"I totally didn't expect to win," Niels Noorlander shyly revealed to me as I sat down to talk to him about his tournament.
Noorlander, who has been playing Magic since he was 12-years-old, has been even more focused on his Magic Online play for the last two years. "I also play Grand Prix, but I like Magic Online the best and I play it the most," he said. Going into the Magic Online Championship, he had no expectations of doing well. Which is to say that, given his results, he far exceeded those.
Noorlander traveled to Seattle, Washington with fellow competitor and friend Mitchell Manders, aligning on decks for the Standard and Legacy portion of the tournament. However, the first three rounds—all Legacy with Sneak and Show—were not the start he was looking for. Noorlander picked up two losses early, and he needed his 4-Color Rite deck to do some heavy lifting in the four Standard rounds that followed.
Magic Online Champion Niels Noorlander, alongside friend and fellow competitor Mitchell Manders
It did, and Noorlander was able to get out of Day One with a 4-3 record. However, when his draft ended up at 1-2 in the first three rounds on Saturday, Noorlander found himself at 5-5. At the time, he was hoping to simply 3-1 Modern to finish in the 5th through 8th slot for $6,000.
Instead, he swept his Modern rounds, locking up a 9-5 record and a seat in the Top 4, winning a very intense Round 14 match against semifinalist Gerry Thompson. He tested through the night with friend and competitor Manders, preparing for his semifinals where he matched up against Jonathan Anghelescu. Noorlander did not expect much from the match, although he believed it was possible he could win in Standard and Modern given his testing results.
The problem was Anghelescu, a Legacy specialist, was likely to select the eternal format as their first match, meaning he would likely start a match down. It was strongly expected that Noorlander would drop two quick games against Anghelescu in Legacy, as Noorlander's Sneak and Show had a very poor matchup against Anghelescu's Omni-Tell deck.
Instead, Noorlander ended up beating Anghelescu in a three-game match, breaking serve to start ahead, and giving him a huge edge when he was able to select a favorable format matchup for him in Standard. Despite a second-game loss, Noorlander was able to close out the semifinals with a 2-1 win thanks to 4-Color Rite.
After getting through his quarterfinals, Noorlander was able to pull off the upset again when faced off against Alexander Ivanov in the finals, who selected Standard on account of his favorable matchup of Goggles Ramp—with multiple board sweepers—against Noorlander's 4-Color Rite deck.
Instead, Noorlander ended up stealing the match in three games, and was in a position to yet again select the favorable format for him to win a second match. In this case, it was Legacy, as Sneak and Show presented a very favorable percentage against Ivanov's Punishing Knight, which had no counterspells to interact with Noorlander's combo strategy.
Sure enough, Noorlander swept Ivanov in their Legacy match, earning him a result that far exceeded anything he could have dreamed of this weekend.
Noorlander and Manders have made their Magic Online Championship trip into a bit of a Magic tour, as the two players hit up Grand Prix New York last weekend, and both are heading down to Los Angeles to compete in the Grand Prix next weekend.
"I won Platinum, so I'm probably hitting up Manchester also," Noorlander added with a laugh.
The prize of Pro Tour Players Club status and invitations to the next six Pro Tours hasn't quite processed with him yet, but it was a welcome surprise.
"I've always wanted to go to Australia and Honolulu," Noorlander said, particularly excited about the Pro Tour in Hawaii this October. "A few years ago, I really wanted to qualify for the Pro Tour in Honolulu, and it was one of the two Pro Tours I didn't get to qualify for. It's pretty awesome that I get to go there now."
Noorlander has had one memorable weekend. And now, he has plenty of opportunities to create a few more.