When the Neon Dynasty Championship opened, 229 players arrived prepared to show that they had gained the upper hand in the brand-new Alchemy format. By the time Magic World Championship XXVIII qualification matches began on Sunday morning, only eight players (with six different decks) were still left with that chance.
There was much more on the line than just metagame dominance. Crucially, six players in the field would qualify automatically for Magic World Championship XXVIII—not to mention the prize money and trophy that came with victory at the Neon Dynasty Championship. That meant that every match played for the first half of the day would serve as a qualification match, before the Top 8 narrowed down to a duo for a final title match.
The Upper Bracket
Things kicked off with the dominant player from the first two days of play, the American Jim Davis making his first career Top Finish and doing so in undefeated 12-0 fashion. His masterful play and metagame excellence made him the player to beat in the Top 8.
That task fell first to Eli Kassis, who like Davis had brought a strong Alchemy deck. While Davis was armed with Grixis Midrange, Kassis was exploring the dungeons of the Forgotten Realms with Orzhov Venture.
Both decks made use of the new and rebalanced unique-to-Alchemy cards that set the format apart in its debut at the pro level this weekend.
Davis's run through the first dozen rounds of play was legendary, but the run came to an abrupt end against Kassis in a tight three-game match that saw a pair of
Next up was a matchup of two of the best stories to come out of the last few years: two young players from opposite sides of the globe meeting in their first Top Finish. Both are digital-first players: American Jonny Guttman has been a force behind many of the Standard innovations of the past few seasons, and with just 13 tabletop events to his name, he's largely earned his place thanks to his online prowess.
Across from him was Yudai Miyano, playing from his home in Iwate prefecture, Japan. For Guttman the Top 8 was a climatic achievement years in the making working with other well-known online players, but for Miyano it was the continuation of a dream run. He was nervous going into the qualifier weekend in January and didn't expect to qualify for a Championship so quickly, much less advance to the Top 8 of one and a chance for more.
Miyano's Esper Clerics deck was one of many Alchemy brews that attacked on a unique angle - in this case, Miyano's deck was stuffed with lifegain to trigger his
The match went the distance, with players trading games and blows in the decider. But in the end Miyano's miracle run could not be denied, and the man who didn't expect to even qualify for a Championship anytime soon will now play in the biggest of them all.
On the other side of the bracket, Zhi Yimin and Jean-Emmanuel Depraz were locked into their own battle for a spot at Worlds. It was an especially meaningful match for Depraz, whose three runner-up finishes in his career include a heartbreaking loss to Yuta Takahashi in the finals of Magic World Championship XXVII a few months ago.
But it was not meant to be, as Yimin was able to navigate a supremely complicated boardstate to take down the deciding game.
That left one match in the first round, and in it the youth movement continued with Zach Dunn—a rising high-level competitor who broke through for his first Top Finish—squaring off against Rivals League member Brent Vox in his second career Top Finish.
Dunn has come into his own as a Magic competitor over the past years of digital events, and his preparation for the tournament was evident in the Mardu Midrange deck he tailored to the metagame he expected.
Those decisions paid off perfectly against Vos, with Dunn winning a quick 2-0 match to secure a seat at the World Championship and validating the energy he's poured into improving at the game.
OMG I QUALIFIED FOR WORLDS!!! YOU CANT WRITE THIS STORY ANY BETTER!— Zach Dunn (@Z23mtg) March 13, 2022
But Dunn wasn't satisfied, and he was far from finished there. In the next round against Yimin, he persevered through one of the most stress-inducing games of Magic to ever be played.
A wild way to end a game, and it made Miyano's clean 2-0 victory over Kassis in the other match look tame by comparison. That set up Dunn and Miyano in an Upper Bracket final that would send one of them straight into the title match and bring their dream of winning the Neon Dynasty Championship much closer to reality.
It was Dunn who would not be denied. His deck leaned on its removal options to help build a board that controlled Miyano's most important Clerics and kept his life total at a reasonable level. Both games went according to plan - Dunn took some hits early but built up his board before going over the top of the threads Miyano could serve.
Miyano would have a chance to play in from the lower bracket, while Dunn went straight into the Title Match. It was the biggest accomplishment of his Magic career - and it still wasn't enough to get him out of homework.
The Lower Bracket
With four World Championship competitors already locked, there were two more matches left to determine who would play for it all later this year. The first was a matchup of two fan favorites in Jim Davis and Jonny Guttman. Both had put together inspiring runs to the Top 8, but only the winner would secure a World Championship invite.
The Grixis Midrange-Mono-White Aggro matchup went the distance, with three thrilling games that ended in a heartstopping topdeck trade in the final turn that sent the winner to Worlds and Davis home in crushing fashion.
4th place still doesn’t sound real. Thank you to everyone on my team for infinite testing and everyone who cheered me on. So wild that I’m going to play at the world championships this year. :D— Jonny Guttman (@ginky_mtg) March 14, 2022
Everyone in the Top 8 of the Neon Dynasty Championship is in a strong position in the race for the points-based invites to the World Championship, but that didn't ease the tension as Vos and Depraz faced off for the final invite. Depraz's Jeskai Hinata brew had surprised opponents all weekend long, and while he wouldn't have that particular advantage against Vos, he did have some critical ways to go over the top of Orzhov Venture with cards like Magma Opus.
The match went extremely long, with players trading games and resources deep into the third as the clock for both dwindled. In the fading light it was Depraz's
He finished second place a year ago, and now it's official: Depraz will be back at the World Championship to try and finally get over the second-place hump.
Here's the six players who earned an invite to the World Championship.
With the World Championship invites decided, all that remained was to determine who would meet Zach Dunn in the title match. Every match from here on out was still an elimination match, and while the French superstar Depraz accomplished his goal of getting back to Worlds, he fell in two quick games to Kassis, while on the other side of the bracket Guttman navigated some complicated creature combats to take the match in three games.
Guttman then met up with Kassis, each playing their fourth different matchup out of four rounds in the diverse Alchemy Top 8. The games were a race for Guttman's Mono-White Aggro deck to get far enough ahead of Kassis' value-oriented Orzhov Venture deck that the American couldn't stabilize. Mono-White is a tried-and-true aggressive strategy, but without access to something like
That led to three back-and-forth games that featured plenty of combat and even more venturing. In the end, Kassis was able to lean on a timely
Once again the match delivered high-stakes Alchemy drama, with the players splitting the first two games and moving to a decider, where a rash of land plus a timely
With that, the final stage was set: the winner of the Neon Dynasty would be either Eli Kassis or Zach Dunn. All that remained was a title match to decide which.