Meet Branco Neirynck

Posted in Event Coverage on November 14, 2015

By Frank Karsten

A year ago, Branco Neirynck was relatively unknown to most of the Magic-playing world. But over the span of the last six months, he finished in the Top 8 of three European Grand Prix events, claimed the captaincy of the Belgian World Magic Cup team, and really made a name for himself. On Saturday morning here in Brussels, I sat down with Neirynck to discover the reasons behind his sudden success.


"I started playing Magic about eleven years ago with Mirrodin," Neirynck told me. "My brother played the game, and I fell in love with it too. I really enjoyed the time with the group of friends who played the game back then." Nowadays, neither his brother nor those friends play much anymore, but he and his brother still sometimes play an occasional game at family events. "But he's only willing to do that if I don't have countermagic in my deck, " Neirynck laughed.

Branco Neirynck

Neirynck, who is quick to crack a smile, got his first competitive success in 2009 with a win at the Belgian Nationals. "At that time, I was pretty bad at Magic, especially Limited, but my W/B Tokens in Standard was great. Zealous Persecution was so good against Faeries, and it is still my all-time favorite card. That card changed my life; it allowed me to travel abroad and to meet new friends." Interestingly, Neirynck registered Esper Tokens for the Grand Prix in Brussels, so it appeared that his love for this style of deck had endured.

But after his Nationals win in 2009, Neirynck didn't do so well at the Pro Tour and lost several Pro Tour Qualifier finals. Having lost his confidence in his Magic-playing abilities, he more or less quit the game for several years and switched his focus to League of Legends. "I'm a competitive person and if I do something, then I want to go for it 100%. If I can't compete at the highest level, then I don't really want to play. So that's why I stopped playing Magic for a while and focused on League. I hit rank 17 solo-queue in Europe, and my team made it to the penultimate round to qualify for the LCS."


But after failing to actually make the professional League of Legends e-sports league, Neirynck picked up Magic again, and he promptly made Top 8 at the Modern Masters 2015 Grand Prix in Utrecht. "This was the high point of my year so far. It was the largest Grand Prix of the year in Europe, and I had to beat a lot of good players on my way to the Top 8. With that finish, I proved to myself that I could still do it. I always thought I was reasonably good at Magic, but not good enough to compete at the highest level. That Top 8 helped a lot."

Afterward, he decided to really go for it. "I am dedicating a lot of time to the game at the moment; I play around ten hours of Magic Online every day now. I used to have a Magic life and a non-Magic life, but right now pretty much everything that I do revolves around Magic." His competitive spirit paid off for him, as Neirynck (known on Magic Online as WoodlandMages) followed up with Top 8s at Grand Prix Copenhagen and Grand Prix Lyon.


Neirynck, like many of his compatriots, is always proudly wearing the Belgic Magic T-shirt at Grand Prix events. This community effort started in 2013, but to place it in the proper context, we have to rewind the clock five or ten years. Back then, Belgium had players like Marijn Lybaert, Christophe Gregoir, and Jan Doise who tested together and all made it to the Top 8 of at least one Pro Tour. But many of them quit the competitive scene one-by-one and following their departure the Magic community in Belgium became fragmented. "We didn't even have a single Gold player in Belgium for several years, and there wasn't a lot of interaction between Belgian Magic players," Neirynck said.

So Chris Van den Wouwer (with help from Michael Millis, Jan Van Nieuwenhove, and Marijn Lybaert) started the Belgic Magic community to unite Belgian Magic players, to foster communication and collaboration, and to help everyone learn from each other. Now, there are Belgic Magic streams, a Facebook group, special tournaments, and fantastic Outpost bus trips to Grand Prix events. Also, the yellow T-shirts make it easy to spot your friends, even in a huge hall. The Belgic Magic community had been a boost to Neirynck's motivation, and he hoped that his recent successes, as well as those of his compatriot Peter Vieren, would be able motivate other Belgian players.


Right now, Neirynck had lined up qualifications for the World Magic Cup and for Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch in Atlanta. "I hope to do well at the World Magic Cup. I like the team, so I'll be disappointed if it doesn't work out. Afterwards, I'll be testing together with other Belgian players for Atlanta, and I hope to have scored some additional Pro Points by that time so that I qualify for the Pro Tour in Madrid. My goal would be to reach Gold level by Madrid so that I get invites to the Pro Tours in Sydney and Honolulu—I'd love to travel there. If I don't reach Gold this season, then I'll probably just go back to work. I love the game, but I have a university degree in business administration and an ambition for a professional career too."

As a final question, I asked him if he had any tips or advice for players looking to improve their game. "Don't be afraid to call a judge. If an opponent commits an infraction during the game, then most of the time it will be unintentional, but you can never be sure, and it's not always clear how it should be fixed. So some people may think it's an unsympathetic thing to do, but I believe it's always better to call a judge in these situations. "

Currently sitting at a 3-2 record, Neirynck had his work cut out for him if he wanted to add a Grand Prix Top 8 in his home country to his résumé. Check the coverage page later to see if he was able to make a deep run here in Brussels!

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