How Reid Duke made Top-8 at the MTG World Championship 2023 | Magic: The Gathering

The MTG World Championship has a special place in my heart. I’ve competed 10 times, running the gamut from dead last place all the way up to a finals appearance back in 2013. As I grow older, I’ve vowed to cherish each opportunity, and play every Championship as though it could be my last. 

I outlined my history with the Worlds tournament in a previous Blog entry

This year, Worlds took a new form. It wasn’t the giant, Pro Tour-sized fields of the pre-2012 era. Nor was it the exclusive 16 to 32 player fields of 2012-2022. Instead, Worlds is now more like a "super Pro Tour" with just a hair over 100 of the best players in the World. With a one million dollar prize pool, it’s a great opportunity for a competitive player!

Well, as luck would have it, I showed up at Worlds on September 22 and had one of the best runs of my career, making it all the way to the top 8!

(That’s me in the middle with the ChannelFireball/Ultimate Guard shirt!)

Building a Standard deck for the MTG World Championship 2023

But maybe I should start from the beginning. The Constructed format for the tournament was a revitalized Standard, with an expanded card pool, and a couple of the previous best cards, like Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, now banned. 

Fable of the Mirror-Breaker

Standard was awesome this time around. It felt relatively unexplored due to the structural changes plus the recent release of Wilds of Eldraine. Plus, every classic archetype was represented! Mono-Red, White Weenie, Midrange, Control, Ramp and even Combo were all possible, so you could really take things in the direction you wanted to go. 

Mosswood Dreadknight

For me, that meant Golgari Midrange. At one point my teammates "assigned me" to Golgari, asking me to work on the deck and play villain against the other decks in our gauntlet. Wouldn’t you know it, I fell in love! Golgari was effective, it fit my style, and I was enjoying both old cards like Liliana of the Veil and Go for the Throat, as well as new cards like Blossoming Tortoise and Mosswood Dreadknight

Spellbook Vendor

As a team, we also worked a lot on Mono-White Humans. I really value a pristine, monocolor mana base, and Mono-White was a very effective aggro deck. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Adeline, Resplendent Cathar are among the best cards legal in the format. And the new Spellbook Vendor powers up the deck and gives the pilot a surprising amount of control over the game.

Herd Migration

The problem? Well, my teammates Seth Manfield and Gabriel Nassif were working on Domain Ramp, and I couldn’t beat it! Golgari against Ramp was a hopeless cause. And even the fast white deck, with disruptive elements of Thalia, Anointed Peacekeeper and Invasion of Gobakhan wasn’t cracking 50/50! Worlds represents the highest stakes there are, so when I couldn’t beat’em, I decided to join’em.

Read about the deck here!

Draft 1 | MTG World Championship 2023

Before diving into Standard, there was the small matter of Booster Draft. I first-picked Sleep-Cursed Faerie, followed by a few red cards. I was perfectly willing to draft any color combination. However, blue is perceived to be a bit shallow and weak compared to the other colors, and it really wasn’t coming to me in my seat. 

Glass Casket

Instead, I speculated on some white cards and then picked up a seventh pick Glass Casket, which I took as a sign that my neighbors weren’t interested in the color. W/R aggro isn’t my personal favorite archetype to draft, but I know it can be highly effective, so I settled into what I considered a very normal-looking Boros deck. I had a good curve and lots of the commons you want, but no rares and nothing particularly flashy.

I won Round 1 against R/G, with the highlight being my sideboard combo of Discerning Financier (I like this card and always bring it in when I’m on the draw) and Grabby Giant winning me a protracted game. 

I lost Round 2 against Pedro with a cool mono-white deck (he ended up winning the pod). 

Round 3 came down to a nail biter Game 3 against Izzet. On the final turn, my opponent made a huge play with Imodane’s Recruiter and attacked me for 25 damage. I lined up a few blocks, and took 19 down to one life. Then on my turn, I comboed the Adventure side of Besotted Knight // Betroth the Beast, Archon’s Glory and Twice the Rage to kill my opponent on the dot from 15 life! Talk about explosive!

Besotted Knight // Betroth the Beast

Archon’s Glory

Two-Headed Hunter

Standard | MTG World Championship 2023

Now it was time to see what my Standard Ramp deck was made of. I opened on a mirror match win against Pro Tour Champion Jake Beardsley. Then I defeated Esper Midrange.

Atraxa, Grand Unifier

The highlight was yet another mirror match against teammate Seth Manfield. Seth resolved the first Atraxa, Grand Unifier, and there’s very little counterplay to that before you can access your Disdainful Strokes from the sideboard. With Seth having more life, board presence and resources, I had to take a defensive stance. 

That said, I had some advantages of my own. I just so happened to have a draw heavy on Sunfalls. Plus, Seth was forced to use two Leyline Bindings and his Boseiju early in the game, while I still had access to all of mine. I took great care to line up the correct answers against the correct threats. 30 minutes later, I had decked him!

Round things out with a win against Mono-Red, where winning the die roll helped me edge out a tough matchup, and I was 6-1 and high enough in the standings to be in draft pod 1 the following day. 

Draft 2 | MTG World Championship 2023

Going into draft two, my goal was to not blow it. Just draft a nice, solid two-color deck and avoid disaster, right? Well, wouldn’t you know it, I ended up with a messy Sultai deck. I had no clue how it would play out. Had I blown it?

I’m still not sure exactly how good this deck was. But I played hard and had great draws, and wound up going 3-0. The highlight was sideboarding in a fourth color (white) to access enchantment removal. This allowed me to free up my three Hamlet Gluttons from my opponent’s three Cooped Ups!

Finishing Up

Funny enough, three of the last four matches of my tournament were against the same player, Anthony Lee. I beat Anthony in the second round of the draft, and then punched my ticket to the Top 8 by defeating his Golgari deck in Standard.

You might recall that the Golgari vs. Ramp matchup was what scared me off of registering Golgari myself. It’s not that Golgari can never win. It’s more like, if the Ramp deck "does its thing," then Golgari has little counterplay. Instead, they have to capture as much equity as they can by putting on a quick clock and throwing a Duress in the mix, hoping that something will go wrong for Ramp. As we know, MTG is a game where things go wrong all the time. The end result is a matchup that’s squarely favorable for Ramp, but not hopelessly lopsided. 

Liliana of the Veil

All of that said, I felt lucky to draw Anthony as my quarterfinals matchup in the Top 8. I won two games in the best-of-five set, before he made his comeback. He beat me in three running sideboard games with Liliana of the Veil. Credit to a strong player and a very tough opponent!

When the dust settled on the weekend, I didn’t have a World Championship trophy. However, I did have a good result, and a tournament that reminded me I could still hang with the best of them. I certainly ran hot, but there were also several matches - like the ones that came down to decking, or to a single life point here or there - that I easily could’ve lost if I hadn’t been playing sharply. 

I went in thinking that this World Championship could be my last. However, the strong finish qualifies me to play next year, so I guess there’ll be at least one more chance!

Autor: Reid Duke

Magic: The Gathering Hall of Fame, Member of Team CFBUltimateGuard

Magic runs in the family for Reid. When Reid was five, his mom came home one day with two Magic starter packs for him and his brother Ian. They both hardly knew the rules but they muddled through as best they could with the rules inserts. 26 years later, Reid’s now one of Magic’s most successful and respected players in the world. Learn more about Reid.