The world tour continues!
The busy stretch of Magic Regional Championships has taken us to the corners of the globe over the past month, and there's more to come before the final invitations to the Pro Tour and the World Championship are awarded.
We've been to France, where Adrián Iñigo Tastet kicked off the Regional Championship season with a victory over a nearly 700-strong field. He also threw down the gauntlet and set up Lotus Field Combo as the deck to beat in Pioneer, launching the dozen Regional Championships that will feed the Pro Tour at MagicCon: Chicago in February, along with the World Championship that will follow.
We've been to Sydney, where Brett Girvan won the ANZ Super Series Finals, setting the Pioneer world on fire with his Boros Heroic build. The dominant 6-0 performance in games played inside the Top 8 was the perfect answer to a combo-heavy Pioneer setting following Tastet's win.
Down to the
We've seen Regional Championships across Asia; we covered the latest rising stars in Brazil; and from Sao Paulo, we're headed northwest to Mexico, where more than 200 players came together last weekend for the Gathering Showdown Series. The tournament served as the Regional Championship for Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean; and it was a competitive Top 8 filled with the best Pioneer had to offer.
When it was all said and done, two players walked away with qualifications for the Pro Tour: finalist Alejandro Pereira and champion Edgar Emmanuel Rangel Páez, whose run with Rakdos also earned him a spot at the World Championship.
I talk often about the Pro Tour dream in this column, and the reason I really enjoy following the Regional Championship circuit is because that's the spot where it's made. Pro Tour Top 8 finishes or deep Saturday runs rightfully catch the headlines when they happen, but those moments are almost always first made in a qualifying tournament, where players build the skills that take them to Pro Tour heights or beyond. Not that I would describe the average Pro Tour field as grizzled veterans exactly, but the Regional Championships feature stories of players just breaking out of their local area and into the larger competitive Magic scene, and perusing Regional Championship Top 8 rosters is like looking into the future of the Pro Tour.
Nothing drives that home quite like Rangel's story. The 31-year-old has played Magic for much of his life, dedicated his time to testing Pioneer online in advance of the tournament, and worked with a team of friends (Team TiltMTG). His work began to show dividends at the last Regional Championship, where he finished in the Top 16. Then came last weekend's RC, where it all came together.
Rangel is still in what he described as shock as he processes the final step on a long road, one that ends with a new path forward and a new challenge to tackle.
"It's been a dreamlike experience," he said. "The last couple days after the tournament are hard to describe; every time I run across one of my friends at the local store, they go crazy about me being qualified, and all the joy and happiness I experienced last week becomes vivid again. It's as if they're more aware of me qualifying for the Pro Tour as I am, because I still can't believe I've accomplished what was my dream as a child. Honestly, I don't think it will really set in until I am sitting down in Chicago waiting for the first round to begin."
The friends that helped Rangel test for the tournament didn't stop there. Asked to pinpoint when he began to feel truly confident over the course of the Regional Championship, Rangel surprised me. His answer didn't have anything to do with sideboard plans or
"Honestly, the thing that really made me feel like maybe this could be it was when I was celebrating the Top 8 with my friends, and I really felt how happy they were for me making the Top 8," Rangel reflected. "They were so sure I could take the tournament. I mostly test online as I usually don't have that much time to go to my local game store or arrange an in-person session. But I have an amazing team with Victor, Canavati, and Checo. The team is really supportive, and I would never have made it this far without them. They are the ones that always push and make feel like the dream is not only worth it because of the possibility of achieving it, but because of the jour and amazing people we've come across due to pursuing it."
Rangel has watched the permutations of Pioneer over the past six weeks, from the Lotus Field Combo win to the aggressive Boros Top 8s to everything in between. He qualified for the Regional Championship with his admitted pet deck Niv-Mizzet Bring to Light, but studied the field and tested a range of options before settling on the classic Rakdos Midrange.
"I went through many iterations, and at some points even thought about playing Rakdos Sacrifice, but I ended up locking in Rakdos Midrange after I saw the Regional Championships where it made Top 8," Rangel explained. "They were playing really straightforward lists: a bunch of 4-ofs and 3-ofs. I am really used to playing midrange decks — that's my jam — and if you see my record, I ended up winning a bunch 2-1, as I would lose most of the first games and then win games 2 and 3 after the deck had been adapted for the matchup."
Next up for Rangel and the rest of his squad is preparing for Pro Tour Murders at Karlov Manor. And while Rangel is keeping his expectations realistic, the dream that began two decades ago is still alive and well.
"I know how hard it is to make a career out of professional gaming, but the only thing I've always been sure of since I was a kid watching Gabriel Nassif, Guillaume Wafo-Tapa, Luis Scott-Vargas, and all those amazing players is that I wanted to be there with them," Rangel said. "I have always wanted to play a Pro Tour, and, if possible, try to make a career out of the thing I enjoy most: playing Magic. Winning the Regional Championship means I'm finally living my dream, and I hope I can continue to make the most of it."
He'll have that opportunity in Chicago. And he'll be joined by Pereira, who was one of those players ecstatic when Tastet lapped the field in Lille with Lotus Field Combo. Pereira expertly piloted the deck throughout the Regional Championship, including a pair of extremely impressive 2-0 victories over disruptive Rakdos Midrange decks in the quarterfinals and semifinals.
But those victories were what qualified the 27-year-old Costa Rica native for the Pro Tour after years near-misses.
"I started playing Magic competitively in 2019, but then COVID came. When they announced the 2022 Regional Championship structure, I was very motivated to push myself to the top, as playing and Top 8'ing a Pro Tour is the biggest dream of my life," Pereira explained. "The last few days have felt like a hallucination. I've received so much love from friends and the Magic community."
It's well-earned, because Pereira has undoubtedly put in the work.
"Magic is played a lot in my country considering its small size, so we fortunately have a lot of tournaments to play," he explained. "I've qualified for all five Regional Championship seasons so far, and I've felt confident about my consistency during this year of competition. My expectations for this tournament were very high because I'm a Pioneer veteran, and I was practicing a lot.
"I've been playing Lotus Combo for around nine months, so I know the deck very well, but it has a very tough field in my country, so I never did very well with it locally. But I was feeling the meta might finally be good for Lotus; it was doing amazing in testing."
That was enough for Pereira to lock it in. Pioneer is famous for rewarding players deeply familiar with their deck and its interactions against the rest of the field, and Pereira's Top 8 run is the latest example. His path to the Top 8 included rounds against the then-reigning Regional Champion Archibal Peralta as well as a former Costa Rica national champion. Confident in the hours he had poured into testing and trusting the team's conclusions about Pioneer, Pereira was rewarded with a Pro Tour invite.
"My team, AJÚA, dedicated their hearts and hours of sleep to be as ready as possible for the Regional Championship," he said. "Going to a Pro Tour is one of the biggest dreams I've ever had. I'm thrilled to ask for autographs from my favorite players I've only seen on screens, and it's great to know I'm going to able to compete with them at the highest levels. I am confident in my skills, and I don't get nervous when I play, so I'm very motivated to show that my country, Costa Rica, and my region, is very skilled and capable. Magic is my biggest passion, and this achievement makes it feel like all my effort has been worth it."