It's not every day you get a chance to watch players face off in Vintage for a shot at $25,000, an invitation to the World Championship, and a whole lot more.
The 2014 Magic Online Championship—featuring the winners of last year's Magic Online Championship Series tournaments—tested sixteen competitors in their knowledge, preparation, and play of four wildly different formats. The tournament began Friday with three rounds of Vintage, a fairly new Constructed format to the world of Magic Online, followed by four rounds of Modern. Saturday highlighted three rounds of Dragons of Tarkir booster draft, followed by four rounds of Standard before a cut to the Top 4.
The mix of formats made preparing a real test, and some players banked their experience and knowledge more on some formats over others. The field featured a diverse spread of specialists, with all competitors representing at least a few thousand matches recorded on Magic Online for events.
For eventual Magic Online champion Magnus Lantto, who goes by his last name on Magic Online, the path to victory started strong, then went on a slightly more wild and exotic journey. I asked him after his win which format he felt most comfortable in.
"Probably Vintage," Lantto answered. "We expected that was the format you could have the biggest edge. It was the format where we expected people wouldn't prepare as much."
2014 Magic Online Champion Magnus Lantto
Sure enough, Lantto—who prepared with longtime friend, Hall of Famer, and competitor Olle Råde—gained his biggest edge in that very format. Their deck, a Pyromancer Control strategy that could strip an opponent of anything relevant thanks to a lovable interaction between Young Pyromancer and Cabal Therapy, earned Lantto a 3-0 start to the weekend.
From there, however, Lantto moved on to the format he was least confident in: Modern. "We took a gamble with the Elf deck," Lantto explained, noting that their deck choice had a very strong shot of blowing up in their face. Lantto managed to get through the rounds with a 2-2 record, with one of those wins coming from his teammate, Råde, in the fifth round when Lantto's draws let him overrun his opponent.
On Saturday, Lantto maintained a steady lead with a 2-1 finish in booster draft before moving to Standard with Atarka Devotion, a deck that got him just enough wins to lock up a Top 4 spot with one round left to go.
He would be put to the test with his Standard selection on Sunday as he faced off against Aleka Telarov—also known as m3l0q on Magic Online—in the semifinals. Telarov started off with a victory, depriving Lantto of all of his relevant threats in the first game with his Jund Megamorph deck. However, in the second game, he could not resist crunching Lantto's life total for 8 with Dragonlord Atarka over Xenagos, the Reveler. The decision would come back to haunt him, as Lantto found Nissa, Worldwaker waiting for him on top of his deck, putting Telarov in a position where he had to throw away his Courser of Kruphix just to stay alive.
Plummet off the top for Lantto when Telarov fought back with a second Dragonlord Atarka was an all too fitting description to m3l0q's chances of moving on, as Lantto quickly stampeded over his opponent to take the third game and the match, where he'd return to the format he felt most prepared for: Vintage.
His opponent in the final match, Jasper "Jasperov" de Jong, was hardly a slouch. In fact, he was the undefeated player at the end of Day One of competition, slaughtering opponent after opponent in all of his Vintage and Modern rounds. However, de Jong never got paired up against Lantto in the Vintage portion, and while he dispatched his teammate on Friday, he could not do so to Lantto on Sunday.
Lantto demonstrated the power of his deck's key card, Cabal Therapy, in the first game, where a blind call of Force of Will robbed one of de Jong's six cards in hand after a Game 1 mulligan. The game never got much farther than that for de Jong, as Snapcaster Mage and eventually Young Pyromancer locked things up. The second game was much of the same affair, with Young Pyromancer teaming up with Cabal Therapy to effectively Mind Twist de Jong in the second game.
However, in the format Lantto felt most confident in, the games also felt the most lopsided and in his favor, as de Jong never got off the ground before Lantto's Elf Company strategy let him overrun his opponent—literally, thanks to Ezuri, Renegade Leader—in both games. The finals for Lantto were a clean sweep.
Magnus Lantto talks about his win with sideline reporter Kenji "numotthenummy" Egashira.
For Lantto, who started playing Magic back in1996, the win was a big move forward in the upward momentum he has built up in picking up the game more. "It's a huge accomplishment," he said. "I couldn't ask for anything else." Lantto, who took a step away from the game offline and focused primarily on playing Magic Online when he could, returned to Grand Prix play a year and a half ago. It was last December, at Grand Prix Milan, where it paid off with a victory.
That victory gave him back-to-back Pro Tour invitations, as Milan ensured his appearance at Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir, but it was his Magic Online Championship Series victory that got him back on the Pro Tour for the first time since 2002. While he locked up Silver-status in the Pro Tour Players Club, ensuring his invitation to Pro Tour Magic Origins which takes place July 31-August 2 in Vancouver, his win this weekend meant an upgrade to Gold.
With Gold locked through next year, Lantto can now rest easy, as he is qualified and now also receives travel awards to all Pro Tours leading through late July/August of next year. Along with that, Lantto will also be competing in this year's World Championship, a tournament that will bring him back to Seattle August 27-30. These prizes amounted to more to Lantto than the $25,000 he received for winning this event.
"The money is great, obviously, but I really wanted to try to make something out of the Pro Tour…to see how good I could become," Lantto said. "The [Pro Tour and World Championship] invitations mean much more to me than the money. The money just makes it possible for me to work a bit less and to play more Magic."
Magnus Lantto earned those invitations this weekend, and as we look forward into Lantto's upcoming ventures in the game, he can look back on this weekend, at the Magic Online Championship, with pride on his accomplishments and where it will bring him.