As the crowd gathered and the chants began in the Paramount Theatre in Seattle, two players walked out to fanfare both in person and across the world as tens of thousands watched from home. For a pair of players used to working quietly in the background, striving every day for years of their life in the hope of one day even possibly reaching this point, it was a surreal experience nothing in their Magic careers to this point could have prepared them for.
But both Márcio Carvalho and Brian Braun-Duin were here. It was their names that blared over the loudspeaker as they strode onto the expansive stage in front of hundreds of cheering spectators.
These gorgeous trophies would soon have new owners—but who would claim the year's greatest honor?
For Carvalho, it was an experience he described as the culmination of a Magic career spanning nearly two decades. From his debut Grand Prix appearance sixteen years ago to his pair of career Pro Tour Top 8s, the Portuguese pro had seen the highs and lows of Magic. But no high could match the World Championship final.
For Braun-Duin, he entered the tournament after narrowly winning the race for Grand Prix Master, clinching the spot in the World Championship on the last possible weekend of the season. Just a few years removed from being what he described as a local tournament grinder, Braun-Duin said the World Championship was something of a "free roll," given that qualifying for it was already ahead of the schedule he had envisioned for himself.
If qualifying for the 2016 Magic World Championship was ahead of schedule, there's no telling where advancing to the finals would fall on Braun-Duin's calendar.
Two players, neither used to this stage. Two players, neither expecting to be here. Two players, just one match away from everything a lifetime of Magic had led to.
One would leave a World Champion.
It was Bant all around in the finals, as Braun-Duin's Bant Humans deck squared off against Carvalho's more traditional Bant Company deck. It was a Collected Company mirror that featured a few key differences between the decks, the biggest of which was the fact that Braun-Duin had access to Thalia's Lieutenant to help his team outpace Carvalho's on the board. Meanwhile, Carvalho had access to the fearsome Elder Deep-Fiend to break open the game at any point.
With so much riding on this one match, neither player was about to make small talk. They sat quietly for a few moments before getting the go-ahead to begin their match, after which Braun-Duin immediately played a Forest and passed the turn. With that inauspicious start, the World Championship finals were off to the races.
And the first game was a race worthy of Kaladesh, the newest set revealed at the event. A Sylvan Advocate from Carvalho ran headfirst into a pair of Lambholt Pacifists from Braun-Duin, who had a pair of creatures but no third land. It was a precarious position, but one Braun-Duin could pull out of given a few turns behind his Lambholt Butchers.
Brian Braun-Duin hoped to stabilize behind his wall of Werewolves.
Carvalho didn't give him that opportunity. Declaration in Stone removed both Werewolves, giving Braun-Duin a pair of Clues that helped find a third land but left him far behind on board. When a Spell Queller from Carvalho ate an attempted Reflector Mage from Braun-Duin, the pair was quickly off to the second game.
Down a game in the blink of an eye, Braun-Duin was already on the hot seat, and it only got warmer as he mulliganned to six in Game 2. Still, he had the advantage of playing first, and was the first to deploy a creature with a second-turn Thraben Inspector followed by Duskwatch Recruiter. Carvalho didn't have a turn-two play, but he did undo Braun-Duin's with his third turn, using Reflector Mage to send the Recruiter back.
Carvalho simply passed on his fourth turn, and Braun-Duin fearlessly attacked into open Collected Company mana. The formidable spell didn't materialize and the American knocked Carvalho down to 15 life. The reason for his inaction became clear when Carvalho attempted a Spell Queller at the end of Braun-Duin's turn. It resolved, but it also opened the door for Braun-Duin to resolve Collected Company in his own end step, finding Thalia's Lieutenant to grow his team and Reflector Mage to send the Queller back to Carvalho's hand. In an explosive exchange of spells, Braun-Duin ended the turn with 10 total power in play.
Trying to find his way back in, Carvalho added Selfless Spirit and Tireless Tracker to his own side, a pair of value creatures no doubt, but sorely lacking in the raw power he needed at the moment. A huge attack followed from Braun-Duin and Carvalho took it all to fall to just 4 life. When Dromoka's Command made an appearance on the following turn to remove Carvalho's desperate blocker, the World Championship finals moved to a tie.
Game 3 of the match will likely go down in Magic lore forever. From start to finish, it lasted an astounding 67 minutes, made all the more unbelievable because it wasn't a dull hour filled with a static board state. Instead, it was a back-and-forth affair that saw the lead change hands multiple times, the board change dramatically over and over, both players throwing down haymaker after haymaker all the way until the end.
While neither player's life total would change for another hour, the board never stopped changing in between. Both players began to clutter the board with creatures, trying to establish control and never fully succeeding, with trades happening furiously as both players jockeyed for position to land a bomb.
Both players concentrated intently on the increasingly complicated board state as Game 3 drew on longer and longer.
It was Braun-Duin who found the first one, resolving Tamiyo, Field Researcher and ticking it up to discourage Carvalho from attacking. While the gamut held off some of the Portuguese pro's creatures, it didn't stop him from continually pressuring the Tamiyo thanks to a steady stream of creatures from his own Nissa, Sage Animist. While Carvalho succeeded in keeping Tamiyo off an ultimate and limiting Braun-Duin's creatures, he couldn't quite finish off the pesky planeswalker, thanks in large part to a first-striking Knight of the White Orchid that had grown large due to Thalia's Lieutenants and Dromoka's Commands.
The answer to Carvalho's problems arrived in the form of Archangel Avacyn, which would allow him to bypass the fight on the ground by taking to the air. While the mad Angel did resolve on Braun-Duin's end step, her arrival kicked things into high gear.
