"A motivated William 'Huey' Jensen is about the scariest thing you can see," Marshall Sutcliffe said the Monday before the start of the World Championship.
By all accounts, Jensen was motivated.
Sutcliffe's unwavering certainty was striking. In a field of 24 of the best players in the world, playing games that sometimes come down to razor-thin margins, to small mistakes marring otherwise perfect play, to having the right card at the right moment, it can be easy to have favorites but difficult to have faith.
Difficult, but not impossible, because sometimes there's a player who spends ten hours a day for weeks on end building decks and practicing matches and playing Limited, who sits down across from the best players in the game and wins match after match, who walks into the Top 4 to face the two players who beat him in the Swiss rounds and walks out with two decisive victories.
And that is someone you can believe in.
Jensen started playing Magic at camp the summer between seventh and eighth grade.
"The first day I got there, all the kids were playing Magic, and naturally I wasn't going to be the only one who wasn't doing it," Jensen said, then laughed. "By the camp next year, it wasn't too competitive anymore."
It wasn't too competitive because Jensen's introduction to the game spiraled into playing tournaments every week, first at Treasure Chest and then at TJ's Collectibles. While initially he played with whatever decks he could put together, older players began to notice the skilled young player and started lending him better decks. In three short years, sixteen-year-old Jensen was on his way to his first Pro Tour in Rome.
In 2004, after a season in which he made three Pro Tour Top 8s, including a win in Boston, Jensen decided to retire.
"The competition with myself sort of ended," Jensen said. "You can always win more, but for me, I always kind of need that chip on my shoulder. If I don't care more about winning than about anything, it's hard for me to care at all."
Luckily for Magic, Jensen found that drive to compete again in 2012, when he missed getting into the Hall of Fame by one vote. For that near miss, he got a special invitation to Pro Tour Return to Ravnica in Seattle.
"I reconnected with a lot of old friends and made a lot of new ones," Jensen said. "I remember leaving Seattle and thinking to myself, 'This is what I want to be doing again, and this is what I should be doing.'"
"People of my Magic generation didn't know who he was," Sutcliffe said. "I met him and was like, 'Oh, that was a nice guy.'"
In the following year, Jensen proved that Magic players of any generation should know of him, rattling off eight Grand Prix Top 8s and a win in a single season, earning himself that place in the Hall of Fame.
"I was commentating Grand Prix by this point," Sutcliffe recalled, "and I'm like 'Oh, he's in the Top 8 again?'"
While Jensen hasn't been a stranger to GP and PT Top 8s in the years since his Hall of Fame induction, his competitive drive was starting to wane again at the start of the 2016–2017 season.
"I think I'm just mellowing out in my old age," Jensen said a few months ago. "I hope that I can help my teammates, especially my younger teammates who aspire to be great and to win all the tournaments, and I try to be there and to set an example, give advice, be a mentor really. I feel that's more my role in things these days than trying to win every tournament myself."
Qualifying for the 2017 World Championship wasn't a goal in Jensen's sights at the start of the year. Then, back-to-back Grand Prix wins, first in Cleveland and then in Kyoto, put both Platinum and the World Championship within his grasp with a solid finish at Pro Tour Hour of Devastation.
The opportunity to win the only Magic title he had yet to accumulate, with friends and family who have watched him play the game for 20 years nearby, was what Jensen needed to once again put that chip on his shoulder. For Jensen, winning the World Championship in front of family and in a city that had witnessed so many important moments of his journey through Magic would put an exclamation point on his career.
With a new hurdle in front of him, Jensen buckled down and began to prepare for the World Championship with unparalleled determination. With him every step of the way, of course, were Jensen's closest and most constant teammates and friends since his return to Magic, Owen Turtenwald and Reid Duke.
The trio's (known as Peach Garden Oath) shared commitment to the game and dedication to their team is a common thread through all three players' Magic stories.
