Surviving the Rivals League Relegation and the Future of Pro Magic

Sebastian Pozzo


“…Now I feel a lot more motivated because it’s my last chance to stay in the League, and I just want to do my best, in case I fall from it at least I can say that I fought hard.”

This is an extract of my article Lessons from 2020, at the time I was not being able to play at my best during the MTG League Weekends and was feeling the stress and the pressure of being relegated every time I had to prepare and play in one of those.

However, I was able to overcome the situation and turn the circumstances in my favor to escape the bottom of the league and be in Rivals for another year. This obviously was a combination of me adopting a better mindset, but also being lucky in some key spots.

So what changed? A lot of things, including a wild Organized Play announcement from WotC. Let’s break them down.

Changes Coming to Magic

First of all, I had to accept that being out of the league was a possibility, the level of play of the competitors is really high, and sometimes even if you prepare and play well you might just lose. In the beginning, I had the expectations of at least staying in the league because not a big % of the players were going to be relegated. But regardless of that, you might just end up being one of them, and there’s no shame in losing, especially when the competition is so good.

Secondly, I decided that if I made it to the next year, I would try my best to enjoy the experience more, instead of suffering the pressure. Even if it meant not prepare as much and lose more. I also wanted to focus on other activities as well, I was in need to do other stuff to recharge my energy (something difficult and super important during lockdown). All of this was intended to increase my desire to play magic and therefore do it better, even if I didn’t test a lot.

Then, one of the last two splits came and I was very compromised. There, even though I didn’t do well (5-7) I was the last place to not get relegated. For that split, my preparation wasn’t ideal and I wasn’t very focused during the play either. This evidenced that I was still not adopting the right mindset, it’s not easy!!

Winds of Change

So before the last split, where I was in the last place from the remaining competitors, WotC dropped a big announcement. They communicated the end of the Pro Leagues (MPL and Rivals) in mid-2022, and that they don’t intend to build a structure to give the best performing players a salary or multiple invites to the upcoming major tournaments.

I’m not going to dive deep into this, because a lot of people of the magic community had already spoken about it and I agree with what most said. The leagues failed to promote the game in the best possible way, because the vast majority of the players didn’t feel engaged with it, mostly because of how difficult it was to make it to the top, and the lack of intermediate steps.

It’s also important to understand that there isn’t an “International Federation of Magic the Gathering”. There aren’t any players committee, nobody votes for what’s best for the game, etc. This also means that WotC can undo what they announce at any time, and the leagues could be back (I don’t think they will) or they could make some system similar to what the Pro Club was before the Leagues. We’ve seen them announce 6 Pro Tours a year and cancel 2 of them shortly after, so we don’t have any real certainties. I personally chose to not be optimistic, but also not pessimistic.

Future Sight

Keeping the expectations low but also not thinking that competitive Magic is dead is what works best for me. Personally, I think that building a robust Organized Play system has a huge return on the investment for WotC and they eventually will come to a model that they like and feel that works for them. The Pro Tour brand kept thousands of players engaged with the game for so many years and there’s no way that not having something similar or better than that is the best for the company.

My Strixhaven League Weekend

So how did this announcement affect me for the last split of the league? Well, for some it might have been demotivating, for me it was relieving. Because the main reason why I was putting a lot of pressure on myself, was because getting into the league was very difficult and I felt that if I was relegated, sooner or later I will want to get back in.

So knowing that I was “only” playing for one year of Rivals rather than potentially many years of it meant lowering the stakes a lot. And if I fell from the Leagues I would probably have a chance for a fresh start of the new era of Magic post-leagues whenever that is.

That being said I also didn’t want to give up while I had chances so I did one last effort and prepared for the last split where I started in the very last place of the standings and my estimation was that I needed at least 7-5 or possibly 8-4 to not finish in the last 5 spots. I decided to register Cycling for Standard because I had played with the deck a lot and felt that if people aren’t well prepared it’s very solid.

Arclight PhoenixBrainstorm

For Historic, I went with Izzet Phoenix because of how consistent the deck is. I’m very thankful to Javier Dominguez for teaching me the insights of this deck he had top8ed a PT within modern in combination with his expertise casting 《Brainstorm》 as a legacy GP winner he already was prior to the peak of his MTG career.

I was blessed to make 5-1 in each format to not only escape the relegation slots but also have a shot to be in one of the gauntlets later this year. I’m very happy that I once again fought even though the circumstances weren’t in my favor.

Strixhaven Championship

Looking forward to the rest of the season and next year:

At the time I’m writing this article I will be playing the Strixhaven Championship in 2 days, and for this tournament, I decided to prepare more lightly and focused on helping other Argentinian players that were qualified and are friends of mine instead of testing with other pro players. However, I’m still going to try to win as much as I can and these are the 2 decklists I chose to register for.

For Standard, I decided to follow my friend Mauro Sasso who has been playing Sultai for quite some time now and was very confident on his deck choices.

Deck List: Sultai Ultimatum

Sultai Ultimatum

Click to Wide

Deck List: Izzet Phoenix

And in Historic I’m running 《Arclight Phoenix》 back, it seems to me that 《Tainted Pact》 combo was the only bad matchup for the deck and not it’s just banned (or nerfed, I don’t know if someone will play it with 《Jace, Wielder of Mysteries》 instead of 《Thassa’s Oracle》). I made some small tweaks to the decklist from the split but it’s very similar. I’m just amazed at how good 《Expressive Iteration》 is.

Izzet Phoenix

Click to Wide

I know both decks have a big target on their backs and are expected to be the most played decks, but they are so solid and resilient that I’m not scared about it.

For the rest of the season, I intend to regain some appetite for competition and play the Gauntlet to the best of my capabilities. Being in the MPL for its last year or qualifying for Worlds would still be amazing even if it’s not what it was last year.


That’s all for today, this time I shared more of how the mental aspect of my game is related with how I feel (specially in relation to the game itself). And I think this is very important at every level of competition, even if you are trying to qualify for the first time to a big tournament.

See you next time!

Sebastian Pozzo (Twitter)

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Sebastian Pozzo Picking up the title of Standard Master this season, he has reached the Gold Level Pro. He also is being the first player from Argentina to qualify for the 2017 World Championship Holding the title Standard Master, his strength is in the constructed format, and is outstanding when picking decks for the format. At Pro Tour Hour of Devastation, he has chosen the most favored deck, Ramunap Red, leading him into the title Standard Master. He is joining Hareruya Hopes with his teammate from the same country of Argentina, Luis Salvatto. Read more articles by Sebastian Pozzo

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