Braun-Duin went for Dromoka's Command to grow his Reflector Mage to a 4/5 and fight the Angel. Carvalho responded with his own Dromoka's Command, attempting to put a counter on Avacyn and use another one of his Tireless Trackers to take down the Reflector Mage in a fight. The sequence would leave Carvalho's Archangel Avacyn alive and reduce Braun-Duin's board to ashes.
But in a World Championship–defining moment, Braun-Duin had a second Dromoka's Command, adding a counter to the Reflector Mage and having a spare Thalia's Lieutenant fight with Carvalho's Tireless Tracker and trade off. That meant that when the dust settled on the original Dromoka's Command, it was a 5/6 Reflector Mage fighting with a 5/5 Archangel Avacyn—an exchange that broke Braun-Duin's way and kept him in the match.
Three Dromoka's Commands later, Márcio Carvalho needed to find a way back into Game 3.
Yet the game was still far from over. Carvalho untapped and refilled his own board, and although Braun-Duin found Nissa, Sage Animist, a large attack step from Carvalho several turns later finally took down both planeswalkers. Despite everything, it was Carvalho who was back in control of the game.
But in a game of wild swings, Braun-Duin saved the best for last. A Tragic Arrogance wiped away Carvalho's once-dominant board position, and left the American with a huge Tireless Tracker that ended the marathon game on the next turn.
With a game for the record books behind him, Braun-Duin found himself ready to etch his name into history. After falling behind 1-0 in the match, he had fought back to take a 2-1 lead and was now just one win away from the title.
It wouldn't be an easy road. An early Noose Constrictor from Carvalho gave the Portuguese pro control of the board—something he pushed by discarding a Tireless Tracker and Sylvan Advocate to the Constrictor to take down Braun-Duin's second-turn Lambholt Pacifist. The play put Carvalho down on cards, but when Braun-Duin failed to play a land on the third turn it was Carvalho who was in firm control, despite missing his own third land drop, thanks to a Duskwatch Recruiter that was able to transform.
Quickly falling behind on board, Braun-Duin was forced to play a Thalia's Lieutenant without any counters to distribute. It was a desperate move, but one that would help stem the bleeding if things broke Braun-Duin's way. But it looked to be Carvalho who was catching the breaks this time, as a third land came off his deck and allowed him to play a discounted Tireless Tracker and gain a Clue to pull further ahead on board.
Little did he know that third land was also the secret to unlocking Braun-Duin's hand. It meant that the Knight of the White Orchid he played allowed him to fetch a land from his deck to go alongside the Prairie Stream he finally drew.
Braun-Duin was back in the game but still far behind, as Nissa, Vastwood Seer arrived for Carvalho to ensure a fifth land and threaten an eventual transformation into the planeswalker Nissa, Sage Animist. He passed his next turn with mana open to represent Archangel Avacyn and transform Duskwatch Recruiter again. Braun-Duin followed suit, using Nissa to find a land and then casting Lambholt Pacifist to rebuild his board state, while sitting on Thalia's Lieutenant and Collected Company in hand to pull ahead in the late game should he make it there.
Carvalho did his best to make sure that didn't happen, sacrificing Nissa to the Elder Deep-Fiend to open an attack that saw Braun-Duin fall to 7 life. Sitting on five cards in his hand, the Noose Constrictor itself represented a threat that could end the game at any time if a window presented itself.
To close that window, Braun-Duin turned to the best card in his deck: Collected Company. He cast it on his main phase two turns in a row, finding just enough creatures to stave off a lethal attack from Carvalho.
Brian Braun-Duin stayed calm, refusing to let Carvalho slip the Noose around him.
With the immediate danger passed, the players settled into a stalled board state reminiscent of the previous game. Again it became of a game of which player would find their game-breaking card first. Braun-Duin hoped it would be a Collected Company he found on the top of his deck, but when the top six cards revealed zero creatures, his Company paled in comparison to the Gideon, Ally of Zendikar that hit the field for Carvalho. Gideon was not enough to win outright, but enough to hold off a Thalia's Lieutenant that had grown all the way to a 10/10.
A full trio of Tireless Trackers for Carvalho meant that if the game continued to stall, he would eventually pull ahead on cards while Gideon held off the worst of Braun-Duin's army. That put the onus on Braun-Duin to make a move, and Tamiyo, Field Researcher of the top of his deck was the first step toward that. It allowed him to present a must-answer threat of his own while setting up for a future play to break open the board.
Once again, he had it. Planned out well in advance, Braun-Duin crafted a turn that saw him make use of Tamiyo before casting Tragic Arrogance to leave Carvalho with just Gideon and one lonely Knight to face off against his own Tamiyo and 10/10 Lieutenant. Dromoka's Command took out the blocker and then Lieutenant took down the Gideon, leaving Braun-Duin was again in the driver's seat.
Carvalho tried to fight back by activating Lumbering Falls to send Braun-Duin to 4 life before playing out a pair of blockers. That allowed him to survive one hit from the Lieutenant, but still left him in a questionable spot—one that turned from bad to worse when Braun-Duin untapped and played a handful of creatures to threaten the 4 life that Carvalho was clinging to after the hit from the Lieutenant.
With nothing but a handful of Clues to try and work with, Carvalho went digging for his own Tragic Arrogance to stabilize.
First draw. Miss.
Second draw. Still no Tragic Arrogance.
Third draw. Nothing.
And that was that. Carvalho extended his hand and congratulated Braun-Duin on becoming the 2016 Magic World Champion.
Congratulations to Brian Braun-Duin, the 2016 Magic World Champion!