"For the 2013 World Championship, when I didn't have a team to work with, Huey travelled to New York and played dozens of hours of nonstop Magic to help me, even though he wasn't qualified for the event himself," Duke said. "Since Huey has been with me through so many important moments in my own life, it makes me that much happier to be there when it's finally his turn."
"In the past, sometimes only two of us were qualified, and it's possible we've had different levels of commitment," Turtenwald said. "But this year our dedication was at an all-time high."
"Huey worked harder for the 2017 World Championship than I've ever seen any player work for any tournament," Duke said. "And by the way, I said this in at least two interviews before the event, I'm not just making up some cheesy story after the fact!"
As soon as the team had an idea of what kind of cards they'd be working with in the new Standard environment, they began building and testing decks. A month and a half out from the tournament, Jensen was already putting in 10-hour days.
The players who qualify for the World Championship are familiar with long days, with long hours of practice that add up to days' and weeks' worth of preparation. But even among the best players currently in the game, Jensen's unwavering focus and dedication was incredible.
"Magic is like anything else in life that you work for," Jensen has said on at least two occasions. "You get out of it what you put into it."
With that guiding philosophy, it followed that if Jensen wanted to win the World Championship, he had to put in an almost superhuman amount of work.
His late-season qualification, a hometown event, and hours of testing created a perfect storm for Jensen, who started the tournament with a twelve-round win streak that put him a full four victories ahead of the rest of the field. He went into Sunday as the top-seeded player of the Top 4 by a wide margin.
"I thought it was going to be really hard to watch on Sunday and not be up there playing myself," Turtenwald said. "But when the time came, it wasn't jealousy like I thought I'd feel, it was pride, joy, and excitement for my friend. I was nervous because of what was at stake, but I said multiple times that there is nobody else I'd rather watch play in the hopes that they make the right play than William Jensen. He never disappointed."
"Watching Huey win was very special," Duke said. "He's a loyal friend, and one of the most selfless people I know. Throughout Sunday, I found myself thinking back to all the times that Huey has been there for me and for his other friends. He's always the first one to offer to help you practice your Top 8 matchup, to congratulate you when things go right, or to cheer you up when things go wrong."
Of course, it wasn't just his incredible amount of preparation or his philosophy that you get out of Magic what you put into it that led Jensen to his World Championship title. He has an innate talent for the game that the people around him, from the players who lent a skilled thirteen-year-old their decks to his current teammates, have been noticing for years.
"Nothing can match his intuition for the game after fifteen years of playing on the Pro Tour," Turtenwald said. "Since his break and return to competitive play, I've seen him sort of relearn the game and gain an understanding for how Magic is played today. The reason he's so great is he can take the best qualities of all the great players around him and implement them better than the players themselves."
"What sets Huey apart from other elite Magic players is the depth at which he understands what's happening in a game," Duke said. "Huey has a knack for long-term planning that seems superhuman. When you play against him, he knows how the game is going to end, and can predict what you're going to do before you even know it yourself!"
"I've been doing this for 20 years," Jensen said after his win in Boston. "It's a lot of time and a lot of hard work and I'm happy and I'm proud and I'm glad I could do it here."
This is a fitting end to the story of Jensen's 2016–2017 season. He's showed the Magic community once again that, when he has a goal in mind, his singular determination and unwavering commitment will see it attained. It's a perfect accomplishment for a player who has proven, time and time again, that whenever there's a new rung of the ladder, he'll climb it. He has 20 years of practice and 20 years of results to prove it.
"I can't imagine my life if I hadn't picked up a Magic card. It's something that's always been there. Magic is just like an arm. It's part of me, it's shaped everything about me. Everything I've ever done in my life is directly or indirectly because of Magic."
Considering the time he's put into the game, the great finishes he's had across decades of competitive play, the insight he's brought to the booth as a commentator, and the encouragement and kindness and help he's given to the players around him, this feeling is mutual. It's hard to imagine Magic without William Jensen.