Skip to main content Download External Link Facebook Facebook Twitter Instagram Twitch Youtube Youtube Discord Left Arrow Right Arrow Search Lock Wreath icon-no-eye caret-down Add to Calendar download Arena copyText Info Close

Simon Nielsen, 2023 Player of the Year

February 16, 2024
Corbin Hosler

To qualify for the Pro Tour, you have to play a lot of Magic. To have a reasonable expectation of making the Top 8 of one, and perhaps stringing together multiple invites a row, that's more Magic, and no one wins a Pro Tour without playing even more than that.

So how about not just playing in every major event, but making Top 8 for several? How much high-level Magic do you think it takes to reach the very top of the global Magic leaderboard, earning the Player of the Year crown? Multiply that by about 100, and you have the last 12 months or so of Simon Nielsen's life.

The Player of the Year race famously came down to the wire last season, with Nielsen and Hall of Famer Reid Duke both in contention on the final day of the season, when both made the Top 8 of Magic World Championship XXIX. A year of Magic, and the Player of the Year battle came down to who could play just one more match of Magic than the other on the final day of the Magic year.

And when Duke fell to Anthony Lee in the quarterfinals, Nielsen’s win over Lorenzo Terlizzi officially made him Player of the Year in a season where he racked up an unheard-of three consecutive Top Finishes, at Pro Tour March of the Machine, Pro Tour The Lord of the Rings, and the World Championship.

Simon Nielsen

That's about all the Magic you can play. It's enough to make anyone more than a little tired. Nielsen, balancing his demanding Magic coaching career, school studies, and other competitive pursuits was downright exhausted.

"I ended up burning out a bit and took a hot break from Magic in November. It was the best thing I could have done," Nielsen admitted. "It was really healthy for me. You don't feel the need for a break when you're hyper-focused in the weeks leading up to the tournament; but afterwards, it starts to set in. I was stressing about my preparation, about not having time to keep up with everything and my studies, and decided early last year to make peace with it, not overexert myself, and just enjoy the tournaments I got to play in. If I didn't qualify for the next one, that would be okay. Maybe my life goes in a different direction, and I focus on my studies for a bit.

"Of course, it turned out be a 'God laughs when you make a plan' kind of thing. It didn't go that way at all. The way pro Magic works, you don't really get to decide when to take a break," Nielsen continued. "The tournaments kept coming, and I kept preparing and playing in them.

"So, when it was over, I took a break...and it was really helpful. At first, it felt a bit like giving up; we're told that we're supposed to always grind and work our hardest at all times, but that's not what humans are made for. I came back in a much more calm—you could say zen—place, and when December rolled around, I was excited again to start learning Pioneer decks."

And with a solid footing secured, the prospect of life as the reigning Player of the Year has begun to set in. The break did more than refuel Nielsen's drive: it allowed him to actually begin to process what it meant to have won the Player of the Year title in such epic fashion.

"Honestly, the moment it really hit me was when Rich Hagon emailed me recently about the awards ceremony coming up. The trophy ceremony. I'm actually going to get a trophy and have that to keep," he marveled. "It's super real. It's going in the history books. The title hadn't existed in five years, and it came back the year that I did well. And then it came down to the incredible last-ditch effort in the Top 8 with me and Reid. It's surreal.

"It's incredible to be at this point. When I started playing, Reid was already great, and he certainly hasn't gotten worse by any stretch of the imagination. Being able to be there and compete with these guys is the thing I've dreamt about for a decade. It feels very satisfying and validating. It feels good to see my name on that board."

So what's next for the Player of the Year?

More Magic, of course.

"My year has gone well, and I'm set up where I can focus on what matters and what I want to get out of my life. I'm really fond of the coaching and want to do more," he explained. "I've wanted to live off of Magic, and now I can. I'm qualified for everything for the next year, and if my career peters out after that I would be okay with it. But I do have something that's been floating around in the back of my mind.

"In 2025, I'll have been on the Pro tour for 10 years. If I can Top 8 one of the events this year, that would be my fifth Top 8 in 10 years," he elaborated. "That's what would have been the benchmark for serious contention for the Hall of Fame, and that's the goal I've set for myself. I've achieved a lot, and having this last thing I can look to as a motivator has been huge for me."

With one small caveat.

"I feel like I'm ready for one that isn't so stressful, where I play an incredibly cool deck, and if I don't do well, I'm happy to sit on the sidelines and cheer on my friends," he added.

It's a tongue-in-cheek request—considering that Nielsen is already deep into Pioneer testing and is flying into Chicago a week early to prepare as thoroughly as ever for the Pro Tour—but it's an understandable request all the same. After all, Nielsen played a lot of Magic in 2023.

Follow along as Nielsen players for that fifth Top 8—alongside over 250 others—at Pro Tour Murders at Karlov Manor, live from MagicCon: Chicago on February 23–25!

Share Article