Reaching the pinnacle: Eli Kassis, Arne Huschenbeth on their first Magic World Championship appearances

It's all on the line at the Magic World Championship XXVII.

MTG 2021 World Championship XXVII
Image via WotC

The 16-player field for this weekend’s Magic World Championship XXVII is filled with longtime veterans who are expected to break into Sunday’s top-four bracket.

A trio of hall of famers—Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, Seth Manfield, and Gabriel Nassif—are favorites coming into the tournament. Damo da Rosa and Manfield are already world champions. Nassif has a couple of top-four finishes at the World Championship.

Related: Reigning champion Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa on back-to-back title opportunity at Magic World Championship XXVII

Other players like France’s Jean-Emmanuel Depraz and Czech Republic’s Ondřej Stráský played in the previous World Championship in 2019. On the other end are Rivals League’s Eli Kassis and Kaldheim Championship winner Arne Huschenbeth, who are both making their first World Championship appearances.

While both players are reaching a similar pinnacle of their careers, their journeys to get to this point are starkly different.

Players could qualify for the Magic World Championship XXVII in a variety of ways throughout the 2020-21 Magic Esports season. Players in either the Rivals League or Magic Pro League could qualify by finishing in the top four of their respective leagues. Then, the eight remaining invites were given out during a series of postseason tournaments.

Kassis avoided these tournaments by locking in first place in the Rivals League during the April Strixhaven League Weekend. With the top finish, he qualified for the World Championship, MPL, and didn’t have to play in the final League Weekend or any postseason event.

“I feel like it’s made me a little lazy because I went from not having to do anything for many months to intensively studying for worlds and we didn’t get much time,” Kassis said. “It was really nice to be able to relax while a lot of my teammates were grinding hard, but I offered to be a test dummy and step in and play those matches for them.”

After the extended break, Kassis started a 17-day sprint from the release of Innistrad: Midnight Hunt to the deck submission deadline on Oct. 3.

Huschenbeth’s path to Magic World Championship XXVII was more tumultuous, with one shot to qualify for the tournament. By winning the Kaldheim Championship, the German qualified for the Challenger Gauntlet in August. 

Huschenbeth piloted Gruul Adventures to a top-four finish in a 24-player field with only four invitations to earn. Sam Pardee, Keisuke Sato, and Noriyuki Mori also qualified from the Challenger Gauntlet.

“It was the most stressful tournament I’ve ever played. Maybe one of the most stressful experiences I’ve ever had in my short life,” Huschenbeth said. “I didn’t necessarily feel happiness, I just felt an immense amount of relief at first. I kind of broke down in my room and everything. It was pretty dramatic.”

Unlike Kassis, Huschenbeth only had a little over a month to rest before testing began for Midnight Hunt Standard. Both focused on Standard up until the deck submission deadline, then began Draft testing in the final week.

Both players still have a major task ahead in a potentially three-day-long tournament against the best players in the world.

Huschenbeth’s international popularity exploded after winning the Kaldheim Championship due to his energetic on-screen personality and his knack for hitting intricate lines of play. For the rising young German star, this is a step up from his earlier extensive European Grand Prix experience. Huschenbeth said the past year is a successful one, regardless of this weekend’s outcome.

“I don’t want to say it like that, but even if I wouldn’t perform the best at the tournament I still would be proud of my accomplishments,” Huschenbeth said.

Kassis started playing Magic in 1993 and entered his first Pro Tour at the age of 13. With 28 years under his belt, Kassis said his experience playing high-level Magic will give him an edge by “getting in the zone.”

The nearly three-decade journey for the Magic mainstay will reach a peak this weekend in Kassis’ first World Championship. Like Huschenbeth, Kassis has been able to take some time to reflect on the final week before the competition.

“I went to a local 2K and a lot of people were coming up to me,” Kassis said. “One person told me, ‘Aren’t you that Eli guy? From Rivals?’ It’s hard not to get a giggle out of that. I don’t know what I said, but it was something along the lines of, ‘Yeah, MPL now.’ It feels weird to say MPL because of what that meant for the last couple of years.”

A long season, spanning four sets, comes to a conclusion this weekend. While the current League system is coming to an end next year and the future of competitive Magic is up in the air, the prestige and honor of playing in the Magic World Championship remains the same.

Catch the World Championship debuts of Huschenbeth and Kassis at the Magic World Championship XXVII on Oct. 8 to 10 starting at 11am CT each day on the Magic Twitch Channel.