A year of Magic competition all came down to this moment. A handful of Pro Tours and dozens of Grand Prix set the incredibly talented field at the 2018 World Championship. Two drafts, fourteen rounds of Swiss, a pair of tense semifinal matches, and everything that came before had all led to this match—a best-of-five between Grzegorz Kowalski and Javier Dominguez.
Dominguez was making his second straight trip to the World Championship final, an incredible feat in itself. But he wasn't looking for another second-place finish this time around; he had his eyes on not wasting a rare second chance to finish first.
Kowalski was looking to make history of his own. His first Grand Prix Top 8 came in 2012, but he really exploded onto the pro scene last year, putting together a marvelous season that included a victory at Grand Prix Lyon.
Dominguez and Kowalski were both playing the Red-Black Aggro deck that has been the dominant force in Standard over the last few months. The finalists had dispatched Mono-Red Wizards and White-Blue God-Pharaoh's Gift, respectively, in the semis, and now it would all end here. Would it be the newcomer Kowalski taking it all down, or would Dominguez complete the journey he's been on since the moment he lost last year's finals?
Neither player had a lightning-fast start in a mirror match that is often grindy. Instead Dominguez fired up Heart of Kiran thanks to a Scrapheap Scrounger and began hitting for damage on the third turn, while Kowalski built his board presence with a Pia Nalaar and Scrounger of his own.
Dominguez broke parity by landing Chandra, Torch of Defiance, which burned Kowalski down to 9 life. The Polish pro, though, was ready to turn the tables. His attack lost Pia Nalaar to an animated Heart of Kiran, but knocked Chandra off the board. He followed that up with Cut // Ribbons taking out Heart of Kiran, and he passed the turn back to Dominguez in a much stronger position—but Dominguez wasn't out of gas quite yet. Glorybringer put him back in the lead, and a Goblin Chainwhirler off the top secured him the first victory of the finals.
Dominguez led with an aggressive Game 2 start, but the wheels fell off quickly as Kowalski used Abrade and Goblin Chainwhirler to clear out Kari Zev, Skyship Raider and Bomat Courier. Chandra, Torch of Defiance followed to make mana to power out Kowalski's own Kari Zev, and like that he had a commanding position in the second game.
Javier Dominguez (left) saw his quick start fizzle in Game 2 against Grzegorz Kowalski (right).
All Dominguez could do was add Rekindling Phoenix, a strong play but one that allowed Kowalski to untap with the powerful planeswalker. Cut // Ribbons along with a Chandra activation took care of the Phoenix, but a second one followed for Dominguez, who hoped to grind Kowalski out of the game with his recursive flier. But Kowalski had a flier of his own in the Thopter token from Pia Nalaar, and that meant a key blocker to protect Chandra for another turn.
Or so it appeared. Dominguez took a risky line, using Magma Spray to clear away the Thopter and swing at Chandra with the Phoenix. If Kowalski was holding removal, it would spell disaster. Fortunately for the two-time finalist, the attack worked, and his own Chandra took care of Kari Zev.
After the furious exchange of the first few turns, the game slowed to a crawl as both players jockeyed for position on a sparse battlefield. But Dominguez had one thing going for him that Kowalski didn't: Bomat Courier. The innocuous one-drop has turned out to be a key piece of Standard, and the ability to refill hands provides the red deck card advantage it never had before. Dominguez may have only been able to cash the Courier in for two cards, but they were two very good ones—Hazoret the Fervent entered play alongside the Phoenix and put the Spaniard in full control of the game.
However, the early onslaught Kowalski had applied came back to haunt Dominguez. A few more attacks by both sides put the life totals to 6-5, in Kowalski's favor. Dominguez drew for his turn, checked both players' graveyards and realized the bad news: nothing he could do would prevent Kowalski from playing the back half of Cut // Ribbons from his graveyard for exactly the 5 damage he needed to tie things up at one game apiece.
As we moved to the sideboarded games, both players slowed down their decks with cards like Chandra's Defeat to put as many answers and card advantage engines as possible into their decks. The first that appeared was Karn, Scion of Urza for Dominguez, though it was quickly matched by Chandra, Torch of Defiance on Kowalski's side.
In a game where planeswalkers are of paramount importance, it might not make sense to say that Dominguez removing his own Karn was the correct play, but that's exactly what happened as he took a Goblin Chainwhirler with Karn's second ability, removing Karn from play but combining with a second Chainwhirler in his hand to remove Kowalski's Chandra as well as put 6 power of first strike creatures into play. Along with Glorybringer, Dominguez had complete control of the board as Kowalski mustered only a Hazoret.
It wouldn't be the first or last time Kowalski was behind in the match, but as in the second game he stayed steady to his plan. Chandra's Defeat removed Glorybringer and Cut // Ribbons took care of one Chainwhirler, allowing Hazoret to swing unimpeded. With both players sporting the back half of Cut // Ribbons in their graveyards, the game would end one way or another, and in such a situation it's the indestructible creature that typically has the advantage. This was true here, as Hazoret punished Dominguez over the course of several turns until he was within burn range of Ribbons.
With that, Kowalski had climbed back and taken a 2-1 lead, and the first-time World Championship competitor found himself just one win away from the title.
First he would have to fight through another Karn, Scion of Urza, which arrived on time for Dominguez and begin adding cards to his hand. But just like the previous game, Kowalski had the perfect answer, firing off a Magma Spray and then pitching a card to Hazoret the Fervent to unlock its attack, which knocked out Karn.
But Dominguez wasn't done. He had the perfect sideboard answer in The Eldest Reborn, which forced the Polish player to sacrifice Hazoret. Kowalski had a Karn of his own to fight back, though a follow-up Hazoret from Dominguez—with a The Eldest Reborn "ultimate" lined up for the next turn—swung the momentum in a big way. Soon enough, the powerful Saga brought back Karn to Dominguez's board, and a few attack steps later the pair were headed to a final game that would decide the World Champion.
The tension was palpable as the game got underway, with a third-turn Doomfall from Dominguez revealing a hand of two Karn, Chandra, and Rekindling Phoenix from Kowalski. Dominguez exiled one Karn and passed the turn—as Kowalski failed to find a fourth land. Dominguez continued to add to his board with Pia Nalaar and Hazoret the Fervent, while Kowalski simply drew and passed for the next several turns, unable to find any land or cards he could cast.
It ended in a flash; Dominguez cast several cards in a row to unlock his Hazoret the Fervent, and one huge attack step later Kowalski extended his hand and congratulated his teammate on completing his quest for redemption and becoming the 2018 Magic World Champion!
Javier Dominguez celebrates his victory with friends Sebastian Pozzo (left) and Luis Salvatto (rear).