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The Week That Was: The Rally in South America

March 29, 2024
Corbin Hosler

There are many paths to the Pro Tour.

The traditional Pro Tour Qualifier winner at a MagicCon. The online grinder who qualifies through events on Magic Online or Magic Arena. The Limited specialists who excel at draft and chain together invites throughout the season. The Pioneer experts who were on full display at Pro Tour Murders at Karlov Manor in Chicago last month. The many discrete and unique ways to qualify for the Pro Tour and the Magic World Championship is one of the things that makes covering the circuit week in and week out so much fun—and there's always another opportunity on the horizon.

This weekend brings us Arena Championship 5. There will be 32 competitors who earned spots via Qualifier Weekends and will now play for a $200,000 prize pool and a pair of seats at the Magic World Championship later this year. And we're fresh off a Regional Championship season that saw a dozen international events put Modern through its paces. Whatever your preferred way of playing competitive Magic, there's probably a way to qualify for the Pro Tour or World Championship.

Even if it doesn't always seem that way at first.

"Because I play Limited so much, I'm always comfortable when that's the format. I actually earned two qualifications for the Regional Championship playing Sealed," explained Guillermo Armando Loli Bernal.

The 2018 Peru National Champion has shown he can play Limited with the best in the world—he competed at the World Magic Cup twice and has played on the Pro Tour—but the problem for Loli was that the South America Magic Series (the Regional Championship for South America) was Modern.

"When I play Constructed, I feel like I need to test the deck a lot to feel comfortable," he explained. "I didn't get the chance to test Living End as much as I wanted to, but I did get in a bunch of games before the tournament and practiced a lot against Temur Rhinos. That was my first match on Saturday. I won that, and then a mirror in Round 2, and that gave me confidence."

His nerves behind him, Loli went on a tear. He finished the eight Swiss rounds 6-1-1, with his only loss coming from Sebastian Pozzo (an Argentinian Magic legend with two career Top Finishes and the distinction of having the best Constructed record among all Pro Tour players during the 2016-17 season).

The loss was a "dose of reality," as Loli explained it, and he said it helped to ground him for the rest of the tournament. He wouldn't drop another match, finishing a perfect 4-0 in mirror matches and cruised into the Top 8, eventually defeating Daniel Lopez in the finals to win the Regional Championship.

In the larger context of the Regional Championship circuit and the Modern format, Loli's victory with Living End was a testament to the power of instant speed cascading with Violent Outburst. But if you drill down to the heartrending matches Loli had to navigate to earn the biggest victory of his career, it turns out it's not just a story of deck dominance.

"The first thing I was told about my opponent for the Top 8 was that it was another Living End player, and I immediately thought to myself 'it's another mirror, you've got this,' and [I] told my friends why I thought I was winning my mirror matches," Loli explained. "I consider myself a good Limited player; and playing Limited, you get into a lot of situations where you face complicated combats with large creatures, evasive creatures, or just vanilla creatures. The Living End mirror is a lot like that. After both players have done our gameplan, it really depends on combat decisions with big 'dumb' creatures."

Living End Curator of Mysteries 522163 598976 616969

"I have a lot experience [choosing when to go for it and when to manage my cards], so I was really comfortable following that gameplan. I asked my quarterfinals opponent how many mirrors he had faced, and he told me zero. 'I won three,' I told him, and the matchup went exactly as I thought it would and how it had gone for me the day before."

What Loli's story speaks to is playing to your strengths. Whether that's following formats you like or picking Modern decks based on your draft prowess, everyone interacts with Magic differently—and with so many different formats, players can compete in meaningful tournaments. One of the trends that has stood out to me is how often it's not the "best deck" that does well in a Pioneer or Modern tournament, but the players who know their deck and its matchups the best.

Loli's strategy paid off, and now he'll represent his team and community at the Pro Tour and Magic World Championship later this year.

"My teammates are really important for me," he explained. "We do testing before big tournaments, and talking with them, discussing plays and matchups is how I gain the confidence to play. A big shoutout to Jimmy Sam who helped me; when I wasn't sure about a matchup, I would go to him and make gameplans."

It's been two weeks since Loli's big breakthrough, and it's just now sinking in that he's headed not just back to the Pro Tour, but the World Championship after that. And with Draft such an integral part of the Pro Tour, Loli will soon have a chance to play his favorite format at his favorite tournament.

"I love playing competitive Magic and getting the chance to continue to do so is why I play the big tournaments. I can't wait to be at the Pro Tour again, and I'm already testing," he said. "And the Magic World Championship is going to be a dream for me. It's truly one of the best moments of my life."

The Global Road to Magic World Championship 30

Magic is a global game. Pro Tour leaderboards are filled with dozens of country flags represented by hundreds of PT players who represent the millions across the world. National and regional events are interwoven throughout Magic's 30-year history.

So when Loli competes at the World Championship in Las Vegas later this year, the Lima native will be doing so with the support of an entire region of Magic players. But it wasn't always this way. In fact, if not for the Magic World Championship of 1995 it might not have been such a global game at all.

Frank Karsten (with his column) and I are counting down the weeks leading up to Magic World Championship 30 in late October by highlighting some cool stories and fun memories from each of the 29 previous events. Last week we highlighted the first Magic World Championship winner Zak Dolan, and this week it's on to August 1995 and what would become a pivotal moment in Magic history—and I'm not just talking about the fact that it was the first major tournament where players weren't allowed to adjust their decks between the Swiss rounds and the Top 8!

The first Magic World Championship had 512 players compete, but it was at the second event in 1995 that the World Championship truly went global. There were 19 countries represented, and the Top 8 featured just two players from the U.S., along with a pair of representatives from Italy and one each from France, Switzerland, Finland, and Austria.

The reigning American national champion Mark Justice fell in the semifinals of the tournament; and for the first time, there would be two international participants in the finals, and the World Champion of Magic would be someone from a different country than where the game originated. In retrospect, it would be a weighty title to bear.

French National Champion Marc Hernandez fell to Switzerland's Alexander Blumke in the finals of the 1995 Magic World Championship.

That title ultimately went to Blumke, who narrowly defeated Hernandez thanks to a Mishra's Factory going the distance in the final game of the match. The 26-year-old English lit student from Geneva etched his name into the Magic record books; and with the victory, opened the floodgates for more international talent to pour into Magic. Within just a few years of Blumke's victory, the first superteams would begin to form across the world as Magic gained traction and stature.

Today, Magic can be played from anywhere, at any time. And when circumstances dictated that we run global tournaments entirely online, we proved that, with players connecting from everywhere in the world to play Magic together, including a memorable World Championship victory by Japan's Yuta Takahashi. Three decades and a lot of distance separate it from Blumke's triumph at the Sea-Tac Red Lion in 1995, but they share a common thread: Magic is a global game, and it became so on the day Blumke became World Champion.

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