The first three rounds of Limited at the World Championship are in the books! And with some spicy games in the books—Owen Turtenwald's mid-combat The Mirari Conjecture was pretty crazy, as was Ben Stark's Lyra Dawnbringer recursion—three drafters emerged unscathed from Dominaria Draft on Day One: Grzegorz Kowalski, Mike Sigrist, and Ben Stark. I caught up with them between rounds to talk about the draft, Worlds in general, and you know—life, man.
Grzegorz Kowalski has had a great season this year, which is quite something considering last year he was captaining the finals-finishing Polish World Magic Cup team. He's Platinum this year for the first time, and earned his first trophy, taking down Grand Prix Lyon; he now has seven Grand Prix Top 8s to his name.
The draft went "pretty well," he told me. "White was clearly open," so much so that he thought he was the only white drafter at the table. "I was basically drafting White Weenie, and I could play whatever second color I wanted."
Kowalski admits that that freedom led him to a few mistakes. When he saw a pack-two Djinn of the Lamp, he had put the blinders on already—sure his second color should be black. When the third-pack In Bolas's Clutches came to him, and he had nary a blue card to show for it, he could only shake his head.
But his weenies took him there nonetheless. Though he had a close shave with the aggro mirror against Ken Yukuhiro—especially since he was on the draw in the final game—he was quite satisfied with a current 3-0 lifetime record at Worlds.
It's the Polish pro's first World Championship appearance, and he started impeccably. "I was wondering if I'd be more nervous... but it really wasn't much different [than a Pro Tour]," he said, laughing a little bit, only slightly convincing himself of its truth. He wants to do well this weekend, but he has a grasp on his limitations. "I told my friends already, I'd be really happy with a Top 8. Of course I want to do the best I can, but really, it's my first ever."
But even if he doesn't, his friends will give him a hero's welcome back home. "In my hometown, when I come back home—at least, if I did well—there would be these parties, and it was great." This sort of occurrence used to be rarer in the Polish Magic community, but lately, the country has had much more to celebrate.
"The turning point in Polish Magic was—well, it's hard to say really what was the turning point, as we're still going through it—but it was the finals appearance at [the World Magic Cup]. Before that I was the only Gold pro, but after that two players made Platinum and the third Gold was almost at Platinum too." The country is making an impact on the scene in a way they hadn't before. "I hope this continues to happen in Poland." He said their local stores have a lot of regular players, but only a few of them ever go to Grand Prix events.
After talking for a bit about how this trajectory with Polish Magic resembles the beginning of what happened in the Czech Republic—a relatively unknown Magic country that rose to deep prominence. "I mean, they have done so well," Kowalski said, "and they are a small country. I think we definitely have more Magic players in Poland. We can do it."
As far as getting to draft Dominaria again, Kowalski was very excited. "It's the best one in... well, in recent history for sure. You have more than ten archetypes you can draft." But he admitted, "I had to draft [Dominaria] on Magic Online—not to test, but to remind myself of what the format was. Like, I was looking at a 2/1 white creature, and I couldn't remember if there was a Pegasus in the set to give it flying."
But once he knocked the rust off, Kowalski reveled in the depth he loved—and had a 3-0 to show for it.
But though Kowalski loved the options in Dominaria Limited, the second 3-0 drafter, Mike Sigrist, was a little more skeptical of that openness. The 2014–15 Player of the Year (who got his third Pro Tour Top 8 at Pro Tour Ixalan) loves the format, but doesn't want to overstate the commonly used word "depth."
"It's over-hyped how deep Dominaria is," Sigrist opined. "There are narrow cards that only slot into one or two archetypes, and there's a lot of ways to crash and burn." At some of the lower levels of competition that might not matter so much, but it's at the top of Sigrist's mind when sitting down at the World Championship Draft table—one of the hardest tables in the world.
His advice is rather than try to make the deck you want, "Take the open lane—there are a lot of lanes in Dominaria." It seems Sigrist was saying that the depth is there, but for the most success, you should take the depth presented to you.
"It is a great format," he continued. "You can not cast your removal spell, and wait a couple turns for something better." So often in hyper-fast Limited formats, you have to blow your removal spell on a two-drop; but in Dominaria the games are deeper and more complex than that. "In the first match," Sigrist said, "Márcio [Carvalho] had a bunch of removal spells, and on turn three one game I could have cast a Tempest Djinn, but I just didn't. I waited until I could protect it." That's not always the right play in every Limited format. "I love that the format encourages that," he concluded.
This isn't Sigrist's first rodeo at Worlds, but this time his method has changed a bit.
"The only thing that matters this time is winning." He explained that before, when Worlds provided a large amount of Pro Points for the next season—providing a leg up on the coming year—Sigrist was less concerned about actually winning than just doing well enough to seed his next Magic year. But now that the system has been changed, it's all about being the best.
But being "the best" is a concept that's a bit foreign to Pro Tour Hall of Famer Ben Stark, the last 3-0 drafter. It's almost a privilege for him to feel that way, as he is certainly one of the best—Pro Tour Paris winner, multi-time Grand Prix Champion, more Pro Tours played than anyone else here, and, you know, that whole Hall of Fame thing. But he's got a valid point.
When I asked him about becoming World Champion and completing just about all the achievements tournament Magic had to offer, he demurred. "Titles are pretty arbitrary. I don't see a real difference between say first and second, or second and third." So then what is Stark playing for? "Well, I love Magic," he said matter-of-factly. "I don't play because of value or EV... I want to play because I want to play great Magic against great players." There's no better place for that than the World Championship. And factor in that Dominaria Limited is one of Stark's favorite formats of all time? This guy is in hog heaven.
It's pretty easy to see what Stark would like about the format—it offers those long, thoughtful, "grinding" games that hooked him so hard in Champions of Kamigawa (his favorite Draft format of all time). In Round 3 against Luis Salvatto, Stark was on the ropes, playing to his topdeck Lyra Dawnbringer out—which he hit. But even after that, he had to recur it multiple times with Whisper, Blood Liturgist and battle through Salvatto's over-20 life when he was at 3.
"Best format in a long time," he said.
Kowalski, Sigrist, and Stark are coming from three very different positions—the first timer, the man looking to make is name, and the guy just here to play great Magic. But in the first three rounds, they all got themselves where they needed to be. There's plenty more Magic to be played, and we'll see if they can keep the streak going enough to get the finishes they all want—well, except for Stark.