Thoralf Severin is not a man who enjoys the spotlight. Attention can make him feel uncomfortable; he doesn't even tell acquaintances when his birthday is because he doesn't want to make them feel like they owe him something. He prefers to quietly get by, hang out in private with his friends, and sling some spells, just like he's been doing since he picked up the game as a 13-year-old who dumped his spare change into Nemesis booster packs.
So he wasn't quite prepared for what has happened in the days since he won Mythic Championship IV in Barcelona. He missed his flight home while he was busy drawing Ulamogs from the top of his deck to knock off Alvaro Fernandez Torres in the finals of the tournament, and that meant a few extra days to spend at the beach.
Or at least part of the day at the beach. After all, you don't want to spend all day in the sun when you can escape to a local store to play some Magic. The only problem for the Berlin native who described it as "lovely" to receive no birthday congratulations?
The spotlight has found him now.
"I was out with my friend Robin Steinborn after the event, and we saw someone with a Mythic Championship shirt on so Robin started chatting with him, and he had to tell him that I had actually just won the most recent one," Severin explained with more than a hint of good-natured exasperation. "As we were checking out the guy was googling it on his phone, and when he saw he looked up and said, 'you weren't lying!'
"I know I'm really bad at taking compliments, but sharing my life with the world is not my way—people you've never met know who you are and caring about what you did is beyond my understanding, so it's a collision between two worlds. It's a challenge for me, but as long as people are reasonable about it—and everyone so far has been—I'm fine with it."
The irony of opening up to the world about how he prefers privacy is not lost on Severin. It's a balance he has struck his entire life, and for someone who isn't comfortable with extra attention, his accomplishments have left him with little other choice but to adapt. He tried out for the European version of the popular singing competition The Voice and came within one round of advancing to live TV. He's been building his Magic resume steadily, with three Grand Prix Top 8s over the past five years. He's a part of the popular Arena Boys series for ChannelFireball and has done some coverage work with Magic Card Market's tournament series in Europe.
Now he's a Mythic Champion, with worldwide coverage and his name splashed across Magic websites from every corner of the globe.
Through it all, Severin hasn't changed. He's still the guy who wore taped-up broken glasses through the entirety of the Mythic Championship rather than replace them. ("They've been broken for a year but I fixed them up with some tape; I guess I'm bad at replacing things if they can still work," was his deadpan explanation) He's still the guy who traveled across the globe for his first Pro Tour (34 hours of plane rides to get him to Hawaii) despite being terrified by flying. He's still the guy who hates the winters in Berlin and makes half-jokes about moving to Costa Rica every year. He's still the guy who likes to waste hours with his friends playing a game they've named "Gatherer," where they pull up a random Magic card and compete to see who can recite the card's entire text. He's still the amiable competitor who is as jovial at the table whether he's winning or losing, competing at the kitchen table or the Mythic Championship final table. "I hate matches where it's just grim vs. grimmer table," he confessed.
In other words, "Toffel," as his friends call him, is still Toffel—no matter where he is or who he is around. He harbors no outrageous expectations, no delusions that he is the best Magic player in the world (though he is certainly one of the best Limited players on the circuit). No matter how serious the stage he's playing on, he still likes to invent new, casual ways to play Magic with his friends when he can, and he doesn't put any pressure on himself to be anything other than who he has always been.
That may just be the secret to his success. The advantage of not caring for the spotlight is that he doesn't care much about it, either.
"The whole tournament, from the first round to the finals, I wasn't afraid or nervous at all, I was just playing Magic," he explained. "I see people with shaking hands, being excited and afraid, not knowing what they're doing. I came in with the mentality that it was my last tournament, and so I had nothing to lose. I've done so much in Magic already—I've played for lots of money, I've played in a lot of Top 8s, I made the Top 8 of a Mythic Championship. What more could I ask for?"
Severin mentions it offhandedly, but the bit about it being his last tournament is more than just a mindset—with his future in Magic uncertain heading into Barcelona, Severin was planning on hanging up his traveling hat after the tournament.
"I had already told my friends I was playing Barcelona and that would be it unless something really out of the ordinary happened—Robin was qualified for Richmond and wanted me to go with him, but I joked with him I wasn't going to go unless I made the Top 8 of Barcelona," Severin recalled with a laugh. "I guess it's not a joke anymore."
That's an understatement. Severin will not only be in Richmond for Mythic Championship VI, he'll compete at the 2019 World Championship, and he's embracing whatever the future might hold for him in his typical easy-going demeanor.
"I don't know what's next for me after this, I'm still trying to figure out what this means for me," he admitted. "It's not my life goal to play Magic professionally, but if opportunities came up, I would say yes. I want to set an example of someone who can be a good sport and play the game for fun, whether I'm winning or losing."
Whatever comes next, things are going to change for Severin. He's a Mythic Champion, and now one of the faces of a game in the midst of an explosion. He doesn't know what will come his way next, but he's ready for whatever it may be.
Of course, the more things change, the more they stay the same—he still hates flying.