and I feel like I've played well. I've definitely surpassed my pre-tournament expectations in that regard. Winning the World Championship would be a nice ending to a wonderful chapter in my life. Magic has given me basically everything I have, so I'd like to leave the game on a high."
Stráský's dominance puts him in a very exclusive club of players who have so thoroughly controlled a World Championship-level tournament. Shota Yasooka went 11-1 at the 16-person Players Championship in 2012, while Seth Manfield and William "Huey" Jensen put together similar runs at the 2015 and 2017 World Championships, respectively.
But none of those players went undefeated like Stráský did. He would undoubtedly trade that to share in their result, though—both Manfield and Jensen went on to win the World Championship.
It's been some time since such a high-level event tackled a brand-new Standard format, but that's exactly what we got as players battled through seven total rounds of a Midnight Hunt Standard that had largely settled on a few predictions. Mono-Green was perhaps the most consistent deck of the early weeks in the format, but various Alrund's Epiphany decks had stolen the show when decklists were revealed. All in all, the major players were thought to be known.
But then the matches actually began, and it was two players who brought decks off the rails for the tournament who filled out the Top 4; Depraz brought Temur Treasures while Takahashi ran Izzet Dragons.
Both were somewhat throwback lists, with Depraz leaning on the
Meanwhile, Merkel's testing team included fellow World Championship competitors Matt Sperling, Eli Kassis, and Gabriel Nassif. They felt they had gained an edge by adapting to a Grixis list that both supported Alrund's Epiphany while targeting Izzet Epiphany decks playing it as well as the Mono-Green Aggro decks that beat them.
While it didn't stop the tournament's runaway top player Stráský (who kept things "simple" with the reliably inevitable Izzet Epiphany) it did mean the Top 4 was noticeably absent of Mono-Green Aggro. Blue-red players made the right metagame call for this tournament, yielding a Top 4 of mixed archetypes no one predicted.
Incredible Comebacks Lead to the Top 4
When Stráský locked up the first spot early, there were just three left up for grabs. That was an especially daunting challenge for Yuta Takahashi, whose draft had been a tough 0-3 finish that put him in the last possible spot he wanted to be at the World Championship.
But you can't have an amazing comeback unless you get behind first, and that's exactly what Takahashi delivered. From the 0-3 record he was 4-3 when Stráský clinched, having clawed back into the middle of the standings.
From there, Takahashi played the Magic of his career with his Izzet Dragons deck, going on to earn a clean 7-0 record across Standard matches. In fact, he didn't lose a single game of Magic after Round 6.
His incredible performance unquestionably made his deck the brew to beat in the Top 4, but his reaction to making Top 4 was one for the ages.
Speaking of comebacks, Jan Merkel proved beyond a doubt his "first Pro Tour, first Pro Tour win" legacy was never a fluke.
The Pro Tour Kobe 2006 champion took a long break from the game but returned to the top last year, and has been in top form ever since. He turned in an excellent 2021 season to qualify for the World Championship—from his second career Top Finish at the Zendikar Rising Championship into a Top 12 clinch in the Challenger Gauntlet to defeating fellow German (and Hall of Fame juggernaut) Kai Budde en route to victory in the Rivals Gauntlet. Day Two of the World Champion coolly brought himself one major step closer to adding another incredible title to his resume.
Merkel's reaction to winning his Top 4 tiebreaker match against teammate Matt Sperling couldn't have been any more different than Takahashi's, but it was no less memorable.
"I am incredibly happy. It's hard to put into words and I wasn't expecting this," he explained after clinching his spot. "The Top 4 is already a great achievement so I'll be happy no matter what."
Rounding out the Top 4 was Depraz. In a twist, all Top 4 competitors came from the same Day One Draft pod, and like Merkel it was a 1-2 Draft deficit Depraz had to climb out of. But that's exactly what he did, fighting every step of the way. That path included having to win a nailbiter against Sam Pardee in Round 10 to earn his way to a tiebreaker match.
He pulled off the victory and the improbable comeback from his 1-2 start and advanced to the tiebreaker match, where he would face… Sam Pardee. It was a rematch with the Top 4 on the line, and for the third time in the tournament. Depraz made the most of his opportunity against the Mono-Green Aggro deck.
With that, the Top 4 was set. And Depraz, who quietly develops as one of the best players in any tournament he plays in, is now just one day away from possibly completing his ascent to the top of the Magic world.
"The World Championship is just the biggest accomplishment for any Magic player," he said. "I'm not sure how favored or unfavored I am against each Epiphany deck, I only know these match-ups are really close. ... I'm the underdog, but with good hands and some counterspells on key turns, I have my chances."
The Top 4 returns on Day Three, October 10 at 9 a.m. PT for a double-elimination bracket that will eventually send two of the four competitors to the title match and the final battle of the 2020-21 season for Magic immortality on a card and the title of World Champion!