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Walking the Path through Planes

February 14, 2024
Meghan Wolff

For many of the players at Pro Tour Murders at Karlov Manor, the path to the Pro Tour began close to home.

In November 2022, the City Class Games Showdown in São Paulo, DreamHack Magic Showdown in Atlanta, and Legacy European Championship in Sofia kicked off the inaugural cycle of Regional Championships. Since then, Regional Championships have qualified hundreds of players from around the world for Pro Tours in Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Barcelona, and Chicago, and sent dozens of players to the World Championship.

Qualified players come with a range of experience, from first-time Pro Tour attendees to familiar and longtime players like Guilherme Merjam, who has been to the Pro Tour more than twenty times since his first qualification in 2010.

With four cycles and over a year of Regional Championships behind them, many competitive players have their pathways to the Pro Tour mapped out, whether they’re trying to use one PT to qualify for the next or they’re heading back to the Regional Championship Qualifier level.

"In Canada we have Face-to-Face Games, who runs all our RCQ stuff," said Canadian player Derek Pite. "They have 5Ks, and those bigger events usually give out more invites. So I think I've qualified for my RCs mostly through those, and then I've qualified for the PT three times through Top 8 or Top 4 at the RCs."

Derek Pite

"I've played in quite a lot of [the qualifiers] now," said fellow Canadian Liam Kane. Kane has also frequented the larger "super qualifier" events as a way to get to the Regional Championship. "There's always one or two that are nearby me, and they're basically just giant RCQs. That's where I would say I've played the most of them and got most of my qualifications from."

Liam Kane

Both Kane and Pite are familiar faces at the Canadian Regional Championships, and both have qualified for the Pro Tour multiple times via Regional Championships, with Pite finishing in the Top 4 on three occasions, while Kane has made the Top 4 twice.

Kane had been to the Pro Tour once before the Regional Championship system, when he made the Top 8 of a Grand Prix in Montreal in 2017.

"It was always more of a dream when I was a kid, but then when it happened the first was such an amazing experience," Kane said. "It went from more of a dream to something that was achievable, and I thought I could do again. That's when it became a real goal I could actually pursue and not just fantasize about."

The introduction of the Regional Championship system provided Kane with the path for achieving that goal of returning to the PT.

"I was a teenager during that system, so I didn't really know how it worked. I just had people tell me, ‘hey, there's a PPTQ you should go to,’ or, ‘hey, there's this RPTQ you should go to.’ So I played a few of those, but I wasn't as engaged with it as reliably as I am now with the RC system. Living in Toronto, there's a lot of stores that have RCQs nearby, but mostly, it's being older and more motivated that’s made the difference. I really made it a goal to get onto the Pro Tour."

In addition to providing a path to the Pro Tour, Regional Championships are their own unique experience. Many of them are accompanied by other events, from cosplay to Commander games to trying to uncover the murderer of Lord Skitter.

"The feeling of it being a local, sort of nationals-like event is very cool and unique to me," Pite said. "I really like that. It kind of has a PTQ feel; but unlike the old PTQs, this one's a bit more of a destination event. The events in Canada have been pretty good overall, but I have a bit of a survivorship bias I guess, because I've qualified so many times through them. There's a qualification process, so it feels like they're worth something, and it’s worth playing for. I do like that it's a regional thing, so when my friends qualify or do well, it's also an exciting experience."

And while the Regional Championship does instill a sense of urgency, with invites to the Pro Tour and World Championship on the line, these repeat competitors have found the pressure manageable.

"[I was nervous for] the first few, just because competitive Magic is returning for me, or I'm returning to competitive Magic," Kane said. "Now that I've qualified for the Pro Tour via the RCs multiple times now, I really don't feel any pressure playing the events anymore."

"I think that post COVID, I'm approaching the game a bit differently," Pite said. "I don't feel as stressed as I used to be when playing Magic in general. I think playing the Pro Tour has a certain added stress to it that the RC can't really touch."

The format of the Regional Championships mirror the Constructed format of the Pro Tour they qualify players for, giving competitors the chance to flex their prowess in a particular metagame or to regroup after a difficult event.

Pioneer has been the format each time Pite made the Regional Championship Top 4.

"Pioneer being a newer format made it easier for me to sink my teeth in and figure out what was good and how to approach the format. It hasn't been around for as long, so there isn't previous knowledge like there is in Modern. You can join Modern and there's 10 years of info and knowledge. With Pioneer, there isn't that time period for people to reference, so I think it allowed me to create more of an edge or a gap between the other average player picking up the format."

"I like that it's a lower power format compared to Modern," he added. "It feels a bit more grindy and low to the ground. All of your choices matter, but the impact isn't super high or super snowballing; so, even if something goes slightly wrong, you can pull out of it. I think that leads to a lot of interesting gameplay, deck choices, and card choices."

One of the most memorable Regional Championships was the window of Pioneer between the release of Lost Caverns of Ixalan and the ban of Geological Appraiser. The success of the Geological Appraiser combo at Regional Championships, which could win the game as early as turn three, was an important data point leading to the card’s ban.

Geological Appraiser

"It felt like we were playing a very interesting format where a lot of people knew that there was something probably going to be banned from the format, but we didn't know what was going to be banned or what data was going to come out. That was a very interesting experience that didn't really translate to many other events after, because it was almost like a completely different format that we played."

One of Kane’s most memorable events was Pioneer, when he started the event with a stellar 7-1 Day 1, but then went 0-5 on Day 2 for an ultimately disappointing finish.

"That really sticks," Kane said. "The event was in Calgary, so on the flight home, that was all I could think about, just playing those matches over and over again. It's memorable for the opposite reason, but it was still a good experience. You have to have that Day 2 where you get completely destroyed before you can have the Day 2 where you just win."

And the format change from one Regional Championship to the next was part of what helped Kane feel as though he could begin again with a clean slate.

"It helped that it was a Pioneer event, and then after that it was Standard. I felt like with a new format I could refresh and take a completely new angle, so nothing from the previous event would stick in my mind. I was playing a different type of deck, so everything felt fresh."

While one event in Calgary was a stumbling block for Kane’s season, it was also later the site of one of his highlights of the year.

"From last season, the highlight would be the Regional Championship that I was finalist at, also in Calgary. I went with a few friends, and we all stayed in Calgary together, and my finals opponent at that event was one of the friends I came with. We both went out and celebrated it together afterwards. Winning with someone else that's winning is a special moment for me for sure."

The Regional Championship bringing together competitors who have known each other for years, often playing, testing, and traveling together, is an integral part of the event’s experience.

"Qualifying multiple times was certainly a highlight," Pite said. "Top 8ing the first RC in Canada was really cool, and I was really excited to do that; and then requalifying for the second PT through the first PT with my finish was also really cool. I really liked that whole experience, I think that was really exciting and unique and memorable. Seeing my friends qualify too and having a reason to travel to play Magic was also very memorable."

With multiple successful Regional Championships behind them, both Pite and Kane are striking a balance between staying focused on repeating their accomplishments while also contemplating the possibility of the World Championship.

"Last year, I did [have goals]. This year, they're a bit looser," Pite said. "Before, it was qualifying for the Pro Tour in the first year of the RC season. And I had a secondary goal of trying to qualify a few times in a row. Right now, it is do that same thing, but also try to qualify for [the World Championship], which is something I didn't do last year and I would like to do this year."

"My goal is to try and qualify again," Kane agreed. This Pro Tour will be the second in a row that he’s qualified for. "Playing two back-to-back makes me feel like I can chain them together, and that's really my goal. Not to Top 8 a Pro Tour or anything, but to qualify for it reliably, doing well enough at one to qualify for the next one, and then do well enough at that one to qualify for another one, maybe get enough AMPs to be able to qualify for Worlds. That would be my biggest goal."

You can watch Regional Championship heroes, Pro Tour veterans, and more battle at Pro Tour Murders at Karlov Manor live at February 23–25!

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